HC Deb 22 June 1869 vol 197 cc458-63

, in rising, pursuant to notice, to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the Site and Charge of the New Courts of Law, said: I need not trouble the House at any great length in stating the reasons which have induced the Government to think that it would be expedient to refer this subject to a Committee. I need not especially enter into the comparative merits of one or other of the plans which have been brought under our consideration. The manner in which the question has risen is this—It will be recollected that at the commencement of the Session my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had then only recently came into Office, was very much startled, and even shocked, at the probable outlay of about £4,000,000—which was, I think, the estimate as the project then stood— on the erection of the new Courts on the Carey Street site. He made a statement to the House, in which he strongly objected to an expenditure on that scale, and he went on to make a suggestion which was supported by my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works —to the effect that the Courts should be erected on a new site on the Thames Embankment, which, in his opinion, would be preferable on the score of economy and convenience, and the selection of which would not be likely to give rise to any considerable delay—if, indeed, to any delay at all—in comparison with the Carey Street site. When my two right hon. Friends had developed their plans, they so far made a decided impression on opinion out-of-doors and within-doors that it was generally admitted, both by friends and opponents of the Carey Street site, that it might be advisable to think of a great contraction of the plan. But it was said— "Granting that it may be right to diminish very much the area and the cost of the new Law Courts, why should we leave that site which has received the sanction of an Act of Parliament, which cannot be disposed of without a considerable loss, and with respect to which we have already incurred and inflicted all the inconvenience of clearing away a very considerable population?" I wish, however, to point out that the plan which we found in possession of the ground at the commencement of the year—namely, the great scheme in Carey Street, for which seven or eight acres had been acquired and six or seven more were to be acquired—has practically disappeared, and that the plan for a reduced edifice upon the Carey Street site is, in fact, a new plan for all practical purposes like the plan of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Commissioner of Works upon the Thames Embankment. It may be said that this is not a new plan, inasmuch as it is a return to the scheme which was originally contemplated. But then it must be borne in mind that the authorities to whom the maturing and execution of that project was entrusted did depart from that original plan, for reasons which we must assume to have been sufficient; and, therefore, I contend that the question whether we can revert to a contracted plan upon the Carey Street site is a question which must be considered either altogether or at least in a great degree as a new question. Now, my right hon. Friends were probably sanguine enough to believe that they would be able so to impress opinion in favour of the plan on the Embankment site that no opposition would be raised to it in favour of a contracted plan on the Carey Street site. But that has not been the case. Naturally enough, those who had originally projected the Courts upon the Carey Street site, and had obtained for that site the verdict of a Commission—although they obtained it at a time when the Carey Street site was not in full competition, nay, was hardly in competition at all with the Embankment site—these highly intelligent persons and the powerful interests which they represent could hardly be expected to forego the advantages they had gained by the sanction of Parliament and by the fact that important steps had been taken towards the execution of the plan. We have also to take into view the period of the Session at which we have arrived, the great pressure and importance of the public business which has to be transacted, and the almost absolute impossibility of asking the House of Commons at this period to devote so much time upon the floor of the House as would be sufficient for that examination and settlement of all the matters controverted between my hon. and learned Friend (Sir Roundell Palmer), the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners), the right hon. Member for South Hampshire (Mr. Cowper), and others on the one side, and those who, on the part of the Government, and as independent Members, have given their decisive adhesion to the Thames Embankment, and the plan recommended with singular ability and great fertility of resource by the distinguished architect who was selected by the noble Lord opposite for the execution of the new Law Courts. Under these circumstances, as well as from former experience, the Government are aware that these are not subjects upon which the House of Commons is to be led merely by authority, and that there is no way of obtaining its assent except by carrying conviction to its mind. The Government, therefore, desire to associate the House of Commons with themselves, and not at the close of a Session, when the power of an Administration is generally supposed to increase greatly in relation to the power of independent Members, avail themselves of that or any other collateral advantages for the purpose of giving less than fair play to the contending merits of either of these places. We think, therefore, that the most convenient course for the House of Commons and the fairest for all parties would be to ask the House at once to appoint a Select Committee for the purpose of examining into the questions immediately connected with the site and the charge of the new Courts. Another question, into which I will not enter at any length, arose in connection with the Committee on Standing Orders. The Committee on Standing Orders very naturally felt that they were hardly in a condition to recommend that the Standing Orders should be dispensed with, so as to allow the Bill to go forward, unless the authority of the House had been definitively given to the plan recommended by my right hon. Friend. They being appointed for the defence of private rights and interests would not have been justified in setting aside those private interests under any sanction less than the authority of the House. For that purpose an immediate vote in favour of the Embankment plan would have been necessary, and the House is not in such a state of opinion as to justify us in asking for such a vote at the present moment. Upon this ground it is that, without entering into the controversy between these plans, or asking any Gentleman to abate any opinion he may have formed or expressed in favour of either of them—as a measure of general fairness and convenience, and one intended to promote expedition—I beg to move that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Site and Charge of the New Courts of Law.


The House will hardly be surprised to hear that it is not with entire satisfaction that I assent to a proposal tending to keep open a question which in my mind ought to be considered as closed by reasons upon which existing Acts of Parliament have been founded. Having on former occasions had opportunities of stating my opinions on this matter to the House, I should not, however, do right to depart from the example of my right hon. Friend by going into the merits of the general question. I own it is with regret that I find the Government suggesting any course which leads to delay in a matter on which we have available materials for an immediate decision. I regret also the cost of this delay, for the interest on the capital expended amounts to £30,000 or £40,000 a year. On the other hand I feel, and I think the House will feel, that it would not become me or any other Member to oppose a proposition for inquiry recommended to the House by the authority of my right hon. Friend and upon his responsibility. But I am bound to say that I think the time at which the inquiry is proposed is very inconvenient. Personally for me to take part in such an inquiry would be a simple impossibility. My engagements make that out of the question. Now, much will depend upon the manner in which the proceedings of that Committee are conducted and upon the nomination of the Members. I need not say that, whatever may be the decision of a Committee so appointed, it is not necessarily the decision of the House. Of course, if a Committee were nominated with a majority of persons already known to entertain opinions either in favour of the Carey Street site, or in favour of the River site, although they might be instrumental in collecting important information, no one would be surprised if in the end they adhered to the opinion with which they began. I feel perfectly sure, however, that it is the intention of my right hon. Friend to constitute that Committee in the fairest manner possible; and I do not doubt that the proceedings of the Committee will be conducted, by the help of those who entertain opposite views, so as to add something to the materials already existing for a correct judgment upon the subject, or at all events, to bring those materials forward with some additional authority. I therefore acquiesce, though with some reluctance, in the proposal of the Government.


, referring to a question which had been put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject, wished to state that a Petition had been presented to this House by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) expressly stating that the Hon. Society of Lincoln's Inn were ready to abide by their original proposal as to the erection of the Equity Courts in Lincoln's Inn. The right hon. Gentleman had reminded the House that a reduced building to be erected either on the Carey Street site or on the Thames Embankment, and if there was to be any deviation from the original design in this respect the Committee should consider whether the proposal of the Society of Lincoln's Inn should not be entertained. By the adoption of the proposal of Lincoln's Inn an outlay of at least £100,000 would be saved to the country, and on another opportunity he would move that the Petition he had mentioned should be referred to the proposed Committee.


thought that before the question was put it would be convenient if the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would state whether or not he considered that, not only the respective sites and charges, but also the particular plans and designs of the different architects should be submitted to the consideration of the proposed Committee, for it must occur to everyone that a design suitable for one site might not be suitable for another. He doubted whether the whole question could be properly considered by the Committee without the particular plans being brought under their consideration.


said, that as far as he was able to judge, the designs would not be brought under the consideration of the Committee, but the details of the plans would naturally come before them. He need hardly say how completely he concurred with his hon. and learned Friend (Sir Roundell Palmer) as to the necessity of having an impartial Committee. It was quite obvious that one which was not so would have little weight with the general judgment of the House.

Motion agreed to.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the Site and Charge of the New Courts of Law." —(Mr. Gladstone.)

And, on June 28, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Lord STANLEY, Mr. LAYARD, Lord JOHN MANNERS, Mr. WILLIAM COWPER, Mr. HUNT, Earl GROS-TENOR, Mr. MOWBRAT, Mr. WILLIAM GREGORY, Mr. HOPE, Mr. TITE, Mr. BENTINOK, Viscount ENFIELD, Mr. GOLDNEY, Mr. TORRENS, Mr. RUSSELL GIIRNEY, and Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.