§ VISCOUNT MILTON
said, he wished to ask the First Commissioner of Works, If he intends to bring forward his Motion for a Select Committee on the Kensington Road Improvement Bill during the present Session; and, if he does so intend, if he will inform the House on what day he intends to bring the Motion before the House?
§ MR. AYRTON
said, in reply, that he was anxious to give a very full reply to the Question put to him by the noble Lord. This Bill was not an ordinary public measure for objects affecting the whole community, but it was one of a special character, and had been introduced into the House by Her Majesty's Government for the purpose of fulfilling a pledge which had been given to a large body of the community who were desirous of erecting a tribute to the memory of the late Prince Consort, whom the nation had for a long time delighted to honour. The pledge was, in effect, given by the late Lord Derby and other distinguished individuals, Members of the Committee appointed to carry out the wishes of that part of the community to whom he had referred in relation to this subject. That Committee advised Her Majesty that this memorial should be erected on the site then chosen for it, on the understanding that the public road in the neighbourhood of that site should be brought into due relation with the memorial. The First Commissioner of Works of that day, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple)—Lord Palmerston being Prime Minister at the 715 time—advised Her Majesty that the memorial should be proceeded with on that understanding. Unfortunately, however, instead of immediately giving effect to that understanding by passing the Bill then in contemplation for the improvement of the adjoining road, they allowed that which was the proper opportunity to pass away. When the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) was First Commissioner of Works, under the Government of Lord Derby, he naturally felt it to be his duty to give effect to that understanding that had been arrived at, and he accordingly prepared a plan upon the subject, which he submitted to the two local Boards in the neighbourhood of the district in question, both of whom passed resolutions approving that plan. The noble Lord, however, left Office without being able to complete the transaction. When he (Mr. Ayrton) assumed Office it became his duty to look into the matter, and he found the noble Lord's plan lying there uncompleted. He felt then that he had no alternative but to submit that measure to the consideration of the House. The course which he adopted in the matter was the usual one, and no step was taken by the Government which could have in any way prejudiced the rights of any person who might have wished to have them investigated. No Papers were circulated; but the House approved what had been done by a majority of 3 to 1, and unanimously agreed to refer the Bill to a Select Committee for investigation. After all this had been done a Motion was made suddenly and without notice, at 2 o'clock in the morning, that the Order to refer the Bill to a Select Committee should be discharged; and by a small majority that Motion was carried, it appearing that the hon. Members opposite had come—curiously perhaps—to a determination to discard the opinions and pledges of Lord Derby and of their own Commissioner of Works—a proceeding which, of course, it was impossible for him to have anticipated. By so doing they had placed the House in a position of great embarrassment; because, if Her Majesty's Government were to regard the course taken by the Conservative party under the conduct of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Henry Hoare) as a direction to be carried into effect, they would have to invite the 716 House to go into Committee of the Whole House at perhaps 12 o'clock in the day, and to sit and take evidence on the Bill, and to hear the views of the parties expounded probably by the forensic rhetoric of the learned counsel whom they might employ. That would be the natural consequence of the course taken by the Conservative party; but Her Majesty's Government could not, of course, ask the House to take so ridiculous a step. The only other course open to the Government would be to ask the House to reverse what had been so inconsiderately done at 2 o'clock in the morning; but in the present state of Public Business it was not easy for the Government to find time to embark upon such questions—and, besides, it would not be becoming in them to attempt to force this Bill through the House as a party measure, the Government thinking that if it were to pass at all it should, after the pledges which had been given, be passed by an overwhelming majority. There was the less necessity for embarking in such a contest from the statements made in respect to the Bill. He felt satisfied that when that beautiful and remarkable work was completed, so that the public could see and understand its architectural features in conjunction with the other works in the neighbourhood, they would be the best judges of what was required to be done, and hon. Members would have an opportunity of satisfying themselves as to the necessity of passing this Bill. He admitted the desirability of everything being completed before next season, when that part of Kensington would be the general resort of the public who might visit the Exhibition; and he had wished to do his duty by taking care that all the works in that neighbourhood should be brought into harmonious relation with the memorial before that time. That being the present state of things the Government thought they should be best discharging their duty by not forcing this Bill on, but by bringing it forward at a future time, when hon. Members would have had ample time to consider what was best to be done in reference to the great work which had been erected as a tribute of respect to the memory of the late Prince Consort. Under these circumstances, he should, when the proper time arrived, withdraw the Bill.