HC Deb 05 July 1872 vol 212 cc736-47

SUPPLY—considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

(1.) £29,500, Natural History Museum.


rose to Order, and asked whether he was to understand that Mr. Speaker had left the Chair? He was at a loss to know how it had happened that the right hon. Gentleman omitted to call his name, as he had a Notice on the Paper. He had hailed the right hon. Gentleman before he was out of hearing.


said, that the question now before the Committee was the Vote for the Natural History Museum.


said, he should like to know whether there was any probability of the whole of this sum being wanted in the present year. Last year £40,000 were voted, and only £5,000 expended. Two years ago, when £6,000 were voted for the construction of the Natural History Museum, it was taken as the final judgment of the House of Commons that the building should be erected on the ground purchased some years before from the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851. The total value of the property then disposed of to Her Majesty's Government for £120,000 was not less than £280,000; but the Commissioners felt themselves justified in what they did, on account of the purposes to which the ground was to be devoted. The Commissioners stipulated that the ground should be appropriated to purposes of Science and Art, and words to that effect were introduced in the deed of sale. For many years Her Majesty's Government did nothing with this valuable piece of ground, beyond practicing the art of doing nothing, and the science of growing nettles on it; but he had noticed lately that a hideous structure had been erected upon it in the shape of a district post office. He was not able to discover in what way the erection of a district post office fulfilled the condition that the ground should be solely applied to purposes of Science and Art, and should like some explanation upon the subject.


said, he objected to the Vote altogether, and would move that it be negatived. In the early part of last Session he put a Question to the Prime Minister, with the view that the plan should be laid before the public before the work should be proceeded with. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman was to this effect: that £30,000 had been voted, that specifications had been invited, and, therefore, that it was too late to have the design submitted to the judgment of the public. He had reason to believe that the facts were somewhat different, and that the Prime Minister in giving that answer did not know the whole state of the case. He had reason to believe that the designs and plans were only on paper, and he put down a Notice that no further steps should be taken with reference to the building until the designs were submitted to the public, for from what he had heard he was induced to believe that the contract had not yet been taken—at least that it was not taken a fortnight ago. The history of the whole affair was this—The Natural History Museum was to be erected in consequence of the crowded state of the British Museum, and, after much difference of opinion, it was decided that it should be built at South Kensington. Architects were invited to send in plans on certain conditions as to their nature, and a jury of gentlemen to whom the designs should be submitted was appointed, of which Sir William Tite, Mr. Fergusson, and Mr. Roberts were members. The designs were exhibited in Westminster Hall, and it turned out, after a most careful examination, that the design of Captain Fowke was successful. Captain Fowke put himself in communication with the Trustees of the British Museum, in order to settle the internal arrangements in a satisfactory way. But in the meantime Captain Fowke died, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple), who was First Commissioner of Works at the time, having to choose an architect to carry out Captain Fowke's design, fixed on Mr. Waterhouse, a gentleman of great ability and known for his Gothic tastes. Mr. Waterhouse was instructed to make estimates for Captain Fowke's design, and he calculated that it would cost £430,000. In March, 1867, Mr. Austen, of the Office of Works, wrote to Mr. Waterhouse announcing the intentions of the First Commissioner, and stating that should the House of Commons vote the money, Mr. Waterhouse was to proceed with the erection of the building in accordance with the design of the late Captain Fowke, or as nearly as circumstances would permit. In 1868 his noble Friend (Lord John Manners) was at the Office of Works, and Mr. Austen wrote to Mr. Jones, first Librarian of the British Museum, announcing that Mr. Waterhouse had been requested to communicate with the Trustees for the purpose of preparing plans, and, if necessary, revising, not the internal arrangements of the late Captain Fowke's de- sign, but the elevation of the proposed Natural History Museum. Now, if you entrusted the plan or design of one architect to another to carry out, unless you tied down the latter in the strictest possible way, he was pretty sure to leave the marks of his own genius upon it. What happened in this case? In May, 1868, Mr. Waterhouse stated his objection to Captain Fowke's plan, and described his own. In short, he proposed to build in a style totally different from that of Captain Fowke. He did not in the least blame the present Government for the course which they had taken in this matter. All that the present First Commissioner of Works had done was to give effect to the action of his immediate predecessor in office. His complaint was that the country was dependent upon the action of the temporary holder of the office of the First Commissioner of Works for the design in which its public buildings were executed. Thus, one First Commissioner might be in favour of one description of architecture, and he might employ an architect to design a public building in accordance with a particular style; but a change of Government occurring, a new First Commissioner who was in favour of a different style of architecture might come into office, and he might direct the architect to design the public building in accordance with his peculiar views. There were many cases in which this hap-hazard system had been pursued to which he might refer. Thus the Foreign Office, which was originally intended to be executed in one style, was finally built in a different one. The Prime Minister himself, in more elegant language than he himself was master of, had shown the absolute necessity for some change in the present system. The National Gallery was originally designed under one First Commissioner, and that design was altered by his successor. Lord Palmerston had stopped the building of the London University in Burlington Gardens in the Gothic style, and it was subsequently built in the Renaissance style. The New Law Courts, the National Gallery, the South Kensington Museum, the Natural History Museum, the War Office, and the Admiralty Office Buildings had all been subjected to the same treatment. The Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to think it a waste of time to bring such a matter before the House; but time would not be wasted by such a discussion if it produced an economy in public expenditure. Let it be proved that the system he denounced was not hap-hazard and unsatisfactory. What he wished for was such a system as would ensure money being expended on the best building talent could produce. He did not bring this forward as a question of style; about that he did not care; and he thought it a misfortune that discussion on the subject in that House too often became a battle of styles. The public had no knowledge whatever of what was going to be erected; the design was totally different from that which they knew about. True, the plans were put in the Library at the fag-end of last Session; they were seen by very few Members and not by the public at all. The system was wrong, and until it was remedied our expenditure would be wasteful. In 1860, in reply to the First Commissioner of Works, the Prime Minister said, with reference to the expenditure of public money on public buildings— He had no hesitation in saying that this and other circumstances of a like kind were entirely owing to the lamentable and deplorable state of our whole arrangement with regard to the management of our public works. Vacillation, uncertainty, costliness, extravagance, meanness, and all the conflicting vices that could be enumerated were united in our present system. There was a total want of authority to direct and guide."—[3 Hansard, clx. 1360.] "Non meus hic sermo." If anything had been done to bring order out of this chaos it was desirable it should be known, and he hoped they would hear it. Unless they had an assurance that a better system had been inaugurated, he should ask the Committee to negative the Vote.


said, he wished to direct attention to the great necessity there was for the erection of a new Patent Museum, which was waiting for a site; and as a suitable one was now pointed out, he hoped a Vote would be taken for the Patent Museum next year.


said, he trusted he should be able to satisfy the noble Lord that it was quite unnecessary for him to enter a protest against the erection of this Museum. True it was, that the noble Lord, in conjunction with the other judges of designs selected, one which was not being carried into execution; but that was owing to the fact that they made their selection on grounds of taste, art, or architecture, and their selection was not based on considerations with which the Government in the end found itself compelled to deal. The first and most important consideration with regard to any building was to clearly understand the purpose for which it was to be erected and the manner in which it was to be used. The architect of the Musical Academy of Paris had published a very considerable work, in which he discussed all the preliminary questions relating to the use of the building before mentioning architectural designs, which he dismissed as purely a matter of opinion. In this case a design was selected and sent to the trustees of the British Museum, who, after a most careful examination, came to the conclusion that the design which was deemed second by the judges was much better than the first. The result was that the architect and the trustees of the British Museum agreed to an entirely new design which would fulfill both the conditions required—namely, utility and architecture. The noble Lord asked whether the Government had arrived at any better system. His answer was that they had. They had discovered the defects of former operations and how they might be remedied. He had made considerable inquiries on that subject in Paris, and in all the great offices there he found that the same complaints and inconveniences existed; that the Government gave the buildings into the hands of the architect before they had determined precisely what the architect ought to do. The consequence was that the practical official use of the building was made subservient to what might be the peculiar opinions in point of art of the architect. No architect ought to be employed by the Government for the construction of any building, until they were perfectly satisfied as to the objects and purposes for which it was intended. After determining these preliminary questions, they should ask the architect to carry out their wishes with a due regard to the beautiful in art; but of course they must let him know how much money they proposed to expend upon the work, otherwise he might proceed entirely according to his own imagination. The Government, in fact, were bound to act as any cautious, prudent man would do in his own business. The Office of Works was now so constituted that it could supply the Government with the preliminary information as to what was practically required in the case of any building, and how much money should be devoted to its erection. He had carried out that principle as far as he could in this instance. The Office of Works had arrived at a perfect accord with the trustees of the Museum, and had determined that a building such as was required ought to be constructed, not at the sum of £430,000 as formerly contemplated, but for £350,000; and for the smaller sum they would have in a suitable style of architecture a more commodious building erected than they would have had for the larger amount. With that view the contract plans and drawings had to be carefully studied by the architect; and those proceedings had taken more time than Mr. Waterhouse himself, or the Department had anticipated. He could not, however, yet fix the exact day when the contract would be made, for the simple reason that owing to the strike among the operative builders only the other day Mr. Waterhouse intimated to the Office of Works that he entertained some doubt now, at the last moment, whether they would be able to get a contractor to complete the building within the stipulated sum. It was his duty to inform that gentleman that he must revise all his details—and the Office suggested in what manner—so as to give a reasonable security to the Government that the contract would be completed within the stipulated sum. He thought no one could cavil at the delay seeing that the building trade was at that moment in a state of stagnation, owing to the strike or lock-out. The noble Lord thought they were proceeding in the dark; but the design had been very carefully considered, and, although complete in itself, was yet of such a character as to admit of large additions being made from time to time to meet the wants of the future. The noble Lord wanted to see the designs again before the work was commenced. [Lord ELCHO: The public should see them.] He did not know of what advantage it would be to exhibit the contract plans and drawings to the public. The design had been seen by the public at the Exhibition last year sufficiently to enable a popular opinion to be formed upon it, and when the late Government determined to employ Mr. Waterhouse, and that determination was approved by Parliament, there was an end of the matter of taste. The work must, of necessity, be left to Mr. Waterhouse, who could not be assisted by the general public. Therefore, he hoped his noble Friend would allow that all had been done that was necessary to secure a fulfillment of the promises made upon the subject. His hon. Friend (Mr. Bowring) had raised a nice legal point as to what extent this land was vested in the Office of Works for the purpose of science and art. Presuming his hon. Friend correct, he could conceive of no idea more intimately connected with science and art than a post-office. What would be the use of science and art unless it could be diffused, and how could it better be diffused than by the post office, aided by the electric telegraph?


submitted that the right hon. Gentleman had not replied to his Question. He (Lord Elcho) had expressed a desire that steps should be taken to secure as satisfactory an outside to the building as it was presumed it would be complete inside. The promises of the Prime Minister had not been fulfilled, nor would they be until the designs had been exhibited at a time when hon. Members and the public could study them. It was true they had been put up in Westminster Hall for a short period at the fag-end of the Session, but that could not be called an exhibition. He was, therefore, resolved to oppose the Vote until he had a promise that the designs would be exhibited.


said, he wished to state two things. In the first place, the present Government had never had an opportunity of appointing an architect for any public building—[Lord ELCHO: The Post Office]—in the second, the Government had most materially improved the system of erecting public buildings by the appointment of an officer in connection with the Office of Works.


complimented the First Commissioner upon the great ability he had exhibited in this matter, and thought the country was greatly indebted to the Prime Minister for his selection of the right hon. Gentleman for that office.


said, he thought he could promise to vote with the noble Lord, on the principle that the House should insist upon a plan when it had once fixed upon it.


said, he thought it was a preposterous proposal that they should vote a sum of £350,000 to be at the disposal of Mr. Waterhouse. If Mr. Waterhouse was to be the architect, and the First Commissioner of Works was to be his only supervisor, he doubted whether the House had sufficient confidence in either of those Gentlemen to sanction such an arrangement. It would be much better that a Committee of the House should be appointed to supervise the plans.


said, he thought that one remark which had fallen from the First Commissioner of Works had escaped the notice of the Committee, and it was that Mr. Waterhouse's design for the new building, which he had estimated would cost £350,000, and which had been substituted for Captain Fowke's design, had been handed back to him again by the First Commissioner of Works, on his representing that in consequence of the strike in the building trade—it could not be carried out at the cost estimated, with instructions to cut his designs down so that the original estimate should not be exceeded. He (Captain Trench) deprecated the introduction of such a system with reference to public buildings, and pointed out that the reason that there were so many barn-like barracks over the country, apparently reflecting discredit on architectural capabilities of the corps to which he (Captain Trench) had the honour to belong, was the working of such an utilitarian system, under which for a small amount of money large accommodation had to be provided—little money being given for, and consequently little regard being paid to ornamental appearance in the elevations. Such a system, he pointed out, might do well enough for barracks; but he thought it ought not to be applied to public buildings, more especially to such an one as that on account of which they were called upon to give a vote, which would also be in a measure a national monument, and one which would be visited by all foreigners and strangers coming to the metropolis. He submitted that the more proper course for the First Commissioner to take would be to carry out the plan which had been inspected by the public and officially approved of; and if it was found that from strikes in the building trade, or other unavoidable causes, the original design could not be carried out for the amount originally estimated, he (Captain Trench) had no doubt that the House would willingly vote any additional sum—which could be introduced in a Supplementary Estimate—rather than agree to the cutting down and spoiling of the approved design.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 85; Noes 45: Majority 40.

(2.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £5,851, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1873, for New Buildings, Maintenance and Repair of Buildings, and other Expenses connected therewith, of the Metropolitan Police Courts.


, in moving to report Progress, said, he must appeal to the Government and the Committee to give him an opportunity of calling attention to the Tichborne Case. ["Order!"]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Whalley.)


said, the Question before the House related to the metropolitan police courts.


attempted to proceed with his remarks; but being repeatedly called to order, at length said he would withdraw his Motion for reporting Progress.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

(3.) £110,483, to complete the sum for Public Buildings in Ireland.

(4.) £12,560, to complete the sum for Lighthouses Abroad.

(5.) £450, to complete the sum for Embassy Houses Abroad.

(6.) £61,483, to complete the sum for Embassy Houses, &c. Constantinople, China, Japan, and. Tehran.

(7.) £251,472, to complete the sum for Superannuation and retired Allowances.


complained that the Votes were being taken in a very spasmodic manner, and asked why some of the postponed Votes in Class 2 were not taken?


said, he had announced on the assembling of the House at two o'clock that three Votes to which Notice of opposition had been given would not be taken that evening.


thought longer Notice ought to have been given.

Vote agreed to.

(8.) £31,910, to complete the sum for Merchant Seamen's Fund Pensions, &c

(9.) £27,000, to complete the sum for Belief of Distressed British Seamen Abroad.

(10.) £14,350, to complete the sum for Hospitals and Infirmaries, Ireland.

(11.) £4,451, to complete the sum for Miscellaneous Charitable and other Allowances, Great Britain.

(12.) £4,618, to complete the sum for Miscellaneous Charitable and other Allowances, Ireland.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £976,468, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1873, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Customs Department.


said, he trusted that the Vote would not be brought forward that night, as the hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Otway), who wished to call attention to the subject, was not in his place.


also thought the Vote should be postponed.


said, he would also draw attention to the fact that the promised Treasury Minute relating to certain officials in the Customs had not yet been laid on the Table.


said, that as the Minute in question had not been produced, he would assent to the postponement of the Vote.


remarked that there was great irregularity in the mode of taking the Votes. He trusted that in future the Votes would be taken in regular order.


remarked on the inconvenience of altering at two o'clock an arrangement made the pre- vious night, that a Vote should not be taken.


also complained of the uncertainty and confusion created by Votes being taken out of the regular order.


thought a Notice at two o'clock could not make up for the want of it the previous night.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

(13.) £1,644,308, Inland Revenue Department.


said, he would suggest an amalgamation of the Customs and the Inland Revenue Collecting Departments in small town, where the income hardly equaled the expenditure.


said, no such scheme was at present in contemplation, and the question was too large a one to be discussed at a late hour without Notice.

Vote agreed to.

(14.) £2,609,814, Post Offices Services, &c.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next;

Committee to sit again upon Monday next.