HC Deb 22 July 1872 vol 212 cc1579-87

Order for Committee read.


said, he was sorry the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Mr. Harcourt) saw fit to interpose between the House and the Committee upon this Bill, which was now of respectable antiquity, and would, he hoped, have been disposed of very briefly by the House, for the hon. and learned Gentleman would neither do service to his own cause nor to the comfort and harmony of the House by deferring the decision upon this measure by any Motion of his. The story of the Bill could be very briefly told. It originated in this wise. A Committee of the House, which was appointed last year to consider the question, decided that the land, which was the subject of the dispute, should be handed over by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to the Metropolitan Board of Works, for what the hon. and learned Gentleman himself described as a colourable consideration. The law did not permit such a handing over, and it therefore became necessary that a Bill should be introduced, in order to allow the recommendations of the Committee to be carried into effect. In obedience, therefore, to the wish of the Committee, though by no means agreeing with its recommendation, the Government introduced this Bill, and—as they were bound to do—referred it to a Select Committee, which came to a decision adverse to that of the Committee of last year, requiring the land to be paid for according to its value, instead of for a merely nominal and colourable consideration. The Government were disposed to agree with the unanimous decision of this Committee; but the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) had placed upon the Paper Amendments which would raise fully the matters in debate between himself and the Government. The question had been thoroughly argued, the issue had been raised, and little further discussion was necessary in order for a decision to be arrived at. That being the state of the case, the hon. and learned Member for Oxford came forward, and told the House it was advisable to defer the matter till next Session, because there was other important Business to be attended to. There would be Business to attend to next Session also, and he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) undertook to say that by deferring this Bill for another year they would waste 20 times the amount of public time that would be occupied now in settling the question, which was ripe for decision, and the decision of which, whatever it might be, Her Majesty's Government were prepared to accept. He had heard it said that a postponement of the question was to be asked, on the ground that the Metropolitan Board of Works were engaged in negotiations with his Grace the Duke of Northumberland for the purchase of some land abutting upon the Embankment. He could imagine nothing more irrelevant than to raise any discussion as to what the views of the Duke of Northumberland were. The land of the Duke of Northumberland lay to the North, and the land which the Bill proposed to deal with lay to the South, and the two questions had no relation whatever to each other. It was a mere question of the financial operation of the Board of Works involving an expenditure of £3,000, and was that an amount sufficient to render it necessary to postpone this matter, to see whether or not another financial arrangement could be made? The two things were quite independent, and he hoped they would proceed at once to discuss the main question, and not put it off to another Session.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


, in moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice, said, he did not deny the accuracy of the statement just made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that a Bill was necessary to the carrying out of this transaction; but he denied that on the 22nd of July the House of Commons was in a proper situation for discussing that measure. His reasons for taking this view were, in the first place, that the Bill would take a long time to discuss; and, in the second, that they had not a long time at their disposal for the purpose. The second proposition was proved by the fact that there were 35 Government Orders of the Day on the Paper for that evening, and that the Government had that day thrown overboard the most important remaining Bill of the Session—the Corrupt Practices Bill—because they had not time to discuss it. That the Bill would require protracted discussion was proved by the fact that there were no less than five different parties at issue on this point—first, the Committee of last Session; then the Committee of this Session, who disagreed with that of last; thirdly, the Government, who differed from both; fourthly, the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), who differed from all three; and, fifthly, the Metropolitan Board of Works, who were not satisfied with the arrangement proposed; so that the House was to take on itself, on the 22nd of July, to arbitrate between all these parties. The House was, therefore, asked to enter upon a discussion as complicated as the Geneva Arbitration, and, supposing they got through the Committee on the Bill, they would be met again with those numerous means of resistance which at this period of the Session were all-powerful in the hands of a defeated party. Was it worth while, therefore, to waste these precious moments of the Session by throwing overboard the Committee of Supply, and spending time that might be devoted to the Licensing Bill, in settling a squabble which ought to be determined by the Treasury and the Metropolitan Board of Works by private arrangement? The question was not so simple as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think, because its discussion would involve, among other things, a consideration of the way in which the public lands of the country were and ought to be administered. Then there was further the aesthetic question of taste as to which was the best architectural line to be adopted—a question which he never entered upon, because he did not understand it. He, however, had never considered this as a question of taste, and had always considered it as a question of how much open space could be secured for the inhabitants of London. There could be no harm in postponing the Bill until next Session. Three precious weeks at the opening of the present Session had been occupied by the Parks Bill; let this Bill be put down for consideration at the opening of next Session. The plans for the public buildings intended to be built upon this space of ground were not before Parliament, nor the Votes for the money that would be required for their erection. It was also said that the line would not be consistent with Whitehall Gardens, which would have to be pulled down; but it could not be done this autumn, it having a lease of 30 or 40 years more to run, and therefore it was that he urged that they need not be called on on the 22nd July to decide this question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in like manner had ridiculed the idea that Northumberland House had anything to do with the question, but everybody knew that Northumberland House was the key to the whole position, and that the Duke of Northumberland had a veto on the question—if, however, he complied with the wishes of the Metropolitan Board of Works, the aspects of the question would be entirely changed. Since negotiations were now going on between the Duke and the Board, he felt sure that if this Bill were withdrawn the points at issue would be amicably settled during the Recess without the time of the House being wasted. He would conclude by moving, as an Amendment, that at this period of the Session it was not expedient to proceed further with the measure.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "having regard to the advanced period of the Session and the pressure of more important public business in which the House is already engaged, it is not expedient to proceed further with the consideration of this Bill,"—(Mr. Vernon Harcourt,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, this was a practical rather than a controversial question, which had been long discussed, but was now ripe for settlement; for instance, the hon. Member for Westminster had placed on the Notice Paper views of the question adverse to those entertained by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, and his view was shared in by the Government, and they were willing to accept it. Several of the five parties to whom the hon. and learned Member had referred had no existence. The Government had clearly stated to what extent it deferred to the opinion of a high authority, and the hon. Member opposite (Mr W. H. Smith) had clearly stated in what respect he desired to depart from the judgment of the Committee. It was totally impossible to take the Bill at the commencement of next Session. This was a hybrid Bill, which it would be necessary to pass through certain formal stages, so that it could not come before the House next Session until they were in the full tide of work. The Government was, therefore, obliged to see what could be done in the time remaining in this Session. If the expression of the judgment of the House was such as would not enable the Government to go forward with the plan, or to enable the hon. Member for Westminster to take up the Bill and carry it forward, without being in any way unfairly impeded by the Government, it would become the duty of the Government to consider whether the question should not be postponed.


said, that when he put his Amendment on the Paper, he did so in the belief that it was expedient and desirable that the Bill should be disposed of in this Session; but since that time negotiations had been entered into which had very materially altered the circumstances referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There could be no doubt that the line of approach to the Embankment from Charing Cross was materially affected by the position of Northumberland House. Proposals had been made to his Grace by the Metropolitan Board of Works; but he (Mr. W. H. Smith) had no desire to prejudge the result of those communications or to express an opinion upon them. If, however, an approach was to be made from Charing Cross through Northumberland House, he felt certain that the public would respond to the advance that would be made to the Duke of Northumberland by the Metropolitan Board of Works, in asking his Grace to sacrifice Northumberland House to the necessities of the people. Whatever might be the result of the negotiation, no one could doubt that the approach of the Embankment should be from Charing Cross. Until that point was settled, it would be premature to take into consideration the question of the line of buildings as it affected the particular land in question; and as it was expedient that the discus- sion of the question should be postponed, he supported the hon. and learned Member for Oxford in his Amendment.


had intended to support the Government, but the remarks of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) had induced him to change his opinion. This Bill was a proposal to sell a piece of land worth about £100,000 for £3,000; but if the Bill were postponed there would be a chance of getting for the land a larger price somewhat in proportion to the sum which the Duke of Northumberland would receive for his land.


said, that when the Metropolitan Board of Works found the present Duke of Northumberland was clearing away the buildings between the gardens to Northumberland House and the Embankment, they conceived it to be their duty to enter into fresh negotiations upon the subject of the approach to the Embankment from Charing Cross, feeling sure that the reason the Embankment was not more used was the want of good approaches to it. With that object in view, they had gone to the Duke of Northumberland in order to ascertain what he was disposed to do in the matter. Negotiations on the subject were now going on, and what the result of them might be he could not tell.


said, there might be many reasons why it was desirous to postpone the further consideration of the question. Speaking for himself, he should be sorry to see Northumberland House pulled down. It would no doubt be a public improvement, but it could only be effected at an enormous expense. He thought the affairs of the Duke of Northumberland had been unnecessarily brought into the question.


having in a former Session successfully challenged the opinion of the House on the preservation of Northumberland House, and having been last year a Member of the Select Committee on the subject of the Thames Embankment, wished to make a few remarks. He protested against the red herring of Northumberland House being drawn across the path. Differing as he did from the Government on the main question, he must acknowledge the fairness with which they had on the present occasion arranged to try the principle at stake— —namely, whether the money spent by the metropolitan ratepayers on that ground had or had not given them a moral, as distinct from a legal, claim to enter on it at a minimum cost. He had come down to discuss that question, and not to embark on an indefinite discussion of possible future approaches to the Embankment. He was a party to the paper which had been issued requesting a large attendance on the present occasion, but had not put his name to that paper for the purpose of trying the question of Northumberland House. He might have been glad to see the Bill postponed, because he believed that six months reflection on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would induce him to think that the sacrifice of popularity, which his assertion of Summum jus involved, would be ill-repaid by £3,000 or even £40,000; but in face of the reasons urged for the postponement, he was constrained to admit that the arguments against it predominated. On these grounds he should not vote for the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, because when the Chairman for the Board of Works talked about negotiations respecting Northumberland House he felt that by voting for the Motion he should facilitate an issue which he might be bound to oppose at a later stage. The Resolution, if it should be in favour of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, would be taken as expressing the feeling of the House in favour of the demolition of Northumberland House, which was a building of great interest and dignity, and could only be acquired by the Metropolitan Board at a fancy price. He appealed to the hon. Member for Westminster not to be carried away by the fervid eloquence of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford, and trusted that he would not support his Resolution, for his own part he would be compelled to vote with the Government in the hope of reaching the direct issue raised by the Amendments of his hon. Friend.


, as a Member of the Committee of last year, was not surprised at the course taken by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Harcourt). The Government had had another Committee during the present Session. He believed that Committee had come to the determination of having a larger sum from the Metropolitan Board and giving them less land into the bargain. The question was which of the two schemes should be adopted. He denied that it would take the House a long time to come to a decision on the subject. Notice had certainly been given of a number of Amendments by the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), but if the first should be carried there would be an end of the rest. Then with respect to Northumberland House, if the Metropolitan Board of Works, at some future time, chose to acquire that residence, and to adopt some plan for bringing a road down from Charing Cross to the Embankment, he did not see how, in the slightest degree, that would interfere with the piece of land which was the matter in dispute, which was quite on the other side and did not come near Northumberland House. He thought, therefore, that the opinion of the House should be taken on the question whether the proposal of the hon. Member for Westminster should be adopted in preference to that adopted by the Committee this year.


deprecated any further discussion on the subject until the Motion before the House was disposed of, which was whether or not the subject should be discussed on that occasion. He thought the question ought to be decided one way or the other, and then the subject might be discussed on the Amendments.


thought that the House would do wisely not to attempt to enter into a discussion on the merits of the Bill. It had been said that the question of Northumberland House had nothing to do with the points involved in the Bill. Now, in his opinion, the question of Northumberland House was one of primary importance in laying out the land, on the Embankment. There was no approach from Charing Cross; and if the Duke of Northumberlan thought proper to abandon that House for the purpose of allowing the formation of a good straight street it would be much more advantageous to the public than the preservation of the architecture of that building. After the statement which had been made by the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board, that negotiations were still going on with the Duke of Northumberland, he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer would do wisely not to proceed with the Bill, which was not ripe for discussion.


said, he had been looking at the posts on the Embankment marking out the strip of ground which it was proposed to sell to the public, and was of opinion that the land was altogether insufficient for the object contemplated. He believed that the postponement of the discussion for six months was desirable in order that the Government might give further consideration to the matter.


admitted that it was most essential that there should be a proper access to this beautiful Embankment; but he wished to point out that a plan was laid before the Select Committee by the late Mr. Pennithorne, which gave a most beautiful access from Charing Cross to the Embankment without touching Northumberland House at all, and which, if adopted, would have saved the expenditure of the enormous sum which the purchase of the building would require.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 133; Noes 154: Majority 21.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and negatived.