HC Deb 27 February 1873 vol 214 cc1024-31

rose, according to Notice, to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee of nine Members, five to be named by the House and four by the Committee of Selection. He regarded the question involved in this Bill not as one of the character ordinarily dealt with in Private Bills, but as one of metropolitan and almost of Imperial importance. He wished to treat this not as a question of art, or even of architecture, but simply as a question of Parliamentary procedure. Ever since that magnificent work, the Victoria Embankment, had been completed, the Metropolitan Board of Works had naturally desired to render it as useful as possible by making an approach to it from Charing Cross. That approach they had wished to make through Northumberland House; but for a time they encountered great difficulty in obtaining the consent of the owners of the land. That difficulty had now, however, been overcome, and a Bill for carrying out the work had been brought in, and had passed the Standing Orders. £542,000 was required for the work, part of which would be recouped by the sale of land, and the other part raised from the taxpayers of the Metropolis; and they were told that the measure came before them as a Private Bill. He did not dispute the necessity of the work; but he desired to raise a question of procedure. He thought that it would be better and much more convenient to adopt the curvilinear approach suggested by the late Mr. Pennethorne, which would avoid Northumberland House altogether, and take only a small portion of the garden. If, moreover, they swept away that ancient historic monument, Northumberland House, the hideous railway bridge near Charing Cross would mar the prospect from the finest site in Europe. He wished the Bill, therefore, to be sent before a hybrid Committee, who would consider the whole question from a broader point of view than that taken by an ordinary Private Bill Committee. He did not attack the Metropolitan Board of Works. On the contrary, he willingly gave them great credit for much they had done in London. The Holborn Viaduct was an honour to the country and to them. [Mr. CRAW-FORD: That was built by the City.] Then it was an honour to the City. The Metropolitan Board of Works was not an infallible body, as was proved by the mistake they made in erecting the stands in Hyde Park on the Thanksgiving Day.


rose to Order, and submitted that the erection of those stands had nothing to do with the Question before the House.


said, although he thought the noble Lord would exercise a wise discretion in not referring to the erection of the stands, yet he could not say he was absolutely out of Order.


said, the cost for the erection of those stands had been disallowed, and he only wished to say that Parliament must not allow itself to be overridden by the Metropolitan Board of Works, under the impression that it was an infallible body, and its schemes were to be adopted without question. The noble Lord concluded by moving that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.


suggested a modification in the terms of the Motion owing to the Bill having been already referred to the Committee of Selection.


in seconding the Motion, said, that before they got rid of one of the last of the old palaces of this great city they should assure themselves that they were doing so for the purpose of effecting a substantial improvement. In the present instance it was exceedingly doubtful whether the sweeping away of Northumberland House, which was an ornament to the Metropolis, and which had so many historical associations connected with it, would be a benefit to the public. It remained, therefore, for the Board of Works to prove to the House what had been stated in private—namely, that the proposed street over the site at present occupied by Northumberland House would take away half the traffic from the Strand.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Standing Orders Nos. 7 and 203 be suspended in the case of the Charing Cross and Victoria Embankment Approach Bill, and that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee of Nine Members, Five to be nominated by the House, and Four by the Committee of Selection, and that they be empowered to consider generally and report upon the Charing Cross and Victoria Embankment Approaches." — (Lord Elcho.)


I rise, Sir, for the purpose of asking the House to reject the Motion of the noble Lord, and I believe I shall be able to show that in the present instance there is no reason for a departure from the usual course adopted by the House with reference to Private Bills, and, moreover, that the Motion is, in fact, a direct infringement of Section 3 of the Standing Orders. A Committee of four Members appointed by the Committee of Selection, and in no way interested in the measure before them, will, I venture to think, be more satisfactory to the House and to the promoters of the Bill than the hybrid Committee proposed by the noble Lord, as the five Members whom the House would appoint, might be hon. Members pledged to a particular line of action. In support of this view, I will refer to the precedents afforded by the action of Parliament on many previous occasions with regard to the measures promoted by the Metropolitan Board of Works. I hold in my hand a list of 14 improvements promoted by the Metropolitan Board of Works, which were referred to the usual Committees. I do not wish to weary the House, but will just mention a few of these improvements—Finsbury Park, 1857; Garrick Street, from St. Martin's Lane to Covent Garden, 1857; Southwark Street, 1857; the Chelsea Embankment, 1868; Park Lane, 1869, and last, but not least, the new thoroughfares sanctioned by the Act of last Session. The noble Lord refers to precedents, and has alluded to the Shoreditch Improvement of 1871, but as some proof that the House was not satisfied with this solitary departure from the usual practice, I may mention that last year it rejected a similar Motion by a majority of 170 to 122, and subsequently upheld its Standing Orders, on a further division, by 150 to 108. Granted that the improvement for which the Board are now seeking powers is of a highly important character, still it is surely not more so than that comprehensive scheme to which this House gave its sanction last year. The carrying out of the Metropolitan Street Improvements Act will involve an expenditure of £2,500,000, while the acquisition of Northumberland House with the other property required will be but little over £500,000, of which the Board believe they will receive back nearly half from the sale of the surplus land. With regard to the question of architectural effect, I venture to think that I may, without arrogance, assume that the Board and their officers who have executed works which have met with approval, not only from our fellow-citizens, but from intelligent foreigners, are well qualified to exercise their judgment in matters of this nature, and I may add, that in no case are buildings allowed to be erected on the Board's land until the plans and elevation have been submitted to and approved by the architect as well as the Board. The question of the necessity of this or some similar improvement, is one on which I feel I need not enter at any length. It is universally admitted, and until proper approaches are formed it is obvious, that the Thames Embankment will not be utilized as it ought to be, nor the traffic of the Strand and Fleet Street be ap- preciably relieved. Nor is the present scheme a new one; it is almost coeval with the Embankment itself, and the Board have already on one occasion unsuccessfully promoted a Bill to carry it out. The present time, however, is peculiarly favourable; much building property has been swept away at the rear of Northumberland House, and, the ground being now vacant, it appeared to the Metropolitan Board a good opportunity to carry out the desired improvement. No less than seven schemes were brought before the Board, and after much consideration, it was decided that the finest and cheapest approach, and that which would be most satisfactory to the metropolis generally, would be to go through Northumberland House. In support of my view, I may also mention that the Select Committee on Hunger-ford Bridge and Wellington Street Viaduct, of which the noble Lord was Chairman, expressed an opinion of the absolute necessity of an approach to the Embankment from Charing Cross. With regard to the action of the Duke of Northumberland, it is not only my duty but a pleasure to bear witness to his having in the most noble and public-spirited manner consented to sacrifice his ancestral residence, rich with historical memories, for the benefit of the inhabitants of London. It is for the House to decide whether the noble Lord's reference to the recent disallowance by the auditor of certain items expended by the Board, was generous or relevant to the question at issue, and whether it should not have been left out of the present discussion. Had the Metropolitan Board adopted the noble Lord's suggestion of a curvilinear line they would still have to buy Northumberland House, and would incur far greater expense than now proposed; for the line of street would take off a corner of the gardens, and as the Duke would not agree to severance of his property, it would consequently be necessary to take all. Moreover, Sir, would it be wise to construct, at a far greater expense than the present scheme, a circuitous street when a direct line may be obtained? If the House decide to adhere to its usual practice, everything that petitioners against the Bill may have to urge can be advanced and will be considered, and I ask the House whether it is either right or wise to raise a question of procedure upon such an issue? If the noble Lord desires that the recommendation of the Select Committee of 1869 shall be carried out, the proper course for him to adopt would have been to bring in a Bill to give effect to the recommendations of that Committee. He has not thought fit to take that course, but has endeavoured to raise the question of procedure by a side wind. I ask the House not to assent to the Motion, but, following the usual practice, to refer the Bill to an impartial tribunal, and I leave my case with confidence in the hands of the House.


said, He should support the Motion of the noble Lord. His hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Colonel Hogg) had stated that this question would come before an unbiassed Committee, consisting of four independent Members of this House; but the very fact that four would be selected in this way led him to prefer the proposition of the noble Lord. Besides that, a question dealing with a site in the very heart of the Metropolis and in the immediate neighbourhood of Charing Cross should be left to such a Committee as the noble Lord proposed rather than to a Committee selected in the usual way.


as a Member of the Committee of 1869, was surprised at the remark of the hon. and gallant Member for Truro (Colonel Hogg) that that Committee had recommended an approach through Northumberland House. All the Committee said was, that besides the Northumberland House road, which had been rather obtrusively thrust upon its attention, there was another, of which the Committee itself drew out the merits, which was practicable. He denied that the Committee had said anything recommendatory of the Northumberland House way in comparison with the skirting road. Their words were, that the wants of the district would be best met either by a direct approach to the Embankment at Charing Cross, through Northumberland House, or by a curved line of roadway from Charing Cross skirting Northumberland House. The hon. and gallant Colonel had said— "Why not trust the Metropolitan Board?" He would tell him why. Because after proposing to make an Embankment, it was party to that monstrous viaduct by which it was proposed to intersect diagonally the re- claimed ground, so that an Act of Parliament was wanted to undo the joint muddle of the Metropolitan Board and the Office of Works. For that reason he did not trust the Board, neither could he trust the Committee to which the hon. and gallant Colonel would have the question referred, for the purpose of settling a question affecting the most central site of the leading city of the world, and he was bound to declare that the opposition on the part of the Board to a full inquiry was presumptive evidence of the weakness of their case.


said, that the noble Lord considered that an Imperial question; but the action of the House itself had divested the House of the jurisdiction of the Metropolis, and delegated it to the Board of Works. They had thrown the whole responsibility on this newly-created Board. The original intention of the Metropolitan Board was to make the Hungerford Bridge and Wellington Street Viaduct approach through Northumberland House; but in consequence of the action of the noble Duke it was impossible to obtain Northumberland House. It had therefore been suggested that a part of the grounds behind the House should be taken; but the noble Duke had said that if they took a part they had better take the whole.


said, He could not accede to the Motion of the noble Lord, which would vary the ordinary procedure in these cases. The noble Lord raised the question on the Rules of the House, but it really was on a point of art that he wished them to depart from their usual practice. What he proposed was to take the Bill out of the hands of the Committee of Selection, to which it was already referred — a Committee presided over by his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Wilson-Patten), and whose care in the discharge of his duties they all knew—and to send it to a Committee composed of Members who were not bound to attend from day to day, and where it might happen the proceedings would be very prolonged, because the question of taste would be introduced, and the promoters might have to pay the expenses of both sides. In the case of the Park Lane Improvement, in which the House was greatly interested, there was no departure from the ordinary course, and he trusted they would adhere to that course in the present instance. He would, in conclusion, remind the House of the decision of the late Speaker on the occasion of a similar Motion with reference to the Westminster Improvements Bill, in 1865. The Speaker then said that— When a Bill was introduced into that House as a Public Bill which involved private interests, it was subjected to the same examination which was provided for Private Bills; but strictly. Private Bills were never turned into hybrids."—[3 Hansard, clxxx. 44.]

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 72; Noes 187: Majority 115.