HC Deb 20 February 1885 vol 294 cc967-81

(1.) £5,000, Surveys, United Kingdom.


said, that that was an addition to the sum of £242,500 they had already voted in the course of the present financial year for expediting the Ordnance Survey. He hoped it was well understood that, when the people of this country were called upon to pay £250,000 sterling a-year for the expediting of this survey, they were called upon to perform a very valuable service to the landowners of the country. He also hoped that the people were not consenting to pay this large sum without an ulterior object. The landed gentry of the country were getting now maps of their estates made at the cost of the people. He should like it to be thoroughly understood that the object of the Representatives of the people in Parliament in voting this large sum of money every year was simply and solely that they might arrive, at the earliest possible moment, at a condition in which they could adopt the system of registration of title. That was the object with which he, for one, gladly supported this Vote; and he hoped it might be taken for granted that that was the object of the House generally in desiring to expedite the survey of the United Kingdom.

Vote agreed to.

(2.) £120, Natural History Museum.

(3.) £3,570, Harbours, &c. under the Board of Trade.

(4.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £7,500, 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 1885, for the Erection, Repairs, and Maintenance of the several Public Buildings under the Department of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, and for the Erection of Fishery Piers, and the Maintenance of certain Parks, Harbours, and Navigations.


said, there was one item in this Vote with regard to which he should like some explanation from the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hibbert). It was proposed to take £2,500 for the drainage of the River Brosna, a river which flowed into the River Shannon. He should like to hear from the hon. Gentleman the reason of this sum being required. The Brosna overflowed its banks at certain times of the year; but the condition of the Brosna was rendered defective by the manner in which the Shannon was maintained. Now, the Shannon was maintained from a certain point at a navigation level; and, therefore, the rivors which flowed into the Shannon were also kept at a higher level than they would otherwise need to be kept. The consequence was that the country through which the Brosna and other tributaries of the Shannon flowed was at times flooded. He did not profess to be acquainted with the exact condition of the people who lived in the districts affected by the overflowing of the Brosna; but he desired to point out to the hon. Gentleman who was Secretary to the Treasury that he would come a great deal in contact with the doings of the Board of Works in Ireland, and would hear something of the manner in which the drainage and navigation of the Shannon had been managed in the past, and the absolute futility of maintaining the Shannon in its present condition—that was, at a navigation level—up to a certain point. The dues which accrued from the river in its present condition were not sufficient to pay the wages of the men employed. At present, he merely asked for an explanation of the item of £2,500 in respect to the Brosna drainage.


said, that the sum referred to was intended to be given as compensation to the owner of one particular property. The person in question was the proprietor of some mills on the River Brosna, which had been damaged owing to the drainage system which had been carried out; and it was considered that the damage done to his property entitled him to some compensation. There was no doubt that the general question to which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Kenny) referred was a very important one, and one in regard to which he (Mr. Hibbert) hoped to be able to do something, when they got to the Shannon Vote, to carry out the views the hon. Gentleman had expressed.


said, the point raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Kenny) was one well deserving the attention of the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hibbert). The Shannon required very careful supervision; and the hon. Gentleman would do well to see whether the recommendations of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into and report upon the condition of the river had been carried out.


said, there was another item in the Vote in respect of which some explanation should be afforded. Under Sub-head C, for maintenance, £1,700 was set down for repair of St. Patrick's Hall. He believed St. Patrick's Hall was a Department of Dublin Castle; but he was not aware of any occasion recently when there had been any necessity to use it, except that on which a few noblemen were installed in the Order of St. Patrick, an Order not in any respect deserving of its name. The community took no interest in it; indeed, it had no significance to any part of the community, except the few noblemen who adorned themselves with its stars and ribbons. The people were tired of the proceedings connected with the installations; and they felt that if it was necessary or desirable occasionally to hold high ceremony, at which half-a-score of gentlemen put on blue mantles and stars and ribbons, those gentlemen ought to bear the expense of painting the ceiling and waxing the floor of the Hall in which they met.


said, he did not think the money had been spent in beautifying the Hall in the way suggested. As a matter of fact, the floor required relaying, and other parts of the Hall were in a very bad state of repair indeed. The greater part of the money asked for, therefore, had been spent in renovating, rather than in beautifying, the Hall. Though St. Patrick's Hall was a part of Dublin Castle which was used by the Lord Lieutenant, he thought that even the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) would agree with him that all the different public buildings in Ireland should be kept up at the expense of the State.


said, he wished to call attention to one of these Supplementary items, which, in proportion to the amount of the original Estimate, was very large. There seemed to be, under Sub-head F, for travelling, a most unwarrantable addition. The original Estimate for travelling was £452, and now a further sum of £248 was asked for. He could not understand how there could have been such a grievous miscalculation. An increase of 54 per cent upon the original Estimate seemed to him perfectly unwarrantable.


said, he quite agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Warton) that the Supplementary Vote was unusually large. At the same time, he believed the original Estimate was cut down in order to induce economy in travelling. The expenses, unfortunately, had been cut down too much; and the consequence was that a large additional sum had now to be granted.


said, he desired to supplement what had been said by his hon. Friend the Member for Ennis (Mr. Kenny), with regard to the Brosna drainage business. If the Government, or the Board of Works as servants of the Government, would turn their attention to drainage, and give up the fallacy of inland navigation, they would (To a great service to the country. A Royal Commission went all over Ireland to examine the canals, with the result that they reported against the maintenance of nearly all those waterways. He held firmly the opinion that all the inland rivers should be used for draining the water off the land, and for no other purpose whatever. It was nonsensical to speak of navigation. The railways of the country were quite capable of carrying all that was required to be carried. It was quite true that this idea of inland navigation enabled some persons to get a little plunder; but it did great mischief to the parties who wanted their land drained. Under Subhead A he noticed that £577 was asked for the purchase of premises at Mullin-gar Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks; and he wished to move the reduction of the Vote by that amount. It was notorious that there were far more police in Ireland than were required; and, therefore, it was a scandal to ask the British ratepayers to give money for further Constabulary accommodation in that country. In point of fact, the greater part of the Constabulary barracks ought to be closed, and the fellows who inhabited them turned about their business. The Constabulary were a parcel of hulking fellows, who took the public money, and gave no real work in return. Ho, therefore, moved the reduction of the Vote by £577, being the sum required for the purchase of a site for additional police accommodation at Mullingar.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £6,923, 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 1885, for the Erection, Repairs, and Maintenance of the several Public Buildings under the Department of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, and for the Erection of Fishery Piers, and the Maintenance of certain Parks, Harbours, and Navigations."—(Mr. Biggar.)


said, he was glad his hon. Friend the Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) had raised the question of the Mullingar Barracks. If he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) was rightly informed, there was already a police barracks in Mullingar before the erection of this new police barracks. There were, therefore, two police barracks for a very small town—a town which, in England, would be called a viliage. The poverty-stricken people were surprised, if they happened to sit up late at night, to see the extraordinary festivities which had now become a regular portion of the routine at the Mullingar Police Barracks. He was credibly informed that the police inhabiting these quarters had a ball once a-week, and that all the servant girls in the neighbourhood were invited to join in the festivities. Such was the work which the Constabulary in Ireland were engaged in doing; and it was to provide additional facilities for this kind of thing that the Committee were now asked to vote £577. He would like to ask the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hibbert), whether it was the occupants of these barracks, who recently allowed an Emergency man, or some other person under their control, to escape from them, and to run on to a railway tract and to be there killed, or was it the occupants of these premises at Mullingar who, recently, bringing another Emergency man home, got so drunk that an accident befell them, with the result that the Emergency man broke his leg? And whether it was true that the Emergency man was borne by his body guard to a quack doctor, whose mode of curing the limb consisted in pouring hot water upon it? Such were the men for whom additional premises at Mullingar had been erected at a cost of £577. He really thought that the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, who had been in his time an economist, ought to be ashamed to stand sponsor of this item.


said, he did not stand sponsor to the policemen, or to the Emergency man the hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had referred to. He did not think, moreover, that what the hon. Member had said was at all connected with the finance of the question; neither did he think that if he were to inquire into the character of the policemen in England he would find every one perfect. As he understood the matter, this station was one that was to supply the place of that which had hitherto existed at Mullingar. The site had already been bought, and it had been approved by the Government. The site of the new station was necessary. All the Government could do in regard to public works in Ireland was to take the best advice they could. That they had done in this instance.

Question put, and negatived.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

(5.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £50,000, 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 1885, for Diplomatic and Consular Buildings, including Bents and Furniture, and for the maintenance of certain Cemeteries abroad.


said, there was one curious feature of this Supplementary Vote which required some explanation from the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hibbert). The original sum which was required for the Embassy at Berlin was £19,000; and now the Committee was asked for an additional sum of £50,000. He presumed it was intended to buy the Embassy House. If that were the case, he should like to know what became of the £19,000; whether that was an Estimate with regard to the old Embassy House, or with reference to the purchase of the new one?


said, he hoped that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) would allow him to supplement what he (Mr. Monk) had said. It was a very curious proceeding to have a Supplementary Estimate larger than the original one. £50,000 was a monstrous addition, and it only showed the necessity and importance of calling the attention of the Government to the mode of making Estimates.


said, it seemed to him that his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) had not stated the matter quite correctly. Last Session the Government asked for a Vote of £16,000, not £19,000, on account of the Embassy House at Berlin; and they then submitted a Vote which included a total sum of £50,000. The proposal of the Government last year was to purchase a site in Berlin, at a cost of £13,000, and to erect an Embassy House at a cost of £37,000. That would have put the country to an expense of £50,000 for an Embassy House at Berlin. As the country were paying a rental of £3,000 a-year for the Embassy House, it was supposed to be an advantage to pay £50,000 in erecting a new house—indeed, it was expected that a saving would be effected. Upon that ground, the Committee voted last year a sum of £10,000, on account of a total expenditure of £50,000. Now, without any explanation whatever, in this Supplementary Estimate, the Government came forward with an entirely changed plan. Without offering any explanation to the Committee, they appeared to have entirely thrown overboard their proposal to build a new Embassy House at Berlin. Without the slightest explanation, the Committee were now informed that the Government proposed to purchase the existing Embassy House at a cost of £61,375. If, therefore, this Vote were agreed to, the House of Commons would be voting a sum considerably larger than the one which was asked for in the present year. He felt his hon. Friend (Mr. Hibbert) would at once admit that this was a Vote which demanded very considerable explanation.


said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sal-ford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) had correctly stated the facts. The Committee would recollect that last year the right hon. Gentleman the then First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) asked hon. Members to consent to a Vote of £16,000 towards the purchase of a site upon which to build a new Embassy House. The rent of the old Embassy House was £3,000, and that made up a total for that year of £19,000, to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) had alluded. Since the matter was before the Committee last year, an opportunity was offered to the Government of purchasing outright the existing Embassy House at Berlin at a cost of £61,375. The total sum payable in respect of the whole transaction amounted to £72,428; but the £19,000 which was voted last year reduced it to £53,428. Savings to the extent of £3,428 were expected to be made on other sub-heads, so that the total sum required was £50,000, the amount of the present Vote. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), who was at the Office of Works at the time, could explain all the details of the transaction. He (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) might point out that there was not so much difference as at first appeared between the original plan of the Government and that now adopted. The new Embassy House would have taken three years to build, during which time the annual rent would have had to be paid, in addition to the charge for interest. There was, therefore, very little difference between the cost of the two plans. The old Embassy House had been purchased, the money had been paid in accordance with the contract made with the vendors; and, therefore, he hoped the Committee would agree to the Vote.


said, that his hon. Friend (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) had not shown any justification of the change of plan on the part of Her Majesty's Government. All that the Committee had been informed was that the change had cost the country between £10,000 and £15,000 more than the sum stated last year. He (Mr. Arthur Arnold) thought the Committee were entitled to hear the reason why the Government plans had been altered, and why they had purchased the Embassy House, which but a few months ago they appeared to have rejected.


said, that the sum proposed to Parliament last year and voted was £13,000 for the site for the new Embassy. [Mr. ARTHUR ARNOLD: Exactly; for the site.] But the cost of the building and the site was estimated at £50,000. It was considered by Lord Ampthill an unwise thing to carry out the plan of erecting a now Embassy on another site; and he, accordingly, at the time strongly recommended the purchase of the existing building. The matter came under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, who had to decide as to whether it was advisable to build a new house for the Embassy or to purchase the existing one. They had before them the facts that the purchase of the latter would cost £61,000, and that the new building and its site was estimated to cost only £50,000; but it had also to be taken into account that for the period of three years, during which the new Embassy was being built, the rent of £3,000 a-year would, of course, have to be paid, and the addition of this rent to the estimated cost of £50,000 would practically make the two operations, in point of cost, very much the same thing in the end. Considering that fact, and having regard to the very strong opinion expressed by Lord Ampthill in favour of the existing Embassy, the Government decided to give way in favour of the present plan.


said, it had always appeared to him that the expenditure in connection with these Embassies was far too great. Our expenditure in this respect was double that of the United States; and he contended that the present proposal to augment the charge for the Embassy House in Berlin was quite uncalled for. At the same time, he believed that this, like all the proposals for economy which emanated from the Government, would result in anything but economy. He was not quite sure that he had correctly followed the explanations of the Junior Lord of the Treasury (Mr. Herbert Gladstone), and the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre); but he understood the matter thus. The original proposal was that the new building and site would cost £50,000. The Junior Lord of the Treasury told the Committee that the existing building would cost £72,000; whereas the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Commissioner had just told them that it would cost £61,000.


said, the hon. Gentleman had correctly stated the figures. The difference between the two sums referred to was caused by the cost of the furniture, which, on the death of Lord Ampthill, it became necessary to buy, as well as to supplement that portion of it which was taken away by Lady Ampthill. It was also necessary to re-paint the building.


said, it amounted to this—that in addition to the rent of £3,000 a-year the Government had spent £11,000 on furniture for the Embassy. If that was economy, it was of that kind against which he thought it his duty to protest; and if he received the support of any hon. Gentleman lie would have much pleasure in moving the reduction of the Vote.


asked, whether the Government had decided upon buying the furniture, and getting the money from Parliament for the purchase of the house without consulting the Ambassador? It was said that Lord Ampthill had been strongly opposed to the building of a new house on another site.


said, it seemed to him extraordinary that, when there was so much distress in Ireland and in the country generally, they should be asked for so much money to be spent abroad. At a time like the present, he regarded it as most unfortunate that this and other increased charges on account of Foreign Embassies should come forward. If the money were to be spent in this country, where it would, indeed, be useful during the present distress, the matter would wear a different aspect; but he thought the money would be anything but usefully spent abroad just now.


Sir Arthur Otway, I should like to say a word or two on this Vote, because when the question first came forward it was within my duty to consider whether it was possible to economize in the matter. The facts were these—that the Embassy House at Berlin could no longer be held on lease; that we were paying for it a rent of £3,000 a-year; and that the house was in a remarkably good position, and very suitable for our requirements. Everyone acquainted with Berlin will know that it is extremely difficult to get a good house there—the houses which are ever let being, as a rule, small; and we had therefore to consider whether, being unable to hold the house on lease, we should buy it, or build a new one. There was no other course open; we must either buy or build a house. No one knows better than my hon. Friend (Dr. Cameron) that if you propose to build a house at a cost of £40,000, you will probably have to spend £60,000 upon it. My right hon. Friend the late Chief Commissioner of Works, the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), and myself looked carefully into this question; and we came to the conclusion that, taking the facts I have alluded to into account, the most advantageous plan would be to buy the existing Embassy House for £61,000, as the owner was no longer willing to take £3,000 a-year for it. The position, therefore, is that we buy a house for £61,000, instead of hiring one at the rent of £3,000 a-year.


said, that no answer had been given on the point to which the attention of the Committee had been drawn by the hon. and gallant Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir Alexander Gordon)—namely, as to whether the Ambassador had been consulted before this very important step was taken? He would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Commissioner of Works another question. Had the owner of the house been consulted before coming to Parliament and asking for money for the purchase of the house; and, further, he would ask, if the sum named was the whole of the expenditure that would be required for this transaction? He considered that there was some force in the complaint urged by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) that, at a time when rigid economy was necessary on account of the distress existing at home, we should be preparing to squander large sums of money abroad. From the extravagant manner in which these Embassies were paid for by us, he imagined that the Representatives of other countries would have some difficulty in getting their Governments to bear such a burden as this house would cast upon us. If the present practice were continued it would soon be as costly to provide for an Ambassador as it was to house a Bishop, less than £100,000 being thought in this country wholly insufficient.


said, that at the time at which the Vote of last year was proposed to the House the proprietor of the house at Berlin had declined to sell it; and as he would not consent to continue the lease, it became necessary to take steps for providing a house for the Embassy elsewhere. But at a later period, when the Government proposed to build a house for the Ambassador, the owner changed his mind, and informed Lord Ampthill that he was prepared to sell. It was under those circumstances that Her Majesty's Government came to the conclusion that the wisest course would be to buy the existing house. He might mention that the German Embassy at Vienna cost upwards of £70,000, and that the Saxon Minister at Berlin was nearly as well lodged as the British Ambassador.


said, he had been in Saxony for some time, and he did not think there was a single Saxon who lived in a house of £3,000 a-year. They had not the money; the Prime Minister lived in a house of £300 a-year. The primary mistake was in allowing £3,000 a-year for the house of the Ambassador at Berlin. Not many years ago, the extreme allowance for such a purpose was £1,000 a-year, since which time the amount had gone up enormously. But the sum named for this house did not represent the whole of what it would cost the country; it would be found that the great mistake in buying the house lay in the fact that a further large sum would have to be spent every year for alterations of various kinds, such as drainage and repairs. Without estimating the expenditure under these heads, he believed they would find that the annual charge for a house of £3,000 a-year would amount to £1,000. He thought that the time would shortly come when we should cease to pay our Ambassadors the excessive salaries which they now received; and when that time arrived, under the present arrangement, there would be this anomaly—that the Ambassador at Berlin would probably be receiving £1,000 a-year as salary, and yet living in a house worth £3,000 a-year. It would, he thought, have been better to wait for the good times which they hoped for, when our Ambassador at Berlin would get a salary of £1,000, and live in a house of £300 or £400 a-year. He did not think it necessary to object to the Vote as a whole; but wished ton. Members on those Benches to do something to show that they protested against the Government coming to the House at one time for £60,000, and the next year asking for this additional sum. Ho hoped his hon. Friend would divide the Committee.


We are asked why we do not go on paying rent for the Embassy House? We cannot do so, because the owner of the house will not allow it. Moreover, nothing, in my opinion, would be more extravagant than to move from one rented house and to rent another in a city like Berlin, where the number of houses available is extremely small.


said, he should not enter into the discussion as to the most economical plan of settling this matter. His complaint was that the whole truth was not told to the Committee. It was not until the hon. Gentleman the Junior Lord of the Treasury (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) rose that they had any idea that an expenditure of £72,000 had been incurred; and he (Mr. Warton) doubted whether, at that moment, any hon. Member in the House knew what the expenditure really was. If it were true that the sums named had been spent on furniture, why were not the figures honestly stated in the Estimates? He did not think it right that the matter should be placed in this way before the Committee; be complained that a truthful statement was not made in the Papers before them, and that the facts had to be dragged piecemeal from Ministers one after the other. The statements of the Members of the Government differed largely from that in the Estimates; savings had been mentioned, and furniture was said to have been purchased; but neither of these items were put down; and, in consequence of the way in which the transaction had been placed before them, it was impossible for any Member of the Committee to got an idea of what the total cost of it would be.


said, he considered it his duty to move the reduction of the Vote by the sum of £10,000. The Government had taken a course which he could not regard as an economical one. With reference to the Embassy at Berlin, he would remark that it did not appear to him to merit any extra recognition at the present time. Ho thought that all the diplomatic salaries paid were far too great; and he protested, in the name of economy, against the present large and unusual increase.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £40,000, 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 1885, for Diplomatic and Consular Buildings, including Rents and Furniture, and for the maintenance of certain Cemeteries abroad."—(Dr. Cameron.)


said, he was anxious to present to the Committee the actual word3 of the late Lord Ampthill, because, as had been stated by his right hon. Friend the late Chief Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), the purchase of the Embassy at Berlin was largely owing to the opinion expressed by Lord Ampthill. The following was an extract from his Correspondence:— I can safely assert that it is impossible to find another house in Berlin for an Embassy as good in every respect as the present one. In the interest of economy, of the Public Service, and of my successors, I would recommend the acceptance of the Duke of Ujest's offer. The house was in every way well suited for its purpose, and, like other houses that had been purchased for Ambassadors elsewhere, was a very good investment.


said, he believed that the German Ambassador to this country was lodged quite as well as our Ambassador in Berlin. He (Mr. Giles) was well acquainted with Berlin, and knew that the rents had been raised, and that it was very difficult to get good houses there. With reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), ho (Mr. Giles) would simply express the hope that the time would never come when this great country would be represented by a person who, with a salary of £1,000, lived in a house of £300 a-year.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 22; Noes 51: Majority 29.—(Div. List, No. 26.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.