HC Deb 03 May 1886 vol 305 cc153-80

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £800, he 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 1887, for constructing a new Harbour at Dover.

MR. RYLANDS (Burnley)

I rise for the purpose of expressing my great surprise, and at the same time my great disappointment, at the answer given by my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) to the Question put to him a short time ago by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Robert Peel). When this Vote was before the Committee on a previous occasion it came on at a late hour, and upon the Vote being proposed from the Chair I moved to report Progress, on the ground that the House at that time could not be expected to deal with advantage with a question which involved in principle the expenditure of an enormous sum of money. Certainly I did not expect on the first day of the reassembling of the House after the Recess, and when, as every hon. Member will see, the Committee is very sparsely attended—I did not expect to find that the Vote for Dover Harbour would be submitted—a Vote which really involves a very large expenditure indeed. [Mr. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.): No.] My hon. Friend says "No;" but it certainly is a Vote which involves in principle the expenditure of an enormous sum of money, and I maintain that it ought not to be asked for in a thin House, and suddenly, when there was no expectation that the Government would attempt to bring on such serious contentious Business as is comprised within this Vote. I may point out to my hon. Friend that the Government have already omitted one Vote in Class I.; and I think that a similar course ought to have been followed in regard to this Vote, so that it might receive full and adequate discussion. The Vote in Class I., which has already been postponed, has reference to the new buildings for the Admiralty and the War Office. The Government would have been fully justified in postponing this Vote also, because they must be fully aware that every argument against discussing the Vote for the Admiralty and War Office buildings now applies equally to the discussion of the Vote for Dover Harbour. My hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury interrupted me a short time ago in order to dispute my statement that the present Vote involves in principle the expenditure of an enormous sum of money. I am quite sure that my hon. Friend would not have dissented from what I was saying unless he himself entertained the opinion that the adoption of the Vote would not commit the House of Commons to a further large expenditure. I do not know how far I express the views of the right hon. Baronet opposite; but my feeling certainly is that we are being led on from one step to another. In the last Parliament we were induced, without sufficient consideration, in a Committee which did not appear to be very anxious to promote economy, by the influence of my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary (Sir William Harcourt), whose power of persuasion is well known to hon. Members, to agree to a Vote which involved a very large expenditure for the erection of a convict prison in Dover. We now find that because that Vote in the last Parliament was passed without due consideration, and with scarcely any discussion — [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby): No.] At any rate it was very carelessly considered by the Committee in the last Parliament; and we are now asked, because the last Parliament was unwise enough, or so inconsiderate, as to enter into a large expenditure for the erection of a convict prison at Dover, to take another step, and to vote a further sum for the purpose of preparing plans and obtaining the information that is necessary in order to enable the Government to construct, at enormous expense, a new harbour at Dover. All I can say is that, personally, I am strongly opposed to the taking of any step which may commit the House of Commons in any way whatever to the cost of constructing a new harbour at Dover until we have had a full and ample discussion of the question. Every hon. Gentleman who has any knowledge of the subject must be aware that if we do commit ourselves to this expenditure, it means an ultimate outlay of from £1,500,000 to £2,000,000, for objects in regard to the utility of which there is some very serious question indeed. Therefore, my feeling is to oppose this Vote, unless my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury is able, from some new light, which I cannot anticipate, to defend and justify it. In the absence of a full and satisfactory explanation from the Government, I shall certainly trouble the Committee to divide against the Vote.


I feel compelled to follow my hon. Friend in the objections which he has raised to this Vote, and in the appeal which he has made to the Secretary to the Treasury to postpone the consideration of it until a better opportunity can be afforded for full discussion. Without entering into the general question, I wish to put to the Committee one point—namely, that when the debate on this subject was postponed in the early part of March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary to the Treasury both admitted that it was a question of very great importance; and so strong was the feeling of the Committee at that moment, that if on the 2nd of March a division had been taken the Government would in all probability have been beaten. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in acknowledging that it was a matter of very great importance, intimated that the Government, while postponing the Vote then, and agreeing to report Progress, would be prepared on a subsequent day to lay their whole plan before Parliament, in order that the country may be able to judge of the position of affairs with respect to this harbour. We are now anxiously waiting for the promised explanation of the Government; but I wish to follow what my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury said just now. He remarked, in reply to a Question put to him, that by agreeing to this small expenditure of £800, in addition to the sum of £200 already voted on account, the Committee and the House of Commons, Parliament and the country, would be pledging themselves to nothing. Now, this is not the occasion, I venture humbly to submit, when the House of Commons should consent to follow the course they are invited to take. We have over and over again, in my long experience of the House of Commons, by voting such small sums in Committee of Supply as that now asked for, found ourselves drawn on and committed, in the end to the principle of sanctioning a very much larger expenditure. On more than one occasion we have been told that by taking such a course we have pledged the House of Commons to a particular scheme. We are now asked to vote £800 to complete a sum of £1,000 for plans and information in connection with the construction of a new harbour at Dover. We were asked last year to vote £16,000 for Peterhead Harbour. That sum of £16,000 involved the agreement of Parliament and the country to a very large expenditure, amounting, in all probability, to considerably more than £500,000. Although it is admitted that the harbour itself is not proposed to be constructed in the best position that could have been selected on the East Coast of Scotland it will probably cost from £750,000 to £1,000,000 before it is completed. Some reference was made the other day to the harbour at Boulogne. I only mention that harbour now to show how a country may be drawn into a large outlay, in the end, by the gradual expenditure of small sums of money at the commencement. It was stated, in the first instance, that Boulogne Harbour would not cost more than 16,000,000f.—the estimate for it, I believe, was 15,000,000f. It has cost something like 17,000,000f. already, and the estimate for the completion of the harbour amounts to something like 32,000,000f Then, again, take the case of Alderney Harbour. I have been long enough in this House to recollect the debates which took place in reference to that harbour. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been thrown away upon Alderney, and it was well known before the expenditure was commenced that it was impossible to construct a harbour there on account of the strong current of tide which prevailed off that Island. I wish now to ask the Secretary to the Treasury when he proposes to make the statement which the Government are pledged to make in reference to this Vote? I would ask him why he cannot postpone the Vote? I had certainly hoped that the hon. Gentleman would have taken that course, seeing that this is the very first evening of the reassembling of the House after the Recess, and that the House is not as full as it might have been, as it ought to have been, and as it undoubtedly would have been, if it had been known that this question was coming on. If the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury will not undertake to postpone the Vote I will ask him if he will now, at all events, make a full and explicit statement of the plans the Government propose to undertake, the arrangements they propose to adopt, and what he believes will be the full amount of expenditure upon works in connection with the construction of this commercial harbour at Dover? There is not a sailor in this country who believes that it will be of the slightest use to Her Majesty's ships. No ship would take advantage of that narrow channel. No iron-clad would attempt to sneak or creep into a harbour of refuge at Dover where the Channel is so narrow and the tides are so short. I appeal, then, to the hon. Gentleman if he cannot postpone the Vote now, to make a clean breast of it at once, and to tell the Committee what is proposed to be done and what is the amount of expenditure he expects the country will be called upon to incur in order to carry out this large undertaking,

MR. BAKER (Somerset, Frome)

I wish to point out that some time ago there was a small Vote—I think of £300—which was passed after a short controversy as a preliminary Vote for plans. At that time there was a clear undertaking, as I think, from the Government that before any further sum was asked for on account of Dover Harbour there should be a full discussion upon the scheme, on which occasion we were to be told what the whole amount of the expenditure would be. It must be borne in mind that there are a considerable number of new Members in the House who are altogether unacquainted with the previous history of this harbour, but who know very well how large amounts of money are ultimately swallowed up when a first beginning is made in this way. Before the Committee can accept this Vote I think Her Majesty's Government should give a pledge that information of a very full and explicit character should be given.


I am, perhaps, more responsible than anybody else for this Vote; and therefore I may be allowed to answer the observations which have been made. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) that this matter was not fully discussed in the last Parliament. As a matter of fact, there was a long discussion upon certain Papers which were placed upon the Table in reference to Dover Harbour, and the reasons why Dover had been selected for the construction of a harbour of refuge in preference to Filey were fully explained. The reason why this Vote is taken now is because the works at Portsmouth and Chatham have been brought to a close, and a harbour being wanted on the East Coast we had to consider where the convict labour could be most advantageously employed. Dover has been fixed upon as the place most appropriate for the employment of convicts. Therefore, employment being wanted for the convicts and a harbour being very much required on the East Coast we combined the two requirements, and have fixed upon Dover for the employment of those convicts who need employment. It was upon that ground that a Vote has already been taken for the erection of the convict prison at Dover, which is already in course of construction. It was thoroughly understood, when that Vote was passed, that considerable time would elapse before the prison was completed, and the present Vote is really for the purpose of obtaining information in regard to the site for the harbour. Pains will be taken to examine the site in order to ascertain the nature of the works which will be necessary. Several schemes for the construction of a harbour have been proposed, some of which would, if carried out, involve a much larger expenditure than others. Consequently it is impossible, without a careful engineering examination on the spot, to determine which of the sites should be selected, and which of the proposed plans should be proceeded with. This Vote is really for the sole purpose of obtaining that information. The hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Baker) asks what is the meaning of this Vote, in addition to the sum of £300 taken some weeks ago. Now the Vote of £300 referred to by the hon. Member belongs to exactly the same class of Vote as the present one; but it has been applied only to the concluding months of the preceding financial year. This Vote is for the purpose of continuing those experiments and examinations which everybody knows must be made in connection with works of this kind. The Vote has nothing to do with the works of the harbour itself; it is exclusively confined to the preliminary examinations which are necessary to ascertain what would be the cost of carrying out any of the proposals and plans which have been submitted. It is quite impossible that the information which the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) and other hon. Members desire on this subject can be obtained unless this examination is made, and I hope that the right hon. Baronet and hon. Members will accept the assurance that this Vote, like that which was taken some weeks ago, is a Vote for preliminary examination only.


The words of the Vote are "towards the expenses of constructing a new harbour at Dover."


I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this is the fact, and that this Vote is precisely of an analogous character to that which was passed some weeks ago, and is only for obtaining preliminary examinations as to the plan which it may be most desirable to carry out. The right hon. Baronet will find upon page 54 of the Estimates a footnote at the bottom of the page, which gives details in connection with preliminary works for Dover Harbour—such as— Surveying Site and taking trial borings under water, making inquiries and negotiations for Site, for obtaining Gravel and Sand for Works," &c. I can assure the Committee that this Vote is solely required for the prelimi- nary examinations as to the site. In order to show that that is so, I may tell the right hon. Baronet that the actual plan of the harbour is not yet settled, and that it is absolutely necessary to make a careful examination of the ground before any such plan can be settled. It will be just as impossible to decide upon a plan until there had been a preliminary examination, as it would be for a man to jump into the water and swim without having been taught the art of swimming. What we require, in the first instance, before consenting to any plan or Estimate of expenditure, is to have a careful survey of this character made, without which no real work of a practical nature can be undertaken. I hope that hon. Members will be satisfied with this explanation, and will allow the Vote to pass.


I quite admit the force of what the right hon. Gentleman has stated, and I perceive that in addition to the note upon page 54, which the right hon. Gentleman has read, there is this further note— The plan of the works to be undertaken not being settled, an estimate of the total cost cannot yet be made. I wish to know if this is the last sum which will be wanted for preliminary examinations. We have already voted one sum on account, and we are now asked to vote £800 in addition. I desire to have some assurance that this will be the last sum we shall be called upon to vote for preliminary inquiries.

SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT: Sussex, North West)

I certainly should not be satified with the slight assurance asked by my right hon. Friend below me (Sir Henry Holland). I should like to know what the grounds were upon which the Government decided upon removing the convicts from Portsmouth and Chatham to Dover, and upon constructing a prison for them there, unless it was to construct a large and sufficient harbour; but it seems now such was not the case. It appears, therefore, anomalous to construct barracks for the reception of convicts before it has been settled that a harbour is to be constructed. Her Majesty's Government asked, in the first instance, that there should be a considerable grant of money for building a prison for convicts at Dover. If I recollect the debate which took place on that very important question, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), who was then President of the Board of Trade, stated distinctly that it was to be a commercial harbour; that a large sum of money would be found by a Company; and that probably some little alterations would be required in the Admiralty Pier. We all know what that Admiralty Pier cost; but we were never led at that time to believe that an enormous sum of money was going to be expended out of the taxation of the people of the United Kingdom for the purpose of constructing a new harbour.


That is not the case as far as this Vote is concerned.


The hon. Gentleman says that is not so; but, as far as I recollect, it is absolutely so. The Government have already determined that they will build a barrack for the accommodation of convicts at Dover, and we are now told that they decided upon taking that step before they took the trouble to find out whether it is desirable to have a harbour there or not. If a harbour is to be erected there, it must necessarily be one capable of affording accommodation for very large ships; and, in addition to being a harbour for large ships of war, there ought to be a commercial harbour combined with it.


There is a Paper on the Table of the House giving plans of the "harbour" and the number of ships it will hold, together with the moorings for them. That Paper can be seen in the Library, and also a rough estimate of the cost of each of the plans which have been submitted.


If I recollect aright one plan proposes that the harbour should cover 150 acres of water.


150 acres of deep water.


No; altogether, if I recollect rightly; and there was some doubt as to whether it would be possible to obtain all the accommodation that was required. Certainly it will cost a very enormous sum to make a harbour of this character; and all I want to know is what the Government intend to commit the House to? I understand it is proposed to throw out a wall of nearly a mile in length towards the coast of France. All I ask is that before the House of Commons is committed to any particular scheme, or the expenditure of any large sum of money is undertaken, we shall have some authoritative statement that the harbour, when constructed, will be of use not only to the Navy, but also for commercial purposes. For these reasons I think we ought to have some more explicit information from the Government than we have yet received. I do not say that I will vote against this sum of money being granted if we have good reasons for granting it; but, at the same time, I do not like to commit myself even to such a small sum as this until I know what other sum is likely to be asked for.


I certainly hope that the Committee will not agree to the Vote, because I believe that it will only be the beginning of an enormous expenditure. We have been told that the cost of constructing a harbour at Dover would be something like £1,100,000; but from all the information which I have been able to obtain I am induced to believe that it will cost at least £2,000,000. In its proposed form the area of the harbour is small, and wholly insufficient for receiving large vessels of war. The construction of a harbour was recommended in 1844 and 1846; and on the action of Sir Robert Peel, then First Lord of the Treasury, several eminent engineers, nine in number, were employed to obtain information, and they prepared estimates and plans, one of which put the cost at £4,000,000, and another at £1,100,000, and the other seven engineers varied between these sums. That wide margin shows the difficulty which exists in preparing an estimate for works of much magnitude. Indeed, it is almost impossible for an engineer to say what the amount of the expenditure will be. These plans, estimates, and Reports are in the Library of the House; and an examination thereof will conclusively show that the Government prudently gave up this great project. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us this Vote is only for preliminary information and examination. But I must point out that we have full information available in the Library as to the soil, tides, and depth of water of Dover Bay. We have already had a sum of money voted in March last; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer then informed us that that Vote would not pledge the House of Commons to any plan for the construction of a harbour at Dover. But every additional sum is used as a plea for going on with the works. But I should like to remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer of what occurred in July, 1873. A Vote was then taken for £10,000 in connection with the preliminary expenses; and though the Vote was passed by only 61 for it and 60 against it, yet the Government proceeded with the project. Since then the present Chancellor of the Exchequer obtained a grant for a building for the reception of the convicts who were to be employed at Dover. It is the Liberal, and not the Conservative, Party who urges on this vast scheme, mainly at the dictation of Lord Granville, who is Chairman of the Dover Harbour Board. After the Conservative Party dropped the project in 1875, then, in 1878, Earl Granville brought forward the question of Dover Harbour in the House of Lords; and I would ask hon. Members to read the debate which took place on that occasion, in order that they may know how useless and unnecessary it is to construct a harbour at all. I particularly refer to the masterly speech of Lord Beaconsfield as unanswerable.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

There are two questions raised by this Vote, one of which I think might be withdrawn altogether from the consideration of the Committee. The Vote purports to be a Vote towards the expense of constructing a new harbour at Dover; but I understand the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that that is not the object of the Vote at all. The object is governed by the foot note at the bottom of the Estimate, which states that the money is required for— Surveying Site and taking trial borings under water; making negotiations for Site, for obtaining Gravel and Sand for Works," &c. Under these circumstances, I would suggest that it might be possible to amend the words of the Vote so that the Committee might not bind themselves to the construction of a harbour there, in which case it will not be necessary to devote any length of time to the discussion of the present Vote. I would suggest that it should be made quite clear that the Vote is for the expenses of a preliminary survey of the site for the projected new harbour. I should certainly vote against any proposal which would commit the House of Commons to an enormous expenditure, without our knowing what that expenditure is to be, and having plans of the works before us. At the same time, if it is made clear that the Vote is only for the expenses of a preliminary survey the demand made upon the Committee may be perfectly reasonable.


I am quite ready to alter the words of the Vote, so as to make it appear that the Vote itself is limited to a preliminary survey with respect to the harbour at Dover. If that can be done I am quite willing to accept such a limitation of the Vote.


Will the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) bring up his words?


The words I suggest are these— Towards the expenses of a preliminary survey of the site for the projected new harbour at Dover.

Amendment proposed, To leave out the words "for constructing a," in order to insert the words "towards the expense of the preliminary Survey for the site for a projected,"—(Mr. Bradlaugh,) —instead thereof.

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


I wish to ask if it is in accordance with the practice of Committee of Supply for any private Member to move an Amendment in a Supply Resolution proposed by the Government of the day? I do not know what the practice is; but I have no recollection of any such Amendment having been proposed, and I am under the impression that the only Amendment which can be moved is to reduce the Vote. I should like to point out what this comes to. The Government have asked for a Vote of money for a certain purpose, and the Vote is asked for on the responsibility of the Government. Is it competent, then, for any hon. Member to get up and say that the House of Commons will not grant the money for the purpose for which it is asked, but that it will grant it for another purpose? That appears to me to be a precedent which, as far as I know, is now proposed to be set for the first time. I would suggest that if the Government desire to alter their proposal in the direction suggested by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) it would be better that they should withdraw the Vote for the present, and should bring it forward in another form on a future occasion, thereby avoiding the inconvenient results which might follow on a future occasion from their having assented to a Government Vote in Committee of Supply being altered on the Motion of a private Member.


I also rise for the purpose of pointing out the inconvenience that would arise if we were to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh), and were to alter the Vote in the way in which it has been proposed. It is quite clear that according to the heading of the Vote it is for the purpose of constructing a new harbour at Dover; although, of course, I accept the explanation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that is not the case, and that the £800 is to be applied merely for the purpose of defraying the expense of making preliminary surveys in connection with the construction of such a harbour. But when the right hon. Gentleman says that this is only a small Vote of £800, I beg to remind the Committee that the House of Commons has already voted more than £39,000 in respect of the preliminary proceedings necessary before the construction of a new harbour at Dover can be undertaken, and especially in connection with the erection of a convict barracks. For the last 50 years plans for a harbour at this spot have been continually submitted to Parliament. According to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer we have already voted £39,000 in connection with this project; and in addition to that sum in 1873, under the Administration of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), the House of Commons voted £10,000 for the purpose of taking preliminary steps towards preparing plans for the construction of a harbour at Dover. Fortunately the pro- posal was one which the Government of the Earl of Beaconsfield subsequently declined to entertain. I have, therefore, risen for the purpose of supporting the views of my noble Friend on the Front Opposition Bench (Lord Randolph Churchill); and I would suggest that if the Government have changed their minds upon the subject of this Vote it would be better that they should withdraw it, and re-introduce it in an amended form, rather than that they should assent to its being amended by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh). I am certainly of opinion that any alteration of the Vote should proceed from the Government themselves rather than from a private Member. In this case the Government are changing the very name and character of the Vote, and are asking the Committee to assent to the alteration.


After the observations of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill) I am quite ready to admit that, for the purpose of preventing misapprehension, the Vote had better be withdrawn and reintroduced on a future occasion. There ought to be no doubt or difficulty as to the practice of the Committee in a matter of this importance. I cannot agree, however, with the remark of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Robert Peel) that the Government have changed their minds with regard to the character of this Vote. I think the note at the foot of the Vote shows clearly enough what has always been the intention in proposing the Vote. All the Government desire is that the Vote should be postponed, with the view of its being so drawn as to express clearly the purpose for which the money asked for is to be applied. I beg to move that the Vote be withdrawn.


Upon the point of Order which has been raised I have to point out that although it has been extremely rare to alter the terms of a Resolution in Committee of Supply, yet there appears to be a precedent for it. A similar question was raised on May 18, 1863. Exception was then taken to a particular Vote which had been proposed, and it was desired to limit its application. It was held by the Chairman, after discussion, that a Motion in Committee of Supply made by a private Member with regard to a Government Vote was in Order, provided that it merely proposed to limit the purposes for which the Vote was designed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Vote be withdrawn."—(Sir William Harcourt.)


I would appeal to the Government not to postpone this Vote, which is intended merely to defray the preliminary expenses of survey for what is undoubtedly an important national work. It is perfectly clear that if the preliminary survey is to be postponed from time to time the date for the completion of the harbour will be very distant. The present Vote is simply to pay the expenses of a survey for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of the bottom, and I do hope that the Government will not assent to any further delay.


I may remind the hon. and gallant Member that it is not proposed to postpone the consideration of the Vote because the Government entertain any doubt with regard to it, nor have they any intention of withdrawing it absolutely; but they merely assented to the suggestion that it should be postponed in order that it may be brought up in an altered form. I may say that it will certainly be brought up again on the next stage of Supply. The question of the construction of a harbour at Dover has already been decided. That question was fully discussed in 1873, and in accordance with the decision arrived at a convict prison has already been built at Dover. The House of Commons has already decided that convict labour is to be employed in the construction of the new harbour at Dover.


No; the question of constructing a harbour at Dover was not decided on that occasion.


I say "Yes." Further than that, in the year 1883 the House came to a similar decision without a division; and I would appeal to the hon. and gallant Member for North West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) whether on that Occasion he did not express his approval of the large scheme which the Government proposed? I may mention, for the information of those hon. Members who were not Members of the last Parliament, that the Government proposed a Vote for the cost of erecting a convict prison at Dover, and that Parliament passed the Vote. That convict prison is now nearly finished, and I believe that accommodation is provided in it for from 200 to 300 convicts. On the occasion to which I refer the House of Commons practically determined what should be done with regard to the employment of convict labour, and what is asked for to-night is that Parliament should have placed before it the result of the preliminary survey and the plans for the construction of a harbour, so that the House of Commons may determine upon the plan to be carried out. There can be no misconception about the matter. A convict prison has been built at Dover, and the convicts are there. As, however, I agree with the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) that there is some little misconception as to the precise nature of this Vote, having regard to the actual wording of it, I think the Vote itself might be postponed, and brought up again on the next occasion when the House is in Committee of Supply.

MR. BAKER (Somerset, Frome)

I cannot quite reconcile the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer with that of the Secretary to the Treasury. The statement of the Secretary to the Treasury entirely alters the position of affairs, and I find myself in this difficulty. The Committee were assured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this further Vote was of a tentative character, and was merely intended to cover the expense of a preliminary inquiry for the purpose of ascertaining whether it is desirable or possible to build this harbour at Dover at all; whereas the Secretary to the Treasury has asserted that the question was irrevocably decided by the last Parliament; that, whether we like it not, our hands are tied in the matter; that the present Parliament are committed to a very large expenditure, and that the only question for consideration now is how great that expenditure shall be. Those are two entirely different statements, and I want to know which we are to regard as accurate? I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that the preliminary expenditure was to be incurred for the purpose of seeing where the harbour should be built, and whether it was desirable to build it. As a new Member of the House, who did not have the advantage of sitting in the last Parliament, I have ventured to ask the Government for information.


I remember very well the discussion taking place which has been referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and I must say that I think it is rather late now for those hon. Members who swallowed the camel to strain so much at a very small gnat. As to whether the Government have made up their minds practically as to whether there shall be a harbour or not at Dover that is another question. I know that two or three years ago a discussion took place, and a large sum of money was voted for the purpose of building a barracks for the occupation of the convicts who were to construct the harbour. After having consented to spend something like £40,000 upon the convict prison, it would be carrying economy to a ridiculous point to dispute this very small sum of £800 in order to ascertain whether further works ought to be undertaken or not. I believe that when the Vote for the convict prison was taken the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) was not in his place, and the Vote was passed without a division; and I do not see why we should squabble now over the price which we agreed to pay.


I beg to assure the Committee that the assent of Parliament has never yet been given to the construction of a harbour at Dover. No doubt the Hybrid Committee which in 1875 considered the matter recommended that, should works be undertaken at Dover, the area should be enlarged at an extra cost of £130,000, raising the Estimate from £970,000 to £1,100,000; but the Government of the day refused to carry out the recommendation of that Committee. Indeed, that harbour project was one of a strange character, for it was one in which the two railways, the Dover Harbour Board, and the Government were so mixed up that, whilst the two sets of partners had their money responsibilities and their rights clearly defined, the rights of Government were vague and the financial claims unlimited. Further than that, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he made a speech in reference to the erection of barracks for the occupation of convicts at Dover, about three years ago, distinctly stated that the construction of that prison did not involve the sanction of the House of Commons to the erection of a harbour. Until full information has been given to the House, and the plans, estimates, and Reports have been laid before the Committee of Supply in a detailed form by a responsible Department of the State, I venture to submit that no Vote for the erection of harbour works ought to be taken.


I think that there ought to be no misapprehension upon this point. My hon. and gallant Friend behind me (Sir George Balfour) has generally a most excellent memory; but on this occasion I think it has failed him. The Vote which was taken three years ago not only had reference to this subject, but there was a Treasury Minute, dated July 17, 1883, in which the whole facts of the case are stated. In the speech which I made on the 16th of August in the same year I referred to this matter. I stated that two harbours had been proposed to be constructed, one being a small one, which could be constructed at a comparatively small cost, and the other a large one, that would necessarily cost more to construct. There is another hon. and gallant Member of this House whose memory, although generally accurate, seems somehow to have failed him upon this occasion—I refer to the hon. and gallant Member for North-West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot)—who has made a semi-hostile speech against the Vote to-night. But what did the hon. and gallant Member say when I proposed the construction of a harbour at Dover in 1883? The hon. and gallant Member said— He had always taken great interest in Dover Harbour; and he had always thought that if the harbour was to be made, it ought not to be made by a Company, but, as far as possible, by the Government, who ought to make a harbour worthy of the nation. Looking at the present scheme"— What was the "present scheme?" Of course it was the scheme which I proposed to the House on that date— Looking at the present scheme in all the circumstances under which it was proposed, he thought it was the best way in which the matter could be dealt with, Nobody would deny that a harbour for the protection of their ships was absolutely necessary; and this consideration would have very great weight, not only for ships of war, but also for ships of all kinds, for the trade and commerce of the country. Believing that the scheme the Government had now put forward"— What scheme? The scheme for the construction of a harbour at Dover?— Believing that the scheme the Government had now put forward, if properly and promptly carried out, was calculated to be of great benefit to the country, he should, therefore, cordially support the Vote."—(3 Hansard, [283] 771.) Having made that speech in favour of building a convict prison, the hon. and gallant Member now gets up and objects to a small Vote for the expenses of a preliminary inquiry as to the character of this harbour. What is the harbour? My hon. and gallant Friend behind me (Sir George Balfour) pointed out what is quite true, that there has been great uncertainty as to the character of the harbour. It is really a breakwater. [Mr. EYLANBS: So it is at Portland.] All harbours are in a certain sense breakwaters; but the whole character of this harbour was fully brought before the House in 1883. Nothing can be more distinct than my statement to the House on that occasion when I asked for the money for the construction of a convict prison in order to make a harbour at Dover by convict labour. I said— The matter had been considered by a Committee of the Cabinet, consisting of the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; and they had come to the conclusion that the first works that ought to be undertaken were those at Dover. The estimated cost of one plan was £790,000; but that would only be sufficient for the construction of a harbour which would afford comparatively little accommodation for the iron-clads. The recommendation of the Committee of 1875, of which his hon. and gallant Friend was a Member, examined some of the highest authorities who could be found, including the Hydrographer of the Navy, Sir A. Clark, the eminent engineer, and Mr. Druce, the engineer at Dover, who was well acquainted with the whole history of Dover Harbour. All those eminent men were in favour of the present proposal; and, therefore, they had as high authority in support of it as could be desired."—(Ibid. 765.) I will not trouble the Committee further by reading the whole of that speech; but I want to show that the whole character of the harbour was fully brought before the House in 1883, and on the basis of the recommendation of a Departmental Committee a Treasury Minute was laid on the Table of the House in reference to these alternative harbours. Now, before Parliament is committed either to the larger or the smaller harbour—[Sir ROBERT PEEL: Or to any.] Or to any; of course the House can always stop. Whether it will be wise or not it will be for the House to consider; but it is always within its power to take that step. It might have stopped the erection of the Houses of Parliament after having completed one-half of the building. At present neither Her Majesty's Government nor the House have yet come to a final decision with regard to the carrying out of the works. It is our desire to investigate the character of the works before the works themselves are finally resolved upon, and it is upon that principle that we ask for this Vote. I think I have now stated to the Committee exactly how the matter stands.

MR. RYLANDS (Burnley)

I think the speech of the right hon. Gentleman has placed the matter in a more reasonable light than that in which it was left by the Secretary to the Treasury. The Secretary to the Treasury seemed to imply in his speech that by the passing of this Vote Parliament and the country would, to a greater or less extent, commit itself to a further expenditure. We are now given to understand that it is the intention of the Government, on the first day upon which the Civil Service Estimates are again taken, to put this Vote down. We further understand that by the present Vote the Committee are committing themselves to nothing but giving the Government funds to enable them to have additional information placed before the House of Commons, together with such plans and estimates as may, in the opinion of the Government, be desirable. When Parliament is in possession of those plans and estimates it will be for the House to say, if the Government decide to go on with the work, whether or not it shall be proceeded with. Upon that first Vote, with the entire estimate and plans before the House, it will be at liberty to reject the Vote if it thinks fit. I think that is a fair position, and I do not think it is necessary that we should carry the matter further.


expressed a hope that the Committee would receive a complete assurance from the Government before the debate closed that no steps would be taken to proceed with the works until the assent of Parliament had been fully obtained.

MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

I wish to remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer, before the Vote is withdrawn, that in the discussion which occurred earlier in the Session upon this question the very same argument which has been put forward now was employed. Though I trust entirely to my memory, I think I am right in saying that assurances were given that the House were in no degree pledged to the considerable outlay which the carrying out of the scheme would involve. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has emphasized the fact that we have already spent £38,000 or £39,000 in connection with the construction of a convict prison and in preliminary proceedings in reference to this harbour. But it does not follow that the new House of Commons should be committed to the expenditure of £1,000,000, even although a convict prison has been built. Unless there is far more enthusiasm and a better informed opinion obtained in regard to the harbour at Dover, I think it would be infinitely cheaper to apply a little dynamite to the convict prison, and leave the convicts to the tender care of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I trust that the Committee have now a distinct understanding that the Government are only entering upon a preliminary inquiry, and that we are not by any means to go the entire length to which my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury seeks to carry us. When the preliminary inquiries have been completed let us discuss the matter on its merits, and let it be understood, as the result of the discussion which has now taken place, that we are to have absolute liberty to consider the whole question when it is hereafter brought before us in a formal manner.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

  1. (1.) £25,120, to complete the sum for Peterhead Harbour.
  2. (2.) £141,485, to complete the sum for Pates on Government Property.
  3. (3.) £7,500, to complete the sum for the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.
  4. 174
  5. (4.) £232,000, to complete the sum for Disturnpiked and Main Roads, England and Wales.
  6. (5.) £30,000, to complete the sum for Disturnpiked and other Roads, Scotland.
  7. (6.) £182,335, to complete the sum for Public Buildings, Ireland.

MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)

There is no objection on the part of the Irish Members to have this Vote taken now. The Vote itself is not of a contentious character.


I asked for information in regard to an item contained in the Vote in reference to the erection of a fishery pier.


said, he would inquire into the matter. He believed that it had already undergone discussion, and that a Report had been laid upon the Table.

Vote agreed to.

(7.) £12,208, to complete the sum for Lighthouses Abroad.

(8.) £35,677, to complete the sum for Diplomatic and Consular Buildings.

MR. RYLANDS (Burnley)

I am very sorry to see that in this Vote we are asked to agree to a sum of money being paid for the purchase of an Embassy House at Madrid. I commented upon the extravagance of this Vote last year, and I observe that in the present Vote we are expected to grant a sum of money for the Embassy at Madrid, which amounts altogether to £15,500, of which a sum of £12,000 is required for the purchase of a Legation House. There are, I understand, some further charges in connection with that purchase. I object, and I have objected on many previous occasions, to the expenditure which has been incurred by the Government from time to time in regard to these Embassy Houses abroad. We have been in the habit in former years of hiring, renting, and leasing houses, which have been amply sufficient for the purposes of the Embassy; and the consequence of our building a house or buying one has frequently been that we obtain a place which is very much larger than is required for the ordinary purposes of the Embassy. When the property belongs to the country the Ambassador or Minister manifests a desire to extend the establishment, probably in accordance with the number of his family, possibly to gratify the vanity of his wife, and constant applications are made to the Government for alterations and extensions, the result of which is that unnecessary and large repairs are made in these establishments, which tend to swell every year the very large sum of money the Committee are called upon to vote. Without going at length into the history of this transaction, I do not hesitate to say that in former years, in connection with these purchases, hundreds of thousands of pounds of the public money have been wasted; and we have now in different parts of the world Embassies maintained with great splendour and at very heavy cost. If the expenditure in connection with the Embassy Houses for the accommodation of our Representatives in Foreign Courts could be contrasted with the expenditure of the United States for similar purposes, every hon. Member would be astonished at our extravagance when compared with the economy of our brethren across the Atlantic, who have equally great interests to protect. The Government of the United States know very well how to maintain their Representatives; but they have not the slightest conception of squandering the money of the American people for purposes of this kind in the way we are doing. I think the time may probably come, if the policy of this country becomes one of non-intervention, when we may think it unnecessary to keep up these enormous establishments abroad, and be content with renting houses in the different capitals of Europe. In that case it may be considered desirable to dispense with them when they are found no longer necessary. But here we are called upon to add to our responsibilities by the purchase of a Legation House which we have hitherto been content to hire on lease. I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps have been taken to satisfy the Government, in the first place, as to the necessity of the purchase; what economy will be effected by substituting an Embassy House belonging to this country in place of continuing to rent the building already occupied; and also whether the sum of £12,000 which appears in the present Vote is the whole sum we shall be called upon to pay for this property, or whether there are other sums behind this sum of £12,000 which at some subsequent period the House of Commons will be required to vote?

MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

I should like also to ask for information in reference to this Vote. If my hon. Friend had looked into the various items which constitute the Vote, he would have found a sum of £1,200 for making good the damage to the Embassy House caused by excavations for City sewers, and a further item of £1,500 for the completion of sanitary and other special works. I want to know if that outlay is upon the new house or upon the old one? I also wish to point out to the Committee that the rent of the old Legation House appears to have been £250 a-year, which, at 20 years' purchase, would represent a capital of £5,000. We are now asked to start with a capital of £12,000, with another considerable item for damage done in connection with the drains and sewers of the City. I think that these items go very far in the direction of emphasizing the objections which my hon. Friend has raised to entering upon a capital purchase of this house, and against allowing the various Ministers abroad to indulge their fancy in incurring a large outlay of money for which the taxpayers of this country are to be responsible. I hope my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury, or my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, will be able to throw some further light upon the matter.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

On the whole, I really believe it is cheaper to buy houses for the accommodation of our Representatives rather than to rent them. Take, for instance, this house at Madrid, the purchase of which is to cost £12,000. That capital sum at 3 per cent would amount to £360 per annum; but last year we paid very considerably more than that sum. Then we must take into consideration not only the rent, but the cost of repairs and other expenses. Last year we rented this house, and we spent £200 in casual and ordinary repairs, and other expenses were incurred which brought up the total to £600 during the year. The real point we should study is to keep down the expenses of our Ministers as far as possible. When a new Minister is sent out it is invariably found that he is displeased with the establishment which has satisfied his predecessor, and he wants some sort of change. If that kind of desire could be kept down I really believe that we should gain more by purchasing these houses than by renting them.

MR. COOTE (Huntingdon, S.)

I should like to know what we have to do with the item of £12,000 which appears in the Vote for making good the damage occasioned to the Legation House by excavations for the City sewers? As the landlords are the City of Madrid, I do not see what we have to do with making any damage of this kind good. I hope the Government will be able to give some information upon the matter.


I think the figures which I shall be able to give the Committee will show that the Government have been actuated by a desire to make the best bargain possible; and I think the Committee will agree with me that the bargain which has been made is not a very bad one. I am not going to defend the principle of buying the house against the principle of renting it. I think the best plan is to take each individual case as it occurs, and see what course will be the most economical and most satisfactory course in the interests of the country. The rent of the Embassy House at Madrid was not £250 a-year, as has been stated, but was £600 a-year; and, as the lease was within a year of expiring, it was expected that the rent would be raised from £600 to £1,000 a-year; so that, practically, we have obtained the house for 12 years' purchase, which I do not think is at all an extravagant price. I may mention that the house which has been purchased is the same house that was previously rented. I believe it has been calculated that the piece of ground alone on which the house stands may be valued at £8,000; and, therefore, it cannot be said that the sum of £12,000 agreed upon as the purchase money is an extravagant sum. As to the item of £1,500 for the completion of sanitary and other special works, I may explain that one of the works undertaken was the making of a new roof. The roof had been allowed to fall very much out of repair, and it was thought absolutely necessary that a new roof should be put upon the building. In regard to the item of £1,200 for making good the damage to the house caused by excavations for the City sewers, I may say that the Government tried all they could to be released from that payment, and to throw it upon the Municipality of Madrid, or upon the Spanish Government; but they found that it was impossible to do so, seeing that they were bound under the lease to do the repairs. They were advised by proper legal authorities that they were absolutely helpless in the matter, and I am not sure that we have yet paid all that we may be called upon to pay. On the contrary, I believe there are some further claims which have not yet been settled. There is no other point which occurs to me as requiring explanation, and I hope the Committee will consider the information I have given satisfactory.

MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)

I hope that some further information will be given in regard to this house, the ground of which is said to be worth £8,000. We appear to have expended a large sum last year in repairing damage done by excavations for sewers, and also a considerable sum for sanitary and other works. The expenditure appears to have been very considerable, seeing that we were not the owners of the house; and although it is now proposed that we should become the owners, I think some further explanation is required as to the expenditure which has already taken place. The whole value of the house appears to be £12,000, and yet we have had to pay £1,200 for repairs in consequence of excavations in connection with the City sewers, and £1,500 for sanitary works.


We leased the house for a term of 10 years at £600 a-year, and we bound ourselves to perform all the necessary repairs, even to the renewal of sashes. Better terms could not be obtained. It has been an unfortunate lease for the lessee. There have been continual objections to it, and I can assure the Committee that the Embassy House at Madrid has been a very anxious question indeed. It is considered that this is the best way of meeting the difficulty. If we do not purchase the house we shall be compelled to rent it at a larger price than we think we ought to pay.


I should like to know whether the purchase of this house has been recommended by Her Majesty's Minister at Madrid? I understand that the same house has been in the occupation of the Legation for the last 10 years; but if I recollect rightly—and I was for some years connected with the Legation—it is very inconveniently situated indeed. We used formerly to occupy a house which was much better situated. I understand that the present house is in a most inconvenient and narrow street, and I wish to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether it has been examined by any architect or any official connected with the Government?


I am informed that not only has the house been strongly recommended by Sir John Walsham and Sir Robert Morier, but that the Board of Works sent out one of their own surveyors to examine it, and he was satisfied that it would be a suitable house for the Legation.


I know the Legation House at Madrid very well, and it is certainly a good house for occupation, and every other purpose to which it is devoted. Although part of the street in which it is situated is narrow, yet it is a good street for Madrid, and in that city narrow streets possess in many cases some advantages, because where the thoroughfare is broad the sun is so powerful as to cause illness, and sometimes death. I, for one, maintain that this is a suitable house, and I think the Government have pursued a wise course in purchasing a residence for our Minister. I am opinion that they would do right if they were to purchase Embassy Houses in all places where we do not possess one.


(Kincardine): I cannot say that I think the explanation which has been given in regard to the money laid out upon this building for repairs and making good damages in addition to the rent is at all satisfactory.

Vote agreed to.