HC Deb 06 September 1887 vol 320 cc1488-93

(20.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £8,500, 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 1888, in respect to the preparation of Plans for the Erection of New Offices for the Admiralty and War Departments.


I have given Notice of an Amendment to reduce this Vote by £6,000; and in moving this allow me to say that I do not, in any way, wish to cast any discredit or doubt on the conduct of Messrs. Leeming. On the contrary, having sat on the Committee, it appears to me Messrs. Leeming have had hard measure dealt them, and I believe most of the Committee agreed that Messrs. Leeming behaved in a very liberal manner. But my principal object in moving the reduction is that I want to know what is going to be done with the Admiralty buildings before we proceed with the Vote. I suppose it to be £8,000 for the old plan, and £500 for the new plan. My object is to obtain from the Chief Commissioner of Works some explanation as to the course to be pursued. I was one of those who did not entirely agree with the proposals of the Government, and I am anxious to know what is proposed to be done. Looking at the Estimate, it would seem that it is proposed to close the whole thing; and I ask what position will Messrs. Leeming hold after that, and what are the Government going to do? I repeat once more that I disown any intention to prejudice Messrs. Leeming in any shape or form; on the contrary, I believe they have done very well.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £2,500, be granted for the said Services."—(Mr. Dilwyn.)


I think I can satisfy the hon. Member at once and answer his question. The object of the Vote is stated on the face of it, and, as hon. Members will be aware, is to carry out as well as we can the Report of the Committee that sat this year. As regards Messrs. Leeming, I join entirely with the hon. Member in the tribute he has paid to them for their complete acquiescence in all that was proposed to them. Hon. Members will recollect that in the Report of the Committee special attention was called to the ability with which Messrs. Leeming had carried out the plans entrusted to them. The fourth paragraph runs thus— It is considered that Messrs. Leeming ably carried out the task assigned to them, and their plans received high commendation from distinguished architects. That is from the Report of the majority of the Committee. But, as hon. Members know, although they carried out their work very well, the Committee decided against adopting the scheme on which they were employed. The sum we propose to award Messrs. Leeming was arrived at after careful consideration, and after communication with Messrs. Leeming on the one hand and the Treasury on the other. In the communications I had with Messrs. Leeming on the question they behaved as well as possible all through. I do not anticipate that if the Committee votes this sum that it will close our transactions with them. There was an unanimous feeling in the Committee that Messrs. Leeming should be employed on further works undertaken; and I may say, though, of course, I cannot bind myself under all circumstances to employ Messrs. Leeming, that I have put myself in communication with them, with a view to asking them to prepare plans in case the Committee should adopt this Vote. I have the greatest confidence in Messrs. Leeming. I cannot bind myself absolutely, under all circumstances, not only to enter into negotiations but to employ them; but I am anxious to have their able assistance.

MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

With regard to that portion of the Vote that awards a considerable sum to Messrs. Leeming I certainly have no objection to make. I do not agree with the conclusions of the Committee. I believe they made a great mistake, and though they acted, on grounds of economy it will result in larger expenditure. But I would not take any step to the prejudice of Messrs. Leeming, and I feel strongly that they were placed in an unfortunate position. They were led to believe three years ago that they would be entrusted with this great work, and on the strength of that they gave up their business at Halifax, and were kept hanging about not knowing what was going to be done. Under the circumstances, they are entitled to a considerable sum. I am glad that the Government were able to come to a conclusion with them, and I do not think the sum is at all too large. But there is another part of the question upon which I wish to say a few words. A sum of £500 is asked for in the Vote for plans to carry out the recommendations of the Committee. Now, if by that the right hon. Gentleman refers to preparation of plans for the future consideration of the House, without binding the House to approval of the scheme proposed by the Committee, I shall make no objection. But if, by assenting to the proposed Vote of £500, the House is committed to that scheme, and will not have an opportunity of raising the whole question next year, then I should most strongly object. But I hardly think that is the object or intention of the Government. They will have to come to the House next year for a considerable sum to carry that proposal into effect, and I presume that they will be prepared to give an opportunity for raising the question. I hardly think they would, on such a small sum as that now before the Committee, commit Parliament to the scheme laid before the Committee. It was of a crude and imperfect nature, and it has been for such a short time before the public that there has not been time for the expression of a matured public opinion. I think it would be altogether wrong if the House at this moment, at this period of the Session, when so few Members are in town, committed itself, by voting this small amount, to a scheme involving a large expenditure. I should like, therefore, to know whether it is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to commit the Honse definitely to this scheme, or whether it is for the purpose of elaborating and making complete the scheme of the Committee upon which the House shall express its judgment next Session?


The way the matter stands is this—passing away from the item as regards the rejected plan and coming to the question of the right hon. Gentleman—the Committee which sat this year were directed to report, first, on the original plan of Messrs. Leeming; and as regards that part of their instructions they reported that the plan should be abandoned. They were also directed to report whether any part of the existing Admiralty buildings could be retained in an alternative scheme. On this they reported— We are satisfied that by making additions to the present Admiralty buildings all the requirements of this Department may be met, and that the work can be done at a moderate cost. They further go on to recommend that the staff of the Admiralty and War Department should, as soon as possible, be provided for in buildings at no great distance from each other; and they say— We are of opinion that this recommendation can be carried out with a great saving of time and money by adopting other plans than those referred to. We find that the present buildings of the Admiralty may with advantage be retained. So far the desire of the Committee is expressed, and there is an obligation upon us—and the right hon. Gentleman knows how strong that is—to obtain the sanction of the House to the recommendation. He knows perfectly well that the House of Commons next year will be free to agree or disagree with it. But that, I think, is not quite the point of his question. What he wants to call attention to is the elevation or sketch plan prepared by Messrs. Leeming. Now, I say at once that I will not bind myself or the House to the exact plan, which was prepared in haste, It is for the Government, who are responsible, to prepare plans for such a building as they think fit, and then to come to Parliament to sanction the expense. I have no intention to pledge myself or the House to that sketch plan prepared by Messrs. Leeming.


Then I perfectly well understand that there will be an opportunity next Session of raising the question on a more definite plan, and the Government will not, on this particular Vote, commit themselves to large expenditure on a scheme?


What I want to make clear is this—that I say nothing to derogate from the importance of the Committee, and I take it they have so far decided the question as to recommend the House to get further plans. But I do not wish to make this sketch plan finally binding on the House or the Government. The Government must propose such a plan as they think best.


I quite understand, and I am satisfied with that. It will be open to me to go into the question next Session.


In asking leave to withdraw my Motion, I would just remind the Government that the Report of the Committee alluded to was not unanimous.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

(21.) £4,000, to complete the sum for the Edinburgh University Buildings.