HC Deb 03 June 1889 vol 336 cc1799-802 "That a sum, not exceeding £35,250, be 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, 1890, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works and Public Buildings."

I desire to take this opportunity of referring to some observations made by the First Commissioner of Works a few days ago on the subject of the heraldic sculptures recently erected in Westminster Hall. The right hon. Gentleman, in defending these heraldic sculptures, said that these figures were of the same character as others already in the House. Well, Sir, that seems to me to be no defence, for there is a very great deal of bad sculpture about the House. Every one who is acquainted with the circumstances knows that Sir Charles Barry had forced upon him a particular style of architecture which involved elaborate sculptures; and if from the quantity of work forced on him he consequently produced many inferior works, that was no reason why the vicious system should still be pursued. This House is full of bad sculpture, and recently two grotesque figures have been set up in the Central Hall, intending to represent Earl Russell and the Earl of Iddesleigh; and it appears to me, in my humble judgment, that if any new sculptures are to be set up, pains should be taken not to imitate the bad example of past times, but to produce works which would be worthy of the nation. Now, Sir, my right hon. Friend, after having been interrogated several times, said that a Mr. Higgs had been employed to execute these heraldic sculptures in Westminster Hall. I do not object to heraldic sculptures, provided that they are good works of art; but if figures of this character are to be erected they ought to have been entrusted to some artist of well-established and known reputation, and not to an inferior person. The right hon. Gentleman says he would not have been justified in interfering with the architect, who was "the highest authority in this particular kind of architecture." This last expression is nothing less than nonsense. For what was this particular kind of architecture? It is to ignore Sir Chas. Barry, and to make the east side of the interior of,Westminster Hall now an absolute contradiction to the west side. It was altogether erroneous to describe Mr. Pearson as a high authority in these matters. Mr. Pearson is an architect of a peculiar cast of mind, who abandons altogether the traditions of his predecessors. He imagines that he has found out something which nobody knew before. Well, Sir, my right hon. Friend went on to say that the duty of the First Commissioner of Works was to select the best man as architect, and then leave him to do the best he could. But that is a proposition which I altogether deny. It is the duty of the First Commissioner of Works to look after him. Now, this brings me to the real question involved in this matter, and that is—what is the position of the right hon. Gentleman himself? The First Commissioner of Works, we are told, has control over WestminsterHall,but has no control over the House of Lords or Westminster Abbey, which—to use the words of the Lord Chief Justice—is in charge of a few irresponsible English clergymen. I suggest that the First Commissioner of Works should have greater powers conferred upon him; that he should have authority over all the great historical monuments in this country; and that a Committee of experts should be appointed to advise him. I would suggest that at an early period the Government should appoint a Commission or Committee to assist the right hon. Gentleman. His predecessors have had the assistance of exports on similar occasions; no one wants it more than my right hon. Friend. At one time that able architect, Mr. Pennthorne, was constantly consulted by the First Commissioner of Works, and in his days few mistakes were committed. Later on, Mr. James Fergusson acted as adviser to the First Commissioner, and although he was not equal to Mr. Pennthorne, still he gave very valuable assistance. I want some such course pursued in the future. I do not intend to move reduction of the Vote; but, having had an opportunity of placing this matter before the right hon. Gentleman, I hope it will receive the careful attention of the Government.


I do not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman in his vagaries. He proposed in one sentence that there should be a Committee of Monuments. I suppose that he meant a Committee to consider the question of ancient monuments.




The real point at which the observations of the right hon. Gentleman were aimed was whether the decorative animals put up in Westminster Hall are suitable or not. Whilst objecting to them, he suggested at the same time that the Chief Commissioner of Works ought to have greater authority over all public buildings and monuments. Now, these two things are inconsistent, and I venture to say that we had much better make the First Commissioner of Works responsible for his Department without any Committee to advise him. If there is one Minister more than another who is popular inside and outside this House, it is the First Commissioner of Works.

Resolution agreed to.