HC Deb 31 May 1889 vol 336 cc1582-94

Motion made and Question proposed, 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.'

* MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

When a vote on account in respect to this item was taken some two or three months ago the First Commissioner was asked as to his intention about the admission of the public into Westminster Hall, and he stated that it was his intention again to throw the Hall open to the public. On the last occasion when we were in Committee of Supply the right hon. Gentleman surprised the House by saying that he had received a communication from the Home Office objecting to this concession, and that the exclusion of the public was still to be maintained. Now, I should like to have an understanding as to who are the authorities having jurisdiction over Westminster Hall. I think that the Metropolitan Police have no jurisdiction over Westminster Hall, and that they are only there as the servants of the House. On the first day of each Session one of the Orders passed is that the Metropolitan Police shall keep access to the House free and facilitate the entrance and departure of Members. That is an assertion on the part of the House that it is the House that controls the Metropolitan Police, and not the Metropolitan Police who control the House. A short time ago I asked a question on the matter with a personal reference, and I only did so for the purpose of showing what I may call the ridiculous extent to which regulations are carried, that an hon. Member may introduce a stranger into the precincts of the House and under the galleries, the ordinary public may pass through St. Stephen's Porch and be conducted through the St. Stephen's Hall, the Lobbies, into the Library and on to the Terrace, but there is something so sacred about Westminster Hall that a Member is not allowed to take a member of his own family into that hallowed spot. If there is some great conspiracy in existence specially directed against Westminster Hall I do not wish for a moment to weaken the hands of the Home Office in dealing with the matter. But if there are ruffians about London with designs to injure public buildings, then St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey ought to be protected as well as Westminster Hall. But the public, under ordinary and necessary precautions, are admitted to these buildings, and in my opinion Westminster Hall is quite as safe. But if there is such a state of terror that a Member cannot be allowed to pass a member of his family through the Hall, then exclusion should be enforced under the authority of a Resolution of the House. No injury would result if the public were admitted with proper precautions and with a sufficient number of the police in charge.


I have, in the first place, to make an apology to the House for an error into which I fell on a previous occasion in stating that the Home Office had agreed to a relaxation of the rule excluding visitors from Westminster Hall. I do not say it was the fault of the Home Office, but there was a misunderstanding. I spoke under the impression on my mind, and find I fell into a mistake for which I now express regret. Westminster Hall is a part of the old Palace of Westminster, and its custody is vested in the Office of Works, and especially in the Secretary—Mr. Primrose, who is my friend and most efficient assistant. I do not think if the right hon. Gentleman looks at the Sessional Order providing for free access of Members to this House, it directly affects the question of the admission of strangers to Westminster Hall. The right hon. Gentleman is in error in stating that Strangers coming through St. Stephen's Porch are admitted to the libraries and other portions of the building. What is called a "Smoking-room Order" must be obtained for that purpose.

An hon. MEMBER

For ladies?


Certainly for strangers of the coarser sex:, and I have myself obtained such orders. On public days the public are admitted to Westminster Hall, and then, I presume, the police make such regulations as are deemed necessary. But on other days they have not been admitted to Westminster Hall for a long time. I regret any inconvenience which may arise, not only to Members of the House, but to the public, in consequence of the regulations with regard to admission to Westminster Hall, but I must defer to the advice given by the police upon their own responsibility. It is possible that admission might be given by providing additional police. I am aware that the Home Secretary has been in communication with the police authorities on the subject, and I am sure my right hon. Friend is as anxious as I am to meet the wishes and convenience of Members so far as it is possible to do so.

SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)

I have something more to say about Westminster Hall, and the admission and presence there of the ridiculous, drunken, and disreputable-looking beasts that disfigure the place. I feel inclined to advise the public not to desire to go to the Hall for they will be shocked by what they see. On second thoughts it would be better to allow the public to visit the Hall, for public indignation will then he aroused against the desecration of this noble old Hall the inheritance of the English race. The subject of the works in the Hall and the question why this architect should be allowed to work his wicked will there lately came before us for discussion, but it is necessary to allude to the subject again, for since the last discussion these features have broken out in the most alarming manner, most horrible night-mare creatures. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish-Bentinck), who is an authority on these matters, advised me to go and see these creatures. I did so, and, I confess, I never was more shocked in my life. I have been through some terrible scenes. I have been through the Indian mutiny, I have been in most of the art galleries of London, and I declare I have never seen anything more dreadful. I cannot conceive what induced the architect to put these things there, or the First Commissioner to allow them to be so placed. The other day I could not get an answer from the right hon. Gentleman when I questioned him about this matter, but now we know that he is responsible, and I, therefore, propose to move a small reduction in his salary. A. man of the right hon. Gentleman's taste and feeling would not himself have justified the placing of these horrible creatures in Westminster Hall, but when I asked him about them, he was afraid to condemn them, knowing that he would have to face the architect. Well, I now present him with a means of getting out of the difficulty. If he accepts my motion, and consents to a slight reduction of his salary, these creatures will stand condemned by the House itself. I know very well that people who criticize the Estimates are very objectionable to Ministers, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us some satisfaction. I beg to move the reduction of the Vote by £50.

Motion made and Question, "That Item A, Salaries, &c., be reduced by £50, part of the Salary of the First Commissioner."—(Sir George Campbell.)

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

I think my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy has done well to bring this subject before the House. I do not myself go quite so far as he does, as I think the point at which these animals are placed is just the point where something is wanted to complete the decoration of the Hall, but I do not think that that something has been secured. These heraldic animals are hardly in keeping with the sombre dignity of the Hall.


The figures complained of are, as anybody can see, of exactly the same character as those which have been placed, close to St. Stephen's porch, for many years. I am not architect enough to express a confident opinion of the particular animals, but as far as my judgment goes they harmonize with other figures in this House. I should not feel myself justified in interfering with the discretion of an architect who was selected by my predecessor, and, I think, most properly selected, as the highest authority extant in this particular kind of architecture. The duty of a First Commissioner is to find the best man, and then leave him, except special circumstances should arise, to do his best. I would remind hon. Members that these decorations are not quite finished, and that the figures have an unpleasantly new appearance which will wear off in time. I am sure there has been some misapprehension, and that the figures will not be considered a disfigurement when finished.

MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)

I beg to corroborate the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton as to the right of entrance into Westminster Hall. The point has been raised that the Hall is the remains of an ancient palace. Well, if it is let it be kept as such, but I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works has taken possession of a portion of it for the purposes of the Houses of Parliament. He is going to give some rooms leading out of the Hall on the west side to Members of this House, consequently he has upset his own theory. The police regulations in the Hall seem to me to be pushed to an absurd extreme of severity. Some weeks ago I purposed walking into the Hall with a personal friend—a stranger to the House—but was stopped by a policeman, who said that strangers were not allowed to go into the Hall. Well, I walked. through Westminster Hall myself and sent my friend round to the other entrance. 'We met at the top of the Hall and so went around to the Lobby of the House. If anything in the nature of outrage were contemplated would be much easier to commit it it that part of the building, where my friend was admitted, than in Westminster Hall, which is a wide, open place—so open that everybody within is under the eye of every policeman there. Seeing that strangers are admitted into the Lobbies and into the House without interference on Saturdays, I think strangers, accompanied by Members of Parliament, may well be permitted to walk through Westminster Hall.


The observations which have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down have been present to my mind for some time. I am in communication with the Chief Commissioner of Police to see whether some relaxation of the present rule cannot be made. Hon. Members will understand the extraordinary anxiety of the police that such a monument as Westminster Hall shall be kept perfectly safe. No doubt, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, it is impossible to draw a distinction between Westminster Hall and the other approaches to the House, but, of course, some approach is necessary. I hope some arrangement satisfactory to hon. Members may be made.


The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that he does not exercise his own judgment, but leaves all to the architect. The great argument used to be that a thing was contrary to the Bible. We have now got over that sort of thing, and we are told that a thing is contrary to the rules of Art.

MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

I desire to ask the First Commissioner, as I understand the building on the west front of Westminster Hall is now complete, whether the unsightly hoarding may not be taken down and the ground laid out. It would not be creditable that the place should be left as it is for another year. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should submit a small Supplementary Estimate for the purpose.


The course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman will be taken, but I am unable to state off-hand whether it will be taken this year.

Question put and negatived.

Original question again proposed.

MR. STOREY (Sunderland)

Before this Vote is put to the Committee, I should be glad of the opportunity of making a few remarks on the inordinate amount of the salaries attached to this particular Department. I am glad to be able to do that in the accidental presence of the right hon. Gentlemen the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who the other night declared that the criticisms offered to the Estimates did not go to the question of economy, but altogether related to fads and crotchets. Well, I have not a fad to advance or crotchet to defend, but I am going to point out in a few sentences the enormous amount of the salaries attached to this Department. I want the First Commissioner to tell me if he can why there should be 51 clerks in this petty Department of the Government, costing a total of £13,000 a year. Speaking as a guardian of the public purse, I have no hesitation in saying that one-half of these Gentlemen would be dispensed with in a week in any well conducted private establishment. We have here a secretary at a salary of £1,200 a year; we have a private secretary to the First Commissioner—of whom I will say nothing, as I am glad the First Commissioner has all the help he needs—who costs only the modest sum of £150 a year. Then we have two principal clerks who get £1,800 a year, one clerk in charge of the accounts who gets £600 a year, three senior clerks who get £1,575 a year, five first-class clerks who get £1,903, eight second-class clerks who get £2,294, and 27 clerks of the lower division who get £3,243. What in the name of common sense does the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner want with all these people dawdling about his office? In the other branch of the Department I find that there is a gentleman called the consulting surveyor, who gets £1,100 a year, with the right to conduct his own private practice. As there are four surveyors of the first-class who receive £1,000 a year each, besides six second-class surveyors, and ten third-class, taking £11,500 a year, I do not see what is the use of having a consulting surveyor. I would appeal to the Government, who are popularly supposed to be the defenders of extravagance—popularly supposed, but not properly, because I hold that Governments on both sides of the House are equally to blame in the matter—whether this is not an inordinate number of officials. I would put it not so much to the hardened sinners on the Treasury Bench, of whom there is little to be expected, as to Conservative Members below the Gangway, whether this consulting surveyor is really needed with this large number of official surveyors. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner to explain what these gentlemen do for the money. The only economy the Department seems to have practised has been arriving at the determination not to appoint any more clerks of the first class until the temporary draughtsmen have been promoted to be permanent, but as the temporary draughtsmen—four of them get £983 a year, or an average of £247 each, we cannot say that the economizing faculty of the Department has been great. They have omitted to appoint one first-class draughtsman at a salary of £250 a year. The saving on this head, therefore, has been about £210s. a year. This is the economizing method adopted in every Government Department. They cut down the emoluments or the numbers of the worst paid officials, so that the best paid may still continue to receive the high sums they have been getting. Then there is a superintendent of furniture, a deputy ditto, three assistant superintendents of furniture, who, of course, do the work; a superintendent for the supply of coals and firewood, and another for the supply of candles and oil. Again, there is an item of £750 for the commission of the receiver, and other professional charges and expenses. I should much like to know who is the receiver and what are his duties. The total salaries amount to £47,200 a year, and I will undertake to say that a Committee of business men in this House would reduce within three months the expense by one-half. In addition to the sum I have just named, the pensions of retired officials amount to £7,400 a year. I do not wish to move the reduction of the Vote by one- half—although I think that would be the proper thing to do—but I am going to fasten on one item. I am going to move the reduction of the Vote by £1,100, the salary of the consulting surveyor. The First Commissioner need only go to the Education Department to know what a vicious system this system of consulting surveyor is. I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will see that I am putting the matter with no more force when their side is in than when our side is in. I merely ask the Committee to consider the matter from a business point of view, and I want hon. Gentlemen to realize what it is that we are doing. I am aware that, except by way of illustration, I cannot refer to the Votes that have already been passed this Session; but I may say that for weeks past, at various intervals, we have been passing Civil Service Estimates in Class II. I have taken the trouble during the delivery of some of the less interesting speeches in this House to go over the figures, in order, just as an illustration, to point out what we are doing. I find that during the last few weeks we have passed in the shape of salaries under these Estimates, seven of about £2,500 a year, 103 of between £1,000 and £2,500, 209 of between £705 and £1,000, 237 of between £500 and £705, 679 of between £250 and £500, 923 of between £100 and £250, and 660 of less than £100. Is not the very fact that we have here what amounts to a small army—for it is an army—of private soldiers and so many officers, a proof that this Department is very much overmanned. If hon. Gentlemen will take the trouble to look through the Votes as I have done they will see that there is no Department, not even the Government Departments and the Home and Foreign Offices, which are so over-officered and manned as in this Department of the Office of Works. In conclusion, I trust that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will realize that we have been discussing this matter from the point of view which he loves so much—namely, the economical point of view. I now move the reduction of the Vote by £1,100, in order that the right hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity of defending it.

MR. PLUNKETrose (Dublin University)

for the purpose of replying, when—

MR. T. M. HEALYsaid (Longford)

I beg to move that you do now report Progress. We have been promised that the Irish Drainage Bills should be proceeded with soon after 4 o'clock. It is now half-past 4, and I think it time that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) should carry out the promise he has made with regard to those measures.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. T. M. Healy.)


I would appeal to the hon. and learned Gentleman to allow me to reply. My office has been rather smartly attacked, but I shall not occupy more than five or six minutes.


As a matter of personal courtesy I will withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for allowing me to reply to the criticisms of the hon. Member near him (Mr. Storey). I do not complain of the reference he made to me personally, but I think that the manner in which he has attacked the Office of Works constitutes an idictment almost as formidable and as eloquent as that which was hurled at Warren Hastings in a neighbouring Hall. The hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken when he supposes that the Department of Works has nothing to do, or that all it has to do is to carry on discussions in this House in reference to the Royal Parks and Palaces and the building in which we are now assembled. When I explain to him what it is that we have to do, he will see that the Office of Works is one in which an immense amount of business is transacted. Besides the public buildings, palaces, and parks in London, we have to see to the repair and structural arrangements of all the Post Offices throughout Great Britain, as well as all the Customs and Excise buildings, and all the County Courts in Great Britain, and we have also to provide, maintain, and repair Embassy houses in every foreign capital and Consulates all over the world in great numbers, especially in China. Therefore, when he speaks of the number of surveyors, assistant surveyors, and other individual employes, he should remember that they have work to do in connection with buildings in Edinburgh, Bristol, Birmingham, and other large towns throughout the country and in many quarters of the globe. I think there is no Department of the Government which has been so often under the hammer of the Treasury with a view to retrenchment as the Department of Works, and when the hon. Member talks of the hardened sinners sitting on the Tory Bench, I think he ought to have applied that term to the Treasury Officials rather than to me, because of the hardened conscience with which those Officials refuse me even one scratch of a pen if it involves the smallest additional expense. I can assure him that if he looked into my office some day he would see that our employés are as hard worked as any set of men in the United Kingdom. With regard to what he has said as to the consulting surveyor, I would remind him that there has always been a consulting surveyor. When Sir Henry Hunt resigned that office the question of renewing the appointment was carefully considered, and the conclusion arrived at was that a considerable amount of money was saved by having a man of the very highest eminence in his profession whom we could consult on questions which frequently involve many hundreds of thousands of pounds. I am sorry that time will not permit me now to reply more fully, but if the hon. Member can put his hand. on any particular instance in which a saving could be effected, as where there are too many persons employed, I shall be willing to consider his representation. But I think he would find it difficult to exceed the parsimony of the Treasury in respect of what concerns this Department.


Progress, progress!


Might I ask that the Division should be allowed to be taken?


Ireland has not had a single day or a single hour this Session, and I trust that the Bills relating to Ireland will be at once proceeded with.


I quite admit the reasonableness of the hon. and learned Gentleman's request, but I trust he will allow this Vote to ho first taken.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 66; Noes 229.—(Div. List, No. 133.)

Original Question again proposed.

Mr. William Henry Smith rose

in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Original Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Original Question be now put."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 213; Noes 82.—(Div. List No. 134.)

Original Question put accordingly.

The Committee divided.

The Tellers being come to the Table, Mr. James Rowlands, one of the Tellers for the Noes, stated, that after the Doors of the No Lobby had been locked, one of them had been re-opened in order to allow three Members, who, finding themselves in the wrong Lobby, desired to cross over into the Aye Lobby; and he wished to be informed by the Chairman whether such re-opening of the Doors was in order?

Whereupon the Chairman asked whether the re-opening of the Doors had taken place before or after the Tellers had begun to tell; and on learning that le Tellers had not begun to tell, the Chairman called on the Tellers to report the numbers:— Ayes 235; Noes 61.—(Div. List No. 135.)

Motion made and question proposed, "That the Chairman do now report progress and ask leave to sit again."


I wish to complain in the strongest terms of the breach of faith on the part of the Government in not reporting progress at an earlier hour, on the ground, as they said at the time, that the Vote under discussion would be immediately taken. The result now will be that there will be no time to discuss the statement of the Chief Secretary with regard to Bills that are of tremendous importance to Ireland. If the Government are anxious to promote a policy of material development in Ireland, they must go about it in a different manner.

Question put and agreed to. Resolution to be reported upon Monday next. Committee to sit again this day.