HC Deb 25 February 1890 vol 341 cc1177-209

1. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a supplementary sum, not exceeding £6,800, 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, 1890, for the Buildings of the Houses of Parliament.

(5.6.) MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK (Whitehaven)

In accordance with the notice I have placed on the Paper I beg to move the reduction of this Vote by the sum of £2,000, and my object in doing so is to elicit some explanation from my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works, as to the alterations which have been carried out in connection with Westminster Hall. In order to inform myself on the subject I took the trouble to go to my right hon. Friend's office to ascertain whether or no the Committee which sat and reported on Westminster had agreed on the sum of money to be spent; but I was not able to obtain the information I sought from the officials. I would ask my right hon. Friend to explain this expenditure. I have inspected the part of the Hall which I believe to be the subject of the outlay, and I must say I have not been very much impressed that any favourable result is likely to be arrived at. At the present moment there are no means whatever of ascertaining what are the intentions of the Board of Works. The area which has been dug out—unfortunately, as I think—below Westminster Hall is now occupied by a large number of workmen, and there is no indication as to the design of the work to be done. Moreover, the Report of the Committee, that very mysterious document, referred to so often last Session, contains, so far as I am able to see, no plans whatever of the intended works. I was shown in the office of my right hon. Friend two pictures in the Appendix of the Report, but I am not able to find out whether they represent the work for which we are asked to pay this £2,000. I do not think it satisfactory that we should be asked to vote this not inconsiderable sum of money without having before us a statement of what is intended to be done, and particularly after the lesson we have learnt from the other map with regard to the unfortunate griffins and staircase, as to which, I say again, the House was taken by surprise. I am anxious that in the present case we should know what, we are going f o obtain for this money, so that there should be no groping or leaping in the dark. In note "A" giving details of this sum we are informed that it is the money required for "increased accommodation at the disposal of Members and the necessary buildings and furniture." Well, I have examined the larger room, which is called "the Conference Room," and I find there a most extraordinary feature called "the chimney piece," and I should like to ask my right hon. Friend how that chimney piece came there, whether it was the creation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) and how much it cost? Of course I cannot expect my right hon. Friend to answer that now, but perhaps he will take a note of my query, and let us know on some future occasion. how that singular piece of furniture came to the position it occupies. With regard to another matter, after the discussions which took place last year in both Houses of Parliament as to the alterations in Westminster Hall, I wrote a letter to my right hon. Friend asking him whether he would not at the eleventh hour remove the bastion or parapet which so much disfigures the southern end of Westminster Hall. My right hon. Friend was at that time absent from England and was not able to comply, and the answer I got was not of a very definite character. But I really must appeal to the right hon. Gentleman once more to take this matter into his consideration, and see whether he cannot remove this imitation of Spurgeon's pulpit and the other staircase, or, at all events, take some steps to render the southern end of the Hall symmetrical. When I was a boy at school at Westminster the place this bastion now occupies was an open doorway from which we used to pass out from Westminster Hall into Palace Yard, and there is no authority whatever for the door being placed half way up the wall. I am informed that the door is never used, that it neither opens nor shuts, and that nobody ever goes through it. If that be the case, why does not the right hon. Gentleman really take the matter into his own hands, and have this hideous, unsuitable bastion removed, and an iron gate put in its place as companion to that at the entrance which loads to the House of Commons, so that if any one did wish to go up there they could go in by the gate? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be led in a wrong direction by these so-called architects, but will endeavour to do something to restore one of the most beautiful fabrics in the world to its original condition.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That item B, £2,000, for the restoration of Westminster Hall, be omitted from the proposed Vote.—(Mr. Cavendish Bentinck).

(5.17.) MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

I rise to support the Motion of my right hon. Friend opposite. I do so because I feel sure that the opportunity should be availed of by everybody in this House who has any respect for the ordinary canons of good taste and utility of protesting against the way in which this restoration of Westminster Hall has been carried out. The interior of the Hall itself has been disfigured by the erection of that monstrous rostrum which is guarded by those still more monstrous heraldic beasts. That disfigurement has been alluded to on former occasions, and I will not allude to it now further than to say that I consider it a very great disfigurement, and that I have not seen anybody, whose taste is worthy of being called taste, who does not think the same. But there is another thing I wish to refer to, and that is the extraordinary pit which has been provided outside the House at the end of Westminster Hall for the reception of Members' carriages. This pit reminds one of what one has been accustomed to see in children's picture books, illustrative of the receptacle for lions in which Daniel was cast. It is a kind of descensus Averni, a decline down which no carriage could be driven with anything like safety, and inside the shed I would defy any one to turn a carriage round. The shed may be useful for any hon. Members who come to the House on bicycles or tricycles, or in wheelbarrows, but to say that it is of any use for receiving Members' carriages is a false representation of the case. In order to get a carriage in it would be necessary to back it down the declivity. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take steps to have the pillars inside the cloister removed, if the place is to remain a receptacle for carriages, and that he will have something like an accessible means of entrance provided. The old wooden shed was not beautiful but it was useful, whereas the present shed is neither beautiful nor useful.

(5.20) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I wish to ask the First Commissioner of Works whether this money has not been practically spent, and if so, whether there is any good in our discussing the question how the work has been carried out? I would also ask whether or not these works are put out to public tender?

(5.21.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

I suppose we shall have to pay this money, but, at all events, I am glad it is not going to be done without a protest. I am not without hope that the discussion which took place last year has had some little effect on the Chief Commissioner, and that public opinion has induced him to draw back a little from what he at first intended. I am glad to find that no more beasts have been put into Westminster Hall, and that £1,000 has been saved on those in the Hall, which sum it is proposed to spend outside. These beasts have been called "monstrous," but a friend of mine says he would not call them "monstrous," as they will be useful designs for illustrations for "Alice in Wonderland," and books of that kind. As to the whole of the restoration of Westminster Hall, the more we see of it the less we like it. The rooms that have been provided are miserable rooms. In the course of my peregrinations through the new building, the other day, I found the place deserted, except by "the Last Man." The only decent room there is is the one called the Grand Committee room, and as it is over the receptacle for horses. I should think the people using it will have to complain of a very unpleasant smell. Architecturally, the projecting room is the most miserable excrescence, and disfigures these great buildings as much as it is possible to disfigure them beyond the natural state of dirt and dilapidation into which they have lapsed. I have perfect confidence that some day or other, when our eyes are open, and we are in our right minds, we shall discover that a very shocking mistake was committed when the Law Courts were removed from Westminster in not reserving the space so secured for the Parliamentary buildings which will be required when we come to that system of devolution—by means of Grand Committees and otherwise—to which we may ultimately attain. I am confident that if we spend a few thousand pounds in railing in that space, the time will come when we shall be ready to pull down the jimcracks we have just erected, for the purpose of putting up useful buildings in their place. Westminster Hall could never be made a beautiful building externally. I am convinced that in Scotland there are 50 United Presbyterian Churches which are more creditable from an architectural point of view.

(5.25.) THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET,) Dublin Uni- 1182 versity

I am grateful to the hon. Member for the qualified support I have on this occasion received from him. He has drawn from one of his peregrinations through the new buildings rather a sad picture of the condition of the rooms on the other side of Westminster Hall. He says he found them deserted. I can imagine the scene almost as it might have been described in Campbell's "Last Man." It must, indeed, have been a spectacle of desolation when the hon. Member stood there after the last clerk had departed, "as if the skeletons of nations were around that lonely man." The effect on his spirits was depressing, I am sure. But if the hon. Gentleman had visited the buildings at the time of day when the clerks by whom they are used are there at work, he would, I think, agree with me not only that the rooms are comfortable, but that their occupants think them pleasant rooms to look at and to live in. The large room the hon. Member has referred to is an extremely handsome one, the only drawback to its usefulness as a Committee room being its distance from this House. I do not know whether that disadvantage can be overcome. As to the observations the hon. Member has made in regard to the "unsightly heraldic animals," I would remind him that the Vote we are discussing has nothing whatever to do with them. Then with regard to the shed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwickshire complains of, the shed was not intended to be a receptacle for carriages, but a stand for horses. If carriages were allowed in there it would be inconvenient. No doubt the shed is only to be approached by a precipitous descent, but that is not the fault of the Office of Works. It is the fault of the course of time and the progress of ages, which have raised a considerable hill just outside the entrance to Westminster Hall. If I could put back the finger of the dial so far as to get rid of that small mountain of course the difficulty would disappear, but I am not able to do that, and I cannot see how it is possible to avoid a rather precipitous descent, looking at the nature of the ground. As to the alterations outside Westminster Hall, I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman who moves the reduction of the Vote, that the designs for the building and its whole cost were contemplated by the Committee that adopted the scheme. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the plan he will see we have carried it out most faithfully. Then it is asked what we are going to do with the remainder of the space. We propose to carry the wall which, at present ascends from the entrance to the horse stand to the gates of Palace Yard at a height of between four and five feet all along to the porch of St. Stephen's Hall. There will then be a good view obtained of the Palace of Westminster on that side, and the wall will be sufficiently high to prevent any accident. Inside the wall it is proposed to lay out the ground as a garden with walks through it. I venture to say again that the new buildings have not only added very considerably to the convenience of Members and officers of the House, by finding additional room for them, but has added very considerably to the beauty of the Palace.

(5.40.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury)

The original estimate amounted to £7,854, and now we are asked for £2,000. That is an increase of the Vote by more than 25 per cent. I know the weakness in all these Estimates is that we are committed to them at a given sum, though somehow or other they have a great tendency to increase. But the increases seldom amount to more than 25 per cent. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some reason why this Estimate has been so largely exceeded? What extra work has been undertaken to necessitate the increased expenditure? I find that the cost of fencing, levelling, and laying out the ground on the western side of Westminster is estimated at £6,000. That seems to me a large sum for the purpose. I should also like to know whether we are at the end of the expenditure in Westminster Hall, or whether, after we have voted this money, we shall be asked in the ordinary Estimates for another amount. Architecturally I think the new buildings are most unsightly.


The difficulty in which the hon. Gentleman finds himself is easily explained. This is really not an addition to the sum of £7,854. The £2,000 is asked for additional works. In order to complete the works as far as possible by the meeting of Parliament we had to hurry them on, and I pressed the Treasury to allow me to take this course, because I thought it would be for the convenience of Members. We do not expect that it will be necessary to ask for anything else beyond that which appears on the Estimate, and the sum of £3,000 which is referred to in the foot-note.

MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Loughborough)

I should like to know whether this Estimate includes the restoration of the timbers on the eastern slope of the roof of Westminster Hall. Last year the timbers on the western slope of the roof were restored, but those on the eastern slope do not appear to have been touched. The dormer windows are still blocked, presenting a most unsightly appearance, both inside and outside the building. Although the restoration is not quite as we all desired, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the work, and hope he will complete it by the necessary work in the roof.


Before the right hon. Gentleman replies I should like to press him for an answer on the point I raised with regard to the bastions at the eastern end of the Hall. After I raised the question on a previous occasion, the right hon. Gentleman wrote me a letter in regard to it, and I should now like to know whether he has come to any positive decision about it, whether he has conferred with the architect or any other architect in regard to it, and whether he thinks it is a desirable thing that an ancient monument should be pulled about in this way without any reason?


Perhaps the First Commissioner of Works will also reply to the question I raised just now.


I apologise to the hon. Member for not having answered his question before. The answer to his question is that all the work of this kind done under the Office of Works is done by contract, which is put up for competition.


My question was whether the money had been actually spent.

(5.45.) MR. PLUNKET

Yes. This money has been, or is being, or will be spent before the end of the financial year. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire I have to say that the Western slope of the roof of the Hall has been completely restored. The work required on the eastern side has not been lost sight of, hut at any rate it is not a very expensive business. The point raised by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) has nothing to do with the Vote we are now discussing. But I may say that I have asked the opinion of many others on the point, and they are not in favour of the change. I shall, of course, do my best to secure the approval of my right hon. Friend in this particular instance. A considerable number of people take the view he does, and if I can find that his is the prevailing opinion I will turn my attention again to the matter. I cannot, at present, however, undertake to alter the building.

MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

Having myself pressed on the right hon. Gentleman the completion of the work by laying out the ground, and having protested against the long delay which took place in this respect, I view with great satisfaction this Supplementary Estimate. As my right hon. Friend has stated, this is really not connected with the structural work on the Hall, and does not raise the question referred to by the right hon. Member for Whitehaven, Upon that question there is a very great difference of opinion amongst Members of the House and others. There is a large amount of authority in favour of these bastions, but after all the matter is a very small one. If the prevailing opinion should turn out to be adverse to these staircases it will not be difficult to remove them. Personally, I believe that when the work is complete the general opinion will be that as regards the interior of the Hall, at all events, the improvement has been great.


I will only say one word upon the question of finance. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that what is being done now was foreseen from the beginning. In that case why did he not give us at first an honest Estimate of the whole cost? I protest against being led into jobs of this kind without being told what they are to cost. We voted a large sum in a former Session for this restoration, and now we are asked for a sum for the surrounding fencing and clearing up. I do not think this is a reasonable or right way of treating the House.


I am glad I elicited the answer from the right hon. Gentleman that this is not an increase of the Estimate by 25 per cent., but what he has said puts us in another difficulty. We find that the Estimate for £7,854, which was passed last year, was to cover certain work, and now the right hon. Gentleman tells us that this £2,000 is for extra work not included in the Estimate. I agree it is well that all the work possible should be finished before the opening of Parliament; still I do not think there was any great emergency which necessitated such a strong proceeding as the expenditure of £2,000 for work which had not been sanctioned by Parliament.


Personally, I think the alterations both inside and outside Westminster Hall are hideous. The Member for Bradford, who was one of the promoters of the scheme, thinks the contrary, and so does the architect, Mr. Pearson. But this Vote in no sort of way affects the question of the structural alterations. Outside there has been a great hoarding. It is perfectly true there was no Estimate last year for levelling and grassing and making the wall round the space, but the right hon. Gentleman had to face the fact that if he did not commence to do the work it would have been put off for months. Although I generally protest against money being expended before it is voted, this is a case of a halfpenny worth of tar which was absolutely necessary, owing to what had been expended, to finish the job.


I am very glad to know these works were put up for public tender, but as far as I can understand there is not a single item connected with these works which might not have been easily estimated and voted on before the works were undertaken. I must protest against the Estimates being exceeded, as in this case. I understand that the House was told last year, or at some other time, that the total cost of these works would be £25,300. We are now told when the works have been commenced that they will cost £36,180. That is an increase of something like 40 per cent. Such increases are unfair to the taxpayers and are to be severely condemned.

(5.55.) Question put.

(5.55.) The Committee divided: — Ayes 106; Noes 215.—(Div. List, No. 11.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.

2. £7,000, Supplementary, for Public Buildings, Great Britain.

3. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £100,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1890, for the acquisition of certain Land and Buildings at South Kensington.

(6.10.) SIR BERNHARD SAMUELSON (Oxfordshire, Banbury)

I do not think we should allow this Vote to pass without an acknowledgment of the perseverance the Vice-President of the Committee of the Council has displayed, and which at last has been successful in inducing his Colleagues to assent to this purchase, though I believe they were at first not favourable to the proposal. I think also some recognition is due to the Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1851 for the liberal way in which they have met the wishes of the Government. I am told the extent of the land is about 4½ acres, and I need hardly tell the Committee how much greater the value of the land for building purposes is in this part of London. The Commissioners, taking a very wise view, thought their duties as Commissioners were not fulfilled by merely looking to derive revenue from this land. They thought it proper that the land should be devoted to the advancement of Science and Art, and they expressed their willingness to show some consideration for such an object in the price they asked, and, unless I am misinformed, they have very properly attached to the sale the condition that the land shall be devoted to Science and Art purposes and no other. The complaint cannot be urged against this Vote that it is asked for after the money has been spent, for the purchase is, I believe, subject strictly to the sanction of Parliament, in the sense that should the House not vote this money the transaction will be void. But I hope the Committee will not be so short-sighted as to refuse the Vote. With my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Sir H. Roscoe) I served on the Departmental Committee to take into consideration the accommodation necessary for the Museum of Applied Science in connection with South Kensington Museum, and although some of the Members of that Committee were at the outset prejudiced strongly against any further expenditure, after hearing the evidence in favour of this proposal there was not a Member who was not convinced that it was absolutely necessary that a building must be erected if it was to be worthy the name of a Museum of Science and Art at all. I have only further to hope that when the land is acquired too much time will not be lost before it is turned to the purpose for which it is designed, and that with the truest economy the building will be worthy of its purpose. Proper consideration should be given to the plans, and no regard for a small saving should induce those entrusted with the erection of a building to do otherwise than arrange it in the best possible manner for the purpose to which it is to be devoted. At present it is not possible for the museum to serve the purpose for which it exists. The expenditure need not be very large, and a considerable expense now incurred by the Department in the shape of rent will be saved, and this rent capitalised ought to go a long way towards the erection of a suitable building. I am glad this Estimate has been brought forward, and I congratulate both the right hon. Gentleman and the Commissioners on the arrangement which has been arrived at.

(6.15.) SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLE-WORTH (Lancashire, Clitheroe)

I do not rise to follow my hon. Friend's arguments in favour of voting the money, but to call attention to another matter in connection with the Vote. My hon. Friend has informed the Committee that, the money has not been paid, that the purchase is not actually completed, and of course we are glad to hear that, for it is much more regular to come to Parliament before the money is paid than afterwards. But if the money has not been paid, I should like to ask the question why should not the ordinary course be followed and this amount be included in the Estimates for the coming year? It is a proceeding that should be closely watched in Committee of Supply, for there is a tendency on the part of the Government of the day to do that by Supplementary Estimate which would be more regularly done in the ordinary Estimates for the year. Here we are at the end of February, and if this money has not been paid and we are dealing with friendly parties like the Exhibition Commissioners, why not postpone payment to the next financial year instead of dealing with it in this irregular manner by Supplementary Estimate? The Government ask for time from private Members to discuss the Supplementary Estimates, and then we find that they include this item, which ought to take its place in the ordinary Estimates. Speaking as a Member of the Public Accounts Committee, I cannot help thinking there is grave financial objection to this proceeding, and that it is calculated to impair the control the House ought to have over the expenditure. It is also calculated to impair the principle laid down that, after the House has voted the money for the year, unexpended balances should go towards the reduction of the National Debt, for in reality you deprive that reduction of debt of a sum of £100,000.


Perhaps I may be allowed to answer the question at once. There were, I think, very strong reasons why the course taken should have been taken on this occasion. In the first place, the Exhibition Commissioners have been extremely patient with regard to the negotiations which have been going on for years in connection with this particular question. The Government have been pressed, certainly for the last three years, very strongly to say "Aye" or "No," whether they proposed to purchase the land or not. There has been the Committee which has been referred to by the hon. Member for Banbury considering what should be done with a view to providing additional accommodation for a Science Museum. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Exhibition Commissioners has communicated with the Treasury on several occasions, and when the Government had the Report of the Committee which has been referred to, they determined —and without going into details I may say they are justified in that Report— on accepting the principle that there should be some extension and relief to the overcrowded buildings of South Kensington. It was impossible to decide what should be done until the question of site was settled. We were pressed on the one hand—I think rightly pressed, and make no complaint against it; I think it was only fair to the Commissioners—that they should have an answer "yes" or "no" whether the Government would take the land or not; and, on the other hand, we had the pressing needs of South Kensington. The Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the conclusion that the offer made by the Exhibition Commissioners was one that he ought to accept in the interest of the nation generally, and that the question of additional accommodation for the Department could not be longer postponed. We could take no steps until the question of this land had been decided, and so we decided to put the case before Parliament, leaving to Parliament the responsibility of saying whether or not this land should be purchased. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe knows perfectly well the uncertainties in regard to Supply. He knows perfectly well it would not be in our power, or in accordance with custom in this House, to take any part of this money in a Vote on Account, and it would have to be relegated to a time when the Vote could be got through as a whole. I hope the Committee will agree that the Government have been right. We have no desire to evade responsibility, but, on the whole, have come to the conclusion that this was the best course to pursue. We had no certainty that even if we put the Vote on the Estimates for next year the House would accept our proposal, and, therefore, we thought it advisable at once to take the opinion of the House before we committed ourselves to the expenditure. I hope that expenditure will be sanctioned, and that we shall be enabled to take some practical step towards accomplishing what I believe is a general wish.

(6.25.) SIR H. ROSCOE (Manchester, S.)

I hope the explanation from the Secretary to the Treasury will be considered satisfactory. It seems to me most desirable that the money should be voted at once. No doubt the plot of land in question is the only one in the neighbourhood and the only one in the neighbourhood, likely to be available for all time for the establishment and extension of this great Science Museum. My hon. Friend below me has alluded to the Committee of which I had the honour to be a Member. Our instructions were to give an opinion as to the general value of the collection, and to see if any articles should be eliminated. We came to the conclusion that the value was extremely great, and that there were few articles which with advantage could be eliminated. The Committee should remember that this is not a Museum for London alone; it is a National Institution to be used by a largo number of teachers and scientific students from all parts of the country, and it also provides valuable and interesting objects that are sent on to other parts of the country. We had the assistance of experts of all kinds, and all agreed as to the great value of the collection, and that it was absolutely necessary to have some proper building in which it could be housed, with proper means of keeping it up year by year to the requirements of modern science. It is a satisfaction to know that the Government are prepared to carry out the views of the Committee. It is, of course, no use having the land unless we put a building upon it, and I hope that before long a small portion of the large surplus we hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have at disposal will be set apart for this particular purpose. One question I should like to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, and that has reference to the dwelling house built on the Queen's Gate side of the ground. What is the arrangement with the Commissioners in regard to this house?


I do not desire to enter into the question whether the present galleries should be enlarged or not, but to say a word on the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir U. Kay-Shuttle-worth). He protested against a Vote of this magnitude being included in the Supplementary Estimates, and I think the answer given by the Secretary to the Treasury is very insufficient. He has shown no sufficient reason why the Vote should not be postponed to next year's ordinary Votes. He says the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 wished to have an answer, but I apprehend the Commissioners would have been perfectly well satisfied with the announcement that the Government intended to buy the land, and it would be a matter of comparative indifference to them whether the money was voted in the one year or the other. The effect of taking the Vote now will be to reduce the expenditure of the coming year by £100,000 and diverting that sum from the possible reduction of the National Debt. I agree that the House should not be called upon to vote at this time a sum of money which could very well be brought forward in next year's Estimates in the ordinary course, and at a time when Ave should be able to have the whole scheme before us, and know what are the intentions of the Government on the matter. I do not propose at this stage to enter on the question of policy. What I desire to object to is the introduction of these large Votes in Supplementary Estimates, because it is a proceeding altogether without precedent, and one which, whenever attempted during the last few years, has been described as wholly contrary to Parliamentary practice. I take it that the general rule with regard to Supplementary Estimates is that only money should be applied for which must be paid in the current financial year, and that anything which can be legitimately postponed should be put off till the next year. I therefore join my right hon. Friend in protesting against the course which, has been taken on this occasion, but I protest only on financial grounds.

(6.32.) MR. MORTON

I quite agree with the objections raised by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench. I should like to have some more information on this matter. I want to know who valued this land. How are we to know it is worth £100,000? It does seem to me extraordinary to ask for a Vote of this large sum, and then to give us no information whatever as to who valued the land, or as to the extent of it, or where the money is going to, or whether any persons got a commission upon the sale.


I am resident at South Kensington, and am therefore in favour of spending money there. As a British citizen I am also in favour of spending money for the promotion of science; but, at the same time, I feel that this is a large order, because it is not only an application for a Vote of £100,000, but it will bind us to the expenditure of several more hundreds of thousands of pounds for the buildings which will have to be erected. I think it is not right that in a Supplementary Estimate such a scheme as this should be sprung upon the House. Of course, I should be happy deliberately to consider the scheme which is to be laid before the House, but I do share the opinion of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that it is neither right nor proper that the Government should ask us to pass this Vote, and enter into no explanation either as to the extent or as to the value of the land. I was looking at the land this morning, and was struck by seeing upon it a solitary house. Is it included in the purchase? Now, I should like to know what it is exactly that we are buying, how the land has been valued, whether it is a fair bargain between the Commissioners and the Government, and what authority there is for the opinion which has been expressed that the Commissioners are generously parting with the land at a great deal below its value.

(6.36.) MR. JACKSON

With regard to the questions which have been addressed to me by hon. Members, I am -afraid I took it for granted that everybody knew the circumstances connected with this purchase. The land is 4½ acres, and, in addition to the land, there is a building on it which is called the Southern Gallery, for which, at present, we pay a sum of £1,500 a year. That £1,500 yearly will, of course, fall out of the Estimates when we become the proprietors of the land. An. hon. Member opposite has asked whether there are any commissions to be paid in connection with this transaction. I may tell him that there are no commissions to be paid, either on one side or on the other, because the transaction is one between the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners—gentlemen who are very well-known to all who take an interest in this question—and the Government. It is not very easy to say what is the sale value of the land unless it were, in some way, offered for public sale. The area to be bought includes the whole of the land on the south side of Exhibition Road, from one end to the other, with the exception of a house which was built on a portion of the land prior to the sale of it. We have had a valuation made by the Office of Works, and the result is that the value of the land was put down at something between £100,000 and £120,000. I believe that the Exhibition Commissioners have also had an estimate made which was considerably higher. In fact, they put the value of the land at £200,000, but they are willing to sell it to the Government for this purpose, and for this purpose only, at what they call a nominal price. I think there can be no doubt as to the advantages which will be derived from the Government being the owner of the whole of the land from the south side of Exhibition Road to Cromwell Road.

(6.39.) MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

As I have been pressing the Government to make provision for the Science Collections for the last 10 years, I think I ought to say something in defence of the action of the Government in putting this Vote in the Supplementary Estimate. I do not, of course, object to the principle which has been laid down by my right hon. Friends as to what Votes ought properly to be included in the Supplementary Estimates; but there is no doubt that this question has been a pressing one for some years. We have a most valuable science collection which is housed in a most disgraceful manner. We have collections such as no other country in the world possesses. The Treasury have all along resisted every application for the extension of the Museum, and for placing these valuable collections in a building in which they would be useful and accessible to the country. There have been no less than three Departmental Committees appointed to inquire as to the necessity of extending the Museum, and although some of the Members so appointed on the Committee went into the inquiry holding the view that the extension was unnecessary, they have, before the inquiry closed, been bound to confess that it was not only necessary, but highly desirable. I hear it asked for the first time whether we are going to get good value for our money. Now, I have been for many years a Member of the Exhibition Commission, and I know something about the value of the property. I believe our Surveyors—one of the most eminent firms in London—valued it at £160,000, this valuation not including certain portions of the property. The present value is undoubtedly£200,000, and welet the Government have it for the nominal sum of £70,000, the balance being the value of the Southern Gallery. Now we are asked what is to be done with the money. My reply is, that we are looking forward to provide a sum of £5,000 a year in scholarships for technical education, and I do not think that we could better apply the money than in this direction, for we propose that the scholarships shall be open to all schools in every part of the United Kingdom. I never stood up in this House to recommend any expenditure with a more clear conviction that I am doing my duty than I now possess in urging the Commission to pass this Vote and enable the Government to have the Museum completed as rapidly as possible.


The right hon. Gentleman has failed entirely to grasp the objection which we are taking to this Vote. I do not wish for one moment to be considered as objecting to the proper housing of the science exhibits which we may have. We are as strongly in favour of proper buildings for Scientific Institutions as any one in this House. But the great thing is, where is the proper place to put these buildings, whether we get full value for the money we pay, and whether the money asked for ought to be included in a Supplementary Vote. I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman, with his experience of 10 years in respect to this matter, failing to see the importance of the position we have taken up. We are told by the Government that they must have the money within a short time. We are also told by the Secretary to the Treasury that the Exhibition Commissioners have been trying to get an answer from the Government during the past three years, but have failed to get it. What have the Government been about during those three years, and what reason is there that they should not wait another month in two instead of trying to get the Vote in the present financial year? If the Commissioners have been kind enough, as we are told, to offer the land at a sum much below its real value, surely they might add to their kindness by waiting for the Vote to be asked for properly at a time when Members can have full information on the subject before them. Again, I am not sure that the Commissioners have a right to sell the land to the Government at a reduced price. If they are anxious to establish scholarships, they ought to make the Government pay the full value of the land. I do not wish to be too severe on the right hon. Gentleman, but it struck me whether he and his Colleagues were not committing a breach of trust in giving away valuable land which they have under their charge. There is another question which strikes me, and that is, whether it is necessary that all these buildings should be put up at South Kensington. That is not, as a matter of course, the most convenient spot for these institutions, or for the students who come up from the country to attend them. It is, I admit, a most convenient place for a number of wealthy people who like to have these art and science collections at their very doors. I think the time has come when we should consider the propriety of building these institutions on sites which cost something less than £20,000 an acre, and I believe that if we chose other localities it would be more convenient to the students, who would be able probably to get cheaper lodgings, while the localities would greatly benefit. But my strong ground of opposition is that you are using a Supplementary Estimate for a purpose to which it ought not to be applied. There is no reason why you should thus suddenly spring this matter upon the House after it has been in abeyance so many years. Surely if we have the friendship of the Exhibition Commissioners they might be expected to wait until the ordinary Estimates for the year could be laid before the House of Commons, and Members have an opportunity of considering the scheme as a whole. I shall consequently vote against the Estimate.

(6.49.) MR. BAETLEY (Islington, N.)

It seems to me that we are making a fresh departure in the way of buildings at South Kensington. On the east side of Exhibition Road there is a considerable quantity of vacant land, and I think it is a great scandal that the South Kensington Museum is left in its present unfinished state. But this is a Vote to enable us to acquire land on the other side of the road, and I agree thoroughly with the hon. Member who has just spoken that it is a great mistake to concentrate all these buildings in one place. I want, in the first place, to see the Museum on the east side of the road completed, and I think when that is done the building will serve all practical purposes for some time to come. But the present proposal really amounts to the beginning of a new Museum. I think it is a great misfortune that this Vote has been put forward under these circumstances. I would much rather see a new Museum established in some other part of London. I want to see these places of public instruction distributed, and I do protest strongly against acquiring this new lot of land when we have so much space at South Kensington still unoccupied, and not likely to be occupied for many years to come, and when other parts of London are so inadequately provided with museums.

(6.52.) MR. PICTON (Leicester)

I sympathise with what fell from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield as to the extreme desirability of properly housing our science and art collections; but I think there is a good deal to be said for the objections which have been made to the course taken by the Government in presenting this as a Supplementary Estimate, and I trust that before the debate is concluded we shall have some further explanation. It is evident that there is a good deal of danger in initiating the practice of thrusting into the Supplementary Estimates demands which properly belong to the succeeding year. We did not know until we came down to the House what these Supplementary Estimates were about, and we, therefore, have had no time to consider this proposal. Supposing a Minister has a piece of work to get through which is not at all popular, he conceives the idea of putting it into the Supplementary Estimates, and bringing it forward at a time when it cannot be properly discussed, because no one knows anything about it. I entirely sympathise with the objections which have been raised, and unless I can lie convinced that the sum proposed to be granted now does not properly belong to the burdens of next year, I shall be compelled to vote against the grant.

(6.55.) MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)

When a right hon. Gentleman spoke of South Kensington being crowded with many valuable exhibits, I think he could not have been at that place very recently or else he would have known that in one large room there is nothing but a number of old and dusty chairs which have not been used since 1862, while the electric appliances room is utterly unused. I think if all the space there were properly utilised there would be no necessity to ask for this Vote, and the right hon. Gentleman would have no reason to complain that our valuable exhibits are badly housed. I say that the bad housing is due to want of attention on the part of the heads of Departments. This is a large sum to be voted in a Supplementary Estimate, and I think the Government might fairly have waited for the beginning of a new financial year before asking for it.

(6.57.) SIR LYON PLAYFAIR (Leeds, S.)

Having acted as honorary secretary to the Royal Commission for some years, I wish to say a few words in explanation of a mistake which has evidently arisen in the course of this debate. The hon. Member for Finsbury suggested that the Commissioners might be doing a great wrong to the public by selling the land at a price below its actual value. But the fact is, that a Charter was given to the Commissioners for the purpose of acquiring the land, and either giving it, or selling it at a low price for the foundation of institutions such as these. The reason for giving the Charter was that the cost of sites for public buildings in the Metropolis was so enormous that it was desirable to secure a large extent of land, and then dispose of it at moderate figures for various public purposes. If any hon. Members will go to the Library, they will find the Report of the Royal Commission of 1851 which came out towards the end of last year, and in which the whole of this Vote was explained at great length. The Commissioners have based their estimate of the value of the land upon sales of similar land which have actually taken place in the locality, and they have come to the conclusion that the land which they are offering to the Government for £70,000 is actually worth about £200,000. The additional £30,000 which is to be paid by the Government is in respect of a building upon the land, and the sum of £30,000 is the value put upon that building by the Board of Works Surveyor, although the Commissioners are of opinion that the value is higher. With regard to the disposal of the, £100,000 by the Commissioners, I may say that they are being continually pressed by people in the provinces to set apart a portion of their revenue for the purpose of promoting technical education. We have been pressed year after year to apply our surplus revenues to educational purposes, and could not do so because originally more land was secured than we had the money to buy, and have had to borrow money on mortgage. Our present debt is £129,000, and when the present amount of the Vote is applied to the extinction of the debt, if the Government choose to accept our offer we shall have only £29,000 of debt, which would be easily met by certain contributions from revenue. We have pressed the Government to come to a decision on the question whether they will acquire the land for the public, or whether it should be let to private individuals at full value to pay off the debt. We are now tired of waiting, the present state of things having been going on for 10 years, during which time the pressure from the provinces has been more and more strongly exerted upon the Commissioners, and after what we heard from the last Committee which reported on the subject, the Commissioners told the Government— We now offer you this land for the last time for £70,000, although we believe it to be worth £200,000. Will you take it? We cannot wait any longer, as we must answer the provincial demands for applying the revenue which will exist after we have paid off the debt. At last the Government have come to a conclusion, which I think is a wise one; and when it is argued that it is unusual to vote a sum of this kind on the Supplementary Estimates, I believe that when the Correspondence on the question is published, it will be seen that we have been very patient, and that the time has come when the Government must give us an answer. This they have done, and it is now for the Committee to say what course it will take upon the subject.


It strikes me that the right hon. Gentleman has not made a very good defence. He tells us that the Commissioners have entered in to a species of general engagement either to give their land for nothing, or to part with it under its value for purposes connected with science and art. But he now says the money ought to be granted immediately, and that if not they will sell the land to private individuals for building upon. But obviously the Commissioners are bound not to do that.


They may apply the proceeds of any money they may obtain for public purposes.


That seem to me to be a round-about method. The sites are for London and not for the provinces, and therefore the Commissioners are bound to sell the land for sites in London far below it* value, in order that it may be used for scientific purposes. I think we ought to register a protest against these large sums of money being-put into the Supplementary Estimates. To bring them forward in that way usually means that, by some sort of accident, there has been an excessive expenditure which was not at first contemplated; it was never intended that a scheme like this for a building in connection with the South Kensington Museum should be so dealt with. Even had it come up in the ordinary Estimates, I am inclined to think I should have opposed the proposal; because I regard the South Kensington Museum as a perfect vortex against which we should be upon our guard. I am positively shocked at the amount of money obtained for South Kensington. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) generally looks upon those of us who take this view as Goths and Philistines, because we object to this expenditure on his part and on the part of the friends of art; but I say the time has come when it is necessary that we should keep a wary eye on the proceedings of the friends of art, who, as a rule, mismanage everything with which they are connected, and spend thirteen pence where they ought not to spend more than tenpence. The friends of art ought to think of finance as well as of art. Under all the circumstances I hope the Committee will not only divide against this £100,000 Vote, but will throw it out.

(7.5.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

The policy of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken is pretty clear; it is to oppose any grants in favour of South Kensington; and this is because it is not in his view a good commercial speculation. But I think I may make an appeal to the commercial and financial mind of the hon. Gentleman. I differ entirely from him on this point, because, as he will be told by duly qualified persons, if you take the erections of South Kensington, they are at the present moment worth, in mere commercial value, two or three times as much as they have cost the nation. I think that this fact ought to satisfy the commercial mind of the hon. Gentleman. But there is another point I should like to press on the hon. Member. Some of the most valuable possessions in the South Kensington collection have either been bequeathed to the nation or presented as gifts during the lifetime of the donors; and those gifts and bequests are dependent almost entirely in point of value on the appreciation the public have for them. If after obtaining gifts of this kind the nation does not take steps to house them properly they are not likely to obtain such gifts in future. I think, also, in a matter of this kind we are bound to take cognisance of the experience we have had of what has been the case in connection with the provincial museums and exhibitions. Where-ever the community show the great value they attach to these collections, they have at once been met by the public spirit of the inhabitants, and large gifts have been made in consequence. The collection at South Kensington is both splendid and unique, and one of which any nation might be proud; but it is improperly and inadequately housed. I am, therefore, delighted to see this Vote placed before the Committee, and hope it will only be the precursor of other votes of the same kind.

(7.7.) MR. PICTON

I should like to hear why it is that the Government cannot wait till the end of the financial year.

(7.7.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster

The answer is short; the end of the financial year falls at such a time that the vote could not be taken until June or July, or perhaps August, and it is unreasonable to ask the Commissioners of 1851 to wait until then. I am one of those who have resisted the expenditure at South Kensington as long as I could, and until I was perfectly satisfied it was necessary in the public interests. A Committee was appointed by the present Government to inquire and report whether any further accommodation could be found to meet the requirements of the case. We have received the Report of that Committee, and have no alternative but to carry out their recommendations to the best of our ability. The step we propose is one of the first steps necessary to be taken. When exception is taken to the Vote appearing in the Supplement Estimates I wish to point out what is involved in that objection. It is suggested that the Government may at any period enter into a national engagement for the purchase of costly property and not communicate it to the House; of the two alternatives I should say the postponement of the announcement of such a financial engagement must be regarded as a much more serious matter than to ask the House to confirm at once the obligation into which the Government have entered. I may add that full notice has been given of the engagement into which we entered, as the Estimates were circulated last night or early this morning, and consequently hon. Members have come down to the House with ample information on the subject.


The right hon. Gentleman says we have had full information; whereas the Government merely enter into an engagement of which we have this short notice, and then leave it to the House to pass the Vote. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir L. Playfair) says the Commissioners cannot wait for another six months. Why not? They have already waited for 10 long years, and surely they might wait another six months. The light hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) appeared to me to take a somewhat huxtering view of the matter. He seems to say that "We ought to go on purchasing every species of bric-à-brac, because its price has risen in the market; that what the nation has bought is worth three times what it was. Here is a splendid speculation! Let us buy a quantity more in the hope the price will continue to rise." The right hon. Gentleman also says many persons have given certain things to South Kensington. Well, whenever I have been there, I have generally found, on inquiry, that where there is a very poor thing, it has been given by some gentleman, but that where there is a really good thing, it has been bought by the nation. If you go on building in the manner proposed, you will have persons sending every species of rubbish in the hope that their names may be put down as donors to the nation. I object to that. We ought not to accept a gift horse without looking it in the mouth, and most assuredly we ought not to build a stable of more than three times the value of the horse.

(7.13.) MR. MUNDELLA

The hon. Gentleman has stated that what is given to the Museums are generally rubbish; does he not know that during a period of three years the value of these gifts has equalled half a million sterling? Why, Sir, many of these gifts are perfectly unique. The Jones Collection alone is worth £350,000, and is one of the best collections of its kind, in Europe. In fact, I belief the gifts to South Kensington are worth many times over the amount the Government has expended there; while recently more was received in gifts in one year than had been expended during the previous 27 years.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Smith) has stated that if this Vote were not placed in the Supplementary Estimates, it might have to wait till July or August. I ask does he propose to carry out the policy of last year by taking the last Votes first, and making Class 1 come at the end of the list? We want to know from the First Lord whether he intends to begin with Class 1 or Class 6?

(7.16.) MR. BARTLEY

I think there is a misapprehension about the Vote now. I agree that the collection at the Kensington Museum is not properly housed; and, secondly, that the Museum is not complete. But will this Vote assist the better housing of the collection? The Vote is simply to buy a piece of land now used by the South Kensington Museum; it will not in any way aid in the better housing of the collection. Therefore, I think we ought to give a liberal Vote to complete the South Kensington Museum, and to put the collection in proper order, in which it is not at the present time. But I thoroughly object to extending the Museum to the "other side of the road before completing the building on the east side of the road.

(7.18.) MR. MORTON

I am glad to hear that this land has been valued by somebody. We are told that the purchaser valued the land at £120,000, and the landlord at £200,000; and it appears that we are going to give £70,000 and £30,000 for the building. I want to know how we can get it for a less sum than the purchaser valued it at. I object to this money being spent altogether in the West End. Some of this money ought to be expended in the East End of London, or even in the North End. The aristocracy of this country have already got enough of the good things of this world, and if we are to have these buildings and collections by all means let us have them in the East End of London, to improve; the people there. I hope the Committee will allow this matter to be postponed with the object of our having time to consider whether, in common fairness, to the people of this country, and especially to the people of the Metropolis, some of these buildings ought not to be erected in the East End of London.

(7.30.) MR. BLANE

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield has said that gifts worth half a million have been received at the South Kensington Museum in the course of one year. When visiting that institution, the first thing that has met my gaze has been the bust of the right hon. Gentleman himself. I take great interest in objects of art, and I know what pleases me, and I quite agree that this bust is not properly housed. There is also a picture of the Committee of the Exhibition of 1851, in which is a portrait of the right hon. Gentleman, Sir Lyon Playfair. I quite agree that it also is not properly housed. It is a good portrait, but it is not in a good position. Perhaps this good portrait of the right hon. Gentleman might be put in a better position than it is at present. I have no objection to the right hon. Gentleman having both his bust and the painting put in a good position, so long as he does so at his own expense, but I object to expending £100,000 for the purpose, and I therefore resist this Vote.

(7.22.) MR. MUKDELLA

The hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken. I have no bust at present at the Kensington Museum. The bust was a presentation from the faetory workers, but has long since been removed.

(7.23.) The Committee divided:— Ayes 144; Noes 67.—(Div. List, No. 12.)

4. Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,050, he granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st day of March, 1890, for Diplomatic and Consular Buildings.


This is one of those singular items that occasionally slip into Supplementary Estimates. We are perpetually being asked to spend money on the Legation at Washington. The original Estimate for the alterations there was £700. That Estimate is exceeded this year by £850; that is to say, it has positively been doubled, and yet we have not any species of explanation offered to us. This is an instance of the reckless manner in which Gentlemen connected with the Foreign Office act in these matters. I see that £100 is put down for buying a filter, and £450 for alterations and repairs to the heating apparatus, and £700 for alterations in the drainage arrangements.

(7.34.) MR. PLUNKET

I think I can explain the necessity of taking this Vote in the form of a Supplementary Estimate. When Sir Julian Pauncefote went to take up his residence at Washington, it was found that the house was in a very bad state, and there were no means of heating the upper part of it. It was necessary if he was to go into the house this winter that the work should be done at once. The drains were in a bad condition, and a number of officials had been suffering from illness caused by the defective arrangements. The water supplied to the Embassy house at Washington is often in a bad state in consequence of floods, and it is therefore necessary to filter it. £100 seems to be a large sum to expend on a filter, but it was a very large filter, as it was necessary to deal with the water supply of the whole of the house and the stables.


I can only tell the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) that I lived for some years in the house at Washington, that it had no heating apparatus, no special drainage arrangements, and no filter. I drank the water, and I throve. I have no doubt that Sir Julian Pauncefote and his successors would have thriven in the same way without these alterations. An Ambassador or a Minister never goes to any Legation which has been built at great cost to the country without insisting on having some sort of alteration made. It is really a strong thing for the right hon. Gentleman to tell us that it was absolutely necessary to put up a filter at a cost of £100. Probably the President of the United States drinks the Washington water unfiltered, and the Cabinet in Washington no doubt drink it also. I think it will meet the exigencies of the case if I move to reduce the Vote by £1,350, so as to bring it down to the original estimate.

Motion made, and Question porposed, "That Item N, of £1,350, for the Washington Legation, be omitted from the proposed Vote." —(Mr. Labouchere.)

(7.40.) MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N. E.)

I know something of the circumstances of this case, and think it would be ungracious of the Committee to divide against the Vote. I was recently in the house in question, and I think if there is anything wrong it is in the system, and not in the demand for repairs. It seems very unsatisfactory that the repairs of our establishments in foreign countries should be dealt with, at a distance, by the Board of Works, and that if an Ambassador requires to have any repairs carried out he should have, as in this case, to come to England, and besiege the doors of the Board of Works. When that is the state of things it is not wonderful that there should be a gradual accumulation of repairs, and that larger sums should be asked for than are altogether agreeable. I believe that in this case several of the people employed in the house, including some of the secretaries and servants, were laid up in consequence of defects in the drainage. That is not a creditable thing, and it is not wonderful that a considerable expense should be necessary under such circumstances. When a man is serving Ms country at a great distance from home, I think it is only reasonable that we should give him a decent and healthy house to live in.

(7.43.) MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)

The hon. Member's views on this subject are evidently the result of having dined with the Ambassador at Washington. I can personally testify that the water at Washington is quite as good in every sense as the water supplied in London, and I may add that the ordinary price of a family filter in America is four dollars, or 16s. It appears that a filter which costs 16s. is put down, when it is for an Ambassador, at £100. It is too ridiculous. Either this expenditure is not for a filter, or, if it is, there is something more than appears on the face of the Votes. It seems absurd to discuss small items of this kind, but it is generally in regard to these smaller items that fraud creeps in. The supposition that any filter in America ever cost £100 is absolutely ridiculous. We can hardly object to the cost incurred in altering the drains, because we all know that drains go wrong, and we ought not to let our Ambassador run the risk of illness on account of the drains. But the sum of £450 is put down for heating four or five rooms in a house in Washington. Why, £450 would heat a. terrace in Washington. The small furnaces which they have in the rooms there, and which, to my mind, are very unhealthy and unpleasant, only cost a few dollars. If we go to a Division I shall certainly vote for the Amendment.

(7.46.) MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen S.)

I hope my hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere) will be satisfied with the discussion that has taken place, and that he will not think it necessary to go to a Division. At the same time I think this is one of the frequent occasions on which the Board of Works seems unprepared to give the explanations we might expect from them. There must be something wrong in the working of a system which frequently gives rise to cases of this kind, when the expenditure seems disproportionate to the result. However, we have had evidence that the drainage is bad, and I do not think, therefore, the Committee has any reason to quarrel with the chief item of the Vote.


I would ask leave, then, to withdraw the Amendment. I think the case has been met by the discussion which has taken place, and I hope it will act as a warning to our Ministers abroad, and to those who represent them here, that they must not-incur reckless expenditure whenever they go to a fresh Embassy.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.

(7.49.) MR. MORTON

I wish to object to this Vote on principle. The original estimate for the well and water supply in this case was £790, and we are asked to sanction an expenditure of £700 more than that amount. It appears that the Committee was deceived last year when it was told that the work would cost only £790. I quite agree that the House should be put into good order, and that the drainage should be perfected, but I am not sure that these are fair charges. I speak with some little knowledge of drainage, and £750 seems to me to be an enormous sum for the drainage of one small house. I think that the Yankees, have made a fool of John Bull over this matter. I should like to have some further explanation respecting the filter, and also with regard to the "contingencies." Contingencies may mean anything. I remember reading some years ago that Joseph Hume discovered that "etc." in the House of Commons meant sherry and biscuits. I wish to know whether "contingencies" means sherry and biscuits, or whether it means some other extraordinary expenditure?

(7.52.) MR. BLANE

AS to this water supply—


The hon. Member cannot go back to that item, as it has been disposed of.


I wish to speak on the total Vote. I think the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Plunket) does not know much about Washington or its water supply. He alleges that the water supply is sometimes unhealthy by reason of the floods. The reverse is the case, and there is a better water supply at Washington than in any town I know of in the United Kingdom. It is manifest that if our Minister is not satisfied with the Embassy at Washington he must be very hard to please. It has done for his predecessors for many years, and if Sir Julian Pauncefote is not satisfied Let him make the alterations he desires at his own expense. He has an allowance of some £700 a month or more.

(7.54.) MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

I do not want to go into the details of the Vote; but I would point out that it refers to works carried on a long way from this country. In past years a very large number of cases of this kind have come, not only before this House, but before the Public Accounts Committee, and observations have been made upon them. I remember the sum of £40 being once charged for a washing-stand in the Embassy at Berlin. How far the items now before us are admissible we shall not learn this evening. We must, perforce, pass the Vote. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that something like an understanding was arrived at on a previous occasion, whereby not only were Clerks of the Works to be sent out from head-quarters to visit distant places and report on repairs and buildings, but it should be taken into consideration whether there should not be some transfer of the services. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that matter has been decided upon or considered; or whether we are to go on, year after year, having bills sent in which are transparently ridiculous and exorbitant in respect of services which cannot be checked?


I am not aware of an understanding of the kind referred to by the hon. Member.

Vote agreed to.

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