HC Deb 20 March 1890 vol 342 cc1291-6
*(6.28.) MR. CREMER

I want to bring under the notice of the First Commissioner of Works the circumstances under which Members of this House are excluded from the Buckingham Chamber and the Painted Chamber in the adjoining building. Until the last eight or ten months a Member was privileged to introduce a friend to view the paintings in the Buckingham Chamber simply by applying to the policeman on duty, but now we are rigidly excluded unless we have the sanction of Black Rod. Why should Members of this House be excluded from taking their friends into the Buckingham Chamber to see the two magnificent pictures it contains, and why should the room be locked against Members of this House? I can only say that if this practice be continued, when the Vote for the House of Lords is under consideration, I shall not only repeat my protest but will move a reduction of the Vote, and I shall persevere in that course until Members of this House are allowed every facility for entering that chamber. I do not grudge the amount of public money that has been expended on the production of these magnificent works of art; but I do strongly protest against Members of this House and their friends being prevented from viewing them by the intolerable restrictions that have been framed- by somebody, and which ought not to be allowed to exist for 24 hours. Then, again, there is a chamber called the "Painted Chamber" in the House of Lords, and there is still more difficulty in getting there than in the other case. I am, however, not quite sure that I accurately stated the difficulties in relation to the Buckingham Chamber. There are some new rules, which, I am told, have only come into existence during the last few months, so that no Member of this House can visit either Chamber unless he is escorted by a Peer. But Peers are not always in attendance, and it is not every Member of this House who has the privilege of being acquainted with one. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Commissioner of Works will do his best to inquire into this matter, with a view, if possible, of enabling the Members of this House to visit the other House with their friends on convenient occasions. I also wish also to call attention to the fact that the Crypt is kept carefully locked against Members of this House, who bring friends here, or whose friends call to see them before 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and who would be glad to show them that portion of the building if they could do so. If you inquire in the Cloak Room they tell you that Mr. Coe has not arrived, and that until then you cannot get the keys to visit the Crypt. It certainly seems monstrous that Members of this House cannot visit the Crypt because the chief official has not arrived on the scene. I do not know why the keys should not be left with the attendants, in whom some confidence must be reposed, or they would not be retained in their positions. These are three grievances which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance he will do his best to put an end to as speedily as possible. I should like also to ask the right hon. Gentleman what steps the Government propose to take to carry out the semi-promise made last year in regard to the employés in this building and the Government Offices. The right hon. Gentleman gave a half promise to appoint a Committee to consider the grievances of the employés in the various Government Offices; and I should think he would be glad in that way to be relieved of a somewhat difficult duty which both be and the First Lord of the Treasury are doubtless anxious to see discharged in these and other Government Offices. Are the Government willing that a Committee should be appointed, or will they give a pledge that the system of contracting for workmen employed in the Government Offices shall be discontinued? I suppose I should be out of order if I referred to the British Museum at this moment; but I might ask whether the same system is not carried on there, some of the boys having 4s. or 5s. per week deducted from their wages by the contractor, whilst 6s. or 7s. per week are deducted from the other employé's. [An hon. MEMBER: No.] Well, I may be wrong, but my information comes from the men themselves, and I state the figures from memory. I protest, and shall continue to protest, against such a system. If painters and carpenters are to be provided by the Government contractor in the interests of economy, it is equally in the interests of economy that the higher forms of labour should be provided in the same way. Until the same system prevails from top to bottom, I shall continue my protest. I will conclude by asking the right hon. Gentleman to give us some information as to the first point I have raised, namely, the exclusion of Members from the Lords' rooms, and what steps would be taken to put an end to this contract system?


Will the right hon. Gentleman state whether Westminster Hall may not now be thrown open to the public as in former times?


With regard to the admission of Members and their friends to the rooms referred to, and the question of the custody of the keys of the Crypt, the inquiries now made have come to me for the first time. I am not aware of the circumstances, but I will make inquiries into the matter, and when the Estimates are before the House I shall be prepared to answer the hon. Gentleman's questions. As to the employés of the contractors, that question was raised a few nights ago, and I then said that I was in communication with my Colleagues the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Treasury on the subject. The question is one of extreme-difficulty, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have given a great deal of attention to it. In this particular case the problem is complicated by the existence of a contract that will not expire for another year. I think, however, that we have succeeded in hitting on a plan that will to some extent meet the views of the hon. Member; but, of course, it is impossible while the present contract lasts to give effect to any new system except with the consent of the contractor. I have placed myself in communication with the contractor, and am not without hope that even before the termination of the contract a new system will be adopted, which, and I say it with some confidence, I expect will be more satisfactory to the hon. Member than the present system. That is all I can say at present, because the negotiations have not yet come to a conclusion; but I may say that when the Estimates are before the House I shall be able to answer the question at greater length. I can assure the hon. Member I have been doing the best I can to devise some plan that will be more acceptable, both to the hon. Member and the employé's of the Government, and which, at the same time, will not be contrary to the interests of the country.


I gather from the courteous reply of the right hen. Gentleman that he is exerting himself to modify the terms of the contract, but that is not the object I have in view. I never contended for a modification of the terms. What I object to is not whether a contractor shall deduct 5, 10, or 20 per cent, from the workmens' wages, but against any deductions at all. The principle of engaging men through the agency of a contractor is a pernicious one, and I shall continue my protests unless the same rule is applied to the highly-paid officials. I shall, however, be content for the present if the right hon. Gentleman will give the House a guarantee that before a new contract is made he will state to the House clearly the nature and character of the contract into which he proposes to enter, so as to afford hon. Members an opportunity of expressing their opinion on the subject. I know that the contract has another 12 months to run. I regret the fact, but I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for it.


The right hon. Gentleman has omitted to answer my question as to the throwing open of Westminster Hall.


That is a question in regard to which I can take no step without consulting the authorities of the Home Office and the police. I will, however, make inquiries at the Home Office, and see whether there is any objection to Westminster Hall being again thrown open. I may add that when the question was last put the Home Office authorities did not think it desirable to re-open Westminster Hall to the public.


The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my last question.


It is impossible for me to say more than I have already said until the hon. Member has seen the proposals I hope to bring forward. I cannot, however, give a distinct pledge that any contract will be submitted to the House before it is agreed to.

* ADMIRAL FIELD (Eastbourne)

I desire to call attention to the Vote in Class III. for Reformatory and Industrial Schools.

MR. PICTON (Leicester)

I rise to order. I have something to say on Class II., which, I presume, would conic before Class III.


The hon. and gallant Admiral would not be strictly speaking out of order in referring to Class III., although the last discussion was on Class I., but no reduction of the Vote was proposed. At the same time, hon. Members would do well to follow the items in their regular order; and if the hon. Member for Leicester desires to discuss an item in Class II., it would be better for him to precede the hon. and gallant Gentleman.