HC Deb 09 June 1892 vol 5 cc619-32

(18.) £60,643, to complete the sum for Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens.


I should like to express my opinion that these parks should be given up to the London County Council, to be managed by them at the expense of London. I do not see why they should be charged to the country. At all events, I think they ought to be under the control of the London County Council, and managed by them in the interests of the people. I will not, however, proceed with that question now, because I do not believe it could be properly discussed.

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

As we have now reached the Civil Service Estimates, it would, perhaps, be convenient if I were to say a few words as to the view which is held on this side of the House as to the course which should be pursued. I must say, first, that we very deeply regret that these Estimates should not have been brought forward at a very much earlier period of the Session, in order that the House might have had an opportunity of discussing them, especially as that discussion has been promised for the last two or three years. But we must recognise the facts as they are, and it is evident to everyone in the House that at this period of the Session it would be absolutely impossible for us effectively or satisfactorily to criticise the Civil Service Estimates. The alternatives are that we must either discuss them in a very perfunctory way with no practical results, or at once recognise that they must be passed through this year with the hope that next year they may be adequately and fully discussed. I am aware that it is possible to do in 1892 what was done in 1886—namely, to take a Vote on Account and postpone the discussion of the Civil Service Estimates until the new Parliament met. But that was not found to be satisfactory in 1886. The new Parliament was quite as anxious to get through the Estimates as quickly as possible as the Parliament that expired would have been. My own opinion, if I may suggest it to my Friends on this side of the House, is that we should accept the circumstances and pass the Civil Service Estimates, reserving the right to discuss them on a future occasion. This year, owing to circumstances for which this House is not responsible, it is impossible at this period of the Session, and it would be equally impossible at the commencement of a later Session in the autumn, to give to the Civil Service Estimates that examination which they very much need, and, so far as we are concerned, I think we should afford to the Government every facility to wind up that part of their work.


Under ordinary circumstances I should have liked to have had certain explanations, both in regard to this Vote and some others. It seems to me, so far as I have gone through these Estimates, that they are most unsatisfactory, and if this is a fair specimen of the way in which the Estimates are prepared by Her Majesty's Government, I think that millions of money might be saved to the country. I think it is our duty to give very careful attention to the matter of expenditure, and it is to me very unsatisfactory to find that we are not going to discuss the Estimates properly and effectively.


I should like to say that I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), but I very much regret that it is impossible for us to consider these Estimates properly at the present moment. It has always been understood that the great work of a Member of the House of Commons is to carefully criticise the Estimates whatever Government happened to be in power. I have no doubt we could criticise these Estimates as well now as in an Autumn Session, and therefore I agree that it is advisable to let them go through as quickly as possible. At the same time I think it is necessary for us to ask some questions, because we are shortly going to our constituents, and we ought to be in a position to answer any questions which may be addressed to us. But I do not intend to in any way unnecessarily occupy the time of the House.

*MR. JAMES ELLIS (Leicestershire, Bosworth)

I believe there is a general impression in the country that these Estimates will never be thoroughly overhauled until they are taken in hand by the two Front Benches. Private Members may struggle in vain, but they cannot find their way through them, and the time will come when the people will demand that the two Front Benches shall take them in hand.


I differ entirely, Mr. Courtney, from my hon. Friend who has just sat down. I think the two Front Benches should be excluded in this matter, and I am confident that private Members, if they only give sufficient time and thought to it will be able to effect a very considerable saving of money to the country.

Vote agreed to.

(6.40.) 19. £25,125, to complete the sum for Houses of Parliament Buildings.


I should like to ask why such a large sum of money is proposed to be spent on the House of Lords, That House is very little used, and it does not appear to me that it wants re-seating. I think that is a waste of money. I notice that there is a reduction of £350 in the amount paid for oil lamps; but no information is given with regard to the contract, and I am afraid that an immense amount of money is wasted over these lamps. Then, again, although we have voted a larger sum this year for the electric light a larger sum is asked for the supply of gas. That certainly seems rather extraordinary.

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

I should like to ask for an explanation of an item of a rather mysterious character which appears under this Vote. I have heard of repairing a table or a chair, or of repairing a cart, but I never heard the word used in connection with works of Art. There is a sum of £250 for repairing frescoes in the House of Lords. I should like to know what is the nature of the repairs, and whether they are likely to be successful?


I must admit that "repairs" is not the most accurate term that could have been used. I am afraid I cannot, at the moment, give a full scientific explanation of the processes to be employed for the purpose, but we have taken the best advice that could be got, and the object is to preserve those valuable frescoes, which are still in good condition. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Morton), he must know very well that there is a very elaborate style of decoration in the House of Lords which needs from time to time to be repaired. These decorations have not been repaired for some time, and they stand very badly in need of it. The time has now come, I think he will admit, when it is necessary that this expense should be incurred, or the whole of these decorations will be seriously injured. I confess it does seem extraordinary that while there is an increase in the charge for electric lighting there should also be a large charge for oil lamps; but, as hon. Members know, the electric light has not yet reached that part of these buildings where the greatest number of these oil lamps are used—that is to say, the Committee Rooms and residences attached to the House. It is in those parts of the House that oil lamps are most used, and as the electric light pushes its way into other parts of the House we may reasonably expect the charge for oil lamps will be reduced. With respect to the increased charge for gas, I may say that just as the Estimates were being settled we received a notice from the Gas Company to the effect that they would be compelled to increase the charge for gas by, I think, about eight per cent., and that accounts for the increase in the Estimates. I may also say that a very large amount of gas was used during the short winter days before the House sat in making the alterations recommended by the Committee which sat last Session on the ventilation of the House. These expenses have not yet been met, and they are included in this Estimate.


What about the seats in the House of Lords?


The benches are in such a condition that they require re-seating.


I do not object to the House of Lords being kept in order, because it may be wanted some day. But the right hon. Gentleman suggested that I could see for myself that these repairs were necessary. I hardly know where the House of Lords is, and it is curious to note that when people come up from the country they ask where the House of Commons is, but they never ask for the House of Lords. They take no interest in it. With respect to the sanitary condition of the House, I may say that since the warm weather set in I have heard a large number of complaints of bad smells. I should like to know if everything has been done that can be done to put the House in a good sanitary condition, and how it is that bad smells constantly find their way into the House from the east end? Within the last few weeks these smells have been very bad, and a right hon. Gentleman who is now sitting on the Treasury Bench told me that he felt quite faint in consequence. I think this matter should be inquired into.


As I had the honour of serving on the Committee which inquired into the sanitary condition of this House, I may say that the drainage is completely cut off from the main drainage outside, so that nothing of a bad character can find its way through the sewers into this House. I think some of the smells in the Corridor arise from the machinery which has been devised for keeping out bad smells. Some of the antiseptics do smell very strong, but they are not unhealthy. It is quite evident from the position of this House that occasionally a bad smell may penetrate from outside. We draw nearly all the air in the House from the terrace, and it goes without saying that the air in the House cannot, therefore, be purer than it is in the reservoir from which it is drawn. As hon. Members know, barges pass up and down the river, from which now and again we may get an odour that is unpleasant. But I do state—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) will bear me out—that the drainage of this House is absolutely perfect.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has noticed the condition of the frescoes on the way to the Committee Rooms? They are in a very bad state, but I do not see anything in the Estimates referring to them.


We have frequently considered the condition of these frescoes. They are, unfortunately, in a very bad state, and whether it was owing to some infirmity in their original construction or whatever was the cause, we have been unable to arrest the process of decay, and some of them, I regret to say, have got beyond recall. With respect to the sanitary condition of the House, I entirely adopt everything that was said by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire (Dr. Farquharson) with respect to the theoretical perfection of the drainage. Every suggestion that has been made that was considered to be an improvement on the system of drainage has been adopted. We have no means of getting better air than we can get on the terrace, and it is evident that we must occasionally get unpleasant odours from passing barges. That cannot be prevented, but every possible care has been taken to prevent injurious exhalations getting into the House. The drainage has been completely isolated; it has no connection whatever with the sewers of the neighbourhood, and is as nearly perfect as it can be made. Some complaints, very few, have reached me during the last few weeks. I repeat that everything has been done that seemed possible to prevent the escape of bad smells. If any further suggestion should be made I shall be very glad to consider it, but the House may rest assured that this is the best-drained and best-ventilated building in London.


I should like to know if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) has been down the sewers to see for himself what is the condition of things? The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire (Dr. Farquharson) confessed to me that he has not been down the sewers. I have been down. I had an invitation from the engineers when the works were done about four years ago, and I am not satisfied that it is impossible for bad smells to get back into the House. I dare say I know more about the subject than the right hon. Gentleman, and I should like an undertaking from him that he will go down the manhole and see for himself. I received no salary from the House to look after the business, and as he is a paid officer I am sure he should not object to see into the matter.

MR. CRILLY (Mayo, N.)

I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that the bells in the old smoke room are out of order and will not ring. I think we might have electric bells in the old smoke room as there are in the new.


I will inquire into that matter.

Vote agreed to.

20. £30,200, to complete the sum for Admiralty, Extension of Buildings.

21. £38,946, to complete the sum for Miscellaneous Legal Buildings, Great Britain.


I see that under this Vote a sum is charged with respect to the new Wandsworth Police Court. I am told that has been built on a leasehold site when a freehold site could have been obtained. I should like to know how that is.


I am unable to answer that question now, but I will endeavour to satisfy the hon. Gentleman on the Report stage.

Vote agreed to.

22. £21,809, to complete the sum for Art and Science Buildings, Great Britain.


I am unwilling to take up the time of the Committee, but this is a matter of some importance. Several questions have been asked with respect to the arrangements for Science and Art teaching at South Kensington, and I think it is time that better accommodation should be provided. I observe in the Estimates an item of £50,000 for extension of buildings, and I should like to know whether that is to be devoted to the extension of the buildings now used for the purposes of Science and Art teaching, or whether it is to go for what I must consider a much less useful object—the erection of an Art Gallery which I believe will eventually cost about half a million, and we have nothing very particular to put into it. The claims of science teaching are recognised, and I have been told over and over again in reply to questions that the matter was under consideration. I hope now that something has been done, and I hope very shortly to see a suitable building for the teaching of science. The science teaching is now being, carried on in most wretched premises. I should like to refer specially to the astronomical department, the work of which is being carried on under conditions which would astound hon. Members if they could see them. It is in ramshackle buildings, more like the caravans of a travelling managerie than anything else. I am told that the instruments, many of which are of a delicate and costly nature, have to be carried from one building to another, a quarter of a mile away, and that they get shaken up, put out of gear, and sometimes destroyed. This is not creditable to a country which has done so much to advance scientific teaching. I shall be glad to hear that steps will shortly be taken to put it on a better footing. I think before buildings are erected on a large scale the subject should be considered by a Committee, on which there should be representatives of the science staff, so that their wants and wishes may be known. In the past there has been too much dis- regard of the wants and the wishes of the staff by the Department.


The sum of £5,000 is only for the purpose of providing temporary accommodation for certain objects of art and science which it is necessary to remove from their former home to make room for the building we are preparing for the housing of art objects in the future. The Science and Art Department have, I have no doubt, taken all the advice necessary, and they have made proposals which are now being considered by the Treasury. As soon as the Treasury have come to a conclusion, my Department will come on the scene, and we will do our very best to carry out the proposals of the Science and Art Department as sanctioned by the Treasury. We have in the meantime in the New Cross Gallery and the other galleries a certain amount of space to devote to the pressing necessities of science.


May I ask whether the Science staff have been consulted as to the extent and kind of accommodation required. Unless they have been consulted, the buildings may not meet their requirements.


I believe the Science and Art Department have consulted all those best able to advise them on the matter.

Vote agreed to.

23. £23,114, to complete the sum for Diplomatic and Consular Buildings.

24. £230,000, to complete the sum for Revenue Department Buildings, Great Britain.

25. £124,015, to complete the sum for Public Buildings, Great Britain.

26. £142,110, to complete the sum for Surveys of the United Kingdom.


It was understood when the House adjourned that all the Irish Votes should be held over till Monday, when the Irish Members were to be in their places. I think very much might be said on this question as affecting Ireland. I see the First Lord of the Treasury has come into the House, and I will appeal to him whether he is going to carry out the pledge which I understood was given on Friday.


I have no recollection of the pledge to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If any such pledge was given, of course, it will be adhered to. I did say that the Irish Education Bill should not be taken before Monday, and doubtless that is what was in the hon. Member's mind. But I should be very much surprised if the hon. Member can find any words of mine which would bear the construction he has put upon them. I rather gathered from what the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) said this evening that he would not be at all averse to seeing the Irish Estimates got through with all possible despatch in order that we might end up the Session at an early date.


I distinctly understood that the Irish Members were to be in their places on Monday to discuss these Estimates. It is only a question of two days.

(7.10.) MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

In connection with the Ordinance Survey there appeared an article in the Times a day or two ago dealing with the work of the Department. I should like to ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sir John Gorst) whether his attention has been directed to that article. The article, which appears to be by a trade rival, refers to the four miles to the inch map, and says that it is costly, is worthless, and that any member of the public would be unwise to spend two shillings on a single sheet unless for the amusement which would be caused by the errors in the map. It alleged that the map was based on the Survey of 1803, which was revised in 1823, and that all that has been done in the present issue is to add certain railway lines. The article was evidently written by someone with a considerable amount of detailed and authoritative knowledge. It said that many parishes were represented as having roads which were abolished years ago, and that new roads were not marked. Local Authorities who were likely to rely on the map would, therefore, find it perfectly worthless and misleading. If these allegations are true it would be interesting to know how much money has been spent on the map, and who are the authorities responsible for the issue of it. If the allegations are well founded the state of things is such that the Treasury ought to overhaul the Department, and see who is responsible for the waste of time and money, and the misleading character of the map. I ask the Financial Secretary if he knows anything of the matter.


My attention has not been drawn to this article, and I am afraid I cannot reply to the question of the hon. Member. I certainly have not seen it, and this is the first occasion on which I have heard of it. I understand the hon. Member to say that it appeared a few days ago, during the holidays, and that would account for my not having seen it. The Board of Agriculture is responsible for the policy of the Survey Department at the present time, and the maps are produced under its direction; but it is news to me that any map of the description the hon. Member speaks of has been produced.


Then we have gross blunders, waste of time, serious allegations, in what is regarded as an authoritative journal, on the productions of a certain Department, and when the Vote for the Department comes on there is no one on the Treasury Bench in a position to answer the allegations. It is the question of a map of the whole country on the scale of four miles to the inch. I am bound to say I was startled by the allegations contained in the article, and thought they seemed to be written by some trade rival. But it is extraordinary that the Minister who emphatically says he is responsible for the publications of the Department is obliged to admit that he has not seen the article and knows nothing about the publication referred to. I think, therefore, it is not unreasonable that the Vote should be postponed till the Minister has been able to look into the matter. A sum of £7,800 is taken for the Department, and if the attack is warranted a considerable portion of that sum ought to be withheld till the responsibility is fixed.


I think it is unreasonable of the hon. Member to come here and say that an article has appeared in a newspaper attacking the issue of a certain map if the hon. Member cannot specify the map referred to. This matter has already received the attention of the House this Session. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Roby) called attention to the matter, and a Departmental Committee is now sitting, and will, no doubt, inquire into any concrete allegation which may be made. But a general statement that a map is worthless can hardly be considered by them.


The Financial Secretary knows perfectly well that the Committee is to deal with matter totally distinct from the question of the production of maps. It is to deal with the civil employees of the Department, as distinct from the military employees. The right hon. Gentleman says I am unreasonable because I challenge the work of the Department as a publishing Department. I believe the civil employees are underpaid and grudgingly treated as to leave; but my allegation is that the direction of the Department is bad, and the administration of it faulty, and that it ought to be overhauled by the Minister of Agriculture or by the Treasury itself. Money is wasted by the Department in the production of maps which are utterly worthless. What has that to do with the Committee on the status and privileges of the civil employees of the Department? The Financial Secretary knows that it has nothing to do with that Committee.


I cannot admit the accuracy of the allegations which the hon. Member has made. I can now give him some information as to the duties of that Committee, and I think he will find the reference sufficiently wide to embrace the question to which he referred. The reference is to inquire and report upon the present condition of the Ordnance Survey, and specially to consider what steps should be taken to expedite the completion and publication of the new one-inch map; what further arrangements should be made for the continuous revision and speedy publication of maps; and whether the maps as at present issued satisfy the reasonable requirements of the public as regards style, execution, and form. I think the hon. Member will see that that is a very wide reference, and whatever may be the shortcomings of the Department, or the neglect of the Board of Agriculture in the performance of its duties with regard to that Department, that category contains subjects which, if they are fully inquired into, will cover any defects which may exist.

(7.30). MR. SEXTON

Mr. Courtney, I beg to move that you report Progress, and ask leave to sit again. I put some questions to the First Lord of the Treasury this afternoon, on the subject of Irish business, and in view of what he then stated I am surprised to find the Committee now engaged on this Vote, which involves expenditure in connection with the Administration of the Land Acts in Ireland. I am still more surprised to learn from my hon. Friend near me (Dr. Tanner) that some controversy has been raised between him and the First Lord of the Treasury as to whether Irish business should be taken before Monday next. I was careful to adopt the course, before the House adjourned for the Recess, to ask the First Lord of the Treasury how soon after the holidays he proposed to proceed with Irish business, and his reply was: Not before Monday next. The Irish Members are now almost entirely absent from the House. While we do not intend to discuss the Irish Estimates, or any other business this Session, at undue or even at substantial length, I think in the first place that when a certain engagement is made it should be carried out; and in the second place that it is not seemly that the financial business of the year should be carried on in the absence of the Irish Members. I wish to read the following extract from the Times report of the proceedings of the 2nd of June:— IRISH BUSINESS.—Mr. Sexton asked how soon Irish business would be taken after the holidays. Mr. Balfour: I shall not take it before the first Monday after the Recess. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no intention or desire on our part to prolong discussion in Committee either now or on Monday next; but we claim the fulfilment of the engagement, and if the right hon. Gentleman proposes, notwithstanding that engagement, to compel us to enter upon the discussion of Irish Votes, all I can say is that such of us as are here will feel it our business, as the best method to adopt, to give our attention to English and Scotch Votes, as well as to Irish Votes.

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

(7.31.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR

As I stated in the short conversation which occurred between the hon. Member for Mid Cork and myself I have no intention of breaking in the letter or in the spirit any engagement entered into either with the Irish Members or anybody else; and my own impression was that, so far as I could recollect, my own intention at the time was that no Irish business other than Supply should be taken before Monday next. The hon. Member has quoted from the Times report, but I think that does not give a correct account of what I said on the subject. But if the hon. Member's own personal recollection of the words I used on the occasion confirms the accuracy of the Times report—


Certainly; the Times report is quite correct.


My own recollection is that I was referring to the Irish Education Bill and other matters which should not be taken before Monday next; but of course, if that is the recollection of the hon. Member, and if I was understood to give an engagement on the subject, I shall not take any Irish Vote before Monday next.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Vote agreed to.

27. £23,909, to complete the sum for Harbours in the United Kingdom and Lighthouses Abroad under the Board of Trade.

28. £24,870, to complete the sum for Peterhead Harbour.

29. £5,000, Caledonian Canal.

30. £137,058, to complete the sum for Rates on Government Property.

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