HC Deb 30 May 1895 vol 34 cc611-25

The following Bills were read 1°:—






Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question (20th May): "That the Bill be now read a second time:"—

Question again proposed:—

Debate resumed:—


proposed to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months." He said, he wished to acquaint hon. Members with the main facts and history of the Bill. In 1887 a private Bill was brought in, and passed into law, giving to the promoters power to acquire the site lying between Parliament Street and Delahay Street, for the purpose of erecting buildings thereon, subject to the approval of the Office of Works. Nothing was done under that Act, and in 1890 another Bill was brought in, in which the promoters asked for an extension of time, and a renewal of powers. Two years passed and nothing was done, and in 1892 another Bill was brought in asking for further extension and renewal of powers. Since 1892 nothing had been done under that last Act, and now the same promoters had brought in a Bill asking for the third time for the extension and renewal of their powers. During the last 40 years various schemes had been on foot for dealing with this large and important area, and the various Governments had been often pressed to deal with the site themselves; but it was only in 1884 that the Government formulated a definite plan in connection with what was known as the Hyde Park Railway scheme; but that fell through, and since 1884 no definite proposal had been made by the Government. That was chiefly due to fact that in 1885 and 1886 plans were put forward for building a new War Office and a new Admiralty Office, and the Government since then had not seen their way to deal directly with the site. Even had they desired to do so, it would not have been in their power, in consequence of the powers that had already been given to private individuals. It was quite clear, however, from the facts of the case, that the Government always contemplated using this site, and that fact was perfectly well known and understood by the gentlemen who promoted the various Acts to which he had alluded. During the last 20 years the Government had acquired nearly half of the area proposed to be dealt with in this Bill, and the occupiers of the houses owned by the Government had only very short leases, extending in most cases to periods of a few months only, and that could only be justified on the supposition that it was a temporary arrangement. In 1892 his right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University, speaking on the Private Bill, said of the proposal made that the Government should deal with the site themselves— I should myself be very glad if I could foresee any chance of it, but I am afraid I cannot hold out any immediate hope of that. The case was different now. The whole question had been very carefully gone into, and he had made representations to the Treasury upon the general question of the offices of Government Departments, and the extremely uneconomical arrangement under which they were now kept up with regard to position and rent; and the Government had taken a general survey of the whole question of office accommodation, with the result that they had it in contemplation to bring in, at a very early date, a proposal embodied in a Bill under which they would take a great part of this area for the purpose of adding to existing accommodation. The site was one of the very noblest in London, and he thought that all hon. Members would agree that it was most desirable that it should be dealt with speedily and thoroughly. Probably, also, they would all agree that it was most unfortunate that the buildings which disfigured this noble site had not been removed before now. It was necessary for the proposal of the Government that he should move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. It might be said that that course involved a certain amount of hardship on the promoters of the Bill. With regard to that, he must point out that the Government had an extremely strong locus standi in the matter. At any rate, the Government had the first claim to occupy this particular site, which lay between the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and the main body of Government buildings. If it were desirable to materially increase the accommodation in Government Departments, it was quite obvious that this site was one of the first which it was desirable to acquire for the purpose. In the second place, the Government owned half the property it was sought to acquire by this Bill; and he would add this consideration also—that the promoters of this Bill had had eight years in which to make use of the powers which Parliament had given to them. Eight years had passed. On two occasions the company had come to Parliament for a renewal of their powers: they did not make use of them, and now they came for the third time to ask for a renewal of them. It appeared to him, therefore, if, as he submitted, a strong case could be made out for the use of this site by the Government, no reasonable complaint could be made by the promoters of the Bill, who for eight years had failed to use the powers they had obtained, now that the Government came forward with a proposal of their own to erect buildings for the accommodation of the Government departments, and a proposal which involved as a consequence the rejection of the Bill. He therefore moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


said, he was sorry he was obliged strenuously to oppose the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. Speaking with all respect, it did seem to him, having regard to all that had passed between present and preceding Governments and the promoters of this Bill, it was little short of a breach of faith that this Motion should be made now. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that the Government had always contemplated the using of this site.


The possibility.


continued, that he should be able to show that on no principle of fair dealing could the intention of the Government to use the site be put before the House. It was true that the first Bill was passed in 1887; and, in the interests of control, of which he made no complaint, the condition was imposed that before the company were allowed to deal with the site they should have £500,000 subscribed and £200,000 paid up. That was an enormous obligation, and one which at any time it would be extremely difficult to satisfy. It was known to the Governments of the day that difficulty was found in obtaining the money; and with the full concurrence of the Government the promoters came before Parliament in 1890 and 1892. In the latter year, with the consent of the First Commissioner, and the support of Members on both sides of the House, the larger condition, was removed, and only the paying up of £200,000 retained. Up to the 17th of May of this year, the promoters had been told by the Government, that they were to be allowed to go on with their scheme. They were further told that they must satisfy the Treasury as to their having raised the money; and they had, in fact, raised every farthing of the money they were required to raise by the Act of 1892. The proposal, as was well known, was one for widening Parliament Street, and utilising a site bounded by Parliament Street, Charles Street, Great George Street, and Delahay Street, excluding the Institute of the Civil Engineers. On the 17th of November 1892, Mr. Pearson, of the Office of Works, wrote to Mr. Easton, who from the first had been one of the promoters of the scheme— In reply to yours of the 11th ultimo, I am directed by the First Commissioner to inform you that Her Majesty's Government will not exercise the option of purchase in respect of any part of the block of land lying between Parliament Street and the new street authorised to be formed under the Westminster (Parliament Street) Improvements Act. The promoters will, however, consider that this decision applies only to the Parliament Street block and not to the Delahay Street block, as to which the Government are not yet in a position to state their intentions. This was after the Bill of 1892 had been brought in and passed; and it was passed in the Session of 1892 with the concurrence of the First Commissioner of Works and with the concurrence of hon. Members on both sides of the House. He was dealing with the suggestion that there had always been reservation on the part of Her Majesty's Government of their right to take a valuable part of the land, namely, the Parliament Street block. He called attention to the fact that on the 17th November, 1892, it was stated that Her Majesty's Government would not exercise their option to purchase in respect of any portion of the block lying between Parliament Street as widened and the new street, but they did reserve their right with regard to the Delahay Street corner; and again, on the 8th of August 1893, in reply to a question, the Government again stated specifically what it was that was reserved. All this time the promoters had been incurring expense, paying the Government valuer, making contracts by which they got the right to acquire from private individuals more than one-half in value and nearly one-half in area of the property; and that was not all. At the beginning of this Session, the promoters communicated with Her Majesty's Government with regard to the extension of time. Did they meet with any statement that they were not to go on? Nothing of the kind. They were told by the Government they must satisfy the Treasury that they had obtained, or could obtain, the £200,000. The authority for that statement was Mr. Easton himself, who communicated with the Treasury with regard to the arrangements that had been made. The Company, of which Lord Hobhouse was chairman, and two Members on the other side, Mr. Price and Mr. Archibald Grove, are directors, obtained the whole of the money; and then the whole matter was postponed from time to time at the request of the First Commissioner. He was informed it was not until the 17th May that the slightest information was given to the promoters by Her Majesty's Government that there was any change in their views, and that they intended to utilise the site.


So far from the case being as stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman, on my instructions the promoters were given the fullest notice that it was extremely likely that the Government was going to come in and take the whole site.


At what date?


When this Bill was brought in.


said, he was informed that the promoters were asked to satisfy the Government that they had obtained the money, and it was in consequence of that that the arrangements to which he had referred were made, He was informed that all the money had been subscribed, and, further than that, he believed that as lately as the 21st February there was actually a communication made in writing by the promoters to the Treasury or the Board of Works, stating that the money was raised. His point was, that for eight consecutive years these gentlemen had been induced to spend their money upon the faith of Parliamentary approval, and as they believed with the authority and sanction of the First Commissioner. Speaking of it in Parliamentary terms, it was as bad a breach of faith as had ever come to his notice in connection with the transactions of a public Department. The First Commissioner of Works stated that in 1895 the whole case was gone into, and he had proposed a plan over and over again for utilising the site and bringing the public offices together. When was that plan adopted? The House was entitled to know. He was informed that the fact that the Government intended to undertake the work themselves was never communicated to the promoters until the 17th May. So gentlemen of position and responsibility had been lured on for months and years to promote their schemes, perfectly bonâ fide, under the sanction of an Act of Parliament, and then a change of policy with regard to these buildings was desired, and the whole thing was to be thrown over. Because in 1895 a scheme was devised for utilising the site, were arrangements made under the sanction of Parliament to be set aside? During the years 1887, 1890, and 1892 the sanction of Parliament was given to the scheme, and down to the 17th May last no alteration in the intentions of Parliament was suggested, and gentlemen who succeeded in obtaining the money at great expense had fulfilled every condition imposed upon them. Under these circumstances he hoped the House, whatever might be the invitation of the First Commissioner of Works, would adhere to what had been recognised and acted upon for so many years. Regarded as an ordinary commercial transaction, it would be little short of a breach of faith if the promoters were allowed to spend all their money with the knowledge of the Government, and go to this expense, and then by a change of policy in 1895 the expense should be thrown away


said, his hon. and learned Friend had said that certain letters were written by Mr. Primrose in 1892. But these letters were consequential on the position which the former First Commissioner of Works, the right hon. Member for Dublin University, had taken with regard to the Bill of 1892. The Government then had no scheme of their own with regard to the site, and they consented, subject to certain conditions, to this Bill passing through the House of Commons. Subsequently the promoters came to the Office of Works to know what they were going to do, and the Office of Works told them what their view was with regard to the powers they had reserved under the Act of 1892. All this was simply consequential on the approval given by the then Government to the Bill of 1892. It all followed naturally from the course then taken. What happened? Every facility was given to the promoters during these years. He might say he himself was Chairman of the Private Bill Committee which in 1892 considered and passed the scheme in that House. He satisfied himself that the Office of Works, on the part of the Government, were satisfied in the matter, and it was not his responsibility or that of the Committee to consider the precise plan then most desirable. They had to satisfy themselves on certain matters, and they did so. Three years passed, and although every facility was given by the Office of Works to the promoters of the Bill, nothing was done, and the valuable area of land lay almost waste. The hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight said the promoters had been "lured on" for months and years. He did not know who had lured them on. They lured on themselves. They took up this scheme on their responsibility, and knowing precisely under what conditions they were acting—knowing that when the powers which they had obtained lapsed, full discretion reverted to the Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman had made statements which had taken him aback. He never expected them to be made, and was, therefore, not fully prepared with dates to give an answer. But his hon. and learned Friend had said that notice was only on 17th May given to this private company that the Government were going to take over the scheme themselves. He knew, as a fact, that that was not the case. Mr. Primrose, as soon as ever he heard that leave had been given for bringing in a Bill, and as soon as the Office of Works was satisfied that the promoters were going on with their Bill, told Mr. Easton that the Office of Works were thinking of bringing forward a scheme to deal with the whole area. He himself had seen Mr. Easton during the last two months, and told him fully what they proposed to do. He had told Mr. Easton from time to time that he could not give him a final and definite answer, because he had not the full approval of the Government to the scheme which he submitted for dealing with the site. He contended that there had been no breach of faith whatever. The Government had merely stood on their strict rights. They proposed to take a course which would be consonant with the public interest and the convenience of Government Departments, and he hoped the House would consent to the rejection of the Bill.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

wished to say a few words on the subject, because he raised the general question of the improvement of Parliament Street on the Estimates last year. It was exceedingly important they should clear up the difficulty with regard to the Syndicate not having had notice until 17th May last. That could hardly be so, because on the Estimates, nearly twelve months ago, the First Commissioner of Works expressed the intention of the Government to deal with this improvement in a comprehensive measure. The House ought to look at the improvement proposed in a bold and generous spirit. Parliament Street was improved from Charing Cross to Charles Street many years ago. After that improvement was carried out a syndicate decided to buy some house property close to the House, with the view, which all syndicates had, of making a fairly good bargain. It seemed to him that this was a matter in which the House of Commons should take the view of the Office of Works acting for the public rather than side with a private syndicate, which certainly would not lose if this Bill was rejected, but which would not gain as much as they expected to do if the Government had not taken their place. The hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight said this syndicate had been unfairly, if not dishonourably, treated. The Office of Works years ago made it a condition that £500,000 should be guaranteed, and £200,000 should be paid up. The House had heard that the syndicate had been put to trouble and expense to carry out the conditions imposed upon them. But he was convinced that Parliament made a mistake in allowing a private syndicate—even under onerous conditions—to undertake a public improvement which Parliament or the local authority should have carried out. An injustice would be inflicted on the ratepayers and upon the future of our Government Offices hereafter if this Bill were read a second time. Where was the injustice to the syndicate? For eight years this syndicate had had an opportunity of developing their scheme. Twice they had come to the House for an extension of their powers and for other advantages. They had acted in a most dilatory way, and the Government merely stepped in and said public business and the approaches to the House demanded that there should be no more dilatory inaction on the part of a private syndicate. He hoped the House would see that the Office of Works was not dilatory either, but promptly did what this syndicate should have been forced to do eight years ago. Let the House look at the matter from the point of view of the Government Offices. Here they had, he might almost call, a splendid vista of Government Offices from Trafalgar Square to the venerable Abbey. If the syndicate got this Bill, it was evident that they would sell the site to their private advantage; and if they carried out the provisions of the Bill they would not have a beautiful trumpet-mouthed approach to the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament that the Government might afford to make if the carrying out of the improvement were in their hands. They should consider the site in relation to its close proximity to the Home Office, the Local Government Board, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament. They did not want to be "cribb'd, cabin'd, and confin'd" by the exigencies of a private syndicate. He wanted the Government to promptly clear away the whole of King Street, and to line the western side of Parliament Street with a splendid block of Government Offices, to deal with the site of the Census Office, and take the steps from the bottom of Charles Street so that vehicular traffic might go down Charles Street and Delahay Street, which they could not do now owing to private interests. It was a pity to see the magnificent pile of buildings there hemmed in as they were. He reminded the House that the syndicate would have to be compensated. They would not lose what they had put into the scheme, but their prospective profit would not be so large. In the interests of London he hoped the Government of the House would take the part of the Office of Works rather than that of a private syndicate.


said, it was early in the present Session that his right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works brought under his notice the question of dealing with this site, and he felt exactly what his hon. Friend the Member for Battersea had so well said—that this was a site of such great public consequence to the Metropolis that it ought not to pass into the hands of a private syndicate. That would involve a great many considerations of a heavy pecuniary character, and it might be his duty to consider how that matter could be dealt with on behalf of the Government without throwing undue charges upon the country. In his view it had been a discredit to successive Administrations that there had been lying idle for a great many years two sites of great value—namely, that of Carrington House, Whitehall, and this, which he would call the Westminster site, at the back of Parliament Street, which was of enormous pecuniary value. During those years these sites had yielded no profit or advantage to the country, and he had always desired very much to arrive at some solution by which the Government should either make use of, or dispose of, those sites, so that they might not prove a loss to the country altogether. These matters required a great deal of consideration, and the Government had at last arrived at a conclusion on the subject which they believed would be satisfactory—namely, to clear the whole of the site all the way from the west-end of King Street to Delahay Street, acquiring the property that remained to be acquired, so that in point of fact they might have public buildings upon an alignment parallel to the Home Office, forming a wide and splendid approach to Westminster, throwing open to view from Richmond Terrace the whole of the Abbey and Houses of Parliament, which would make it a great centre of London. The Government were prepared to lay a scheme for the purpose before the House, and he hoped that it would be considered to be of a moderate character. The idea of the Government was that by disposing of the Carrington House site they would obtain so much money as would reduce the cost of acquiring the western site to a very moderate amount. That being the intention of the Government, he was extremely astonished to hear it stated that this private association had been unfairly dealt with. Certainly, as far as his knowledge went, the association had been aware since last year that the Government had it in view to take the site themselves, although the matter was not then finally decided, and it was left open to the Government to take another view with regard to it. In these circumstances he could not see how the Association could have been unfairly treated. They were perfectly well aware that the Government were considering how, and in what manner, they could best secure this site. He hoped that, for the reasons which had been given by the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works, that the House would place it in the power of the Government to carry out their scheme—namely, to acquire this site and to make it available for public purposes.

MR. E. BOULNOIS (Marylebone)

thought that the promoters of this Bill had been rather hardly treated by the Government. The promoters ought to have been told when they deposited their Bill that the Government intended to oppose it so that they might have been saved from a useless expenditure. It had been impossible for the Association to carry out their scheme in the face of the hard times through which we had just passed when they were unable to raise the money necessary to complete their undertaking. He greatly doubted whether the Government were in a position to bring in a Bill at this period of the Session in order to enable them to carry out their somewhat problematical scheme, which would involve an expenditure of something like £2,000,000.


In that case the Government would have nothing to do with the matter.


said, that every Government for the last 50 years had had this question under their consideration, but nothing had been done with regard to it. If this Bill were allowed to go before a Committee, the Government would be able to introduce into it such Amendments as they deemed necessary.

MR. ALPHEUS C. MORTON (Peterborough)

said, that the only good that the Association would derive from going on with this Bill was that the Government would have to compensate them in order to get rid of them.


said, it appeared to him that the language of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir R. Webster) was perfectly justifiable. The treatment of the subject of the approaches to that House had been a disgrace to successive Administrations, and were they to suppose that the action of the present Administration would be any better in respect of this subject than that of their predecessors. The Government had talked about erecting a new War Office. He had been in the War Office some years ago, and then the Government of the day was about to erect a new War Office building; but the Government of the present day were still talking of doing the same thing. Hon. Members would recollect the history of the new Law Courts, and they might well hesitate before they believed that such buildings could be erected for less money at the public expense than by private enterprise. Probably many hon. Members had not read this Bill, but if they had done so they would find that its only object was to obtain an extension of time for the exercise of the powers which the Association already possessed, and which they were to put into force at their own risk and expense. Those who had listened to the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works would imagine that the Association were to be given a free hand in this matter, and that they were to use their powers for their own interests. That was not at all the case, because every care had been taken to protect the public interests in the matter. The buildings to be erected were to be of a handsome architectural character, and were to be of such design and material as were to be approved—by whom did hon. Members think?—by the right hon. Gentleman himself. Those were the provisions with regard to which the Association now asked the House to extend the time for carrying out. All the rights of the Board of Works were to be preserved in express terms, and a clause was inserted in the measure to save all the rights of the Crown. What, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works wanted beyond this Bill he failed to understand. The promoters had for years made strenuous and expensive efforts to realise the scheme; they had secured the advance of an enormous sum of money; they had paid the survey fee, and had complied with every condition the Government had required.


Eight years ago.


said, it was up to the present day. The promoters had been informed that they might safely go on investing their money, they had been allowed a free hand; and now that they were ready to complete their plans the Government suddenly altered its position, and said they had themselves a plan which, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not adumbrated in any way.


said, he had distinctly stated that the Government plan was to clear the whole of the space from Parliament Street to Delahay Street.


But you did not say in what way the Government proposed to utilise the site.


said, they could not bring before the House the whole plan of the buildings to be erected there. If this Bill were read a second time the only result would be that they would have to buy the property from the promoters. However, he did not go upon that ground, but upon the ground that this was not space which private individuals should have the disposal of.


said, that if this were a matter in any Court of Equity between private parties the judgment of the Court would necessarily be given for the promoters. They had been induced to make very great efforts to alter their position upon certain representations made by the Government, and now that they were about to enjoy the fruition of their enterprise the Government came in, and without any scheme which could be put before the House asked them to reject the Second Reading. Why should not the Bill, at any rate, be allowed to go to a Committee before which the Government might propound their scheme? Unless this was done he did not see how anyone could justly vote against the promoters.

MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

said, he had resided in Westminster for many years, and as far as he could understand this was a scheme got up for widening this street, and making other advantages which no doubt would be a benefit to the district. The promoters obtained the advantage of an Act to do this work in a certain time, they had got one extension of that time, and, he thought, a second extension. Therefore there could be no injustice to the syndicate, and surely they were perfectly free to make another arrangement. He hoped the House would not read the Bill a second time, and would make the Government responsible by handing over this site to them to deal with.

The House divided:—Ayes, 78; Noes, 200.—(Division List, No. 118.)