§ Considered in Committee:—
§ [Mr. JOHN ELLIS in the Chair.]
MR. HANBURY moved:—
That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of money to be provided by Parliaments, of any expenses incurred by the Commissioners of Works under the provisions of any Act of the present Session for the acquisition of a Site for public, offices in Westminster, and for purposes connected therewith.
§ MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said, he wished to put two or three questions to the First Commissioner of Works. He understood that a sum of £450,000 was to be applied to 511 the purposes of this Resolution. He wished to know who had made the valuation on behalf of the Treasury of the buildings proposed to be purchased; also, what was proposed to be done with the site, and what sum of money would ultimately be expended on the erection of buildings? He would also be glad to know what contracts had been entered into between the ground landlords and the Treasury?
§ * THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. AKERS-DOUGLAS, Kent, St. Augustine's)
said, that this Resolution was to authorise the money clauses in the Bill, which was read a second time a few days ago, for the acquisition of the Parliament Street site. The hon. Member would remember that the proposal was that the block of buildings between Parliament Street and King Street should be removed, making the road as wide as that between the Home Office and the other side of Whitehall, and that the land which was bounded by such new road, Delahay Street, and Gt. George' Street, should be devoted to the erection of public offices. The valuation for the actual sites of the buildings had been made by the responsible officer of the Office of Works; but it was impossible to say what would be the cost of the professional interests in some of the buildings. There was, however, every reason to believe that the sum named last year—£450,000—would amply cover them. Of course, no arrangements had yet been made with the various ground landlords, for this reason—that until this Bill was passed the Treasury had no power to deal with them. Since last year arrangements had been made voluntarily with four interests, involving a sum of £50,000; but there were, of course, a large number of other interests which could not be acquired until the Bill was passed. This was not a Party Bill—["Hear, hear!"]—it having been previously proposed by the right hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House, and the more the Bill was delayed the more would have to be paid, because the owners were constantly putting a few bricks on to the tops of their houses and coats of paint in order to compel the Treasury to pay for these so-called improvements, plus 10 per cent. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
said, the hon. Gentleman had not stated who were the ground landlords of this site. He understood the Crown was practically the ground landlord of the greater portion. He would be glad of a little information as to the changed attitude of some Members of the Government on this question. If there was any alteration in the proposals of the late Government, the House was entitled to know what they were, and also upon what grounds the present Government had departed from the proposal of their predecessors. When the Bill of the late Government was introduced, the Attorney General complained that a private company had been harshly dealt with. The hon. and learned Gentleman actually divided the House upon the Bill, and he believed every Member on the present Government Bench voted with him. [Several RIGHT HON. GENTLEMEN: "Oh dear no!"] He was glad to hear these disclaimers, but he believed if the Division Lists were consulted it would be seen that a large proportion of them voted with the hon. and learned Gentleman. He, therefore, wanted some information on two points—first, whether any alteration had been made and what considerations induced the right hon. Gentleman to depart from the proposal of the late Government, and, secondly, whether the Attorney General adhered to the statement he made on the occasion referred to, and if he did not, what considerations had induced him to depart from it. In view of the very strong speech the hon. and learned Gentleman made on that occasion—in which he almost impugned the good faith of the Government, and in view of the fact that the hon. and learned Gentleman was, to some extent, responsible for the present proposal, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman would not consider it an unfair suggestion that the House should have some explanation of the changed circumstances.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER, Isle of Wight)
said, there had not been the slightest change of opinion on his part. On the occasion referred to by the hon. Member there was a Bill before the House—a private Bill to extend the time for exercising the powers of a previous Bill 513 which had been obtained by a company for dealing with this site, and he ventured to express the opinion that the promoters of that Bill had been somewhat hardly treated, and he was supported in that opinion by many Members on both sides of the House. The Government of the House did not agree with that view, and a large number of Gentlemen who now sit on the Treasury Bench voted against him, and a majority of the House refused to extend the time for the private Bill. That Bill was lost, and a Bill was brought in by the Government. The hon. Member was quite in error in supposing that there had been the slightest change of front on the part of anybody in connection with this Bill. He might say that the principal owners on the north side of the site were the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and not the Crown.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, that part of the plan of the late Government was to sell the site of the present War Office and the Carrington House site, which would have made the cost of acquiring the King Street site extremely moderate. It was rather important from a financial point of view to know whether or not that was still the view of Her Majesty's Government, because, of course, if it was intended to spend £450,000 without disposing of the sites he had referred to, it would make an enormous difference in the expenditure. Three sites had to be dealt with. There was the Pall Mall site, on which the War Office stood, which would be valuable for the erection of private edifices; there was the Carrington House site now vacant, and there was the site lying behind King Street. The plan of the late Government was to acquire the King Street site at a moderate expense, and to make the sale of the other sites go a long way towards the actual building of the War Office. But if it was intended to spend £450,000 and still keep the War Office and Carrington House sites, of course the sum of money involved would be very large.
§ MR. LOUGH
said, that he wished to know what sort of public offices were going to be erected on this site. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give the Committee some information on this point. The Education offices at South Kensington might well be brought to the buildings about 514 to be erected. He did not know whether matters were sufficiently advanced to enable the right hon. Gentleman to make any statement with regard to the South Kensington offices. He hoped at all events that proper steps would be taken to prevent the public money from being wasted. Considering that there had been no discussion upon the earlier stages of the Bill, he thought that the Government should give the Committee such information with regard to it as it lay in their power to communicate. This was not a matter that should be settled in a hole and corner fashion, because both sides of the House ought to have all possible information with regard to it laid before them. Could not a larger Committee, not the Committee to which the Bill would be referred, be appointed to inquire as to the best mode of utilising this site.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that he had no objection whatever to the proposal that was embodied in this Resolution or in this Bill. But at the same time he wished to point out that, at all events, the Government ought to state what they intended to do with the money they were now asking for. It was not enough that the Government should merely say that they proposed to acquire this site for public offices. Hon. Members were entitled to something more explicit than that, and to know what was going to be done with the money and with the site. It had been stated that it was proposed to pull down certain buildings for the purpose of widening the street. But it was also stated that new public buildings were to be erected on the site so obtained. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor had certainly not made it clear to the Committee what was going to be done with this large sum of money. One thing, however, was perfectly clear, and that was that the House was asked to make itself responsible for the initial expenditure of £450,000. That would cover only the preparatory expenses of the transaction. If the site itself was going to cost £450,000, he should like to know how much the buildings that were going to be erected upon it would cost. Had the Government made up their minds with regard to the subject at all? He did believe that they had.
§ THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. JOHN ELLIS)
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is travelling outside the Resolution.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, that what he wanted to know was how much the Government proposed to expend upon this matter altogether. Of course, the Bill that was to embody the intentions of the Government on the subject was not before the Committee, and he knew nothing about it. He should be out of order if he did refer to the Bill, but he thought he should be in order in asking the Government how much they intended to spend upon this site and the buildings to be erected upon it altogether.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, that in that case he should content himself with opposing the Resolution, because it was perfectly clear that the Government not only did not know what money they intended to spend upon the site, but did not want the Committee to know either.
§ MR. DALZIEL
thought that in a matter of this kind the Government would serve their own interests by giving the fullest information. He had said that they congratulated the right hon. Gentleman in proceeding with this improvement, but when the proposal was first put before the House of Commons a number of offices were enumerated, and it was pointed out that the Education office, and other offices were very inconveniently placed at present. He should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman was going to do with this site. He was perfectly satisfied that he would use it to the best advantage, but perhaps he was not prepared to make a full statement at present. He should also like to know whether he had any estimates as to the possible cost of the improvement.
§ * MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS
said that they proposed this Session, or at the commencement of next Session, to ask for the assistance of a Committee of that House to locate the offices to be built on this particular site. There were many offices which were now very improperly and inconveniently housed, and it was desirable to group them round Wesminster. This was a great opportunity for carrying out that policy, and they proposed to 516 take advantage of it. He was not prepared to say exactly what offices were to be erected on that site, because he would prefer to consult Parliament before he made up his mind. He would remind hon. Members that the Committee to which the Bill was referred was only a Committee to consider the clauses of the Bill, and it was unusual for a Hybrid Committee for that purpose to consist of a larger number of Members.
§ Resolution agreed to; to be reported to-morrow.