HC Deb 28 February 1910 vol 14 cc678-84

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a supplementary sum not exceeding £4,400 be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1910, for Expenditure in respect of Royal Palaces."


I think we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman for some particulars as to this. We discover from the explanation in the printed estimates that it arises out of Hampton Court Palace and the excavation of the old moat and bridge, which was estimated to cost £3,500. I presume that £1,400 is the amount that has been spent in the current financial year. If so there will be £2,100 more to spend in connection with the excavation of the old moat and bridge, and, in addition, £1,400 is required apparently for the right hon. Gentleman to acquire certain property to preserve the amenities of the Palace. Some of us were under the impression that the amenities of the Palace would take very good care of themselves. I do not know why the Government under those circumstances should rush in and spend £3,000. When we have heard the explanation we may of course see that there were excellent reasons for this excavation of the moat and bridge, which has cost already £1,400, and which is going to cost another £2,100, and that there is also a good reason why some £3,000 should be spent in amenities. If additional property of a valuable character which is worth this £3,000 has been bought, and if the State is to get the advantage of holding £3,000 worth more property, and thereby preventing some other evil-disposed person from getting an increment from it that probably is an exceedingly desirable purchase. But I think the right hon. Gentleman should give us some explanation.


It was suggested to me by people with a knowledge of the history of Hampton Court last year that it was possible that the old moat which had been destroyed could be built up, and that it was also possible that the bridge of which we know the existence from old prints of the time of Charles I. might not have been destroyed but buried in the process of levelling outside the Palace. I thought that was so interesting an antiquarian possibility, and that the work could be done at such a small expense, that I made some trial sinkings near where I thought the bridge ought to be. I found that the whole of the ancient bridge, the Wolsey Bridge, was intact with the exception of part of the parapet. I have not been able to find yet a piece of the original parapet, but the whole bridge, with the arches in a most wonderful state of preservation, has been uncovered. I found that the two walls of the original moat were in existence, and that the moat had only been filled up with rubbish, consisting largely of old clay pipes and broken bottles of the date, which have been temporarily preserved in a museum at Hampton Court. I also found other objects of antiquarian interest. I hope the House will not grudge the expenditure here foreshadowed for the reproduction of the old Wolsey Moat and the rediscovery of this very interesting bridge which is an interesting historic reminiscence not only from its time, but from the fact that the King first brought his Consort into Hampton Court across that bridge, as may well be seen in some contemporary prints.


May I ask this question? Will the £3,500 fully excavate the moat and repair the bridge?


Yes, that sum is the amount which will cover, so far as I can estimate, the whole cost of excavating the moat and of restoring the bridge. We will then have a proper entrance to the palace. I propose to remove the loose material and then to fill up the moat again to the water level with soil, and to sow it with grass. It would be impossible to introduce water again without doing damage to the palace, so that this is the best compromise we can arrive at in reproducing the old conditions. I may mention incidentally that in doing this work I have employed thirty or forty men who were going to be turned out of another job in the neighbourhood. I was anxious, even if I could not utilise the services of those actually unemployed, to utilise the services of those who were about to be unemployed for this work. You cannot take the first man you meet for antiquarian work, because in the shifting of soil and so forth some care must be exercised. That is all that is necessary to say upon the question of the moat.

There is another question as to the amenities of the palace. I discovered last year, but too late for an insertion in the Estimates at the time, that a meadow about seven acres in extent at the opposite side of the river to the palace, but within full view of the palace, was likely to be sold and utilised either for a pumping station with a tall chimney, or for a generating station with a tall chimney and other unsightly buildings. If the hon. Member is acquainted with the neighbourhood as well as I am he will know that this meadow is in close proximity to the London and South-Western station a[...] Hampton Court. I feel that this country, which values Hampton Court as a national possession, and whose amenities depend upon its surroundings not being outraged and destroyed, would not grudge an equitable and economic purchase of such a piece of land. I was able to purchase that seven acres for £3,000. Immediately on the purchase of it I was able to let it on a lease for twenty-one years, at a rent of £100 per year, to a boat builder who will erect a boat-house subject to my approval of his design. He will lay out the rest of the grounds for gardens for house boats that may be moored there, and will devote the other part of the ground to a cricket and football ground for the locality. The boat-house which he is to erect will become the property of the Government, and therefore re-lettable at the end of the twenty-one years. I do not think on the whole that that has been a bad bargain for the public or for Hampton Court. And I am quite sure that we have saved a beautiful palace from an indignity that might have been inflicted on it.


May I ask the first Commissioner whether the question of e-version Duty might not arise. It seems to me in this case the Government are confiscating the tenant's improvement. It is a bad precedent. First I gather this land was undeveloped land, and being bought by the Government would be liable to Undeveloped Duty. The erection of these chimneys and works would, of course, have developed it, and it would not in that case be liable.


This consideration evidently involves legislation, and it is out of order.


Does the agreement of the boatbuilder involve that he must expend a considerable sum on the boathouse which, at the end of twenty-one years, becomes the property of the Government?


I said the lease was for twenty-one years, and that the boat-builder having put up the house it will at the expiration of the lease become the property of the Government.

Mr. J. D. REES

I raise no objection to the action of my right hon. Friend. On the contrary I agree with it, and thoroughly approve of what he has done. My only object in rising was to express the hope that when the Budget comes before the House again and I have to say something with regard to the preservation of the amenities of Harrow-on-the-Hill, he will agree with me.


I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the explanation he has given me. I feel quite certain that in taking the course he has taken in regard to the moat and bridge he has acted wisely and properly.

Vote agreed to.

Question proposed, "That a supplementary sum not exceeding £5,500 be granted to His Majesty to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ended 31st March, 1910, for expenditure in respect of Diplomatic and Consular building."


Before we pass this Vote we should have some information with regard to the second item of £3,000. The charges are in connection with the transfer of a villa in Naples. I have seen some paragraphs in the newspapers with regard to this. I think we should have some explanation with reference to this building. I suppose it will have to be maintained, and that there will be a considerable increase in the annual Vote for the Consular Service in Naples. I think we should have some satisfactory statement in regard to this purchase, and I think we should be told why it was necessary to buy a villa of this kind. I have seen photographs of it, and it is a very beautiful place, but we should Boon get full information about it.


The two items in this Vote have been the subject of considerable discussion and inquiry. Up to the present there has been no information of any sort from the authorities. I think the Committee is entitled to know why this Legation house has been bought. Why it should have been necessary to buy this villa, "Rosebery," at a cost of £3,000. Naples is not at present the capital of Italy or any portion of Italy. The place where Diplomatic and Consular Services are particularly wanted is not Naples so much as in Rome. If right hon. Gentlemen in charge of these Votes give us a little explanation as to what the necessity of the expenditure of this public money was I think it would certainly facilitate matters. It is our duty on this side of the House to demand these particulars. We do not do it with a view to wasting public time or with any hypercritical object, but simply because we are entitled to be informed on these points. If we did not rise and ask these questions the Vote would be passed without our getting any information whatever.


When information on any of these points is asked for I am always happy to give it. I have been asked why it is necessary to buy a Legation House at Petropolis. The Legation House at this place has in the past been hired, but it came to my notice last year that there was an opportunity of purchasing it at an advantageous price for the Government, and in pursuance of the policy we have followed, where the price was moderate and the house suitable, we desire to purchase the house and the freehold for the British Government. In consequence of this the allowance for house rent made to the Minister will be reduced by an amount representing the interest on the capital paid for the purchase. The country will not be a loser, but we shall have a certainty of a suitable house which has been tested by the occupation of the Minister, and which we believe will continue to answer its purpose in the future as it has done in the past. As to the Villa Rosebery it will form a summer residence for the Ambassador in Rome. Those acquainted with Rome know that diplomats take their holidays during the summer, but after their summer holidays there occurs in Rome a most undesirable time in the early autumn. This Vote will enable the Ambassador to live within the confines of the country to which he is accredited, though not actually in the capital, which may not be in the best condition. I desire to disabuse the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite of the idea that we are buying this villa. It is only owing to Lord Rosebery's natural modesty that a statement has not been publicly made on my part that Lord Rosebery has given these two villas and the whole of the land as a free gift to the British Government for the use of the British Ambassador in Rome. For this payment the country will secure this very valuable property, and, so far as I can estimate, the cost of the maintenance of these villas, with the whole of their grounds, will not amount to more than £500 a year.


With reference to the Legation House at Brazil, the right hon. Gentleman says that part of the house rent will be saved. Why part of it?


The habit of Brazil is that the Minister occupies the Legation House for part of the year in one place, and for another part of the year he occupies a house in another place. We have not purchased one of these houses, but, as we have purchased the house in Petropolis, the amount will be deducted for the rent of one of these houses.


I am sure the House will be gratified to know that this Debate has been the means of calling attention to a very magnificent and patriotic gift to the nation.


I wish to express the appreciation I feel of this magnificent gift by Lord Rosebery to His Majesty's Government. The only question I wish to ask is whether the Government is sure that the upkeep will not rather exceed the small sum which the right hon. Gentleman has just mentioned.


I cannot pledge myself that any estimate will not be exceeded. I may say, however, that in this case it is not a round figure roughly arrived at, but one which has been calculated by people I have sent out from my own Department to inquire, and I am giving the House the best information at my disposal.


May I say that I had heard of this gift, but I could not refer to it in the short remarks I made for the purpose of ascertaining from the First Commissioner the nature of the charge until it was stated by the First Commissioner. If I had been able to refer to it as a gift of the Noble Lord's, I should not have used the remarks I did.

Mr. J. D. REES

I had been anxious to refer to the same point for the purpose of making recognition of the generosity of Lord Rosebery. That having been done, I can only ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will deduce from this fact that it is extremely dangerous to put unnecessarily high charges upon transfers of property which may come back upon the Government themselves to their discomfiture.

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