HC Deb 04 June 1912 vol 39 cc87-91

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £405,500, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1913, in respect of sundry Public Buildings in Great Britain, not provided for on other Votes." [Note.—£320,000 has been voted on account.]


I desire to raise certain questions with regard to the enormous amount of about £200,000 which occurs in this Vote for new buildings and alterations to buildings. I desire to raise the question of the method of providing architects for the public buildings of this country, and to ask whether the Government is going to continue the present practice of allowing the designs for these great Departments of the State to be settled within the Office of Works, which prevents the architects of the country generally from entering a competition for the designing of buildings. The designs for our public buildings should be open to national, and, if you will, to international competition. I would point out that I am only asking the Office of Works to revert to what was once the custom with regard to our public buildings. In the past, open competitions, not only national but international in character, have been carried out. For instance, before the India Office was built in 1856 the Government of the day, announcing their need of further public buildings, invited both English and foreign architects to enter into a competition for the design of the buildings required. Two hundred designs were sent in, and were exhibited in Westminster Hall, and as a result of that open competition a very beautiful Gothic design, in keeping with the architecture of the Houses of Parliament, by Gilbert Scott, was selected by Lord Derby's Government. Unfortunately that beautiful Gothic design was never carried out, and the India Office was erected in the Whitehall style. But that was not because the open competition had failed; it was simply due to the fact that before the Commission could carry it out Lord Derby's Government had been replaced by Lord Palmerston's Government, and Lord Palmerston had a rooted horror of Gothic designs, and insisted, contrary to the feeling of this House and of the nation, on a classic design being substituted. I now plead that the traditional method should be reverted to, and that in connection with the building of any public offices in the future there should be an open competition among the architects of the nation. I shall be very glad to have a reply from the hon. Member as to whether this proposal will be considered and carried out in connection with the new buildings which are in contemplation, and which were the subject of discussion recently in this House, to provide the additional accommodation necessary for the Board of Trade.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Whitley)

I am very sorry I have only just discovered that the hon. Member should raise this point on the next Vote. We had therefore better dispose of this Vote first.

Captain MURRAY

It is said to be the intention of the Office of Works to place a group of statuary in the new Admiralty Gardens. I shall be glad if the hon. Member will kindly inform me whether that is so, what group of statuary it is proposed to place there, and whether a plan or a picture or something of that description of the statuary will be exhibited in the House and receive the approval of the House before the matter is proceeded with any further?

8.0 P.M.


I desire to raise one question with regard to the policy of the Office of Works in concentrating the public offices in Whitehall. I feel that a great part of this enormous expenditure would not now be necessary if the Office of Works would adopt the policy of taking rather a wider range in which to build the public offices, instead of concentrating them on what is undoubtedly one of the most expensive sites in London. The site which the Office of Works proposes to clear for the purposes of the new Board of Trade Offices, to an area of about two acres, is valued at certainly not less than £650,000, and I think I may argue that the other sites referred to in this Vote, which are contiguous to this particular site, are certainly not worth less. It would be quite possible for the Office of Works, without going very far from these houses, to move across to the south side of the River Thames and to find sites equally suitable for their purpose at a far lower charge to the taxpayer. There is a site available now on the south side of the river of about five acres which could be had for less than half a million. The policy adopted under this Vote therefore entails an expenditure of over £325,000 per acre when it would be possible, by going a short distance out of this sacrosanct area, to get a site at comething less than £100,000 per acre. I do not want to take this as an example of the extravagance of the administration of the Office of Works, but I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that these figures alone show there is a very good case for the careful consideration of the First Commissioner of Works before he proceeds any further in his present policy of concentrating all our public offices upon one particular site, and that the most expensive site. I need not point out the enormous advantage it would be to these Metropolitan borough councils on the south bank of the river if the Department would reconsider its decision and put some of these fine public buildings on that side of the Thames instead of concentrating them, in this more favoured portion of London.


I believe it would not be in order to refer to the questions raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse); but with regard to the question of the Memorial scheme, I may say that a model showing the general effects of the two groups of statuary has been prepared and will shortly be placed in the Tea Room. In answer to the Noble Lord, I may point out that, where it is possible, buildings have been erected on cheaper sites. For instance, the Stationery Office is being put up on the south side of the river, but in regard to other buildings we should be defeating the object we had in view to concentrate our public services if we dispersed the buildings in the manner suggested. But this is a question which can be raised on the Board of Trade Vote.

Question put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Mr. Wedgwood Benn.]


Can I on this; Motion discuss the general policy of the Office of Works?




I submit it is a matter of very great inconvenience to hon. Members to have Progress reported at this stage. I would call attention to the fact that it will prevent a discussion on one Vote which we have been remaining hereto Debate for some hours, and that is the Vote for the salary of the First Commissioner, on which it is possible to raise questions of policy involving points of profound disagreement. It may be said that by reporting Progress now we merely leave the discussion over until another day. But I would suggest that there is ample time for debating the matter this evening. No doubt there is a private Bill down for discussion, but that would probably only take an hour or an hour and a half, and then there would be opportunity until eleven o'clock to deal with the point which it is desired to raise. Surely it would be better to do that now than to put the Vote off until a later period of the Session when business is much more congested, and when we shall be attending to matters of a much more controversial character. Although it may be for the convenience of individual Members to get home to an early dinner, I submit it is not to the general convenience to prevent this discussion to-night, and it would be equally inconvenient to those who have been summoned here to Debate a private Bill if, by a margin of five minutes only, they were deprived of the opportunity of that discussion.


I imagined I was consulting the convenience of the House by moving to report Progress. I am quite willing to withdraw the Motion, and I beg to ask leave to do so.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.