§ Resolution reported,
§ "That a sum, not exceeding £436,570, 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, 1914, in respect of sundry Public Buildings in Great Britain, not provided for on other Votes."2002
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir J. D. REES
May I ask the hon. Gentleman for an explanation of the entry of £1,000, which is part of a provisional. Estimate of £20,000 for works in connection with the School of Oriental Languages? I had hoped for something better than this after the long time the matter has been under consideration. A Committee considered the subject, and it took a long time after it reported to decide in favour of acquiring the buildings of the London Institution. These buildings were acquired, and they have to be extended and adapted for the purposes or the school. I think my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Yate) will agree with me when I say that it is most disappointing that only £1,000 is asked. The late Prime Minister was waited upon by a deputation, of which I was a member, and he certainly gave them to understand that he considered this was a matter of Imperial importance. I rather think it is. He said it was a matter which should be pushed on as quickly as possible. Now that the matter has reached the stage of getting a sum on the Works Vote, it is disappointing that only £1,000 should be asked. If the work is to be carried out at the same rate as that amount will provide for, it will take nineteen years to get, the school ready I have no reason to suppose that the matter will be as bad as that. Having acquired the buildings of the London Institution, the Office of Works do not require anything like that time or the tentative treatment which it is proposed to give to this matter at the beginning. The amount asked for now will be spent in merely storing materials This, may seem a small matter, but in the minds of those who are interested in the Indian Empire, and in affairs of the East generally, the teaching of Oriental languages is a matter of the very first importance. I need not dwell upon the difference between our action and the extreme leisure with which the Government is proceeding in the matter, and the action taken in other capitals where admirable buildings and proper staffs have been provided, although in these places they are far less interested in the teaching of Oriental languages than we are. I should like more than a perfunctory explanation of the statement that this is only a beginning. There was a Bill passed some time ago dealing with some difference between 2003 one set and another set of proprietors in connection with the buildings now undergoing alteration. I know, from having visited the buildings and being familiar with their architecture, that there is no very great work of adaptation required. I very much doubt whether £20,000 is required. If it is a smaller affair than appears from the provisional Estimate, as I think it is, there is all the more reason why the comparatively small sum needel should be provided and spent as early as possible. I urge that this miserable provision will be extremely disappointing to all those in the East who carry on trade with this country.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I would like to ask the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East if, in connection with the competition in regard to the new Government buildings in Edinburgh, he will refrain from publishing the conditions while the House is not sitting. If he will agree to do so, it will enable those interested in this matter to have the conditions discussed in public. They would be prevented from doing so if the plans were published while the House was not sitting.
§ Colonel YATE
As to the School of Oriental Languages, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot provide a larger sum this year. The school has been delayed, and it will be most grateful to all people interested in Oriental education if he could give a little more money now or give an assurance that it will be provided.
As regards the question raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), I think he may take it that the conditions as to the buildings will not be issued while the House is in recess. In answer to the hon. Member opposite (Sir J. D. Rees), I have to say that this money in the Estimate is taken from now to 31st March next. I think £1,000 is as much as the Office of Works can spend in that time. The work is being delayed, not because there is not money to start with, but because the constitution of the governing body has not yet been finally decided. Until that body has been set up and has stated what the requirements are, we cannot do the work.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
A very large sum of money appears in the Estimates for the maintenance of public buildings in Great Britain, exclusive of Royal palaces and palaces and 2004 parks. It would be very much better that the total sum in any particular Vote should be put in that Vote, and that hon. Members should not be obliged to look up other Votes to find out in what way additional sums are included in the Vote, which purports to cover a certain amount of money required for certain purposes. I think that the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Estimates Committee raised the question as to whether or not it would not be possible in the case of new works and repairs to obtain an estimate of what the actual cost of the work is going to be, and that that estimate should be put on the Vote. In the course of the discussion in Committee upon this Building Vote it appeared that the custom of the office was to ask for a certain sum. Take the item "Original total estimate, £4,100." The ordinary Member of Parliament, including myself, until I became Chairman of the Estimates Committee, was under the impression that that sum was the original total estimate, but it is nothing of the sort. It is merely the guess of some clerk in the office that somewhere about that sum of money will be required. So much a guess is it that in many cases specifications are not even got out, but a rough and ready shot is taken at what the amount will be, and then that amount is put on the Vote.
The Estimates Committee recommend, at any rate as an experiment, that the Office of Works should, in cases such as I have mentioned, go to a contractor and obtain specifications, and ask that contractor to put in a tender for those works. It was stated that it might be difficult to obtain persons who would be willing to enter into a contract under those conditions. The Estimates Committee think that there is nothing whatever in that argument. There is any number of contractors who would be only too glad to enter into a contract with the Government if they understood that that contract would be carried out provided that the assent of Parliament was first obtained. Of course, there is the risk that the assent of Parliament would not be given, but that contingency, I think, is extremely remote, and it is very unlikely that Parliament would refuse to give its consent to works which have been declared to be necessary. I have not looked up the precedents, but I do not believe there have been any cases where works of this sort have been brought forward by the Office of Works, and declared to be necessary, in which the sanction of Parliament has been refused. 2005 I think that really disposes of the argument which was brought before us in the Estimates Committee, and it was the only argument brought before us against the proposal which we recommended.
If hon. Members look through the various items in this Vote, and certainly the various items in the Office of Works Vote where new work is provided for, they will see that in most cases the original total estimate varies very much from the actual amount spent. There is nearly always a revised estimate that in almost every case exceeds the original total estimate. I think, in justice to Parliament itself, that the figures put before the House of Commons should be reliable figures upon which the House can express an opinion, and not merely the guess of any official, however capable he is of guessing, who may be in the office of the hon. Gentleman. It is absurd to suppose that this House can exercise any control over the expenditure of the Office of Works if matters are conducted in this way. It is evident, if you take the item which I have mentioned, the original total estimate for the adaptation of works at the Admiralty of £4,100, that in all probability that item will be exceeded, and it would be very difficult for us when the excess comes to be brought before the House, to say that it shall not be voted. Of course the hon. Gentleman would say that we have already to-day confirmed the Resolution arrived at in Committee, that £4,100 should be spent upon this purpose, and if we refuse to grant a larger sum, then also it is perfectly evident that the object for which that sum has been voted will be to a considerable degree destroyed. Therefore, we have no alternative but to accept the increased amount and vote the money demanded. The hon. Gentleman would be, I am sure, anxious to give me some information upon this point, but I am afraid under the Rules of the House he cannot reply. But may I have the attention for one moment of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I believe the Treasury are considering this matter, but I hope that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will consider whether or not something cannot be done to carry out the recommendation of the Estimates Committee. The Estimates Committee, after all, were appointed to do something, and their recommendation should carry weight with hon. Members opposite.
§ Sir GEORGE YOUNGER
There are one or two items of expenditure on which 2006 I wish to ask one or two questions. I see there is a sum of £1,900 for the Scottish Art Gallery, on which I may highly congratulate the Office of Works, for it is altogether an admirable work. Will that finish the cost of the institution or will it require a further Estimate? There is also, I observe, a sum of £1,000 for structural alterations for rendering the Sasines Office fireproof. That building is very important indeed, as it contains the whole of the public and private deeds of Scotland, and if the work is not completed, then the sooner it is the better.
§ Lord ALEXANDER THYNNE
I hope I may be allowed to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has given any further consideration to the suggestion which I ventured to make on the Committee stage with regard to the amalgamation of public offices in the provinces into one building? I ventured then to call attention to the unnecessary expenditure which was involved and the great inconvenience resulting in the fact that Government Departments represented in provincial towns were scattered all over the town. I suggested that great economy could be effected and great convenience to the public achieved if all the buildings under the charge of the Office of Works and other buildings—such as Probate, Insurance, Labour Exchanges,County Courts, Inland Revenue, Post Office, and the Valuation Department were all gathered together into one big building, which might be made a great architectural feature in the town, and that it would be a great convenience to the public to know, when they had any business to do with the local representatives of a Government Department, where the representatives could be found. No municipality in any town has found it convenient to scatter their offices throughout the length and breadth of the towns in question. Surely the Government ought not to be above learning in a matter of this sort from the municipality. If a municipality finds that it makes for administrative convenience and for economy to gather all their offices under one roof, surely a similar consideration ought to obtain in the case of Government Departments! There is another point on which I hope the hon. Member will be able to give some information. I notice there are some sums down for extensions of Hertford House and the National Gallery. There are a great many Members on both sides who 2007 feel that the necessity for extending those buildings would not arise if the hon. Member would take steps to issue on loan some of the works and objects of art for which there is not at present room in those two buildings. I hope that the hon. Member will take this into consideration, and that when the question again comes within the cognisance of the House that he will be able to give us an assurance that steps will be taken to lend some of those works, because, after all, we are spending now on the galleries of London a very large sum of money from which comparatively few people derive any advantage. When one considers the very small proportion of the population of this country who really enjoy access to these great national collections, I think that it needs hardly any argument at all to show what a great advantage it would be, both from an educational and every other point of view, if the hon. Member could elaborate some system of lending the works for which there is no room in the present buildings out on loan to some of the great provincial cities. The only other point upon which I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to give some information is as to whether it is proposed by the Office of Works to expend any further sums upon the Royal Courts of Justice, or whether the Government do not propose at present to find any additional accommodation for the new judges who seem likely shortly to be appointed.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I trust that when the hon. Gentleman replies, he will be able to refer to a question of great importance which formed the subject of a brief discussion in the Committee stage of the Vote, when however there was not sufficient time adequately to discuss the matter. I refer to the method by which most of the public buildings are designed by the permanent staff. I suggested that it would be a wise policy to leave to open competition the decision of the designs. I appeal for this to be done because I desire to see an end put to the system by which the nation is presented with such buildings as those in Whitehall, which I think are a degradation to the country. The influence of the official type of ugly and unsuitable buildings, is shown at our own door in the most monstrous of modern buildings. The new Wesleyan Hall is one of the ugliest and one of the least suitable buildings that could possibly be erected. It is very satisfactory to know that a much 2008 more modest and more beautiful building is now being erected close to it—the Middlesex Guildhall—which in some degree at least will atone for the horrors, of the architecture of the adjacent building. I am not asking for any new system to be adopted. In the last century, I think in the fifties, the designs for the India Office were the subject of open competition, and the designs sent in were exhibited in Westminster Hall. The competition aroused considerable public interest, and did much good in directing public attention to this important matter. I can only express my great regret that the competition was not allowed properly to operate in that case, and that the gothic design originally chosen by the Prime Minister of the day was rejected by his successor before the building could be erected. I think I should carry the House with me on general grounds in saying that the wider the field of competition, the more ideas were brought to bear upon our public buildings, the greater would be the national gain, and the greater the gain for the cause of art. Therefore I earnestly hope that my hon. Friend will not think it necessary always to keep to this rigid type of architecture which we know as the Whitehall type. I trust he will consider the advisability of entirely getting rid of this convention that you must have the official design whenever a new building is erected, and that, instead the practice should be adopted, that has been followed in the past in the erection of the Houses of Parliament—which was followed a year or two ago with very great advantage in connection with the designs for the new London County Council hall—that he will throw open to the whole body of architects the right to compete, and to submit designs for the erection of buildings. I trust my hon. Friend will believe me when I say, in bringing this suggestion forward, that I am actuated entirely by a desire to see more progress made in the sphere of architecture.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
Without undue expenditure. I am glad the hon. Baronet makes that remark, because it enables me to say that we spend much more money in making buildings ugly than we need to, spend to make them beautiful. We lose sight entirely of the idea that the most beautiful things are the simplest things. 2009 In this connection I desire to refer to the subject of the Admiralty Arch. I have already referred to it, and it was a matter of very great regret to me that on the last occasion when this matter was under discussion that there was only time for a word or two to be said, and no time in which to reply to the statement made by my hon. Friend that a Committee was to be appointed to inquire into the whole question of the Admiralty Arch. I only desire to say this: When one is in Trafalgar Square, as I was to-day, one is conscious that the most beautiful feature in that square is the view that we get of the grass, trees, and flowers in St. James's Park. Therefore I trust we have heard the last of what, to my mind, was a monstrous proposal that we should have a second arch leading into Trafalgar Square, in which that view would be entirely obliterated, and we should be conscious only of the existence of a tunnel leading from the park to the square.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in his desire for greater competition in respect to public buildings. I am afraid, however, that to some extent I am an agnostic in these matters. I cannot help feeling the conviction that anything which was built ten or twenty years ago is always ugly; anything that was built fifty or sixty years ago is moderately beautiful; and that when you get further back than that the thing is always extremely desirable and beautiful. The modern building which has just been put up has a certain prestige, because the architect is still alive, and his friends do their best to praise it. As soon as the architect is dead, and his friends have disappeared, the thing is always ugly. I think that rule applies whether it is official architecture or any other. The hon. Gentleman said with great truth that some of the Government buildings are ugly. That is quite true. He compared favourably the buildings of the Palace of Westminster and said they were more beautiful. I do not pretend to be a judge of architecture, but I must say that anything more inconvenient than the style of architecture employed in the building of the Palace of Westminster it is very difficult to conceive. It may be beautiful, but it is singularly out of place for practical purposes. None of the windows let in sufficient light, and they either let in too much air or no air at all. 2010 The only other example of Gothic architecture in public buildings that I can recall at the present moment is the Royal Courts of Justice. That is even worse for practical purposes than the Palace of Westminster. I prefer the more official style of architecture, however ugly, if it is practical for the purposes for which it is built, rather than the most beautiful style if it is not practical and effective for the purpose for which it is designed; but I do not pretend to be able to discuss architecture with the hon. Member, or anybody else. I quite recognise we ought to give the freest possible competition, and I believe if there is an architectural genius about he will force himself to the front and will have an influence upon public building. As to the value of the work in the country, if buildings now are ugly it is because there is no architect at the moment capable of erecting beautiful public buildings.
But I rose more for the purpose of making a few observations with reference to my Noble Friend's speech in regard to the picture galleries. There are two considerable sums with regard to the Wallace collection and the National Gallery, but they are not for the purpose of increasing those galleries, but for the purpose of making them more safe against fire. I am sure my Noble Friend will realise that that is most important, and that this is by no means an unsuitable time to increase the safety of our public buildings against fire. I hope the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote when he comes to speak, can assure us that the work is being pushed on for that purpose. I confess I felt rather uneasy, seeing a Vote of £50,000 to make the National Gallery secure from fire. It seems to me, judging by the sum, as if a great deal is to be done, and I should like to know what the situation is. £15,000 for the Wallace collection is also a considerable sum. My Noble Friend will realise that if anything were to happen in the way of fire in these galleries, an injury would be done, not only to this country, but to the whole cultured life in this country, which would be absolutely irreparable. I hope the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote is not too niggardly in the sums he asks for, and that he is going to do his utmost to press forward the work without the least possible delay.
There is one other matter. As I understand the Estimates, I do not see that any money is taken for the new Courts of Justice adjoining the old Courts. I do not 2011 know if I am right in that, but if I am, I hope it does not mean that there is going to be any delay in completing these Courts. It is really a scandal that in this country we should have a state of things where if all the judges happen to be in London together, there is not sufficient accommodation for them to sit and discharge the most elementary duties. I cannot help feeling that it would be a most disastrous thing if any delay was to take place in completing these Courts, and I hope the failure to take any money for that purpose now does not mean any unnecessary delay in their completion. I should like to hear very much from the hon. Member some assurance with regard to the prevention of fire in the National Galleries, and what is the real state of things there, so that the House can judge whether proper precautions are taken and also what has been done in regard to the Royal Courts of Justice.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I am quite certain all quarters of the House will sympathise with the desire expressed by my Noble Friend, that precautions against fire in the National Gallery and other galleries should be pressed forward as far as possible. Everyone who has paid a visit to the National Gallery, and to that part of the Gallery already treated, must see that not only is the risk of fire very largely reduced, but that the Gallery is very much improved for the purpose of exhibiting the works of art there. The hon. Gentleman who spoke from the benches opposite raised a subject we have all been rather cautious about following. I am not sure the House of Commons is ever at its best when dealing with art in the form of architecture or anything else, though I remember that in the letters of Queen Victoria, one of the most entertaining was that addressed by Lord Palmerston describing a debate on the India Office, and his success in persuading the House of Commons that the Government architect chosen to execute that building should provide the Government with what he termed a Palladian design. It could hardly be expected that when one Government had accepted Gothic architecture and when its successor, before the building was completed, insisted upon adopting another style wholly alien to that, the building would be wholly successful. I think too little attention was paid by my hon. Friend as to the use to which these buildings have to be put, 2012 and that, after all, is a very important consideration. I hope it may be found possible to combine art and convenience so as to secure a satisfactory result in any new buildings that may be required. I am not competent to pose as an art critic, but I have my own opinions, as we are all allowed to have, and, although I think some at least of the new buildings are very bad, I should not be prepared to, join in the wholesale condemnation which the hon. Member passed upon some, indeed all, the recent buildings in Whitehall. I would venture to say that if he pursues his inquiries into the matter he will come to, the conclusion that unrestricted competition is by no means a sure guarantee that you will arrive at the best result and that it may sometimes lead to the provision of a building which is unsuitable for the particular purpose for which that building required. I would be inclined to say that the more restricted form of selection which, was employed in regard to certain offices, as the result of previous experience, although it may not in every case produce so very beautiful a building as we like to see, is on the whole, nevertheless, the plan best calculated to secure that result should not have presumed to address any observations to the Committee at all on this subject were it not that I wanted to refer to what was said earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London. He is, I see, not a very ardent supporter of the appointment of the Estimates Committee. I gathered that his point was that steps should be taken when estimates of new works were brought before the House to give more accurate estimates. He complained that these estimates were not quite as accurate as a simple-minded Member would suppose. He suggested, I understand, that there should be accurate specifications and tenders so as to show the exact amount required. He said it was to large extent guesswork. But I would suggest that it is not bad guesswork under the circumstances in which it is made, and that it is as accurate as it could be under the circumstances.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am not complaining of guesswork or that the guesswork was bad. The guesswork was very good. What I said was that we should have accurate figures upon some reasonable basis before we were asked to spend money. That is what the Office of Works was intended for.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Let me say that, in my opinion, the difficulties of the situation arise, first of all, from the requirements of this House. I may give one illustration, which I think is a striking one. I think in about the second Session in which I had the honour of being a Member of the House a proposal was brought forward for the erection of the naval harbour at Dover, which we now see when we cross the Channel from that port. The Government of the day, which was a Liberal Government, at that moment proposed to provide for that and other large naval works by means of a loan. Their proposal was embodied in a Bill to which a schedule of the works was attached, and a few thousand pounds was taken for the purposes of making a survey with a view to obtaining an estimate of the cost. The House insisted upon having the total estimate before they would vote any money for the survey. It was in vain shat the Minister said that until they had the survey no reasonable man would risk his reputation by giving a figure for the total cost. They had got to find out about the bottom of the sea, to make all kinds of calculations as to the material required, and to settle the form the works were to take and until all that had been done the estimate could not be made. He could not satisfy the House they insisted that they would be parting with their proper control over finance, and they refused to vote the money for the survey until they knew the total cost. I knew the engineer who was then advising the Government, and subsequently I had official communications with him, a very able man who has now retired from the public service. The Government were so harried and worried by the pressure brought to bear upon them in the House, and were so driven to it by the length of time taken up on the matter, that they at last sent for him, and said that there and then he must produce an estimate before any survey was made. He protested and said that it could not be done, but the Minister said that he must have a figure to satisfy the House, and finally the engineer said that one figure was as good as another. There happened to be a figure in existence, because as long ago as 1840 the matter was considered, and an estimate of £2,000,000 was made, and, accordingly, to satisfy the House, £2,000,000 was put in as the total original estimate. When a year or two later I was responsible as Civil Lord of the Admiralty for the passage of the then 2014 Naval Works Bill, I had the task of explaining that the original total estimate was a figure put in to please the House avowedly with no proper information.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I point out that what was before the Estimates Committee was not the making of a harbour, but the building of a house, and the exceptional circumstances which may make it impossible to obtain an estimate for the building of a harbour do not apply in this particular case?
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I think that the exceptions are much more numerous than my hon. Friend supposes. Take, for instance, one of the items already spoken of—the National Gallery. It is stated on the face of the Estimate what the work will amount to. In connection with drainage works it is not possible to tell what they will cost until you have opened up the ground. Anybody who has had the experience of having his own house drained is aware of the fact that until the ground is opened up the limits of the cost cannot be estimated. My hon. Friend proposes that before these works are brought before Parliament tenders should already have been issued in competition to a series of builders and that one tender should have been provisionally accepted, and the builder bound over. But very often the work is only intended to be begun at the end of the year; the Estimates are prepared some months before the beginning of the year, and in such a case the builder would be asked to tender for work a year before it could be begun. His tender must be affected by the prices of materials, and how is he to know what they will be? I really think that when this matter comes to be examined into, although it may be possible in some cases to have a procedure ensuring greater accuracy, there is no such room for improvement as my hon. Friends seems to think.
The hon. Baronet began by drawing attention to the form in which the Estimates are drawn, and complained that all the charges for public buildings are not included under Vote 10. But if he will look at the list of those not included he will find them in the nine Votes already disposed of. Vote 10 is for sundry public buildings which could not be conveniently included in the other Votes. One of my hon. Friends has had something to say about open competition for public buildings. He spoke with scorn of the design of the new 2015 Wesleyan building at Westminster. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I am not concerned to defend that design, as the building was not put up with public money. My hon. Friend spoke contemptuously of every building in Whitehall. But every modern building there was constructed, either by open or by limited competition, so that citing these cases does not help his argument. The new Board of Trade building is to be erected by public competition, and it is the intention of the First Commissioner to exhibit the designs not only in this House, but also in the South Kensington Museum, so that Members of the public may have an opportunity of seeing them. The Scottish Office is also intended to be put up to open competition.
As regards the fire—proofing of the National Gallery it is quite impossible to say what the work is going to cost. The total is £25,000. Eight thousand pounds was spent last year, £10,000 is to be spent this year, and that leaves £7,000 to complete the whole work. The figures will enable the House to come to the conclusion that, all necessary speed is being used in fire proofing the National Gallery. We have to consider the convenience of the public, and I presume no one desires that the Gallery should be entirely closed for this work. As to the Scottish National Gallery, it is completed, and also the fireproofing of the Sassines Office. The Noble Lord made a suggestion that pictures might be sent out on loan both from the National Gallery and from the Wallace collection. I will bring the recommendation to the notice of the First Commissioner, but I fear he has no power to do that, his function is to carry out the instructions of the trustees. The Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin asked if any further sums were to be taken this year for the Royal Courts of Justice. He seems to be under the impression—an erroneous one—that there is something still to be paid for the additional wing which has been constructed. But that has been finished and paid for.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
Have any steps been taken to improve the acoustic properties of the Courts? I know that suggestions have been made that something should be done in that way.
I should be grateful if the hon. and learned Gentleman would give me time to answer that question. I could not answer as to the acoustic properties 2016 of the new Courts without making special inquiry. The only remaining point was that raised by the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), which was dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Austen Chamberlain). The hon. Baronet's Committee suggested that, instead of following the present course, the Office of Works, and, I suppose, other offices—
The suggestion was that we should secure tenders—at firm prices, I suppose—for the works before they were included in the Estimates presented to Parliament. If it is not presumption to follow the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman, I think he has disposed of that suggestion.
I would ask the hon. Baronet what it is that he is aiming at by this suggestion. Is it economy, or efficiency, or Parliamentary control?
I think his suggestion undermines all three. First of all, as to economy. If you ask persons to prepare bills of quantities and get out specifications, they must be put before the Office of Works and examined and approved in the autumn. Then there is delay while the estimates are being considered by the Treasury. There is further delay through the estimates having to be laid before Parliament before they are taken in Committee, and then there is a further delay before building actually commences. If a contractor is giving prices for a building he will not be asked to begin for a whole year, he will obviously quote the highest prices to which the materials may rise in the course of the year, and base his estimate on those prices in order to guard himself against any possible rise. I do not think it is fair to assume that, if you ask a man to give a price in June, 1912, for a building he would not be asked to commence until June, 1913, you will get better price than if you ask him to give a price in the spring of the ensuing year.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
One of the reasons which induced the Estimates Committee to make this proposal was to prevent the habit which has prevailed of the Office of 2017 Works, or the Post Office, who, I think, were the greatest offenders, saying they required a building to be erected, then going to the Office of Works and nothing being done for fifteen months. We wanted to stop that, and to make sure, whenever it was determined to have a building erected, that the people who wanted it should make up their minds early, and that the matter should be proceeded with without unnecessary delay.
One of the effects of the hon. Baronet's report was that a circular was issued by the Office of Works to the different Departments, asking them to make their estimates earlier and in as definite a form as can be done. I hope I have shown the hon. Baronet that we should not get additional economy by insisting upon getting the prices a year beforehand. The delay I have referred to already. It is frequently necessary to purchase a site before you can even know what sort of building you are going to put up on it. If you put the site on one year's Votes and then wait for tenders to be accepted, you have to wait another year until they can be put in the Estimates, and you have a very considerable diminution in the efficiency of this office. As regards Parliamentary control, it seems to me that perhaps is the most fatal objection to the hon. Baronet's suggestion. If the Office of Works were to accept a tender, and to put builders and others to trouble and expence in preparing these prices, what are we to say if, when the Treasury examines the estimates, they decide to strike out this or that building, or if, which is more important., when the Committee of the House examine the estimates they decide that they cannot allow this or that building? For these reasons it will be seen that, except in the small works where the work can be quickly executed, the suggestions of the hon. Baronet are not practicable.
As regards the Admiralty Arch, I do not think that my hon. Friend need be afraid that the second arch will be constructed. It is not a matter entirely in the control of the Office of Works. If time permitted I should refer to other recommendations of the hon. Baronet's Committee, but it is not necessary to do so except to say that several of them have been adopted with great advantage to the Department.