HL Deb 08 August 1854 vol 135 cc1405-8

moved for a Return of all Houses, Buildings, &c., hired for official Purposes, including Crown Property, showing the Situation of each, the Term for which it is held, the Amount of Rent and Taxes with which it is chargeable, and the Purposes to which it is applied. His object was to call the attention of the Government, and also of the country, to the condition generally of the public offices, which, as they at present existed, were most inconvenient. There was but one locality in which they could be brought together with advantage to the public business and the appearance of the metropolis, as well as with a view to economy—of course, he meant by the erection of large buildings in the neighbourhood of Whitehall and Downing Street, which were conveniently situated with reference to the Houses of Parliament. The site to which he wished particularly to direct attention was the space extending from the back of Downing Street to the back of Great George Street, and which ran parallel with Parliament Street. That spot was covered with poor and very old buildings, much out of repair, most of which must shortly be pulled down; and if they were rebuilt, the new buildings would, of course, greatly add to the value of the property, and therefore the present opportunity ought not to be lost in obtaining a plot of land so well adapted for the purposes of public offices before the value of the land increased. By the plan which he would suggest, Parliament Street might be made much wider by taking into it the space on which King Street now stood, and thus making a better and more convenient approach to the Houses of Parliament than now existed. He would suggest to the Government the expediency of obtaining this land as soon as possible, especially as it had been the subject of consideration for private speculation. He also wished to mention a matter having reference to the Duchy of Cornwall, and which was connected with a Bill which had been passed to enable the officers of the Duchy to obtain an office in lieu of the rooms they had vacated at Somerset house, for the accommodation of the Board of Inland Revenue. He wished to point out the position in which the Duchy of Cornwall was placed with reference to the accommodation of the Prince of Wales, whose residence, Marlborough House, was now occupied as a Picture Gallery and Museum of Practical Art. That residence would, probably, be soon wanted by the Prince of Wales; and as it was probable it would suffer some dilapidations from its present uses, rendering it unfit for a residence, and as Burlington House had been recently purchased for the purpose of being converted into public offices, he would suggest whether it would not be desirable to exchange that building for Marlborough House, and assign it as a residence for the Prince of Wales; while accommodation could also be found for the offices of the Duchy of Cornwall in the buildings in the court-yard of Burlington House. The residence of the Prince of Wales would then belong to the Duchy of Cornwall, and he thought that would be a better arrangement both for the Prince and the public. He hoped after the notice which he had taken of the matter, that Government would be able to consider it before Parliament met again, and if that should be so he would not have taken up their Lordships' time unprofitably.


said, there could be no objection to granting the return moved for by the noble Lord. Indeed, so far from there being any objection to it, he was glad that it had been moved for, inasmuch as it would contain most useful information, to which the attention of Parliament might be advantageously directed. He did not, however, think it would be advisable to enter into any discussion upon his noble Friend's suggestions with respect to the appropriation of Burlington House; nor should he enter at any length into the propriety of the very extensive purchase which his noble Friend had recommended between Downing Street and Great George Street. At the same time, he entirely agreed that it was of vast importance that all the principal offices of Government should be concentrated, for the more they could be brought into a posi- tion convenient to each other, the more conveniently and economically would the public business be discharged. Of this he was convinced, that the returns now moved for would establish beyond all question the exceedingly great inconvenience of the mode under which the public offices were at this moment conducted. While he agreed with his noble Friend in the abstract, it was also a question to be considered on economical grounds. He was not, he believed, far wrong when he stated that, independently of the offices held by the Crown in fee simple, there was now being paid annual rents for something more than fifty-six different offices. Of these fifty-six only seven, he believed, were held of the Crown, and consequently rent was paid for the whole of the remainder to private individuals. He believed that 20,000l. a year was paid for rents by the Office of Woods and Forests alone. But there was not only an enormous sum paid for rents; a most extravagant system was adopted in consequence of the dispersed and inconvenient character of the buildings rented. These buildings had most of them been private houses, and therefore they were only suited for private families, and as a matter of course almost one-half the space was thrown away wastefully. But this was not all. There must be office-keepers and messengers to each. Messengers were kept running about, and undoubtedly, besides the rent, a considerable sum was annually expended in this way. And for what? Why, that the public business might be inconvenienced, and carried on with much less satisfaction to those who had the conduct of it, and with much less advantage to the public, than if a considerable sum were at once expended in the erection of new buildings, the interest on the capital of which he believed would be less than the amount annually paid for rent. To afford their Lordships some idea of the inconvenience sustained under the present state of things, he would mention that, apart from the central office held by the Board of Trade which the President occupied, there were ten or eleven other offices elsewhere, in which the business of departments of the Board was carried on. It must be obvious that, under such circumstances, the President of the Board of Trade could not exercise control, or conduct business in a manner which the public had a right to require. The same observation applied to the War Department. He did not speak only of the great offices of the Horse Guards and the Ordnance, but of a number of small offices, such as the recruiting office, the medical inspector's office, the medical examination of recruits office, and others, all of which, being held in different buildings, were practically beyond that supervision and control by the Secretary at War, which the head of every department ought to have the means of exercising. The question, therefore, was not merely one of pounds, shillings, and pence, it was one of economy and efficiency; and for these reasons he believed it would be for the advantage of the public service that a considerable expenditure should be incurred for this purpose. The attention of the Government had been directed to the subject, but under existing circumstances he could give no pledge upon it. We were at this moment engaged in very expensive operations, and it must be matter for consideration how far it would be right or desirable to choose such a time for calling upon Parliament for such an expenditure. At the same time the expenditure would be right in itself, and he felt confident that the country would support any Government in proposing a Vote for this important object at the very earliest moment at which it could be proposed consistently with the other requisitions upon the people.


thought it desirable that there should be no delay. It was important the Government should come to some determination by next Session, for the land with old buildings might be procured cheaper now than at a future time, when new ones might perhaps have been erected; and if Government determined to become possessed of the property, they might name a certain time within which they should be at liberty to conclude the purchase, so as not to render any immediate expenditure necessary. He did not think it reasonable to keep such a matter hanging over the heads of the holders of the property for a lengthened period, but he suggested that five years might not be thought too long a time; and even if Government should pay the price at once, they need not pull down the houses, but might let them, and the rents would be more than sufficient to pay the interest of the money expended.

On Question, agreed to.

House adjourned till To-morrow.