HL Deb 03 July 1854 vol 134 cc1008-19

said, that according to the notice which he had given, he wished to call the attention of the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government, to a few remarks that he was desirous of making with respect to a rumour which he had heard, and believed was generally prevalent, to the effect that the new Secretary of War, with his staff, was about to be put into the office now occupied by the Inclosure Commissioners in Whitehall Gardens. Of course it was necessary that the new Secretary of State should have every facility afforded him, and all proper room given to him, so as to be enabled to transact the very important duties connected with his office without inconvenience; but he thought he should be able to show that a great sacrifice of public interest would be made if such a change as that which this rumour reported as contemplated should really be carried out and effected; and he hoped that the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government would satisfy himself as to the correctness of his remarks by taking an opportunity personally to inspect the office of the Inclosure Commissioners and the documents that were there kept. This office was one of the most useful and most efficiently managed and arranged of our great public offices, and it contained within its walls upwards of 50,000 documents of the greatest value, and, among other papers, had about 20,000 tithe maps, all of which had been drawn up at the office of the Inclosure Commissioners, and were in every way carefully arranged, and correct even to the most minute particulars. Any of their Lordships might visit that office when they pleased, and in a few minutes could see, for a shilling, any of these maps, and for fifteen shillings could have any one of the maps traced, and thus obtain for a trifling sum what they could not in many instances otherwise obtain, except at a cost of 70l. or 80l. There were also most important documents in the office of the Inclosure Commissioners respecting the exchanges which had taken place under the Inclosure Act, the operations under which were now very simple and moderate—as a proof of which he could mention that in many cases the average expense of the office fees for the exchange of an estate amounted only to something like 4l. The Inclosure Act had, in fact, proved such a boon to the public generally that he should be sorry to see its operation in any way interfered with or disturbed. There was another department of the building which the Inclosure Commissioners occupied that was set apart and made use of solely for the custody of original documents; and these documents were now so arranged that they could be at once inspected by applying at the office, and this at a very small and comparatively trifling expense. There were also other papers of great public importance, with respect to drainage and other matters connected with the Inclosure Act, which it had taken many months to arrange in their present excellent order—an order which could not be too highly commended, particularly as it was equally distributed throughout every department of the office. For these reasons lie had heard with great regret the rumour that the new War Office was to be established in the building now occupied by the Inclosure Commissioners, and that the Inclosure Commissioners were to be turned out and put into a house in St. James's Square. In that case, all the documents to which he had referred would have to be moved out from the places where they were now deposited and so well arranged, and would have to be stored again m some new place, and be again arranged. Putting aside the trouble and inconvenience of moving them, it was to be remembered that, while the operation was taking place, it would be absolutely impossible that the public business could be carried on as usual, and it would be impossible for the public to make use of the documents in the office in the same way as they did now, at least for some considerable time; so that very great inconvenience would be felt in every way, and business of great importance checked and interfered with. It would be at least a year or eighteen months before any new office could be properly fitted up for the Inclosure Commissioners, and before the documents could be put in order and arranged. He wished also to suggest to the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government that, if any such change was really in contemplation, the greatest care should be taken that a place of safety and security was selected for the disposal and custody of these documents—an advantage which the present building so thoroughly possessed. If this were simply a question as to Whitehall Gardens or St. James's Square, there was little doubt that it would be much less inconvenient to send the new Secretary of State to St. James's Square than to remove the Inclosure Commissioners from their present house; and he believed the greatest mischief would follow if an endeavour was made to pull to pieces, by interfering with it, this important office, which it had taken so much time to arrange in proper order, and to make it in every way so thoroughly efficient as it undoubtedly was. Taking, therefore, into consideration that the public would be prevented, for at least a year and a half or two years, from having access to the documents of this office, and from all advantage of referring to them, he considered that he was not asking too much when he requested the noble Earl opposite to consider the subject again, and also to make every inquiry to ascertain whether it would not be possible to find proper accommodation for the new Secretary of State without causing so much inconvenience as this removal of the Inclosure Commissioners would occasion. He (the Earl of Malmesbury) had no desire to trespass upon their Lordships' time at any great length, but while he was upon this subject he would take the opportunity of alluding to another matter which he considered might not improperly be brought before their Lordships' attention at the present time. He wished the noble Earl would state whether the Government intended to do anything with respect to repairing or rebuilding the Foreign-office. Their Lordships well knew that it was dreadfully out of repair. He had never seen anything worse than it had been for some years past. The roof looked as if it might fall at any moment, and certainly he must say that the building was not only an eyesore, but a positive disgrace to the Government and the country. Parliament in its generosity had, or supposed that it had, given to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the First Lord of the Treasure, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the First Lord of the Admiralty a house to live in and carry on their business. But such was not the case. Formerly, indeed, the Foreign Secretary had resided there, but that had not been since the days of Canning. In those days the business of the office did not exceed some 7,000 or 8,000 despatches per annum. Now, owing to its great increase, they amounted to 33,000 in a year. This, of course, necessitated an increase of clerks, and, in fact, the office was so filled and occupied that it could not be inhabited by the Secretary of State. That inconvenience, however, though great, being a personal one to the Secretary of State, he should not dwell upon. The duties of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs were in a cer- tain way more onerous than those of any other Minister, except the Prime Minister. Other Ministers, whether hospitably inclined or not, were not positively obliged to go through a great quantity of receptions and entertainments, which the Foreign Secretary was compelled to do, and ought to do if he performed his duty. Their Lordships might remember some observations which fell from Lord Palmerston when he was examined before the Committee of the House of Commons upon this subject, and he thought they would agree with the noble Lord when he said that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs carried on almost as much business by conversation with Foreign Ministers in society as he did in Ids own room. What was the state of the Foreign-office now within its walls? There was only one room in which the Minister could receive company. The diplomatic corps alone amounted to upwards of 100 persons. He was at times obliged to invite distinguished foreign, and even Royal visitors; and it certainly was, he thought, the least that could be expected of this country that they should provide such a place of reception as other countries and other Governments possessed, when those illustrious persons honoured the Secretary of State with their presence. That office was in such a ruinous state that he recollected that two years ago the ceiling of the room in which the Secretary of State sat fell in. It could not be better now that it was two years older. The only room that was fit for receptions was, as his noble Friend opposite knew perfectly well, so unsafe that if he gave a party it was obliged to be propped up, or none of his friends would dare to go near the place. It was regularly propped up upon those occasions, and, in order to prop it up and to make those provisions which were necessary for safety whenever the Secretary of State gave a party, the whole office was unhinged. The two Under Secretaries were obliged to turn out of their rooms, and a great many other functionaries were compelled to do the same thing. The large room in which the private secretaries sat must be rearranged, and the whole office was turned upside down, because there Was absolutely in that office no place where the Secretary of State could receive company, unless he turned out all official persons. Even then, he could not give a dinner at his office, because, as his noble Friend opposite must be aware, there was no kitchen. Really, considering the generosity of this country and the liberality of Parliament in all our public works, and in the treatment of public functionaries generally, he thought it was very disgraceful that the Foreign-office should remain in its present state, an eyesore to passers-by and a discredit in the estimation of foreigners to the Government and the service. He should be extremely glad to hear that a new Foreign-office was about to be built, large enough to accommodate the staff of the office, and to provide for the safe keeping of its important documents; and he should be very glad, whatever salary Parliament might attach to the office of Secretary of State, that they should, in respect to their residence, be placed upon a footing similar to that adopted abroad, and have an hotel in which they should find everything necessary for them belonging to the public, and which, when they quitted, they should leave to their successors in the same state as when they had entered.


said, that when it was found expedient to separate the office of Secretary of State for the War Department from that for the Colonies, it of course became necessary to find some convenient position in which the duties of the new office should be carried on. Their Lordships would easily conceive that it was of great importance that the office of the Secretary of War should be in the immediate neighbourhood of Downing Street and the Horse Guards. There were only two buildings which could comply with that condition—the building called Gwydyr House, and that in which the Inclosure Commissioners carried on their business. Gwydyr House was occupied by the Poor Law Commission, which was in constant communication with the Home Office; and, as the Chief Commissioner was in the House of Commons, and the business was very much connected with the House of Commons, it would have been extremely inconvenient to remove that office to any distance. With the Inclosure Commissioners there was not the same inconvenience. They had no constant communication with any other office or with the House of Commons, and it was thought that they might, without any material disadvantage, be removed to a house which they themselves had strongly pressed on the Board of Works as peculiarly suitable for them in St. James's Square. Of course any removal must be attended, more or less, with evils. He had not himself seen it, but he had no doubt that the description given by the noble Earl of the manner in which all those documents which he had described were arranged in the Inclosure Office was perfectly accurate. At the same time he could not believe that he was correct in supposing that it would require two years to rearrange those documents in a proper manner. He should have thought that two months would be more likely than two years. It was a mechanical operation which certainly could be performed, with care, without any very great injury to the documents, and with no danger whatever. However that might be, he believed that the matter had been very fully considered by the Treasury, and he should doubt if there would be any such inconvenience as the noble Earl had pointed out, more particularly when it was recollected that the building which was appropriated to the Inclosure Commissioners was the very one which they themselves had chosen before they were removed from Somerset House as peculiarly applicable for their office. He would, however, inquire more minutely into the amount of inconvenience and difficulty, and if the noble Earl's surmise should prove to be correct, he would see what alteration could be made in the arrangements. With respect to the other subject which had been referred to by the noble Earl, he must say that he had been but too accurate in the description which he had given of it. The state of the Foreign-office of this country was disgraceful, and even dangerous, as he well knew from experience many years ago. Of course, notwithstanding the annual inspection which it underwent by competent persons, with the view not to repair, but to ascertain its safety, it must become worse instead of better. The rents and settlements in the building were really quite alarming to look at. At the same time, although this was a subject which had engaged the attention of various Governments, he could not say that Her Majesty's Government were prepared to propose to Parliament at this moment any plans or any grant for a new building. Plans were in course of preparation for a new building, and they possibly might be completed in the course of the summer; but he was not prepared to say that the Government were now in a position to propose to Parliament the necessary grant for the purpose of carrying out those plans. He hoped, however, before the noble Earl came into office again, that the place would be quite fit for his reception.


said, notwithstanding the picture which his noble Friend has drawn of the dangerous condition of the Foreign-office, it had lasted as long as the Treaty of Adrianople. He doubted, however, whether either would last for twenty-five years longer. They had been told last year that they were to expect a great triumph of diplomacy, and he had ventured at that time to say that, if diplomacy should, indeed, secure the continuance of peace, he should think better of it than he had ever done before. Nothing, however, had occurred hitherto to improve the opinion which, during a long course of years, he had entertained with respect to the efficacy of pure diplomacy. But this he thought perfectly clear, that if diplomacy should achieve the triumph which had been predicted, and secure the tranquillisation of Europe, some building like that which had been referred to by the noble Earl should be erected in order to enable the Foreign Secretary to celebrate that triumph, and to entertain the hundred guests who had been alluded to by his noble Friend. But, in the meantime, lie confessed that he concurred in the opinion which he understood to have been expressed by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Aberdeen), that it would be very improper to spend a large sum of money—it could not be less, he presumed, than 70,000l. or 80,000l.—in building a magnificent house for the accommodation of the Foreign-office at a time when they required the whole of their available income for the purpose of terminating the war. He could not help thinking, with all respect to the noble Earl, that that sum expended in war would be much more serviceable than the same sum expended in diplomacy, or in any purposes which might make diplomacy more brilliant. At the same time he entirely concurred with the noble Earl near him (the Earl of Malmesbury) in the objection which he had taken to the removal of the Inclosure Commissioners. It appeared to him to entail a great public inconvenience, at the same time that he saw no necessity for its removal. He must say that he thought a house in St. James's Square, or upon Carlton House Terrace, or any decent gentleman's house in that neighbourhood, would be entirely adequate to all the re- quirements of the Secretary for the War Department, and of that branch of the public service over which the Secretary for the War Department was to preside. But there was another question besides that of the house in which he was to be located, and that was by whom he was to be assisted. He had ventured sense weeks ago—before the separation of the War and Colonial Departments had been determined on—to suggest that what the new Secretary would require would be a military staff, and not a staff of civil clerks. The men who would be really useful to bins would be military men—men who had seen service in different parts of the world, and in the various arms of which the service was composed—cavalry, infantry, artillery, and engineers—and who would be able to bring some recent experience to the assistance or the chiefs of the office. He thought this of the more importance, because he was quite sure that as long as our Constitution practically required that the officer at the head of that department should be a civilian, it was essential to his efficient control of the military departments under him that he should be assisted by military men of weight and authority in the country. If he should not be assisted by their advice—if he should not have the weight and authority which he would derive from the facility of constantly communicating with them—not as a Board, not as his equals, but as persons bound to advise him, and responsible for the advice which they would be bound to give—he was perfectly satisfied that all the advantages which the country expected to derive from the severance of the two offices would not be obtained. He had been desirous of saying something more in connection with the subject, but in the absence of the noble Duke (the Duke of Newcastle) he did not think it would be right to do so.


hoped that nothing would be done in the way of building until some great design for laying out that portion of the metropolis in the vicinity of the Houses and of the Government offices was fairly considered, because it was impossible, when the building in which they were assembled should be finished in its full magnificence, that Parliament Street should remain in its present state. At present it really was not safe, owing to the narrowness both of the carriage way and footpaths. It was obvious, if anything were to be done to render the approach to the Houses what it ought to be, that Parliament Street must be widened, and the whole of the ground known as King Street, now covered with extremely inferior buildings, made to form part of that approach. Nothing could be more inconvenient than the extremely scattered state of the public departments of this country. The expense of enlarging, raising the roofs, and so on, was very great, and he believed that real economy would be found to consist in getting all the buildings together in that spot, which was unquestionably a most convenient one. This might be done by continuing the line of new Government offices in a straight direction, from the corner of Downing Street to Great George Street, and pulling down the block of houses upon the west side of Parliament Street. Unless they did that, the approach to the new Houses of Parliament would be very inferior to the Houses themselves.


said, that he understood there was a plan in contemplation; but he hoped, at all events, that the courts of law at Westminster would not be permitted to remain in their present state. Something must be done, if it were only for the sake of the Houses of Parliament, for they considerably obstructed the completion of Sir Charles Barry's great plan, and their removal had been always contemplated. But something must be done, also, for the sake of the decent administration of justice. He wanted no splendour, no luxury, but he did want what was essential for the accommodation of the witnesses and jurymen; for at present there was no accommodation either for witnesses, jurymen, or judges. As a sample of the present state of things, he might mention that within the last ten days three of his learned brethren sitting in the Bail Court—he was himself absent at the time, in the discharge of public duties elsewhere—had been in danger of their lives; for there was an invasion, not of the Russians, but of a stench that was sublime. Their Lordships were aware that Mr. Burke stated, in his Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful, that an intense stench was a source of the Sublime, and this, to which he was alluding, really was a sublime stench, for, so intense was it, that the Judges were obliged to fly from it as from an enemy seeking their destruction. If any of their Lordships would go there they would be the better qualified to form an opinion on the subject. It was sublime, but it was pestiferous. He, being chief of his court, was relieved from sitting there, but his learned brethren were obliged to go there very frequently, from day to day, and it really was absolutely necessary something should be done. From the situation he had the honour to occupy, he often came in contact with jurists from the different States of America, and he had been quite ashamed to show them where the sittings of our courts were held. Those persons had expressed their astonishment that, on coming to the mother-country, they had found the accommodation so very inferior, not only to that which was provided in New York, but to that which was to be found in other States of much less importance. He repeated that the Judges had no desire for luxury or for architectural ornament, but he did trust there would be a building provided, with something like proper accommodation and good ventilation, in which they might sit without danger to their lives.


said, accommodation might be found for the common law courts at Westminster, by locating the equity courts elsewhere, and transferring the common law courts to their rooms, without carrying out the scheme which he believed was contemplated in some guarters, but which Parliament had never sanctioned, for extending the new Houses of Parliament, at a very considerable expense, and eventually in closing Palace Yard.


said, the Judges of the Exchequer Chamber, having complained of the inconvenience of sitting in the Bail Court, had applied for leave to sit in the Court of Chancery, and permission had immediately been granted, and he understood that they had been sitting there.


said, it had always been in contemplation that the buildings in which the courts of law were held should not remain after the Houses of Parliament had been completed, although there was of course great difficulty as to the time and manner of making arrangements for their removal.


wished to remind the noble Earl at the head of the Government that the choice of the Inclosure Commissioners to which he referred scarcely answered his remonstrances, as it was made previously to the last removal. If the noble Earl would but take the trouble to see the Commissioners themselves, and make inquiry as to the proposed arrangements, he was sure he would be convinced that he was not exaggerating when he said that more than a year would be necessary to do over again all that would be undone, and there could be no doubt that in the meantime the business of the Commissioners would be very much impeded. With respect to the Foreign-office, which was now referred to the Greek kalends, all he would say was, that he feared lest some day it might come down and bury some Members of Her Majesty's Government in its ruins.


could not allow the references which had been made to the new Houses of Parliament to pass without observing, that he and those who thought with him had not changed the opinions which they had formed from the commencement of these buildings. They were by no means converted by the great success which had attended the execution of the plan, for they still retained the same mental objection as ever to the barbarism of having erected a Gothic instead of a Grecian building in the middle of the nineteenth century.

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