HL Deb 13 July 1857 vol 146 cc1345-53

I rise to call the attention of the House to the correspondence between the Treasury and the Board of Works on the subject of the Ornamental Water in St. James's Park, and to the expenditure which has taken place, by way of improving, as it is said, that locality. When, six weeks ago, I asked my noble Friend opposite (Earl Granville), what the expense of that work would be and presumed to guess it would amount to £14,000, I was triumphantly answered by my noble Friend, who said that it would only cost £11,200. He further stated that there would be a great advantage and saving of public money by the expenditure now going on, as £900 a year now paid to the Chelsea Waterworks for water would thereby be saved. I further observed—and this is a much more serious part of the subject—that the expense had taken place without any authority whatever from Parliament; that a correspondence must, I suppose, have passed between the Treasury and the First Commissioner for Works, but that there appeared nothing in the Estimates to lead me to suppose that the money asked for had been voted by Parliament. Assuming these points, which were to a certain extent affirmed by the speech of my noble Friend opposite, I asked for returns showing why the expense had been undertaken so urgently and suddenly without the consent of Parliament, and I asked for the correspondence on the subject between the Treasury and the right hon. Baronet the Chief Commissioner for Works. My noble Friend promised this six weeks ago, and repeated that promise three weeks ago. I moved for it a week ago, but I have not since seen or heard anything about it. Fortunately, however, there is a correspondence which answered my purpose moved for by Sir Francis Baring in the House of Commons, and to this I beg to draw your Lordships' attention. My noble Friend opposite said that the ques- tion was a sanitary question, and that the expenditure was made on sanitary grounds. He said that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone had been besieged by protests against the unwholesome state of the water in St. James's Park. But Sir Benjamin Hall does not add to the correspondence any prayers from petitioners who, being within the reach of the miasma from this lake, complained of its unwholesome exhalations. Now, the public health was in peril, and that no time was to be lost, would have been the only justification for so unconstitutional a course as the expenditure of £11,000 upon the lake in St. James's Park, and £4,000 upon the drain, without the previous sanction of Parliament. But what is the history given by Sir Benjamin Hall himself of these works in these lakes, that of the Serpentine and that in St. James's Park? He says that originally there was a limpid stream flowing from Bayswater into the Serpentine, which, as he correctly says, was now turned into a sewer. That was a feeder, to a certain extent, of the water in St. James's Park. Naturally, then, as the population increased, these lakes required a supply of water from a different source. Accordingly, in 1840, the Government applied to the Chelsea Waterworks, who agreed to supply the Serpentine with a certain quantity of water at £600 a year. This is to be saved, it is said. But I am puzzled how £900, which my noble Friend says is to be saved out of the transaction, is to be saved out of £600. If my noble Friend can solve that problem I trust he will be Minister of Finance for this country to the last days of his life. It appeared to most people, and also to Sir Benjamin Hall, that the one obvious way of correcting the evil was to divert the polluted water derived from the drains which flowed into the Serpentine, and admit only the pure. But this alone was not sufficiently ambitious for the mind of the Chief Commissioner of Works. He went to other persons and asked what a much larger operation would cost—that of draining the lakes and paving them with a sort of concrete. Now, in 1835 the late Sir John Rennie was consulted on the subject, and he estimated the cost of purifying the lakes at £12,000. At a subsequent period, Mr. Mann, the gardener of the parks, estimated the cost at £25,000. These estimates were made during the modest and methodical Government of Lord John. Russell, when the Earl of Carlisle was at the Board of Works. But even these were rejected by Sir Charles Trevelyan. A very different answer was given to Sir Benjamin Hall. We are not now under a modest and methodical Government like that to which I have referred; we are under the rollicking rule of the noble Viscount, and the management of the metropolis is confided to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Marylebone. Under these circumstances, Mr. Mann's estimate for cleansing the Serpentine has risen to no less than £110,500, while that, for diverting the sewer is £22,000, and this does not include the lake in St. James's Park, for which a sum of £28,900 more is charged, and for diverting the sewer which runs under the Horse Guards £4,000 more; on the whole, £165,900 for these colossal operations of Sir Benjamin Hall. There is one thing I should have liked to see, and that is the face of Sir Charles Trevelyan when that estimate was handed in to him. If that face had had the power of Medusa's face when Sir Benjamin Hall handed it in, it would have turned him to stone, and we should at once have had a ready-made statue of the right hon. Baronet to immortalise him. The sum included in this estimate, I may remind your Lordships, is sufficient to pay four regiments, and to keep 4000 or 5000 bayonets for a whole year. I think it must be difficult for even a Whig Government to extract much money from Sir Charles Trevelyan. I know from experience that it is impossible to a Tory one. I think one of the greatest triumphs of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and it was an attempt in which I failed, was in succeeding in strengthening the staff of the Foreign Office, which was so much undermanned; but not only Sir Charles Trevelyan, but Mr. Wilson was startled at the prospect of £165,000, and came forward with the common-place suggestion that they should begin by diverting the Bayswater sewer. The right hon. Baronet then went and asked for other estimates, on which Mr. Mann reduced the estimate to £65,000, being £100,000 less than the first. This is only important as showing how much money men can spend when they are perfectly reckless. Well, on the 27th of August, 1856, the Treasury gave leave to spend £16,000 on cleansing the lake in St. James's Park. But Sir Benjamin Hall said that the Commissioners of Sewers must divert the sewer, so that after all the real evil still remained to correct. Then there was a hiatus in the correspondence. But on the 27th August the Treasury say that they will make the advance necessary for the purpose in anticipation of the vote to be taken in the Estimates of the following year. But I do not find, as there should be, any letter from the Pay Office authorising that statement, and stating from what fund the money was to be taken. This, then, raises a very serious constitutional question—whether it should be permitted for any Minister, however urgent the case may be, to spend money without the authority of Parliament? I deny the urgency in this case. How is the pond situated? There is Buckingham Palace at one end; there is Carlton Terrace on the north side, Birdcage Walk, and the Wellington Barracks on the south, and on the east there are the official residences of many of the Ministers and the public offices. I should like to see any of the complaints that come from any of these parties. Now I will mention the names of some of those who live in that neighbourhood, and the House will judge whether these persons have suffered much from the miasma. I will take my noble Friends the Earl of Clarendon, the Duke of Leinster, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Prussian Minister, Earl Lonsdale, Lord Overstone, and others, and I will ask my noble Friend opposite whether he sees in any of those gentlemen the signs of premature decay. Most of them are his intimate friends. Has he been alarmed for their lives? Can he state that any of these gentlemen or their neighbours have intimated any fear for their health, or any apprehensions of the value of their property being deteriorated in consequence of the state of the lake in St. James's Park? Then, what is the case with respect to Whitehall—the noble Viscount at the head of the Government having long lived there. The Comptroller of the Exchequer, I believe, lives in Birdcage Walk. I believe that there are no haunts more healthy than those of the squares in that locality. Therefore I cannot think what excuse the right hon. Baronet could have had to violate one of the most sacred rules of the constitution, not to spend a shilling without a vote in Parliament. The moment a Minister is allowed to divert money from one purpose to another, there is no reason why £5,000 or £10,000 voted for an object unanimously approved of, should not be applied to an object on which no two people had the same opinion. It is impossible to say what may be done by a daring Minister like the one at the head of the Government if this be permitted. He may get into one of those little disputes which sometimes arise in the course of his Administration. He may begin and carry on a war without asking Parliament for money or for leave to undertake it. And then when Parliament meets again, the Minister may turn, round to the House of Commons, as he has done, and say, "You owe me £500,000." I am sorry to say that the House of Commons was so treated, and what is more, that it submitted quietly to such treatment. What I object to is more money being asked for than is wanted. Money should be asked for on account, as works are proceeded with. That is the only way you can check public functionaries. In 1849, the late Lord Auckland thought it necessary that a dockyard should be established at Pembroke. In carrying out the works he exceeded the Estimates. The late Mr. Hume then moved a Resolution, which was adopted by the House of Commons, in which, after setting forth that the expenditure in the naval department had, for the years 1847–48 exceeded the appropriations by £300,000, and that that on the Pembroke dockyard was £52,000 in excess, it was declared that that House concurred in the opinion expressed by the Treasury with regard to the great excess of expenditure under the control of the Admiralty, and that it was of opinion that the proper course was to postpone the enrolment of men after the money voted by Parliament was expended, and not to engage in any fresh expenditure after that sum was exhausted. This is one of the Resolutions that had been adopted by the House of Commons, and it appears to me that nothing but recklessness or vanity could induce a Minister to disobey it. No reasonable sum of money for a useful purpose, if asked for in the ordinary way, would be refused by Parliament; and it is not because a Minister may have a particular fancy for one thing or another that he can, without consulting anybody, undertake such works as these. The right hon. Baronet in the present case, following his own caprice, has dipped his hand into the public pocket, trusting to the indulgence of Parliament for its repayment.


said, he thought that his noble Friend had attached too much importance to the matter. The delay of which the noble Earl complained in the production of the papers for which he moved was occasioned by an irregularity. By some omission or another no formal order was given at the time the papers were moved for. The formal order was only given on the 6th July, and the papers were not in the hands of the printer on the 9th of July. The noble Earl had complained of the nature of the works in St. James's Park, and of the expense incurred in respect of them, without the assent of Parliament. He had, on a former occasion, complained of the character of the water, which he said would be dirtier instead of cleaner, and that the ducks would all die. Now, on the 19th of June there was a great thunder-storm, and the rain fell in such violence as to sweep a great deal of dirt on both sides into the lake, and consequently the lake remained for some time in a bad state. A few days after that occurrence his noble Friend gave notice that he would call their attention to the state of the water and the works generally carrying on in the park. The noble Earl no doubt felt that he had a triumphant case from the state of the water; but very soon after the water was purified; and it was now impossible for any one walking by the side of the lake not to see the improvement which had taken place. With regard to the strong point in the noble Earl's complaint, namely, the amount of expenditure upon those improvements without Parliamentary sanction, he begged to remind his noble Friend that since he had first brought the subject under the consideration of their Lordships no less than two discussions upon the matter had taken place in the other House of Parliament, and after a careful consideration of it, the right hon. Baronet himself having had an opportunity of explaining his conduct, the House of Commons was induced to acquiesce in the measure, and expressed the opinion generally that the right hon. Baronet had acted judiciously in having saved the country an expenditure of £5,000, and had effected most excellent arrangements. The question having been thus satisfactorily settled, he thought it rather too much to have the subject again opened. The Estimate having been agreed to by the other House it was scarcely competent for the noble Earl to renew the matter. He did not object to the noble Earl applying epithets generally to those from whom he differed, but at the same time he thought it somewhat unworthy of him to apply the words "rollicking rule" to the conduct of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. What he also complained of was, the noble Earl attacking civil servants of the Crown, who were not there to defend themselves. The noble Earl made an accusation against Sir Charles Trevelyan, in saying that while that officer was willing to afford every assistance to a Whig Government he was indisposed to give any aid to a Tory Government.


I said nothing whatever that could be considered disrespectful of Sir Charles Trevelyan. I stated that when I had the honour of a seat in the Cabinet there were many improvements in the Foreign Office, which, notwithstanding I had much trouble about, I was unable to have carried out. Those improvements were subsequently carried out by my noble Friend opposite, and nobody could be more rejoiced at it than myself. I stated that fact in connection with the assistance sought for from Sir Charles Trevelyan, but not in a manner disrespectful to Sir Charles Trevelyan.


thought that Sir Charles Trevelyan was quite right in the first instance to raise as many objections as possible to the expenditure of the public money. As the noble Earl had referred to the Government of which he formed a part, he might remind him, too, that there was a certain right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Government of his noble Friend (the Earl of Derby), and, nevertheless, the noble Earl the other night, apparently forgetting that fact, said that he could have no confidence in any Chancellor of the Exchequer who was of the Jewish persuasion. Whether the Jewish extraction of Mr. Disraeli weakened the confidence of the noble Earl in that right hon. Gentleman he did not know; but with regard to Sir Charles Trevelyan, he did not think that that distinguished civil servant ever asked whether an improvement emanated from Whig or Tory Government, but examined the proposal wholly on its own merits; nor did he think that any of the civil servant of the Crown were open to such a charge. In respect to the sanitary portion of the question, he was of opinion it was impossible that they could have a lake of water in a stagnant stinking state without it being unsalubrious to the people residing in its neighbourhood. The right hon. Baronet (Sir B. Hall), while acting as Pre- sident of the Board of Health, had paid great attention to this subject, and was firmly convinced, by consultation with certain medical officers, that great inconvenience had arisen from the insalubrity of the water in the park. He dared to say he saw the matter in a different light from that of the noble Earl, who could spend half the year in the country; but he confessed he felt a sympathy for the 2,500,000 of his fellow-citizens who were crowded together in this vast city. St. James's Park was one of the few open places for the population to enjoy a little recreation in, and he believed it to be the duty of the Government to take every measure possible to render those public places salubrious as well as agreeable to them. He deplored that local patriotism which confined its attention to one particular part of the metropolis. For example, they hardly knew in the west-end what they were doing at the east-end. When an arrangement had been made with the Crown as to the Crown revenues he thought that the Government were doubly bound to see those public parks kept up in a proper and salubrious state. He was quite sure that the public generally approved of the strenuous efforts which the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Works was making for the improvement of the metropolitan parks.


said, he had never heard any complaints made of the unhealthiness of the water in the park even during the visitation of cholera. He thought that a constitutional offence had been committed in a misappropriation of the public money by diverting it from the purposes for which it was intended, and applying it to other purposes for which it was not voted. If money had been wanted for this purpose, it might have been obtained in a legitimate manner. No doubt Sir Benjamin Hall's conduct, his spirit, and his desire to discharge the functions of President of the Board of Health entitled him to the gratitude of the people of this country, and it was natural that he should bring into the Board of Works the feelings which had been excited in the office he had left. Sir Benjamin Hall came into office in July, and he did not blame him for not coming to Parliament in the short interval between July and August; but when he found that these improvements were required, he ought to have applied to the Treasury to make an advance from the fund placed at their disposal for civil contingencies. He might thus have obtained funds enough to complete these improvements instead of pursuing a course which was certainly not constitutional. Their Lordships were not free from the obligation to watch over the expenditure of the public money with as much jealousy as if they were representatives of the people. They would find that in 1856 the Board of Works were authorized to undertake the formation of the sewer. The natural course was in 1856 to have laid the whole question before Parliament. He believed that some inconvenience was occasioned by the sudden death of an officer of the department, but this would not account for adding several thousand pounds to the former outlay. The matter was brought before Parliament after the event, nor would the Vote of 1856 affect the misappropriation of money in 1855. Her Majesty's Government in the other House had admitted the irregularity of the whole proceeding, but the noble Earl had passed it over with graceful negligence, as if it were a matter of no importance.


had admitted that the subject was one which might very properly occupy the attention of their Lordships.