HL Deb 19 April 1877 vol 233 cc1420-2

said, he was anxious to put a Question to Her Majesty's Government respecting certain statements which had appeared in the public journals as to the defective sanitary condition of certain of the Public Offices. It might be remembered that early in the year reports were in circulation that the state of the War Office was anything but satisfactory; and although one of the Under Secretaries of State somewhat hastily denied the accuracy of these complaints, the Report of a Commission specially appointed to investigate the state of affairs there more than substantiated the fact that the drains, the supply of fresh air, of pure water, and of gas, was in such a condition as to prejudice very materially the health of those whose daily duties compelled them to live in such a noxious atmosphere. Nor, if report were true, was this the only Public Office in an unhealthy sanitary condition. It was stated that portions of the main building of the Admiralty at Whitehall and of the Audit Office at Somerset House were in bad condition from bad drainage and other defective sanitary arrangements; while it was also a notorious fact that when the new block of buildings in Parliament Street was first occupied by the Home Office, Colonial Office, and Local Government Board, grave inconvenience was felt by the official inmates—indeed, it was said that the whole of the basement of one of these buildings was for a time flooded with liquid sewage. Whether this was really the case he would not presume to say; but, reading of these complaints, and being strongly of opinion that the health of those engaged daily in sedentary occupations in the public service ought not to be endangered, he took upon himself to ask Her Majesty's Government whether these statements were well-founded; and, if so, whether they proposed, either by appointing a Special Commission or by other steps, to ascertain who was responsible for these defects and what efficient remedy might be applied for their cure?


My Lords, the noble Lord has brought under our notice a subject of general interest. Certainly, the sanitary condition of this capital—perhaps I may say of this country—is not satisfactory; but in the particulars to which the noble Lord has drawn our attention I may give your Lordships some information which may lead you to believe that the noble Lord who has properly undertaken to introduce this subject has been induced to take too dark a view of the situation of affairs. It is very true, my Lords, that in consequence of some deaths—or, at least, of some illness—at the War Office a few months ago, attention was attracted to the sanitary conditions of the building. I immediately took upon myself to order a Commission, composed of distinguished and competent persons, to make inquiry into the state of the War Office, and to report upon it. They conducted this investigation with minute detail, and they made an ample report to the Treasury. That report has been made public, and is probably upon the Table of your Lordships' House. The Commission recommended many alterations which they thought should be made at the War Office. The Board of Works have been sedulously alive to the importance of the matter. Many of the recommendations of the Commission have been carried, or are in course of being carried, into effect. With regard to the Admiralty, that is not under the superintendence of the Board of Works. Among many other privileges, the Admiralty attends to its own buildings; and I am informed that so far as the main building is concerned there have been no complaints; but that complaints have arisen in regard to several of the houses in New Street occupied by the Admiralty. Steps have been taken by the Admiralty to investigate these complaints, but no report has as yet been made in regard to them; and I can only say that the moment the Admiralty receives that report they will pursue such a course as they may think expedient. The noble Lord (Viscount Enfield) also referred to the Audit Office at Somerset House. Now as regards ventilation, drainage, and other matters of that kind there is no doubt that the condition of the Audit Office and of Somerset House generally is no better than the great majority of the best buildings in London which are not of modern erection. No complaints have been made as to the Audit Office; but investigations have been made on several occasions lately by some of the technical members of the Board of Works into the condition of the Office, and they have reported that they have not found any such sanitary deficiencies as those to which the noble Lord has alluded. In regard to the new buildings at Whitehall, there is not the slightest doubt that in their original construction there was a great deficiency—a fatal deficiency —as regards the drainage; but when this was discovered immediate steps were taken of a remedial character, so that the present condition of these buildings is such as it ought to be. At the same time, Her Majesty's Government feel that this subject is one which demands their attention, and directions have been given to the Board of Works to prepare a sanitary report on all the public buildings under its inspection and, control. Your Lordships are aware that reports of that nature cannot be rapidly drawn up; minute details must be gone into, and no doubt alterations on an extensive scale will be requisite in order to introduce modern sanitary improvements. When the report is concluded it will be sent to the Treasury, and Her Majesty's Government will consider as to the steps that ought to be taken.


said, that speaking from his own experience with reference to the new Foreign Office, he thought there was great ground of complaint arising from the inefficient supervision exercised by the surveyors of the Board of Works. He recommended that the surveyors of the Board of Works should give more constant supervision to work in course of being executed by contractors for the public service.

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