HL Deb 11 August 1885 vol 300 cc1716-8

in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether they are ready to postpone further action on the Public Offices Sites Act until the General Election has occurred, said: My Lords, the form of this Question is not very material. It is obviously intended to retard as long as possible the action of the Government on the Public Offices Site Act. The Public Offices Site Act cannot be carried out without the use of funds for demolition and construction. It is under a suspensive veto of the Treasury. What I contend is merely that the suspensive veto ought to be prolonged. None of the plans exhibited last year for a new Admiralty and War Office were considered satisfactory. None of them have been sanctioned, at least by either House of Parliament. The Act may fairly be retarded, because it passed this House by inadvertency and accident. It was intended to divide the House on the third reading, as opinion against the Bill was constantly increasing; but when the third reading came the House was nearly empty. The late Government, last year, adopted cheerfully the counsel which I gave, and which I give their Successors this evening—to take no steps whatever in the autumn with regard to it. The arguments against the Act have often been enumerated by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, by the noble Lord (Lord Lamington), and others. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Wemyss), although not a Member of this House when the Bill was passing through it, in different forms has actively opposed it. The real fact is, that there was but one pretext for going on with it—namely, the actual insufficiency and inconvenience of the War Office. For that evil a far more prompt and better remedy presents itself than a new edifice which it would take a decade to complete, while millions were absorbed in it. In Spring Gardens most of the houses are transmuted into offices. It might at once give a portion of the War Office the accommodation which is wanted. In that event, the Public Offices Site Act would not have a shadow of foundation, as it tends to destroy the Admiralty, which ought to be preserved; to overshadow the Horse Guards, which ought to be conspicuous; to injure wantonly the residences in Carlton House Terrace, which ought to be defended; and to renounce the Great George Street site, which ought to be embellished and made use of. I do not ask the Government to commit themselves imprudently, but to keep the subject in abeyance until a new Parliament is formed, or until unobjectionable plans have been exhibited. Let me add only that when the Bill passed it could not be urged, as it can at present, that a season of financial deficit is not the moment for ambiguous and unnecessary outlay. The noble Lord concluded by asking the Question of which he had given Notice.


in reply, said, that for a considerable number of years there was a strong desire, and, indeed, a necessity, for making better and more commodious arrangements with respect to the Public Offices as regarded the Admiralty and War Offices. The question had been dis- cussed several times, and various plans had been proposed. At last a scheme was prepared by the Government of the day and accepted in the early part of this Session. Indeed, the scheme was practically decided on last year. A Minute was passed by the Treasury, and a scheme prepared settling the terms of competition for the erection of the new Offices. Those terms had been observed, and the persons to whom the award was given were informed that they would be employed, provided Parliament did not dissent from the scheme. The matter was discussed last April, and a division taken by which the scheme was affirmed by a majority of about two to one. The scheme was now in course of execution, and it would not be reasonable or fair to the gentlemen concerned to withdraw from it now. The scheme was undertaken with the perfect consciousness that this was the last Session of Parliament; and the matter having been thoroughly thrashed out, he did not see any reason for postponement. It was proposed at present to go on with the demolition of the buildings it was intended to clear away. That would take some time; and if the new Parliament considered it desirable to make any change in the plans, they would have every opportunity of doing so.