HL Deb 25 February 1886 vol 302 cc1170-4

My Lords, it will take but a few minutes to explain and justify the Notice I have given, as the subject has been made familiar on various occasions to your Lordships. The immediate, or, at least, the urgent fact is, that the demolition of Spring Gardens has begun, and that on Monday a deputation is about to approach Her Majesty's Government from the Institute of Architects and point out the course which ought to be adopted. That deputation may, of course, convince the Government, as many persons are convinced already, that it is better for the Public Offices Site Act to continue in abeyance, as it did, to his lasting credit, the whole time that the noble Marquess who now leads the Opposition presided in the Councils of Her Majesty. The arguments against the Public Offices Site Act are too well-known to be enumerated. However, the most conclusive did not come into existence until the Act was carried, and therefore could not weigh with Parliament against it. It is the revelation of last August, under the late Government, that 10 years would be consumed in the work to be executed; that during all that time the Parade and Horse Guards would be disfigured; that during all that time a portion of Carlton House Terrace would be insupportable to residents, and useless in the market; that during all that time, in any year, the work might be arrested by the taste or the economy of Parliament, and thus remain a fragmentary monument both of extravagance and penury. If the House permits me, I will explain at once how the demolition of Spring Gardens, which your Lordships are intreated to arrest until the 1st of March, bears upon the case and tends to carry with it the remainder of the project. The whole defence of the Public Offices Site Act rested on what I have already mentioned—namely, the inadequate accommodation of the War Office. That accommodation ought at once to be extended. It can be at once extended by a plan I mentioned here, and have since urged on the late Government. There is in Spring Gardens an unofficial residence—it belonged to the late Sir William Gomm—of such dimensions that the Commander-in-Chief and Adjutant General with their respective Staffs might easily be placed in it. It is well situated between Pall Mall and the Horse Guards; it has abundant space for archives; it is available for the purposes of Government. The object of the Public Offices Site Act might thus be rapidly attained, not at the end, but at the beginning of a decade. But if the demolition now commenced goes forward, in a few days that residence may vanish altogether. Further steps will then be indispensable to give the War Office a refuge. It is true that even then it will have nothing to look forward to until 10 years have passed; and if that interval does not exhaust the life or patience of its inmates, the prospect of relief may be withdrawn in any of the Sessions—not always smooth, perhaps—which have to be encountered. My Lords, I do not charge the actual Government with any blind intention to precipitate the measure against a view so evidently reasonable. It never had a strenuous advocate within their circle beyond Mr. Shaw Lefevre, whose inability to find a seat in any part of the United Kingdom sufficiently expresses the opinion of the country with regard to it. What I am led to think the Government will dwell upon is the necessity, at any price, in any manner, of giving labour to the unemployed, whose wants endanger the Metropolis. But it should be remembered that a scheme of this kind would do little for the East of London, where the greatest scarcity prevails. Public Offices require skilled and special labour, which is not abundant in that region. To relieve distress within it much better schemes might be imagined. A tunnel between Rotherhithe and Shadwell has been often canvassed, and the embankment of the Thames on the Southern side has yet to be accomplished. In any case, it is not desirable to paralyze and to forestall the deputation, which must throw light on the course it is expedient to adopt. It may possibly be said that the materials are sold to a contractor, who is entitled to remove them. They ought not to have been sold to a contractor, when the whole project has so little in its favour, and when the electors—so far as we can judge—have so decidedly condemned it. But, even in that case, to deal with the contractor on the basis of an amicable settlement, might not be beyond the reach of Ministerial ability. The First Lord of the Treasury would not be unequal to the problem. It might exercise the virgin mind—virgin on finance—of the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have but one more remark by which, if possible, to urge your Lordships into interference against the demolition of Spring Gardens before the architects are listened to. Although, technically, the Public Offices Site Bill went into the Statute Book, it really never had the sanction of your Lordships. No division happened. I am responsible myself, and have before now explained the circumstances. But, while by accident, there was not a decision, in every debate opinion, argument, authority, were growing on the side unfavourable to the measure. It would well become the House, so far as they are able, to rectify a judgement inadvertently pronounced, and which the actual House of Commons has not in any way subscribed to.

Moved to resolve— That in the opinion of this House no further steps either of demolition or construction ought to be taken under the Public Offices Site Act before Her Majesty's Government have heard the deputation from the Institute of Architects, arranged to take place on the 1st of March next."—(The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


said, he was not aware that the work of demolition had commenced until he saw this Motion. He had given Notice that he would move a Resolution on the 5th of March that nothing should be done until after a discussion on the subject. He should be compelled to alter his Resolution accordingly.


said, the noble Lord (Lord Stratheden and Campbell) had been a consistent, he might almost say a persistent, opponent of the new site for Public Offices, and the noble Lord had submitted a modest proposal in regard to it—that no steps either of demolition or construction ought to be taken before Monday nest. He need not tell the House that there was no great chance of anything being done in the way of construction before Monday next. But as to demolition, in consequence of measures already taken, an Act of Parliament passed and money voted by the House of Commons, the materials of the houses in Spring Gardens had actually been sold, and the contractors were already removing materials of houses which no longer belonged to the Government. Therefore, it was absolutely impossible to arrest the progress of the demolitions until Monday next. He thought the House would be satisfied with that explanation at present, The noble Lord opposite (Lord Lamington) had just told the House that he was about to raise a debate on the whole question in the course of next week. At that time he would be happy to give any information in his power, and the Government would then have heard what the Institute of Architects had to say on the subject. He did not think there was any probability of an alteration of the site which had been already fixed on.


in reply, said, that he would not divide the House unless he had an intimation that noble Lords upon the other side were ready to adopt the Motion, as his noble Friend (Lord Lamington) who sat among them had been prompt in its support. The noble Lord who spoke for Her Majesty's Government had urged nothing but the argument contract, to which he (Lord Stratheden and Campbell) had replied already. He would further remind the Government that to indemnify contractors they had by the Vote of last year £10,000 in their possession which might have no other use, as it was far from certain that a further Vote would be conceded to them. If, however, the Government persisted in demolishing Spring Gardens, he could only offer a respectful but emphatic protest against the course they had decided on.

Motion (by leave of the House) with drawn.