said, he rose to move—
The Thames Embankment was the result rather of a long series of negotiations, and of Royal Commissions which preceded the Act of 1862, than of the operations of any distinct body of men. In 1860, a Committee of that House sat on the question of an Embankment on the north shore of the Thames, in connection with an improved system of sewerage for the metropolis, and that Committee recommended that the river should be embanked, and the works, now on the point of completion, commenced. In 1861, a Royal Commission was empowered to take evidence and consider plans which were laid before it for the purchase of such Embankment. In 1862, a Select Committee of the House of Commons sat on a Bill promoted by the Government of the day, and brought in by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple), who then occupied the post of First Commissioner of Works. Before that Committee the various interests affected by the measure for the Embankment, and more especially the Office of Woods and Forests, were represented. He had amused himself that afternoon with reading the correspondence that had passed between the Office of Works, the Office of Woods and Forests, and the Lords of the Treasury upon the question, and he had found it to be most instructive. From that correspondence, it was clearly apparent that the measure was promoted by the Government of the day; and that the duties of maintaining the reclaimed ground for the purposes of public enjoyment and recreation were cast upon the Metropolitan Board of Works, at the instigation of the Government and in opposition to the wishes of the Metropolitan Board, who, on that occasion, were represented by counsel. The several interests that were concerned in, and affected by, the proposed Embankment were represented before that Committee; but there was one interest that was entirely unrepresented, and that was the interest of the rate and taxpayers of the metropolis, who were utterly helpless in the matter. By this Bill, after payment had been made to the Crown for the foreshore, and to the Conservators of the Thames, who had entered into arrangements with the Crown, all land reclaimed, which lay between the property of ordinary owners and the foreshores of the river—as that in front of the property of the Marquess of Salisbury, was vested in the Metropolitan Board of Works, who were charged with the duty of maintaining it for ever, as land for the purpose of public recreation and amusement. But when the land between Crown property and low-water mark came to be dealt with, the Committee came in contact with claims which he believed all Committees of that House were absolutely powerless to deal with; and, as a matter of course, that land remained under the authority of the Office of Woods and Forests, the land being vested in the Crown. The Government of the day, as representing the Crown, imposed on the Board of Works, as representing the taxpayers of the metropolis, the duty of maintaining all other land that might be reclaimed, for the purpose of recreation and amusement. There was, therefore, no doubt that the intention of the Government at that time was that the land so reclaimed should be held for that purpose. The particular piece of land to which he referred was shown in a Return which had been recently laid before the House. It consisted of some two and one-third acres, between Whitehall Place and Middle Scotland Yard and the Embankment. A portion of this was formerly used for the purpose of wharves, and lay exposed to the tide during a great portion of the day in a condition which was not conducive to the health of the inhabitants of the metropolis. But it was never intended, at any time, while the scheme for the Embankment was in progress, that this land should be covered with buildings. Up to the present time it had formed one of the breathing places which he believed were necessary to the health and the enjoyment of the metropolis. The ratepayers of the metropolis had paid, and would continue during a considerable period to pay, for the cost of reclaiming this land. All rights on the part of the lessees and others holding under the Crown had been fully compensated for by the Board of Works. In some cases, they had been, he might say, almost exorbitantly paid for by that Board with the money of the ratepayers. The Crown was, in no respect, damaged by the improvements which had been effected by the metropolis. On the contrary, the Crown property had been enormously improved and advantaged by the Embankment. But the whole cost had fallen on the ratepayers. And what they contended for was, that what they had paid for should not be taken away from them; that the area which they had enjoyed, and which contributed to the health of this great metropolis, should not be abridged, but should be left to the public as a means of affording them the enjoyment of pure air. This land would be practically taken from the public, if the Government erected buildings on it. If the Government took that land to build upon it, he apprehended that there was nothing to prevent them from taking the land between Palace Yard and Victoria Street, or Trafalgar Square, and building upon it; nothing to prevent them from taking any portions of the parks which they might choose to select and building upon them. Indeed, his case was much stronger than the case of those who objected to this application of the public parks; for the public had created the land in question, and given a value to that which the Government now sought to take away from them. Before the public money was laid out on it it was absolutely valueless. It was mere mud and slush. At an enormous cost, which still weighed heavily on the means of living of the poor inhabitants, this great public improvement had been carried out, and it was now proposed or suggested that public offices should be erected on that which the inhabitants had so obtained and created. He held the Crown to be in the position of a trustee for the public good. He held that the ancient land which belonged to the Crown under the circumstances was held only for the public pleasure and the public advantage. It would be a great abuse of those rights if they were so exercised as to deprive the people who created the ground of the advantage of it. Not very long ago the public had expressed their opinion in an unmistakable manner in regard to open spaces near the metropolis, and he (Mr. W. H. Smith) heard with great delight the opinion expressed by the First Minister of the Crown when an Address was moved to Her Majesty. The right hon. Gentleman stated that it was the duty of the Government and of Parliament to endeavour to preserve for the people of the metropolis all the open spaces possible, and in particular the open spaces to which reference was then specially made. Her Gracious Majesty, in replying to the Address, said—"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be pleased to direct that no public offices be erected on that portion of the Thames Embankment which is reserved to the Crown, and which has been reclaimed from the River at the cost of the Ratepayers of the Metropolis."
If it was necessary to preserve the open spaces in the neighbourhood of the metropolis much more was it necessary that there should be open spaces within the metropolis. The ratepayers did not come to Parliament to make any appeal for a grant. They only asked Parliament and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to leave them what they had, and which was entirely their own. The entire country would readily admit that the River Thames belonged to London, and that whatever was reclaimed from it should be devoted to the enjoyment of the people of London. He regretted that advantage had not been taken of the Act of 1862 to give a frontage or fringe to the Embankment. It might not be too late yet to give it a fringe; but the buildings contemplated on this site would stand out of the line of the other buildings on the Embankment, and coming into the bend of the river would obstruct the view and stop the current of air. This was not a political question. He could assure the House that he did not make his Motion for any political considerations. The question was one upon which the inhabitants of the metropolis felt strongly. He was always ready to support measures of sound economy; but he hoped no desire to effect a small pecuniary saving would influence the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a case in which justice spoke so clearly. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Motion which stood in his name."Concurring with you in the desire that open spaces in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis may, as far as possible be preserved for the enjoyment of My people, I will carefully consider how effect may be given to the prayer of this Address."
, in seconding the Motion, said, he did so for five reasons. The first was the very deep interest felt by the inhabitants of the City of Westminster, and, he might say, the county of Middlesex, in the preservation of this open space. He regretted that several important bodies, including the Dean and Chapter of Westminster and several vestries, including those of St. George's Hanover Square, St. James's, and St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, had not been able to obtain the interviews they had wished to have with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, because if they had succeeded in seeing either of these right hon. Gentlemen perhaps there would have been no occasion for the Motion just made by his hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith). The second reason was the compromise come to in 1856 between the Office of Woods and Forests and the Corporation of London, by which it was agreed that in consideration of the sum of £5,000 to be paid in satisfaction of all past claims, and of one-third part of all future rents and profits, the Crown should grant to the Corporation as Conservators of the Thames, all the rights of the Crown to the bed and shores of the river, with the exception of those parts fronting Crown property. The third reason was the Parliamentary sanction which he believed to have been given to the proposition that the ground reclaimed by the Embankment should remain unoccupied for the purposes of public recreation. The Act of Parliament provided that out of the moneys contributed by the ratepayers the owners of all land, except Crown land, should be compensated if they were interfered with by the Embankment. The fourth reason was, that at the present time it was desirable to preserve in the metropolis as many open spaces as possible, and the Members of the House and the public out-of-doors were doing all they could to preserve them. The fifth reason was that afforded by the Report of the Committee of 1856, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) and the present Secretary of State for War were distinguished members, and which recommended that for the sake of economy and efficiency there should be a concentration of the public offices in the neighbourhood of Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament. If a building for the War Office or the Admiralty were built on this piece of ground on the Thames, that recommendation could not be carried out. On all those grounds he most heartily seconded the Motion made by the hon. Member for Westminster.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be pleased to direct that no public offices be erected on that portion of the Thames Embankment which is reserved to the Crown, and which has been reclaimed from the River at the cost of the Ratepayers of the Metropolis,"—(Mr. William Henry Smith,)
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
could not say that, on his return to Parliament, he found the public improvement of the metropolis much better carried on than when he last had the honour of a seat in that House. On the contrary, he thought the metropolis in that matter was now in some respects in a more unfortunate position. When he left Parliament there was every hope that the new Law Courts might be placed on the Embankment, so as to become a great ornament to that capital; but he found last year that question had been settled the other way, and that a great opportunity of improving and beautifying the metropolis was about to be lost. Again, the project now on foot with regard to the Serpentine was not likely to mend matters in that quarter. Whereas the money might have been thrown into the water before, now it was thrown into the mud. Now, the land reclaimed from the River Thames would provide a series of open spaces for the adornment of that district. The first of those open spaces would be situated near Scotland Yard, and then there would come the large space between Somerset House and Charing Cross Bridge. He found, from the Report, that it was intended to give up that ground to be reclaimed from the river to public gardens for the benefit of the people, and the intention had been the same with respect to the ground referred to by the hon. Gentleman below him (Mr. W. H. Smith). He did not know how far the Government were committed to placing the War Office or any other public building on that land; but, if they had pledged themselves to that, he said it was against every principle that had been laid down by every Committee which had sat on the public offices. The First Lord of the Treasury would bear him out when he said that it had long been a great object to have the public offices concentrated near the Houses of Parliament. He (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) had himself once proposed a comprehensive scheme for the improvement of the metropolis; but the House did not appear to care for comprehensive schemes. His proposal involved the buying up the whole of the houses and the ground in Parliament Street, Great George Street, and even by the river side, and the placing of the public offices there; and the expenditure for that purpose would not have been more than £3,500,000. [A laugh.] His right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) seemed to think that was an enormous outlay for such an object; but it should be remembered that they were now paying nearly £150,000 a year for the hire of buildings inconveniently scattered all over London for the public offices, and that sum would pay the interest on the capital if expended as he had proposed. Earl Russell had declared that they never would carry out any real improvement for the metropolis until they went upon a comprehensive plan and had the ground cleared. But when they bought a certain number of houses one year, and a number more of the adjacent houses another year, the effect of their first purchases was only to increase the price they had to give for their second and subsequent purchases; and, in the long run, they actually had to pay double what they might have got the property for if they had laid down a comprehensive plan in the first instance, and then proceeded to carry it out by annual Votes. What he understood was now proposed was that, having got an open space which would really add to the comfort and even the refinement of that city, they should put one of their public buildings there, and one, too, which would not be in the regular line of public buildings, thus blocking up that open space. The Report of the Commission of 1866 said that there was no satisfactory approach to St. James's Park from Westminster and the City side, and that a fine effect was thus in a great measure lost. That desideratum might be supplied by opening a direct communication between the Park and the Thames Embankment. He knew what the feeling of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in respect to the new Law Courts; and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to sympathize with those who wished to preserve a magnificent site for the comfort and advantage of the public. It was very hard that those who paid the rates and the expense of reclaiming that land were to be compelled to keep part of it as an ornamental ground for the benefit of the public, while, on the other hand, the Government, who had done nothing for the work, but had thrown impediments in the way, were to take possession of that ground and place a public building on it in the most inconvenient situation, in opposition to the Reports of all the various Committees who had recommended that the War Office and the other public offices should be concentrated as near as possible to the Houses of Parliament. There was an admirable plan drawn up by Colonel Clarke, of the Admiralty, for the concentration of the public offices—an object in which all parties agreed as to the desirability of effecting. That was a very important matter, and he earnestly appealed to the Government to pause before they committed a great blunder, and threw away one of the finest opportunities they were ever likely to have of beautifying and improving the metropolis.
said, he was very glad to see the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) back in that House; and in his humble judgment that hon. Gentleman had borne away the palm from the two hon. Members who had preceded him, because while they had both been injudicious enough partially to approach the merits of that subject, the hon. Gentleman who spoke last was wise enough to keep quite clear of them. That question only needed to be considered in order to be rightly decided by those who came prepared to listen to reason. The House was aware that reference being had to the arrangements made at the beginning of every reign, by which the property of the Crown was handed over to the Woods and Forests for the benefit of the public, till the next demise of the Crown, the Crown—that was to say, the nation, so far as all practical considerations were concerned—was the proprietor between Charing Cross and Westminster Bridge of 700 yards of frontage to the River Thames and its foreshore, including valuable wharfage. It was decided for the purposes of metropolitan improvement, and not in the least degree for the benefit of the Government and the Crown, that the River Thames should be embanked. That decision being come to, not for the benefit of the Government, but for the benefit and use of the ratepayers of the metropolis, the Government, in 1862, undertook to carry through this House a Bill for the purpose, and that Bill embodied agreements between the Metropolitan Board of Works and the riparian proprietors. The different proprietors made different terms for themselves, but the Crown had this peculiarity, that it was the only proprietor of the foreshore of the River Thames. Well, the Crown having this property, some 700 yards of frontage to the river, all the Embankment made upon the foreshores, and all the land reclaimed at the expense of the ratepayers of the metropolis, amounting to seven or eight acres, would by law have belonged to the Crown. Of course, that would not have been a just and fair arrangement. That being so, the arrangement that was come to was this—that the Crown should give up its right to the foreshore, not altogether, but to between five and six acres within the Embankment, which but for the Act of Parliament would have been its property, and that it should receive by way of compensation for this surrender two and a half acres of land, not to be held in trust for anyone, or having the least reference to metropolitan improvements, or to the ratepayers, but as a consideration for what it had given up. That arrangement had been embodied in the Act of Parliament, it was now the law of the land; under that title the nation, in the name of the Crown, held that land absolutely and without any obligation as to metropolitan improvements. The Crown or the nation held that land as absolutely its own property as any Gentleman in that House held his estate. The land that was given up to the Metropolitan Board, as trustee for the benefit of the ratepayers of the metropolis, was not to be built upon, but was to be used for the amusement and recreation of the people. Under the Act the metropolitan ratepayers took many benefits, and now by their representative they came forward to-night and proposed to retain all the benefits that they had got under the contract embodied in the Act, and to repudiate the considerations which had been given in return. It was, in fact, a mere question of the invasion of property. The hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith)—a great ornament of the Conservative party—rose in his place, and, amid the cheers of his Friends, asked the House to take from the public a property estimated at £5,000 a year, the value of which might be taken to be £150,000. The hon. Member asked the House to confiscate this property, for which value had been given to the metropolitan ratepayers, and he proposed this in the name of the public. That was a simple statement of the facts. The hon. Member did not in words say that he insisted upon taking away this property, but he might just as well take the land at once, as take away all possibility of making any use of it. He hoped it was not come to this in the House of Commons, that it was necessary to enter into any elaborate argument to show that the House should not take any step whatever to deprive either the public or any individual citizens of any portion of its property without giving any compensation whatever. It was not necessary to delay the House by any further argument. The case was as clear as anything could be. Here was a claim set up on sentimental or æsthetical grounds, on every ground, in fact, except the ground of right. If the metropolitan ratepayers desired the property of the Crown for any purposes of their own, it was quite open to them to enter into negotiations with the Board of Works for obtaining it; not to make sentimental appeals, but to pay down the value. He trusted the House would not lend its name to the proposal. It was quite clear if it did they could not stop there. This, though it might appear a comparatively small matter, might have a much wider effect than they supposed. If they were to deprive the Crown of £150,000 for the benefit of the ratepayers of the metropolis, with what face would they resist the claim to purchase places of recreation for the benefit of different populous towns throughout the kingdom? If they once set up claims on the ground of the great interest people felt in the matter, where were they to stop and what was to become, he would not say of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but of the Revenue of the country? He hoped he had said enough. He trusted that any Gentleman who should follow, if he had been so unfortunate as not to have convinced him, would address himself to the point of showing that this proposal would not deprive the public of a large portion of their property without giving them any consideration whatever.
said, the right hon. Gentleman hoped he had convinced the House, but he had only convinced them of one thing, that, per fas aut nefas, the public would be kept out of the land by plausible appeals to the rights of the Crown. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: The Crown is the trustee for the nation during the life of the Sovereign.] Very well; the Crown, as trustee for the nation, had obtained this land. The Crown might be the trustee for the nation, but the House of Commons was the adviser of the nation, and they were there as the adviser of the nation to recommend the Advisers of the Crown to make a proper use of this land. Assuredly the Crown, as trustee for the nation, held a good deal of land which it could not build over. There was Hyde Park, for instance, and Kensington Gardens, and many other places; and if it pleased the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put himself in communication with any large firm here or in America to cover those places over with model lodging-houses or shops, or to cut down the trees, he would soon find whether the arguments he had used to-night were sound or unsound. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had complimented his hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight upon shirking the whole question, but it was the right hon. Gentleman himself that had really shirked it. From first to last his speech was only an exposition—accurate, no doubt, and logical—of that legal condition of matters on which the hon. Member for Westminster had based his Petition. The proposal of the hon. Member for Westminster came really to this simple issue—he asked the Advisers of the Crown not to put one particular class of house on the land; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer from first to last had avoided saying one single word as to the desirability or non-desirability of putting that class of buildings upon it; all that the right hon. Gentleman had done was to argue the foregone conclusion upon which the Motion was based, and which nobody denied—that the Crown was the proprietor of the land. The right hon. Gentleman had, from first to last, avoided giving any reasons for putting public offices on that ground. The reason against doing so was not merely an æsthetical one, it was the necessity for the concentration of the public offices which had been recommended by the Committee of 1856—a Committee of singular weight and authority, presided over by the late Lord Llanover, and of which the noble Lord the Member for Leicestershire, the Secretary for War, the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire, the late Mr. Ellice, and the present Marquess of Westminster were members. The Committee recommended that the public offices should be concentrated in the block lying between St. James's Park to the west, Parliament Street to the east, and Great George Street to the south—a block close to that House, and where the Minister would be almost as available as in the room behind the Chair. The Foreign and the India Offices were instalments of this project, but the remainder of the site was now covered over with wretched slums and streets reeking with the fumes of low public-houses—a disgrace to the nation. The concentration of offices was no scheme of the Conservative party; it was the offspring of the Liberal party in those days when there was an enlightened Commissioner of Public Works—Sir Benjamin Hall; and now, when the Liberal party was ashamed of its own child—one of the best children it ever put out to nurse—the Conservative party were willing to take the bantling before it absolutely expired of such shameless baby-farming, and try to set it on its legs again. But his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer became positively pathetic in his regard for the national purse, and his unwillingness to devote the land to any object so sentimental as the promotion of the health and the recreation of the teeming inhabitants of the metropolis. Last year, however, the Committee, presided over by his noble Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire, to which the then First Commissioner, Mr. Layard, and his two immediate predecessors also belonged, recommended that a certain museum should be erected upon the Embankment, and on Tuesday last he had himself asked the right hon. Gentleman a question on the subject, and the right hon. Gentleman replied that the Report of the Select Committee was entitled to every respect so far as it related to the merits of the question, while he termed the scheme itself "excellent," but said that the plan which they recommended could not be carried into effect without taking away a considerable quantity of land which had already been dedicated by Act of Parliament for the purposes of gardens and ornamental grounds, and paying an enormous price for it. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Hear, hear!] At the same time, while commending what he called the excellence of the plan suggested, he was not prepared to ask for powers to carry out what would only entail a large expense. Now, the plot of ground they were talking about that evening was close to, and as nearly as possible equivalent to that ground, and was equally well suited for the purpose of the Natural History Collection of the British Museum. And yet in spite of the latter admission, made only the other day, the right hon. Gentleman now proposed not to leave the ground open for gardens, but to plant a public office upon it. He begged to assure the Chancellor of the Exchequer that if he were bent upon such a procedure the best course to take would be to erect the Natural History Museum upon the site, because such a building would not deprive the people of their recreation. A public office could not be said to afford any recreation to the taxpayer. It was a building which no one visited for his own amusement; but a museum full of beautiful works of art and interesting natural objects would afford pleasure and instruction to the thousands who would throng it for their holiday. When the question of erecting the Exhibition in Hyde Park was under discussion 20 years ago the present Prime Minister, in answer to the objections which were made to the selection of such a site, said that the erection of such a building on such a spot was the substitution of a higher kind of recreation for a lower one, and he might now say the same thing with equal force in favour of the erection of a Museum of Natural History on this ground, and in advocating this project he was in effect developing the views of the hon. Member for Westminster, and of those whose mouthpiece he was. The only alternative scheme was the erection of such a museum at South Kensington; but Professor Owen, Sir Roderick Murchison, Professor Huxley, and Mr. Cole were all of opinion that the Embankment was a site much superior to Kensington for the Natural History Museum, alike for museum purposes and popular gratification, and they gave that evidence explicitly and in reply to categorical questions before the Committee of last year. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer was so very chary, so very stingy, and so very scrupulous about this land, and if he desired that a public building might be placed there, the museum would afford him an excellent opportunity of using the ground with advantage, and yet of meeting the Petition that it should be devoted to popular recreation. Anyhow, the erection of the War Office there was about the last purpose for which it should be employed. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that if in this spirit of mad and reckless economy he endeavoured to smash the proposed concentration of public offices his name would go down to posterity as the marrer of a great scheme for the improvement of the metropolis, a scheme first started by his own party and now frustrated by their own political successors.
observed, that after what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said about the law of the case, it would be out of place for him to offer any opinion upon that point. He understood from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that this land was the property of the Crown, and that the Crown had, therefore, a perfect right to deal with it as it thought fit. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER was understood to disclaim this conclusion.] That, at all events, was the deduction which he made from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He presumed the right hon. Gentleman meant that this land was the property of the Crown by virtue of its having been foreshore. But, formerly, the land was absolutely useless, washed sometimes by the river and left dry at others, and being occasionally used as a convenient place for depositing dead cats and dogs. It was the ratepayers of the metropolis who had made that land valuable. The ratepayers, however, assumed no right whatever over the land; but, hearing that it was intended to use the land as a site for public offices, all they asked was that the space might be left open. If that, as he apprehended it was, was the meaning of his hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith), he should give his support to the Motion under consideration.
said, he should be very glad to find the Chancellor of the Exchequer rich enough and public spirited enough to provide recreation grounds for the people; but if that were done for London the boon ought also to be extended to other towns in the kingdom. In Liverpool, for instance, where they had commenced such a work, they had come to a standstill, owing to their having found the work more expensive than they had anticipated; and if the assistance now asked for were afforded, it would only be right that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should come to the rescue of the Liverpool people and give them also £100,000. London already enjoyed exceptional advantages and opportunities, and could better afford to make provision for its own wants than could many parts of the country.
said, he thought the metropolis well entitled to express an opinion as to the use that should be made of this ground, which had been reclaimed at the expense of the ratepayers from being a mud bank and a public nuisance. The making of the Thames Embankment had given the ground in question its present value; and that had been constructed by capitalizing a fund which was composed of fines, in the shape of a duty on coal, inflicted on the manufacturers of London in endeavouring to compete with the outports. What was now asked, therefore, was not at all unreasonable. They did not ask that the ground should be given to them. Land similarly circumstanced had been most liberally given by the Government to add to the gardens of some of the lessees whose property happened to lie along the river; and all he understood that was now asked was that buildings should not be allowed to project and to form a line altogether distinct from those along the river. There were special reasons why the Government should not view the question merely with reference to a paltry matter of £100,000. He was quite sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister himself would think £100,000 very well devoted if profitably used for the advantage of the metropolis, especially if it did not come out of the Exchequer, but was produced by acci- dental circumstances and from the contributions of those who in the metropolis asked now for nothing more than was reasonable.
was not disposed to undervalue £100,000, but when the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked of £150,000, he ought to give them credit for the £1,650,000 which the ratepayers had expended in reclaiming this land. They had paid their money, and they ought to have their money's worth. Those who had spent so large a sum were entitled to have some consideration paid to them. There was hardly one among them who had not contributed to that sum; he did not know how many twopences he had paid. The proposition of the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) was most reasonable. The ground was not asked for any special purpose for themselves; but it should not be rendered hideous by buildings altogether unsuitable to the site.
No doubt, Sir, £100,000 is a sum of considerable importance; but there is something involved in this issue much more important than a sum of money. There is a great deal more money at issue, and a great deal more than money, which I shall endeavour by and by to explain. In the first place, let me put aside one or two questions which have been brought into the discussion and which are wholly irrelevant. The hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) said it would be an extraordinary proceeding if they proposed to turn Hyde Park to purposes of profitable investment. But Hyde Park is governed by express provisions of Parliament, and the Crown has no power to do anything of the sort. Then it is assumed that we are now deciding a question which has never yet been brought before the House of Commons—whether certain buildings connected with the Army and the Admiralty are or are not to be placed on this piece of ground, the property of the Crown. We are not deciding that proposal at all. It is not before the House in any shape. If the Government make such a proposal, then will be the time for considering it on its merits. I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), if he should lose his Motion, would think it an unfair advantage if we should take that to be a decision that those buildings should be placed upon this ground. Then let us take the converse, and dismiss from our minds the question whether those buildings are to be placed upon the ground or not. The question now to be decided is a question of principle. First as to the nature of that principle, and, secondly, the extraordinary character of the Address by which it is proposed to carry it into effect—an Address which, if carried, would not be worth the paper on which it was written. First, as regards the principle. In former times it was the custom of the House to vote very considerable sums of money for the benefit of the metropolis; but it was also the practice to levy certain sums in taxation from the metropolis. That taxation gradually diminished. Last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer generously parted with the last of it, £80,000 a year, for cab duty. [Mr. SAMUDA: The coal duty.] For whose benefit was that? The Exchequer does not derive one farthing from the coal duty. It was so laudable and honourable according to the hon. Member opposite, to expend this large sum of money in reclaiming this ground, that the metropolis should be compensated for it at the public expense. ["No, no!"] That was distinctly the doctrine laid down by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass). The ratepayers of the metropolis, he said, had spent £1,650,000, and they ought to have credit for that money. Well, the metropolis having now ceased to contribute specially one single farthing to the public Exchequer, Parliament has found the consequence of this system of grants to the metropolis was that similar demands came in from other parts of the country. One or two were made. It was found they rapidly grew to preposterous dimensions. Parliament bethought itself of the error it was committing, and came to the conclusion that although some fair plea might be urged for the continuance of the system till the metropolis had a local Board of Management, yet it was absolutely necessary to get rid of a system so costly, or a great, genuine, and just dissatisfaction of other large communities must be the result. That being so, Parliament gave local government to the metropolis, and determined to have done with local grants to the metropolis. The hon. Member for Westminster asks the House to reverse that principle, not by making a grant from the public Ex- chequer, but by appealing to the Crown to hand over Crown land, of which we are proprietors for the Queen's life-time, to benefit the people of the metropolis. On what principle is that demand based? He says—"It is entirely our own," that it has been reclaimed from the Thames, that the Thames belongs to London, and that London should have the benefit of it. Now, the hon. Member must be perfectly aware that the soil of the Thames did not belong to London, that London had no property in it. The soil is just as much the property of the Crown as any soil, unreclaimed, though still included in the estate of some private gentleman in the country, belongs to that private owner. The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) receives that statement with incredulity; but it is one that cannot be questioned, and the accuracy of which was acknowledged at the time when this land was reclaimed. An arrangement was come to between the reclaimers who sustained the cost of reclamation and the original proprietor of the soil, under which each received a certain proportion of the land reclaimed. And the part which was given to the proprietor in respect of the proprietary right, the hon. Member for Westminster proposes to take away. Perhaps I shall be told that in point of form he does not propose to take it away; but what he does propose is that it shall be kept by the Crown as a barren and unproductive domain—or, rather, that the Crown shall be at the expense of maintaining it for the people of London. That is to say, that this having been given to the Crown as a property, he proposes to convert it into a burden—because, of course, if it is to be kept up for the benefit of the public, it must be maintained in proper condition. [Mr. W. H. SMITH: As ornamental gardens.] Exactly so; the proposition as I now understand it is not only that £150,000—the value placed upon the property—shall be taken from the people of this country for the benefit of the metropolis, but that the property itself is to be turned into ornamental gardens, to be maintained, I suppose out of the Crown Estate. ["No, no!"] Well, then, who is to bear the cost? [Mr. BAILLIE COCHHANE: They are to be maintained by a rate upon the metropolis.] The hon. Member for Westminster never said so. The hon. Gentleman does not tell us by what authority he, the Member for the Isle of Wight, assumes to speak for the people of the metropolis, and to say that they shall be taxed for this purpose. The hon. Member for Westminster is my representative, and I repudiate the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight in that capacity. I will not further inquire to what use this piece of ground is to be applied; but I will say at once that I am not willing that we should make a grant of this kind from the public purse to the people of London. If we do this we break down a long and well-considered policy, embodied in a regular system, and open a way back to the old system, which, on account of its mischiefs, was deliberately abandoned. And I would further say that if we are, as the hon. Member for Westminster proposes, to make a virtual grant of £150,000 from the public purse for the benefit of the metropolis, I gravely doubt and I confidently dispute whether the best way to make that grant in the interests of the metropolis itself is by securing two acres on the banks of the River Thames. It would be, I think, an inconsiderate and improper application of so large a sum to expend it all at this one point, when, with the same money, much greater results in the way of benefit and comfort to the inhabitants of London might be obtained. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University evidently confuses together in a way fatal to the argument the two senses in which "the Crown" is spoken of in reference to the holding of public property. My hon. Friend said he would call the Crown the Crown. It would be rather a paradox to say the Crown is not the Crown; but, in point of fact, that would be nearer the truth than my hon. Friend's statement, for the expression "the Crown" is used with two widely different significations. My hon. Friend says that the Crown is the trustee of property for the benefit of the nation, and also that the House of Commons is the adviser of the Crown. That is only true in part, and the direction which is contemplated by this Motion for an Address is a permanent direction. The Crown is the owner of this property during the life-time of the Queen, and will also be the owner after the life-time of Her Majesty; but the relations of this House to the Crown before and after that period will be widely different. During the lifetime of the Queen the Crown is possessed of this property as a trustee in like manner as it is possessed of the Custom House, or other public building; and in the management of that property the House of Commons may be said to be the Adviser of the Crown. But this House, so far from being the Counsellor of the Crown in the future, has no more right to touch that property prospectively, to interfere with its productiveness, or to govern its uses from the moment that a change has been made in the person of the Sovereign than it has to interfere with the private estate of my hon. Friend himself, for there is the right of the Prince of Wales as heir of entail. [Laughter.] I am astonished to see a Gentleman smile below the Gangway. What I am now saying is no dictum of mine. The hon. Member will probably believe in the accuracy of what I am stating when I say that this is the basis of all the Acts of Parliament relating to the Crown with which he is or might be acquainted. There is not one of those Acts of Parliament which does not studiously preserve the interests of the Prince of Wales or other successor to the Throne; and the House of Commons has no right whatever to give any directions, even in the way of advice, to the Crown touching the use of that property, except such powers are, by distinct Acts of Parliament, conferred upon us. I cannot believe it, until I see it, that the hon. Member will ask the House to vote an Address which positively proposes to direct the manner of application or non-application permanently of that as to which we are simply possessed of a lease for life, and when that lease for life expires we have no right to say one single word. I will go further, and say that I presume, from what I have heard, that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to re-open the system of making virtual grants to the metropolis from the purse of the nation, but I do not mean to be any party to the re-opening of that system. I give him fair notice that we are determined that if this is done at all, it shall not be done obliquely and incidentally—it shall only be done by laying down some clear principle upon which, if grants are to be made from the public purse for the metropolis, they shall also be made for other parts of the country. I say plainly that I shall not agree to the proposal. I shall object to it, and if done at all, it shall only be done on the principle I have indicated. I now come to the last question—the terms of the Address by which my hon. Friend seeks to restrain the erection of buildings on that portion of the Thames Embankment which is reserved to the Crown. This property, by the admission of all, is capable of being turned to profitable uses; but the House is invited to join in an Address having for its object to secure that this land shall not yield any revenues or ground rents to the Crown, as it would do if public offices were built upon it. Now, the Address of the hon. Member is flatly opposed to the law. The law of the land makes it the duty of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to turn to the best and most profitable account the property of the Crown; and it is not competent even for Her Majesty to issue any directions to the officers of Woods and Forests desiring them not to do so. If this House were, unfortunately, to pass an Address in the terms proposed by the hon. Gentleman, it would, be the duty of the Crown to inform this House that its prayer was beyond the power of the Crown to grant, being contrary to the law of the land. The hon. Gentleman will perfectly understand me when I say that no directions issued from the Treasury or any other Department of the Government could release the Commissioners of Woods and Forests from their duty imposed upon them by law. And if an attempt be made to convert into an unproductive property that which now belongs to the Crown, and is capable of yielding revenue, the only way in which this can be done is by the action of the Legislature; it cannot be done merely upon an Address from this House. I admit that it would not be competent, under the rules of the House, for the hon. Member to bring in a Bill for this purpose, and, therefore, if he cared to raise the question, He must do so in some other manner. But I beg to point out to him the effect of this Address. As far as the attainment of his object is concerned, I believe it would be simply null and void; though it would not be so in other respects, because it would be the duty of the Advisers of the Crown to recommend that the legal facts bearing upon the Address should be stated in the Answer. And I, for one, should be very sorry to be a party, even in the discharge of duty, to placing upon record that which I think would not altogether accord with the dignity of the House of Commons and with the respect which it has invariably shown for the law of the land. I will say, then, with regard to the disposal of this property that the hon. Gentleman ought to be content to rest upon his oars. If the Government think proper to propose to Parliament to make any disposal of it such as he deprecates, he has a remedy in his hands, because he will be in a condition to object to the plan of the Government. It is his determination to anticipate the plan which has placed him and the House in this difficulty'—that we are asked to adopt an Address with which it is impossible for the Crown to comply. I think it will not be unreasonable to suggest to the hon. Gentleman that, inasmuch as the property is not now the subject of any application of which he disapproves, he should rest satisfied with the status quo as long as it subsists. It cannot subsist very long, because it will be our duty to make some propositions for turning that property to account. I recommend the hon. Gentleman to wait until that proposition is made, and then if it should, be objectionable he can, as a Member of this House, state any objection he may think fit to make.
said, that if the course taken by the hon. Member (Mr. W. H. Smith) was irregular, a statement to that effect at an earlier period by some Gentleman on the Treasury Bench would have saved the House a great deal of trouble in discussing this question. It seemed to him remarkable that the First Minister of the Crown should have dealt in a most elaborate speech with this question as if it were one of the most vital matters which had ever been considered by the House, but should have reserved his main point to the last, and then have stated that the hon. Member who brought the subject before the House had no locus standi. But whether he had a locus standi or not was perfectly immaterial, because the House had been asked to discuss the question upon principle. The House was asked to discuss it upon the point as to whether or not the Crown had a right to ride over them entirely upon every occasion, and was to be entirely distinct from the people. He had always understood that the Crown in this country derived its power from the people, and was established for the benefit of the people. He would not say that the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unintelligible, but it did not go into the question at issue, and simply opened the argument that the Crown had certain rights, to which everybody was to give way. What were the simple facts of the case? The Thames Embankment had been made, and the foreshore of the river had been taken and reclaimed. There had been a foreshore in front of the property of a number of persons and of the Crown. The Temple was strictly forbidden to build upon any portion of the foreshore which had been reclaimed, but the Crown was omnipotent, and said it would do what nobody else was allowed to do, although the Act of Parliament never gave it this permission. That was a wrong and improper position, and it might bring the Crown into a situation in which he was sure the First Minister would not wish to place it. The question seemed to be of the mildest character, although it had created so much excitement. Here was a piece of ground which the Crown said belonged to it. He durst say it did; but they said to the Crown—"Do not act differently from other people." Do not disfigure it; do not put a building on it. No one would deny that for anybody to raise a building in this country was to disfigure the land. We all looked with horror on any building raised in this country. It was never ornamental or of any use; it was always an eyesore, and always disagreeable to the metropolis or to the nation at large. The Crown, in this instance, was simply asked to stay its hand, and not to desecrate that portion of the land which had been reclaimed, in the words of the Act—"For the health and for the recreation of the people of this metropolis." The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) said they were to have nothing for it. But he should like to know what Liverpool was paid for its foreshore. [Mr. MELLY said they paid very large sums indeed.] He was glad to hear it; and, no doubt, they had their money's worth, because they were a people who knew how to take care of themselves. The right hon. Gentleman said this land was worth £150,000. Who made it so? It was not worth 2d. until the ratepayers of this metropolis stepped in, and out of their hard earnings, paid the cost of re- claiming it. Yet the Crown claimed to hold it for the benefit of the people at large. He contended that that was dishonesty on the part of the Crown. The First Minister of the Crown looked at the matter as it might be regarded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who sat by his side. In fact, there were two Chancellors of the Exchequer rolled into one, and neither of them considered the rights, interests, and feelings of the people at large. He had always maintained that the metropolis was an ill-used place. It was in a different position from any other city or borough in the kingdom. It was near the home of the House of Commons, and they had always sought to legislate for it. Hon. Members said—"We come here, we pass the Session here, we enjoy ourselves here." The Under Secretary for the Home Department shook his head; but of course he was placed in such a position that he could not enjoy himself. He was a hard-working individual who had been brought there against his will. But the hon. Members he now addressed were comfortable in that House and in this metropolis; and they said—"We will make everything more comfortable." First of all, they told the metropolis it must put its sewage into the water; then that it must keep the sewage out; and, lastly, that it must make an Embankment. All this had been done out of the pockets of the ratepayers of the metropolis. The poorest man had to contribute, even if he reduced his family to beggary in order to pay the rates. It could not be denied that there was poverty in the metropolis; and an immense amount of it was created by the heavy rates imposed. Further, a great portion of those rates had been levied to carry out those improvements which Parliament had said were necessary. That being the case it was a great hardship that when the Embankment had been made and the foreshore reclaimed at the expense of the coal duties and rates of the metropolis, the Crown should come to that House with all the insignia of office and scream out its demand to do that which no other owner of property on the bank of the river could do—namely, to misuse that which had been reclaimed from the bed of the river. He hoped the House would not be led away by the sophistry that had proceeded from the Treasury Bench. Hon. Members from other parts of the country might look upon this as a question which at anytime might happen to themselves, and he hoped that they would unhesitatingly pronounce that the action of the Crown in this matter should be in this, as in all other cases, for the benefit of the people. What was done should be done for the benefit of this great metropolis, containing 3,000,000 of people, and it was necessary for their health and recreation that every speck of land available should be kept open. And as for the Members of the Government themselves, if he could not appeal to their hearts He would appeal to their fears, and remind them that small-pox and fever were rife in the metropolis, and that it behoved them to see that a place where they spent so many months of the year was kept as healthy as possible.
said, he hoped the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) would not be alarmed at the severe lecture he had received from the First Lord of the Treasury. His Motion was reasonable, and would certainly not be followed by the tremendous consequences described by the right hon. Gentleman. The reply which the Prime Minister might think fit to recommend her Majesty to make to the Address was not at present a subject for the consideration of the House; that was a matter which they could well leave to the right hon. Gentleman, and he had no doubt but that the reply, when delivered, would be found to be such as befitted a constitutional Sovereign to give to an Address from the House of Commons. Upon the main question he submitted that, if the property reclaimed by the ratepayers was worth £150,000 to the Crown, it did not come with very good grace from Ministerial lips to say that that property was at the absolute discretion of the Crown, and that the House had no right to interfere in the disposal of it, even to the extent of giving advice. And when circumstantial rumours were rife, and remained uncontradicted by the Government, to the effect that it was intended to devote this property to providing sites for public offices, in opposition to the opinion of a great number of hon. Members, it was but right those hon. Members should state their objections to the scheme. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had stated that the Commissioners of Woods and Forests were obliged to devote this land to the most profitable purposes; but did the Motion interfere with that principle? It was perfectly open to any hon. Member to maintain that putting public offices on the land was not the most profitable way of employing it. Owners of land in the metropolis—the Marquess of Westminster, for instance—could establish that from their personal experience; and, inasmuch as the Motion simply asked the House to say that no public offices should be erected on the reclaimed land of the Embankment, he would support it. The argument which the right hon. Gentleman had based upon economy was perfectly fallacious; if the building of public offices on this land would be more profitable to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests than building private houses, then the bargain would be a bad one for the public offices, and the argument of economy fell to the ground. Practically speaking, what was the meaning of the Motion of his hon. Friend? It was that the House had heard of proposals for erecting public offices on the land in question, and that it was not expedient to entertain the idea. He cordially agreed with his hon. Friend. It should be remembered that this scheme was directly adverse to the proposed concentration of public offices which had been reported on favourably by the Committee presided over by the late Lord Llanover, who had also named a site for the purpose. This Report had been endorsed, after two years' deliberation, by a Treasury Commission appointed by Earl Russell in 1866. The site chosen by this Commission was the line from the present Admiralty down to Great George Street; and if this Embankment scheme were adopted, two of the most important offices would be cut off from the rest by a crowded thoroughfare with a railway running underneath it and another skirting it, while the great railway station at Charing Cross would be undeniably near to it, so that instead of the concentration it would be the isolation of the public offices. On these grounds he cordially recommended the Motion of his hon. Friend to the favourable consideration of the House.
said, he thought the metropolitan Members had been rather too strong in their assertions. It was an entire misapprehension to suppose that the metropolis had acquired any right, either legal or equitable, over the land of the Crown. The hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) had drawn a comparison between the foreshores of the Crown and the foreshores of the Temple, but the circumstances were totally different; the Crown had undisputed rights over the foreshores in front of its own property, but the Temple had no such rights, nor had any of the owners of land on that bank of the river. The Crown had two distinct rights—one was the undisputed right to the foreshore in front of its own property, and the other was a share of the Thames Conservancy in the general foreshore of the river. When the powers were taken for making the Embankment it was necessary that the metropolis should purchase the right of making the Embankment on the foreshore; and, in return, it got the road and the subway and the Embankment. The metropolis, in fact, got all that it wanted; but there was something beside which it did not want, and that was the reclaimed land—that portion of filled-in land between the Embankment proper and the old foreshore—to which, at the time the details of the scheme were originally gone into, no claim was made. The claims which had been advanced to-night on behalf of the metropolitan ratepayers were never heard of at the time of the passing of the Act authorizing the construction of the Embankment; on the contrary, it was thought that the metropolis was obtaining a fair bargain in getting all the reclaimed ground except that which fronted the land of the Crown and the Temple. The Crown might have made the Embankment itself, and have converted the foreshores into most valuable property. [An hon. MEMBER: Why did it not do so, then?] Had the Crown followed that course it might have realized more, after paying all the expenses, than the reclaimed land it held was worth. Under these circumstances, he did not admit that the metropolis had any claim, either legal or equitable, over the reclaimed land held by the Crown; and he submitted that the Motion of the hon. Member could not be supported, on the ground that it set forth that the land in question had been reclaimed at the cost of the ratepayers of the metropolis. Although that proposition might be true in one sense, yet the metropolis had obtained a good return for the money it had expended, and had got all that they had expected to get. The proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown that the Crown had the right to determine what use should be made of the reclaimed land could not be disputed. The Advisers of the Crown, however, in disposing of the property, were bound to consider the local as well as Imperial interests, and ought not to put it to a use that would disfigure the metropolis. He hoped that no building would be erected on the site in question so as to interfere with the symmetry of the place, or to prevent a free current of air along the Embankment, or to obstruct the view from end to end of that work. That, however, was a matter for future discussion, and did not arise under the present Motion, which he trusted would be rejected.
said, that the hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) had asked in what respect the Crown differed from other owners whose property abutted upon the foreshores, and the answer to that question was that the Crown had rights in the bed and soil of the river which no other proprietors had. He had been greatly surprised at hearing the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Manners), who in a certain degree represented the Conservative party, supporting the proposal for as revolutionary an invasion of the rights of property as any project which had ever been submitted to that House. It simply amounted to this—that because a person under a deliberate bargain had expended money on another man's land, therefore the land belonged to him. It was quite sufficient if he received a portion of the land as an equivalent. When the Liverpool Docks were in the course of construction Lord Derby received no less than £60,000 for his rights over the foreshore of the Mersey, which, until that time, had not been worth a sixpence. If the ratepayers desired that the land should be preserved for their recreation and amusement, let them pay for it and do what they liked with it. He should certainly vote against the Motion.
said, that when the right hon. Member for South, Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple) had said just now that he thought the advocates of this Motion had been carried away too much by their zeal, and had consequently put their case too high, he had quite concurred in that view; but before the right hon. Gentleman had got to the end of his speech he thought his case, also, had been placed too high. With regard to the observations of the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. West) it seemed to him that the House of Commons might as well abandon its functions at once if it were not to be at liberty to give a temperate opinion in its Address to the Crown as to the way in which a portion of the Embankment might be properly and best applied for the public purposes. The right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown had advanced some propositions which seemed to him to be so totally untenable that they ought not to be allowed to pass for a moment. The right hon. Gentleman during the greater part of his speech seemed to be arguing as though the supporters of the Motion were asking for a grant of public money for the benefit of the metropolis. But no such application as that had been, or was likely to be, made. What might reasonably be asked, and what was asked, was this—that when property which had had its value so greatly increased that from being worth nothing it had become of enormous value by the application, not of the public funds of the country, but of the local rates of the metropolis, it might not be applied to purposes which would disfigure the general appearance of the Embankment. It was a little too much, under the circumstances, for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hampshire to say that the equitable rights of the ratepayers of the metropolis over the property were not such as to justify them in addressing the Crown. Then, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government went on to state that as this property was worth £150,000, the Crown would not be justified in surrendering it. But what was this property? It was property like that about which we had heard so much during the discussion of the Land Bill for Ireland—it was property to which the money of other persons had given value. The representatives of the Crown who held that property said—"We will take advantage of the benefit you have given to us, and we won't even entertain the question whether that property may not be most advantageously applied for the benefit of those by whose money it has been made valuable." The right hon. Gentleman had also said—and upon this point he entirely concurred with him—that the hon. Member for Westminster could not by law deal with this property without the consent of the Advisers of the Crown. There was, however, a broad distinction between bringing in a Bill to deal with this property against the consent of the Advisers of the Crown and bringing forward a Motion for an Address to the Crown on the subject. It appeared to him that the only question the House had to consider was, what was the best purpose to which this property could be applied. His hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith) was of opinion that the erection of public offices was not the best purpose, and all that the Motion sought to do was to elicit from the House an opinion upon that point. He (Mr. Spencer Walpole) would, however, go further than that and say that the question was not one which ought to be decided upon the exigencies of the moment, but ought to be determined in such a manner that in future years it might be said that the property had been dealt with in such a way as best to conduce to the advantage of the people of the metropolis. In these days, when population was increasing at so rapid a rate, all must be agreed as to the desirability of preserving every open space in the metropolis and in other large towns, and it was with that feeling that he should give his vote in favour of the Motion.
said, the conditions under which the Embankment was made had nothing to do with the question before the House. Those conditions were settled at the time to the satisfaction of all concerned, and it did not rest with Parliament to review those conditions. The question was, whether the country was to be taxed to the extent of £150,000 for the local benefit of the metropolis. If the metropolis needed improvement it should be done at the expense of those who resided in it. The metropolis was not so heavily taxed for local purposes as many of the boroughs of the country.
said, in accordance with the arrangement that was made at the commencement of a reign with reference to Crown lands, it was competent for Parliament to take any course it might think fit with, reference to those lands. The arguments that had been used in favour of building on this site might be used with equal force for building on Hyde Park, St. James's Park, or on any of the open spaces within the metropolis that were vested in the Crown. Much misapprehension prevailed on the subject of the right of the Crown to the bed and soil of the river Thames. Some persons seemed to imagine that the right had existed from time immemorial. But previous to the year 1856, however, the Crown had never exercised any right, authority, or jurisdiction whatever over the bed and soil of the Thames; but about 40 years ago the Crown put forward a claim to it. Some ingenious solicitor, he supposed, suggested the claim, and a suit was commenced between the Office of Woods and Forests and the Corporation of London, which lasted 20 years. The case then came before the House of Lords, and remained there for 10 years more. Some Attorneys General, Solicitors General, and solicitors to the Woods and Forests must have realized fortunes by those proceedings; and, no doubt, the solicitor to the Corporation also made money out of them. At length, a compromise was come to, by the terms of which the Corporation paid the Woods and Forests a sum of £5,000, and the Corporation withdrew all claim to the bed and soil of the river, and the Woods and Forests, representing the Crown, agreed to make out a conveyance to the Corporation of the interest of the Crown in the bed and soil of the river, except such portions of them as were in front of property belonging to the Crown, or any Department of the Government, or in the possession of any Department of the Government, such conveyance being made subject to the proviso that the Corporation paid annually to the Woods and Forests one-third part of the rents, revenues, and proceeds arising from the bed and soil of the river. The Crown never was able to prove its right to the bed and soil of the Thames, or it would never have compromised its right for one-third of the revenues. There was one point which had not been placed before the House. The Crown held the property between Whitehall and the river from Richmond Terrace to Nor- thumberland House, to which the new roadway was of the utmost importance. That had been made at the expense of the ratepayers, and the value of the Crown property had consequently been nearly doubled. If the Department of Woods and Forests, which represented the Crown, had been able to enforce its views, the carriage traffic along the Embankment would have been turned off at Whitehall Place instead of being continued to Westminster Bridge. It was not to the Board of Works, but to Lord Palmerston and to his right hon. Friend the Member for South Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple), the metropolis were indebted for the carriage way being continued along the Embankment.
said, the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Candlish) had argued that question as if the constituencies in the country were about to be taxed for the benefit of the inhabitants of London. That was not the light in which he himself or, he believed, his constituents viewed the matter, and the people of Sunderland must be very unreasonable if they complained that the ratepayers of London were to have the advantage of improvements effected with their own money. He himself had systematically voted, against such proposals as the making of a park at Finsbury, or the throwing open of the metropolitan bridges by means of the public funds, thinking that such things should be done at the cost of the community that was to benefit by them. The question now before them, however, was a very different one, and it lay in a nut-shell. It came practically to this—what was the value of that property before that great improvement was carried out at the expense of the ratepayers of London? Why, it was a mere song. The Crown, then, should not insist on its technical rights to the land, but let those have the advantage of it who had to bear the charge for reclaiming it.
said, he could not vote for the Motion as it stood. His hon. Friend who spoke last said that matter lay in a nut-shell; but he had touched only one side of it—namely, the question as between the ratepayers and the Crown; whereas they had also to consider this question—whether public offices were, or were not ever to be built upon that land. Certainly, it was rather a strong proceeding that land which was but ooze and mud, and comparatively worthless, should, immediately a value was given to it by the heavy taxation of the ratepayers of London, be seized upon by the Crown, and that no compensation whatever should be allowed to the ratepayers. In Ireland they were giving compensation to persons who had reclaimed land and had the use of it even for 30 years; but the ratepayers of London, who had reclaimed land and had no use of or benefit from it, were to receive no compensation for disturbance of possession. The claim of the Crown to the foreshores of the Thames was an infinitesimal part of a very wide and very important question, extending over the whole kingdom, which it was very desirable to have satisfactorily settled. The claim of the Crown to foreshores arose on the Clyde, and the Duke of Argyll—a Member of the present Cabinet—successfully resisted that claim, and beat the Crown. There was an association formed in Scotland which desired to have a legal decision of the question of right to the foreshores as between the Crown and the landowners, which was a continually running sore. But the Resolution before the House went much further than the matter of the foreshores, and was opposed to any public offices being ever erected on that portion of the Thames Embankment which was reserved to the Crown, and which had been reclaimed from the river at the cost of the ratepayers of London. The whole question of not building on those open spaces came before the Committee which sat last year, and of which he was Chairman. That Committee came to the conclusion that the part of the land between Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges was a most eligible site for a Natural History Museum, with gardens attached to it, and he believed the same arguments applied to the land on the other side of Hungerford Bridge. He was not prepared to say that for all time no public offices should ever be built upon that land. They had had various schemes proposed for the concentration of the public offices; and, in his opinion, the best scheme laid before the Committee of last year was that of Mr. Pennethorne, for concentrating the public offices on the land between the Duke of Buccleuch's House and the Charing Cross Railway Station. At the same time, it would be a great mistake for the House to sanc- tion the placing hap-hazard of this or that public office on that land, without having a comprehensive plan before them. He would vote for the Motion if the hon. Member (Mr. W. H. Smith) would consent to add the words—
"Unless the plans for such public offices shall have been laid before the House, and ample time shall have been given for their consideration, and the assent of Parliament obtained."
addressed the House, but the hon. Members were inaudible owing to continual cries for a Division.
The House divided:—Ayes 106; Noes 156: Majority 50.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be pleased to direct that no public offices be erected on that portion of the Thames Embankment which is reserved to the Crown, and which has been reclaimed from the River at the cost of the Ratepayers of the Metropolis.—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)