HC Deb 02 April 1889 vol 334 cc1401-39

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £36,379, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1890, for the Buildings of the Houses of Parliament.

*MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)

In the present Estimates there is a sum of £7,854 asked for in connection with the restoration of Westminster Hall. I see, on referring to Class 1, that the sum of £31,899 has been spent up to the end of last year; and a further sum of £3,447 up to the 31st of March, 1889, making a total of £35,346, or, together with the sum now asked for, a total of £43,200. As no provision is made for railings, or for laying down the in closure around the new building, I presume that we shall be asked for a further sum on that account. Therefore, I think I am correct in saying that, before the work is completed, we shall have expended a sum more nearly approaching £50,000 than £40,000. Now, it appears to me that the Committee may approach the Vote to-day with a perfectly free and open mind. It is quite true that a Committee was appointed to consider the question in 1884; that it presented a Report; and that in July, 1885, a discussion took place in this House upon that Report. But, in the first place, the Committee was appointed under very different circumstances from those which now exist. I wish to disclaim most emphatically that this Vote has any connection with the side of the House on which I now sit; and if I were sitting on the other side of the House, supporting Her Majesty's Government, I should object to it in precisely the same way. Indeed, I believe that the Amendment I propose to move will have the support of many Members on the other side of the House. There is no Party feeling whatever in the matter, but the simple question is, whether we approve of the works which are now being carried out, and particularly to one portion of them, to which I shall allude before I sit down. I would like the Committee to look a little closer to this Select Committee and its Report. It was appointed in 1884, and consisted of 13 Members, most of them of high position. The terms of the reference were "to examine and report upon plans for the restoration of the exterior of Westminster Hall." I lay considerable stress upon the word "exterior." There was laid before the Committee a scheme which, it was suggested, would cost £35,300; but that included the addition of two corner towers at the north end of the Hall, which proposal was apparently even too strong for the stomach of the Committee. It was therefore, ruthlessly cut out, and left a sum of £26,500 as the estimated cost of the works which the Committee approved of. As the works are likely to cost £50,000, it is not too much to say that they will exceed the Estimate by nearly 100 per cent. The expenditure up to Saturday last was £35,336; we are to-day asked to vote £7,854 or £43,190 against £26,500, without the sum that will be necessary to complete the in closures and railings. The proceedings of the Committee were very interesting, and occupy a considerable volume. The Committee wound up their Report with the observation that "this is a most difficult subject." I can only wish that the Committee and the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), who was mainly responsible for it, had proceeded a little more judiciously in what they admitted to be a difficult subject. The Vote came on for discussion in this House on the 15th of July, 1885, and it underwent considerable criticism. It was pointed out that the money obtained in August, 1884, was asked for under a certain plea, and that it had not been applied to the purpose for which it was asked—namely, strengthening and preserving from the weather the flying buttresses. In the course of the discussion the right hon. Member for Bradford made use of one or two curious expressions. He said that he had found it not easy to act as Chairman of the Committee and as First Commissioner of Works at the same time, and that, on the whole, he had felt bound to stand by the Architect. Therefore we may take it that as Chairman of the Committee he acted as counsellor, guide, and friend of the principal witness, and that he did not possess that impartial mind, as Chairman of the Committee, which was to have been expected. To a certain extent he acted as Mr. Pearson's advocate before the Committee. Delay was pleaded for. It was pointed out that it was a moribund House of Commons, that a General Election was imminent, and that it was not desirable to do more than keep the flying buttresses from damage—that there was no necessity for hurrying the scheme through the House of Commons. These arguments did not prevail, and what occurred then may occur again this afternoon. Hon. Members who had not heard the discussion came into the House when the division bell was rung, and gave their votes without being cognizant of the merits of the case. The Vote was carried, and I should like to ask what the public have got for this expenditure—something like £40,000. I will not criticize the outside architectural features of the scheme; but inside we have got a few rooms ill-lighted, badly approached, and too far off—altogether a most inconvenient arrangement for those who are engaged in the business of this House. So far as the upper rooms are concerned, they are worth little or nothing, and upon the basement there are only three or four cellars. I cannot conceive an arrangement more exposed to ridicule. There is a covered space for horses, but it is approached by a declivity, which it is dangerous to drive a horse down. But, leaving the cost of the building and the want of arrangement, my specific ground of objection is the work inside Westminster Hall. The Committee were appointed to examine and report upon plans for the restoration of the exterior of Westminster Hall. If it could have been foreseen that such a structure would have been erected in the middle of Westminster Hall, I do not think the money would have been granted in July, 1885, so readily. It is quite evident that the matter of these steps was present in the minds of the Select Committee, and to show this I will read some of the questions put by the Chairman of the Committee to Mr. Pearson, together with Mr. Pearson's answers. Mr. Pearson was asked— (Question 157.)—"How do you propose to give access to these rooms?—By staircases from the Hall. (Question 158)—Is that following the original plan?—The original plan at this end (pointing to it), and a second flight of steps leading up from the south of the Hall; and then an additional flight of steps towards the centre, somewhat similar to the steps which existed before in the Hall, as may he seen in one of the old views. 159. Would those steps he any detriment to the Hall itself?—None whatever. 160. Supposing exception were taken to those steps, would it be possible to give access to those rooms in the ante-rooms shown in the plan of the lower story?—Certainly; it would sacrifice some portion of the upper floor. The Conference Room here (pointing to it) would have to be diminished in size. 161. It would necessitate some little rearrangement of the upper floor?—Yes. 162. But if it were thought objectionable to let the staircases be steps in the Hall, access could easily be obtained in the manner I have suggested?—Yes; steps existed as shown in No 22. A flight of steps is shown here. Certainly "steps," but not anything like what Mr. Pearson has put in Westminster Hall. Mr. Pearson admitted that there would be no difficulty in avoiding these steps in Westminster Hall, and the effect of his examination was that they were not necessary in order to give access to these rooms. But a good deal more occurred in reference to the steps than that. When the matter came on for discussion in this House on the 15th of July, 1885, the Chairman of the Committee said (Hansard, Vol. 299, page 826)— It has been objected by the hon. Member that the access to these rooms would partly be by stone staircases in the corners of Westminster Hall, 10 feet in height. That is undoubtedly how access was given to them in former times. It was my intention, if I had remained in charge of the Office of Works, to try by a model how these would look, and whether they would interfere with the appearance of Westminster Hall. In the opinion of Mr. Pearson, they would not detract from the appearance of the Hall. If, however, it should turn out that that was not so, and that the effect was had, it would he quite possible to place the steps in the lower part of the Gallery by sacrificing a part of the space there, and in this way, I think, the objections of the hon. Gentleman would be completely met. That I regard as one of the suggestions which we often see thrown out from the Treasury Bench to soothe the mind of the objectors to a particular Vote, and I have no doubt that this was a suggestion made with that object. The effect of it was that the objection to the steps was allowed to sleep; the Vote was obtained, and hoardings put up, so that it was impossible to see what was taking place behind them. Now that the hoardings have been taken down, we see the structure exposed, in all its hideous deformity, entirely destroying the vista down the Hall. I believe it is quite impossible to show that there was anything like it in bygone days. I have been to the British Museum, and although the representations of the Hall do not go back very far, there is nothing like these steps to be found in any old print. This is a matter for which I hold no Party responsible, but it is a matter for the Committee to take into their own hands and deal with as they think fit. The historic glories of this old Hall are or ought to be dear to every Member of this House. I say unhesitatingly that these erections mar the grand and severe lines of one of the noblest halls in this country. I ask the Committee to support the Motion I now make, that this Vote be reduced by the sum of £500 as a protest against what I cannot help characterizing as a ruthless act of Vandalism.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item B, £7,854, for the Restoration of Westminster Hall, be reduced by £500."—(Mr. John Ellis.)

*MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

I was First Commissioner of Works at the time Mr. Pearson was employed in the work of restoring Westminster Hall, and as I acted as Chairman of the Committee which my hon. Friend has frequently adverted to, I think the Committee will not be surprised if I take up at once the challenge of my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend has alluded to the Report of the Committee, and to my action as Chairman of it. I do not propose to detain the Committee at any length upon this somewhat stale subject, but I am quite prepared to defend my conduct. As First Commissioner of Works, I found it necessary to defend Mr. Pearson from what I considered at the time to be an unfair attack from a small clique of professional men, who had determined to destroy his scheme if they could. It is not necessary to go into all the matters which were brought before the Committee, but simply to ascertain whether on the whole the results of our action were satisfactory. The hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. J. Ellis) says that the upper rooms of the new building are ill-lighted, badly approached, and too far off. I take issue with him on all of those points. I say that they are not ill lighted nor badly approached. Each has a separate approach, and it is not the fact that they only communicate with one another. Each has a separate communication with the Hall. They are not ill lighted, and the building at right angles with the Hall is one of the most noble rooms to be found in London. My hon. Friend says they are worth very little; but it appears to me that they are extremely valuable rooms. I have no doubt that great use will be found for them, and that they will free other rooms in this House which may be dedicated to hon. Members in other respects. My hon. Friend went on to refer to the staircases, and I presume that they form the main object which has induced him to move the reduction of the Vote to-day. He has truly said that the question of the staircases was a subject of long discussion both in the Committee and in this House. Mr. Pearson's idea was that he was restoring the building on the west front of Westminster Hall as nearly as possible to the condition which he believed to exist from the time of Richard II. to a comparatively recent period. Unquestionably, rooms similar to those now re-built existed in former times, and were approached by staircases from the Hall. The hon. Member has thrown some doubt upon the fact, and says that in his opinion they never had any direct communication with Westminster Hall itself. But in the north staircase an old archway can be pointed out which shows that all the rooms communicated with the Hall in the manner they do now. My hon. Friend has referred to the statement which I made when the Report of the Select Committee was discussed in this House that I had intended, had I remained First Commissioner, to put up models of the proposed staircases, so that the public might judge of the effect of them. That was undoubtedly the fact. Now, I never set up to be a great authority on matters of taste, and I have always been anxious on such matters to take the opinion of the public outside as far as I can, and, probably, hon. Members will recollect that when the plans for the restoration of Westminster Hall were originally made, I had a model made of the exterior of the new building, so that Members might be able to judge the effect for themselves. So far as the staircases are concerned, notwithstanding all that the hon. Member has said, I maintain that they are no detriment whatever to the existing Hall. On matters of taste it is advisable that the House should be guided by the best authority of the day, and I can give authorities, which will be recognized as very high authorities, for the statement I have just made. I do not wish to force my judgment on the House, I prefer rather to quote the opinions of four men who will be recognized by hon. Members to be the highest authorities on this subject, Mr. Waterhouse, Mr. Christian, Mr. Blomfield and Professor Brooks. I have had communications from all four gentlemen on the subject of the final design of the new buildings on the side of Westminster Hall, and especially on the point of the staircases. The first of the four opinions to which I shall refer is, I think, the most important. It is that of a gentleman who had very grave doubts indeed on the subject of the staircases before they were erected. Mr. Christian had told me that now he is able to judge the general effect of the staircases; his opinion is entirely different to what it was before. He says— As regards the interior of the Hall and the new staircases, I am thankful to say that the dread with which I at one time looked forward to their introduction has been entirely dissipated by what I have seen to-day. The north and south staircases are admirably managed, and the views of the roof of the Hall from the landing of the former, and of St. Stephen's Hall from a similar position on the latter would alone compensate for any obstruction if there were any such to defend. They are really to an architect's eye quite charming. The central staircase and the arch beneath it giving access to the lower series of rooms are designed in the true spirit of a mediaeval mason. The outside parapets and the pedestals may be, and I think are, open to criticism in respect of details, but the main feature are really admirable….. You are, I presume, aware that the northern staircase gives access to the upper series of rooms by an ancient doorway admirably restored, and completed by Pearson, without disturbing the inner ring of the arch which gives clear and strong evidence to the truthfulness of his theory of restoration. Mr. Waterhouse writes— The staircases leading from the Hall are very well contrived, not taking up much room, and yet by their variety adding interest and scale to that side of the Hall. The only doubt I have is as regards the central staircase, and that is with reference to the four pedestals terminating the side walls of the court flights. They appear to me too high and unnecessarily interfere with the view of the beautiful arch supporting the upper flights. The staircases would, in my opinion, have been well worth building if only for the new and unexpected views they afford of the Hall itself. The northern one has utilized the freshly discovered-Early English doorway, and enables the spectator to see the Hall from probably the most favourable point of view, The central one allows of the examination of the details of the roof in a way impossible from below; while the southern staircase carries one into a corner of the Hall from whence is a fascinating view of the entrance to St. Stephen's Hall. Professor Brooks said— Never before have I seen the Great Hall look so well. For some cause it looked much larger; this I consider arises from the staircases, which project into the Hall and thereby break up the large surface of the west wall and give a scale to the building it so much required. So successfully have these staircases been designed they form good approaches to rooms, they give scale to the building, and they do not intrude too much into or obstruct the circulation in the Hall. From the landing of these staircases most charming views can be obtained of the Hall itself and of the finest timber roof in England. Such views were never obtainable before. Mr. Blomfield said— The interior of the Hall has certainly been materially improved by the change. The west wall was formerly disfigured by six enormous doorways, which detracted very much from the scale and proportions of the building, and had altogether a most disagreeable effect. The new doorways and staircases have quite remedied this defect, and to my mind form very interesting and pleasing features on that side of the Hall. I said I did not intend to put myself forward as an authority on these matters, but haying got such judges as I could, and having looked at the whole work effected by Mr. Pearson, I can but conclude that it has been carried out with very great success. I can see no defect whatever, and I would ask hon. Members who entertain any doubts to reserve their final judgment until the work is completed, and they can judge of it as a whole, which is the only way to arrive at a fair judgment. It is not quite fair to the architect that it should be judged in its incomplete state.


Will the right hon. Gentleman pardon me for interrupting him? Is there any more work to be done in Westminster Hall?


No, I think not.


Then we can judge the effect of the alterations there.


It is hardly fair to condemn Mr. Pearson on a single piece of his work before the whole results of his building can be seen. I do not think it would be quite fair to the architect to come to a final judgment on the subject, yet I wish I might venture to detain the House with an opinion on the general effect of the restoration. All the Reports I have quoted speak in enthusiastic terms of the way in which the work has been carried out, and of the building as a whole, and Mr. Christian especially says— I cannot but think that the throwing open of the Great Hall, and the clothing of its base with massive buildings, thoroughly harmonious with the old work, but greatly adding to its strength and power as a grand architectural feature, is one of the most successful works of modern times. It is to me a very real satisfaction to look upon it, and I trust most sincerely that in the enclosure of the ground outside nothing will be done that can in any way mar the grand simplicity of a picture which, when completed, ought to be one of the very finest to be seen in London. Mr. Waterhouse also refers in the same terms to the general result of the work. I have only again to ask the House not to come to a final judgment on this question: it is only fair to the architect that time should be given for the completion of it as a whole. I may venture to express my regret that no money has been taken in the Estimates for the present year for completing the approaches, laying out the ground, and putting railings in front of the enclosure. It is hardly fair to the architect, when the work is practically complete, that it should still be surrounded by hoarding for twelve months, and that no opportunity should be afforded to the public of viewing the building. I can only conclude by saying that, in my judgment, Mr. Pearson has carried out a work of the greatest difficulty in a most satisfactory manner, and I believe the verdict of the architectural world is decisively in favour of what he has done. I regard it as a worthy completion of Westminster Hall, and a work which will be an honour and dignity to this part of London.


The right hon. Gentleman has said a great deal about the feelings of the architect, but surely there is something to be said for the feelings of the British taxpayer, and for the way in which he is tyrannized over by artists and architects. I think, indeed, the greatest tyranny, and the most injurious tyranny, that we have to put up with is that which comes from the architect. He makes buildings which we not only have to pay for, but which we have to live in, and which affect the comfort of our lives for all time to come. It seems to me that it is a terrible misfortune to the country that architects look, as a rule, not to the convenience of the public, but seek to gain their artistic end, and in 99 cases out of 100 design buildings which are not suitable for the purposes for which they are intended. We have only to look for an instance of that to the new Law Courts, for which we paid so large a sum of money, and which have turned out to be so singularly ill-adapted to the purposes for which they are intended. Not only is the architecture bad, bat the work was ill-done. The roofs have shrunk and are in danger. I think we have been grossly led astray by the architect, with regard to the work he has done to the exterior of Westminster Hall. Indeed, I fear the thing is now past praying for. I think a great deal of money has been spent uselessly, for the only result, so far as I can see, is that a number of wretched rooms have been erected, and those rooms are good for no practical purpose whatever. There might have been built a really magnificent room, if only the architect had gone the right way to work. We were prevented from having any knowledge of what was going on by the erection of hoardings around the works, and I believe that if the House had had an opportunity of judging what was proposed, the architect would not have been allowed under the cover of the hoarding to erect a hideous staircase. I am a modest man, but if I pride myself on anything it is that I have a sober mind, and am not carried away by passion. I am not architecturally or morally drunk. I have, I repeat, a sober mind in matters relating to art, and the result of what I have seen has been to convince me that matters of high art are all bosh and humbug. I do admire the interior of Westminster Hall; I believe it is the finest Hall in Europe, or at least it was before those awful stairs were put in. I also believe that the exterior of Westminster Hall was never meant to be otherwise than simple, for the reason that it was surrounded by the kitchens of Royal Palaces, and could not be seen to advantage. I join with my hon. Friend in being shocked and disgusted with the way in which the Hall has been treated. The steps which have been put in are not only ridiculously out of harmony with the rest of the building, but they are altogether out of proportion, and we find they are intended for no possible use whatever but to give access to those wretched, little, miserable rooms, for which even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford can find no use whatever. I hope the Members of this House will exercise their common sense, will put a stop to these proceedings, and will have the stairs removed, and, I therefore heartily support my hon. Friend, and certainly decline for myself to be tyrannized over by architects.


I had hoped, Sir, that the First Commissioner of Works would have followed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford in this debate, and have given the Committee his views in regard to this matter. Since he has not done so, I desire now, Sir, to state the reasons which induce me to support the Amendment. I am afraid the House is now committed to this expenditure, and that it is of no use trying to overthrow it. But when I was a Member of the Committee dealing with this question I expressed an opinion that if the First Commissioner of Works employed Mr. Pearson he would be pretty sure to find himself in a mess, because Mr. Pearson and his school did not follow the ideas of the old masters. We have now seen the result of Mr. Pearson's work. These are, no doubt, all questions of taste; but my doctrine has always been to follow the old masters, because they were right. Mr. Pearson and his school, of course, thought that the ideas which they adopted were better than those of the old masters, and they acted accordingly. My opinion was that either the magnificent designs of Sir Charles Barry should be completed or the matter should be let alone until a future time. Instead of that the right hon. Gentleman decided to employ Mr. Pearson. With regard to the outside of Westminster Hall, we are committed to the works there. We protested against them in 1885, but we were overruled, and now we must make the best we can of the buildings. But the inside of the Hall is an entirely new question. I do not believe that the designs for the steps were ever submitted to the Committee, and there is no evidence to show that they were. The plan is nothing but a mere ground plan, and there is nothing in it to show this large erection, which, so far as I can see, is a copy of the pulpit used by Mr. Spurgeon. Then there is another great defect about the alterations in Westminster Hall, and that is their want of symmetry. I should like to know why the doorway was not made exactly opposite to the entrance to St. Stephen's cloister. Then again there is the roughness of the western wall; I think it is most unsightly and that it destroys the whole harmony of the southern end of Westminster Hall. There is another defect in this new arrangement. One idea of the class of architects to which Mr. Pearson belongs seems to be that you must not have anything smooth and sightly to the eye, but that you must go back to some barbarous period, and that you must make everything rough and unsightly.

MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

Does the right hon. Gentleman refer to the interior or the exterior wall?


I refer to the exterior wall between these famous staircases. The new architect has roughened the whole face of the western wall, and it presents a very unsightly appearance. No doubt the architects have been filled with the idea that they were going to put something there which was there originally, but there is nothing to show that Mr. Pearson's restoration is anything but the creation of his own mind. I do not think that the authorities who have been quoted in support of this work are such as the Committee ought to follow. No one who can put two and two together will fail to see that the staircases will interfere with the whole idea of the Hall. The Champions of England were accustomed in former days to ride into the Hall; if the Champions of England rode into it now I think it would be difficult for them to get out on the other side. The staircases are nothing but obstructions, and are not necessary even for the purpose of obtaining access to the small door at the end. Then there is a parapet at the end which I hope will be removed. My reason for voting for the Amendment is that these particular staircases, and the alterations, on the whole, have never been sanctioned by the Committee, and are, therefore, open to the decision of the House upon them, and we shall be quite justified in reducing the Vote to show our sense of the wrong that has been done to Westminster Hall.

*MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)

I cordially support the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. J. E. Ellis). I think we can very freely express our deep regret that the present Chief Commissioner (Mr. Plunket) did not in 1885 accept the advice given to him in this House not to hastily adopt Mr. Pearson's proposals. The grumbling we hear to-day would not, I think have been heard if the right hon. Gentleman had not been too anxious, I think, through courtesy, to adopt the plans of his right hon. Predecessor in office (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). I think, Mr. Courtney, you yourself stated pretty clearly what would happen if this new building was erected. You said the outer rooms would be nothing but cellars, to which people would have to descend from Westminster Hall by means of a flight of steps, that the inner portion of the Hall would be more or less disfigured, and that the outside building would serve no possible purpose but that of darkening the interior of the Hall. The right hon. Gentleman Mr. Shaw Lefevre has talked a good deal about style and about architects, but what I said in 1885 I say now, namely, that he has thought more about style than utility. What we need is to have some useful building erected in order that the business of Parliament may be more conveniently conducted. The right hon. Gentleman appears to have given no instructions at all to Mr. Pearson as to the requirements of the House. He merely instructed him to prepare plans which he approved, and got the Government of the day to approve, and then had them referred to a Select Committee with an altogether insufficient reference. Even to-day the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) has no idea as to what use the rooms are to be applied. The Select Committee state in their Report that when they commenced their inquiry the only plans before them were those of Mr. Pearson. I hope even to-day that we shall have some declaration from the First Commissioner that the very ugly steps which everybody disapproves of will be removed, and I think we must also ask him to state for what purpose the rooms are going to be used. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) says that there is a separate entrance to every room, but in order to get to the separate entrance you have to pass through other rooms.


I venture to say, without fear of contradiction, that you can approach every room through Westminster Hall without passing through other rooms.


Well, I went there to-day with an hon. Friend, and I have been there before, and I certainly think that you cannot do so. I have protested before against these plans, and I protest again. I only hope that the First Commissioner of Works will be able to say something that will cheer us up on the subject.

*MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)

I hope the Committee will allow me to give my reasons why I cannot support this Amendment. I take very great interest in Westminster Hall, and if it were possible to have reconsidered the whole question and to have carried rat Sir Chas. Barry's plan, I think it would have been wise to do so. That is an impossibility as things now are, and I think it is a great misfortune that when something is being done with the authority of this House, and is approaching completion, an attempt should be made to undo what has been done. I have no doubt that if any mediaeval architect had had to put these steps into the Hall, he would have placed them symmetrically opposite the entrance to this House. The modern idea that eccentricity is a great feature of mediaeval architecture is an ill-founded one. Whenever symmetry is departed from in such architecture, it is done from necessity and not from choice. I think that the general effect of Westminster Hall has not been damaged by the additions which have been made to it. With regard to the roughening of the wall, I hold that the treating of the wall in that manner gives a pretty variation of light and shade and is much superior to leaving it smooth. I cannot vote for this Amendment because I earnestly desire to see Westminster Hall completed. When it is completed it will then, I think, be time to consider whether any alterations should be made in it. I think the great window on the north side, which looks as bare and cold as possible, ought to be filled with stained glass. My right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works has informed me that the cost of filling it with stained glass would not exceed £1,200, and I do hope that next year, if the right hon. Gentleman has the courage to put this down in the Estimates, he will ask Parliament to grant that sum. It might be made a window commemorative of Her Majesty's Jubilee, and I would suggest that the arms of Her Majesty and of all the Sovereigns who came to take part in the Jubilee Service should figure in it. There are other windows also which need a little colour so as to brighten up the Hall. The shields also running round the Hall were at one time resplendent with gold and colour, as were also the shields borne by the carved angels in the roof. It would not cost much to repaint and re-gild them so as to give a bright line of colour round the Hall I think also the glass panels in the north door of the Hall might be filled in so as to make the door all solid wood work You would then have the grand effect of a dark dado running round the Hall, and the splendour and dignity of the building would be much increased. If I might make a few remarks about the great Central Lobby, it seems to me it would be a good thing if the statues of Lord Iddesleigh and Lord John Russell were moved into Westminster Hall. At present they are completely out of place, because a different standard of symmetry is given by the statuary in the mouldings leading up to the groinings, which gives a scale of elegance and dignity to the Central Hall unequalled by any other hall in Europe. They might, at present, stand at the top of the first flight of steps. I am sure that the public are anxious to see this building, which is essentially the people's palace, completed, and I hope that the Representatives of the people will endeavour to bring about this result. I hope the task will not be approached in a niggardly manner, and that this palaee which is the glory of our nation, will be properly completed.

MR. HERBERT GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)

I cannot say I agree with the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir G. Campbell) that the high art of this century is all bosh and humbug, but I must say that, if the present interior of Westminster Hall is an example of the high art of this 19th century, I should be very much of the opinion of my hon. Friend as to the value of that art. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) urged that we should reserve our opinions on this subject, but my right hon. Friend subsequently admitted that the interior of the Hall was practically completed, and it is to the interior of the Hall that we specially object. What we chiefly complain of is, this staircase, which I regard as nothing less than hideous, and also the blank space on the south-west of the Hall which balances so ill the iron screen on the opposite side, and is altogether a perfect eyesore. I do not set myself up as a judge of taste, but I know what I think is ugly and I know what I think is pretty; I am not going to be guided, therefore, in a matter of this kind by any number of architects or any amount of architects' opinions. I am certain that if hon. Gentlemen had been able to see how hideous the present interior of Westminster Hall was going to be, they would have done everything they could when the plans were under discussion to prevent their adoption. I shall certainly support the Amendment.

*DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W)

I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) that the Committee which sat on this subject was a good one, and certainly one member of it had a kind of prophetic insight into what was to happen. The only Gentleman who really understood the plans, namely, Mr. Dick Peddie, predicted very accurately a great many of the grave defects which would be found in this building. I think a study of the report of the Committee throws a lurid light upon what was stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford, namely, that we should subordinate our own tastes and feelings entirely to the tastes and opinions of architects. When we invite the opinion of experts we find them hopelessly at variance; some will be one side, and as many on the other side; and so we find in this instance first-rate architects on one side and on the other. But what struck me in regard to the opinions of those Gentlemen quoted by the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. ShawLefevre) was—if I may use an expression, which I hope is not un-Parliamentary—that they damned the work with very faint praise. Everyone had some amount of qualification of his commendation; the steps were good, but—something else was wrong. This only bears out my view that you may find experts on both sides of any question of this kind. I should like to know whether an attempt has been made to get the opinion of any other architects, for I feel sure that we should not want the support of professional opinion to our view that these steps are an outrage to one of the finest old halls in the world. I am not going to take the sweeping line taken by some I hon. Members who have spoken, for I am of opinion that the outside work on, Westminster Hall is good in design and thoroughly in harmony with the rest of the building. So far as my judgment goes, Mr. Pearson has there been quite successful, but, when we get inside, my favourable opinion ceases. Any commonsense man familiar with the appearance of the Hall will agree that the stairs are not beautiful in themselves, and placed as they are, they break up the fine majestic sweep of that side of the Hall and spoil the grand simplicity of the whole. I confess I have been unable to find the separate entrances for the rooms, and I wish the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) would organize a personally conducted tour and explain this to us. I was there to-day, and I could find no trace of such things. As Mr. Dick-Peddie said long ago, the arrangement is inconvenient if there should be anything like a crowd entering these rooms, and the rooms will be subject to unpleasant odours from below. I do not know what the rooms are meant for, but I suppose for the use of Members of Parliament. If that is so, if Members are likely to be there at all, you must have some machinery by which they may have an intimation of a division in the House, and it is hardly possible to get from those rooms in time to take part in a division without running, an exercise for which the habits and physical conformation of many Members are ill-adapted. Even now, it is difficult to get from the Committee Rooms upstairs to this House in time when a division is called. We sometimes hear of fatal consequences to elderly gentlemen from running to catch trains, and I suppose if something of the kind happens to some of us, something will be done to obviate the necessity of proceeding at a headlong pace. It strikes me, looking at the new rooms, that the old Law Courts might as well have been saved. I remember, too, the staircases were unobtrusive and something like the staircases of old times, no more obtrusive and no more interfered with the architectural appearance of the Hall than the old orange woman who kept her stall in the corner. To compare these clumsy stairs to the light flight of stairs that led up to those picturesque doorways, as I remember they were, is an outrage on common sense. It is a great pity, I think, the old Law Courts were not kept; they were quite as convenient as rooms, the architecture was not much worse, and preserving them would have saved a large sum of money. I shall give my support to the Motion of my hon. Friend.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

We adopted the usual course in regard to our public buildings. We left the matter to the Chief Commissioner and a professional architect, and they have made a thorough mess of it. There was an idea, I believe, when at considerable expense a number of rooms were provided, that they would be so many extra Committee rooms. Now, we have to come to the conclusion that they will not be used for Committee rooms, nor do I see how they could be, seeing that they open one into the other. ["No!"]


Will the hon. Member allow me to correct the statement I made just now, that to go to one room you must pass through another? That would be so if you went up the centre staircase, but I find this can be avoided by descending the centre staircase, and ascending others at each end of the Hall; and as regards the basement, I find that there is a hole on the ground floor, that, if not filled up, can be made the means of access from outside the building to the corner room.


The real facts are, there is no present intention to use these as Committee Rooms, for you cannot pass from one to the other without coming down one staircase into Westminster Hall and ascending another, a most inconvenient arrangement, more especially when witnesses and counsel and agents are required to attend to matters in more than one room. The only possible use to which I can see the rooms can be put is to use them as a sort of prison for those Members who happen to offend the House, and who, if mow imprisoned by way of punishment, are sent to the Clock Tower, to the great injury to their health from the noise of the clock. We have built the rooms at considerable expenditure of money, but I do not suppose we are prepared to pull them down again, but with these staircases it is a different thing. They are a great eyesore. So far as I know, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford and the architects he has mentioned are the only people who admire them. There is a consensus of opinion that these staircases ought to come away, and the simple course is to take them away; we can get into the rooms without them by putting a staircase in the little room leading up to these Committee Rooms It is too late to argue about the rooms but at least these objectionable stair might be taken away.


I must ask the Committee to bear with me while I endeavour to deal with the many arguments addressed to me on this matter of the restoration of Westminster Hall by Mr. Pearson. I notice, in the first place, that whereas the criticisms a few years ago were very loud and very uncompromising as regards the effect which would be produced by proposed additions to the exterior of the Hall, on the present occasion those criticisms have hardly been heard at all. I think I may say, having been in communication with many people on the subject inside and outside the House of Commons, that, at last, there is an almost universal consensus of opinion as to the excellence of Mr. Pearson's work, on the outside at all events, and as to his having made a substantial and handsome addition to the general appearance of the old Hall. The Committee are, no doubt, aware there was a necessity for some such work being done in order to preserve the walls, the roof, and the flying buttresses, which were in a state which caused considerable anxiety, and I may say at once that the main reason why it became necessary to make a considerable addition to the Estimate formerly before the House was that, when the matter came to be examined, it was found that the flying buttresses were in a much more advanced stage of decay than had been supposed, and it was found essential to renew the old work to a greater extent than had been anticipated. That, I think, further shows the urgent necessity there was for taking the work in hand if the old Hall was to be preserved at all. Another reason for increasing the Estimate is that a very elaborate and complete system of ventilation has been provided under the directions of our distinguished adviser, Dr. Percy, for the new buildings, and it was found necessary, in order to meet the requirements in this respect to give further support to the walls and flying buttresses. This accounts for the greater part of the increase in the Estimate. And now let me say a word or two about the staircases. Of course, after all, it is a matter of taste, but so far as I have been able to judge there is nothing like such a universal consensus of opinion as the hon. Member for Northampton says against these staircases. There are some people who say they do not make much difference, and others, notably the distinguished architects to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred to-day—and many others speak to the same effect—declare that they add greatly to the beauty of the Hall. One thing is certain, that any person who walks up the centre staircase and looks around will get a much better view of the Hall than he can get from any other part of the building, except, perhaps, from the wide flight of steps at the end of the Hall. However, this is a matter of taste, and I am not anxious, dogmatically, to press my own opinion, but I think that any Member of the Committee who is not an architect will probably agree with me that he has seldom seen a change made in any old building which did not at first produce on him the effect of a surprise, if not of a shock, but that having got over the surprise of the change, he will some times come to the opinion that the result did, after all, justify the change. But I do not press that view too far. It is, I repeat, a matter of taste. And let me say in passing that when one has to stand the criticisms differing so widely as those of my right hon. Friend the Member for White haven, who has devoted much study to the old masters, and is always ready with a particular affirmative, and the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, whose judgment on art results is a universal negative, and who would study utility alone, it must be admitted that any Chief Commissioner will always have a considerable number of assailants in reference to the carrying out of any architect's plan. I have myself little doubt that if the steps were removed and other steps were put in their place, or if no steps at all were erected, there would be another cloud of witnesses to raise objections to the new arrangement. I had best, I think, under these circumstances, fall back upon the strong Committee which reported in 1885 on these plans after going fully into the subject. That Committee had before them the architect and his plans, and its members had every opportunity of cross-examining him and ventilating their own views. I must remind hon. Members that the Committee of 1885, after going into the matter most carefully, and occupying sitting after sitting during several months, ultimately carried the report upon which the architectural work has been based by majorities of seven or eight to two or three in every important division. Then it is said these plans were never before the Committee at all, but there I say hon. Members are entirely mistaken. Not only had they these plans, 5A and 6A, in which the three staircases are plainly shown, but they had No. 8, which gives a section of the staircase at the northern end of the Hall.


Only a sectional elevation.


I am speaking of that. It is shown as a sectional elevation of the northern end of the Hall. I admit that the double staircase in the middle of the Hall is not shown.


Hear, hear!


But that is merely a duplication of the staircase at the north end of the Hall. All its characteristics will be found in the elevation given, and there was, as I have already stated, before the Committee a ground plan of what was to be done, in which the three staircases were plainly shown. It is not, therefore, a true representation to say that these staircases were not before the Committee, and they are necessary for access to the upper rooms. The hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division asks why I did not disclose to the House of Commons and the public the deed of darkness which was being done behind the wooden screen. I was not very long First Commissioner of Works after the debate on this subject in 1885, but when I returned to the office I was asked a question on the 20th of September, 1886, about two of these flights of stairs, and my answer was certainly no suppressio veri. I stated that— The scheme which has been sanctioned by the House includes the erection of two open flights of steps, having projections, not of 23 feet and 15 feet respectively (as stated in the question), but of 20 feet 6 inches and 9 feet 6 inches respectively. Plights of steps fulfilling the same object as those now proposed, and occupying very similar positions, have existed in Westminster Hall very nearly throughout its whole history. And then I went on to explain that Mr. Pearson's plan was a modern reproduction of what existed in ancient times. I spoke of two staircases, the question addressed to me having reference to two staircases only, and I only cite this answer to show that I fully explained to the House what was going on behind the mysterious screen. What the House is really interested, I think, to know, however, is what use is to be made of the rooms we have thus acquired. Some such buildings were necessary for preserving the old Hall from ruin; but I think they might be made extremely useful. I entirely differ from the estimate which has been formed of the rooms by some hon. Members. They have more light than the rooms in which many of the officers of this House have to sit every day. One is a very large and handsome room, and, even if not large enough for a Grand Committee, it would do for a Committee of very considerable size. The other rooms, I venture to think, could be turned to better account than as Committee Rooms. My idea is, in the first place, to transfer into those rooms, which are certainly at an inconvenient distance from the House for Members wishing to attend Divisions, the Private Bill Office, at present running along the side of St. Stephen's Hall. The clerks of that office would not complain of the difficulty of access to the rooms, for, instead of having only one access, as they have to their present rooms, they would have five. I would also suggest that it would be well to transfer the officers of the Journal Office, who have rooms facing on to the terrace, to these new rooms, which are quite as large and as well ventilated and lighted as those they now occupy. There is no doubt that the accommodation at present in the House for interviewing strangers and deputations is extremely small, and my idea is that the room along the side of St. Stephen's Hall would be a very convenient place for Members to meet deputations and to see strangers or their private secretaries. With respect to the rooms facing on the terrace, it has often been represented to me that more smoking accommodation is desirable, and I propose, therefore, to convert one of these rooms into a second smoking room. I do not bring forward these ideas dogmatically, and I would be glad of suggestions from hon. Members as to the disposal of the rooms. But it is, I believe, a sound principle to utilize the new rooms for the officers of the House, whose immediate closeness to the House itself is not essential, and to take advantage of the rooms which they now occupy for the greater comfort and convenience of Members themselves. On the whole, I can see no reason for taking a step so strong as that of abolishing the staircases. Let hon. Members give them a fair trial, and see what the general opinion will be. I am in favour of opening Westminster Hall to the public if the Home Secretary comes to the conclusion, as I have reason to hope he will, that it is possible again to do so.


I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation. I am sure we shall all be glad to know that these new rooms will be put to a reasonable, practical use. The object with which I move this reduction is to protest against the steps in Westminster Hall—I ask the judgment of the Committee simply and solely in regard to the work done inside the Hall.

*MR. STORY-MASKELYNE (Wilts, Cricklade)

One objection that has been made to the steps is that they destroy the symmetry of the Hall, and that Gothic architects always studied symmetry. The hon. Gentleman opposite who stated this half-truth forgot that the Gothic architect first considered what was wanted, and in carrying out what was necessary, studied symmetry if it was convenient, but, if not, defied it, and still built what was beautiful. No building could more aptly illustrate this than this historic Hall. The "central" doorway is not in the centre. Six windows flank it on one side, five on the other, and the buttresses and arches on the West side are unsymmetrical with the windows and with each other. No, Mr. Courtney, the thing is done, and the staircases are built, though not yet finished. They may look better then, and to alter them will cost a great deal more money, and probably at the further cost of convenience. I do not admire them, but I cannot say they are ugly. They are necessary, and as in Gothic architecture regard is always paid to the practical necessities of the case at as little sacrifice of beauty as possible, and as the steps are paid for, I think we had better keep them awhile and see how they chime in with the old building when they are finished. I shall certainly vote against the Amendment.

*MR. G. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

With regard to that part of the criticism which has been hurled at the head of Mr. Pearson, the architect, as to the stone used in the new work not having a smooth face, I would point out that if it had a smooth face it would be altogether out of character in the building. The stone referred to has what is technically called a tooled surface, and accords with the face of the stone used throughout the building.

*MR. DE LISLE (Leicestershire, Mid)

I wish to urge upon the Government the desirability of removing the closed up dormer windows on the eastern slope of the roof of Westminster Hall, and of completing the timbers of the roof in uniformity with the western slope. The alteration, I am informed, would not cost more than £750, and it is surely a disgrace to the nation that we cannot afford to retain and restore both slopes of the roof which is renowned throughout the world as the finest specimen of ancient timber work, the effect of which is completely destroyed at night when the hall is lighted up by these ugly holes in the eastern slope. I do hope the Government will next year ask for sufficient money to complete the roof at least, for the Plantagenet kings or ancient Abbots of Westminster would never have tolerated for six months such a miserable exhibition of national penury.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 129; Noes 230.—(Div. List, No. 59.)

Original Question again proposed.


The first notice of Amendment I have on the Paper is rendered unnecessary by that we have just disposed of; but I will move my second Amendment as a protest against the excess asked for over the Estimate for the restoration of Westminster Hall, and as a protest against the lofty manner in which the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works replied to criticisms upon that excess. There is nothing more objectionable than this constant practice on the part of architects and engineers of giving us an estimate in the first instance, and then leading us into enormous excesses. There seems to me no excuse for excess in this case, the question having been for years before the House, and the architect having had every facility for perfecting his plans and completing his estimate on a reasonable basis. Whereas the original estimate for this work was some £26,000, the actual cost has been £43,000, and before the railings are finished the amount will probably rise to £50,000. If the architect is as capable and efficient a man as he is said to be, why did he not prepare a capable and honest estimate, and let us know at once the amount to be expended? I move to reduce the vote by £7,000.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item B, £7,854, for the Restoration of Westminster Hall, be reduced by £7,000."—(Sir George Campbell.)

MR. W. G. CAVENDISH BENTINCK (Penryn and Falmouth)

I wish to ask my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works whether any steps have been or are being taken to put the contract of this building under one authority? We have been told that the building is under the Lord Great Chamberlain, and that it is owing to that functionary that the Statue to the late Lord Iddesleigh has been put up in the central hall.


The subject the right hon. Gentleman is going into is relative neither to the item under discussion nor to the reduction which has been moved.

*MR. ISAACS (Newington, Walworth)

I was informed that the Vote last taken was on a Motion to reduce the salary of the architect by £200, to which I am opposed, and I wish most emphatically and decidedly to say that I went into the wrong Lobby. I cannot support the reduction of the Vote now proposed, for the work has been done, and as honest men we must pay for it; but I must say that I think the staircases very objectionable, and that the architect appears to have utterly failed to catch the spirit of the design of the Hall.


That question has already been discussed.

Question put, and negatived.

Original Question again proposed.

*MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

I beg to move the reduction of the Vote under Item "C" by the sum of £500, and in doing so, if what I have to say is not new, the fault is not mine, but that of the First Commissioner of Works. For the last three years I have brought this question before the House, and I hope that the House will not this year turn a deaf ear to the prayer of the workmen, whose case I represent. I am sure that the First Commissioner of Works is not desirous of continuing to do them an injustice, and I hope that he has given to the subject the attention he promised me last year, as I think we are now entitled to a distinct promise that the system of which I complain, and under which the workmen are subjected to severe hardships, should be speedily terminated. The right hon. Gentleman promised to inquire. I want to know what is the result of his inquiry, and what is going to be done? I do not complain that new works or extensive alterations in connection with the Houses of Parliament should be executed by ordinary contract, but what I do protest against is the extraordinary system of contracting for human labour, and allowing some one to deduct from the wages of the men a considerable portion of the sum which we vote in this House year by year. I am told that this system has prevailed for some years, and that nobody knows how it came about. The present contractors are Messrs. Brass. Some of the workmen are contracted for at the rate of 5½d. per hour and others at the rate of 6½d.—very small sums; a great deal too small. But out of these sums, small as they are, the contractor is allowed to deduct 1d. per hour, so that the workmen only receive 4½d. and 5½d. The work itself is often of a dangerous character, as the men have frequently to mount ladders to clean and paint parts of the building 60 and 70 feet above the ground. That men so employed should be paid at so low a rate is little short of a public scandal. These men are also deprived of many advantages which the employés of the Board of Works enjoy. They work longer hours, they have no holidays except Easter, Whit Monday, and Christmas Day, and they are not allowed even a day's wages if, owing to indisposition, they are unable to work. Another evil is the confusion which arises from the dual control. One body of men are engaged by the Board of Works, and receive every farthing of the sum voted by this House, whereas the men whose cause I represent are not Government servants, but are under the control of the contractor. As the Government have a Clerk of Works here, I think it is most desirable that the whole of the employés should be under his control. The Clerk of the Works receives a salary of £250 or £300 a-year. I do not complain of that as an extravagant sum, but I do think that he ought to superintend the work of all the men who are employed about this building. No one seems to have troubled himself about the grievances of these poor workmen, or their troubles would have been ended long ago. Personally, I have a very deep sympathy for a class to which I have had the pleasure of belonging all my life. The present arrangement is that the contractor is supposed to supply certain plant and materials—such as steps, trestles, and ladders, and for that he is allowed to make these deductions. Surely the nation is wealthy enough to purchase its own plant and materials, so that the workmen shall receive the full rate of wages voted to them by this House? It is said that this is an economical arrangement; but, if so, why is it only applied to the poorer class of employés and not to the upper class officials who receive high salaries? Her Majesty's Government not long ago appointed a Committee to inquire into the Sweating System, but that system they themselves are guilty of encouraging by allowing work to be done at the Houses of Parliament and other public buildings in the manner I have indicated. Unless a satisfactory assurance is given that the system of which I complain shall be ended when the present contract expires, I shall be under the necessity of taking a Division, and I shall go on pegging away until the evil complained of is remedied. I move the reduction of the Vote by £500.

Motion made, and Question proposed "That Item C, £5,555, for Maintenance and Repairs, be reduced by £500."—(Mr. Cremer.)

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

The matter may be a small one to Members of the House, but it is a very important one to the men concerned. There might be something to be said for the system if it applied to all the workmen employed about these buildings, but the House has a Clerk of the Works and other officials who could be charged with the duty of employing sweepers. The system adopted comes very near to sweating The Government pay 5½d. an hour, but the workmen only receive 4½d. The contractor's profit of 1d. an hour has not to meet any expenses for tools or materials, because all these are provided at the expense of the House. It is computed that the contractor nets a profit of £250 a-year on the sweeping of the Houses of Parliament alone; and he has other contracts of a similar kind for the sweeping of public offices which cannot be discussed under this Vote. I do think that under our very noses we ought not to allow this system to prevail. When the Government pay 5½d. an hour it ought to see that the money goes into the pockets of the men who do the work. Then, again, we talk of long hours, yet here we have men employed from 6 in the morning until half past 5 in the evening—11 and a-half hours, or, deducting the dinner hour, ten hours. It is quite evident that the work is excessive, and the pay too low. I can quite understand that the contract already entered into must run out; but it may fairly be asked that such contracts shall not be entered into again, and that officials of the House should employ the labour required.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

I wish to endorse the strong opinion which has been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Haggerston (Mr. Cremer), and also his appeal to the First Commissioner to accede to his request. I confess that I was astounded when I first heard of the system under which the cleaning of this House is provided for. I could not believe it possible that while the majority of the officials connected with this House are engaged directly through the Office of Works or some other Government Department, a system of contracting for the cleaning at a low price should be tolerated, together with the principle of making deductions from the wages of the workmen. The contractor's profit on the labour of each man amounts to something like 4s. 6d. a week—a very large sum indeed—and it is most discreditable that such large deductions should be made from the wages of the unfortunate workmen. I do not think that the First Commissioner can possibly, for any length of time, refuse to listen to the appeal which my hon. Friend makes to him. I do hope that this House, at least, will set an example against anything which can be considered in the nature of sweating. We are not asking that a large sum of money shall be squandered, or that any extra charge whatever shall be incurred. If it is necessary to effect economy, it can be done by cutting down some of the higher salaries by a few hundreds. Let the doctrine of supply and demand be applied to all grades of the public service, and then something like real economy may be effected. No doubt these men stand in a different position from the workmen employed in other departments, and they will not compare favourably with men employed to do work of a similar character elsewhere. I do not think any hon. Member can give a reason why these men should be left in this condition, and why they should not be brought in direct contact with the Chief Commissioner.

MR. MOLLOY (King's County, Birr)

I think the First Commissioner is entitled to some sympathy and commiseration at the hands of the House, because he has succeeded to a system over which he has no initial control. This system of contracts existed long before the right hon. Gentleman entered into office, and I presume that he has felt himself bound to continue matters as he found them. Therefore there is no blame to be attached to the right hon. Gentleman himself for the state of affairs which now exists, but on the other hand we have to look at the matter as a question of principle. By appointing a Royal Commission, Parliament has set its face against the putting of an unjust tax on the earnings of the working classes; and, therefore, the First Commissioner may fairly be asked to look into the matter and see what can be done in the future. The deductions made in this case amount to 20 per cent of the earnings, and that is nearly the maximum of the cases that have been brought before the Committee on Sweating. It is surely work in which the intervention of a contactor is quite unnecessary. We have our own Clerk of the Works, who is quite capable of seeing that the cleaning is done without the intervention of a contractor. Therefore, by employing a contractor, we are guilty of robbery of the earnings of the workmen to the extent of 20 per cent. Surely the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that the question is worth looking into, and will provide, when the present contracts are terminated, that these intermediaries shall be got rid of.

MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

I think that we ought to have a more definite assurance from the right hon. Gentleman than that which has been suggested, and unless we receive it we ought to go to a Division. The system ought to be definitely put a stop to as soon as the existing contracts come to an end. That is what we should press for, and unless a distinct understanding is come to I hope my hon. Friend will press the Motion to a Division.


This question was raised in Committee on a former occasion, and also by a Memorial which has been sent to me. I have considered it as carefully as I could, and I should be glad if I were able to remove the inequality complained of. The general system of getting our work done through contractors has always been regarded as successful hitherto; and the only exception to that system are the gasmen and furniture men employed in this House. These particular employés are not employed in any other public building. Then, of course, we had to consider the most economical way of doing the work, but I am perfectly willing on the termination of the contract to give the subject further consideration, and no doubt by that time we shall have the result of investigations which are being made into the whole question of the employment of middlemen in such cases. I believe it would be impossible to give the distinct pledge I am asked for.

*MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

There is no doubt a difficulty about giving the specific pledge asked for by the Mover of the Amendment. But I should have liked to have heard, besides a promise to consider this subject, some condemnation of what does seem to me a system which requires an explicit condemnation in this House. The wage of these poor men is very low, and you can easily get enough of starving men to compete for employment. But that is not a reason, it seems to me, from what has been alleged by the right hon. Gentleman, for continuing this system of contracts. I could understand if there was a difficulty in these men receiving their wages direct from the Office of Works, but it seems possible that they could do so. Although it is perfectly true that while the existing contract, including this House and other public buildings, continues, it may be impossible for the Commissioner of Works to deal with these men. I do think that the Chief Commissioner would be well advised if he would allow the good nature of his own character to influence him, and say that he would rather look at it from the point of view of these poor men than from the point of view of middlemen, who in this case are unnecessary. I would suggest to my hon. Friend not to press the Amendment to a Division, and would urge the Chief Commissioner to put more of the good nature personal to himself and less of his office into the investigation of this matter.


I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman merely to look into this matter and do nothing; I ask him to investigate it with the view to making an alteration. The reason given by him for maintaining this system of intermediaries or contractors is that the work is done cheaply. I go to this extent, and say that even though the work cost more than it does now, we, who are condemning sweating in every other department of life, are bound to put an end to it in our own case. There is a margin of £825 under maintenance and repairs. Now, 20 per cent is deducted from the earnings of these men, amounting to about £1,700. Well, you have this £1,700, and you have £800 to employ a superior Clerk of the Works to carry out repairs and maintenance, without going into a system of sweating as you are now. I would point out that in voting for the Government in this matter you are voting for the system of sweating. ["No!"] It is of no use saying "No." The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that it is the sweating system. [Mr. PLUNKET: No!] Will the right hon. Gentleman say that deducting 20 per cent out of a man's wages is not sweating? Twenty per cent is the maximum in a number of accusations of sweating brought before the Royal Commissioners, and I am entitled to say that in voting for the Government you are voting for the system of sweating. I think the statement of the Chief Commissioner unsatisfactory, though I quite admit the difficulty of his position. Those who refuse to vote for the Motion of my hon. Friend will have to answer for doing so in another place.


All I have undertaken to do is simply this, that when the contract concludes I will look carefully into the matter. If the House of Commons is of opinion that these men should no longer be employed under the present system of contract, I shall gladly endeavour to give the decision effect, but it must be done distinctly as the act of the House of Commons. In my position as a custodian of the public purse, so far as my office is concerned, it is my duty to endeavour to get the work done as cheaply as possible consistently with efficiency. I have given an undertaking to go carefully into the matter, and I cannot go further.

MR. WARMINGTON (Monmouth, W.)

Mr. Courtney, the explanations of the right hon. Gentleman are unsatisfactory. This is not the first time this question has been ventilated in the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman himself has been considering it for months, and what we want from him is a distinct statement of what is his own judgment of the grievances of these men. We do not ask him to point out the remedy now, but we ask him whether he thinks a wage of 5½d. and 4½d. per hour, subject to 25 per cent and 20 per cent reduction is satisfactory? If it is unhandsome and unfair payment, then this House, and not the contractors, ought to do its own dirty work by paying these men the low wages instead of paying the contractor the full wage. We should like to know the right hon. Gentleman's own judgment in this matter, and whether he thinks the grievance established.


I can amplify the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken by stating that the reduction of the wages of these men is just double what is ordinarily allowed. The ordinary profit of a private builder or contractor is 10 per cent. and I fail to see, when we come to these poor men, that they should be subjected to just double the reduction. I venture to make this observation to the right hon. Gentleman, because I am sure he will give the whole matter his earnest consideration. If the contract system is continued there ought to be a stipulation that the reduction of the men's wages should not be greater than 10 per cent. But the right hon. Gentleman would do well to notice the feeling of the House that the whole system should be changed, and that these men should come under the actual control of the Office of Works.

*MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, East)

Hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to contend that all work done by contract or by sub-contract must inevitably be done under what is known as the sweating system. Such a contention is, to my mind, ridiculous. A great deal of work in this country is done in all industries by contract, and, in nearly every instance, the workmen receive a fair day's wage for a fair day's work, not invariably, however, and that is what we want to remedy as a consequence of this inquiry into the sweating system. But does the workman always give a fair day's work for a fair day's wage? Not always, I think. To give an instance, Westminster Hall is included in this Vote. A few months ago I passed by Westminster Hall with a friend, and we noticed the proverbial man and a boy on the roof, nominally at work slating the roof, but practically idling their time away; we passed again in four hours, and they were still engaged in laboriously doing nothing. I very much doubt if one slate had been affixed during the time. Now, if we do away with the contracting system, and the work is done under the control of a Clerk of the Works appointed by the First Commissioner of Works, it will be needful to see that the country gets its fair day's work for a fair day's wage. For the interest of the taxpayer that ought to be seen to. If that is satisfactorily seen to, I do not see that it makes much difference whether the work is done by contract or not.


The right hon. Gentleman opposite has been talking of the outside of the building, when he might have said something more appropriate with regard to the interior. I do not see that the right hon. Gentleman has improved the case which has been put from this side of the House. He has not denied the fact that 20 per cent. is deducted from the men's wages, which is what I call sweating pure and simple. Let us have no mincing of terms with regard to this question; it is one on which we ought to express a clear and definite opinion. We have to thank the hon. Member for Walworth (Mr. Isaacs) for what he has said with regard to the contract as it exists, but we ought to ask for a distinct expression of opinion on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works that the principle on which that contract is being carried out should cease to be observed when the contract is at an end. What is asked is that those who are employed in the work you are contracting for should be put in the position of getting for themselves the 5½d. per hour you are paying.


I think the time has come when a decision may fairly be arrived at. I have already stated that at the termination of the present contract I will undertake that this whole matter shall be most carefully considered. It is for the House of Commons to say how its work should be done, and whatever decision the House of Commons arrives at, I will, of course, endeavour to carry out. Beyond this it is impossible for me to offer any pledge.


The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Plunket) twelve months ago made a promise that was quite as clear and definite as that which he has made to-day; therefore, we know what is meant by the consideration he proposes to give to the matter. The fact is, that we are left in the same state of indefiniteness as that in which we were placed a year since, and unless the right hon. Gentleman will give us a distinct promise not only that he will seriously consider the matter, but that, as far as he is concerned—for he cannot bind his successors—he will pledge himself not to renew any contracts such as that which is now objected to, I shall insist on going to a Division, so that it may be clearly understood that our action on this Vote is an earnest protest against the sweating system.


I should like to avoid a Division if it be possible to do so. The right hon. Gentleman has said that of his own motion he cannot alter the present system, but that it is necessary, if any alteration is to be made, that it should be by a Resolution of this House. He is merely an executive officer, and has to carry out the contract system which he finds laid down for him. It seems to me, however, that the matter we are now discussing is one in regard to which the right hon. Gentleman might well make the alteration we ask for. If he does not want to compromise the position of the men by what might be an unfortunate Division, he might offer some sort of assurance setting forth not only that he has the right to make an alteration at the end of the contract, but that he will do so if he finds that the general feeling of the House is in favour of that course.


I have already said that if it be the wish of a majority of the House that an alteration should be made in the system under which the work is now carried on, I will, at the termination of the contract, give effect to that view.


This is a good opportunity for enforcing the view of the House in regard to the sweating system, and I trust that that view will be clearly and unmistakably expressed.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 149; Noes 226.—(Div. List, No. 60.)

Original Question again proposed.


I rise to a question of order, Mr. Courtney. Before the hon. Member for Queen's County proceeds with his Amendment, I wish to ask a question upon item C. Shall I be precluded from doing so if the hon. Member now proceeds to move to reduce Item D?


The hon. Member for Northampton must raise his point now.


I have already spoken to the right hon. Gentleman on the subject, but I wish to point out that a very fine picture in this House is being gradually destroyed, owing to the state of ventilation, and I wish to ask if the right hon. Gentleman will consider the best means of preserving it from absolute destruction? I do not want to move any reduction of the Vote; all I want is an assurance that the matter shall have attention.


I am considering the best steps to be taken to gain the end desired by not only the hon. Member, but by all of us.


I think some of the frescoes upstairs are in a very bad and deplorable state. Those in the House of Lords are gradually becoming obscured, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the best means of utilizing decorative art to fill up these panels.


I have looked into the matter, and have caused the pictures and frescoes in the House to be carefully examined. I am afraid that some of the frescoes upstairs are past praying for; I will, however, again consider the matter. Now, Mr. Courtney, I must make an appeal to the Committee to come to a decision on this Vote. We have been discussing it nearly four hours, and I would point out that if all the Votes are to be discussed at this length, we shall take not weeks but years to get through these Estimates. I hope the Committee will now agree to this Vote.

MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

I am very sorry to intervene in this debate. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that many of the frescoes are past praying for, but in the particular frescoes of Herbert's—


It is not a fresco.


I wish to point out that it is not in such a bad condition as is generally supposed, and it is really worth while spending a minute or two of the House in discussing it. I think it is one of the best frescoes we have in England. If the right hon. Gentleman opposite wishes it, I will, to satisfy him, call it a picture. I do trust the First Commissioner of Works will think it worth his while to do what he can while the artist yet lives, to save this valuable picture.

*MR. W. A. MACDONALD (Queen's County, Ossory)

In moving to reduce Item E by £500, Sir, I feel that I am about to discuss a question which involves not only the convenience but the health and even the lives of Members of this House, and not of the Members only, but of the officials, from the Clerk at the Table down to the humblest policeman. I consider that the ventilation of this House is simply shocking, and that our healths must suffer if some improvement be not effected in this matter. I know that a great deal of money and thought has been expended on the ventilation of the chamber in which we are seated, and I am aware that the great difficulty which besets any one who has to deal with this subject arises from the fact that the House is too small to accommodate all its Members. I have not sufficient special scientific knowledge to say whether the ventilation of this House is as good as human science can make it; but of one thing I am quite convinced, and that is, that the ventilation of the other portions of this building—of the Members' lobby, of the passages and corridors, and of the rooms allotted to the Press—is simply disgraceful. Now the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works is always courteous, and he will, I am sure, tell me what is the exact duty of the officer who has charge of the ventilation of this House, and whether it is simply his duty to take care of this Chamber, or does he have to look after other portions of the building? If he looks after the whole of the building, he has surely something more to do through himself and his agents than to see that the thermometers always register an equable temperature. Why, Sir, should not some attempt be made to introduce pure air into the entire building? I remember the state of things during the Autumn Session, when the atmosphere here was most unhealthy. Why are not the windows opened at times when it would not inconvenience Members? Then, again, I consider the state of things upstairs most objectionable. The air which has to be breathed by reporters and others concerned in writing for the Press is dreadful, and if hon. Members do not believe it, I wish they would go upstairs and see for themselves. Something has been done, I am aware, in the shape of substituting the electric light for gas, but I want to know why electricity is not to be carried through all parts of the building? I understand you intend to put it in the Members' Lobby. Why should it not go into other rooms, where we now burn gas? There seems to be a fallacy with regard to this matter of thermometers.

It being ten minutes to Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.