HC Deb 05 May 1809 vol 14 cc392-400
Sir Oswald Mosley

began by saying he anticipated some opposition to the motion of which he had given notice. The idea of building the infirmary in an airy situation was suggested first by Dr. Moseley; and the lands in question, of which lord Yarborough was then tenant, were, purchased for this purpose. Very shortly indeed after the purchase had been made by government, and before the surveyors had made their report, application was made by col. Gordon to become tenant to part of the lands. The report of the surveyors was, that the annual value of the part taken by col. Gordon was much diminished by having an infirmary built so near it. If this nuisance, however, was so great, he would ask, why col. Gordon was so early in his application, or why he chose that spot? He must object to the whole transaction upon two grounds. The first was, that he thought, these lands ought not to have been leased at all to any individual: and his second objection was, that they were let on terms very inadequate to the real value. As to his first objection, he believed that it would now be confessed universally that a saving of 55l. per annum was no object to be put in comparison with the health and comfort of our veterans. The situation that had been fixed upon for col. Gordon's house, would certainly never have been altered, if it had not been for the notice which had been first taken of the subject in that house by the hon. baronet (sir F. Burdett.) It had been stated, somewhat inaccurately, that the whole of this ground had been purchased from lord Yarborough, whereas, in fact, part of it had belonged to the hospital, and had been much dilapidated by what was called the improvements of col. Gordon. When the surveyors calculated in their report that col. Gordon was entitled to get at least six pounds per cent. on the 4,500l. he was found to expend, it did not, however, appear to him, that the surveyors had taken into their calculation what it was that the public were to gain upon this transaction. By some papers that were circulated by the friends of col. Gordon, it was stated, that he was at a most immense expence in keeping up a wall, which he was bound by his contract to keep in repair, and that this wall was to him like a pit that swallowed up the whole produce of the land. He was however informed, that as to the vast expence of keeping up this wall, there were many builders in this town that would be very ready to keep it in repair for ten pounds per annum. If col. Gordon was really to be annoyed at the sight of old soldiers taking the air, he could not conceive why he chose to take those premises. He had made inquiries at Chelsea about the value of ground, and he was informed that many gardeners would have given 20l. an acre for such ground, even if it had not the advantage of being on the river. It appeared therefore that any common gardener would have given 80l. a year for what col. Gordon gave but 55l. Col. Gordon might, as soon as he got the lease, have lot it out at a profit. If the value of the land was said to be so depreciated from the contiguity of the infirmary, was not that a reason for not separating the land from the building? At present the building gave more the idea of the damp vaults of a secluded prison than of an airy and comfortable dwelling for invalids. He should much rather see the old soldier walking about these grounds and smoking his pipe there, than see all the improvements which col. Gordon could make. As to col. Gordon personally, he did not mean to say, that he, from his long services, was not as much entitled to any favour as another officer; but he would say that these grounds ought not to have been taken away from the infirmary to be given to any individual. He was ready to prove at the bar, that most of the officers at Chelsea remonstrated against this transaction, but that the governor persisted. He should only wish to call a few witnesses to the bar. The honourable baronet here mentioned the names of sir David Dundas, Dr. Moseley, Mr. Fordyce, and nine or ten other gentlemen, being medical men, surveyors, or architects. He concluded by moving "That a Committee be appointed to investigate certain transactions respecting the building of the new Infirmary at Chelsea."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that whatever wish gentlemen might have to proceed further in this inquiry, he could hardly suppose them serious in proposing to call witnesses to the bar, and to consume much of the time of the house on a business of this nature. If it were necessary to leave the further consideration of such a business to a committee, the inquiry should be left to a select committee, and the time of the house should not be wasted by a long examination of witnesses. He hoped, however, that they would not think any further proceeding necessary when they should hear the statement he had to make. The case had since been inquired into, both by the governors of Chelsea Hospital and the Treasury; and on a communication with colonel Gordon, he expressed himself very ready to extend the space towards the infirmary. The governors of Chelsea Hospital had afterwards thought that it would be advisable to make other additions to the infirmary, and that perhaps they might want the whole of the ground, and they therefore wrote to the Treasury to know whether the contract with col. Gordon was so concluded as to prevent this. The Treasury wrote back to them in answer, that the contract was in such a situation, that they conceived col. Gordon had an equitable title to a lease from them. He was convinced that if such a contract had existed between individuals, a court of equity would have decreed the performance of it, and that a lease should be executed. It was, however, now settled that other purveyors and other physicians should be called upon to give their report; and if their report should be, that those grounds were necessary for the infirmary, government would certainly endeavour to prevail on col. Gordon to give them up. There could certainly in this case be no sort of blame attached to ministers for judging, not with their own eyes, but with the eyes of men who knew the value of lands, and were sworn surveyors. The inquiry was certainly one that would be beneath the dignity of the house to maintain at their bar. The hon. baronet had said, that the examination would be very short, and yet he had given in a list of ten or eleven witnesses. It would be evidently wasting the time of the house to have all those witnesses examined at the bar.

Mr. Biddulph

was astonished at the report of the surveyors, who estimated the value of this ground, as he knew many members of that house who would give 2,000l. more for it than it was let for to col. Gordon. For himself he would say, that he was ready to give more for it, and he was certain that he could make a profit by the purchase.

Lord Milton

agreed with the right lion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it would be beneath the dignity of the house to resolve itself into a committee of the whole house, and hear witnesses at their bar on such a subject as this. The principal object of his rising was, that a noble friend of his (lord Yarborough) had felt himself excessively hurt at the representations that had been made of his conduct. It would be thought by some people that his lordship had made a sort of Jewish bargain with the government. The fact was, that being in possession of those lands as tenant of the crown, lord Yarborough applied to government, in the year 1805, for a renewal of the lease, but was told that the ground would probably be wanted for an infirmary. Lord Yarborough felt the force of this objection, and never applied again for the renewal, but offered it to government immediately, there being seventeen years of the lease unexpired. It was then left to surveyors to estimate the value, and those surveyors differed very much, one valuing it at 2,000l. and the other at 8,000l. At length a surveyor valued it at 4,700l. which, although it appeared too small a valuation, both to lord Yarborough and to his friend sir Joseph Banks, who advised him not to take it, yet his lordship resolved to give it to government on those terms. Now it appeared hard, and something like a job, that the lease of those grounds, which could not be renewed to lord Yarborough, for the reason then assigned, should be, so soon after the surrender by him, given to col. Gordon.

Mr. Huskisson

said, that in whatever observation he had made with respect to lord Yarborough, it certainly was never his intention to throw any sort of reflection on the conduct of that noble lord, but merely to vindicate the government from the imputation of having obtained those grounds from lord Yarborough under false pretences. The fact was, that the bargain was fair on both sides. If the surveyors differed so widely in their report, the one valuing it at 8,000l. and the other at only 2,000l. the reason was, the surveyor who set the larger value on it, conceived that lord Yarborough had a right to let it out on building leases. From all the information he had upon the subject, he must deny that government had made any conditions about what they were to do with the ground when they bought its and the only condition that he knew of was paying a fair price for it. As for the application of lord Yarborough to government to get a renewal of the lease, there was not in the Treasury any evidence or trace of such an application ever having been made.

General Tarleton

spoke at some length on the propriety of granting every comfort and indulgence to old worn-out sol- diers, who only got admittance into Chelsea Hospital from their long services, their wounds, and their constitutions being worn out in the service of their country. If the nation chose to build palaces for these discharged veterans, ornamented gardens should go along with the palaces; and the old soldier should not be prevented from walking in them. It would be a pleasing sight to the young as well as to the old to see the worn-out soldier enjoying all the comforts which the liberality of this country designed for them. He thought the lion, baronet (sir F. Burdett) had therefore great merit in bringing this subject before the consideration of the house.

Colonel Wood

bore testimony to the long services and professional merits of col. Cordon, who was, he was confident, one of the last men in the empire, who would appropriate to himself any thing whatever that could interfere with the comfort of a British soldier. Whatever some gentlemen might think of the value of the situation of this meritorious officer, he begged it to be understood that it engrossed the whole of his time and his mind, and left him scarcely leisure to enjoy the ordinary comforts of life.

Earl Percy

observed, that col. Gordon bid for this ground as any other man might have done; and if any blame belonged to the transaction, that blame did not appear to attach to that officer.

Sir Francis Burdett

> said, that with respect to the bargain, so far as it affected the public, it was an absolute job. The pensioners were to be immured to give advantage to colonel Gordon's pleasure-grounds; and though, according to the speech of the hon. gent. who had just sat down, that officer would not take advantage of the soldier, he seemed to have no objection to take advantage of the ground. This was, in his opinion, the only spot in England fit for the purpose of an infirmary for the hospital, and he would be happy to give double the sum col. Gordon was to pay for it, and secure it on any of his estates, for the sole purpose of giving it up to the hospital, rather than this monument of national munificence should be disfigured. He thought this the greatest job he had ever heard of; it was a job of all jobs, and ought to be distinguished by the name of the Job. We heard every day of baremeters, thermometers, and chronometers, and this should be called the Jobometer. As to the papers, he would not go into them. Dr. Moseley desired the whole of the premises. Mr. Aust, in his letter, says, part may be granted; and in that division col. Gordon got about sixteen parts out of nineteen. Some gentlemen had talked of the expense of a wall; but they did not mention, that if it was not for col. Gordon, that wall would not be wanting. He thought the pensioners were very ill used in many respects. There was a very fine large public terrace, but the old soldiers were never suffered to set a foot on it; they were totally excluded from it: and as to the garden, not a single leek were the poor pensioners permitted to take to make their porridge with. He could not see such transactions going forward without taking notice of them. He felt it to be an imperious duty which compelled him to aim at their correction. He had no doubt, but, in these demure times, the cry would be raised against him. He did not know by what name lie should be assailed; jacobin, he supposed, was grown too state and worn out, and gentlemen began to be ashamed of it; but it signified not to him what it was; he would wear any name that went along with the reformation of abuses. With respect to the motion, he had no doubt but his hon. friend who brought it forward, would agree to take a select committee, instead of an open committee of the whole house; and as there were further papers to be produced, they might be referred to the said committee.

Mr. Yorke

contended, that the hon. baronet had misrepresented the fact; though, he had no doubt he had done so from misconception. No idea had been formed of making the Infirmary for the poor invalids to resemble a prison.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that in looking over the papers, he thought government must have been imposed on. He would not suppose they were capable of making such a disposition, as to give it the colour of a job, and yet from the whole of the valuation of the surveyors, it certainly bore something of that appearance. The house of Mrs. Aufrere, which was to be converted into an infirmary, was valued, with the small piece of land adjoining it, at 6,380l.; and the remaining land, which was four acres, was let for 55l. a year. It was with considerable astonishment he had read the Report, and he never could have supposed it to be one drawn up on the part of the public but on the part of a lessee, who was stating every thing he could for his own interest. Respecting what fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as to prevailing with col. Gordon to give up the grant, if any fraud or delusion had been practised on the Treasury, he thought it would be like the case of a minor's estate, in which, where fraud or delusion was used, a court of equity would set-aside the agreement made by trustees; so, in this instance, if fraud or delusion by any one appeared, the house might interfere, and prevent the completion of the grant.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

explained, and said he never supposed there was any fraud or delusion; but that if on inquiry it should be found a desirable thing, and that, on the new plan of Mr. Soame, the hospital would be benefited by it, the Treasury would endeavour to get the grant relinquished.

Mr. Long

said, the board never heard a word of complaint on this subject till the 13th of April, till the morning of the very day on which the hon. baronet first brought the matter before the house; and they immediately began an investigation of the subject, and had continued their inquiries ever since. It had been said no individual ought to have this ground, but that it should be converted to the general use of the hospital. He thought so as much as any one, and no man would be more ready to put it to that use, if proved to be advantageous to the hospital. He wished the Minutes of Evidence taken before the board since the 13th of April should be laid before the house. They would then see what had been done. As soon as this motion was negatived, be should move that those Minutes of Evidence be laid before the house, and if, after they had seen those and the other papers which his right hon. friend meant to bring forward, the house should not be satisfied, they might then have recourse to a select committee.

Mr. Worthy

said, the hon. baronet opposite (sir F. Burdett), who was always loud against abuses, had characterised this as being of all jobs the worst; that indeed it should be called the Job. In that case he thought we might take credit to ourselves for more than an ordinary share of virtue. The veteran soldier was here said to have been robbed of his convenience, but he maintained that the case had not been made out.

Sir O. Mosley

in reply, agreed that the case was not made out, because the house had not all the necessary evidence before it: But, he pledged himself to make it out by the viva voce evidence he had offered to produce, and which he should bring before a select committee, if that mode was thought the most preferable way of proceeding. He understood col. Gordon had already been offered 4,000l. profit on his purchase, and was of opinion the Treasury had better give him that sum than complete the transaction. He agreed that since the question was first before the house, the site of col. Gordon's house had been changed, but to what part it had been transplanted he did not know, access to the premises having since been denied him.

The house then divided,

For the Motion 73
Against it 170
Majority against the Motion 97