HC Deb 04 July 1820 vol 2 cc190-4
Mr. Hume

said, that the motion which he was about to introduce to the House was one most worthy of their serious consideration, as it related to the private property left by his late majesty. He then proceeded to explain how the law had formerly regulated the disposal of such property. In 1800, it was thought fit to alter that law, but with what propriety it was not for him to determine; he would only say, that the policy of altering it had been doubted by many. By the act of the 39th and 40th of the late king, it was declared that, as his majesty had purchased many manors, lands, and tenements, from the accumulations of his privy purse and other sources, it was fitting that lie should have power to dispose of those manors, lands, and tenements, as he should think proper, except where any of them had devolved to him from the kings and queens of England. The manner in which they were to be disposed of was thus described in the act—"All manors, lands, and tenements may be disposed of by the king in writing, under the sign manual of the king himself; but if disposed of in any other way, such disposition is null and invalid." The consequence of this enactment was, that if they were not disposed of they reverted to the Crown, just as they would have done had no such law been enacted. That they did so revert under the former law, he would prove by the opinion of four eminent lawyers who had been consulted on the subject on the demise of George 1st, in 1727. In that opinion it was declared that the private property of the Crown could not be disposed of by will, and in consequence George 2nd had set aside a legacy of 27,000l., given to sir R. Walpole, in trust for the countess of Kendal, on the point of law. Therefore, if, in the: testamentary disposition of the late king, the mode prescribed in the act of the 39th i and 40th of his reign had not been follow- ed, the property must be disposed of as it would have been previous to the passing of those acts, and such must have been the understanding of parliament at the time, or they would have so declared it by some explanatory words. There was however, some difference introduced into this case by the Regency act, in which the queen, the Prince Regent, and the keeper of the privy purse, were appointed trustees to his majesty's private property. He would not refer them to the act under which commissioners for the management of his majesty's property were appointed. It was well known who those commissioners were. The act of the same year, ch. xiv. still more particularly regulated the subject; and this was passed in December, 1812. It appeared, on the whole, that so long ago as 1800, his late majesty was possessed of freeholds, manors, &c. to a very considerable amount and extent, for the management of which the commissioners in question were appointed. He did conceive that a large property, there-fore, existed; the produce of which-was ordered to be invested in the same manner as capital, until such time as his. majesty's recovery might enable him to direct the further disposal of it. It was the duty of his majesty's ministers, immediately on the demise of the Crown, to take possession, or endeavour to do so, of the property belonging to his late majesty, in just the same manner as he (Mr. H.) should consider himself as heir at law authorized to take possession of the property left by his father, unless some one stept in with a will or other instrument to bar his right. Now, if they had done this, they had done rightly; but he was at a loss to imagine what could have been the bar in this case, unless some will were in existence which prevented their proceeding. He was induced to submit the motion he should make, in consequence of the profound secrecy with which the whole transaction had been conducted. He had heard it' was once intended that a great proportion of his late majesty's property should be divided among his sons, then living. Sup- posing it were 50,000l. or 1,000,000l., for the amount made no difference, as far as regarded his argument; hut let them suppose that property was worth 1,000,000l., I and that by this will the royal dukes had become possessed of 200,000l. or300,000l., a piece. Would that House, in such a! case, conceive itself warranted to vote those illustrious persons the same allowances after such an accession of property, as it would have done supposing no such event had occurred? He thought him- self bound to ask his majesty's ministers what had become of this property, unless a will had been actually found; and if one had been found, why had there! been all this secrecy about it? If it should appear that a will had been found, but that it was not made according to statute, if his majesty's ministers had done their duty, they should have brought it forward and submitted it to parliament long ago. He should move, therefore," For copies of any minute or minutes of the lords of his majesty's Treasury, respecting the private property of his late majesty; also, copies of any proceedings or correspondence which have taken place between them and any other persons, to ascertain the amount of such property."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

expressed his conviction, that the House would agree with him in thinking that no inquiry should be entered into with respect to the private affairs of the royal family, unless under circumstances of imperious necessity: and as no such reason could be adduced in this case, he trusted the House would see that the hon. member's motion was unnecessary, especially after the explanation which he had to otter. Since the death of the king, a testamentary document had been found among his majesty's papers, and the subject had been referred to the consideration of competent persons, who had not yet made their report. But whatever the decision of those persons might be, there was no question whatever that the property of the late king devolved upon his present majesty. But as to the amount of that property, the hon. mover had been very much misled, for that property comprehended about 90,000l. in money and stock, together with some freeholds, and the king's establishment at Weymouth, making altogether a sum very far short of what the hon. mover had stated. What claims there were upon the 90,000l. he was not yet enabled to state, nor could he say what was the value of the property at Weymouth until it were disposed of, and it was intended to advertise it for sale as soon as the report alluded to was made, as the retention of that establishment was unnecessary for the accommodation of his present majesty. Under these circumstances, he trusted it would not be necessary to press the motion.

Mr. Hume

said, that after the explanation which the House had heard, he had no objection to withdraw his motion, declaring that he should not have brought it forward if it were not for the refusal of the noble lord to make any answer to the question which was put to him last night. It would be admitted, however, that the motion would produce a satisfactory result, by doing away with the exaggerated reports which had gone abroad respecting the amount of the private property of the late king.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that be could not feel himself at liberty to answer any questions affecting the private affairs of the Crown, without special authority. It appeared, however, that the hon. mover, as well as other members, was quite mistaken, as he last night stated, with respect to the late king's private property, which, so far from amounting to a million, did not, in fact, exceed 104. to 105,000l.

The motion was withdrawn