HC Deb 02 March 1830 vol 22 cc1154-66
Colonel Davies

rose, he said, in the fulfilment of a pledge he had given last Session, to bring forward an inquiry into the conduct of an individual against whom he was under the necessity of making a charge of the gravest nature, and which had already been the subject of inquiry before a Select Committee. He assured the House that he felt considerable pain in the discharge of this duty. The world was so apt to attribute motives of a private nature to an accuser, that their sympathies were generally excited against him, and in favour of the accused. If that were generally the case, his situation was tenfold more embarrassing, as he had, in some degree, to contend with the resolutions of a Committee, appointed at his own suggestion. Nothing but a sense of public duty and a feeling of the public interest, which was involved to a great extent in the present inquiry, could have induced him to proceed with such a charge. On that occasion too he had not only to accuse Mr. Nash, he had also to prefer a serious accusation against one of the principal Ministers of the Crown— the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the Committee that right hon. Gentleman had exerted his talents and his influence to throw a cloak over the delinquencies of Mr. Nash; and, instead of discharging the duty of an impartial judge, he had assumed the character of a zealous partisan. The House would recollect, that last Session a Select Committee had been appointed to inquire into the conduct of Mr. Nash, architect and surveyor to the Crown. He would not fatigue the House by reading the voluminous evidence given before that Committee, though he should beg leave to draw its attention to some points in it. The history of the case was this; in 1819, when the improvements in Pall-Mall East, and Suffolk-street, were in contemplation, Mr. Nash received directions from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to survey and report upon the Crown-lands in that neighbourhood. Shortly after the report was made, a person of the name of Edwards, a near relation of Mr. Nash, applied for a large plot of the ground which had been cleared, admitting that, he had consulted Mr. Nash upon the subject. He finally obtained a grant upon the valuation made by Mr. Nash, and, according to his statement, employed him as his agent to sub-let the ground. Edwards then went abroad for about a year, and on his return, according to the evidence, an interesting scene took place between him and Mr. Nash in the country, in consequence of which he surrendered his interest to Mr. Nash, who in a most friendly manner offered Edwards 4,500l. for his bargain (which bargain Nash had himself made), and for that sum he became the purchaser. It ought not to be forgotten that, during the absence of Mr. Edwards, Mr. Nash had let the plot of ground at improved rents, although he had not laid out a single shilling in the improvement of the property. Having thus become the purchaser for 4,500l., Mr. Nash received no less than 14,600l. in improved groundrents. Thus Mr. Nash himself became the lessee of the Crown, although that fact was not known until three years afterwards; and in the mean time the Office of Woods and Forests supposed that he was acting on behalf of the Crown, in order to let the land to the best advantage. In order to make out a case, Mr. Nash had brought forward a highly respectable and eminent surveyor and architect, of the name of Shaw, who had also valued the land, and had arrived at nearly the same conclusion as Mr. Nash; but then he omitted a very material circumstance, that this ground, the rental of which to Mr. Edwards was 900l., was to be held for the three first years at a peppercorn rent, making, as he himself acknowledged, a difference of no less than 2,700l. Mr. Shaw had said, as a reason for putting a lower value upon the property, that it was a hazardous speculation: he (Colonel Davies) denied that it was so, and after the old buildings were once removed, the applications for the ground were numerous. The noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests had proved himself a most efficient public servant, and as soon as he became acquainted with some of the leading facts of the case, he wrote upon the subject to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, objecting to the course that had been pursued, especially to the circumstance that Mr. Nash had become the purchaser from Edwards, and stating in addition, that the frontage, which had been stated by Mr. Nash to be only eighty two feet, was, in fact, between ninety-seven and ninety-eight feet. These were points which the noble Lord had urged; it was fit that Mr. Nash should be called upon to explain. The discovery of the difference of frontage was made by the noble Lord himself, who, on coming one day from the University Club, stepped the distance and found that it had been greatly understated; from 1820 to 1829, however, this important variance had escaped notice. It could not be alleged by Mr. Nash that he was ignorant of the true measurement, because the extent of frontage to each house was stated in the margin of each lease he had granted, as the purchaser of the interest from Edwards. These were the principal outlines of the evidence; but he (Colonel Davies) begged to refer the House to the evidence of Mr. Shaw, in which he strongly censured the situation in which Mr. Nash had placed himself; and, in answer to a question, said, that as a broad principle, no agent ought to be allowed to become a party. Mr. Nash, employed by the Crown, had first become the agent of Edwards, then the purchaser of the grant to Ed wards, and kept the Crown in complete ignorance of the whole of the transaction. He (Colonel Davies) had found some difficulty in establishing these facts; but they ought to be taken as facts the more readily, as they were extorted from reluctant witnesses, and were matters they could not deny, and would willingly have concealed. Even Mr. Milne, the Secretary to the department of Woods and Forests, had not given his testimony without considerable repugnance. Having gone through the case as far as regarded Suffolk-street, he would now proceed to the circumstances connected with the grant of Crown-lands in the Regent's Park. If what he had already advanced were worthy of attention, what he was now about to offer was still more deserving notice. About this period of his (Colonel Davies's) statement last Session, a right hon. Gentleman, who was shortly to take his seat as Treasurer of the Navy, moved that the Gallery should be cleared; the consequence was, that the right hon. Gentleman injured the cause he meant to aid, inasmuch as the first charge he (Colonel Davies) had made, went forth to the public without an answer. The facts of the case connected with the Regent's Canal were these:—In 1816 the directing Committee of that undertaking made application to the Office of Woods and Forests, to obtain a lease of four acres of Crown-lands abutting on the Regent's Canal, in consideration of various expenses in making a collateral cut, basin, &c. Mr. Nash was at that time a very active member of the Committee of the Regent's Canal, and being called upon as the Surveyor of the Crown-lands to make a report on this subject, he made such a report to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, who upon that took the matter into consideration. The Commissioners, in the result, thought and expressed their opinion, that it would be more advantageous to have the Canal Company for tenants instead of an individual, and accordingly it was determined that the request of the Company should be conceded. It was suggested, however, that no valid lease could be made with the Company; and in order to avoid this legal difficulty, the Committee of the Regent's Canal Company consented that the lease should be made out in the name of Mr. Nash. The Commissioners of Woods and Forests believed that the reason for this change was merely to overcome the legal difficulty, and that Mr. Nash was only to stand forward as the trustee of the Company. The understanding, however, between Nash and the Company was, that he was to be its nominee; and some of the members of the Company, when examined before the Committee, stated that they thought that Mr. Nash had stepped forward to relieve the Company, and not for his own pecuniary advantage. Nevertheless, six years afterwards, the Committee of the Canal Company applied for a grant of four more acres of Crownland, and the application was signed by Edwards and Lyon, as solicitors for the Company. Strange as it might appear, the Company were in no respect privy to this request, they knew nothing of it; for it happened that Edwards and Lyon, besides being solicitors to the Company, were also solicitors to Mr. Nash, and they had applied for a further grant of Crownland in the name of the Company, when, in fact, it was for the sole private benefit of Mr. Nash. This fact came out in the evidence of Lord Macclesfield before the Select Committee. Mr. Nash, singular as it might appear, was required by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to report upon these circumstances; and instead of saying, as he ought to have done, I cannot, properly report upon a matter in which I am personally interested, he did execute his task; and what was the result of his inquiry? He recommended that the subsisting leases, to which he was a party, for fifty years, should be extended to sixty-one years. All this time the department of Woods and Forests supposed that the leases had been granted to the Regent's Canal Company; and five years afterwards, as was evident from the correspondence, they were in profound ignorance of the real nature of the transaction. The next step was, an application further to extend the term of the leases from sixty-one to ninety-nine years, on the ground that tenants for the wharfs could not be procured at a shorter term. Such was the allegation at the time; but before the Committee, the solicitor for Mr. Nash was obliged to admit that fifteen out of seventeen wharfs had been let for terms not exceeding fifty-four years. Upon these wharfs Mr. Nash had not been at the expense of a single shilling beyond the walling of the Canal Basin, which was, in fact, paid for in other ways. The case then stood thus: for the first seventeen years of the term it was stipulated that Mr. Nash should pay for the wharfs a rent of 54l. 14s. And what was the amount he actually received from his tenants for the same wharfs?—No less than 1,6981., leaving him, therefore, a clear profit of 1,643l. 6S. For the next seven years he was to pay 63l., so that his profit would only be reduced to 1,635l. For the next fourteen years his rent to the Crown was to be 634l., and he would, consequently, gain 1,064l. during that period. For the remainder of the term the rent to the Crown was raised to 1,321l., by which his profit would be reduced to 377l. per annum. This extraordinary advantage had been obtained, as he (Colonel Davies) contended, on false pretences, Mr. Nash having taken advantage of the situation he filled and of the influence he enjoyed. Under these circumstances, he put it to the law officers of the Crown whether leases so obtained were valid, and though no lawyer, he would venture to assert that they might be set aside. He had only one further circumstance to mention. It was the duty of Mr. Nash, as surveyor and architect of the Crown, to take care that all the building materials used were most substantial. The Committee charged Mr. Nash not with fraud—they said there was nothing in the evidence laid before them to raise a doubt of his integrity; but Mr. Nash himself afforded the fullest evidence that he had been guilty of fraud; he sold bricks at 16s. a thousand as bricks of the best quality, and those intended for Cursitor-street he used in Regent-street, though they were of an inferior quality, and though it was stipulated that none but those of the higher qualities should be used in the latter. There was no one who thought proper to take the trouble of looking from the back windows of the University Club-house, who might not see one of the most extraordinary pieces of patch-work that ever had been dignified with the name of architecture. Again, Mr. Nash was paid for reporting upon his own work: it was also in evidence that he first got four acres of ground, and then eight; and disposed of that land at a profit of 1,643l. and that was effected under false pretences. The hon. and gallant Member then proceeded to read from the Report of the Committee its Resolution, stating that there was no ground laid before the Committee for impeaching the integrity of Mr. Nash. Now, should the Chancellor of the Exchequer job in the public funds as Mr. Nash had jobbed in the public land, what would the Mouse think of it? Yet the whole conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that of a partisan—yes; through every stage of the proceedings directed against Mr. Nash, the right hon. Gentleman threw around him the shield of ministerial influence. He defied the right hon. Gentleman, or any of his friends, to show that a single question had been put by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which had not, or did not at least appear to have, for its object to screen Mr. Nash, Certain charges, as the House knew, had been brought before the House last year, but they did not amount to one-tenth of the evidence that he now adduced. If the House could be induced to grant a new Committee, he (Colonel Davies) had pledged himself to the House that he could throw much new light upon the matter which had been referred to the former Committee; and he had no doubt that the result of that further information would be, that the House could then have little difficulty in coming to a resolution to agree to an Address for the removal of Mr. Nash from his present situation. Would it be believed, that in a time like the present, when the cry of distress was universal through the land, that anything like the show of a defence could be set up for conduct like that of Mr. Nash? Could the cry of economy now proceeding from every quarter be stopped by a ministerial majority? Was the present a time when such jobs as those which he then endeavoured to denounce, would be tolerated by a suffering people? He concluded by moving, "that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the conduct of Mr. Nash with respect to the Crown-lands in the county of Middlesex."

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that last year the hon. and gallant Officer had made some hardy assertions, which were certainly not borne out by the evidence laid before the Committee; and by the results attendant upon those assertions they could judge how far his assertions of this year were to be regarded. Every man who attended that Committee must have seen how much at variance those assertions were with the facts. The hon. and gallant Member had thought proper to charge him with defending Mr. Nash at the expense of integrity, honour, and every principle which should govern the conduct of a public man. Yes, he told the House that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had throughout acted like a partisan, proceeding as if he were determined, right or wrong, to carry Mr. Nash through, and that in the most improper and corrupt manner; that was language which the hon. Member was not entitled to apply to him anywhere else, except in that House; but those who heard it would judge of it by the former unproved assertions of the hon. Member; and by those unproved statements of his they would judge how far it was likely that, if a new Committee were granted, he would succeed in laying before it, and proving, charges ten times as great and important as those the hon. Member preferred last year. As to the charges made against himself, of partisanship and improper support of Mr. Nash, he was sure the House would do him the justice to believe that his sole object was to do his duty to the public on the one hand, and to the individual accused on the other. Influenced by a motive such as that, he had carefully attended to the evidence on both sides; and having arrived at a different conclusion from the hon. Member, he certainly felt bound to propose to the Committee a resolution expressive of the view which he took of the subject generally, and of the conduct of Mr. Nash; and he should most certainly defend that resolution, without being deterred by any threat or by any imputation that might be attempted to be thrown upon his honour or character. Such imputations, he confessed, came upon him as a matter of complete surprise; for he was perfectly unaware that the hon. Member meant to make his conduct a subject of accusation. If he thought that accusation could have any weight with the House, he could satisfy every Member, as he had satisfied the Committee, that the views he took of the conduct of Mr. Nash were perfectly correct. The House had entertained charges against Mr. Nash; had appointed a Committee to inquire into those charges; and would they then, at the instance of a minority of that Committee, retry the same individual on the same charges? The hon. Member had charged him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) with being a partisan of Mr. Nash, and with endeavouring to secure his acquittal against justice, and against the sense of the Committee. How could he, proposing a Resolution in that Committee, carry it against the sense of the members of that Committee. The hon. Member selected that Committee, [no, no.] And how could he suppose that a person opposed to him could have any success? In saying that the hon. Member selected that Committee, he merely meant that he had chosen the members of it as persons likely to judge fairly, and who were capable of coming to a sound decision; that they were amongst the fittest that could be chosen, and, the least likely to be under the influence of Government, could be proved by reference to their names, many of them including the names of the hon. Member's own friends. It had been said that he came down to the Committee with a Resolution ready drawn up, exculpatory of Mr. Nash, and that he came down determined to force it upon the Committee; yet the facts were opposed to that, for the Resolution was not agreed to till after considerable discussion. Again, no Committee could be found less affected in his favour by political prejudices—if they could be supposed to have any weight in an inquiry wherein the question was one affecting the honour and character of an individual. Here was a gentleman tried and acquitted before a Committee; and if a new Committee were to be appointed to do the work of the former Committee over again, in that way Mr. Nash might be hunted Session after Session, until the most unjust decision were at length arrived at. The more especially was the House bound to resist the present Motion, considering the state of health of the individual in question, when that state was such as made it extremely doubtful whether or not it would be in his power to attend the sittings of the Committee. Finally, he had only to add, that if any hon. Member besides the Mover thought him capable of all that had been charged against him, he hoped that such a sentiment might be openly stated, for then, though not till then, he should feel it necessary to enter at length into the evidence and proceedings of the Committee, for the purpose of removing any such impression. He never had the slightest knowledge of Mr. Nash till he entered upon his present situation. With these few observations he should content himself, unless further accusation should lead him to go through the evidence and the ninety-seven documents laid before the Committee.

Mr. Arbuthnot

said, that the Member for Preston had drawn up the Resolution of acquittal; and knowing that, as well as the other proceedings of the Committee, he could not help feeling the utmost astonishment at the statement of the hon. and gallant Officer. He really expected from him something more of generosity candour, and good feeling, than he had manifested on that occasion. The hon. Member must have misunderstood or garbled the evidence, to come to so extraordinary a conclusion.

Mr. Warburton

said, he was not present at the last sitting of the Committee, and probably he should not have arrived at the same decision as that of the majority of the Committee. He contended, that no lease should be given to a surveyor of lands which it should become his duty to set a value on; and he put it to the noble Lord, whether he had not refused lately to sign leases upon that very ground, until the Attorney and Solicitor Generals had given their opinion upon the subject; for there had been a recent attempt to set aside a lease, owing to the circumstance of its having been made to the surveyor. He called the attention of the House to the Resolution agreed to by the Committee, in which they stated "that although there was no evidence that any loss had accrued from the conduct of Mr. Nash, yet it was the opinion of the Committee that the Commissioners of Woods and Forests ought not to grant leases to surveyors or architects having any immediate interest, or being liable to be called on to give their opinions, until their duty, as surveyors or architects, had ceased." Thus, by implication, they did convey an opinion that Mr. Nash had an immediate interest in the lands which had been made the subject of observation. Besides, it was most important to observe, that the charges made last year would have been much more full and numerous had they not been brought forward at so late a period of the last Session. During the present Session there would be time enough to go through them all, and his hon. and gallant friend had pledged himself to bring forward further charges if the House would only grant him a fresh Committee.

Mr. Ward

said, he was a member of the Regent's Canal Committee, and there the conduct of Mr. Nash had been made the subject of discussion. The facts there brought to light were certainly such as enabled him to bear favourable testimony to the conduct of Mr. Nash.

Mr. Maberly

said, that having been one of the minority on that Committee he would support the Motion, and he contended that the transaction between Mr. Nash and Mr. Edwards looked very like a partnership concern, though he was bound to admit that no evidence proving that had been adduced before the Committee. What struck him as singular was that Mr. Edwards had accepted of Mr. Nash 4,500l. which was just the half of the 9,000l. the property purchased in the name of Edwards was then proved to be worth, and which was for that sum made over to Mr. Nash. He doubted, too, whether Mr. Nash, or the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, had even made a title that would stand investigation in an Equity Court. In his opinion, however, the attack that had been made upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not warranted. Whether the Committee was granted or not, he thought that his gallant friend had made out a case against Mr. Nash which the Government ought not only to take into its consideration, but also to take care that it never occurred again. From the Resolutions that had been passed by the Committee, he thought that it was a fair inference that they were dissatisfied with the transaction: and though the Committee had not actually pronounced, that fraud existed on the part of Mr. Nash, it was pretty evident that that gentleman had not properly discharged his duty, and that any one acting as he had done would be held culpable in the public estimation.

Mr. Calcraft

said, he would appeal to the House whether the Committee could have come to the resolutions they did on the case, as stated by the hon. Member? The fact was, that the gallant Member, in giving what he called a fair narrative of the case, quoted the answers given to his own questions only, and not one tittle of any other part of the evidence. The gallant Member had complained that he had been called upon to prove his expressions; there was very good reason for this, his expressions were charges against Mr. Nash, and he was, therefore, required to prove them. The gallant Member had also complained that the Committee and the witnesses were against him; but he had forgotten to mention that there was one person still more against him, and that was no other than the gallant Member himself; for never had he seen anything managed with so much ill-temper, or with such an appearance of personal animosity, and such a total neglect of everything like public duty. It had been proved in evidence, that there was no connivance whatever between Mr. Nash and Mr. Edwards: on the contrary, when the ground in Pall-Mall-East was leased to Mr. Edwards, that gentleman was abroad, and when he returned, finding that the ground was much more than he wanted, he was therefore very anxious to get rid of it. Then it was, that Mr. Nash took the ground. Mr. Edwards declined to build on it, and Mr. Nash thinking it would be a good speculation undertook that himself. The Committee had decided, indeed, that Mr. Nash ought not to have acted in a double character; but this he could tell the House, that if Mr. Nash had not been speculator as well as surveyor, Regent-street would never have been finished. Mr. Nash at great risk and hazard had carried that noble project into complete execution. He (Mr. Calcraft) would undertake to say, that with all his speculations Mr. Nash had been no gainer, but had involved himself in great responsibility and risk. As to the attack on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he need not say one word, for there was no other man but the gallant Colonel in that House that would have brought such an accusation. In this respect the gallant Colonel had been more unlucky than ever; for in the attack on Mr. Nash he had only had the Committee and witnesses against him; but in this very foul aspersion on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had the whole House against him.

Mr. Rumbold

was of opinion, as the charges had been already investigated, that there was no occasion for further inquiry.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, he should vote against the Motion, for it appeared to him to be nothing more than an attempt to get a Committee to find fault with a former Committee. But though he opposed the Committee, he was authorised by Mr. Nash (who was now suffering under illness severely aggravated by the repeated attacks upon him) to state that he had no desire to avoid any inquiry; and that he was ready to adopt any course which the House might impose, as he felt that nothing could be adduced against him to touch either his honour or his character. One fact he would state concerning Mr. Nash, because it would serve to show the spirit by which he was actuated. When the new street was first in agitation, Foley-house and gardens were offered for sale, and Mr. Nash gave 4,000l. more than any other bidder, and afterwards cut it up into shreds and patches for the purpose of suiting the objects of the new street line, by which he greatly depreciated the value of his property, [hear, hear.]

Mr. Protheroe

said, that the last Committee had decided upon good grounds, and the House ought not to go into any further investigation. [The hon. Member was disposed to address the House at greater length but was interrupted by cries of "Question."]

Mr. Monck

was also much interrupted by cries of "Question!" The resolutions of the Committee, he said, did not go to the entire acquittal of Mr. Nash. In his opinion, that gentleman's conduct had. been not only improper, but illegal, and he put it to the noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests to say whether he could approve of it.

Colonel Davies

, in reply, said that he congratulated the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Calcraft) on having found his voice, for it was long since the House had heard its melodious sounds. No doubt there were very proper reasons for his silence, what they were he did not know—perhaps it was owing to his getting among those whom he had been lampooning and abusing all his political life. The right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had certainly refused to consent to two very reasonable resolutions in the Committee—one being only the statement of a matter of fact, and the other stating that there were sufficient grounds to justify the inquiry. He had no wish to re-try Mr. Nash; but he wanted an examination into fresh matter, which owing to the lateness of the inquiry last year, he had not been able to bring forward. At all events, he trusted that Government would cause the houses in the Regent's Park, and Regent-street, and still more Buckingham Palace, to be surveyed; for he thought that a great deal of foul play would in consequence come to light. With respect to the division of the Committee, Lord Milton, Sir Joseph Yorke, Mr. W. Whitmore and Mr. Warburton were unable to be present at the division; and he could answer for it, that all those hon. Members would have voted for the resolution which the Chancellor of the Exchequer opposed. As the Minister had said, that he would not allow the Committee, he (Colonel Davies) knew that the matter was settled, and that it would be of no use to press a division. At all events, he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had discharged his duty to the House and the country.

Motion negatived without a division.