HC Deb 28 July 1834 vol 25 cc613-7
Sir Edward Codrington

presented a Petition from the tradesmen employed in furnishing the materials and in executing the works in the mansion erected in the Green Park called York House, upon the order of his late Royal Highness, the Duke of York. The petitioners stated, that being desirous to ascertain on what foundation they were to proceed, they obtained the autograph assurances of his Royal Highness that their bills should be paid every six months, as the works proceeded, and that they thereupon continued to execute them; that finding, at an early stage of their proceeding with the building, they were rapidly advancing a serious amount of capital to carry on their respective works they became alarmed lest any miscalculation of the total cost of the intended mansion might have been made, and thereupon deemed it right and prudent to ascertain from what source the monies were to be derived; that after much persevering diligence, they discovered that the various sums employed from time to time in making payments to them in respect of York-house were furnished from a department of his Majesty's Government, and were in fact part of the public resources of the kingdom, and that a sum of 30,000l. or thereabouts, which had been in the first instance advanced to his Royal Highness by a banker, was afterwards repaid from the same quarter; that during the life of his late Royal Highness all the demands becoming due in respect of the building aforesaid were regularly discharged by monies from the said department of the Government, and that within a few days previous to the demise of his Royal Highness a very large sum of money was so paid by one of the Secretaries of the Treasury to the Solicitor of his Royal Highness, and through that channel to the petitioners; that the petitioners respectively satisfied themselves during the life of his Royal Highness that all the payments due, and to become due, would he made from the source aforesaid, or they would not have continued to supply the materials and the execution of the works in respect of York-house; that the payments due to the period of the demise of his Royal Highness were refused, and that the petitioners were referred to the executors of his Royal Highness; that the amount of the payments due as aforesaid is 24,124l. that the petitioners did upon application to the Duke of Wellington, then the First Lord of his Majesty's Treasury, obtain a copy of the correspondence between his late Royal Highness and the Lords of the Treasury, constituting the agreement entered into by their Lordships for the supply of the monies for building and completing, York-house, wherein their Lordships engaged to advance the sums necessary for building and completing the erection, in consideration of his Royal Highness granting to the Crown the right of pre-emption, in the event of his Royal Highness's death or other contingency. They therefore submitted, that in pursuance of the aforesaid agreement, before the privilege of pre-emption could be legally exercised by the Crown, the Lords of the Treasury should have paid all the sums of money expended in the erection of York-house, just as if his Royal Highness had lived until the completion of the building. They further stated, that the right of pre-emption had been exercised by the Treasury, although the balance had not been paid to them, and that payment had been refused, on the ground that no contract had been entered into by the Lords of the Treasury with the petitioners. The petitioners, therefore, considering the sum of 24,124l. to be still due to them prayed the House to direct an investigation into the matters contained in the petition. The gallant Officer proceeded to read the correspondence which took place between the Duke of Wellington and the other members of the then Administration and the Duke of York, on the subject of the building of York-house, which set forth the terms and understanding with which the building was undertaken, as stated by the petitioners. He begged the attention of the House to this petition; it was of the greatest importance to the country, as the honour of the Government was involved in it. If the principles of this contract were to be violated, then there would be an end to all contracts between the public and the Government of the country. In the first instance, it was denied by Government that there was any agreement, and upon this the contract was produced, and sent to the creditors.

Mr. Warburton

supported the prayer of the petition, and observed, that he had no wish to impugn the character of the present Treasury. Circumstances, however, had lately come out which went to show, that the Treasury was not in all cases an oracle of truth. He did not impeach the present Treasury, but he must be permitted to observe that events had occurred which might induce that House to believe that on former occasions the Treasury was not the best authority for the existence or non-existence of certain documents. Here was a denial of the existence of the contract in the first instance; and when the Duke of Wellington was applied to, the Treasury produced the document. This was a case which called for inquiry, and he hoped it would be taken up early in the next Session.

Mr. Charles Wood

said, the observations of the hon. Member rendered it necessary for him to trouble the House with a very few words on this subject. The whole of this transaction had undergone the strictest investigation, and, from the year 1826, when the claim was first made, down to the present time, there never had been the slightest difference of opinion entertained by any one of the individuals who had successively composed the Board. They all unanimously agreed that the claim was entirely without foundation. The Treasury was very far from being hostile to any inquiry the House should think proper to direct, but he was of opinion, after the House bad been put into possession of the real facts of the case, they would not consider there was the slightest necessity for such a course. The transaction was a very simple one. An application was made by his late Royal Highness the Duke of York to the Government of that day, for a sum of money to enable him to complete the erection of his intended mansion in the Green Park, and for money already clue for masonry, &c. The Government agreed to advance the loan required for the completion of the building, on condition that they should have the right of pre-emption in the event of sale, or the demise of his Royal Highness. The Lords of the Treasury, consequently, on the death of his Royal Highness, exercised their right of pre-emption, purchasing the property at a valuation which was put upon it by two impartial persons, and gave up a considerable claim they still possessed against the assets of the remaining estate. He could assure the House, that, so far from the Treasury having derived any benefit from the transaction, it had lost considerably, inasmuch as the sums advanced for the erection of the building were much greater than it was ultimately worth. That the sum of between 20,000l. and 30,000l. was still due for materials supplied and work done, he did not mean to deny, but nothing could be more clear than that the claim was upon the estate of his late Royal Highness, and not upon the Lords of the Treasury. The tradesmen who furnished the materials for the erection of the mansion stood precisely in the same situation with those unfortunate persons who might have advanced his Royal Highness money for clothes or jewellery, and it was much to be lamented that so many individuals were in that situation; but nothing could be more clear than the transaction between the Royal Duke and the Treasury, and therefore he hoped the House would see that any inquiry was quite uncalled for.

Mr. George F. Young

said, if a loss was sustained by any individual from a loan made by the Treasury, that alone was subject matter for inquiry. He trusted the hon. and gallant Member would bring the subject under the consideration of the house in the next Session of Parliament, after it had been admitted by the hon. Secretary to the Treasury that the public money had been advanced for such a purpose; and even if it should be proved that the petitioners had no claim on the Treasury in this transaction, still, where money had been advanced from the public Treasury on such security as this, a full inquiry was demanded on the part of the public.

Sir Edward Codrington

was of opinion, notwithstanding the explanation that had been given, that the Treasury were bound to fulfil the engagement they had entered into with the petitioners. It was monstrous to say, that because a contract had proved a bad one, the parties were exonerated from the performance of it.

The Petition to lie on the Table.

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