HC Deb 29 June 1835 vol 29 cc9-11

Sir John Yardley Buller presented a Petition from Tiverton, Devonshire, complaining of parts of the Municipal Corporations' Bill.

Mr. Heathcote

regretted to see a Petition from Tiverton against Corporation Reform, though it did not much surprise him.

Viscount Sandon

Sir, I rise in the first place for the purpose of stating that the hon. Member for Tiverton, who has just sat down, is not correct in the supposition, that the petition from that Corporation which has been just presented is directed in opposition to Corporate Reform. I have had the opportunity of seeing it, and I find its prayer is confined to the introduction of certain Amendments in the Bill now before the House, which are certainly by no means inconsistent with the principle of that measure. But I am glad to take this opportunity of making some observations on a passage in the Report of the Commissioners upon that Borough, which seems to cast a reflection, at least by implication or insinuation, upon a character, which will be ever dear to me, and which has never yet been stained even by the breath of calumny. Sir, in that Report it is asserted, that a letter was written by the Corporation of Tiverton to Lord Harrowby, requesting his interference to procure for Sir John Duntze the situation of Receiver General to the county of Devon, and announcing to him at the same time the stipulation that that gentleman should make an annual payment to the Corporation of 80l. Now, Sir, I have called the attention of Lord Harrowby to this assertion; and although at the distance of above thirty years it is difficult to recall with certainty every particular of such a transaction, yet I believe the following to be the facts of the case:—A private application from Sir John Duntze for the appointment in question was made to Lord Harrowby; and on being mentioned to Mr. Pitt, it was favourably received, though nothing was finally decided. Meanwhile this private application was seconded by a recommendation from the Corporation; but unaccompanied by any notice of such a bargain or stipulation as that alluded to. A rumour however of such a transaction being intended, having reached Lord Harrowby, he announced it to Mr. Pitt; and acquainted him with his determination not to press for the appointment for his friend, unless the existence of such a stipulation was completely disavowed. It was so disavowed, and upon that disavowal the appointment was pressed for and obtained. Having, however, thus completely exculpated my noble relative from any participation in what, if it really took place, was most certainly a very unjustifiable transaction, this I will say, in mitigation of the offence, that it would be hard to judge of transactions of so remote a date, with the same severity that we should be justified in applying to them, if they took place in the present time. The times were not then long gone by, when the practice of quartering friends and relatives upon the salaries of public officers had very generally prevailed; when, indeed (as under Lord North's Administration), men of the most unblemished public and private characters entered into arrangements of that kind, which the least scrupulous of modern times would be ashamed to be suspected of. It is not quite fair or just to apply to other times the purer standard of modern days. This solitary fact, however,—if such it is,—is the only ground that I can discover in the whole Report for the sweeping sentence of condemnation which the concluding paragraph of that Report passes upon the whole character of the Corporation; and I cannot but say, with regard to this Report, as I should say with regard to others that I have had occasion to look into, that it does not seem to me to be less the verdict of cool and impartial inquirers, who are anxious to come to a right conclusion upon the facts, than the work of political partizans, who felt that their business was to find defects and abuses in the administration of existing Corporations, and who were fully determined not to be disappointed in the object of their search. My business, however, in rising, was confined to the exculpation of my noble relative from having had any share in what, if it existed, was certainly an improper transaction. With that I am content, and I do not wish to drag the House into the discussion of other portions of the Report, from which I most widely dissent.

Mr. Blackburne

undertook to say that the Commissioners did not deserve the sweeping condemnation in which the noble Lord had indulged. He had read the evidence carefully, and was prepared to defend the Reports, and to show that they were not highly coloured, and were justified by the evidence adduced. The Commissioners gave public notice of their proceedings; they sat in public, and they invited all to attend to give evidence, or to listen to it, to see that all interests were duly represented and protected. That there might be mistakes he would not deny; in some instances they were almost inevitable, because many persons who ought to have attended had kept back, and he was afraid, in some cases, that they might declare some statements to be wrong, and thereby throw doubt on all. If the parties at Tiverton had pleased, they might have attended, and made any representations that they thought requisite to their defence; not doing so, they did not deserve much sympathy. He repeated his belief that there was no colouring in the Reports that was not warranted by the evidence adduced, as far as it went.

Petition laid on the Table.

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