HC Deb 24 March 1836 vol 32 cc549-52
Mr. Harvey

said, that seeing the noble lord (Lord F. Egerton) in his place, he would now present a petition, of which he had given that noble Lord notice. It was the petition of John Sothern, the acting trustee under the Duke of Bridgewater's will, and the sole superintendent of the vast estates comprised under that will. There was at present before the House a private bill, the object of which was to effect a junction of the Rochdale Canal with the river Irwell. The petitioner, Mr. Sothern, who asserts that he is the sole superintendent of the Duke of Bridge-water's property, stated in his present petition that he felt it his duty, on the l0th of March, to present a petition against that bill, and that that petition was ordered to be referred to the Committee on the bill. Subsequently a petition was presented to the House by the Archbishop of York and the Earl of Devon, who were also co-trustees with Mr. Sothern, and in it they complained of his conduct in three respects—first, that he had made no communication to them, as co-trustees, of his intention to oppose the bill; secondly, that he had-made no such communication to the noble Lord, the Member for South Lancashire, who was so deeply interested in the matter; and thirdly, that in spite of the negotiation still going on between the noble Lord and the trustees and other parties on the subject, Mr. Sothern had presented this petition. It was to defend himself against these imputations that Mr. Sothern had requested him (Mr. Harvey) to present this petition to the House. In regard to the first imputation he stated, that though the Archbishop of York and the Earl of Devon were co-trustees with him, they were only nominal trustees, and that in no sense of the word had they any connexion with, or control over, the property in question. The prayer of the petition was, that it might be referred to the Committee on the bill, and the object of the petitioner in presenting it was, to set himself right with the noble Lord, who was the proprietor of those estates, and whose censure he had incurred. As to the second charge made against him—namely, that he did not communicate to the noble Lord his intention to oppose the bill, the petitioner stated that he had caused a communication to be made to the noble Lord of his intention to oppose the bill, and stating the grounds upon which he intended to oppose it, and that such communication was delivered at the town residence of the noble Lord. The petitioner expressed his regret at finding that such communication had not reached the noble Lord's hands. With respect to the third charge made against him, as to a negotiation being still going on between the parties, and that in defiance of it he had presented his petition against the bill, the petitioner stated that he was not then aware of it, but that if he had been, it should not have at all influenced him in his conduct, as he, being the sole superintendent of the estates under the will of the Duke of Bridgewater, had a right to forward whatever measures he thought calculated to promote the interests of that poverty, and to oppose any measures that in Iris opinion tended to injure it. The petitioner stated that it was in the conscientious discharge of that duty he had presented the petition against the bill, believing, as he did, that if it should pass into a law it would substantially prejudice the property of which he, the petitioner, was guardian, and the interests over which he presided.

Lord Francis Egerton

said, that he had no intention to object to this petition being referred to the Committee; still less was it his intention to occupy the valuable time of the House with any detail of the circumstances bearing upon any question between the person who had signed the petition and himself, and indeed it would be quite impossible for him to explain those circumstances in any mode or manner so as to enable the House to form a judgment, if it were called upon to do so, as to the nature of this transaction. With regard to what had fallen from him on a former occasion, it appeared that the petitioner felt hurt by it. It was quite out of his power, however, to suppress the fact that there was a decided difference of opinion between the petitioner and himself as to the mode in which the affairs of this concern—a concern in which the public were as much interested as he was—should be conducted; and if the House had formed any opinion to the prejudice of Mr. Sothern on that score, he had not called for it. It was an opinion that arose immediately from the statement of the facts of the case made by him. It was no object of his to call for the sentiments of the House, in any shape, on the conduct of that individual. It was true that he had used strong expressions with regard to the conduct of another individual, acting, as he supposed, according to the instructions of Mr. Sothern. He had said, on that occasion, that the petition, on a subject in which he was interested, both as a Member of Parliament and as a private individual, had been put into the hands of a Member of that House in a surreptitious Way, and in a manner which he should not further condescend to characterize. It was put into the hands of the hon. Mem- ber for Bradford, and not the slightest previous intimation given to him (Lord F. Egerton) on the subject, though he was so deeply interested in the matter. He confessed that he did think that no hon. Gentleman would have presented such a petition without having given him notice of its contents, as the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had done on the present occasion. It was of such conduct that he had complained, and he thought he had a right to complain. With regard to the assertion contained in the petition, that he, the petitioner, had taken the present step in order to remove any bad feeling that might exist towards the petitioner on his part, he did not see how it was to be effected in this way. It was quite out of the question that he (Lord F. Egerton) should call the attention of the House to the proceedings which had been taken in this matter by this individual. He could only state that it was his determination to call for the judgment of a court of equity upon all the points involved in the question between Mr. Sothern and himself. To such a tribunal he should look for redress. It was with great reluctance he came to such a decision. He did not know any gentleman who would resort to the Court of Chancery without considerable reluctance. To it, however, he was driven, and to it he should resort, with a view to protect interests which were as much those of the public as they were his own. He would not say more on this occasion further than this—that he would look to the Committee on the bill for any protection it could afford him against any unnecessary accumulation of expense, and that it was not, under such circumstances, his intention to object to this petition as well as the other petitions being placed before it.

Petition referred to the Committee on the Manchester and Salford Canal Bill.

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