HC Deb 24 June 1862 vol 167 cc1018-20

said, that he was compelled to bring forward the Motion, of which he had given notice, for a Select Committee to inquire into the transfer of Hull Citadel and adjoining premises from the War Department to the Woods and Forests, owing to the refusal of the Government to produce the case agreed to by the two departments and the opinion of the Law Officers thereon. From the time of Henry VIII. it had always been deemed an important fortification, and during the Civil Wars was used as a fortification. The language of numerous Acts of Parliament, from the beginning of the reign of George III. down to the 5 & 6 Vict., uniformly declared that such property was vested in the Government as trustees for the public. The foundation of doubt seemed to be laid in the 39th section of the 5 & 6 Vict., c. 94, and upon that section was based the claim of the Woods and Forests to this considerable property, as belonging to the hereditary possessions of the Crown. A part of that very property had, a few years ago, been made over to the town of Hull for the purpose of forming docks, having ceased to be useful for military purposes; and if any one but the War Department had a right to it, it was the town of Hull. The Woods and Forests, however, claimed it, and the Law Officers by their opinion confirmed that claim. No one knew whether, in the case laid before them, the facts had been fairly stated, and the House was in equal ignorance of the grounds of their opinion. It was said to be unusual to publish the opinion of the Law Officers; but the public had a right to know how this property, upon which large sums had been laid out by the War Department, had been filched from them. It was the more incomprehensible, because an opinion had been given by two very eminent gentlemen in the legal profession that Hull Citadel never was part or parcel of the hereditary possessions of the Crown, and that it was vested by the 18 & 19 Vict, in the Secretary of State for War. With regard to Crown property, he maintained that it was held by the Crown for public purposes, and it should not be supposed that the Crown had an antagonistic interest to that of the public. Very important public rights were connected with this question, and he hoped the House would assent to the appointment of a Committee.


said, that the proposal was substantially the same as had been submitted by the hon. Member, and rejected by the House, on a recent occasion. If a Committee were appointed, they must have before them the case which had been submitted for counsel's opinion, this case containing the evidence of title on the part of the Crown; and, in point of fact, the question which the Committee would consider would be the title of the Crown to this property. Well, that was rather a question to be decided by a court of law than by a Committee. As between the corporation of Hull and the Crown, the Court of Chancery had already decided in favour of the latter; and that was really therefore an attempt to appeal to that House from a decision of a court of law. Since the decision of the Vice Chancellor the Crown had entered into an arrangement with a company at Hull respecting the land. That arrangement had been embodied in a Bill, and it would be inconsistent, after dealing with the property in this way, now to inquire whether that property belonged to the Crown or not. The hon. Member had asked whether the citadel was part of the hereditary possessions of the Crown. The Government regarded it as Crown property. They were fortified in this view by the opinions of the Law Officers of two successive Governments and the opinion to which the hon. Gentleman had referred as having been given by two gentlemen of the legal profession, was given upon an incomplete case and in ignorance of material facts. The hon. Member seemed to suppose that because the land had been in possession of the War Department it had therefore become public property; but the Tower, Chelsea Hospital, and Dover Castle, were in the same way under the control of the War Department, and yet nobody supposed that those places were not part of the hereditary possessions of the Crown. The Hull citadel was, no doubt, temporarily in possession of the War Department; but when that occupation ceased, the property reverted to the Crown and came properly under the management of the Commissioners of Works. He hoped the House would not sanction the appointment of a Committee.


said, that if the hon. Member for Truro divided the House on the question, he would divide with him. The arguments urged by the right hon. Secretary of the Treasury did not appear to him to be in point. The value of the proceedings in the courts of law, ho understood, went for nothing, inasmuch as the case should have been submitted to a court of equity instead of a court of law. He believed the question to be a proper one for inquiry, impressed as he was with the conviction that the property had never been purchased by the Crown at all. The investigation, if entered into, would doubtless prove a most interesting one to archaeologists, as it would commence with a disputed sale of the citadel to Henry VIII., the fact being that the citadel formed no part whatever of the Hull property that was sold to Henry VIII.


said, that on the part of the War Department he rose to confirm the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury. He had himself inquired into the case, and had seen the opinions given on the question by two separate Law Officers of the Crown. Whatever question there might be in the matter would be one as between the War Department and the Woods and Forests. There was really no necessity for the inquiry at all.


, in reply, observed that the principle of the Government seemed to be that any property applied to public uses, when no longer required for those uses, must be held to be the property of the Crown. A more dangerous doctrine he could scarcely conceive, or one that required more careful attention when they were voting the estimates.

Motion made, and Question, That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the circumstances and grounds under which Hull Citadel and adjoining premises were transfered from the War Department to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, and report their opinion thereupon to the House, —put, and negatived.