HC Deb 15 July 1875 vol 225 cc1479-81

asked the First Commissioner of Works, Whether he has had an opportunity of inquiring into the charges recently brought against Mr. Hunt, the Surveyor of Works in his Department?


The House, I am sure, will feel that it is never my wish in answering the not unfrequent Questions put to me that my replies should be of undue length. But I hope the House will bear with me—seeing that there are personal charges affecting the character of a public servant—if for obvious reasons I enter into details with respect to those charges made a fortnight ago by the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) against the Surveyor of Works. The first of those charges was that Mr. Hunt had, in his capacity of Surveyor of Works, recommended me to buy at Liverpool a site for a County Court; that the space required was 2,000 square yards, but that he had recommended me to buy a site of 3,600 square yards, in order that I might be enabled to sell it again; so that the Surveyor of Works would first of all receive his fee for the purchase of this land, and secondly, his fee for selling it. It is strange, seeing how well informed the hon. Member was as to the quantity of land required at Liverpool, that nothing could be more erroneous than his conclusions. The reasons which influenced me in the purchase of the ground were these:—In the first place, seeing it was doubtful how much land would be required until we had the Report of the Judicature Commission, and having been informed that an available site could be obtained, I decided on buying the whole of it. I did so likewise because in case there was more space than requisite I thought it advisable the Government should have a control over any buildings which might ultimately be built so near Government offices. And, lastly, because the land in that part of Liverpool was rising in price, so that the Government would be insured against any ultimate loss. The House will see at once that there is a wide difference between buying land in order to sell it at a profit, and buying land for public objects with the conviction that if you wish to part with it you will be able to do so without loss. Nor was my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea more fortunate in the selection of the second part of his attack. He said that, on the purchase of the ground near Westminster Bridge—now rendered of historical importance by its having been built on by the body known as St. Stephen's Club—the transaction was one between the Office of Works and the Metropolitan District Railway, and that Mr. Hunt, who was in the employment of both, disappeared from the transaction, and thus the Government lost the great advantage of his services. I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend that he is entirely in error. This transaction occurred in 1866, and at that time it was no part of the Surveyor of Works' duty to give any opinion upon questions of compensation for property taken as this was, under Act of Parliament. That duty rested with the late Sir James Pennethorne, who did give his advice on the subject. The hon. Gentleman said that the result was to give great dissatisfaction to both parties; but it was quite the contrary, and the money was paid without any evidence being taken or any arbitration. The third charge was with regard to the Mint site. Some years ago, according to the hon. Gentleman, Mr. Hunt recommended the purchase of a site on the Embankment, and he did so because it belonged partly to the Government and partly to the Metropolitan District Railway, so that he would receive fees from both. Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman, here also he was mistaken. Mr. Hunt thought it his duty to give his services to the senior client of the two. On this particular occasion the Bill was thrown out; but it was re-introduced in the following year. By that time the land passed from the District Railway into the hands of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The House will see that on neither occasion could Mr. Hunt receive the double fees alluded to by the hon. Member for Swansea. Mr. Hunt has sent a letter to the Board of Works requesting that an inquiry might be made into these various charges; but I think the House will agree with me when I say that I shall refuse to listen to such a proposal, having satisfied myself in every case that the charges are of the most flimsy character.


wished to explain, in justice to himself, that he had not imputed motives to Mr. Hunt, in any case, but merely stated the facts which had come to his knowledge, and he still believed they were substantially correct.