HC Deb 20 November 1813 vol 27 cc168-72

Mr. F. Wright presented a Petition of William Wright, of Bridge court, West minister, in the county of Middlesex, gentleman; taking notice of the Bill to stay, for a time to be limited, proceedings in actions under an Act passed in the 43d year of his present Majesty, to amend the laws relating to spiritual persons; and setting forth,

"That the petitioner was, in the year 1805, appointed, secretary to the then lords bishops of Ely, Oxford, Norwich, and St. David's, and continued to act as such secretary to all those lords bishops up to the period of the decease of the late right reverend doctor John Randolph, who had been translated to the see of Bangor, and from thence to the see of London, except to the lord bishop of St. David's, whose official business the petitioner could not pay sufficient attention to, in consequence of the great increase of the duties which devolved on him as the secretary to the bishop of the important diocese of London; and that, during the whole of the above-mentioned period, the petitioner did, at great expence and trouble, print and publish an abstract of the Acts relating to residence, containing forms of applications for licenses of non-residence, forms of notifications, &c. a great number of copies of which he distributed, gratis, not only to the clergy of the dioceses where he was secretary, but to those of other dioceses also, up to the month of July last: and some of the lords bishops also caused short abstracts of the Act of the 43d of his present Majesty, chapter 84, to be printed and distributed amongst their clergy, in order that none of them might be ignorant of the provisions of the law; and their lordships the bishops in their charges to their clergy have for many years past endeavoured to inculcate in the minds of the clergy of their respective dioceses the necessity of residence, with a more frequent performance of divine service, and have also recently directed their attention to the provisions of this Act; and that the petitioner has also, during all the period of his holding the before-mentioned offices, at considerable expence, caused advertisements to be inserted in the provincial newspapers almost every year, to acquaint the clergy of the dioceses of London, Oxford, Ely, and Norwich, with the necessity there was for them to renew their licences, if their original cause existed, and also to request others of the clergy to deliver the notifications required by the Act; and he has also caused circular letters to be written to the same effect, upon an average for several years of at least 200l. per annum, which course has also been adopted by other secretaries of other lords bishops; and that the petitioner did also cause to be written circular letters (the originals of which, in the hand writing of the lords bishops whose dioceses they relate to, are in the petitioner's possession) wherein the clergy were desired to send the notifications to the bishop himself, at his lordship's residence, so late as the months of April and May last; and the lords bishops did also frequently cause advertisements to be inserted to the same effect, and expressing in very strong terms their displeasure that the clergy should render them necessary; the originals of such advertisements are in the petitioner's possession, and some of them are in the hand-writing of the lord bishop himself; and that although the measures before-mentioned were so repeatedly resorted to, in order that the clergy might be acquainted with the great necessity there was for them to pay attention to the law, yet their neglect still continued; and, after the Stamp Act in 1808 had affixed a duty of one pound upon licences for non-residence, the difficulty of inducing the clergy to renew them became considerably greater, and those who did renew such licences, in many cases, left them in the hands of the petitioner, without paying the expence of the stamps, and the fee prescribed by the act of parliament to be due to the petitioner thereon; and notwithstanding letters were sent to the clergy, desiring them to take away such licences and pay for the same, and informing them that a copy ought to be deposited in the parish chest, according to the statute, many of such licenses still remain in the possession of the petitioner in consequence of such non-payment, and many others have been sent to the clergy without payment, and remain unpaid to the present time, although often requested both by letter and personally; and in consequence of the non-renewal of licences from the year 1805 to the present time, and of the neglect of the clergy in paying for those which had been granted, and the stamps to which they were subject, the petitioner hath lost a considerable sum of money, to which, under the said Act, he was legally entitled, by means of which also the revenue has been considerably diminished; and that the petitioner has ascertained that there are 10,801 benefices in England and Wales, and that there were 6,311 benefices without any resident incumbent; and that there were so few resident curates employed to supply their places, that there were 4,788 benefices without a resident minister of any description; and the petitioner has also ascertained that the lords bishops have been so much imposed upon by false notifications and other means, that the returns delivered to his Majesty in council are very incorrect; and the petitioner sheweth, that the Act of the 43d of his present Majesty, for enforcing the residence of spiritual persons on their benefices, appeared to be, and in fact was much evaded; and the petitioner, trusting the said act of parliament was not enacted without an intention of its being enforced, and believing that the lords bishops and community in general would be much benefited if the provisions thereof were carried into effect, he commenced actions against several of the clergy whose cases are of a description hereinafter mentioned, and who have evinced a contempt and disregard of the laws (except in two or three instances in which the petitioner has since discovered he was incorrect, which he has directed to be discontinued), such as sending notifications of exemption for non-residence on two or more benefices, for various causes which on examination are found to be false; licences obtained by false representations; licences suffered to expire for near two years, and which have not been renewed because the incumbent would not send a curate to the bishop to be licensed to supply his place; some of the incumbents residing nearly one hundred miles distant, and holding two benefices by dispensation, to obtain which they are obliged to give bond to reside on one, and to keep a resident curate on the other, and to preach thirteen sermons on the one on which they do not reside, which they do not perform; others returned as resident on two livings, when in fact they reside on neither; and praying that the said Bill may not pass into a law; and that the petitioner may have such relief as the House shall please to direct."

The Petition having being read,

Mr. F. Wright

said, he hoped that the Bill, the third reading of which stood for that day, would be postponed; as he understood the petitioner intended to present another petition, to be heard by counsel at the bar. He then moved that the petition do lie on the table.

Mr. B. Bathurst

said, that he could not consent to postpone the third reading of the Bill. No injury would be inflicted on the petitioner by the Bill; as it would only stay proceedings until the 29th of April next, by which time the House would be able to take some measures to discriminate between those who were bonâ fide transgressors of the law, and those who had incurred the penalty through inadvertence. Certain he was, that many of the clergy had not received sufficient notices of the enactments of the statute. If the petitioner wished to have been heard by counsel, he might have prayed for it in the voluminous petition which they had heard. The sooner, however, the Bill was passed, the better it would be for the petitioner, as well as the sufferers. The petitioner, without doubt, would be entitled to costs up to the time of the passing of the Bill, in those actions for which there was legal ground.

The Petition was ordered to lie on the table.

The Non-Resident Penalties Suspension Bill was then read a third time and passed.