HC Deb 26 April 1814 vol 27 cc551-9

The House then resolved itself into a committee on this Bill, and Mr. Wright's petition was referred to the said committee.

Mr. Serjeant Copley

was heard at considerable length against, the Bill. The learned serjeant contended, that if it were determined to pass this Bill into a law, Mr. Wright conceived himself entitled to have a clause introduced into the Bill, which should fully and completely save him harmless from all costs that be might have incurred in consequence of the actions he had commenced. He was instructed to say, that Mr. Wright had been grossly calumniated and misrepresented with respect to the proceedings which had taken place on the present question. It had been said, that Mr. Wright had taken advantage of the situation he held, as secretary to several bishops in various dioceses, and at different periods of time; bat this was not so; for Mr. Wright averred, and could prove, that a great majority of the actions he had brought were in other dioceses than those in which he held such situations: that in all those situations he had held under the bishops, he had from time to time issued printed notices to the clergymen within each diocese in which he held the situation of secretary to the bishop, apprising them of the predicament in which they stood, and warning them of the penalties to which they were liable for non-residence; that, independent of the expences he must have been personally put to, in taking the steps he had done, so far as the matters in question lay within his own knowledge, he had necessarily been at very great expences also in collecting evidence from various other quarters; and as be had this under the positive sanction and encouragement of an act of parliament, he thought, if parliament now in- terfered to defeat their own former enactments on this subject, and to prevent him from recovering those penalties which they had held out to all who should turn informers on that head, that in every view of the matter, in point of law, of reason, and of justice, he was entitled to an indemnity to the fullest extent against all costs by him incurred, not merely as between attorney and client, but to the very utmost amount that he could shew he was legally liable to pay, in consequence of his having brought actions, and prosecuted them to the length he had done, under the high sanction, authority, and encouragement by which he had been induced to interfere in the business.

Counsel having been ordered to withdraw.

Mr. Brand

said, that from the high respect he entertained for the character, feelings, and interests, of the great body of the clergy, whom this Bill was intended to protect, as well as from its general tendency, he was extremely favourable to it. He had, however, some objection to the mode in which the remedy was intended to be applied; and should therefore offer an amendment, which he trusted would meet the views of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Bathurst) who introduced the Bill, and who, he was certain, was anxious that justice should be done to all parties. Independently of this objection to the Bill, as an ex post fucto law, he thought it did not offer sufficient security to Mr. Wright. It should indemnify him for all expences incurred by him, and against any expences to which, in consequence of those actions, he should be exposed at a future time. He thought it would be more advisable that the Bill should define the grounds upon which licences for non-residence should be given instead of leading it, as now, at the discretion of the bishops, who, he thought, had not sufficiently attended to the duty of enforcing residence, or ascertaining who did reside, or under what circumstances the order to reside had not been complied with. By having the grounds of non-residence precisely defined, and not depending upon the favour or caprice of a bishop, the clergy would be placed in a much better situation than that in which they now stood. The clergyman might state the grounds of his license to Mr. Wright, and Mr. W. would then discontinue or proceed with his action at his own risk. This would be an amelioration of the situation of the clergy. If the grounds of non-residence were good and legal, the jury would find for the defendant, and the person who brought the action would subject himself to the costs of the trial. He (Mr. Brand) had taken the opinion of many competent persons on this highly important subject; and many even of the clergy with whom the conversed had approved of the view which he had just given to the committee. He begged to move, therefore, as an amendment,

"That it should be lawful for any person, against whom actions for penalties might have been brought, to adduce proofs as to whether they had been entitled to licences for non-residence or not; and if they were enabled so to do, that such proof should be considered as an adequate excuse for their conduct."

The question having been put,

Mr. Bathurst

declared his readiness to adopt, on any subject, a suggestion from the hon. gentleman, for whose opinion he entertained the highest deference. He was willing to admit, that if the object of Mr. Wright had been what he stated by his counsel, and in his printed case, namely, to enforce residence from a regard to law and justice, he would in that case be entitled to more indulgence than it was intended to give him in the Bill before the committee. But it was clear from the whole view of the proceeding of Mr. Wright, in instituting those actions, that such was by no means his intention. He (Mr. B.) had frequently stated, that all those actions were brought for inadvertence; yet this assertion had never been contradicted by Mr. Wright, through his counsel, or in any other manner. It was true, that a note, in the form of a printed paper, had been circulated by Mr. Wright respecting the renewal of licences for non-residence; but those notices were sent about by him as secretary to several bishops. These circulars had been published by him for many years, but nothing was done upon them. No proceeding whatever was taken upon these circulars. It was said that he (Mr. B) had defended the clergy on the plea of ignorance of the law; but he had not. His defence was, that the actions were not brought to enforce the law, and that the offences against it were mere slips, mere offences of form, and also because, even supposing Mr. Wright to succeed in his actions, still the ground of renewing licences for non-residence would be the same. The Bill before the committee also left those grounds antouched; so that it did not prevent Mr. Wright from bringing his action, if he thought proper, at any future time. Of the character of Mr. Wright the committee ought perhaps to know something. He (Mr. B) knew nothing more of him, than that he had been dismissed by three bishops, to whom he had been secretary, for complaints preferred against him. It was stated, in commendation of Mr. Wright, that he had abstained from bringing these actions during the lives of the right rev. prelates alluded to. But if his motives for bringing the actions were good, as he affirmed, why should be delay them? Mr. Wright had even an opportunity of preventing those offences. As secretary, he was consulted by bishops; and he might have advised the course of issuing a monition in pursuance of the Bill of a learned friend of his (sir W. Scott), instead of this proceeding by information. Mr. Wright, therefore, had no merit whatever in what he had done; but his object was, to take advantage of mere inadvertencies in point of form. In the dioceses of London, Ely, and Norwich, he had brought 168 actions, 83 of which originated in the absence of notification. The fact was, that Mr. Wright made it the object of his enquiry, where the proofs of his case were most easy; not what was, or was not, a case of inadvertency; and the contrary was not even asserted by his counsel. Of the remaining 85, all but two were cases of non-residence from want of accommodation, residing in the next parish, doing duty as curate in some other place, or being the master of an endowed school, or some such institution. Mr. Wright, it was said, had been more hardly treated than on a former occasion, when actions were brought under the 43d of the King; but, in point of fact, the precedent referred to was a much stronger case than the present. In the former case, judgment had been given for 100l. and yet the penalty was reduced by parliament to 10l. The object of the legislature was, to prevent interested and vexatious actions. He could state to the House an instance of a respectable clergyman, who was obliged to leave his living in order to attend his wife for the recovery of her health, and who was informed that his licence should be sent after him; yet he was one of the persons against whom these actions, had been brought. With respect to the sug- gestion of depriving the bishops of the powers vested in them by the 43d of the King that power was given for good reasons by the legislature, and a case should be made out before it was changed. The bishops had the power of administering an oath, if necessary, by the 43d year of the King; and he (Mr. B.) had no objection that such a clause should be introduced into the Bill before the committee. The right hon. gentleman concluded by giving his negative to the clause proposed by the hon. member.

Mr. Brand

spoke in defence of the clause which he wished to be introduced. The question he conceived to be, not so much respecting residence or non-residence, as that of the remission of the fines.

Mr. Bathurst


Mr. Whitbread

acknowledged, that be bad been one of those who had presented petitions in favour of the clergymen supposed to be aggrieved; and these petitions he had presented, he confessed, Under a strong prejudice against Mr. Wright, conceiving with others that he had taken an undue advantage of his situation to come at the information. In his further enquiries however on the subject, and from a more perfect knowledge of all the circumstances, though he was of opinion that the Bill ought to pass, and that the clergy ought to be relieved from the heavy penalties now suspended over their heads, his opinion was, notwithstanding, more favourable with respect to the conduct of Mr. Wright, and the part he had taken in following up the enactments of the Bill of 1803. The right hon gentleman was certainly mistaken is deprecating any indulgence on the part of the House towards Mr. Wright, or in supposing that Mr. Wright required their indulgence. The case was quite the reverse. It was themselves who ought to ask indulgence from Mr. Wright; they, who in their Bill had so far committed themselves, and by enacting penalties had invited informers; that Bill: which had had the high sanction of the right hon. and learned gentleman (sir W. Scott) in this House, and which in the House of Lords had not only met with general support, but had been adopted by the learned bench of bishops, and sanctioned by the approbation of the noble and learned lord who presided in that House. It was they that required indulgence, who had made this Act, and fortified it by penal- ties, from which they now wished to shrink. Mr. Wright took up the Act as it stood, with all its provisions; and in coming forward to demand the penalties to which the Act most certainly entitled him, he wanted no indulgence. He had now a vested right in these penalties; and on his coming forward in a legal way to recover them, was it for parliament to put its hands upon them, and by another Act prevent his getting possession of what the existing law assigned him? Mr. Wright had taken for granted, that when they legislated, they had well considered the measure, and were ready to abide by the consequences. It was not he that enacted the penalties, but themselves; and it was not for him to foresee that they had taken a wrong course. Mr. Wright, therefore following up the spirit of the Act, and acting conformably to law, wanted no indulgence. Mr. Wright had only acted as any other informer was called upon to do. They had no right to enquire into his motives; they themselves had created the penalties to which; by the Act, he was entitled. For himself, he had no knowledge of Mr. Wright, further than this business had led to. He had seen those statements, with others, in which Mr. Wright complained of a party having been formed against him, with which the right hon. and learned gentleman and the higher clergy were connected. Those sums which he claimed were certainly due by the Act. It was open for any man as an informer to claim them. When they made the Act, did they expect that an informer should have the good of the church only at heart? In this case, there would have been no occasion for penalties to enforce the Act. The truth was, in his opinion, that the bishops had not done their duty, or these things would not have taken place. It had been said by the right hon. gentleman, that Mr. Wright might have admonished the bishops instead of taking the course he had pursued; but was this the provision of the Act? or, in framing it, was it contemplated that the bishops were to be directed by their secretaries in the performance of their duties. The present Bill, he contended, would place the clergy in a very different state from that in which they were by the Act; and it was impossible that the bishops could decide with the same freedom after the penalties had been incurred, as they would have done on a previous application. Should the bishop refuse to acquiesce, he might be told by the clergyman, with these penalties hanging over his head, that, he was then a rained man. This was putting the bishops in a situation in which they ought hot to be placed. It was also giving them too great a latitude. They might have it in their power, to ruin a man from spleen, resentment, or any other motive, however good a right he might have to their favourable decision as prescribed in the Bill. This was a power that the bishops ought not to have; and in his opinion, the amendment proposed by his hon. friend, who had since left the House, would remove the objection. He referred, as precedents, to the cases of the printers and attornies, in which he believed no actions, as in this case, had been commenced. The right hon. gentleman could not, therefore, make them parallel; there being no such persons in the way in those cases as Mr. Wright, who would suffer by the measure. Whatever might be the motive of Mr. Wright's information, he was exactly that man whom the Act looked for, and to whom it held out the penalties as an inducement to assist in enforcing the law. Not being generally hostile to the Bill, however, and thinking that some relief was necessary, he was disposed to vote for the amendment proposed by his hon. friend.

Mr. Bathurst

said, he did not recollect having used the word 'indulgence' to which the hon. gentleman had so pointedly referred. He could not have meant it, at any rate, in the way referred to. What he meant was, that informations should be stopped when carried to abuse; and that Mr. Wright deserved less consideration, on the ground that he was not an ordinary informer, but from his particular circumstances had taken advantage of the Act to make it the source of an excessive and systematic profit.

Mr. Gooch

, referring to many of the clergy of Norfolk who would very undeservedly be subjected to the greatest grievances, supported the Bill, and wished to see it passed into a law.

The Amendment was then put and negatived without a division, and the original clause carried.

Mr. Bathurst

, in the progress of reading, proposed various verbal amendments.

Mr. Whitbread

, on the clause respecting the bishops acting on their responsibility, thought that word might as well be omitted, because the truth was, they would be responsible to no tribunal whatever. The only purpose the register could serve was, to give publicity; which could not, however, affect the judgment of the bishop.

Mr. Buthurst

said, they would be required to do more than before. In granting the licence, they would be required to make the necessary enquiries, and the licence must be registered.

Mr. Whitbread

—That is, Mr. Wright may examine the register, and then inform his next neighbour of it. There was no tribunal to which he could appeal. His hon friend (Mr. Brand) on going away had left with him a clause, which he would propose to the committee, providing, that the licence should be rendered void if not granted on sufficient grounds. This he thought would be a proper check on the bishops, and was proceeding to read it; when the chairman observed, that no new clause could be brought up till the regular clauses were gone brough.

Mr. Bathurst

said, the hon. gentleman's object would be equally attained by the clause as it now stood; which would also prevent the incurring of expence.

Mr. R. Smith

, after some remarks On the enormous expence that would be incurred, suggested as an amendment, that the application for the licence should be made within fourteen days after the notification; so that Mr. Wright might be able to proceed, in those cases where no licence should be obtained.

Mr. Bathurst

thought that object equally secured by the Bill as it stood; the clause providing that all applications should be made before the 1st of July.

Mr. Bathurst

brought up several new clauses on the second reading; which were agreed to.

Mr. Whitbread

observed, that he had been disappointed in not having heard, in the course of the evening, the opinion of the right hon. and learned gentleman opposite (sir. W. Scott) on the measure. No man, to fee sure, had a right to call for the opinion of another on any subject; but as the right hon. and learned gentleman had taken great interest in the Bill of 1803, of which this was intended as a remedy, the sanction of his high authority would naturally be looked to with some degree of deference by the public.

Sir W. Scott

said, that he should this session bring forward a measure that would more effectually meet the object in view.

The Speaker having resumed the chair, the Report was ordered to be brought up on Friday next.

The Clergy Residence Bill was reported, and ordered to be printed.