HC Deb 01 August 1851 vol 118 cc1812-24

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


asked whether the noble Lord at the head of the Government would lay on the table of the House the rules by which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners proposed to be guided in dealing with the lessees of Church property now under the control of the Commissioners?


said, there were no rules that had been made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners since the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords, and therefore there were no rules of the kind to which the hon. Member alluded which could be laid on the table of the House. He believed the Committee of the House of Lords consisted in great part of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and therefore it might be supposed those Commissioners were acquainted with the views of that Committee.


asked whether hon. Members could be furnished with copies of the minutes of evidence taken in the House of Lords, before the House proceeded further with this Bill?


said, the evidence had been ordered to be printed.


said, the Bill was brought down late on the 31st of July, and read a second time yesterday (Thursday), and he had asked if hon. Members might not have the evidence printed and placed in their hands before they proceeded with this Bill.


said, no such rules of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had been laid on the table of the House.


said, the Committee, having no duties imposed upon them by this Bill, had not framed any rules or regulations with regard to a measure which had not received the assent of Parliament.


thought it was not a fair or reasonable course to ask the House to go into Committee on this Bill until the evidence taken in the other House of Parliament was printed, and in the hands of Members.


said, the Bill was merely of a permissive character, its object being to enable all parties to do what they could not now do, if they thought fit to avail themselves of the provisions of the Bill. The evidence taken before the House of Lords could have no bearing upon that question.


thought the hon. and learned Gentleman had given the best reason for delay. It would be useless to discuss the principle of dealing with the property which was the subject of the Bill, until they had the evidence before them on which the Bill was founded.


wished to have his lay intellect distinctly informed whether it was or was not intended by this Bill to force an agreement on any unwilling parties? [Several Hon. MEMBERS on the Ministerial bench: No, no!] He assumed, then, that it was distinctly asserted that the Bill only gave a power in some quarter to legalise an agreement made between consenting parties. If that was so, there could be no objection to its going into Committee. He voted upon that assurance.


said, the Bill was only permissive. It did not compel any party to enter into the agreement in question; but he was sorry to say there were more contracting parties to those agreements than two. There were the lessees on the one hand, and the ecclesiastical bodies on the other; and, thirdly, there were the Church Estates Commissioners.


They were consenting parties.


Very well; but if a permissive agreement could not be carried into effect without the consent of those Commissioners, he could regard them in no other light than as parties to the contract. He asked the Government and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goulburn), under the circumstances, to postpone the further consideration of the Bill until the next Session of Parliament.


said, the noble Lord at the head of the Government must be aware that there was a strong feeling in the House that the present system of taking fines upon leases should be abolished. Everybody was agreed upon that point. But the real question was, whether those hon. Members who were the representatives in Parliament of the lessees, and the lessees themselves, should have time to consider the Bill now brought under the consideration of the House? He contended, if the noble Lord was sincere in his wish to abolish the existing system—and he (Sir B. Hall) believed he was—and if the noble Lord wished them to have a fair Bill, he ought to give them a fair time for considering it. Why should they be put in a worse position in that House than noble Lords were in the other, where ample time had been given for considering the whole subject? The Commissioners had made two reports, the one in January and the other in July, 1850, which were most admirably calculated to carry out the objects which hon. Members had in view. The principles on which the lessors and lessees ought to act were those which were embodied in those two reports of the Commissioners. If the gentlemen forming that Commission had any leaning, it would rather be in favour of the episcopal and capitular bodies, and certainly not in favour of the lessees. A Bill was founded on those reports. The grounds on which that Bill proceeded were greatly in favour of the lessors, though it was said to be founded on the reports of the Commissioners. That Bill was brought in by Lord Carlisle, sanctioned by the episcopal and capitular bodies, and by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Hon. Members were naturally led to believe, when the Government brought in a Bill of that kind, defining clearly the grounds on which enfranchisements were to go, that such a measure would have passed. The very day on which that Bill was read a second time, an objection was taken to it by the Bishops; and the only ground on which it was permitted to be read a second time was, that it should be referred to a Select Committee of the other House of Parliament. It was referred to a Committee. Of whom was that Committee composed? It was composed of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, and the Bishops of London, Winchester, Lincoln, Salisbury, Norwich, Oxford, and St. Asaph. [An Hon. MEMBER: Read on.] There were laymen he (Sir B. Hall) admitted; but there were nine of the Episcopal Bench and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who ought not to have sat in a Committee on the Bill, they being parties interested in the matter. The great evil as regarded Select Committees was, that parties were put on them who had a positive interest either in the progress or the stopping of the measure which was before them. No such parties ought to appear in the Committee, except as witnesses. The Bill was read a second time in the latter end of April. It was referred to a Select Com- mittee on the 22nd of May, and those right rev. Prelates, being so interested, sat on the Bill together with laymen. What was the principal object of that Bill? It was an excellent object. The second clause provided that the Church Estates Commissioners should be the commissioners for carrying the Act into execution. That was exactly what he (Sir B. Hall) and those whom he represented desired. What were those Commissioners to do? According to the third clause, they wore to summon and examine witnesses and to call for returns. That ought to be the very object of the Church Estates Commissioners: and it ought to be the object of the Government that they, the laity, who constituted the vast community of the Church, should know what was the property of the Church through the medium of the Church Estates Commissioners. What took place in consequence of those two clauses? The Bill having been referred to a Committee on the 22nd May, after having been in Committee exactly two months, a report was made that it was not expedient to proceed further with the Bill. The Bill was consequently rejected. What followed? There was a Bill ready prepared by the Bishops, who were ever watchful of their own interests, and it was brought down to the House and printed on 24th July. Now let them look at the indecent haste with which that Bill was pushed through both Houses of Parliament. The Bill now before the House was only introduced two days after the report of the Committee to which he had referred, on the 24th July. It was read a second time on 25th July, committed on the 28th, and read a third time on the 29th. It was then sent down to the House of Commons on the 31st July, printed on the following morning, and they were asked to take the second reading of it six or seven hours after they had received it. And now they were asked, twenty-four hours after they had received it, to go into Committee on the measure. He said that was a disgraceful thing; and after that statement of facts, if the noble Lord insisted on pressing the Bill, he (Sir B. Hall) must say he was labouring under some species of episcophobia, for which he should seek a remedy as soon as possible. The proceedings that had taken place in the House with regard to this Bill, had caused a sort of consternation among the lessees in and about the metropolis. The Bill placed the whole property of the lessees in the hands of the episcopal body; the lessees had no power of redress: and the House was now called on to sanction such a monstrous proposition as that. It was said yesterday that it was rather hard he should take so active a part, as he did not represent lessees. If he (Sir B. Hall) was not the representative of lessees, he should like to know who was. He represented the most valuable Church property in existence, namely, that in the county of Middlesex. He represented the Church property in the parish of Paddington, the annual value of which, on the parochial assessment, was about 360,000l. Nearly the whole of that parish belonged to the Bishop of London. There were 2,500 lessees there interested in the passing of this Bill, and he would undertake to say there were very few of those persons who then knew what the House was doing with reference to their interests. They ought to have a Bill brought in, denned in its purpose, and laying down the grounds on which enfranchisement was to take place, and they ought to reject this Bill, because, according to the 8th clause, it left everything to be transacted by a body who had not the confidence of the country, and to correct the abuses of which an Act had to be passed last Session. The whole powers of this Bill were then to be placed in the hands of those who had perpetuated those abuses. The House and the country had condemned the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as unworthy of confidence, and yet this was the body in whom the noble Lord would place the power of making rules to determine the terms on which sales with lessees should take place. Did they suppose that those clever and astute-minded prelates, having the power to ride over the authority of the Church Estate Commissioners, would neglect the opportunity placed within their reach? He contended, if they passed this clause, that they would be doing away with the whole of the legislation of last Session, and that they would be re-enacting that system which had cost them so much time and labour to expose and to defeat. He had said that the progress of this Bill caused much consternation in the minds of lessees of ecclesiastical property. That morning, upon coming into the House, he was met by a body of lessees holding-property from the Bishop of Winchester, and a document was put into his hand, which was a circular requiring the attendance of lessees to take into consideration the provisions of a Bill in the House of Lords, by which their interests were affected. The meeting was to take place upon Monday, the 4th of August, in Lantstreet, in the Borough. Why, before that day, if the Government persisted in this Bill, the very one referred to would become the law of the land, and they would dispose of the interests of these men without giving them even the opportunity of being heard. Now, if these people, who were in the vicinity of their House, had not an opportunity of considering the matter, was it possible that the lessees of the bishoprics of Durham and York could pass an opinion on a question so deeply affecting their interests? The circular concludes by calling upon the lessees to resist this gross infringement upon their rights, and assures them that if they did not look to their own interests, there was no person who would. That was, in point of fact, saying that the Bishops would not. He did not object to the principle of the Bill. What he objected to was the hurried mode of legislation upon such an important question, and the mode in which the principle was to be carried out. He showed, the other night, that two of the most important Acts relating to the Church temporalities had been hurried through Parliament with the most indecent haste. He made reference to the 3rd & 4th William IV., which received the Royal Assent on the 14th of August, 1833, and the 3rd & 4th Victoria, chap. 113, which received the Royal Assent on the 11th of August, 1840. This Bill was worse than either of those. They might call it a permissive Bill, but they might rely on it its operation would be exceedingly dangerous. All they intended to do was this—to pass this Bill, which could not be acted upon, but then to say, we have passed a precedent, and upon that precedent we will fashion our future proceedings. The exposure of the ecclesiastical body contained in the blue book was fresh in the mind of the people. If they pushed this Bill through upon the 2nd of August, with the full influence of the Government, when Members had left London, there would be a greater feeling of disgust than there had been already exhibited. Moreover, if this Bill were proceeded with, it would be a breach of faith on the part of the noble Lord. It was most distinctly stated by the Government, when the Bill was in the House of Lords, that it was not likely that the Bill would come down to the House this Session. When a Minister made a statement, they did not act upon the strict letter of that statement, but upon the spirit: and the spirit of that statement was that they would not be called upon to legislate upon that subject during the present Session. That was his impression; and if he had left town, it would have been with that belief. He would willingly go into Committee upon the Bill, provided there was a declaration that they would not be asked to take the third reading of the Bill this Session. In Committee they might make it as good a Bill as they could, and leave it to be considered in the next Session of Parliament. But if this promise were not given, he would oppose the Bill in every manner that lay in his power.


had in vain endeavoured to learn what were the objections entertained by the hon. Baronet to this Bill. If his hon. Friend had made any tangible objection against the course he proposed to take, he (Lord J. Russell) would have been very glad at that period of the Session to spare himself any trouble with respect to a Bill of this kind, and to postpone it to another year; but really the hon. Gentleman's objections were quite impalpable. The hon. Gentleman said he had no objection to the principle of the Bill; and the only fault, indeed, that he had found with any part of the measure was, with regard to certain words in the 8th clause. Now, those words were perfectly open to discussion and amendment. He (Lord J. Russell) would gladly consent to amend them, if it should be the opinion of the House that any alteration ought to be made; but he did not think the fact that there were two words in one of the clauses to which his hon. Friend objected, was a sufficient reason for rejecting the Bill. The only other ground on which the hon. Baronet opposed the Bill was, that the history of the measure was such, that he felt bound to object to it. He (Lord John Russell) agreed, that if it were now proposed to lay down positive rules in this Bill with respect to the enfranchisement of the estates in question, it might be reasonable to say that there was no time to consider whether the conditions were fair or not; that it was impossible to legislate positively on the subject; and that the Bill ought to be postponed. But the history of this Bill was precisely similar to that of many other measures of the same kind. After endeavours had been made for months in a Committee of the House of Lords to settle terms upon which the ecclesiastical corporations and the lessees might come to some arrangement as to their re- spective interests, no such terms could be agreed upon, and it was then proposed that the corporations and the lessees should be left to make their own terms, and that no positive terms should be laid down by Parliament. There were, therefore, no positive terms laid down by this Bill, which was permissive only in its nature. What was there in that conclusion that was objectionable? It was not in the object of the Bill, which was the enfranchisement of these lands; and it was admitted that the enfranchisement of these lands was by no means objectionable. Then, were there any parties who would suffer damage? The ecclesiastical corporations could not suffer, because they must be consenting parties to the enfranchisement. The lessees could hardly be sufferers either; because they too must be consenting parties; and if the terms proposed by the bishop or any ecclesiastical corporations were too hard or severe, the lessee had nothing to do but to refuse those terms, and he remained in the same position as before. It might be, however, that the interest of a third party, of the greatest importance—the general interest of the Church and of the public—would suffer; but he thought it was a question to be considered in Committee on the Bill, whether that interest was sufficiently guarded. If his hon. Friend (Sir B. Hall) considered that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were not proper persons to guard that interest, they might consider in Committee whether the Church Estates Commissioners were the persons to whom such guardianship should be confided; but, certainly, there seemed nothing unfair or unjust in saying, "We will provide that none of these three parties shall suffer damage." If those three parties consented to particular terms, then no damage was likely to result to any of them. He (Lord J. Russell) certainly thought this was a Bill that ought to be considered in Committee; for, if in Committee they found that the security of the last interest he had mentioned—for the first two could hardly be neglected or wronged—was not sufficiently provided for, they might substitute some other body for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He must say he was disposed to think, with regard to Clause 8, that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were not the best body who could be selected for carrying out the measure, and in his opinion the Church Estates Commissioners would be a better body to intrust with the making of the rules. If this Bill had proposed to lay down terms and conditions upon which Church lands should be enfranchised, or the tenure should be changed, then strong objections might have been made against it. He did not see that there was any reasonable ground for opposing the Motion now made. He therefore trusted the House would agree to go into Committee; and as to the last objection, jealousy of the Ecclesiastical Commission, that was a matter which could be amended when they came to the consideration of the clause which appoints that body to decide the question.


remarked, that the noble Lord in his speech stated, that there were no reasons urged why the House should not proceed further with this Bill. But he overlooked the fact, that parties who were deeply interested had no time to become acquainted with its provisions. The Committee of the House of Lords bad recommended that legislation should be confined to farms and tithes; but this Bill dealt with mines, houses, and other descriptions of property. That was the principal reason urged in favour of delay, and he, for one, thought the reason was conclusive. The arrangements to be made under this Bill were to be regulated by an objectionable board, who might lay down rules and establish principles which rendered the Bill virtually inoperative; and when the lessees themselves came to Parliament to legislate equitably upon this subject, they would be met with the objection that a permissive law was already in existence, which must have a fair trial before any further legislation could take place. One of their objections to the Bill was, that they did not know on what terms the conditions were to be made. The noble Lord said that the lessees would not be damaged, because to any change under this Bill they would be consenting parties. But if this body, on whom he was now desirous to shift the responsibility, laid down rules of which the lessees did not approve, what chance would they have of getting a legislative means for dealing with the matter upon a fair principle? Now, he was anxious to guard against such a state of things as that, and he should support the hon. Baronet opposite in obtaining the postponement of this measure. It was perfectly indecent in the Government to force a Bill of this kind through the House in a manner which no one could have believed. More than one half the Members who had left London had not the most distant imagination that any legislation of this kind was to take place. The measure seemed to him to give an opportunity during the next six months for a few transactions, which had an ugly name which he did not wish to pronounce, that would be the result of the measure. If the noble Lord thought that the body whom he was about to empower to make these regulations, could do that which the Committee of the House of Lords had failed to do, let them by all means put them forward in the shape of a Bill, and bring them under discussion in the next Session of Parliament. If they were upon a sound principle, there would be no difficulty in legislating.


said, it appeared to him that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were inclined to deny the prescriptive rights on the part of the lessees. He was an advocate for acknowledging the right of the tenant, who held a farm for a certain term, to a beneficial interest in the improvements he might make, for which compensation ought to be made him. There was no provision made by which the interests of these parties were to be estimated in the renewal or commutation of their leases, which had been practically acknowledged, and had acquired prescriptive, though perhaps not technical, legality, owing to the improvements of the properties which the lessees had effected, in reliance on the ancient and continuous practice of renewal. He shrank from the scandal that would be entailed on the Church by withholding that principle, and he therefore wished to have it fully recognised.


supported the Bill, believing it would be for the interest both of the lessees and the Church, that this question should in some way be set at rest. It seemed to him impossible that any injustice could be done under its provisions, as before a lease could be avoided the consent of the lessee as well as of the lessor must be first obtained for the purpose. The report which had been referred to, recommended that in any arrangement that might be made with regard to episcopal and capitular property, due regard should be had to the just and reasonable claims of the present holders of such property, so that their rights were fully and completely recognised. He agreed with the noble Lord, that the administration of a measure of this kind ought not to be intrusted to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, for he did not think they possessed the confidence of the country; but he would have complete reliance upon the management of the Church Estates Com- mission. It was most desirable to give facilities for the alteration of the present system of leasing, due regard being had to the reasonable claims of the present holders; and he thought that Parliament ought, without delay, to place the lessors and lessees in a position which would give them an opportunity of settling their property.


considered on the whole, that the wisest and best course the House could pursue, was to go into Committee; but he could not but be of opinion, that a Bill of this importance ought not to have been introduced at such a late period of the Session. He wished to guard himself from giving an unqualified assent to the principle of the Bill; and in Committee he reserved to himself the right of objecting to various portions of it, and proposing such alterations as he might think necessary. It was impossible not to regret that the evidence and report taken upon this question had not been placed upon the table of the House. There was one passage in the latter document against which he must enter his protest. In the last paragraph of the Report, he found the following words:—"And the Committee look forward to the result of such voluntary dealings as furnishing a safe basis for compulsory enfranchisement." Now, he would enter his strong protest against their being taken for any such basis. He did not believe that the interest of the lessees would be best entrusted in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, for there was one circumstance which was most discreditable to that body, and that was, in their dealings with the lessees, they charged them 5 per cent, while against themselves they only charged three and a half per cent. It was exceedingly to the honour of the Bishop of Lincoln that he disavowed all share or knowledge of this rule, The whole of the working of this measure would depend upon rules to be made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, but which Parliament was not to see before the passing of the Bill.


thought it was only trifling with the House for the Government to attempt to force the Bill with this indecent haste. Considering that the interests of his constituents wore deeply affected by it, and that they had not sufficient time to consider its provisions, he would move that the debate be now adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."


mentioned the case of a number of sub-lessees of the Bishop of Winchester, who would be placed at the mercy of the first lessee, should the latter choose to enfranchise. On the ground that sufficient time had not been given for consideration, he would vote against going into Committee.


was a lessee, and was interested still more for friends whom he could not now consult. He was very anxious to see the question satisfactorily settled, and he should vote for going into Committee and going through the clauses, and in Committee endeavour to get the objections which he had felt obviated, and to introduce amendments; and, if the Bill could be made more satisfactory to the lessees, he should consent to its going on. He wished to say that in giving notice of a Motion to substitute for the Church Estates Commission in this Bill some other independent Commission—he did not care what, but he had suggested the Copyhold Inclosure and Tithe Commissioners—he did not mean the slightest disrespect to the Church Estates Commissioners; personally he should be quite content to leave the matter entirely in the hands of those three gentlemen, and no doubt the public generally felt confidence in them.


expressed himself entirely of the same opinion as the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, that all matters would be safe in the hands of the Church Estates Commissioners.


would be willing to go on with the Bill if he saw in it any indication of a consideration for the dormant interest, the tenant-right, as it was called, of the lessees. He apprehended that some lessees with strips of church land, perhaps adjoining or in the middle of their frehold estates, would purchase upon almost any terms; and those purchases might be taken as the basis of future legislation.


quite agreed that it would be very unfair to take the prices given in such cases as the rule or basis for a compulsory act; but he also thought it was rather hard upon the parties referred to that they were not to be allowed to enfranchise, even though they would be glad to do it at a high price.

The House divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 51: Majority 21.

Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


objected to go into Committee, on the ground of the House not having had time to consider the Bill; and


moved that the House go into Committee on this Bill that day three months. The Government must allow time to consider the measure.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'that' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee,' instead thereof.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 48; Noes 37: Majority 11.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

House in Committee.


was ready to consent to the postponement of the consideration of the clauses till Monday. He believed no one would have more cause to regret the failure of the Bill, should it fail, than the lessees.

House resumed. Committee report progress.