§ MR. G. HARDY
said, he wished to ask the lion. Member for Kilmarnock, Why Lessees of Church Estates within the diocese of Worcester who had made contracts for the enfranchisement of their Leaseholds prior to the late avoidance of that see, and hold the money ready for that purpose, are delayed in the completion of these contracts for want of the usual Order in Council; whether the delay in issuing such order arises from any conflict of opinion upon the meaning of the existing Law; and, if so, whether any legislative measure is contemplated to relieve, as soon as possible, such Lessees from their difficulties?
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
said, the Bishop of Worcester, who died a few months ago, was empowered under certain Acts of Parliament, with the consent of the Church Estates Commissioners, to enfranchise the leaseholds held under his see. Previous to his death some forty-five agreements for enfranchisement were entered into by him with the consent of the Commissioners, and property to the amount of £80,000 or £100,000 was thus waiting for the completion of the sale to the lessees. By an Act passed last year upon the death of the late Bishop his estates as Bishop were vested in the Church Commissioners, and it remained for them in the performance of their duty to complete the sale to the purchasers in all these cases. They accordingly prepared a scheme for an Order in Council empowering the Com- 377 missioners to sell the estates of the Bishop which were so vested in them. To that scheme, however, objection was taken in the Council Office on the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown. He understood that they advised the President of the Council that a scheme for a general Order for the sale of all the estates of a See was contrary to law, and could not be sanctioned by the Queen in Council, and that the proceedings so far taken were useless and invalid. Now, he was told that upwards of 200 Orders in Council of this nature had been passed during the last twelve years for the sale of estates in bulk, thus enabling the Commissioners to sell the estates in parcels to the various lessees. Property to the amount of about £5,000,000 Sterling had been sold under these Orders, and no objection had ever been taken to the validity of these Orders by the astute gentlemen the conveyancers of Lincoln's Inn, who had been consulted by the purchasers in these various cases. Now for the first time, however, this objection was taken, and the practical result would be that, as suggested by the Law Officers of the Crown, in every sale of the reversion of a church estate, were it small or great, a separate scheme must be submitted to the Privy Council for the sanction of the Queen in Council. One consequence of this was very important. Each scheme was submitted to the Law Officers of the Crown, and on each a fee was charged by them. He was assured that if this view of the law had been taken in the first instance, and if this rule had been insisted upon with respect to the 200 Orders in Council which had been passed, affecting the sale of no fewer than 1,300 different estates, the Law Officers of the Crown within the last twelve years, for simply saying whether an Order in Council was in conformity with the Act of Parliament or not, would have received a sum of not less than £32,000. The Commissioners, he need hardly say, had no interest except to facilitate the purchase of the reversion by the lessees, and had been only anxious to discharge the duties cast upon them by the Act of Parliament. This objection, now started for the first time by the Law Officers, had brought the sale of these estates to a dead lock, and unless it were removed, or unless an Act of Parliament were passed, there would be really an end of the practical functions of the Church Commissioners with respect to the sale of the reversions of episcopal and capitular estates.