HC Deb 09 March 1875 vol 222 cc1489-507

I rise to move that a Select Committee be appointed— to inquire into the nature of the estates and interests and the present position of the Customary Tenants of Lands held lately under the Dean and Chapter of Durham, and now under the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England, by renewable leases made by the Dean and Chapter, who have transferred their estate and interest in such lands to the Commissioners: and to report the opinion of the Committee as to further legislation thereon. I had the honour to place upon the Notice Book of this House last Session a Motion of a very similar character to that which I have the honour to introduce to-night; but the difficulties which so often attended the Motion of private Members attended mo, and obliged me, at the request of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, to postpone my Motion until this Session. Whilst I feel that in this Notice I have given a somewhat local bearing to this question, I still feel that it is a national question, as it affects funds and estates in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, which are to be used at their discretion for national purposes. It is certainly no question of Party politics in the usual sense of the term. What I ask for is inquiry into the working of the laws which affect a very largo number of my own constituents, and which are looked upon with interest by the country at large. I ask for inquiry by Members of this House into the grievances of which they complain, and if I prove that the law as it stands is administered harshly, or in a manner not contemplated by Parliament; or if I even prove that, under its operation, great injustice is done to any body of persons, however few they may be, I trust that I shall have made out a case for such an inquiry as I ask for. The parties for whom I ask this inquiry are the customary tenants of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. They were lately tenants of the Lean and Chapter of Durham, and, before that, they were tenants by court roll. In their Petition they bring forward one or two grave allegations. They complain that the Commissioners refuse to renew their leases, and also throw difficulties in the way of their enfranchising. They state that by this refusal of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners they make the Act compulsory as regards the Petitioners, and voluntary as regards the Commissioners, compelling the Petitioners to purchase the fee-simple, or surrender their interest in the land held by them at such prices as the Commissioners may choose, under penalty of having their leases run out, their interest taken away and their property in them destroyed, or they have the alternative only of defending their estates at the cost of enormous expense and delay. Their main allegation, however, is, that the leases are not renewed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and that that large and powerful body refuses to do that which the Dean and Chapter of Durham have done over since as Dean and Chapter they came possessed of these estates in the reign of Henry VIII. I have said they also complained of the difficulties thrown in their way in enfranchising. The number who last year complained of this was 180, and now I believe nearly 400 have signed the Petitions I have presented. The Petitioners are not merely the men in possession, but also trustees, mortgagees, and reversioners, and various other persons interested directly or indirectly in these estates. But every caution has been taken to secure that those who signed the Petition should be persons who were personally interested in the matter. They represent that the annual value of these estates is £50,000, and the gross value not less than £1,000,000. I have been kindly told by the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Mowbray)—one of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners—that I ought to accept these figures with some caution; but I believe they are based upon a Return presented to this House, by which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners showed that during the two years which had elapsed between September, 1870, and September, 1872, there were 214 leases, the renewal of which was refused; and that the fines paid upon these leases at their last renewal were no less than £18,656 8s. 11d., or on an average of about £9,000 per annum. Taking these figures to represent one-fourth or one-fifth the annual value of the leases, we arrive pretty nearly at a sum of between £40,000 or £50,000, the annual value set out in the Petition. Some of these may be considered small holdings; but they are of the greatest importance to those who are interested in them. But many are of considerable extent. I have the cases before me of Mrs. Watson, who holds 110 acres; Messrs. Ord, 700 acres; Mr. Abbs, 100 acres; Miss Pus-sell, 200 acres; Mr. Holmes, 115 acres; and Mr. Robinson, 213 acres, making 1,438 acres in all, and I have a long list of very important and considerable holdings. Many of these lands have been held, subject to fines, for upwards of 300 years, and in many cases they have remained for 200 years of that period in the same family. They have regularly paid, from time immemorial, one and a-half years' rent every seven years for their 21 years' leases. I am told that in the time of Elizabeth an Order in Council was made that three years' rent should be paid as fine every twenty-first year. Some dispute arose between the Dean and Chapter and the lessees in the reign of Charles I., and the present system was adopted by Order in Council. It consisted of paying one year's rent as fine every seventh year; this afterwards became one and a-quarter to one and a-half year's increased value. The men who hold these leases belong to the independent race of yeoman farmers, who ought to be encouraged in every way, as they form the stay and backbone of the country. I have looked at their leases, and every right seems to be preserved to them that a holder of land has, and they have exercised their rights upon the estate. They have no conditions as to crops, and they make their own roads and fences, and erect their own boundary. They have been transferred from hand to hand, and up to a certain date the form was used in transfer, but the transferror transferred the tenant-right and right of renewal. They allege that when they ceased to be copyholders in the reign of Henry VIII. they covenanted for the right of perpetual renewal. This was before the restraining statutes of the reign of Queen Elizabeth were passed restraining ecclesiastical bodies from granting leases for more than 21 years. The question of the right of renewal was hardly ever, if over, in dispute. Only one or two cases have occurred in which men have been refused renewal for waste of the estate. But the lease in other cases was invariably renewed. They alleged that, before the dissolution of the monasteries, they were not Bishop's tenants, but held the land by court rolls, and in every other way acted as feudal tenants. These men had rendered good service to England, for they were said to be those who had brought the Coronation Stone out of Scotland—whatever interest that fact may have; but I will not go minutely into this question of antiquarian research. These rights have existed up to the present time, and have been carefully guarded. Take a Report out of a Committee of the House of Lords, which is more unfavourable to them than any others, which says— That the lessees, with comparatively few exceptions, have had de facto for more than two centuries the advantage of renewals. To destroy these is to shake the foundation on which all landed property is held in England. With the leave of the House, I will take a few cases of actual holdings of these estates as examples of many more. There is the case of Mrs. Watson, who has 110 acres of ground, purchased in 1830. Her husband's father paid £6,000 for the land, which was equal to a purchase based on a rental of £300 a-year, for a term of 20 years. One of his two sons, after his father's death, obtained a mortgage on the estate of £3,000, which was paid to the younger brother as his moiety of the estate. The Commissioners offered her £4,000 for the estate, which cost her husband in 1830 or 1832 £6,000, the land in the meanwhile having much increased in value. Mr. Ord, of Newton, bought 366 acres in 1810; but the same estate had been held by his family since 1739 as tenants. In 1810 he paid £7,000 for the estate. This was in a time of war, when rents were high. The present value is at least £200 per annum, and he had not been able to enfranchise. Mr. Abbs, of Cleadon House, hold 100 acres, and the land had been in the family for 150 years. It was purchased at the price of freehold by the trustees of the great grandfather of Mr. Abbs. It was purchased from the Hyltons, of Hylton Castle, who held it before the Dean and Chapter got it from Henry VIII. The present owner had built the farm buildings, farmhouse, and a villa residence. I could give half-a-dozen cases. I call the special attention of the House to the fact that these leases were regularly renewed up to 1870. When the Dean and Chapter began to listen to the blandishments of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the tenants began to feel alarmed when their leases were refused renewal, and they appealed to the Privy Council against the Dean and Chapter transfering their rights to the Commissioners. The question was before Lord Selborne, and he said— It seems to me that your position, as Petitioners to Parliament, would not he different after the transfer from what it is now. Your case before Parliament would surely be exactly the same. Indeed, it would he better if the consequence of the transfer was, that you were placed in more jeopardy than you were before. If it were just, there would be more reason for Parliament to interfere in your favour, and if your view is that justice can only he done you by special legislation, it must be presumed that justice would be done upon you showing a case for it after this transfer. I say there is a strong primâ facie case that should be dealt with. These tenants passed into the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. They dreaded the change, because, instead of being under the hands of those who knew them, their circumstances and wants, they would be in the hands of those who have no local sympathies, and little understand the claims they had to their estates, and who were 250 miles away from them. This scheme was passed at a Council at Windsor on November 27th, 1872. The scheme was dated 3rd August, 1871, and sets forth that it is made under the powers of the Act of 1868. The figures in it would rather surprise the Fathers of the early Christian Church. It reserved 10,500 acres of land to the Dean and Chapter, sot forth in Schedule A. It laid down that £11,000 a-year was to be paid to the Dean and Chapter or estates yielding that sum clear of rates, and taxes, and agency; £2,000 pension to the Dean; £700 pension to the Chapter clerk; £600 pension to mining engineer; £10,000 to Dean and Chapter to be spent on farm buildings on reserved estates, interest not to be expended; £20,000 for drainage of reserved estates, interest not to be expended; £20,000 for Cathedral repairs, interest to be expended; £3,000 for their Dean, £1,000 each for six canons, £3,000 for the Cathedral school, £2,000 for repairs; and they also reserved 10,500 acres of land, as I have already mentioned. The only persons left out in the cold were the tenants, from whom all this money was obtained. Having entered upon these responsibilities this huge Commission at once began to refuse the renewal of those leases, which had been renewed almost without exception since the reign of Henry VIII. I allege that considerable delays took place in treating with those who wanted to enfranchise. Mr. Jeremiah Abbs, of Westholme, asked for the terms of the sale of reversion in October 31st, 1871, and, after repeated excuse" and continual applications, got a letter on June 3rd, 1874, saying that his offer to buy or sell should have attention. The renewal of the leases being refused, the customary tenants are driven on to the horns of a dilemma. They must cither enfranchise, or they must sell to the Ecclesiastical Commission. On the one hand, if they wish to enfranchise, it is under the Act of 1851—the voluutary Enfranchisement Act. The customary tenant must buy at the sum offered by the Commission. He has no appeal—no arbitration; and more than that, the refusal to renew drives him on towards giving an exorbitant price. On the other hand, he may sell to the Commission; he may claim that his lease expires in 1884, even if it expires before that time—and he is told that that which cost a few years ago 20 or 25 years' purchase is now worth 9 years' purchase at the most. The question of Church property has been before the House repeatedly, and Reports have been issued, the first of which I hold in my hand, and I think there is no doubt they establish the case of those whom I represent. In the Report of the Committee of 1839, the rights of those men are very distinctly and clearly stated, and it is declared that they ought to be attended to and protected. After this was a Report on the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1848, and on that Committee there were many eminent men. The Report speaks in a strong and stringent manner with the way in which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were dealing with these men. In 1850, the Royal Commission of the House of Lords sat. I place more confidence in the soundness of the views of a Royal Commission than of the Committee of either House because this is a matter which involves nice points of law. No less a person than the Earl of Carlisle brought in the Bill founded on the Report, and that Bill suggested a compromise, so as to give the lessees a perpetual right to renewal. That was the conclusion the Earl of Carlisle arrived at; but the Bill he brought in was thrown out. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government (Mr. Disraeli), in a letter to the Chairman of the Enfranchisement Association, states that the Durham lessees were heard on this question; but there was only one gentleman heard, and his opinion was only asked on the compromise proposed by the Royal Commission. A permissive Bill was brought in in 1851, and now I come to what the Bill enacted. Earl Russell replied to the objections raised, and he said the ecclesiastical corporations could not suffer, because they must be consenting parties to the enfranchisement. The lessees could not be sufferers either, because they too must be consenting parties, and if the term 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 be retained in the same position as before. Then came the Act of 1860, on which my hon. Friend (Sir Thomas Acland) relies as having settled this question. I have already touched on the Acts of 1851 and 1860, and I think I have clearly shown that up to 1872 they never were under the Act of 1860, and they only came under the Act of 1860, when the scheme was passed by the Privy Council in 1872, under the Act of 1868. I do not say that the Commissioners never asked for power. I say they did; but this House struck the clause out, and the power to renew has never been taken away. The power has always been held by Parliament, and it is regarded as a trust to protect the titles by which the owners held. I am no opponent of voluntary enfranchisement; but I am opposed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' screw being put on these customary tenants. I do not believe in forced voluntary enfranchisement, brought about by the threat of no renewal, and I may refer to the fact that every Act of Parliament has tried to protect these men; and if the behests of Parliament guided the Commissioners, these men would not now, through me, ask for inquiry and redress. I hope the House will not refuse the inquiry which I now seek. Those for whom I speak stake everything they have on this throw, and if they fail in making out their case—if they cannot prove there is hardship and injustice—the step which I am taking will recoil on their heads, and they will be handed over to the tender mercies of the Ecclesiastical Commission. But, Sir, if they prove before that tribunal, to which they appeal, that wrong exists; that hardship exists; that they are treated with injustice. This House will do, what it has ever done—redress the grievance— do away with the hardships, and remedy the injustice.


Mr. Speaker—I rise to second this Motion, and at the outset, in doing so, I shall make one declaration. This is no Party question. The very fact that I stand here to-night to second this Motion ought to be the best guarantee for that. Those who are prepared to vote with my hon. Friend feel that a great wrong has been done, is being done, and is likely to be done, by the policy the Commissioners are pursuing towards those who are our neighbours; and we believe that we have established, as clearly as men can, that there is a grievance sufficient to induce Parliament carefully to inquire, as they are now asked to do, into the whole question. I would remind the House that this is not an inquiry into the Act of any Ministry, but into the Acts of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who derive their powers from Parliament; and in the course of these observations, I feel it my duty to question, and to seriously question, the legality and the propriety of the course of proceedings of those Commissioners. I wish to say, at the outset, that I am not unwilling to believe that in the course they pursued they were actuated by a high sense of public duty, and with a due regard to the great trust that Parliament had confided to them. Now, Sir, we ask for this inquiry for the purpose of eliciting certain facts—facts which I believe are known to but few, and only partially known to those few. They are facts with which the general public are entirely unacquainted. They are facts which I hope are unknown to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners themselves; because it is a want of knowledge of these facts which, in my judgment, is the sole justification for the course of policy now pursued. But they are facts which are absolutely necessary for the equitable solution of this question. Therefore, we appeal to Parliament for such an inquiry as will result in the elucidation of these facts. Now, if the House, in its wisdom, thinks fit to grant this inquiry, the first duty that I hope will fall on that Committee will be to unlock the muniment chest of the Chapter of Durham; and I think I can promise them that that will be a very interesting operation. It will be a task replete with ancient custom and law, and it will be a task, therefore, well worthy, I venture to think, of the consideration both of the present and the late Prime Minister of this country. But this production of the muniments of the Chapter is the very thing which the Commissioners oppose. They say we are not prepared to advise the Chapter to give access to their ancient documents. Now, I hope the Commissioners—of whom I wish to speak with respect—will forgive me for saying that I consider this a very suspicious circumstance indeed on their part; and if I draw the inference that the Commissioners are afraid of the publication of these documents—if I infer from this that the production of the documents will tend to support the case of the Petitioners, the Commissioners must not blame me. I have also heard this said by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners—" What an unjust, what a hard thing it is to force the Chapter to produce their title deeds." A hard thing! An unjust thing! When the validity of the title to the right to renewal is questioned for the first time by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners themselves; when that is the question at issue; when the production of these documents is the means, and the only means, by which the validity of that ancient title can be proved, I think the injustice lies not in the production, but in the withholding of these documents. Well now, Sir, my hon. Friend in his able speech has gone into the details of the general Parliamentary history of this question, and therefore it will not be necessary for me in consequence of that to do more than to press home, if I can, certain leading points—the main points, I believe them to be, of our case—on the attention of the House. Now, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, in supporting the course of policy of which I am here to complain—namely, their refusal to produce the ancient laws—have relied a great deal upon this argument. They say—"We have been the means of carrying forward several hundred enfranchisements. Why disturb a system which has worked so smoothly?" and they go further, and say if the right to renewal on the part of those who are yet unenfranchised—if the right to renewal is admitted—something like injustice has been done to those who have previously been enfranchised. That is one of their arguments. As I understand it, they seem to imply that those enfranchised have been duped into parting with their property, because they were enfranchised under an erroneous impression. They had been duped into parting with their property, and I think the Petitioners are perfectly justified in refusing again to become dupes; but the fact is the Commissioners will not see—and there is nobody so blind as the man who will not see—they refuse to see the whole of the argument which I have urged to show the difference between voluntary and compulsory enfranchisement. I would wish to press this point strongly on the House. We are here to deny that Parliament has ever sanctioned compulsory enfranchisement in any shape. I am not here to deny that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have tried to obtain compulsory powers. They tried to introduce compulsory clauses into two or three Acts, and in both instances they were compelled to withdraw them. Further, if Parliament had granted compulsory powers, it would have been bound to grant protection to the long-continued right of renewal, unquestionably possessed by these tenants. The Commissioners say that it is desirable, in the interests of the Church and its property, to abolish this old, wasteful, and improvident system of tenure on renewal by payment of fines. I am afraid that the strong desire of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to get hold of the land, arises from the motive that they are very valuable lands, and that they have been rendered valuable by the investment of capital of the tenants; because we know that fixity of tenure is the great inducement to the tenant to invest his capital in the land, and I am afraid I must characterize this as a rather unworthy motive. It is said that it is desirable to get possession of the lands in the interest of the Church. I think, however, the interest of the Church would be best promoted by nobler impulses and higher motives than these, and that they would not be promoted by this impatient ardour for acquisition. But we may be told that this is not a question for Parliament. We may be asked, why do not these men go to the Courts of Law? My right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) said, not very long ago, that Parliament ought always to be extremely careful in interfering with the action of the Courts of Law. Well, I wish that he had always acted on that wise maxim. But it is precisely because we wish to save our clients—these unfortunate and threatened Petitioners—from the gigantic expenses of a suit at law, that we wish Parliament to take this matter into its own hands. In such a suit they would have to face the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, with funds amounting to something like a million and a-quarter annually at their back. How unequal that contest would be! I hope and trust, therefore, that Parliament will not force these men into a contest against such a power as that. I think I shall be able to show that this is especially a question for Parliament to take into its own hands, and the High Court of Parliament is the fittest tribunal to try the allegation of this Petition. That brings me to the last part of my argument. I say that the faith of Parliament is deeply involved in the solution of this question. My hon. Friend has referred to the proceedings before the Privy Council in 1870, when the customary tenants were heard against the transfer of their estates to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The counsel for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners used this language. They actually contended that the Petitioners' estates would not be affected or prejudiced by the scheme of transfer; and my Lord Selborne used this language, and I am sure that anything which falls from him will always be listened to with respect. He said that it may be right when the Commissioners had got the estates to recognize any legal powers and attend to any equitable considerations, but for that they must first have the estates. Well, but this is exactly the declaration we should expect from an eminent and high-minded Equity lawyer; for what is the status of the customary tenants? I believe I am not wrong; but if I am wrong, there are many lawyers present to correct me. I believe that at Common Law the heir of the customary tenant to whom the lord objects, or the customary tenant himself at the expiration of his term cannot enforce his possession against the lord. But whatever rights he possesses must be defended in a Court of Equity, and I believe that one of the earliest functions of the High Court of Equity in this country was to defend the rights of the customary tenants. There- fore, I am not surprised to hear that the greatest Equity lawyer in our land should have made use of these expressions and spoken of these equitable considerations. Were the Petitioners wrong to accept it as a pledge, and will the House allow the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to ignore equitable considerations? This recognition of the right of renewal was not heard for the first time within the walls of the Privy Council. Every Committee and Commission have in their Reports to either branch of the Legislature used the same language and the same phrase. It has, in fact, become a stock phrase, and a key-note in every one of those Re-ports, that due regard must be had to the long-established right of renewal which the Commissioners now dispute for the first time. But not only have Committees and Commissioners recognized the right which the Petitioners now claim, but great statesmen, Law Officers of the Crown, Prime Ministers of England in their places in Parliament, have repeated the same pledge. Lord Palmerston, Lord Russell, and the Law Officers of the Crown at that time made the same declaration that due regard must be had to the accustomed right of renewal. I would make an appeal to the present Prime Minister. I would ask him to be true to the traditions of his high office, to recall the utterances of eminent Prime Ministers before him, and to pay a due regard to the rights of renewal which these tenants possess. I believe that in doing so he would be doing an act of justice to those whose cause we have to-night humbly, but to the best of our ability, been endeavouring to maintain.

Motion made, and Question proposed That a Select Committee "be appointed to inquire into the nature of the estates and interests and the present position of the Customary Tenants of Lands hold lately under the Dean and Chapter of Durham, and now under the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England, by renewable leases made by the Dean and Chapter, who have transferred their estate and interest in such lands to the Commissioners; and to report the opinion of the Committee as to further legislation thereon."—(Mr. Pease.)


, as a member of the Ecclesiastical Commission, said, the Mover of the Resolution had rather wandered from its strict terms, to which he would confine himself. The Motion and the Petition directed attention, not to cases of hardship, but to a claim for customary tenure, or, in other words, perpetuity of tenure. The estates of the Dean and Chapter of Durham were not transferred to the Commissioners until 1871, when they were so transferred by Order in Council. Before that time 500 of the 700 leases under which they were demised had been dealt with by voluntary agreements between the Dean and Chapter and the lessees, sanctioned by the Church Estate Commissioners. Therefore, when the Ecclesiastical Commissioners came into possession of the property the leases were few in number compared with the number originally granted. The Commutation Scheme was dated the 3rd of August, 1871, and, according to the Report recently presented to Parliament at the time the scheme was submitted for confirmation, opposition was offered by certain lessees, The Petition was heard in November, and Her Majesty was advised to ratify the scheme. Then the lessees transmitted to the Commission a memorial urging that, if some ancient court rolls were produced, the lessees would be found to have been copyholders before they began, 300 years ago, to be lessees, and that their estates should therefore be treated as customary estates, renewable for over. The Commissioners declined to entertain this claim, and the memorialists announced their intention to take proceedings in Chancery. The Commissioners had no knowledge of the existence of the court rolls, and, if they were found, they would not countervail the fact of the property having been held like other leaseholds from the establishment of the Chapter on its new foundation in 1555. A large amount of evidence had been taken by the Commission and the Committees between 1837 and 1851, but no such claim was then set up; and the lessees who then advocated the claims of themselves and their co-lessees had all effected the enfranchisement of their leaseholds, either by sale of the leasehold interest or by the purchase of the reversionary interest. The hon. Member who had introduced the Motion did not base his case upon perpetual tenancy, nor did he (Mr. Cubitt) think it could be upheld upon any such foundation; and, that being so, of what use would the proposed inquiry be? He would leave it to Members themselves to decide whether a Select Committee was a proper tribunal for conducting such an inquiry. He warned those persons in the county of Durham who were inducing the lessees to put forward claims which they could not establish, that great responsibility would rest upon them. Enfranchisement had already been effected to a considerable extent. From a Return made last year it appeared that during the live years ending October 31, 1873, between 70,000 and 80,000 acres of land had been enfranchised, and he believed the number of cases of enfranchisement which had been effected in various ways amounted to about 9,500. The Report of the Commissioners showed that their operations were in a very advanced state; and if the question of perpetuity of tenure were set aside, was there any ground for supposing that they would not be able to deal with the comparatively small matters now in question? At the same time, the Commissioners had only a public duty to discharge, and whatever the judgment of the House might be they would bow to that decision. He could say that the cases of hardship which had been mentioned were wholly unknown to the Commissioners, and that the only claim brought before them had been that for perpetuity of tenure.


maintained that the petitioners in this case had preferred a claim which was founded in justice. It was all very well to ask what was the use of a Committee; but he, for one, foresaw that it would be productive of great good. A Committee would help Parliament to frame remedial legislation if it were proved that injustice had been done. The lessees in question had for a long time past been trampled upon by the Commissioners. He thought the Commissioners should remember those who had fought the battles of the Church Estates during the Commonwealth. At that period the whole of those estates were sold at 16 or 17 years' purchase, and an Act was passed to confirm those sales. The estates of the Dean and Chapters were exempted from the Act of oblivion. By subsequent Acts it was decided that the claims of lessees should be decided by arbitration, and the Commissioners themselves recognized the claims of the lessees to perpetual renewal. He hoped the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Pease) would not confine his Motion for a Committee to inquire into the nature of the capitular estates of Durham, but would strike out the word "Durham," and enable the Committee to deal with capitular estates generally. He held it was perfectly reasonable in the present case that the petitioners should appeal to Parliament against the Commissioners. He thought the House ought to grant the inquiry if for no other purpose than to see the enormous power which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were becoming possessed of. It had long been the policy of this country to prevent ecclesiastical corporations becoming largely possessed of property, and the House might therefore be surprised to learn that the net income of these Commissioners in the year 1873 was not less than £903,583. There was no complaint made against the Commissioners as regarded the application of the funds; and they were no doubt appropriating them to very useful purposes; but they were doing, on the one hand, a good act at the expense of a serious wrong on the other. He begged to move, as an Amendment, that the words "Dean and Chapter of Durham" be omitted from the Motion, and the words "Deans and Chapters" substituted.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in line 3, to leave out the words "Dean and Chapter of Durham," in order to insert the words "Deans and Chapters,"—(Mr. Goldney,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words 'Dean and Chapter of Durham' stand part of the Question."


said, that the leaseholders were fully justified in the alarm they felt on account of the way in which the Act of 1860 had been officially stated as applicable to their case. That Act gave 24 years' enjoyment a-head to the leaseholders then under the Commissioners; but those gentlemen were apt to confound Bills with Acts, for the clause in the Bill of 1860 intended to terminate all church leases in 1884 was struck out, and it was not till the Act of 1868 was passed, that power was obtained for the transfer of the Durham capitular estates; and leases were continually and legally renewed up to 1870, some of which therefore did not expire till 1891. He complained most, however, of the Dean and Chapter consenting to discontinue the customary renewals after 1870, for the system of voluntary enfranchisement had been working admirably, and under it, without any disturbance of the lessees' interests and without any alarm, the desired change of tenure would have been equitably effected. The speech of the hon. Member for Surrey was a renewal of that mixture of alarming pretensions on the one hand, and of vague assurances of tender consideration on the other, with which the Commissioners had treated the lessees. What he himself desired was enfranchisement on an equitable basis. If the Commissioners chose, they could effect this on terms advantageous to the Church and also to the lessees, and the very able agents of the Commission could readily adjust the terms of such a settlement. He felt bound to say that, though after too long delay, a large number of cases of enfranchisement of house property were being effected in his own borough and on very equitable terms, and he saw no reason why leaseholders in the country should not also be fairly dealt with. The houses he referred to were being conveyed to the holder of the existing 21 years leases on new leases of 999 years, at a fixed annual ground-rent, which, however, was to be revised every 100 years, and re-adjusted according to the price of corn. There was also a licence of alienation, costing £2 2s., required every time the property changed hands or was mortgaged or redeemed—a very heavy charge on a small house. The conveyance was very lengthy and wholly in manuscript. He complained also of the severe and elaborate clauses for the reservation and working of minerals which were sought to be imposed even where the Commissioners conveyed the land as freehold for building, reducing the ownership of the ground to nothing more than the use of the surface for tillage. The South Shields School Board successfully resisted the insertion of such monstrous reservations in one case; but in the case of another school site, the same objectionable clauses had again been proposed.


said, he thought the House but imperfectly realized the importance of this question or the magnitude of the interests involved. This was not so much an inquiry into the con- duct of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as into the conduct of Parliament during the last 40 years. The matter was brought under the notice of Parliament in 1837 by Mr. Spring Rice, under the Government of Lord Melbourne; and the Committee which sat in 1838–9 reported that the system of raising revenues by fine, always improvident, was particularly disadvantageous to the Church from the peculiarity of its tenure; that it prevented the investment of capital in the permanent improvement of an estate, put a check upon the extension of buildings in some places where they were very much required, and shut out extensive plots of land from the most improved system of agriculture. From that date the system of leasing Church property then in existence was condemned as vicious, and notice was given that it would soon come altogether to an end. The Commissions and Committees with sat between 1839 and 1850 never reported in favour of perpetual renewal. The Committee of the House of Lords in 1851 reported expressly against the right of perpetual renewal, and they were now asked, after two investigations of the subject by Parliament, to set aside the legislation which had been founded on the Reports of the Committees of this and of the other House of Parliament. The Act of 1851 recognized the rights of the lessees, and under that Act respect had been paid to the long-continued practice of renewal, and what was wanted now was that Parliament should recognize a perpetual right of renewal. The legislation of 1854 and 1860 was still more favourable to the lessees. It had been said that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had administered the law harshly, and in a sense not contemplated by Parliament. He repudiated that statement. They had followed the course prescribed by Parliament, and the law had been justly and fairly administered. The inquiry which they were invited to make would lead them to remote historical periods; and if it was extended in the way proposed by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney), it would involve an inquiry into the titles of all the lands possessed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Parliament had decided this question long ago; and it was only because there were so many Members now in the House not acquainted with the course of legislation on this question that they were asked to re-open it. In the interests, not of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who were quite ready for such an inquiry, but in the interests of the consistency of the Legislature he hoped the House would not grant the inquiry.


said, his only object in rising was to point out to the House what was the actual question before it. Every one who had read the memorial of these parties must have been struck by the fact that they had some notion of their own that they were not leaseholders, but customary tenants, and were entitled to be treated differently from other beneficial lessees, who had come under the operation of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' Act. That case had to a very great extent broken down, and they had, therefore, brought a sort of imaginary grievance before the House, and the administration of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners was impugned. If these persons claimed any right which they did not now possess, let the question be decided in a Court of Law and not in the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment (Mr. Goldney) wanted to extend the inquiry from the particular, real, or supposed grievance of these persons to the whole acts of the Commissioners. Now, it would be hardly fair, when they were considering a particular grievance, to discuss the whole work of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners without the slightest notice either to the Government or the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The Commissioners had discharged their difficult duties most thoroughly and most honestly, and the fact that during 25 years no inquiry had been asked or granted into their conduct was a sufficient proof that no great grievance had arisen under their administration. He hoped the House would not now grant any such inquiry; and if the parties whose case had been brought forward suffered any hardship from the character of this Bill, let the question be decided in a Court of Law.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment, and bring it forward as a substantive Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 120; Noes 137: Majority 17.