HL Deb 03 June 1836 vol 34 cc4-8

The Marquess of Lansdowne, in moving the Order of the Day for the committal of the Bishopric of Durham Bill, said it was necessary that the measure should be passed with as little delay as possible. There was a clause in the Bill for the abolition of certain local courts. On that point very strong representations had been made, in order to retain one of these Courts. He alluded to the Court of Pleas. As their Lordships might deem it expedient not to abolish that Court, and as some alterations must be made in the Bill if that were the case, he trusted that the noble and learned Lord would allow the measure to go through the Committee to-night, pro forma. The proposed amendments might then be printed, and they could be considered on the report or on the third reading. By this means all unnecessary delay would be avoided.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, he was anxious that the Court of Pleas should not be abolished, because the general feeling was, that justice was promptly and effectually administered in that Court. He had no objection to the proposition of the noble Marquess, and in order to remove any difficulty, he would propose his amendments then.

The Marquess of Londonderry

said, he could not, in justice to the petitioners against the Bill, let this opportunity pass without again expressing his opinion. It was not his intention to make any observations on the ecclesiastical revenues of the See of Durham, until the Bill appropriating those revenues was regularly before them; but he begged leave to state what was the opinion of the petitioners with respect to the proposed abolition of those Courts. The petitioners clearly pointed out the great loss and inconvenience which the county would experience in consequence of the proposed arrangement, He was extremely sorry that the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington), who had so frequently declared his anxiety to uphold all our ancient institutions, should have stated it to be his intention to support this Bill. And what were the grounds on which he meant to afford it that support? Why, he said that he would take that course, because the measure was recommended by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. If the noble Duke approved of every thing recommended by the Ecclesiastical Commission, he must approve of much that was recommended by persons whose opinion, with reference to the Church Establishment, was very different from his own. He, therefore, came to this conclusion, that the noble Duke could not agree to all the details contained in the Reports which had emanated from that Commission. The Commissioners had altered their opinion over and over again. Let their Lordships, for instance, look to the See of Bristol. On that point the eyes of the Commissioners had, it appeared, been opened. If that were so, he could not understand why they should not look again into the case of the county of Durham. Considering the statements made in the petitions which he had presented, it did appear to him that the Commissioners had recommended the Legislature to do one of the most unjust things that he had ever heard of. Now, of whom was the Commission composed? He saw the signatures of Sir R. Peel, of Mr. W. Wynn, &c, affixed to the first Report. To the second Report were affixed the signatures of Melbourne, S. Rice, and J. C Hobhousc—individuals whose feelings with respect to the Church Estab- lishment were very different from those that were entertained by the preceding Commissioners. These latter individuals were for pursuing a course of parsimonious economy; but he believed if they had a cheap hierarchy they would soon have a cheap monarchy. The second Report, speaking of the palatine jurisdiction of Durham, said, "With respect to the Bishopric of Durham, we have been informed by Viscount Melbourne, that your Majesty has been pleased to approve of a plan for detaching from that See its palatine jurisdiction, and for placing the county of Durham on the same footing as to secular affairs with the other English counties." Now, the noble Duke stated, that he would support this Bill, which removed that jurisdiction, because the proposition was recommended by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. But it would appear that the noble Viscount was the individual who recommended the plan, and not the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He could not see, therefore, how the noble Duke could give the measure his support as emanating from the recommendation of the Commission. He should now advert to the reasons which induced the petitioners to object to the abolition of the Courts of Chancery and Pleas in the county of Durham. With respect to the first, they said, "That the Court of Chancery, in particular, gives the advantage to the inhabitants of obtaining the concurrence of infant heirs-at-law and trustees, and of prosecuting the other matters appertaining to the amicable jurisdiction of the Court of Equity at a slight expense." And why, he asked, should that advantage be taken away without full inquiry? It had not been removed from the county of Lancaster, and why should it be taken from Durham? Why should this harsh measure be restricted to Durham alone? With respect to the Court of Pleas, the noble and learned Lord had taken up that subject. He hoped that the noble and learned Lord would succeed in preventing the abolition of that Court; and he trusted that the noble and learned Lord would also make a stand for the Court of Chancery, and prevent it being; annihilated. If a proper case were made out for that Court, as he was certain could be done, why should it not be left untouched? He should be glad to know why, in the execution of this difficult task, he was deserted by noble Lords on that side of the House? On what grounds did they support this Bill? He should, of course, be told, because the measure was recommended by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. But that was no reason for upholding one of the most unjust and cruel measures that was ever brought be-fore Parliament. The petitioners further stated, in support of the continuance of these Courts,— 1st. That the Courts are of immense advantage to the inhabitants of the county, in enabling them to sue for and obtain payment of debts due to them at a much less expense than in the courts at Westminster. 2d. That if the Courts are abolished, the inhabitants will be compelled to resort to the superior Courts, and thereby be subjected to an increased expense per annum of at least 5,000l., without the slightest additional advantage. 3d. That no case of abuse in the practice of the Courts of Pleas and Chancery can be established to justify their abolition; and in the absence of any such proof, the advantages now enjoyed by the inhabitants ought not to be taken from them. 4th. That no proper inquiry has been instituted into the necessity of the abolition of the Courts, all information obtained having been procured from one or two irresponsible individuals in Durham, by a gentleman sent down for that purpose, and without any public inquiry. He conceived, after these statements, that their Lordships ought to pause before they consented to such a measure as this. For his own part, he must protest in the strongest manner against the present proceeding for the abolition of those most useful Courts.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that the noble Lord who had just sat down had complained of his taking him by surprise with respect to the support he had chosen to give the Bill before their Lordships. He (the Duke of Wellington) had been a party to the appointment of the Commission so frequently alluded to by the noble Lord in the course of his speech, and although that Commission had certainly been considerably changed since he was in office, yet he felt happy in being able to give his support to a measure brought forward by his Majesty's Ministers, having the Report of its members for its basis. The noble Lord had complained of his having deserted and disappointed him upon this question; but, in reality, the contrary was the case; for when he bore in mind that the noble Lord, during the time that he (the Duke of Wellington) was in office, had concurred with him in the propriety of appointing the Commission, he thought that he should not be far wrong in saying, that the noble Lord had deserted and disappointed him. He would only repeat, that he felt pleasure and satisfaction in being enabled to give his support to the present or any other measure of his Majesty's Ministers, which he could conscientiously vote for.

The Earl of Winchilsea

hoped, that when the See of Durham Appropriation Bill should be brought from the Commons, their Lordships would show every attention to the recommendations of the late Bishop, as regarded the institutions in Durham which had been founded by him.

The House went into Committee, and the Bill, with amendments, passed through the Committee. The Report to be received.