HL Deb 10 June 1836 vol 34 cc298-301

On the Order of the Day for receiving the Report on the Bishopric of Durham Bill with Amendments,

The Marquess of Lansdowne

observed, that his original impression was, that the Courts of Pleas and Chancery in the Bishopric of Durham, ought to be abolished; but that further inquiry was previously necessary. With a view of facilitating that inquiry, and at the same time of preventing any delay in the abolition of those Courts, should it be deemed expedient to abolish them, he should propose to their Lordships to adopt the suggestion which had been made by a noble and learned Lord, and to transfer the jurisdiction of the county-palatine of Durham from the Bishop to the Crown. That would enable the Crown, after the inquiry was terminated, to deal with the Courts in question as circumstances might warrant. He begged, therefore, to be understood, that though he proposed to strike out of the Bill the clauses which abolished the Court of Pleas and the Court of Chancery (there was no doubt that the County Courts ought to be abolished), he did not by that proposition mean it to be inferred, that it was essential to continue the existence of those Courts further than the inquiry might prove to be expedient.

The Marquess of Londonderry

was glad that his Majesty's Government had at length condescended to look into the Bill. They now perceived that what he had stated on the subject was well founded. The last clause of the Bill it seemed, however, was to be retained. To that clause he entertained so strong an objection, that it was his intention to move that it be expunged. Its adoption would open a door to what was called Ecclesiastical Reform, which their Lordships would find it difficult again to shut.

The Lord Chancellor

observed, that the last clause of the Bill had already been fully discussed and satisfactorily explained. There was now a large property belonging to the see of Durham. But certain portions of that revenue were to be taken away for the purpose of being applied to other ecclesiastical purposes, There was now no Bishop of Durham. It would be inconvenient, however, to allow the sec to remain vacant. But if a Bishop of Durham were to be appointed, without the adoption of the last clause in the Bill, it would be an extraordinary thing first to invest the Bishop with all the revenue of the see, and then to take away a portion of it. The sole object of the clause to which the noble Marquess objected, was to declare that although the Bishop to be appointed to the see of Durham was to have all the revenues of the see, yet that that arrangement should be subject to any alteration that Parliament might subsequently think proper to adopt. With respect to the Courts of Pleas and Chancery sufficient information had not been obtained. When that information was furnished, they would be dealt with as circumstances should direct.

Lord A Linger

concurred generally in the proposition of the noble President of the Council. He (Lord Abinger) had drawn up a short clause to effect that which it was proposed to effect by a long clause, that had been introduced into the Bill. But he wished to guard himself against being responsible for the latter.

Lord Ellenborough

wished to know whether the Act for the regulation of the revenues of the see of Durham was to have a retrospective effect; or, in other words, whether it was to have date from the time of its passing, or from the day of the appointment of the new Bishop. In his opinion it would be better, for the sake of uniformity, that the diminution of the revenues should commence from the passing of the Act.

The Marquess of Londonderry

repeated the objections he had on the former debates urged against the last clause, and contended, that the observations of the right reverend Prelate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wherein he proclaimed himself the advocate of rested rights, supported the view he took of that clause.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

altogether differed from the noble Marquess in the conclusion he drew from his observations on a former debate. It was because he was the advocate of vested rights that he approved of the last clause of the Bill. That clause intimated a determination on the part of Parliament, not to allow a vested right to accrue, which—should they however resolve upon carrying into effect the recommendations of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners—they would have to meddle with, and therefore it had his entire sanction. With respect to the date from whence the diminution should take effect, it was his opinion, that it should be the day of the demise of the late Bishop. That, however, was a point for further consideration.

Lord Denman

regretted, that the Bill was not likely to pass in the shape in which it had reached that House, as he thought that it was most desirable that the administration of Durham should be assimilated in Durham as in every other county of England. In deference, however, to the wishes of his Majesty's Government, and, as he understood it, of the House generally, he was prepared to admit, that it would be improper to proceed to the destruction of any existing Court of justice, without the ordeal of a previous inquiry. He hoped however, that that inquiry would not meet with any delay, so that a settlement of the Question might take place in the present Session. Much had been said of the local advantages derived by the county of Durham from the holding of palatinate Courts, but as far as his means of information went, those advantages were imaginary. Their Lordships, perhaps, were not aware that those Courts held their sittings for the most part in London. It was only on Friday evening last that the Palatinate Court of King's Bench of Durham (of which he chanced to be Chief Justice) sat in his chamber at Sergeants'-Inn. It therefore appeared to him to be a very odd kind of local advantage that was derived by the inhabitants of the county of Durham. Of the Durham Court of Chancery he knew little; but he required nothing more than what had been stated in that House to arrive at the conclusion that, practically, that Court could be of very little use to the inhabitants of Durham. It had been stated, that the most eminent members of the Chancery bar presided over that Court. If so, it was obvious that its business must be principally transacted in the law chambers in London, and that, for all good purposes, it might as well be disposed of at Westminster. He regretted much that the present opportunity of assimilating the administration of justice in the county of Durham to that in force throughout the kingdom, had not been more unanimously agreed upon; but he confidently hoped nothing but the result of a solemn and deliberate inquiry would induce Parliament to reject the proposition originally contained in the Bill to adopt a general uniformity of process.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, that in compliance with the suggestions which had been made to him, he had no objection to omit in the present Bill the clause respecting Coroners, on condition that, if further inquiry proved favourable to its adoption, it might be inserted in the Appropriation of the See of Durham Revenues' Bill.

Report agreed to with amendments.