HL Deb 05 June 1863 vol 171 cc384-95

Order of the Day for the House to go into Committee (on Re-Commitment) read.


in moving that the House go into Committee upon the Bill, said he would remind their Lordships that the Bill had been read a second time shortly before the recess, and had been passed through Committee pro formâ, upon the understanding that the discussion of the principle of the measure should be taken at the present stage. At the beginning of the present Session their Lordships gave their unanimous assent to a Bill brought up from the Commons, the object of which was to grant an annuity to the Prince of Wales in aid of the income which he now derived from the Duchy of Cornwall. On that measure some debate arose in the other House, and allusions were made to a Report of the Duchy of Cornwall Council which had been presented to Her Majesty on the attainment of his majority by the Prince. That Report gave an account of the progress of the property during the previous twenty-one years, and also made certain recommendations as to its future management. An assurance was then given, on the part of the Ministers of the Crown, that in the course of the present Session a measure would be introduced for the purpose of carrying into effect those recommendations, and the present Bill was introduced for that purpose. The property was held by the Princes of Wales under a very remarkable charter of Edward III., by which that Sovereign made over the estates of the Duchy to his eldest son, the Black Prince. One great object of the charter was to render the property inalienable. That intention, however, could not be practically carried into effect without experiencing great inconvenience. So stringent were the provisions for securing inalienability, that it was held that the Princes of Wales, under the charter, had no power to grant leases which should be valid beyond their own lives. The consequence of this was that the leases would be of no value to the holders, and it became necessary, upon the birth of each successive Prince of Wales, that Parliament should intervene and grant powers of leasing which were contrary to the supposed literal meaning of the charter. Under those powers arose, perhaps unavoidably, those abuses arising from the system of granting leases for lives with fines, which always resulted in the great deterioration of any property the subject of them, and of which their Lordships had a striking instance some few years ago. That kind of lease which they had only got rid of within the last twenty-five years in regard to ecclesiastical property prevailed all over the property of the Duchy down to the birth of the present Prince of Wales. Leases for lives were granted, and the revenue was anticipated by the fines upon renewal. By these means the revenue of the property was so much deteriorated that during the reigns of George IV. and William IV., taking an average of fifty years, the revenue was little more than £16,000 a year, and upon the accession of Queen Victoria it did not exceed £11,000. When the present Prince of Wales was born, the question arose whether any change should be introduced into the law with a view to the better administration of the property; but it was considered, that inasmuch as it would not be fair to bind His Royal Highness beyond the period of his minority, it was desirable to pass such a measure as had been proposed in the case of previous Princes of Wales, and to meet the evil in another way. Within a few months of the birth of the Prince of Wales a Council was appointed to administer the affairs of the Duchy, consisting of the principal officers of the Duchy at the time—all of whom were since dead—and some non-official members, of whom two continued up to the present time. The Council was presided over by His Royal Highness the late Prince Consort; and he (the Duke of Newcastle) might here be permitted to repeat the testimony borne in the last Report of the Council to the valuable assistance which those who were charged with the management of the Duchy property had derived from his counsel and assistance. Upon the appointment of the Council certain rules were prescribed by Her Majesty, regulating the future management of the property, and, amongst other restrictions, it was directed that the Council should abandon as far as possible the granting of leases for lives upon the payment of large fines, and that the more modern and satisfactory practice of leasing for terms of years should be adopted in every case where it was possible. These instructions had been carefully adhered to; and the result of that system of management was that the revenue of the Duchy at this moment was about £50,000, and there was every prospect of considerable improvement. In this estimate he did not take into account the accumulations which had been made during the minority of the Prince of Wales through an act of self-denial on the part of Her Majesty for which the country was deeply indebted to her. Whereas, during the minority of George IV., George III. received the whole of the revenues of the Duchy, Her Majesty, on the contrary, from the birth of the Prince of Wales, directed the Council to hand over year by year all the surplus revenue of the Duchy to trustees for the benefit of His Royal Highness; and these accumulations amounted in November last, when the Prince attained his majority, to the large sum of £500,000. Every farthing of that sum was a saving to the country; for had it not existed, Parliament would have been called upon to make a much more considerable grant to His Royal Highness than had been done. The Act of 1842 gave to the Prince of Wales the same powers that were possessed by Princes of Wales under previous Acts. But this Act and the letters patent of Her Majesty directing the Council to proceed in a certain way could only operate during the minority of the Prince, and could not bind him after he attained his majority. When, therefore, his Royal Highness came of age, the Act of 1842 no longer continued in force, and it was competent to his Royal Highness at this moment to renew the pernicious system of granting leases for lives which had formerly prevailed. The Report of the Council to which he had referred recommended, that with a view to prevent the revival of that practice which had so materially deteriorated the property, and to the permanence of that system which had so greatly improved it, an Act of Parliament should be passed restraining Princes of Wales and all future possessors of the Duchy property from resorting again to that practice. If the Prince of Wales had been either selfish or narrow-minded, he could have insisted upon retaining those powers which the Act of 1842 gave him. But, upon the recommendation of the Council being brought under their notice, both Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales gave their ready and earnest consent to the introduction of a Bill of the character of that which he now proposed. By this Bill, in future, no leases of land could be granted for a longer term than thirty-one years without fine, nor of leases for building or the improvement of waste lands for a longer term than ninety-nine years; and the Bill also authorized the pale and exchange of lands under certain conditions. These two provisions contained the principle of the Bill. The Duchy property being scattered over the whole country, and thereby expensive to manage, and inconvenient for many purposes, it was considered in 1844 very desirable to grant power to the Council of the Duchy to sell lands and invest the proceeds of such sales in the purchase of other lands, with the view of consolidating the estates. This power was put in operation as far as circumstances would allow; but their Lordships would see that at the commencement of such a system there would be a great deal of property of which parties held beneficial leases, and that it would be undesirable to sell the reversionary interest in such property, and that therefore but few transactions of that nature could occur for the first few years. About two-thirds of the property were still held under beneficial leases, and therefore the great benefit to be derived from the system was yet to come. The success, however, which had attended the practice so far as it could be carried into effect showed that not only could the advantage of consolidation be attained, but that it would be accompanied by the further advantage of an increase of revenue. It was therefore clearly desirable that the existing powers should be continued, and this Bill proposed to continue them. But as the general operation of the Bill was without limit in point of time, and as the great object was not the alienation of property, but to consolidate the estates, the Council considered that it would be better to limit the power of sale to thirty-one years, within which time they thought they might very nearly complete the object which they had in view, that if at the expiration of that time a renewal of those powers should be necessary, there would be no difficulty in applying to Parliament to renew them. By the Bill of 1844 no sales of property could be effected, except with the consent of the Treasury, and by a clause in the present Bill that consent would be required to any sale or exchange of lands belonging to the Duchy. By the 11th clause it was provided that in all cases of such sales the proceeds should be re-invested for the benefit of the Duchy, or be appropriated to the extinction of land tax, or to some object equivalent to its re-investment in land; and there was a provi- sion enabling the Prince of Wales to appropriate a certain amount of the capital sum so derived from sales to effect improvements upon the estates. The property having been let upon leases for lives was liable to all the disadvantages resulting from such a tenure; and when renewals were refused, the property was, of course, suffered to fall into decay, and when it came into the hands of the Prince of Wales would be found to be in a very dilapidated condition. In order to render productive the property thus reduced in value a large outlay was requisite, and the Bill provided the funds for the outlay by enabling the proceeds of sales to be employed for that purpose, but limited to the amount of £30,000 at any one time. The money thus borrowed was to be repaid to the corpus of the estate by annual instalments extending over thirty years. The money invested for these purposes might be considered as selflent, the money being derived from the Prince's own funds instead of being borrowed from other sources. Clause 12 gave power to grant annuities in compensation upon the surrender of existing rights under leases; this provision being adopted because in some cases the widows of lessees were found to possess rights which led to difficulties. With reference to Clauses 13 and 21, he might observe that one great object of the Council had been to avoid litigation, and the result of their endeavours had been to reduce the law expenses from some thousands to between £300 and £400 a year. In order, however, to carry out that desire, it was necessary to provide additional means for settling disputes, and by these clauses additional powers were given to make arrangements and compromises and to refer disputes to arbitration. By another clause power was given to exchange mineral rights in cases where it would be convenient to do so. He had now given to their Lordships an outline of the main provisions of the Bill; the two leading objects being the consolidation and the better administration of the property belonging to the Duchy. He had pleasure in knowing that the measure had in a great degree elicited the approbation of those who were much interested in its administration, as well as of the Prince of Wales and those connected with the property itself. He held in his hand a letter from a very eminent solicitor in Cornwall, who had been very frequently brought into collision with the Duchy an account of the numerous and respectable clients he had in that county— a gentleman who had always shown the greatest fairness and honourable spirit. That gentleman wrote in this way of the Bill— I have had sent to me by some of the Members of Parliament connected with Cornwall the Duchy Management Bill, and, after perusing it, I cannot help (and you will not think me presumptuous, I hope, in doing so) congratulating you on constructing a Bill which appears to me to embrace so fairly and comprehensively all the wants of the Duchy and the public. I naturally, as you will imagine, looked for the powers authorizing allowances for disputed title, improvements, &c.; and, in my poor judgment, you have placed these points on the most unobjectionable footing in Clauses 3, 19, and 21. It was very pleasing to receive a communication of that kind, because it showed that those who took a fair and liberal, and, at the same time, a strict view of the mutual rights of the Duchy and the public were satisfied with this attempt, incidentally perhaps, to settle a great many questions which had created a good deal of excitement and annoyance. At the same time, he believed, if passed into a law, it would greatly increase the future revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall. He begged to move the re-commitment of the Bill.


said, that he felt bound, in justice to the noble Duke, and in justice to the illustrious Prince whose loss they so deeply deplored, to bear testimony to the truth of his noble Friend's statement as to the benefit which the Duchy had derived from His Royal Highness's superintendence. He had occasion to know of the great talents and singular acuteness of that illustrious Prince, having been summoned to attend a meeting of the Duchy Council, as an assessor, when a case of very great nicety and an argument of great difficulty was held before them; and he must say, that during the whole course of that argument the Prince's acuteness, discrimination, and well-weighing of the various points of the argument, astonished him—it was, indeed, as though he had been a lawyer, instead of a layman, insomuch that he recollected stating to Lord Lyndhurst afterwards, that though the assessors hung up the matter for judgment, the Prince himself might have given it at once.


thought that there were some points which required attention in reference to this Bill. Clause 8 conferred power on incapacitated persons to convey and surrender property to the Duke of Cornwall. He thought that some limitation should be placed upon the terms granting this power, and hoped that some Amendment in reference to this would be submitted to them. He thought also that there was some difficulty in reference to Clause 39. By the 7 & 8 Vict., power was given to make grants of certain lands for the purposes of churches, chapels, burial grounds, schools, &c.; and, of course, it was intended that these chapels and schools should be in connection with the Established Church. The clause to which he now adverted, however, enacted that the word "chapel" should include any building used for Divine worship by any denomination of Christians. As this was the first time that they had been asked out of the Crown property to endow Dissent, he thought that the principle was one which should not be lightly sanctioned.


considered it a matter of no small consequence to facilitate the granting of sites for chapels unconnected with the Established Church. It was well known to those who lived in the West of England that there were very large districts where the Wesleyan Methodists were the only parties who had till lately paid any attention to the religious instruction of the people. The great services of the Wesleyan Methodists in the Duchy of Cornwall were well known. Every landowner had it in his own power to give facilities for the erection of chapels to Wesleyan Methodists; and surely there ought to be some mode by which similar facilities should be given in the Duchy. Having had the honour of being intrusted with the care of property in the Duchy of Cornwall for twenty-six years—having, on the accession of the Queen, been asked by Lord Melbourne to look into its affairs, he was therefore in a position to compare the past with the present. He found the property of the Duchy—to use an expressive term—in a great mess; he rejoiced to think it had so entirely recovered through the eminent exertions and abilities of the late Prince Consort, who had for so long a period continuously and most carefully watched over its administration, and had created order out of confusion; and the result was the present vastly-increased value of the property. When their Lordships went into Committee, he had no doubt the various points which had been raised would be carefully considered.


said, he had considered this Bill with great care, and was bound to say he believed it would be hailed with great satisfaction in Cornwall and Devon.

Motion agreed to: House in Committee

Clauses 1 to 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 (Incapacitated Persons empowered to convey).


said, this clause empowered corporations, the trustees of infants, and persons under disability to dispose of property in which they might be interested to the Duchy; and that the conveyance should be as good and effectual in law as if made by a person absolutely entitled and under no incapacity. He did not see why there should be a power for the benefit of the Duchy which no other owners of property possessed. No doubt there was such a clause in railway Acts, but that was inserted for a particular purpose only. Again, in the Act of 1844 there was a similar clause, to render valid transactions of this kind; but that Act was of a temporary nature, whereas this Bill would give a permanent power. He maintained that the clause contained a dangerous power.


said, the provisions in this respect of the present Bill were precisely similar to the Act of 1844. It was said by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Chelmsford) that the Act of 1844 was temporary, and not an Act in perpetuity; but this very Bill was also temporary; for in the previous clause words were introduced limiting the power to purchase to thirty-one years, instead of twenty-one years, as in the Act of 1844.


This Bill refers to purchases; the former Act referred to sales.


The provisions of this Bill are quite as necessary and advantageous now as they were in 1844; and so far from being anomalous similar provisions were to be found in the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, and in the Act 10 Geo. IV., c. 50, which regulated the administration of Crown lands. He was willing to introduce into this Bill, as a further security, clauses in the same terms as those in the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act and the 10 Geo. IV., under which the value of land proposed to be purchased was to be ascertained by two competent surveyors, one to be nominated by the Duke of Cornwall and the other by the sellers.


was understood to say that the objection taken by the hon. and learned Lord deserved careful consideration, and that the power proposed to be given to persons under disability would require to be accompanied with greater safeguards.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 9 to 38 agreed to.

Clause 39 (Proviso as to Grants of Land for Sites of Churches, &c.).


said, the object of the clause was to enable the Dukes of Cornwall to give any building proper to be used as a church or chapel, and any house proper for the residence of the spiritual person who might serve such church or chapel for the proposed purposes. Now, the Act of 1844 empowered the Duke of Cornwall to Give and grant to and vest in any Person or Body Politic or Corporate, his or their Heirs, Executors, Administrators, or Successors, any Building proper to be used as or converted into a Church or Chapel or a Parochial or District School, and any Ground proper for the Site of any Church or Chapel, with or without a Cemetery or Burial Ground thereto, and any Ground proper for a Cemetery or Burial Ground to any Church or Chapel, and any House with its Appurtenances, and with or without a Garden thereto, proper for the Residence of the Spiritual Person who may serve such Church or Chapel, or of the Master or Mistress of such School, and any Ground proper for the Site or Sites of any such Residence or of any Parochial or District School, but with a Restriction that not more than Five Acres be comprised in any One Grant for any of the Purposes aforesaid, or Premises in any One Instance be granted which exceed in Value the Sum of Three hundred Pounds. These words, by necessary implication, of law, were interpreted to mean that these grants might be made to chapels, schools, and so on in connection with the Established Church. The words of this clause, however, gave a new interpretation to the old statute, for it proposed to extend the power to granting lands to all classes of Dissenters. The clause, after reciting the twenty-sixth section of the Act of 1844, proceeded— And be it declared and enacted that the Word Chapel in such Twenty-sixth Section is intended to include any Building used or intended to be used for the Public Worship of Almighty God by any Denomination of Christians, and that the Authority thereby given to grant any House with its Appurtenances, and with or without a Garden thereto, proper for the Residence of the Spiritual Person who may serve such Church or Chapel, or of the Master or Mistress of such School, or any Ground proper for the Site or Sites of any such Residence, shall be construed to extend to the Grant of a Residence or Site for a Residence of a Spiritual Person serving any Church or Chapel, or of the Master or Mistress of any School. He objected to make the alteration proposed in such an extraordinary way, and to put this new interpretation on the Act of 1844. His noble Friend (Lord Portman) said the clause was merely giving to the Dukes of Cornwall a power which every landowner possessed. That might he true; but their Lordships were now called on by an Act of the Legislature to recognise a power in the Duke of Cornwall to endow Dissenters of any denomination. He (Lord Chelmsford) asked why they should be called on to legislate under such circumstances. His noble Friend said that the Wesleyans were of great service in that part of the country, and that it was important to facilitate the grant to them of sites for places of worship. Now, if the clause were confined to the Wesleyans, there might be no objection to it; but, in point of fact, this clause contemplated the granting of sites for the public worship of Almighty God by any denomination of Christians. Why was there to be a legislative recognition of the title of Dissenters to have this privilege conferred on them? There was no necessity for it, because the Duke of Cornwall had power to grant building leases for ninety-nine years, and there was nothing to restrain him from granting such leases to persons of any denomination.


regretted that this question had been raised in connection with a Bill to settle the property of the Prince of Wales. He could not conceive any means more likely to make the name of the Prince of Wales, or anything connected with his property, more odious than for their Lordships to refuse the power proposed in this clause. It was not his intention to go into a legal question. He believed the noble and learned Lord was right, although an eminent conveyancer had expressed the opinion that the meaning of the Act of 1844 was very doubtful; but he must say, that if they were to deprive the Prince of Wales of the power of granting sites for the erection of Wesleyan chapels in some portions of the Duchy of Cornwall, they would shut out the whole population from any religious instruction whatever. Many districts were peopled by a population every man of whom was a Nonconformist, and it would be very hard to say, that while they were willing to give a power to grant leases for chapels connected with the Church of England in parts where there were no Churchmen they would refuse to confer a similar power in the case of denominations which included all the inhabitants without exception. The noble and learned Lord had said, that the clause would be less objectionable if confined to Wesleyans; but that was giving up the principle for which the noble and learned Lord had contended—namely, the exclusion of all Dissenters from State endowment. It seemed, too, that the law might be evaded by granting leases for ninety-nine years for Nonconformist chapels. On what principle, he would like to know, were their Lordships to legislate? Was it light that no body of Christians, unconnected with the Church should receive the advantages of a site, or were their Lordships to recognise the maxim that property had its duties as well as its rights? Considering what scandal had been created in Scotland, some years ago, by the refusal of sites to the Free Church, he trusted their Lordships would not place the Prince of Wales in a position in which he would be compelled to prevent the erection of Dissenting chapels.


said, that what he objected to was the power taken by the Duchy to grant an endowment to the extent of £300.


said, the power taken was not to give an endowment, but to grant a site not exceeding the value of £300. The gift in fee simple was no more an endowment than the granting of a lease. Both had their value, and the principle was the same in each case.


hoped, considering the position of the Duke of Cornwall and the inconvenience that might arise from the rejection of the clause, that the objection would not be persevered in, and thought that by a verbal alteration the difficulties referred to might be removed.


said, that the clause was drawn in as offensive a manner to the Established Church as it well could be. Upon the question of chapels he would say nothing; but why was a special privilegium necessary to enable the Duke of Cornwall to grant sites for schools? Would it not be sufficient to give to the Duke of Cornwall the same power to avail himself of the various School Sites Acts which every ordinary proprietor of land in the country possessed? In that case, when the site ceased to be used for the purposes for which it was granted, it would revert ipso facto to the Duchy, without the necessity for further powers to that effect in another part of the Bill.


said, that this clause would give greater powers to the Duke of Cornwall with regard to sites for parsonage houses, and, he thought, schools also, than was possessed by other owners of settled estates. If they could not give a site, they could sell it, as he knew from his own experience. The noble Duke talked of the odium of rejecting the clause; but he thought the danger of this clause was the very false position in which it might put the Duke of Cornwall. He knew that in Wiltshire and Somersetshire, the Duke of Cornwall had no extended property in any one place—it consisted mainly of small and scattered estates. There was often in practice great difficulty, as regarded the Church of England, in refusing grants of this sort, which the owners of land considered it hardly just to give, and yet did not like to refuse. But if, in addition to the Church of England, they had applications from every religious body, the difficulty would be greatly increased. In order to save the Duchy from the odium of refusing demands of this sort, some modification should certainly be made in the clause.


said, he certainly had no intention to divide the Committee upon the clause. He was first struck with the objectionable mode in which the clause was worded, and then by the formal recognition, if not endowment of Dissent. He suggested that the objectionable form of the clause might be got rid of by the use of more general terms, and the purpose his noble Friend had in view accomplished.


said, it was difficult to appreciate the difference which existed between the Duchy and private property. The clause now before the Committee had been drawn after nineteen years' experience of the working of the Act of 1844, and he did not think that the objects in view could be attained in any better way. If, however, upon the Report any noble Lord would place an Amendment upon the paper, it should receive every consideration on the part of the Council of the Duchy.

An Amendment made.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

Report of the Amendments to be received on Tuesday next; and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 118.)