HL Deb 13 July 1868 vol 193 cc1091-3

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that it involved no new principle. The Bill proposed certain arrangements by which the estates of chapters would be transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for a certain time for the purpose of being restored to the chapters after various changes with respect to the leasehold tenure of their property had been effected. Many years ago, as their Lordships would remember, an Act of Parliament was passed which gave the Ecclesiastical Commissioners a considerable interest in the estates both of deans and chapters and Bishops. The effect of that Act was to arrange the appointment to a certain number of canonries, and to vest the proceeds of those canonries in the hands of the Commissioners, thus forming funds comprised under the name of the Common Fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The mode in which payment was made with that fund was by making certain charges upon the funds of the chapters, the chapters having the administration of the whole of the estates, and paying a certain sum into the hands of the Commissioners. In the process of years that was found not to be the best way of carrying out the arrangements. There were many disadvantages in the Commissioners having merely a charge on the estates in the management of which they had little or no interest, and at the same time there were inconveniencies connected with the leasehold tenure of the property which it was very desirable to terminate. He believed the Church leasehold property was considered to be one of the worst kinds of property, or at least one of a very objectionable nature. The various interests of the lessees and the reversionaries were not identical, and consequently the property suffered. The consequence was that for a length of time it had been found convenient that arrangements should be made between chapters on the one side and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners on the other for transferring to the Commissioners the estates, in order that the Commissioners, by means of the funds at their disposal, might be able to arrange the leasehold in- terest on a proper footing, to buy up reversionary interests, and at the same time to pay themselves the debt which the chapters owed them, guaranteeing to the chapters the income which Parliament had fixed as their future income, and, after the changes which it was thought desirable had been effected in the property, to hand back to the chapters estates freed from that objectionable leasehold tenure which it had been the intention and endeavour of Parliament for a long period of years, and by many Acts, to put an end to. In consequence of the convictions which the necessities of the case had brought to light those arrangements had for a series of years been in progress. He believed the first arrangement was made with the Chapter of York in 1852, and from that to the present time various surrenders of property, amounting to eighteen, had been made by different chapters for effecting those voluntary arrangements, and obtaining a subsequent transfer of their property to them in an improved condition. That principle had been thoroughly sanctioned by Parliament. In 1860 a Bill was passed rendering it obligatory that all the property of all the Bishops upon the avoidance of the sees should be transferred in the way he had described to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the Commissioners at the same time undertaking to put the Bishops in re-possession of property sufficient to yield the income allowed by Parliament. Few, if any, doubts arose for sometime to shake the belief that a competent authority existed for such arrangements; but in the course of last year doubts were raised as to the authority which the Acts in question conveyed, and in the case of the transference from the two chapters of Norwich and Westminster, which were under consideration by the Commissioners and the chapters, communications were-received at the Privy Council Office which made him feel that it was his duty to submit the question in a formal shape to the Law Officers of the Crown. The Law Officers reported that they did not consider the authority of the Acts sufficient to enable the Commissioners to effect the transfers in the usual manner, and a decision of the Judicial Committee recorded to that effect stopped the transfers in contemplation. The effect of that was not only to prevent the transfers then under consideration, but to throw doubt upon the authority by which, in the case of the eighteen chapters, the former transfers had been made. In order to remedy any inconveniences that might have arisen, Parliament passed an Act during the present Session which gave validity to those transactions. But it was evident that unless Parliament gave more distinct powers the process hitherto so salutary must be brought to a stand-still. This Bill, therefore, had been brought in for the purpose of enabling the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to carry on arrangements with other chapters which were desirous of entering into them. The provisions of the Bill were of a simple character; they enabled transfers to be made of the property of deans and chapters, the latter to receive a money payment, and provided that a certain sum should be set apart for cathedral repairs. Farms were to be let without fines at the best annual rent that could be obtained. These were the main provisions of the Bill. There was nothing compulsory in the powers it sought to confer; it simply enacted that voluntary arrangements were to be permitted between the chapter on one side and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners on the other. Whatever arrangements lessees might have made previous to the transfer of property, these arrangements the Commissioners would be able to carry out if they saw fit, and, if they did not, they would be bound, if the lessees required them, to purchase the outstanding terms of the leases.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.