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ECCLESIASTICAL AND UNIVERSITY
PROCEEDINGS IN PARLIAMENT RELATING TO ECCLESIAS
TICAL AFFAIRS, IN THE YEAR 1808.
CURATES' SUSPENSION BILL. PREVIOUS to our giving a history of the proceedings in this sessions of parliament, relative to the CURATES' SOSPENSION BILL, it will be necessary to revert to the proceedings of the House of Commons on the 6th day of August, in the
HOUSE OF COMMONS, AUGUST 6. Mr. Lockart moved for leave to bring in a bill to suspend the act of the 35th of the King, so far as it relates to the voidance of benefices held by clergymen, who may have sulsequently accepted curacies augmented from Queen Anne's lounty. The ground on which he rested his motion was, that many clergymen, not aware of the clause in that bill, which rendered benefices void in case the incumbents accepted augmented cures, had, by accepting such curacies subjected themselves inadvertently and ignorantly to the penalty of that act. The consequence was, that the patrons of the benefices were threatening them with new presentations, and that they held such benefices wholly at the mercy of such patrons. His bill was not intended to alter the law, or decide the right, but merely to suspend the operation of the act till next session, in order that the legislature might have an opportunity of considering whether clergymen under such circumstances ought to be left to hold their benefices at the inercy of the patrons, or to be deprived of them altogether. Vol. I.
In consequence of this motion leave was granted, and the bill sent up to the House of Lords. This bill being only a temporary one, it was recommended to pass it, confining its operation to 40 days after the commencement of the next session of parliament.
On January the 27th, the Bishop of Oxford rose in the HOUSE OF LORDS, to call the attention of their lordships to this act, which had past at the close of the last session, in his opinion with too great hurry and precipitation. By the law as it previously stood, augmented cures under Queen Anne's bounty were considered as benefices, and therefore subject to the same restriction. The act of the last session went to repeal this clause. Much inconvenience and injury to the rights and dignity of the church had followed. Many persons continued to possess themselves of the emoluments of those benefices, who were legally ousted; while others properly presented, and duly inducted, were prevented from the exercise of their professional functions, and deprived of those profits, to which they were entitled in right of their, appointment. The Right Reverend Prelate then moved that a bill for the repeal of the Curates' Suspension Bill he read a first time.
After some observations from the Lord Chancellor, the Earl of Lauderdale, and the Duke of Norfolk, the bill was read a first time. It was afterwards engrossed and sent back to the House of Commons.
On February the 9th, Mr. Whitbread presented a petition to the House of Commons from the Rev. James Scott, rector of Brampton Bryan, in the county of Hereford, taking notice of the engrossed bill from the Lords, intituled, “An Act for repealing an Act made in the 47th of his present Majesty," intituled, “ An Act for suspending the Operation of an Act of the 36th of his present Majesty, for the further Support and Maintenance of Curates within the Church of England, and for other Purposes in the said Act mentioned, so far as relates to the Avoidance of Benefices by the Incumbents thereof having accepted augmented Curacies ;” and setting forth, that if the same should pass into a law, it will operate in a manner extremely injurious to the petitioner, whose title to
the rectory of Brampton Bryan aforesaid cannot be disputed, as long as the said act of the 47th of his present Majesty shall continue to be the law; and that the petitioner was presented and duly instituted to the rectory of Brampton Bryan aforesaid, in 1801, and in 1805 he was nominated to the perpetual curacy of Jitley, in the county aforesaid; and that in 1806, the petitioner was appointed chaplain to his Majesty's ship Lion, which by the residence act is a legal cause of absence; and the petitioner went in the said ship to China, and that at the time of the petitioner's accepting the perpetual curacy aforesaid, he was in total ignorance of a section in an act of 36 Geo. III. commonly called the Curates' Act, which makes a former benefice voidable by the subsequent acceptance of a perpetual curacy augmented by Queen Anne's bounty; and that if the petitioner had been in the least aware of the said clause, he would have applied for a dispensation to hold two benefices, he being a bachelor of laws of the university of Oxford, and as such in a situation to obtain such dispensation; and that during the last session of parliament, and whilst the petitioner was absent in China as aforesaid, a bill for the purpose of confirming clergymen, who had acted in ignorance of the aforesaid clause, in possession of their former benefices, was, from the very commencement of the said sessions, in the hands of several members of both houses of parliament, of some of the most eminent lawyers at the bar, and of many respectable clergymen; and that several weeks after the said bill had been in such extensive discussion, namely, on the 27th of July, 1807, the patron of the said rectory of Brampton Bryan presented another gentleman thereto; and that by the said act of the 47th of his present Majesty, it was enacted, that all persons who, upon or at any time after the first day of the last session of parliament, were, or had been the lawful incumbents of any benefices, should, notwithstanding they have or had accepted any such augmented cures, remain and be the incumbents of such benefices until the 40th day of the next session of parXament; and that the petitioner was on the said first day of the last session of parliament, the lawful incumbent of the said rectory of Brampton Bryan, and was nominated to the said curacy now about 7 years ago, and accepted the same with the perfect approbation of the said patron of Brampton Bryan, who immediately, upon the petitioner's acceptance of the said curacy, became the petitioner's tenant of certain tythes belonging to the said curacy, and has so continued to the present time, and therefore praying that the said bill may not pass into a law, or that the petitioner may have such other relief in the premises as to the house shall seem meet.”
This petition was ordered to lie on the table, and the bill for the suspension read a first time, and ordered to be read again on the morrow.
Felruary the 10th. Mr. Dickenson moved the order of the day for the second reading of the bill for the repeal of the act of the last session, suspending the penalties and forfeitures affecting persons accepting augmented curacies. He stated that the penalty of forfeiture attached by law to persons not resident accepting augmented curacies, if these persons were not resident or had no dispensation. The case of Mr. Scott, he argued, which was the sole one on which the suspension act of last session was grounded, was exactly under the circumstances that worked this forfeiture. It was not enough that Mr. Scoit pleaded ignorance of the law; that ignorance was no excuse for the breach of the law, was one of the fundamental maxims of British justice. Mr. Scott holding the rectory of Brampton Bryan, had accepted the augmented curacy of Jitley; and his rectory being thereby forfeited, the patron had granted it to Mr. Graham, who had been inducted with all the proper forms. Mr. Graham had given notice not to pay tithes under the act of last session. That act had passed by surprize.
Mr. Lockart defended the suspension act of the last session, which was brought forward, not from reference to any private case, but from a regard to the general state of the clergy, whose tithes were very generally threatened by the penalties and forfeiture, unguardedly incurred under the act of 1796. That act had received in its last stage a clause and a title, which entirely changed its efect, without giving sufficient notice to those interested. These curacies had always before been considered tenable with benefices, and the act of that date confirmed all services of that nature then existing. The subsequent forfeiture was not sufficiently published, and remained unknown and unnoticed till now brought forth to inflict unreasonable hardship. Mr. Scott might have obtained a dispensation if he had had notice. But the case was not Mr. Scott's alone, others had equally suffered; and the hardship would be general, if parliament did not interfere---it was certainly but little to ask, that the short period of the suspension act which was to run, should be allowed for the consideration of the means of remedying a grievance of so serious a nature.
Mr. Lushington argued against the suspension act on all the former grounds, and contended, that it would be an unwarrantable exercise of the power of parliament to interfere with the right of the patron (Lord Oxford) to whom the rectory lapsed by the default of Mr. Scott, and Mr. Graham, who legally enjoyed it under the presentation of that patron, confirmed by all due forms.
Mr. Whitbread denied, that the suspension act of last session had been passed by surprize---that was impossible, as the chair was filled now. Was it possible that it could have past the bench of bishops also in the upper house by surprize. The Hon. Gentleman then went over the circumstances of Mr. Scott's case, which he contended called for relief from parliament, and for the continuance of the suspension bill, till the means of that relief could be prepared and considered.
Mr. Sheridan finding the bill before the house, regarded it as a sort of reprimand from the Lords, and a sort of episcopal repartee from the bishops, for having passed the suspension act, and thought the house ought to receive it somewhat indignantly. The Hon. Gentleman entered into the circumstances of Mr. Scott's case, and insisted on the propriety of continuing the suspension, to afford an opportunity of devising some relief. The case was general, and one noble lord had declared, that if he chose to act on the same principle, he could vacate upwards of two hundred livings.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer thought that parliament had no right to interfere with the discretion of the patron of