HC Deb 05 May 1817 vol 36 cc120-6
Sir W. Curtis

moved the order of the day for the second reading of this bill. It originated, he said, with the corporation of London, and its object was, to relieve the inhabitants of certain parishes in London which were not destroyed by the great fire in 1666, from the oppressive proceedings complained of in some of them, as having been experienced of late years, under the act of Henry the eighth, relative to tithes in London. If two shillings and nine-pence in the pound on the rack rent, which it was pretended the incumbents had a right to claim, were collected, an enormous sum would thus be raised; the consequent pressure on the inhabitants must be great, and the evil, he thought it must be felt, was one which loudly called for some redress. While he contended, that if this principle were acted upon, a greater burthen would fall upon the inhabitants than they ought to bear, he was ready to admit that at present some of the clergy received less than they ought to receive. It was the wish of the corporation of London that the question should be fairly met, and equitably set at rest. They wished the pastors of the church to be adequately provided for, and proposed to effect this by settling on them specific annual stipends, given on the most liberal principles, in lieu of tithes, to be raised by rates, in the manner adopted in the time of Charles 2d, in respect to the parishes destroyed by the great fire. Such being the views of those with whom this bill originated, he hoped it would not meet with opposition, and that the union of all the parishes interested in the measure would secure the clergy a comfortable provision, while the people were not overburthened.

Dr. Phillimore

addressed the House for the first time. He objected to the bill, as being repugnant to every principle of sound policy and justice. It might be material, he said, to recall to the recollection of the House, that, in the 32nd of Henry 8th an act was passed, intituled "An Act for Tithes for London," the preamble of which expressly stated, that it was, "for appeasing the contentions, strifes, and variances, which had risen and grown within the city of London, and the liberties of the same, between the parsons, vicars, and curates of the said city, and the citizens and inhabitants of the same, for and concerning the payment of tithes, oblations, and other duties, within the said city and liberties." The act then stated, that as well the said parsons, vicars, and curates, as the said citizens and inhabitants, had compromised, and put themselves to stand to such order and decree, touching the premises, as should be made by the archbishop of Canterbury, the lord chancellor of England, the lord treasurer, the lord president of the council, the chief justice of England, the chief justice of the common bench, the chief baron of the exchequer, and the other persons therein named, "for a final end and conclusion to be had and made touching the premises for ever." And to the intent to have a full peace and perfect end between the said parties, their heirs and successors, touching the said tithes, oblations, and other duties for ever, it was enacted, "That such end, order, and direction, as should be made, decreed, and concluded by the a forenamed archbishop, lords, and knights, or any six of them, before the first day of March then next ensuing, of, for, and concerning the payments of the tithes, oblations, and other duties within the said city, and the liberties of the same, and enrolled in the king's high court of chancery of record, shall stand, remain, and be as an act of parliament, and should bind as well all citizens and inhabitants of the said city and liberties, for the time being, as the said parsons, vicars, curates, and their successors for ever, according to the effect, purport, and intent of the said order and decree so to be made and enrolled." In pursuance of this act, a decree was made on the 24th of February, 1545, that the citizens and inhabitants of London, and liberties of the same, for the time being, should yearly, without fraud or covin, for ever, pay their tithes to the parsons, vicars, and curates of the said city, and their successors for the time being, after the rate following:—Of every 10s. rent by the year, of all and every house and houses, shops, warehouses, cellars, stables, and every of them, within the said city and liberties of the same, 16½d.: and of every 20s. rent by the year. 2s. 9d., and so above the rent of 20s. by the year, ascending from 10s. to 10s. according to the rate aforesaid. And it was also decreed (among other matters,) that if any variance, controversy, or strife, should thereafter arise in the said city for non-payment of any tithes; or if any variance or doubt arose upon the true knowledge or division of any rent or tithes, within the liberties of the said city, or of any extent or assessment thereof, or if any doubt arose upon any other thing con- tained within that decree; then, upon complaint made by the party grieved, to the mayor of London for the time being, the said mayor, by the advice of counsel, should call the parties before him, and make a final end in the same, with costs to be awarded by the discretion of the said mayor and his assistants, according to the intent and purport of the said decree. And if the said mayor should not make an end thereof within two months after complaint, then the lord chancellor, upon complaint to him made within three months then next following, should make an end of the same, with such costs to be awarded as should be thought convenient, according to the purport of the said decree. This decree was afterwards enrolled in the high court of chancery. What, then, did the motion of the hon. baronet go to? It went to repeal a law which had been the established law, for nearly three centuries past. After the fire of the city of London, that is to say, in the 22d and 23d Charles 2nd, an act was made, intituled, "An act for the better Settlement of the Maintenance of the Parsons, Vicars, and Curates, in the Parishes of the City of London, burnt by the late dreadful fire there;" the preamble of which states that, "whereas the tithes in the city of London were levied and paid with great inequality, and are, since the late dreadful fire there, in the rebuilding of the same, by taking away of some houses, altering the foundations of many, and the new erecting of others, so disordered, that in case they should not for the time to come be reduced to a certainty, many controversies and suits of law might thence arise." It was therefore enacted, that the tithes of the several parishes, or sums of money in lieu of tithes, should be according to the several sums set against the respective parishes, whose churches had been demolished, or in part consumed: and it was also, enacted, that if any variance or doubt should happen to arise about any sum so assessed as aforesaid, then, upon complaint made by the party aggrieved to the lord mayor and court of aldermen of the said city, within fourteen days after notice given to the party assessed, of such assessment made, the said lord mayor and court of aldermen summoning as well the party aggrieved, as the others that made the assessment, should hear and determine the same in a summary way, and the judgment by them given should be final and without appeal; and in any parish or parishes where any impropriations were, the impropriators should pay and allow what really and bona fide they had used, and ought to pay to the respective incumbents at any time before the fire; and the same should be esteemed and computed as part of the maintenance of such incumbent, notwithstanding that act, or any clause, matter, or thing therein contained. This act, therefore, was a particular act, growing out of necessity, and was limited to that necessity. The former act, and the decree made thereupon, had settled all disputes between the clergy of London and their respective parishioners. This decree, he repeated, had been duly enrolled, and courts of justice had ever since governed their decisions according to its purport. For these reasons, therefore, he should certainly feel it his duty to move, "That this bill be read a second time on this day six months."

Sir James Shaw

said, that the inequalities of the tithing system throughout London called loudly for the enactment of the present bill. In the parish of Aldgate the tithes had increased within a couple of centuries from a very few pounds to near 4,000l. per annum, whilst in Christ Church, St. Bartholomew's Hospital, that very extensive parish, the tithe was collected at the shamefully low rate of 2½d. per pound sterling. He should give the motion his support.

Sir William Scott

said, that the bill was at variance with every principle of law and justice. The decision of the arbitrators appointed agreeably to the statute of Henry 8th, had been duly enrolled and acted on from that time to the present. The law was formed on the express application of the parties concerned. The property now attempted to be called in question was guarded and fenced round by as strong security as there could be around any property whatever. A part of the property was in the hands of lay impropriators, and could not be considered as differing from any other property. The bill was neither more nor less than telling the lay impropriators and incumbents, that they were in future to be shut out from all courts of justice, and to be entirely at the mercy of the magistrates of the city of London. He was little disposed to speak disrespectfully of the magistrates of any place, and least of all of those of the city of London, in which he resided; but he could not consent to give them tire power which this bill went to place in their hands. He recommended the hon. baronet to withdraw the bill.

Alderman Atkins

said, that the House was not called upon to adopt a new principle of legislation on the present occasion, as it had already interfered twice in such matters, under circumstances somewhat similar. To show the injustice of the present system, he stated that one half of the population of a particular parish paid 130l. to the lay impropriator, while the other half of the inhabitants were compelled to pay upwards of 4,000l. per annum. Under these circumstances, he should vote for the bill.

Sir James Graham

opposed the bill, and said, the payment in lieu of tithes was not a tax, but an undivided seventh part of the property. The fact was, that at present the lay impropriators and incumbents did not exact the full amount of their rights, for instead of receiving 2s. 9d. as they were entitled to, they did not receive more on the average than 10d. in the pound. They would, however, be very much in the wrong, after what had passed, if they did not levy the last farthing of what they were entitled to. The most vexatious opposition had been made to the fair claims for tithes, and many persons in the city had entered into long suits with the tithe-holders, which they boasted they supported out of the interest of the long arrears which they had withheld.

Mr. Butterworth

said, that in the parish where he resided, he had paid tithes by a small rate for years—the same rate, he believed, as had been paid for centuries before; it was so small, that the impropriation had been lately purchased by the church warden for 4,000l.; but if 2s. 9d. were demanded, it would raise the living to the value of 4 or 5,000l. a year. He could not conceive that the measure would operate as any injustice to purchasers; who, of course, when they purchased, calculated only on enjoying a certain rate, and paid accordingly. He believed that the alteration of this rate, and the rigorous exaction of the 2s. 9d., would be pernicious to the interests of the church, by exciting heart burnings and dissensions between the rector and his parishioners.

Mr. W. Smith,

in reply to the objection that purchases had been made in expectation of a possibility of establishing the claim for 2s. 9d., urged, that a contrary expectation must also have had its weight, and that, in reality, many purchases had been made with no such hope or calculation. It was contended, too, that the legislature had no right to interfere in cases of this sort; but what was the 42d of Elizabeth, by which it was ordered that lords of manors should take no fine on the sale of estates, but an interference of this nature? There could be no doubt that, previously to the passing of that act, many persons had bought manors for the express purpose of profiting by the fines, and yet the legislature did not hesitate to put an end to their exaction; and though this case might not be exactly similar, yet there could be no doubt that the legislature might interfere where the exercise of a right was prejudicial to the public interest.

Mr. Gordon

said, if persons had purchased tenements without inquiring into the claims for tithes which might be made upon them, that neglect of theirs should not operate to destroy the right of the tithe holder. This was not like the act of the 42d of Elizabeth, a measure affecting the whole of the kingdom, but a local bill which might be drawn into precedent to the injury of other holders of tithes. If a modus was pretended to be established, or if the registration of the award under the statute of Henry 8th were disputed, those were questions to be settled in a court of law. It was remarkable, that two parishes were omitted in the schedule of the bill, one of which, he understood, was the property of the city of London.

Sir W. Curtis

said, that the two parishes omitted in the schedule, were not the property of the city, but of Christ's and Bartholomew's Hospitals. The reason they were omitted was, that they exacted only 2½d. instead of 2s. 9d. per pound.

The House divided on the question, that the bill be now read a second time. Ayes, 21; Noes, 146. The second reading was then put off for six months.