rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to enable incumbents of livings in England and Wales to enter into renewable Compositions for their Tithes, by agreement with the owners of land in their respective parishes. He conceived it to be needless to detain the House at any length, in moving for leave to bring-in the bill. Addressing landowners, he need not inform them of the inconveniences they sustained from the present system of tithes; and an extensive correspondence in which he had been engaged with parochial clergy, satisfied him that they were as anxious as the landholders for some change in the mode of collecting tithe. He felt the importance of not approaching such a subject rashly and inconsiderately; and he was therefore glad to avail himself of the precedent, which had been set in the numerous private acts passed on this subject. To each of these the consents of the bishop, the patron, the incumbent, and the landowners, had been given, and he therefore felt assured, that from a measure following strictly the course that had been adopted in them, no injury could accrue to any party. The present bill was of a permissive nature. It only went to authorise the appointment of commissioners at once, instead of requiring a private act in every instance. Those commissioners being necessarily men of education—men placed beyond, the suspicion of countenancing anything unfair—justice might reasonably be expected to be done to all parties. They would be judges of the reports of the tithe valuers, by whom the, value of the tithes 245 of any parish for the preceding fourteen years should be ascertained, and whatever that might prove should be affixed as a rent-charge upon the parish for ever, variable, however, by averages of the price of wheat to be struck every seven years, so as to meet the changes in the value of money. In order further to provide against alterations which might take place in the value of agricultural produce, inclosure and improvement of land, each party at the end of twenty-one years might call for a fresh commission to ascertain the actual value of all such matters as might have been decided by the award of the first commissioners to be titheable, but they were to have no power to disturb the determinations of the former commissioners respecting moduses, or other partial or entire exemption. This scheme, he admitted, was not new, and he regarded its want of novelty as a strong recommendation to it. It had been tried partially, and found to answer, and a plan similar to this had been submitted to the House in the Report of the Commissioners of Land Revenue in 1792. In conclusion he begged to express the sincerity and warmth of his attachment to the church establishment, and his firm conviction that, the bill which he now proposed to introduce, if passed into a law, was calculated to afford ease and comfort to the clergy, to secure to them permanent and settled incomes; and while it relieved the landowner from many of the inconveniencies which press on him, would also relieve the clergyman from much that was painful to him, and must tend to enlarge his sphere of usefulness. He called on the House to support the measure.
§ Mr. Hume
said, he was not sorry to see this subject again brought under the consideration of the House. He, however, must deprecate a clause which it was proposed to introduce; namely, that enabling the clergy to enjoy the effects of capital expended in the improvement of land, and so far discouraging the honest industry employed in its cultivation. The peculiar feature of—thence the peculiar objection to—a tithe-tax was, that it was a tax upon industry, increasing with the application of labour to agriculture, and as a consequence tending to restrict that application. When it was first levied, it was paid in kind, solely because there existed no other mode of payment equally convenient; but since commerce and the change 246 of manners and institutions had induced a far different state of things, payment in kind was no longer desirable. He saw no reason whatever against changing the system altogether, and for not paying the clergy according to the mode pursued in the army and navy. The measure proposed by the hon. Member appeared to him objectionable, because it did not go far enough; he, however, would give it his support as a step towards improvement; he should indeed have preferred a plan of more extent—one, for example, which would institute a commission to value the tithes of every parish in the kingdom. There were two species of tithe obligations —lay and clerical—the commission would embrace the valuation of both. He would give the commissioners a power to sell at a fair market-value those tithes which belonged to lay proprietors. He said at a market value, for those tithes were a matter of daily sale—in fact were advertised in newspapers, and sold as common as a two penny loaf; [hear, and a laugh] so that there could be no difficulty in determining their fair value. With respect to the tithes belonging to clerical incumbents, he would pursue a different course; he would have them consolidated in one fund, from which the clergy should be allowed a fixed stipend, in proportion to their rank and amount of bona fide duty. By this means, all the evils consequent upon tithe-litigation would be avoided, and the meritorious and zealous minister would be rewarded; while the present system of idle and corrupt pluralities would be put an end to. He saw no objection to either arrangement. By purchasing up lay tithes at a fair market price, the lay proprietor would be fairly compensated for his property; by paying the clergy a fixed stipend, much that was objectionable in the present system would be precluded. This would relieve the agriculture of the country, and thousands he might almost say millions—of persons now unemployed would then find employment; for many who now avoided investing their money in property liable to tithe according to its increased value, would then endeavour to make improvements in it, and by so doing, would give employment to a great number of persons. It could not now be said that church property was sacred; that to touch it would be an act similar in kind to the spoliation of private property; for 247 the Tithe Commutation act of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer recognised and acted upon the principle of interference. [hear] When he (Mr. Hume) proposed such a measure, he was scouted by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, as one who had proposed to rob the church of what as much belonged to it as any man's house or chattels to him; and yet, within one year, the right hon. Gentleman himself proposed, and, while in office, passed, the very same measure. He would support the proposed measure of the hon. Member for Lancaster, though he could not approve of the twenty-one years' valuation clause.
§ Mr. Trant
said, he thought that a measure of such extensive interference would be neither more nor less than a positive spoliation of property. When gentlemen purchased land, and farmers took it on lease, they did so having made calculations of the amount to be mutually deducted from the purchase-money or the rent, as tithes. He was sure the country gentlemen of England would never suffer the vested rights of the clergy to be thus invaded. He never wished to see the clergy made the subject of spoliation.
§ Mr. Hume
begged, in reply to any such language, to be permitted to deny that he contemplated anything in the way of what was termed "spoliation;" he wished every thing to be done on the principle of fair and equitable compensation, and he disclaimed any intention or desire to deprive the clergy of their just claims to public support.
replied.—His great object was, to put an end to those litigations which so much disturbed the harmony between clergymen and their parishioners.
§ Leave was given to bring in the bill.