HC Deb 09 July 1833 vol 19 cc375-82

Lord Althorp moved the Order of the Day, "That the House resolve itself into a Committee on the English Tithe Commutation Bill."

Mr. James

wished to ask the noble Lord a question respecting the inequality of the Assessments for Taxes. There were a great number of his poor constituents in Carlisle, who were unable to pay Assessed Taxes from their great poverty. In consequence they were, by the Commissioners of Taxes, deprived of the right of exercising the elective franchise. He thought it an exceedingly hard case, that they should be deprived of one of the most invaluable rights of a British subject, merely because they were too poor to pay the King's Taxes. Another circumstance which called for observation was, that those who were far richer, were only taxed the same as the poor were—the rich thus paying for the right of exercising the franchise only the same amount as the poorest were charged. This, he thought, was an act of injustice towards the poorer classes, as it was generally admitted that they already bore a greater proportion of the burthen of the House tax than their richer neighbours.

Mr. Baring

rose to order. By a stretch of courtesy, and a straining of the rules of the House in his favour, the hon. Gentleman was permitted to put a question to the noble Lord opposite. If, however, he entered into an argument on the subject when an interrogatory only was permitted, he (Mr. Baring) thought the House for its own sake ought to interfere.

Mr. James

replied, that he had not taken up a single moment in the House during the Session, and he did not mean to occupy the attention of the House but for a few moments. The noble Lord must have observed that the argument against—

The Speaker

The hon. Member certainly knows the distinction between argument and statement. If he had any question to put to the noble Lord, he was in order in doing so; but he could not be permitted to go into any argument upon a subject not before the House.

Mr. James

He wished, then, to ask the noble Lord, if his Majesty's Ministers had authorized the assessments that had been made?

Lord Althorp

thought, that it would have been apparent to every one from the discussions which took place on the Reform Bill, that all persons who claimed to vote as proprietors or occupiers at 10l. yearly value, would be liable to be rated. It was a natural consequence of their claiming to vote, and it was not for his Majesty's Government to say now whether it was right or not. He might say, however, that the Government could have no right to dispense with the assessments, but that such houses must be expected to be so rated as long as the occupiers continued to claim the right of voting.

Mr. Baring

said, that as there was so much important business for determination in the present Session, it might, perhaps, save time, if he were to ask the noble Lord whether it was his intention merely to state his views on the question before the House, and then postpone the matter until the next Session, or to pass any part of the Bill in the present Session?

Lord Althorp

said, it was his intention to omit every part of the Bill which was compulsory, and to retain those which were merely permissive. The Bill consisted of two parts—the first permissory, by which composition for tithes and liberty to contract for their commutation, was permitted and encouraged; the second compulsory, which made commutation imperative. The latter part he proposed to omit altogether, because he was aware, that a great deal of opposition existed to it in the country, where people had not thought much about tithe composition until he introduced the Bill. Therefore he would omit all the clauses subsequent to the 12th, with the exception of one or two, which he should explain to the Committee. Before the hon. Gentleman opposite originated a discussion on the present question, the hon. Gentleman would do well to wait for the Bill, as he should propose it to the Committee.

Mr. Baring

was of opinion, from the noble Lord's own explanation, that in consequence of the number of important questions before the House it would be better to postpone the Bill altogether to next Session. This was a subject which he hoped the House would decide on its own merits, for it affected the peace and tranquillity, as well as the property of the country; and no Gentleman in that House could be suspected of supporting it, or any part of it, on any other grounds than for the public good. Certainly, if the noble Lord had been able to bring it in at a proper period of the Session, he (Mr. Baring) should have looked upon it as a most desirable measure for the House to take into consideration; and he knew, that there was no person in the House move capable of judging of the whole question than the noble Lord. But the difficulties with which the question was embarrassed were such, that it was impossible for the House at this stage of the Session, to find time to examine it with sufficient care. The noble Lord had said, that the subject of Tithe Commutation had not been fully considered throughout the country; and that it was not talked of until he brought it before the House. That was perfectly true; and the noble Lord ought, therefore, to consider, before he called upon the House to pass any part of his Bill, that the measure had not been fully before the House itself more than nine or ten days. He was convinced, that from one end of the country to the other, the general opinion was, that it was not the intention of the noble lord to pass the Bill this Session. The simple question was, whether it would do any good to pass the permissive part of the Bill, without at the same time passing the other. He very much doubted whether the imperfec measure would be of any service. The uniformity of the whole system would be destroyed by that patchwork manner of doing business. It would be much better to postpone the Bill and take the whole question into consideration next Session, than to take only half of it now, when there were upwards of six different questions, of very great importance, before the House in the middle of July. In fact, it was an unprecedented thing for a Bill of such importance to be read a second time at three o'clock in the morning. Well, then, it might be two o'clock; for he had gone away at one, not at all thinking the noble Lord meant to press that stage of the Bill, upon which the principle of it was usually discussed, at such a late hour. Had he waited, he should have been prevented from speaking by that impatience which was usually shown by a majority of that House to press forward any measure of the noble Lord's. If the proposition of the noble Lord were entered upon, when the compulsory clauses came to be entered upon in any parish, both parties would find themselves embarrassed with the patchwork commutations already existing in different parts of the country. The Bill, in the permissive part, rendered the sanction of the Bishop necessary to make any contract of commutation binding. But how was the Bishop to judge of the terms, before the valuation to be effected under the compulsory part of the Bill should have been placed before him? Under these circumstances, he trusted that the noble Lord would consent to postpone the measure; but if these reasons were not sufficient, he might add the numerous objections which had been made by several different descriptions of persons to the plan of the noble Lord. He believed that all the witnesses examined before the Committee on Agriculture, of which the right hon. Gentleman, the first Lord of the Admiralty, was Chairman, had given opinions unfavourable to the details of the Bill. They approved of the principle of the Bill, but they were averse from the proposed mode of carrying it into execution. It was a measure which should be settled at once; and the best way to ensure this would be to lay the Bill before the country, and allow it to remain till next Session in order to give time to discuss its details.

Lord Althorp

was surprised at the observations of his hon. friend as to the time at which this Bill had been read a second time, it was by no means unusual to dispose of Bills, at such a stage, in such a way, without at all prejudicing the right of hon. Members to object to their details, and he was, therefore, he again said, surprised to have heard such an objection urged upon the present occasion. His hon. friend had been pleased to compliment him as very competent to bring forward a measure upon this subject and to say that the Bill would have been much more satisfactory had it not been for the pressure of official duties. He could not take the compliment intended by his hon. friend, because he had given to this subject all the attention of which he was capable before the commencement of the Session, and had brought forward the best measure he could frame. He had taken into his consideration a great number of suggestions, and had endeavoured to frame a Bill liable to the fewest exceptions. He again said, that he was prepared to give up the compulsory part of the measure, but he was desirous of carrying the permissive part of it to discover the objections which might exist. Suggestions had been made for taking the valuations of tithes, on the amount of the rent; lint this he believed to be a mode very difficult of adoption, as in many cases it would be found almost impossible to ascertain what the amount of the rent was. His hon. friend had objected to the provisions which made the Bishop the Judge of the commutation proposed. He had said, that the Bishop would find it difficult to discharge this duty with satisfaction; but it should be borne in mind, that the Bishop was not the sole arbiter; there was the patron of the living to be consulted, and in order to guard against any partiality on his part, there was the check of the Bishop. He could not see any reason for giving up the permissive part of the Bill, though he would the compulsory, and he, therefore, felt it to be his duty to press the question forward to a Committee, that the measure of the Government might be seen by the country.

Mr. Herries

suggested to his hon. friend, the member for Essex, that it would be better to withdraw his opposition at the present stage of the Bill, and reserve it for a future time, when it would be before the House in an amended form. Before sitting down he begged leave to call the attention of the House to the position in which the various Committees were placed by the order which passed the House a few days since. Under present circumstances, there were several Committees which were in doubt as to whether it was competent for them to sit while the House was thus proceeding with the business.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

said, he would have joined in the opposition to this Bill, if the compulsory part was to have been pressed forward; but as this was not the case, he should take no exception to the Motion for going into Committee. He could have wished, however, that, instead of such a Bill as this, the noble Lord had introduced a simple Bill, giving permission for tithe-receivers and tithe-payers to make a commutation for twenty-one years. This would materially have facilitated a permanent settlement of the measure, which he did not anticipate from the present Bill.

Mr. Estcourt

agreed with his hon. friends who intended to withdraw their opposition at the present stage of the Bill; but he was of opinion, that the Bill should be ultimately postponed until the House was in possession of further information.

Lord John Russell

observed, that whether the measure which his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposed, in relation to the present ques- tion, was crude or otherwise, depended on the condition of the Bill to be laid before the House. If the House did not suffer it to come before them, how could they decide upon its merits? Therefore it was that he deprecated the present discussion. The omission of the compulsory parts he believed to be a wise and a good arrangement. He did not anticipate that any very great good would be produced by the Bill, even in its amended shape, for the present; but enlightened as the country would be by the labours of the Agricultural Committee now sitting, he hoped before another Session of Parliament should pass over, that something effective might be done for the relief of the people and the support of the Established Church. With respect to the question—as to whether the Committee should sit during the hours the House was transacting public business?—he should only observe, that the Warwick Election and another Committee got special leave from the House to sit yesterday during the time of business, and when leave was required, it must be the understanding of the House, that Committees were not to sit unless permission were obtained.

Mr. Gilbert Heathcote

as the Representative of a large agricultural constituency, might be permitted to say a few words on the subject before the House. His hon. friend, the member for Essex, did right, he thought, in withdrawing his Amendment until the plan proposed by Government was fairly before the House. Until then they could hardly decide, with any show of reason, upon its merits. He could not, however, help thinking that his noble friend, the chancellor of the Exchequer, did perfectly right in expunging the compulsory clauses from his Bill. He would take that opportunity of protesting against the hon. member for Newcastle's plan of commutation for twenty-one years. He thought it neither wise nor feasible. Every man could learn the price for the past twenty-one years; but no man could tell what would be the price for the twenty-one years ensuing.

Mr. Charles Kemeys Tynte

, as Representative for a large agricultural district, begged to assure the hon. member for Essex, that the Bill had been sufficiently circulated through the county he had the honour of representing, to cause petitions to have been sent in masses against it. He thought the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had acted wisely in postponing the most objectionable portions of the Bill, but he trusted that the noble Lord would assure the House and the country, that the whole question should be fairly met, and finally settled, at the early commencement of the next Session, for he could assure the noble Lord, that if not speedily settled, a spirit of resistance to the payment of tithes would be raised, which might lead to the most disastrous consequences.

Major Beauclerk

agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that the noble Lord had done well to postpone the compulsory part of the Bill. The House had passed the Session most un-profitably. They had passed Coercion Bills and other measures of a similar nature, but not one measure of public utility. He was glad that the noble Lord had put off that part of his measure which would have met the expectations of neither party. If the noble Lord thought that he possessed sufficient enchantments to win the affections of both parties, he would find himself mistaken. It was vain to suppose, that without compulsion it would be possible to bring the Clergy and their parishioners to a fair and equitable arrangement. This was a question of paying and receiving taxes, and in all such questions it was impossible to lead to a fair settlement, by attempting to please both parties. He hoped the noble Lord would wait until next Session, when, perhaps, by pursuing a straight forward course, the noble Lord might do justice to both parties, without exactly consulting the pleasure of either.

The House wont into (Committee pro formâ; and certain clauses and Amendments having been read, with a view to having the amended Bill printed, the House resumed.

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