HC Deb 19 June 1835 vol 28 cc898-904
Captain Pechell

rose pursuant to notice to present a Petition from Samuel G. Pechell, Esq., a Captain in the Royal Navy, and farming his own land in the county of Hants, complaining of the vexatious proceeding of his vicar, the Rev. Thomas Cook Kemp and praying for a speedy Commutation of Tithes. The hon. Member begged to state that in the remarks he might feel it to be his duty to make, he did not intend to convey any censure on the clergy generally, but lo show the necessity of altering the present law of Tithes. He then went on to say that he should request the indulgence and favour of the House while he recapitulated some necessary details. As it could not be supposed that he should be very familiar with this subject, he trusted the kindness of the House would be extended to him. It appeared that in 1826, the Rev. Thomas Kemp entered on his vicarage, and immediately gave notice that all compositions for Tithes should cease, the petitioner's composition at the time being 19s. 9s. 6d. though only valued at 11l. 19s. He had therefore been paying 11l. 10s. 6d. more than the value, which composition however he was still willing to continue to the new vicar, knowing how essential it was to keep on a good footing with the clergyman, as well on his own account, as being a Magistrate for the common benefit of society. The reverend Gentleman however refused the old composition and actually proposed an increase of 20 per cent, which was of course refused by the whole parish. The vicar then commenced a series of vexatious proceedings in tithing hay and grass, and positively made no distinction between the grass cut daily for the use of the husbandry horses, and the grass rut for other purposes. At last a claim was set up for the tenth acre of all turnips grown on the farm, which be- ing for the depasturing of the sheep, could not be tithed. This claim was resisted because the tithe of agistment for the sheep fed on those turnips had been tendered. The vicar then proposed to bring a friend to settle all differences; and this Friend actually turned out to be his own solicitor, who took advantage of the unreserved conversation of the petitioner, the consequence of which was, that a notice was soon served on him of a suit being commenced in the Court of Exchequer for the tithes of turnips generally, and the vicar refused to make any specific demand which might have been settled either by arbitration or before two justices. The trial however proceeded, the claim for turnips generally was abandoned, but the tithe of turnips that had been pecked up in advance of the fold was demanded. The custom of the country and the common practice is to peck up the turnips to prevent any damage to the flock by the turnip-greens and to prevent them from running to seed. The turnips in this case were pecked up or hoed in the part of the field not hurdled off but which was in the course of being so hurdled; and even part of the flock had access to the whole field. But the Chief Baron decided that because the entire flock had not access at the time of the pecking or hoeing the turnips so pecked up, they were liable to tithes, thus drawing a line beyond which turnips could not be hoed or pecked. Chief Baron Lyndhurst said the turnips might be pecked in the rear of the fold, but not in advance of it. Now was there ever anything so absurd as this and so very injurious to the system of turnip cultivation? If these turnips had been severed and removed from the spot either for sale or for feeding cattle and cows in a yard, then the vicar was clearly entitled to his tithe, and such could be easily set out. But how was it possible to set out the tithe of turnips hoed up and left on the spot for the sheep which already had had access to them? Therefore no distinction is made between turnips pulled up for sale and those left on the ground for depasturage. Here therefore is a case in which the vicar gets the tithes of all sheep fed on the turnips and sold before the shearing time, as well as the tithe of all lamb and wool and the benefit of the manure produced on the ground for the succeeding crop. It appears that the Chief Baron confounded this case of pecking up the turnips for feeding the flock on the spot with those cases decided 120 years ago of turnips removed for sale. It is well known to many hon. Members connected with country affairs that formerly turnips were only grown on the richer soils and were removed either for sale or for feeding in yards and stalls; but that in the modern system of cultivation the turnip crop has been adopted on very poor and inferior soils which were thereby prepared for a crop of corn. Now he contended that it was practically impossible to set out the tithe of turnips intended for depasturage; and he defied the Chief Baron and all the Barons of the Exchequer to point out how the object could be attained. He even defied the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. A. Trevor), whom he did not at this moment see in his place and who had been designated as the conduit pipe for conveying the opinions of the clergy, to shew how this was to be effected. It was well known that clover and grass cut for husbandry horses is exempt from being set out for tithes on account of the difficulty; and it is here decreed that no difficulty exists in setting out the tithe of turnips. Here, then, the right of tithe depends on the difficulty or facility that may be urged in setting it out. He could assure the House that this case need never have occurred had the vicar agreed to the old composition which was 11l. more than the value of the tithe; but instead of taking to the valuable composition of his predecessor, he ventured to demand an increase of 20 per cent, when it was well known that the price of agricultural produce, depreciated as it was, would not authorise any such increased demand; and notwithstanding the unfavourable decree of the Court of Exchequer, the petitioner would not at this moment have approached the House but for continued threatened proceedings on the part of the vicar, should the petitioner venture to peck up his turnips. The petitioner had invested his capital in farming land, and he now found himself impeded in his pursuits by the conduct of the rev. Gentleman. He would now proceed to shew the consequence of the petitioner's not submitting to the imposition of 20 per cent on an already overcharged composition, by stating that the petitioner was decreed in the costs of the suit for the claim of turnips pecked, which claim amounted to 31l. 6s. though valued at no more than at 30s. He would now just state the items, and he was thereby enabled to make mention of the honourable conduct of the solicitor and counsel for the petitioner, who viewing the injustice of the case had acted gratuitously, only charging expenses out of pocket.

Plaintiff's costs were reduced on taxation from 250l. to 166 2 5
Paid a Commissioner 38 10 0
Tithe of turnips claimed 3 6 0
Plaintiff's (the Vicar's) demand 207 18 5
Petitioner's (the defendant's) Solicitor's bill 110 10 6
Total paid £318 8 11
for the demand of 66s. Tithe of turnips valued at 30s. that had been pecked up in advance of the fold, and which being under 10l. might have been settled out of Court. Capt. P. then read the petition, which prayed for a speedy and compulsory Commutation of Tithes.

Mr. Estcourt

felt obliged to say, that he could not think that the case had been fairly stated. It was impossible that the reverend gentleman would have run the risk of expending upwards of 200l., for the purpose of recovering the trifling sum of 3l. 6s. if he could have gone before a magistrate. The only object of the petition appeared to him to be to show the hardship of the proceeding in the Court of Exchequer, and to lay before the House the fact of the Lord Chief Baron having taken a wrong view of the matter. If such were the object of the petition, it was properly enough brought before the House. If such were really the intention the House would take time to consider of the case before coming to a decision. He, for one, was inclined to believe in the law of the Lord Chief Baron, in preference to that of the gallant officer. He had no doubt but that the clergyman had been driven to take the course he had done.

The Attorney-General

said, that it seemed to him a very proper petition to bring before the House, in order to show the state of the law of the land as it at present stood, and in order to induce the Legislature to alter it. He must protest, however, against that House being in any manner considered as a court of appeal from any of the courts in Westminster Hall. Though he differed from the opinions of the noble Lord who decided the case, still he was eminent for his learning and impartiality, and he had no doubt but the decree was made in strict con- formity with the law of the land. In fact, the gallant officer had stated that the decision was founded upon other decisions of 150 years ago. It was to be borne in mind, that during that time there had been no alteration in the law, and the learned Baron was bound to take the law as he found it.

Mr. Hume

did not understand the petition to be brought forward in the nature of an appeal at all, but for the purpose of showing the absolute necessity for a change in the law, which, as it now stood, obliged a party to incur an expense of near 400l. in the recovery of a paltry sum of 3l. 10s. It was all, too, for the support of the Church. Would any one say that tithes were to be appropriated to other than Church purposes? This suit was for the purpose of recovering tithes, therefore, for the support of the Church, which, in consequence of these iniquitous suits, had become a curse to the country. He trusted that the Ministry would not allow an hour to pass which they could possibly avoid before bringing in an alteration in he law in that respect.

Sir Robert Inglis

thought it highly unfair to use a single case as the means of an attack on the clergy in general. Because a single instance of grievance was alleged, was that a fair ground for affixing a general stigma on the whole Church? Besides, it should be recollected that one-third of the tithes in England belonged to laymen, and if oppression was suffered in consequence of tithes, the whole offence was not chargeable to the Church. What was a clergyman to do if this tithe were not paid, but appeal to the law for redress?

Mr. Gillon

looked upon the petition as calling the attention of the House to a scandalous oppression which, it appeared to him, had been practised in this case. The clergyman claimed tithes upon turnips grown in a field upon which the sheep fed, of whose fleeces he was afterwards to receive the tithe. A case of more gross rapacity was never witnessed. The legal profession had been accused of rapacity, but so great was the impression of the hardship inflicted in this case, that the counsel and solicitor acted gratuitously, and the rapacity was all transferred to the clergyman. He trusted that the House would soon pass a law for the commutation of tithes.

Lord Sandon

thought it was rather hard upon individuals who had no oppor- tunity of defending themselves, that they should be wantonly assailed in that House. In what other place but that did they find judges deciding upon the representation of one party, and reprobating those who had not even the opportunity of defending themselves? There was nothing more valuable than the right of petition; but there was no right which was so much abused in its being made the means of assailing the character of others. A tyrannical use was made of it; and there was nothing hon. Gentlemen should be more careful of than in their comments upon petitions which libelled the characters of those who were absent. Upon the face of the petition which had been presented the entire facts, it was evident, had not been stated. There must have been some motive beyond that of recovering 30s. to induce any one to go to an expense of 200l. What was the situation of the clergyman? He depended upon the payment by his flock of certain dues. In certain cases these were withheld, and if he enforced his claim, he was called an oppressor, and if he did not he might starve. Again he implored of hon. Gentlemen to be somewhat delicate in their attacks upon the characters of those who were not present to defend themselves.

Mr. Arthur Trevor

protested against these attacks on the clergy in general as most unjust and undeserved. It was the duty of the Government to release the clergy from these annoyances, by securing to them a fair provision.

Captain Pechell,

in reply, delared that he threw back all the insinuations levelled against himself and the petitioner, and though the hon. Member for Durham begged to enter his protest as usual, he (Captain Pechell) should also enter his against any interference that there was any thing contained in the petition which he was not prepared to prove. The case, unfortunately, was not a novel one; there had been petitions last year presented by the hon. Member for Hampshire, expressing the alarm felt by the occupiers of the parishes in the neighbourhood of the reverend Mr. Kemp, at the decree obtained by that reverend gentleman in the Court of Exchequer; and as due notice had been given to him as well as to the late Chief Baron that the petition now in his (Captain Pechell's) hand would be presented this day, there was no cause, at any rate, for saying an opportunity had not been afforded of rebutting the charges advanced against the reverend gentleman. This petition was not presented unadvisedly, and he assured the House that he would not have undertaken its advocacy had there been the slightest cause for suspecting even that there could be any concealed fact lying behind, as was assumed by the hon. Member for Oxford University. It was very clear that this petition was not an appeal from the decision of the Court of Exchequer, for its prayer was for a commutation of tithes. The Attorney-General had mistaken him in saying that this decree was founded on cases decided 150 years ago. What he said was, that the Chief Baron asserted that plaintiff's case was supported by concurrent decisions; but all the cases produced were decided "120 years ago, and were for turnips severed and drawn and removed either for sale or for feeding cattle and cows." This claim and annoyance for tithe of turnips, although unprecedented in this country, had been attempted in Spain; and singular enough was it that he should have discovered such a fact at this precise moment. In 1828, the Ecclesiastical Chapter of Saragossa demanded the tithe of turnips from the market gardeners, who resisted the imposition as illegal and oppressive; and the question was decided by the primary tribunal in favour of the gardeners. But mark what followed. It was brought before a higher court where the influence of churchmen prevailed, and the exaction was confirmed. The people, however, paraded the streets and blockaded the town, and cried "long live the king, and no tithe on vegetables." The Captain General, to put an end to the tumult, declared that the tithe should not be further exacted, and that the seizure should be taken off. The petitioner now placed his case in the hands of the House, suffering, as he was under the costs of the suit, which decided that no turnips could be pecked in advance of the fold, which law went forth into the country to the alarm of those who had flocks. Although it had been said that blood could not be obtained from a turnip, he trusted that this petition would be the means of drawing the attention of the House to this branch of the subject when the Tithe Bill came before it.

Petition to lie on the Table.