HC Deb 13 April 1836 vol 32 cc923-31
Lord John Russell

, on moving the order of the day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee upon the Tithes' Commutation Bill, would take the opportunity of explaining the principal alterations which he intended to propose, without going into matters of detail. The Bill originally proceeded upon the principle that individuals were to make voluntary arrangements which might afterwards be combined in a general arrangement, applicable to each parish. In a similar way, compulsory arrangements were to be made, applicable to the particular property of individuals, and afterwards, in like manner, to be applied to a whole parish. Owing to the difficulties pointed out, especially by his hon. Friend, the Member for Cumberland, he intended to introduce a number of clauses, to proceed in a different course; that is to say, that when a certain proportion of the landowners or tithe-payers, say two-thirds, proposed a voluntary arrangement, it should be binding upon the parish; and if it do not take place previous to the 1st of October, 1837, the period he before mentioned, then the Commissioners, if they thought fit, according to a suggestion from an hon. and learned Member opposite, might order a tithe commutation for the whole parish. In either case, the landowners would appoint two valuers; one by a majority in value, and the other by a majority in number. These valuers would applot the whole sum to the particular estates and farms in the parish; and when that applotment was made, the proceeding would be carried on according to the principle and details he formerly explained. He had paid great attention to the Bill brought in by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) for voluntary commutation, and had adopted as many of its details as would be an improvement of his own measure; and as there are some alterations required in the first clauses, which had been agreed to, it would be necessary to go through them as well as the rest of the Bill, in order that the whole might be consistently amended. Within a day or two afterwards the Bill would be reprinted, and delivered to hon. Members. He moved the order of the day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Tithe Commutation Bill.

Mr. Hodges

gave notice, that, in the event of the Bill not passing in the present Session, he should move for leave to bring in a short Bill to render null and void all notices served during the present year for setting out tithes in kind.

Major Curteis

said, that he knew it to be a fact, that in many parishes in his neighbourhood, clergymen had given notice to their parishioners to set out tithes in kind.

Sir Robert Peel

begged to ask the noble Lord opposite, whether he proposed to make any alteration in the sums he assumed as the maximum and minimum of future tithe ratings? The latter had been fixed at sixty per cent on the Commissioners' valuation of the tithe, and the former at seventy-five. He wished also to know, whether the mode of applotment proposed would apply to the compulsory commutation which was to be effected in case of the failure of the voluntary commutation?

Lord John Russell

did not intend to make any alteration in the limits of sixty and seventy-five per cent. Undoubtedly there might be cases in which it would be necessary to make exceptions, but he was on the whole satisfied with those limits, though he did not mean to say that, in the course of the discussion, satisfactory reasons might not be produced for altering the valuation under particular circumstances. With respect to the second question put by the right hon. Gentleman, he proposed that, in the case of compulsory commutation, the mode of applotting should be the same as in the case of voluntary commutation, but if the parties did not agree within a certain time, the Commissioners should take steps to have an applotment made in the parish.

Mr. Hume

having been one of those who approved of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, and having expressed himself favourable to it, was bound to state, that, having maturely considered every portion of the Bill, and having received many communications from persons better qualified than himself to judge of its operation, he thought, if carried into effect, it would be extremely burdensome to the landed property of the country, because he considered that the value of tithes during the last fourteen or fifteen years had been artificially kept up by the state of the Corn-laws. Why then fix on such a standard at the present moment, when the Corn-laws existed, but when he thought they could not continue longer? He believed, if they adopted the valuation of the noble Lord, let his limits be what they might, that they would not arrive at the true value of the produce of the land, one-tenth of which was allotted by law and usage for the support of the clergy. He feared, therefore, that the noble Lord would not be able satisfactorily to accommodate the different clauses of the Bill, unless he should adopt the principle of rent—unless a portion of the rent were now to be fixed on once for all as an equivalent for tithes. No further valuation would thus be necessary, and he was convinced that this alone would put an end to the continual dissensions now excited. The time, he said it with regret, had not yet arrived, in the present artificial state of the value of tithe, when proper and certain limits could be appointed. He had felt himself bound in candour to state to the noble Lord the change which had taken place in his opinions and the reasons which had produced it.

Mr. Pemberton

inquired, whether the compulsory commutation was to be left to the discretion of the Commissioners, or to be fixed in all cases?

Lord John Russell

did not wish at all to enter into what had fallen from the hon. Member for Middlesex. The hon. Gentleman thought that no compulsory commutation should take place until the Corn-laws were repealed. That opinion was quite different from his views. He thought it was his duty, and the duty of Government, to propose to the House that plan of commutation which they thought practically fair and just to all parties, and leave it to the House to decide whether or not it should be adopted. He should study to amend the Bill as much as he could, but he meant to put that question fairly to the House.

Sir Robert Peel

wished to say a word generally upon the subject of this very important question. The noble Lord now proposed to make several very important alterations in the Bill, and he had a very strong apprehension that another year would pass away after another ineffectual attempt to make an arrangement for the commutation of tithes. Every attempt made, which proved to be ineffectual, rather impeded the chances of a future and satisfactory settlement. If the objection advanced against this Bill by the hon. Member for Middlesex were a valid one, it would be entirely fatal to any plan of commutation. If the House were to abolish the existing Corn-laws, there would be no security that a protecting duty should not at some future time be reestablished, or that some other equally obnoxious system should not be substituted in their room. It was impossible to conceal from themselves that this was the third, and if the noble Lord made any important alterations in it, would be the fourth proposition made upon the subject of commutation. He blamed no one, for the subject was surrounded with difficulties. But he did think they had attempted to make a settlement of the question without that preliminary information which he believed to be essential to success. Though the law with respect to tithes was the same all over the country, yet, in point of fact, its application was so modified by different customs, that it was almost tantamount, practically, to a different law, and the difficulty to be overcome, was to apply one law to the whole country in respect of which usages totally different prevailed. In every other subject which the House had adjusted satisfactorily, they had preceded the attempt to legislate by minute local inquiry, but no inquiry was proposed with respect to tithes. A different practice prevailed in the North of England, and another in many parts of the centre, a different practice in Kent, and a fourth in Devonshire. It would be found exceedingly difficult to reconcile all parties in these various districts of the country, habituated to such various usages, to any one law. He should, therefore, make a proposition, and into it no party feeling should enter. He would throw it out for the suggestion of Government, in case they should find it difficult to adhere to the plan they had laid down. He did not think it would be satisfactory to Government to say, we have brought in the measure, and by so doing have acquitted ourselves of all obligation; the object ought to be, to effect a satisfactory and permanent commutation. If it should be found that they were not prepared to apply the principle of compulsion, he made this proposal, that the Commissioners under the noble Lord's Bill should be appointed, not only to encourage a voluntary commutation, but to procure that information he believed to be indispensable to the success of a compulsory commutation. Let the Commissioners, whom the noble Lord intended to employ to invite parties in each parish to come to an amicable settlement of the question, be also Commissioners of inquiry with respect to the different practices prevailing in different parts of the country. Suppose that voluntary commutation failed—then the objection, now urged with some force against his Bill, as making no provision for compulsion, would not apply, since, in attempting to carry into effect the voluntary principle, they would be making those inquiries which would enable them hereafter to digest a well-considered system of compulsory commutation. Let the Commissioners inquire in the different districts of the country as to the means which would be likely consistently to reconcile conflicting usages. If the voluntary principle succeeded, every one would be satisfied. He apprehended it would not; but by the course he advised them to pursue, in attempting to apply the voluntary principle, they would be gradually acquiring that local information, with respect to different usages, which they must necessarily possess before they could proceed to apply a compulsory commutation. With respect to the Poor-law Bill, they had found it necessary to inquire before they proceeded to legislate, and they had been successful. If ever there was a question on which preliminary inquiry was needed, and to adjust which local information was required, it was the present. The difficulty with respect to compulsory commutation was this—it was not to come into operation for two years, and he was afraid that the delay might reconcile many hon. Gentlemen to the Bill who would not be satisfied with it if it were to take effect at the end of this Session. They might imagine that if the plan were found to be impracticable, there would be plenty of time to alter the law. But it should be observed, that this Bill held out an encouragement to voluntary commutation, for it declared, that if a voluntary arrangement were not entered into, the parties would be compelled to come to an agreement. But suppose, at the end of two years, compulsory commutation could not be carried into effect, and in the interval many persons had entered into voluntary commutations, what was to be done with them? They would have voluntarily compounded on the faith of the compulsory system, and, perhaps, but for that faith, they never would have given their consent. If Ministers were satisfied of the fitness of their compulsory system, why did they not apply it at the end of the Session instead of at the end of two years? Postponement would aggravate all the difficulties. Whether the arrangement were made this year or next was a matter of much less importance than that, when made, it should be effectual. Some time must elapse before due information could be acquired, and when acquired the House could proceed maturely to consider the subject with the aid of the superintending board sitting in London. In the mean time facilities might be given to voluntary commutation; but should it fail, the objection urged to his own Bill could not apply, because the same Commissioners, being Commissioners of local inquiry, would furnish the information necessary to enable the House to determine upon a principle that was just; the public mind would be reconciled, and a measure digested that would give satisfaction to all parties.

Lord John Russell

thought it was necessary he should notice what had just fallen from the right hon. Baronet. He did not expect, in stating the general substance of the alterations he meant to propose, that the right hon. Gentleman would now have undertaken to predict the failure of this Bill, and recommend measures to be adopted in consequence of that predicted failure. He considered it of very great importance that the House and the Parliament should come to a decision on this subject in the present Session. If anything were required to strengthen his conviction, he should find it in the notice given by the hon. Member for Kent, and supported by the hon. Member for Sussex, who declared, that he himself would otherwise make the same proposition—namely, to deprive those persons having a right to the tenth of the produce from claiming during the present year that their tithe should be set out in kind. Such a notice showed how important it was, that Parliament should come to some decision upon the subject. He must remind the House that last year, after a great deal of information had been collected at various times by his noble Friend, Lord Althorp, he stated, that as there was much difference in various parts of the country, he thought it advisable that a Select Committee of the House should sit, in which Members from different parts of the country would have an opportunity of meeting, and discussing, and hearing evidence, on the sub- ject. To this the right hon. Baronet objected, and stated, with a force he (Lord J. Russell) had been unable to resist, that the question ought not to be referred to a Committee, but that it was the bounden duty of his Majesty's Government to propose a measure on the subject. The Government had considered what was the best measure to propose. They had brought forward a proposition which he believed was likely to accomplish the end; and yet the right hon. Baronet now insisted that it would be better to delay another year, for the sake of collecting information. He (Lord J. Russell) was not prepared to adopt that course; and however unsatisfactory it might be to the right hon. Baronet, he hoped it would not be unsatisfactory to the House if he persevered with the Bill he had introduced. It was the measure which Government was pledged to support; and again he said, that if the House rejected it, he would not say that it would be a wrong decision, but the result would be that Ministers had endeavoured to settle the question, and that the House had refused to settle it according to the plan proposed by the Government.

Order of the day read on the question that the Speaker leave the Chair.

Sir Robert Peel

wished to say, in explanation, that his recommendation was founded on the assumption that the Bill had not met with the general concurrence of the House. It appeared to him from his observation of the opinions which had been expressed on the Ministerial as well as on the other side of the House, that the noble Lord's Bill was not likely to meet with general concurrence; and in the event of that being the case, he thought they might remedy the inconvenience of further delay by adopting the course which he had suggested. It could not then be said, that he had shown a disposition to throw any obstructions in the way of the Bill; on the contrary, he wished the noble Lord to have every opportunity of rendering the measure as perfect as possible. He certainly was of opinion, that it was better for the Government to come forward with a plan than to refer the question to a Select Committee, and thus have to determine as to the adoption of the Report; but when he saw that in three successive years three plans had been brought forward, all of which were unfavourably received, he thought that was a case in which inquiry might be instituted with particular advantage.

House resolved itself into a Committee, pro forma, and resumed.