HC Deb 10 May 1836 vol 33 cc817-25

The House resolved itself into Committee on the Tithes Commutation (England) Bill.

Lord John Russell

placed in the hands of the Chairman the 33d Clause, as it was proposed to be amended. It was in the following terms:— And be it enacted, that in every case in which the Commissioners shall intend making such award, notice thereof shall be given in such manner as to them shall seem fit; and after the expiration of twenty-one days, after such notice shall have been given, the Commissioners, or some assistant commissioner, shall proceed to ascertain the clear average value (after making all just deductions on account of the expenses of collecting, preparing for sale, and marketing) of the tithes of all the tithe able produce of all lands subject to tithe in the said parish, according to the average of seven years preceding Christmas, in the year 1835; provided, that, if during the said period of seven years, or any part thereof, the said tithes, or any part thereof, shall have been compounded for or demised to the occupier of any of the said lands, in consideration of any rent or payment instead of tithes, the amount of such composition or rent, or sum agreed to be paid instead of tithes (including all unremitted arrears thereof), shall be taken as the clear value of the tithes included in such composition, demise or agreement during the lime for which the same shall have been made and the commissioners, or assistant commissioner, shall award the average value of the said seven years so ascertained as the sum to be taken for calculating the rent-charge to be paid as a permanent commutation of the said tithes; provided also, that in estimating the value of the said tithes, the Commissioners or assistant Commissioner shall estimate the same as chargeable to all Parliamentary, parochial, county, and other rates, charges, and assessments to which tithes are liable; and whenever the said tithes shall have been compounded for, on the principle of such composition being paid free from all such rates, charges, and assessments, or any part thereof, the said commissioners, or assistant commissioner, shall have regard to that circumstance, and shall make a fair addition on account thereof.

Mr. Hume

wished to ask the noble Lord whether this average was to be taken on a valuation of the last seven years' produce in all cases? If this were the intention of the clause, the consequence would be, that the commutation, which was to be made first in corn and then in money, would have a very injurious effect in a great number of instances. Suppose the price of corn to fall permanently, as it probably would, in that case lands of an inferior quality, which were now cultivated for the purpose of raising corn, would be thrown out of cultivation, and would probably be laid down for grass lands. It would then he extremely unjust to saddle such land with a permanent tithe composition, calculated when wheat was 6s. a-bushel, for when it was laid down in grass the rent would diminish from—say, 18s. to 10s., and wheat being then probably 5s. the bushel, the land would have to pay a permanent rent-charge of 5s., which was half the amount of the rent. This clause appeared to con- vey to the Church half of the whole of this kind of land, and he therefore strongly objected to it.

Lord John Russell

thought, that there would be no time at which a proposition could be made for a commutation of tithes when something of this kind must not happen. You might certainly suppose, that the produce of some land would be worth now 80s., and the composition for tithe 3s., and that perhaps at some future period the produce of the same land would not be worth so much, while the 3s. would still remain as a rent charge upon the land in lieu of tithe. But, on the other hand, we might suppose, that land, whose produce was now worth 30s., might, by the application of capital, in a short time be worth 50s. or 60s., and in these cases the commutation of tithe would be a great benefit. In attempting to carry a measure of this kind, it could not be avoided, but that some part of the country or other might suffer at a future period by the commutation of tithes; but the hardship which had been pointed out by the hon. Member for Cumberland—namely, that individuals who had taken land of not a very good quality, and had been at a greater expense than their neighbours in improving it, should be subjected to pay a higher rate of composition—was very much done away with by the provision which had been inserted, that the valuation should be made by two applotters on the parish generally, and not on each particular piece of land. With respect to the possibility of loss referred to by the hon. Member for Middlesex, no arrangement that could be made with regard to tithes, either now or fifty years hence, could prevent a loss falling somewhere, but it would be more than balanced by the settlement of the question.

Mr. Hume

Will the noble Lord allow me to ask him whether his applotment is to be made once for all, or from time to time?

Lord John Russell

Once for all.

Mr. Hume

thought, then, that it was extremely unjust that an average of the last seven years should he taken as the basis of the rent-charge upon the land, not merely during the occupation of it by the present possessor, but ever after.

Sir E. Knatchbull

was not able to persuade himself, that an average for the last seven years, where it could be taken, would give that fair test which it was desirable to ascertain. It was quite clear, that such a standard must operate favourably or un- favourably, according as the land was kept in a good or bad condition. He had said, that it would not give a fair test where the average could be taken, but there were many cases where it would be impossible to apply it. It was quite impossible to make a fair estimate of the value of produce in different parts of the country. He thought, that an attempt to legislate on this subject, by adopting any one general principle to which all must conform, could not be successful; and he should therefore move as an amendment, instead of the words, "valuation of the average produce for the last seven years," to insert, "having regard to the nature and quality of the land."

Mr. Blamire

considered, that the plan proposed by the noble Lord was the best that could, under the circumstances, be devised, and in his opinion, that which the right hon. Baronet had moved by way of amendment was open to much graver objections. The principle of this clause had already been carried into effect in many voluntary compositions, that had been entered into in various parts of the country, but at the same time he must admit, that after all had been done that was possible to be done, there would be many cases that would press on individuals. But the hon. Member for Middlesex should also bear in mind, that some parties would be greatly benefitted by this settlement. Many lands which were about to be brought into cultivation would remain unimproved till this settlement was made, and the gain on these lands would be considerable. To be sure that would be no satisfaction to the man who should lose by the arrangement, but in the settlement of a great question, some such losses were unavoidable.

Mr. Plumptre

observed, that in the county which he had the honour to represent, some lands were over-cultivated, some were under-cultivated, and some were out of cultivation altogether. How was this plan to be made applicable to all?

Sir John Wrottesley

had at first been disposed to think, that the valuation of tithes ought to proceed on the principle suggested by the right hon. Baronet (Sir E. Knatchbull), but subsequent reflection induced him to think, that the plan proposed by the noble Lord would be more equal and more just. He knew not, indeed, why the particular period of seven years should be selected as that on which the average should be taken. Seeing that the farmers throughout the country now generally pursued the system called four. course cropping, he thought an average of eight years would be preferable.

Mr. William Miles

approved of the principle of the clause, as he supposed it was intended that the valuation should be made on the produce of land under good cultivation; but unless some alteration were made in the wording of the clause, the valuers would have to calculate the average upon the actual state of the land.

Mr. Lennard

observed, that in many parts of Essex there were lands now in the course of cultivation to raise wheat which the occupiers were on the point of relinquishing as corn lands, and if corn was reduced in price, they would be laid down in grass, and it would be an extreme hardship to impose on those districts a permanent composition for the tithe of land on the average of the last seven years, which afterwards might produce nothing more than a second-rate crop of grass. The only unobjectionable plan would be, to abstain from making this measure uniform, and in the cases he had referred to, to ascertain what proportion tithe had borne to rent, and to fix the composition accordingly—a plan which would not make the tithe a part of the rent.

Mr. Blamire

was glad to hear the hon. Member for Somersetshire admit the justice of the principle of the clause, and he thought his objections to the wording of the clause might be removed by a slight alteration in its wording.

Mr. Charles Buller

, from what had passed during this discussion, had been more than ever convinced how great a waste of time there was in discussing the details of a measure before the House was agreed upon its principle. The wise and honest principle of the 33d Clause was rendered null and of no effect by Clause 34. If it were not for that clause, he should give the Bill his earnest support. What we wanted was, not to lower or raise, but to fix tithe, and this object the clause would effect. It took the voluntary compositions which had been made by different parties in the country, who might be supposed to have generally dealt fairly with each other, as a basis for a compulsory commutation. For these reasons it was, that he supported the principle of commutation. But the whole object of the present clause was defeated by the provisions of the next—the 34th Clause; and when that clause came under consideration he should feel it his duty to take the sense of the House upon it. As to the amendment of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for East Kent, he thought, that from the language which had been introduced being so vague and indefinite, the Bill would only prove beneficial to the profession to which he had the honour to belong.

Mr. Warburton

could not understand the objection of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard to the 34th Clause, which had for its object an appeal against the decision of the Commissioners. Did the hon. and learned Gentleman mean to say, that the determination of those Commissioners ought to be final without any appeal?

Lord John Russell

would not now discuss the objection of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard to the 34th Clause. He had admitted the principle of the 33rd Clause, and had likewise admitted the necessity of modification of that principle. The House had first to discuss the amendment proposed by the right hon. Baronet opposite, and afterwards discuss the amendment which he (Lord John Russell) had proposed in the whole clause. When the discussion as to the mode in which the whole tithe should be apportioned among the different tenants in the parish came to be discussed, he thought it would be quite right that some words should be introduced declaratory that that apportionment should be made with reference to the productive value and quality of the land, but the present was a very different question. The object of the present clause was, to ascertain the actual average value of the tithe for the last seven years on each estate; he did not, therefore, think that the amendment of the right hon. Baronet had any application whatever to that object.

Mr. Warburton

said, that he was strongly in favour of the amendment proposed by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Edward Knatchbull), and that upon the very grounds upon which the noble Lord had said, that when they came to the clause for apportioning the whole tithe among the different cultivators of the parish, he would introduce words to the effect of those contained in the amendment of the right hon. Baronet. And why? Because the same reason which induced the noble Lord to adopt such a principle with respect to the apportionment of the charge of the whole tithe of a parish among the tithe payers was equally applicable as between parish and parish in the general application of the principle of tithe to the whole kingdom. For suppose a parish should have been under corn cultivation for the last seven years, and the average of those years should be taken as a criterion of the amount of the future payment to be made by that parish in commutation of tithes, was it not quite obvious that that parish would have a permanent charge imposed upon it, much greater than the adjoining parish, if such adjoining parish should hitherto have been grass land? Then, if the land in this latter parish should at any future time be broken up and converted into corn land, was it not clear, that inasmuch as the occupiers of this parish would have a much less sum to pay as a rent charge in lieu of tithe, than the occupiers of land in the former parish, they would be able to undersell the cultivators of the land in the parish which had always hitherto produced corn?

The Committee divided:—Ayes 51; Noes 111—Majority 61.

Mr. Parrot

proposed the introduction of the following proviso:—"That the said Commissioners shall make a deduction, after the rate of 10l. for every 100l. of the average value so ascertained, and shall award the average value so ascertained and reduced, as the sum to be taken as the amount of rent charge and permanent composition of the said tithe."

Lord John Russell

opposed the amendment on the ground that it appeared to introduce a new principle into the Bill.

Amendment negatived without a division.

Mr. Richards

moved the addition of the following proviso: — "Provided always, and be it enacted, that in case any part of the lands in the parish shall at any time be broken up and the surface destroyed and rendered unproductive, by the operations of raising and getting coal, iron, stone, and other mines and minerals, or for the erection of any works for converting the same, that the rent-charge imposed as hereinbefore provided, shall on the breaking up or converting of the surface of such land as aforesaid, abate in the proportion of the extent of land so rendered unproductive, and that such rent-charge shall accrue only on such land being restored and brought into cultivation."

Lord John Russell

thought that it would be a violation of the principle of the Bill, if land under the circumstances stated in the proviso should be totally exempted from tithe. He might mention that it would be only in Staffordshire the proposed exemption would operate. And he did not think it right for the sake of such a small district to make a complete alteration in the principle of the Bill.

The Committee divided on the proviso; —Ayes 171; Noes 54—Majority 117.

Clause agreed to.

The House resumed., Committee to sit again.