HC Deb 13 May 1836 vol 33 cc906-11

On the motion of Lord John Russell, the House went into Committee on the Tithes Commutation England Bill.

Mr. Finch

rose to move, as an amendment to clause 34, p. 13, line 9, the words 75l. be substituted for 60l. In doing so the hon. Member said, that upon consideration he should waive his amendment, and direct his observations chiefly to the clause. The reason why he moved that in the place of 60l. 75l. should be inserted was a conviction that, if a balance was struck between the tithe payers and owners, 75l.. would he the proper amount. There was a variety of opinions upon the subject, and it was, therefore, difficult to say what was the proper amount, and what was not. He could not give his sanction to any Bill that did not proceed upon the principle of equity. The only principle with which the people ought to be satisfied and would be satisfied was the principle of strict and substantial justice. It had been said that the public were interested in this Bill, but he contended that the Bill did not affect the rights or property of the people at all; it went merely to arrange matters between the tithe-owner and the landed proprietor. He was sure the landed proprietors of England—he was sure the landed aristocracy of England, desired not to take one sixpence from the clergy of the Established Church. If they passed this Bill how could they resist the principle of appropriation involved in the Irish Church Bill? He should, therefore, feel it is duty to give the clause his decided opposition.

Mr. Estcourt

concurred in the observations of the hon. Member who had last spoken. He believed the noble Lord would shortly find, that, instead of attempting a maximum and minimum, he should have adopted the suggestion of the hon. Member for Cumberland, and have had recourse to a valuation.

Mr. Parrott

conceived, that such a proposition would produce confusion throughout the entire country, and create enormous expense. He had hoped, that the minimum would have been fifty instead of sixty per cent. In his opinion, tithes were not worth more than they would produce in money, after deducting the expense of collection. He would reserve to himself the power of objecting to the entire clause hereafter.

Mr. Goulburn

did not see why a special provision should be made for those cases in which the collection exceeded the maximum, while no special provision was made for those cases where the collection was less than the minimum. There was no reciprocity in this instance.

Mr. Estcourt

said there were many cases where the collection did not amount to 10 per cent. There was no provision for such a case.

Mr. Charles Buller

would support the amendment, for he did not think that the minimum and maximum would do justice either to. the tithe-owner or the tithe-payer.

Sir Robert Peel

understood, that the 33rd and 34th clauses involved the main principles of the Bill—that the compulsory principle should be enforced, and that the maximum and minimum should be fixed. He would suggest, that the discussion upon these points should be postponed, and he hoped the noble Lord would not conceive that in making any suggestion of this sort there was any concession on the part of himself or those who acted with him. It appeared to him that no answer had been given to the objections urged as to the maximum and minimum of the last seven years. According to the plan now proposed the amount of commutation would depend in many cases on the past lenity and forbearance of the clergyman, and it would be unfair that his forbearance should tend to his disadvantage. He thought in the arrangement the voluntary principle should be included. There were two objections to the clause, and the mode of fixing the maximum and minimum it proposed. The first was, that parishes might be taxed so as to have a practical operation of inequality. He would suppose a case in point of two contiguous parishes; one with a lenient pastor who took only 57 per cent., the other with a pastor who exacted the full 75 per cent. Now by the mode proposed in the clause the parish paying the lesser sum would be equalised with that paying the greater, and thus an injustice would be done it. The income of one would be diminished while the other would receive the full value. The second was this, a man might expend his capital on bad land, so as to make it productive, while another, having little or no capital, was unable to make productive land pay its expenses. The mode of taking the maximum or minimum in regard to these was evidently a defective one. He should suggest that, in place of Commissioners, valuers should be appointed, as under the Enclosure Act, to determine matters in dispute, and when the valuers could not agree he would call in some man of weight and character as umpire between the parishes and the incumbent or appropriator.

Lord J. Russell

said, that he considered the basis on which the clause was founded! a fair one, as it was calculated to produce so little disturbance. To the principle of that basis he felt himself bound to adhere.

Mr. Blamire

said, he was anxious, before the discussion upon the clause terminated, to address a few words to the House upon it. He thought the plan of the noble Lord for establishing a maximum and a minimum was, at any rate, a most questionable policy. Considerable expense was incurred in settling these matters, and there were very few cases in which you could fix the exact sum that ought to be paid. If it was to be fixed by the Assistant-Commissioner, he would have a most dangerous power in- trusted to him, since he was not obliged to give publicity to his calculations, and that discretionary power ought to be checked by a local Board. He conceived, that the voluntary part of this Bill would be gladly acceded to by the country; and with respect to the compulsory part of it, time ought to be given to deal with the more difficult cases. He recommended the House to puss no law which would press hardly on individuals, but to wait and see the results of this measure, and then they could come back to Parliament and amend this Bill, if necessary. The Commissioners would have acquired a more intimate knowledge of the intricate cases that would arise, and the House would be better prepared to legislate on the subject. At any rate, he should be glad to see the plan of the noble Lord with respect to a minimum and maximum abandoned.

Mr. Finch's

amendment was withdrawn.

An amendment proposed by Lord Ebrington, to the effect that the Assistant-Commissioners should hear the parties and decide,, subject to an appeal, so that no less than 50l. nor more than 60l. should be awarded, was postponed.

Mr. Parrott

proposed a proviso to the Clause, enacting that in fixing the permanent tithe-composition a reduction of 10l. per cent. should be made from the average value ascertained by the Commissioners.

The Committee divided on the amendment:—Ayes 38; Noes 73—Majority 35.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. R. Hindley, C.
Alston, R. Hodges, T. L.
Baines, C. Lennard, T. B.
Barnard, E. G. Marsland, H.
Bewes, T. Mullins, F. W.
Blamire, W. Musgrave, Sir R.
Bowring, Dr. O'Brien, C.
Bridgeman, H. Potter, R.
Brotherton, J. Power, T.
Cayley, E. S. Pryme, G.
Collier, T. Richards, T.
Crawford, W. S. Stuart, V.
Curteis, E. B. Talbot, J. H.
Curteis, H. B. Thornely, T.
Duncombe, T. S. Verney, Sir H.
Elphinstone, H. Warburton, H.
Gillon, W. D. Williams, W.
Grote, G. Williams, W. A.
Hawes, B. TELLER.
Heathcoat, T. Parrott, J.

On the question that the clause stand part of the Bill,

Mr. Wrightson moved, that it be omitted. He was extremely unwilling to interpose any obstacle in the way of a measure of so much importance, for the introduction of which so much credit was due to his Majesty's Government; but he felt so satisfied that the clause could never come into operation in a useful or satisfactory manner, that he was bound to oppose it. The 33rd clause contained within itself all the material principles involved in the present one; and he considered it quite unnecessary to introduce a second principle, applicable to the same point, the only effect of which would be, to commit a very gross injustice against a large class of persons, by disturbing the existing compositions, on the faith of which land had been let tithe-free on the one hand, and taken on the other. The principle he wished to substitute had been adopted again and again in former commutations of tithe. To show the injustice of that proposed by his Majesty's Ministers, he need only refer to the evidence of one witness, examined before the Committee on agriculture, the amount of whose composition for tithe was at present 3s. an acre, who stated, that if his tithe were taken in kind it would amount to more than his rent—to no less, perhaps, than 40s. an acre. He would only add, that in those parts of the country in which this clause was understood, there was a very strong feeling against it. They had not, however, petitioned upon the subject, preferring to leave the matter to the wisdom and justice of Parliament, in which they placed a confidence, which he hoped would not be disappointed. There could be no necessity whatever for the present clause. The tithe-owners at present enjoyed a greater sum than they had ever enjoyed before; and they would hereafter enjoy a larger sum than they could have possessed under the existing law, or ever hoped to possess. The hon. Member concluded by moving the omission of the clause.

Mr. Gally Knight

stated, that if Clause 34 was agreed to, it would defeat the object of the clauses already adopted. If this part of the measure was adopted it would not give that satisfaction to the country which should be the result of a Bill on this subject. He would support the amendment.

Mr. Cayley

had no hesitation in telling the noble Lord, that if he did not modify this clause he would destroy the principle of the Bill, which, no doubt, he was most anxious to carry. If he persisted on this part of the Bill, he (Mr. Cayley) would tell the noble Lord that he would lose the support of those who were most anxious that the principle of commutation should be carried into effect. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were anxious to keep up those parts of the Bill which appeared most favourable to the Church; but would this satisfy those prepared to carry out a satisfactory measure? He thought this was a point on which hon. Members should make a stand.

The Solicitor-General

said, that as the question had been so often discussed under one form or another, he should only offer one observation as to the ground on which he-continued to prefer Clause 34, as it stood in the Bill, to any of the amendments which had been proposed. He entirely agreed with his hon. Friend, the Member for Northallerton (Mr. Wrightson), that the same principle was to be found in the 33rd Clause. He thought that they ought to seek to do justice to the tithe-owners, on the principle on which their rights were founded, and not on any imaginary suggestions which might be thrown out. He objected to the proposition of his hon. Friend, because it did not attempt to provide for those cases in which the standard of commutation might be fixed at too high a rate. It might be said that extreme cases should be left to the decision of the Commission, but he could not consent to this proposal, which would open a door for unbounded litigation, inasmuch as no general principle was laid down to regulate their award.

Mr. William Miles

opposed the clause. He would suggest, that in all cases where the amount of tithe under the commutation was below the minimum, it should be left to the decision of the Commissioners, with the right of appeal to a superior tribunal, and that the costs should be borne by the losing party.

The Committee divided on the question that the clause as amended stand part of the Bill:—Ayes 7S; Noes 70—Majority 8.

The House resumed—The Committee to sit again.