HC Deb 24 March 1886 vol 303 cc1728-42

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. NORTON (Kent, Tunbridge)

, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that hon. Members would be aware that a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed in 1881 to consider the best means of dealing with this complicated and difficult question. That Committee, which was presided over by the former Member for Rye (Mr. Inderwick), reported in favour of the abolition of these charges, and the hon. and learned Member, for several years in succession, brought forward a Bill for that purpose, but was unable to get it passed. A great amount of interest had since gathered round the question; and all who were acquainted with the state of feeling in the counties of Kent and Sussex especially, would agree with him that the time had arrived when, in the interests of the public generally, as well as of all immediately concerned, it was absolutely necessary that the question should be settled; and, in saying that, he wished to disclaim emphatically any intention to make it a Party question in any form whatever. The object of his Bill was, first, to abolish for the future the extraordinary tithe, and to commute the present payment by a fixed rent-charge; and, secondly, to make the charge payable by the owner of the land, and not by the tenant, as heretofore. This was essentially a landlord's question; for he believed it was undoubtedly the case that the owners of property bought that property subject to this charge upon it. He considered that the proposals in the Bill would furnish a practical way of dealing with the question, and would get rid of the friction which now largely existed between the tenant farmers and landlords. He thought that the parsons were, in existing circumstances, placed in a most unfortunate position. They were really as powerless as a flock of sheep, and they were not in a position to enforce their claims, for fear of losing that influence for good which he thought all would agree it was necessary that they should possess. The late Lord John Russell had, he believed, the intention to settle the question once for all; but, in consequence of the representations of hop growers themselves, when the Tithe Redemption Bill was before the House, Mr. Thomas Hodges, at that time a Member for Kent, obtained on behalf of the hop and fruit growers the exemption of hop, fruit, and vegetable grounds from its operations. It was now thought desirable that the clauses in that Act referring to hops should be repealed. The charge on hops was at present a very unequal one, varying from 2s. to 22s. an acre in Kent, and rising as high as 30s. an acre in the district of Farnham, in Surrey; and while there was a charge of 6s. an acre on fruit gardens in one parish, there was no charge at all of the kind in adjoining parishes. It was proposed in this Bill to go back to the principle on which Lord John Russell had intended to deal with this question in 1836, and to make the extraordinary tithe a higher permanent rent-charge upon property, and so to make it absolutely a landlord's question. It was proposed to put upon the Land Commissioners, who were the old Tithe Commissioners—the highest authorities on the subject — the responsibility of dealing with this important question, and to give them the fullest power of dealing with it. That was the sole point at issue between the hon. Member for South St. Pancras (Mr. Bolton), who had a Bill on the Paper dealing with the same question, and himself. He (Mr. Norton) proposed that the Land Commissioners should have power to take into consideration all the surrounding circumstances of farms, such as the possible continuance or discontinuance of the cultivation of hops. It was thought that, in a matter of this importance, it was absolutely necessary that the hands of the Commissioners should not be tied too closely, and therefore he had come to the conclusion that the only way to deal with the matter was to give the Commissioners the power he had referred to. Having ascertained what the capital value of the properly was, it was proposed to apportion what should be paid over the whole farm rather than take any particular garden under hops, calculating the interest at 4 per cent upon the capital. It was thought that it would be fairer to apportion it over the whole farm than to fix it upon a particular hop or fruit garden, at that time under cultivation, for the reason that it would make great inequality in the letting value of different parts of the farm, and that it would introduce still greater difficulties if any part of the farm had to be sold. For the payment it was generally admitted that the landlords were primarily responsible. When the whole tithe of Ireland was commuted into a land tax, it was made absolutely a landlord's payment. It would get rid of many difficulties if the House would consent to refer that point to a Select Committee. As to the expense of carrying out the proposal, he believed the Land Commissioners would look upon it as part of their statutory duty to supervise the whole of the work, without making any extra charge as far as themselves were concerned; but where special difficulties surrounded a case, and they would have to call in persons to assist them, a special charge would be allowed, according to a scale of fees which it was proposed to lay down. He not only represented the Division of Kent, but he resided in the parish, in which the largest portion of hops was grown, and where extraordinary tithe came to a very large sum in addition to the ordinary. Therefore, he spoke with some knowledge of the subject. He could assure the House there was a very strong feeling on the part of everyone concerned—landlords, tenants, and clergy, to get this question settled once for all. He asked the House to give him, and the whole of the Members for Kent who supported the Bill, their assistance in carrying the second reading, and he believed Her Majesty's Government would support them by agreeing to refer that and other Bills relating to the same subject to a Select Committee. He thanked the House for the attention with which it had heard him, and he begged now to move the second reading of the Bill.


, in seconding the Motion, said, that all who were interested in the question under notice had come to the conclusion that the time for a final settlement of the question had arrived, and that the only satisfactory way in which it could be effected was by the abolition of extraordinary tithe for the future. The only point, therefore, and the principal one, which remained for consideration was that of compensation to the existing owners; and he could not help thinking that the solution of the difficulty would be much better found in a Select Committee composed of Members thoroughly acquainted with the subject, than by the whole body of the House itself. There were other Bills before the House on the same subject—namely, the Tithe Rent-Charge Amendment Bill, and the Tithe Rent-Charge (Extraordinary) Redemption Bill; but he believed there were only slight differences between them all, and they could easily be dealt with by the same Select Committee. In the first place, it should always be borne in mind that this extraordinary tithe was not a new and vexatious demand made by the tithe-owners on the tithe-payers; but it was founded in 1836, upon a request made by the tithe-payers themselves, that their holdings should be exempted from the Tithe Redemption Act of that year. His second point was, that this extraordinary tithe did not originally impose such an impediment upon agriculture, or create such a grievance, as it was customary to represent; but the cultivation of hops was very different now to what it was then. He was a hop grower and a fruit grower, had lived in the midst of hop and fruit gardens all his days, and he had never met a single farmer who had been deterred from growing hops or planting fruit trees on account of this extraordinary tithe. He believed there was a large farmer who did grub up a considerable quantity of hops, but that was to spite the tithe-owner. But if it were not a grievance, why should its removal be advocated? There were three reasons why it should be done. The first was the reason given by the President of the Local Government Board last night, when dealing with the question of dividing the rates between landlord and tenant—namely, with a view to conciliation by repressing a grievance which the tenant fancied he laboured under. The second reason was because, of late, there had been most unfortunate occurrences attending the collection of this extraordinary tithe, of which advantage had been taken for making unfair attacks on the Church and the clergy, for only trying, as Englishmen, by legitimate means to recover what they considered to be their own. And now, when the ownership of all kinds of property was in a precarious condition — he was not sure that it might not soon, indeed, be considered a criminal offence—he thought in the case of any sort of property, where there was the least shadow of a grievance, it was their duty, if possible, to remove it. There was one more reason why the question should be dealt with. Formerly, if a farmer got one good year out of three, he was able not only to recoup himself, but to have a surplus with a considerable profit. That, however, he was afraid was not the case now. Whatever might be the crop of the future, he thought the days of high or remunerative prices had absolutely gone by. If the hop grower, in addition to being exposed to the ravages of insects, bad weather, and unfair competition with the foreigner, who was protected, was to be subjected to extraordinary tithe also, then he thought it was clear that he had a grievance, and that the time had come when, if possible, that grievance should be removed; and he hoped that the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee would result in a fair and equitable settlement.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Norton.)

MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)

said, that the Seconder of the Motion had in reality made a speech against the Bill, because a great portion of his argument was directed to show that there was not that grievance which the growers of hops said there was. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that the grievance was felt to be a substantial one, not only by the hop growers of Kent and Sussex, but also by the inhabitants of towns upon whom the charge ultimately fell. His constituents in St. Pancras were interested in having a supply of good cheap fruit and vegerables, as well as having their beer manufactured of the best materials, and they were anxious that the question should be dealt with, not only in the interest of fruit and hop growers and market gardeners, but in their own interest as consumers. He begged to say that the extraordinary tithe was not imposed, as the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) had alleged, at the instance of the payers; it was imposed upon the landowners and clergy in 1836, as a compromise, by Lord John Russell to enable him to get over a difficulty. On that occasion Mr. Hume contended that there should be no tithe whatever placed upon hops, fruits, or vegetables, as he could not look upon hop grounds, market gardens, and orchards otherwise than in the light of manufactories — small pieces of land, upon which much capital was spent to make them productive. Lord John Russell said the tithes upon valuable crops, such as hops, fruit, and vegetables, could not be allowed to enter into an average commutation. Mr. Hume divided the House; but as it then consisted largely of Representatives of the landed interest in alliance with the clergy, the compromise was enforced, the result of which was, that tithe on hops, fruit, and vegetables was separated from the ordinary tithe; but as part of the compromise there was this condition—that the tithe should attach to the crop, and that when the particular cultivation ceased the extraordinary tithe should cease to be payable. Therefore, this was a tax imposed upon the growers of hops, fruit, and vegetables in 1836, and the House was at liberty to relieve them upon such terms as Parliament might think just and reasonable under the circumstances. In the aggregate, the impost amounted to something like £100,000 a-year, and was a burden which rested upon those particu- lar industries. The so-called compromise of 1836 had worked most unsatisfactorily, and it had been most injurious to the growers and to the public, as it was a tax upon industry. It handicapped the native growers in favour of the foreign producers, discouraged the cultivation of the soil, and prevented the employment of a large quantity of labour; and he would remind hon. Members that, in connection with the question, there was no kind of cultivation which employed a larger number of persons or required a greater amount of capital. The injustice of the tax was generally admitted. He contended that it was altogether unfair to compensate in respect of potential value. He would deal with each parcel of land under the special cultivation; and he would suggest that the hon. Member (Mr. Norton) should go further than his Bill suggested, and deal with land parcel by parcel. It should be borne in mind that the grower had a right to determine the cultivation; and, when he did so, the tax ceased, and this circumstance should be considered in the calculation of any compensation. The difference between the hon. Member and himself upon the question was this—that he, who was now addressing the House, proposed to take the tithe as it was, a terminable rent-charge, determinable at the will of the payer, and give the owner the fair market value for it. The hon. Gentleman, on the other hand, proposed to lay down by the Bill a larger scheme of compensation, which would give the tithe-owner much more substantial compensation than he could reasonably be entitled to expect. If the Bill of the hon. Gentleman were pressed to a second reading, with a view to legislation on those lines, it would be his duty to oppose it; but as the hon. Gentleman had intimated his willingness to entertain a suggestion which it was believed would come from the Treasury Bench, that this and the other Bills should go to a Select Committee, he (Mr. Bolton), on his part, was not disposed to oppose the second reading. The question was one of very great difficulty; but, unless it could be dealt with in some drastic way, dissatisfaction would still be felt and the agitation would continue. That agitation was one which was exciting the greatest possible friction in large parts of England, and riots had occurred, men had been sent to prison, and there was a general resistance throughout Kent and Sussex to the payment of what people considered to be an unfair burden. If there was further delay, the existing ill-feeling would be increased; and he was desirous, in the interests of the clergy as well as of the landowners, and more especially of the growers and the public at large, that the question should be settled in a reasonable way. All they wanted was fair dealing, and they were not opposed to any reasonable compensation which could be shown to be justly due for actual loss. He would assent to the proposal that all the Bills should be referred to a Select Committee.

MR. GATHORNE - HARDY (Kent, Medway)

said, it could not, of course, be expected that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Bolton) would agree with the Bill before the House in all its particulars; but at all events, he had admitted that this was a matter of extreme difficulty which might properly be investigated by a Select Committee, and one which it would be really impossible for a body like the whole House of Commons to decide on a reasonable basis. There was little to complain of in the speech of the hon. Member, except, perhaps, his history with regard to the first imposition of extraordinary tithe, as to which he (Mr. Gathorne - Hardy) had heard a very different account, one from which he contended that that extraordinary tithe-charge was the result of the action of Mr. Thomas Hodges, as had been said by his hon. Friend (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen), on behalf of the hop and fruit growers in 1836. But, however that might be, he was not disposed to deny that the hon. Member had done much to bring this question before the public. He could only say that he lived in a parish in Kent where the charge did not exist; but he did not know that agriculture there was more prosperous, because the farmers had not the tithe to pay. When a grievance was raised, which turned out to be a real one, he was quite ready to give his assistance, in order, if possible, to put a stop to such grievance, and he would support the present Bill, because it would put an end to the grievance in question, upon a fair basis to all the parties concerned. The Bill would give a substantial concession to the hop growers, and put an end to relations between the clergy and the people which, he believed, had done more to injure the spiritual influence of the clergy throughout the country than any other question likely to arise. Therefore, he had the greatest pleasure in supporting the Bill.

MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

said, he had some doubt as to the character of the tax. The Bill had been discussed by hon. Gentlemen opposite as if it were simply a matter between the clergy and the cultivator of the soil. He (Mr. Illingworth) desired to obtain a hearing for another view, which he believed to be more sound—that the extraordinary tithe was a national tax, imposed for ecclesiastical purposes in this country, and that when they proposed to deal with it, that view must be persistently maintained in the House of Commons. Whether the tax were paid by the tenant directly to the clergyman, or to any capitalist who might have bought up the tithe, or whether it was paid through the landlord, he compensating himself by an increase of rent, they were left in entirely the same position. It must not, therefore, be forgotten that when it was proposed to relieve any class of the community from any tithe, extraordinary or ordinary, they were, in fact, abandoning a tax imposed by the State for ecclesiastical purposes. ["No, no!"] The House might look at the matter from many points of view. If it could be imagined that this was a case between the clergy, as private individuals, and the growers of market produce, the House would soon get rid of the whole thing. They would ask why the clergy of the Established Church should be allowed, any more than the ministers of any other Denomination, to levy tithes on articles of produce, whether extraordinary or ordinary? ["Oh, oh!"] The cries he heard from the other side of the House justified him in rising to take some part in this debate, in order to assert the sound principle with regard to this and all other questions of tithes, that they were nothing but a tax imposed by the State for national purposes. It might be true that the burden of the extraordinary tithe was unequally distributed; but essentially its incidence was pro rata—that was to say, that the tax bore a proportion to the productiveness of the soil. The same principle ruled the imposition of the Income Tax upon millowners and manufacturers. They could only deal with the extraordinary tithe as a burden in the same sense that all taxes were burdens. He was willing to admit that, nowadays, they did not look over closely into sound principles of economy; but it was essential, when hon. Gentlemen on one side seemed to be settling this matter so amicably within the four corners of a Private Bill, that they who regarded the question from a broader standpoint should warn the country that national property was here being dealt with. ["No, no!"] If ever there was a time when it was needful to guard the national interests, it was at a time of general depression like the present. It was all very well to protect the farmers' interest, and he had no desire that it should be neglected. But they must also look at the national interest. There were other classes to be considered whose interests in this matter were really as important. Let them suppose such a thing as the Disestablishment of the Church. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, he only put it as a bare possibility, and hon. Gentlemen opposite would be none the worse for contemplating it even at a distance, because it would be brought nearer to them day by day; and they would be the less taken by surprise if they got into the way of looking at it in a calm way. Let them take the case of the Irish Church. When Disestablishment occurred in Ireland, Parliament, in seeking to do justice to the clergy and to the owners of tithes in that country, gave ample compensation; but there was a large reserve of national ecclesiastical wealth which had proved immensely useful in getting over certain financial difficulties in connection with the land in Ireland. If the general depression which now existed continued to prevail in this country, an equal need might be experienced on this side of the water, and we might be glad to have command of such a reserve fund to meet difficulties which might arise. Therefore, he hoped that this question of extraordinary tithes would not be at present carried to a solution. He, for one, would like to look beforehand as to the way in which they were to deal with the question of tithe, ordinary or extraordinary. If, however, this Bill, and other Bills dealing with the same subject, were referred to a Select Committee, he had no doubt that the Government would have the Committee so appointed that the national point of view would be duly considered. From what he had himself been able to read and observe as to what was passing in the agricultural districts affected by this question, he was inclined to think that the dissatisfaction which prevailed related, not only to the levy of the tithe, but as to its appropriation. In some districts the clergymen had very light duties to discharge, while they were in the enjoyment of very large incomes. He believed that if it could be enacted that tithes should come back into the National Exchequer to be used for national purposes, a great deal, if not all, of the objection to the payment of tithes would cease. So long as the view that tithes were national property was not obscured, he welcomed the discussion of the subject; and he should look forward to the Report of the Committee on the subject with much interest.

MR. J. G. HUBBARD (London)

said, the last speaker had complicated this subject by introducing two points which had no necessary connection with the Bills before the House. The hon. Member designated the tithe as a national tax. He (Mr. Hubbard) knew that that theory was invented by the late Mr. Miall about 40 years ago, when he instituted the Liberation Society; but no man who had read history on the subject would deny that the origin of tithes was lost in the obscurity of time, and he denied that they operated as a tax. He would admit that Parliament had exercised the right to deal with this question. ["Hear, hear!"] Well, everything in this country was subjected to the supremacy of Parliament, and, therefore, it had the power to appropriate them if it chose; but that supposed the case of a revolutionary Parliament, and there were considerations which might bind Parliament as well as individuals. There were considerations of right and wrong, and there were considerations of origin. He again denied that this tithe was a tax. A tax was an impost levied by the State on the people for national purposes; but in this case nothing was levied on the people at all. Originally, the proprietor gave a certain portion of the substance of his estate to the support of the Church in a particular parish. The proprietor detached a certain amount of his rental, to which he and his heirs were entitled in perpetuity, and how could that be a tax upon the people? The tithe fell upon the landlord, and if it were abolished to-morrow the land would be more free and would obtain a higher rent from an ordinary tenant. But all they had to deal with at present was the hop question, and while there were several Bills which proposed to deal with it, he could not say that the Bill now under consideration was the fairest measure on that subject. It proposed, first of all, that an estimate should be taken of what had been produced by the extraordinary tithe for a certain period. It fixed, arbitrarily, a certain capital value on that product, and then it capitalized it again on another arbitrary adjustment. For his own part, he objected to all arbitrary adjustments. With regard to hops, nobody was obliged to grow them. But a grower of hops knew beforehand what the charges would be, and he generally made a very good thing of his growth. The growth of hops had been immensely increased since 1836, and it would not have increased if had been oppressed with charges and rates that took away the profit of the grower. He hoped these Bills would go before a Select Committee which would carefully and impartially consider the whole question.


said, he hoped the House would not allow the debate to be converted into an academic discussion on the Divine or the human origin of tithes, and on questions more or less connected with that distant shadow of Disestablishment which appeared to hang over both sides of the House. If the House would allow him, he would say simply that there were two opinions on the subject. There was the opinion of those who looked on tithes as of a quasi-Divine character, or who thought that the tithes were granted to the clergy by pious proprietors 1,000 years ago, and could not be diverted; and there was the opinion of others who thought tithes were public property, utilized for the public through certain channels for the advancement of religion through the payment of the clergy. He begged the House not on this occasion to go into that question, but to adhere strictly to the question really before it, which was this Bill and the other two Bills, Nos. 3 and 5 on the Orders—the Tithe Rent-Charge Amendment Bill and the Tithe Rent-Charge (Extraordinary) Redemption Bill—and whether they should be referred to a Select Committee. On the question of the Bills themselves, there was a great deal of force in what fell from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hubbard) just now, though he could not agree with him in one respect. The hop tax was repealed some time ago, and no doubt that had led to a greater amount of capital being employed in hops. In other respects, also, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, whose view would, he hoped; be supported by some Member of the Select Committee. As to the course the Government proposed to take, he might say that they entirely agreed with the proposal to refer all these Bills to a Select Committee, and they would recommend accordingly. There was also another Bill, that of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Stanley Leighton), which, although not before the House that day, was so germane to these in one respect, that he thought it also should go before the same Committee. That was the general Bill as to tithe, which proposed that the incidence of tithe should be altered, just as it was proposed in one of these Bills that the incidence of extraordinary tithe should be altered. The Government thought the subject was one of great importance, and that the public interests, apart from those of the landlords, tenants, and parsons, should be distinctly represented on the Committee. In selecting the Committee, therefore, care would be taken that that interest should be represented. He trusted the House would now allow these three Bills to be read a second time; and if no one else did so, he would, thereafter be prepared to move that they be referred to a Select Committee.

MR. AKERS-DOUGLAS (Kent, St. Augustine's)

said, he must express his regret that the hon. Member for West Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) should always endeavour to prevent any measure being passed that had for its object the removal of grievances connected with the Church of England, or which tended to make the Church more popular. There was a growing feeling throughout the country in favour of settling the ques- tion of extraordinary tithes. He had heard the moderate language of the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Bolton) on the subject with much pleasure, although it was scarcely in accordance with his former utterances. He protested against the assertion that the Representatives of the county of Kent had shown no anxiety for the settlement of this question during the last Parliament. It would be in the recollection of many hon. Members of the House that the Bill introduced in the last Parliament had been prepared by Mr. Inderwick, jointly with Sir Edmund Filmer, then Member for Mid Kent, whose name was on its back, and who had always taken a great interest in the settlement of this question. In his opinion, the fairest mode of taking the valuation was to take farm by farm rather than parcel by parcel, and for that reason he approved of the Bill of his hon. Friend (Mr. Norton). A general feeling existed throughout the county of Kent in favour of some step being taken to settle the question, and all the Members for that county thoroughly approved of the proposal that the whole of the subject should be referred to a Select Committee, upon which he hoped there would be placed many hon. Members who were specially conversant with the subjects of extraordinary tithes and of hop plantations.

MR. RAIKES (Cambridge University)

said, he also approved of the intention to refer the question to a Select Committee, who would take a comprehensive view of it. He expected valuable results would ensue from the adoption of that course of dealing with it.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."—(Mr. Secretary Childers.)


said, that, so far as the Opposition had any wish in the matter, they certainly desired that the Bill should be fully and minutely considered. There were one or two points which he recommended to the special notice of the Select Committee. Great care should be taken to see that the district of valuation should be a fair one, for if it were made upon very small areas, great injustice would be worked. He also trusted that it was fully understood that the question whether the tithes should be paid by the owners or by the occupiers, was an open one. The question of the capital value of extraordinary tithes was one of difficulty, looking at the very divergent and extreme schemes suggested, inasmuch as it was proposed, on the one hand, that the value should be capitalized at three years' purchase, and, on the other, at 30 years' purchase. That was a point, therefore, with regard to which the Select Committee would do well to be exceedingly careful. He was glad to notice the disposition to treat the question in a fair spirit; and as the subject was one which could not be best dealt with by the House, he approved of sending it to a Select Committee.


said, he objected to larger areas being taken for any valuation than those which were now adopted.

MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

said, he must congratulate the Government and the House upon the moderate tone which this debate had taken as compared with that of former discussions. Had such a tone been preserved before, the question might have been amicably settled years ago. But he was bound to protest against the attacks—unjustifiable and cowardly he must call them—which had been made upon those who, after all, were defending their rights, and those not personal rights, but their rights as trustees—the rights of the offices they held. He would ask whether the Select Committee would have power to refer to the labours of a previous Committee on the subject of tithes, and whether it was intended to take evidence?


said, he proposed that the Select Committee should have the advantage of both courses.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill committed to a Select Committee.