HC Deb 24 March 1886 vol 303 cc1742-50

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that when a matter of this kind was brought forward, the first question which people asked was—"What is the grievance?" Looking at the question of extraordinary tithe from a purely theoretical point of view, he confessed that there appeared to be no grievance at all. It was determined, at the time of the Commutation Act of 1836, that it would be unfair to burden for ever the land at the rate required by one exceptional crop, or even a few exceptional crops, such as fruit, hops, and market-garden produce. It was therefore decided that so long as these crops were grown, the land should pay increased tithe, much on the same principle as that which was observed with regard to turnpike roads—that those who used them should pay for their maintenance. He believed that the grievance of extraordinary tithe arose out of the abolition of the foreign hop duty. If that duty had been left, his opinion was that there would not have been so much complaint with respect to tithes as there now was. The bigoted Free Traders, in their enthusiasm to take off duties of all kinds, really went too far in this particular instance. The duty was one of 45s. per cwt. on foreign hops, and 18s. or 19s. on British produce. The Government of the day first equalized the two, and then removed the foreign duty altogether; and he challenged any Free Trader, whatever his fondness for absolute equality in that direction might be, to say that the British producer had not suffered severely from the abolition. He rejoiced to see from the tone of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen that there was a possibility of at length settling this question on something like equitable terms. He was informed by his Friends that if these Bills went to a Select Committee, there was every prospect of useful legislation being the outcome of their labours. In listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary expressing the intentions of the Government on this point, he could not help thinking how unfortunate it was that such matters as this should not be under the control of a Minister entirely charged with the interests of agriculture. He believed that those who were most interested in the question would have had their demands settled long ago if such a Minister had sat in the House, to whom appeals could be made for advice and assistance. His Bill had practically the same object in view as that which had been discussed. It dealt, however, with one matter which the other measure had not touched upon. He thought it best and most convenient to go to the root of the matter, by dealing with the ordinary as well as the extraordinary tithe, in the direction of abolishing the distinction between them, and by making the whole payable by the landlord rather than the tenant. He was convinced that anyone who had carefully studied the Commutation Act of 1836 would approve of that arrangement. He had also dealt with the subject of corn averages, a question of great importance, both to the clergy and the tenants at the present time. He had been actuated in the matter by a desire to get at the root of the difficulty, and by a desire not to leave the question to be dealt with in a piecemeal fashion by successive Parliaments. The Commutation Act of 1836 was supposed to be a final settlement of this matter, and, like similar settlements in other branches of legislation, it had, as a matter of course, proved to be nothing of the kind. He believed that a sufficient length of time had elapsed since 1836 to allow of a comprehensive measure being introduced to deal with the question of tithes. He would, therefore, ask the House to formally assent to the second reading of his measure, in the hope that he might afterwards be allowed to refer it to the same Select Committee which would be charged to deal with the previous measure.

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

MR. GREGORY (Sussex, East Grinstead)

said, he did not object to the second reading, or the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee; but he thought it should be understood that, in taking that step, they were not accepting the principle of a measure so wide in its scope. He would call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to the scope of the measure as stated in its Preamble, and which extended to the payment of ordinary as well as extraordinary tithe. The Bill went a good deal beyond the question they had hitherto been discussing, its principle practically amounting to a prohibition of freedom of contract as between landlord and tenant. Unless strong grounds existed for taking such a step, he thought it was inadvisable to embark on such a policy, especially as there was not a clear understanding on the part of the House regarding the objects of the Bill as they were to be gathered from the recitals in the Preamble.

MR. SCLATER-BOOTH (Hants, Basingstoke)

said, that tithes were paid by the tenant out of the produce of the soil; and if the liability were to be transferred to the landlord, at which he believed they would all be glad, they should take care that the position of the tithe-owner was not made a better one than it was at present, or than that which the law gave him. If the Bill went before a Select Committee he thought that this point should be impressed upon them. On the general question, as a Member of the Select Committee, which sat some time ago, he was glad to find some steps being taken in the direction of their recommendations, and that we were at last within reach of a settlement of the whole matter.

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

said, that the question of extraordinary tithe was one that was ripe for settlement on all sides, and could be dealt with without reference to any question relating to tithes generally; and he hoped that an understanding would be come to, that the Committee should make an early Report upon the question of extraordinary tithe by itself. With regard to the Bill now under consideration, he contended that it simply converted extraordinary tithe into ordinary, taking no account of the special condition imposed upon extraordinary tithe when it had been sanctioned. Such a proceeding would be entirely one against common sense. The Bill fixed the extraordinary tithe upon the land, as the ordinary tithe was fixed. Sir James Caird, in his evidence before a Select Committee, had pointed out that the question of redemption was a very difficult one in the case of what might be a vanishing quantity, since the tithe-payer might discontinue the particular cultivation of the land. It was now proposed that this charge should be converted into a permanent one, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would so guard the reference of this Bill to a Select Committee, as not to imply that the House sanctioned either the principles or the provisions of this Bill.


said, he trusted the House would allow this Bill to go to the Select Committee, although he quite agreed with the necessity for a special and early Report on the subject of extraordinary tithe. That was a pressing matter, the settlement of which ought not to be delayed while the larger question was being dealt with. He therefore hoped that special instructions would be given to the Select Committee to make a special Report upon extraordinary tithe. The question of tithes in general was a very large one, and that of extraordinary tithe was one which ought to be settled as rapidly as possible. When the Committee had reported upon the latter, they could then open up the larger question of general tithe.


said, that they had three Bills before them, dealing partly with ordinary, and partly with extraordinary tithes; and, in his opinion, it would not be fair to exclude any one of these three Bills from the consideration of the Select Committee. He thought, however, that it was very desirable that it should be clearly understood that the Committee was not bound by either of the recitals or the proposals contained in these Bills. There was no doubt that the tithe rent-charge was a charge upon the land; whereas extraordinary tithe had originally been taken in kind, and was paid by the occupier of the land. It had been said to be for the benefit of the occupiers; but he would not now enter into that controversy. As he had before observed, he thought that in taking up these three Bills, the Committee was not to be bound by the individual recitals of the Bills. It would be anomalous to say that the Committee should deal with the question of extraordinary tithe, and not with the general question. Upon the question as to the Report of the Committee, bethought that it was reasonable that the Committee should first report upon extraordinary tithes. It was of great importance that they should have an authoritative decision upon this question; and he should therefore agree to the Motion to refer this Bill to the Select Committee, on the understanding stated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth). He would, however, call attention to one point which would require great care—namely, the alteration in the system of corn averages. There was a good deal to be said for a longer term of years, though he thought that the Preamble of this Bill hardly expressed the matter sufficiently clearly. All this, however, would be considered by a Select Committee.


said, he thought that it would not be fair to exclude this Bill from the consideration of the Select Committee, where all the open questions could be discussed, and where, of course, they would not be bound by the details of the Bills. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had also pointed out that it would not be possible to exclude from the consideration of the Committee the very important question whether, or not, the charge was payable by the owner of the land. Extraordinary tithe did not differ in the matter of payment from ordinary tithe; it was only different in its origin. It was most important that it should be understood by the Select Committee that the House, in referring this Bill, did not recognize the view laid down in its Preamble, as the correct interpretation of the law with regard to the liability of paying tithes. With regard to the subject of corn averages, he hoped that here again the hands of the Committee would be left completely untied. A mere extension of the term of years might in some cases work great injustice. The Committee would have to consider the question what alteration, if any, was to be made with regard to the important subject of corn averages, how it was to be applied, and when it was to come into force.

MR. J. G. HUBBARD (London)

said, he thought that there would not be any advantage in making this tithe a variable amount, payable by the landlord rather than by the tenant; it would only lead to inconvenience, that the landlord himself should have to discharge the tithe on a property which was let to another person. In the first instance, it had been a charge upon certain produce of the land, and the producer had to pay in kind. For the sake of convenience, that payment had been converted into money; but its nature had not been changed by that fact. With regard to the question of the corn average, he doubted very much whether it would again rise to par, as they now had every kind of produce coming in from all parts of the world ridiculously cheap. The Bill, however, in his opinion, contained much that was good, and he thought that it was highly desirable that it should go to a Select Committee.

MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)

said, that if the Bill had dealt only with extraordinary tithe, he would not have troubled the House with any observations, as that was an impost of which, thank Heaven, the people in the county in which he lived knew nothing. But with the burden of ordinary tithes they were only too familiar. He agreed with the proposal of the Bill, that tithe should be made payable by the landowner rather than by the tenant. He knew that a great deal of friction arose between the farmers and the clergy through the payment of the tithe by the farmers; but, while he wished to see that changed, he trusted that the Committee, to whom the Bill was to be referred, would not recommend any course in carrying out the alteration which would increase the security at present possessed by the owner of the tithe. The owner's security now was in the produce of the land. He had no claim on the personal or other property of the landlord. If the land went out of cultivation, as he was sorry to say a good deal of land had gone out of cultivation, and he feared a good deal more would go, the tithe-owner could hold the land until he had paid himself out of the produce; but he had no other remedy, and he (Mr. Everett) did not think there would be any desire in the House to still further strengthen the tithe-owners' hands as against the unfortunate owner of the soil. He had also a word to say as to the question of the corn averages. This Bill proposed to lengthen the number of years on which the average was taken from seven to 40. Now, so far as the matter had come under his observation, all the complaints made in the past had rested on the fact that the number of years already taken had been too long. Singularly enough, it had happened that when farmers were receiving a high price for corn, they were generally paying a low tithe, and that when they were receiving a low price, they were paying a high tithe. Notably in 1879, the most disastrous agricultural year within the memory of this generation, tithe stood at 111 or 112. He hoped there would be a shortening of the seven years, not a lengthening. If the landowner paid instead of the tenant, the rent would be based, not on an average of 40 years past, but upon prices current at the time. In regard to the fear expressed by the last speaker (Mr. Hubbard), that we should never see tithe at par again, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman was wrong; and he was encouraged in the hope by this fact—the Church in the past had always shown singularly good judgment in dealing with temporal matters. When tithes were commuted, in 1836, the advisers of the Church had the option of having their future receipts for tithe, based either on so many bushels of corn, or on so many pounds sterling. They had more confidence in the stability of the value of corn than of the value of money, and so they elected to have the tithe based on corn. Their judgment had proved right in the matter, ever since 1836, until a few years ago. Now, the value of money had risen, after a long period of movement in the opposite direction. For himself, he believed that the miseries being suffered in agriculture and commerce to-day were mainly the result of that altered value of money. The purchasing power of the sovereign, in which our bargains had all been made, had risen, so that we had to give up a larger portion of goods to obtain the necessary sovereigns. That had been caused largely by the disuse of silver in Europe and America. He hoped we might soon see silver restored again to its former place, and consequently a restoration of money to its former value—the value in which their bargains were made. Looking at the tendency on the part of money to decrease in value, on which tendency the Church had based her decision to take her tithe in corn rather than in money, and looking at the shrewdness which had ever attended the Church in her bargaining in the past, he hoped events would yet prove that in this matter, too, she had judged right, and that we should see tithe come back to par.


said, that a reference to a Select Committee of this kind was, to a certain extent, a reference to a Committee of experts. A Committee formed to deal with the question of extraordinary tithes alone would, probably, be formed of Members who were well-informed on that subject, but might not necessarily have the wider experience required for the larger subject. He suggested that the fact that both subjects would come before the Committee should be taken into consideration in its constitution.

MR. LONG (Wilts, Devizes)

said, that the present system of the payment of tithes was seriously felt by the tenant farmers, and he regretted that the payment had fallen on the occupier instead of the owner. He confessed he would rejoice to see the system altered, as he believed it would remove a grievance, and would strengthen and improve the position of the Church. The more the Committee had before them the more probable it would be that they would be able to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. He therefore hoped that this Bill would be sent with the others to the Committee, and that something useful would be the result.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to the Select Committee on the Tithe Rent-Charge (Extraordinary) Amendment Bill.