§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. HERBERT GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
The subject of the 1036 Instruction I venture to submit to the House is one of some difficulty, and I must ask the indulgence of the House while I put forward my view why I think it necessary the Committee should have this Instruction, and I will endeavour to be as brief as possible in doing this. Before I go to that part of the subject I may say that we on this side of the House, and, indeed, I think the House generally, have reason to complain of the way the Government have treated us in regard to this Bill. After 14 or 15 adjournments extending over a period of two-months, the Government have at last made up their minds, and this, according to common report, notwithstanding the urgent protests of their own friends, to proceed with this measure. From a Party point of view we, on this side of the House, ought to welcome this decision, because I am perfectly certain it will bring the Government into sharp antagonism with many of their oldest and firmest supporters in the county constituencies. Whatever we may think of the wisdom of their procedure, or the convenience of the opportunity the Government have chosen, it is impossible to deny the right of the Government to choose their own time for bringing on a measure for which they are responsible; but while we admit that right of the majority, I hope we may claim on this side the equal right of the minority to use the fullest freedom of amendment and criticism. We consider the Bill to be a one-sided measure; we consider it to be a measure which cannot possibly carry out the intention for which it is avowedly brought forward.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I must remind him that this is not a Second Reading Debate: it is the discussion of a specific Instruction, not a general discussion.
§ MR. HERBERT GARDNER
I was only referring, Sir, to the general character of the Bill, in order to point out why it is I consider the Instruction necessary. Of course I bow to your ruling, Sir, and proceed to call attention to the Instruction of which I have given notice—That the Committee have power to make provision for a gradual redemption of Tithe Rent-Charge on an equitable basis.Now, I venture to call attention to the 1037 word "gradual" for two reasons—first, because I think it answers any objection which might be brought from the other side that the Instruction would inevitably kill the Bill, claiming, as the Government do, that it deals with a matter of procedure only; and the second and more important reason is, that being gradual it will not have at once universal application, and therefore it will be open to any part of the country where the tithe rent-charge is satisfactory from an agricultural point of view, between tithe owners and tithe payers, not to have this Instruction applied to them. I do not propose on this occasion to put before the House any definite scheme of redemption, it is obvious it would be wrong to attempt to do so at this point of the Debate, and it would be far more orderly to bring forward such a scheme in Committee, and I am quite ready to put down clauses for the purpose should the House sanction this Instruction. But I have an earnest hope that such clauses may come from more competent hands, and, apart from Party, be accepted by the general sense of the House. There are certain principles that must be adhered to. Tithe was originally a compulsory tax on the produce of the land, and the tithe rent-charge has become, with very little protest in the country, an absolute and definite property. But it is a public property, a national property, the property of the nation, and of the nation alone. It is, therefore, quite obvious that if we are to contemplate any scheme of redemption the first condition of any scheme must be the recognition of the inalienable property of the country; there must be no tampering with the title of the nation to its own property. This proposition will be accepted in all parts of the House in reference to any redemption scheme, and it certainly would be a vital condition on this side. Therefore, I pass from that to show why, in my opinion, it is desirable that some scheme of redemption should be brought forward, and that without any unnecessary delay. The tithe rent-charge is, I have said, a tax upon produce; it never was intended to be charged on the land alone; it was never intended to be charged upon the capital which is put into the land, nor was it ever intended to be charged wholly on 1038 the labour for the cultivation of the land; it was intended to be a charge upon the property, capital and labour combined. As the House knows, the country has been passing through a period of exceptional agricultural distress, and this distress has especially fallen on those counties in which the tithe rent-charge most especially presses. There is no reason to imagine that we have got to the bottom of that distress. It may happen—it is very possible—that circumstances might arise that would bring this distress back upon us in all its intensity; and if that comes about, then the first question that will arise will be how the tithe rent-charge should be dealt with. It will be pointed out, as it was in 1836, that it is a tax on the great industry of the land, and when we remember that the agitation that will arise will not be from one class, but probably from all classes living on the land—owners, occupiers, and labourers—I think we shall see the agitation will be very formidable and difficult to grapple with, and it may come about that we who look on this charge as a national property, whether it be devoted to religious or secular purposes—it may come about that we shall lose our hold on this property altogether. Therefore, it seems to me, it would be a wiser course for us to adopt some scheme of redemption while there is yet time. The scheme of redemption we should accept must, of course, be on an equitable basis—that is to say, injuring neither the tithe-owners on the one side or the agricultural interest on the other. It must be a fair charge that the land can afford to pay—just to the clergy or tithe-owners, yet not placing the agriculture at a disadvantage. I ventured to point out the other day the great and unforeseen change which has come over agriculture since the settlement of 1836. Nobody at that period, nobody who joined in the Debates upon the Act of 1836, thought it possible that towards the close of the century there would be great tracts of land the yearly value of which would not equal the tithe rent-charge placed upon the land. Nobody at that time could have anticipated that this would happen so soon, yet the causes were then present, and, in some instances, at work. One reason, undoubtedly, was the high price to which 1039 corn bad risen in consequence of the long Continental wars that ended in 1815. The consequence of that high price was that pasture land and inferior land was converted into corn land, and this land was tithed as arable land when the Act of 1836 was passed. So it comes about that some land is charged with exceptional high tithe in proportion to its value. Everybody knows there is much of this land which has gone out of cultivation, to the great loss of capital and labour. You cannot ever restore the land to its original use; it in not profitable to plant it with wood or to return to its original state of pasture, because the tithe on it is so heavy. These are, I think, very serious, very startling facts that deserve the attention of the House and the country. But there are other facts in regard to the working of this Act to which I would call attention, and the reason I call attention to them is because my Instruction would give some compensation for what has happened. The working of the Tithe Commutation Act has not carried out the intention of the framers of it. I will not now discuss the question of corn averages, but I will call attention to the septennial average. The House knows that the value of the tithe rent-charge for any year is calculated on the price of barley, wheat, and oats during the seven preceding years, and so it may come about -that a man may buy a farm or a tenant may take a lease at the end of seven fat years when prices were high, and his first year of occupation may commence a series of lean years when prices are low; but the tithe rent-charge will be calculated on the prices on the seven fat years with which he had nothing to do. As anyone who has had anything to do with agriculture must remember, the year 1879 was most disastrous to that interest in this country. In that year the tithe rent-charge was as high as 112, yet anybody who knows anything about agriculture knows that the farmer and those who worked the soil absolutely got no profit out of the land, and if the tithe had been collected in kind as before 1836, the tithe, instead of being 12 or 13 per cent, would probably not have been worth the expense of collection. Now that seems to me unjust and inconsistent, and there ought to be some compensation. The Govern- 1040 ment, however, have not, though professing to have the interests of agriculture at heart, brought forward any measure to remedy these defects, and I think at the next General Election, probably, this lapsus of theirs will be recollected in county constituencies. I shall be told there is no necessity for my Instruction because the Government have promised—and I must say in a somewhat vague fashion—to take the matter up themselves. They have said that possibly they will next year bring in a Bill, or, as an alternative, they will refer the matter to a Committee. Well, there is an humble proverb, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," and that is especially true as applied to promised legislation. We who have only been through this short Parliament have seen over and over again instances where legislation has been promised and the promises have never been fulfilled. Where is the District Councils Bill, which seemed when promised an absolute consequence of the Local Government Bill? We have not heard a whisper of that Bill this year, nor shall we probably hear of it next year. We should be very unwise to give up this opportunity upon a vague and empty promise of the Government. We have a promise from the Government of a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the subject, but we know nothing of the constitution of the Committee; it may be appointed next year, it may enter on its consideration next year or the following year, and continue to the end of the present Parliament. It is most important to know, too, what the Committee is to consider, and this, I hope, the Government will definitely tell us. Is the Committee to consider the whole working of the Act of 1836? Is it to consider what is a fair, just, and equitable basis of any commutation scheme to be brought in? These are matters upon which we ought to have some definite information from the Government. Upon another matter, too, I hope we shall have some explanation. Two years ago I ventured to press upon the Government the necessity of having a Committee for this very purpose, and after much consideration and procrastination they came to the definite conclusion that they could not grant a Committee at all. What has happened in agriculture to 1041 make it necessary to appoint a Committee now when it was not necessary two years ago? The only change there has been seems to me to be a change in the mind of the Government, and what guarantee have we that they will not change their mind again next year? I think the House would be wise to take advantage of this opportunity, and Members for agricultural constituencies would do well to accept this Instruction, even though it should be found impossible to carry clauses to give effect to it, for it will be a definite pledge that something shall be done in the interest of the tithe-payers in addition to a Bill like this, which is conceived solely in the interest of the tithe-owners. Two other reasons have been put forward why this Bill should be passed at once and why this Instruction should not be received. One of these reasons is that we are told the whole object of the Bill is to make the people who can pay tithe-charge and will not pay, pay the charge; or, as I have seen it suggested in a letter, to make the defrauders and swindlers of Wales who can pay fulfil their obligations. We are led to suppose that only those who can pay and will not pay will be affected by the Bill; but that is absolutely false; the effect will be that the whole of the tithe-payers will be——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Member he is now going into the whole question of the Bill, not only the redemption of the charge. I must remind him this is not in the nature of a SECOND READING Debate, and but for the notice of the Instruction I should leave the Chair at once, and the House would go into Committee on the Bill. The Instruction does not open up a SECOND READING Debate; only the specific question concerned in the Instruction is introduced.
§ * MR. HERBERT GARDNER
The mistake I made, Sir, was that I thought it possible to put forward the disadvantages of the Bill to show the reason for compensation, and, therefore, for my Instruction. In conclusion, I will ask the House to vote my Instruction because it does give some compensation to tithe-payers, and will, I hope, pledge the Government to bring forward some measure on their behalf showing the country and agricutural constituencies that the House is not 1042 prepared to relegate the just claims of the agricultural interest to the chances and changes of an uncertain future.
Motion made and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to make provision for a gradual redemption of Tithe Rent Charge on an equitable basis."—(Mr. Herbert Gardner.)
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS,) Birmingham, E.
There is very much in the speech of the hon. Member with which the Government sympathise. They have more than once declared their intention to deal with the tithe rent-charge, and my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury only a few nights ago said the Government propose to refer this most difficult and complicated question of the working of the Tithe Commutation Act and the Acts amending it to the consideration of a Joint Committee of both Houses. It is obvious that the question is surrounded by many difficulties, and the speech of the hon. Member himself has shown that the most careful examination must precede legislation on this part of the subject. Sympathising as I do with the view that the redemption of the tithe rent-charge on a fair basis is a desirable thing, the only other question is, is it possible with the time at our disposal to undertake this work this year? I think the House will be satisfied that it is not possible. The hon. Member himself points out that what we must first get at is the foundation of the calculation of a fair rent charge to be put on the land, before we can get the sum of the number of years' purchase for the redemption. I pass by the allusions to tithe rent-charge being a national property because, with all respect to the hon. Gentleman, it appears to me irrelevant to the argument which he offers in support of his Motion. For the purpose of the present Debate, I will accept the argument of the hon. Member that in order to get at the fair basis he desires it will be necessary to reconsider the apportionment of the charge under the Act of 1836. Now I believe that many great anomalies have grown out of the settlement of 1836; but it is a question how far it is possible or wise to review that settlement. I doubt extremely whether, taking the country as 1043 a whole, the tithe-payers have not largely gained by the settlement of 1836. I do not advance that as a positive opinion; I only say I doubt whether they have not gained. But if they have lost, it is quite obvious that to re-open that settlement and to institute machinery for arriving at a fresh apportionment will be a task of great magnitude. Is the hon. Member opposite sanguine enough to expect that in the present year it would be possible to introduce clauses into this Bill which would carry out the object intended by the Instruction? The only remaining question is whether, by this consideration, the House is to be prevented from passing a small and useful measure which is totally independent of this large scheme proposed by the hon. Member. We have given most anxious consideration to this question, and have endeavoured to solve it; but the more it is looked into, the more the difficulties surrounding it be come apparent. This is why the Government have proposed no larger measure in the present year, withholding their hands for further inquiry and consideration. I would ask the House to believe that the Government have a sincere desire to arrive at a satisfactory solution of the question of redemption; and the measure before the House is entirely independent of that question. Whatever may be the great national purposes to which the hon. Gentleman proposes to devote the tithe in future, he must admit that redemption must be a very gradual process, as 60 or 70 millions of money will have to change hands. While redemption is proceeding it is manifest that those who owe tithes must pay, and if unwilling to pay, must be made to do so. We are of opinion that there ought to be some easy and just remedy by which those who are entitled to the tithe can recover it.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The right hon. Gentleman is discussing the Bill itself and not the Instruction.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I beg pardon, Mr. Speaker; I am conscious of that. I will content myself with saying, in conclusion, that as this Instruction would obviously be fatal to the Bill, we ask the House to reject it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
There are a good many Instructions on the Paper with reference to this Bill, and 1044 with most of them I must concur. The object of all the Instructions is to affirm that the Bill is in a shape in which it ought not to be passed at the present time; that it ought to be enlarged so as to include interests which it does not deal with; and, that as framed, it is unfair, because it only deals with one class of interests. The Government have placed the House in a most unfair position. The right hon. Gentleman admits that the question is a very important one; yet how do the Government deal with it? In former years they have had Bills upon the tithe question, and they did not require further time for the consideration of the matter. To assert that they have had no time to introduce a large and comprehensive Bill is to make an unfounded statement. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Matthews) calls the Bill before the House a small and useful Bill. Small it certainly is; it is, in fact, inadequate and much too small for dealing with this large subject. That it is useful I deny. It is useful to a certain class of persons interested in tithes, but it is extremely injurious to other classes whose interests have not been considered. The object of the Instruction under discussion is to endeavour to bring the House to the conclusion that if the tithe is to be touched at all it ought to be touched in a wider manner than is proposed under the Bill. The Government allege that the Bill is necessary on account of the fear of public excitement. If that be so, the Bill ought to have been pressed through Parliament at the earliest possible period of the Session, because it must have been needed quite as much six months ago as it is now. There are very strong reasons, I think, why the Government's plea of urgency should be rejected.
§ MR. COOKE (Newington, W.)
I rise, Sir, to a point of order. I wish to know whether the urgency of the Bill is the question before the House?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I would submit, Sir, that I am giving reasons for the Instruction. I am arguing that the Bill cannot be so urgent that there should not be an Instruction with the object of enlarging it.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The matter under discussion is not the Bill as it stands, but whether the SECOND READING, having been passed, the Committee which is to 1045 sit on the Bill should also take into consideration the question of the redemption of tithes. I know how extremely difficult it is to avoid any reference to the circumstances and details of the Bill; but I think that any detailed reference to the Bill or the circumstances connected with it would not be in place now.
§ Sir W. HARCOURT
That is precisely what I understood. It is impossible to urge that an Instruction to enlarge the Bill should be passed without pointing out that the Bill is inadequate. The whole object of the Instruction is founded on the inadequacy of the Bill. I do not understand, for instance, how the next Instruction—[Ministerial cries of "Order!"]—I am perfectly in order. I wish hon. Gentlemen opposite would wait for the constituted Authority of order to decide the relevancy of my remarks, and would not take that function upon themselves. I cannot see how the next Instruction can be defended without reference to the contents of the Bill. I should imagine that the Mover of the next Instruction will point out that the Bill places the burden of paying the tithe on the occupier and not on the owner, and that will be a reference to the Bill. Unless he can do that, how can he justify an Instruction that the burden should be placed on the owner instead of the occupier? I cannot refer to the contents of the Bill, but must content myself with the assertion that the Bill is narrow, and I must confine myself to the general allegation that it does nothing. I should be very glad to prove that it does nothing, but I am content to make the assertion that it does nothing except for the tithe-owners. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary says he agrees that redemption should take place. I am very glad he has not traversed the assertion of the hon. Mover of the Instruction that the tithe is national property, and will ultimately have to be disposed of as such. But the right hon. Gentleman says the proposed enlargement of the Bill ought to be postponed till a further Session, and asks the House to have reliance in the good faith of the Government when they promised to deal with the subject more fully in a future Session. At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman has significantly warned the 1046 House that it is a most difficult and complicated question, and one that must lead to great complexities. I do not make the charge against this Government more than against any other Government; but I have always observed that when questions are very difficult and complicated, and affect different interests in different parts of the country, those are the questions which are not dealt with by the Government. If the Government are allowed to get rid of the pinch, as they are trying to do under the present Bill, you may depend it you will never hear of a comprehensive Tithe Bill. If the House removes the pressure under which the Government are placed to deal with the matter as a whole, it is an idle pretence to suppose that an adequate Bill will be introduced in future. The House ought either to keep hold of this Bill and enlarge it by accepting this Instruction, or they ought to reject the measure altogether. Those are the alternatives which the House ought to face, because to pass this measure in its present shape without enlargement is simply to destroy in future any possible prospect of a large and adequate Tithes Bill. I shall vote for the Amendment of my hon. Friend, and for the other Instructions on the Paper, believing that they are well founded, and will have a tendency to enlarge the Bill, and make it a more adequate measure.
MR. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
I abstained from voting for this Bill on the SECOND READING, because I thought it unlikely that the Government would pass a measure which seems to me to be equally unfair to the tithe payer and the tithe owner. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary says there must be eventually a redemption of the tithe rent-charge. If that is so, the House has no right to do anything which will alter the capital value of that charge. The provisions of this Bill will have the effect of increasing the capital value of that charge, and this seems to me to be a strong argument in favour of the Instruction, that there should be accompanying this Bill a scheme for the redemption of the tithe rent-charge. I will be very brief on this point. I will take the state of things which exists now and the state of things as it will exist if the Bill be passed. Under the legislation of something like 1047 two centuries—from the 7th and 8th of William III. down to the present time—a ready remedy has been provided for the incumbent to obtain his tithe. For a small amount he serves a notice on two Justices, and for a larger amount he serves a notice on the defaulter himself, thus obtaining a distress on the land in the parish, and eventually extending to other lands. The tithe owner also obtains a provision giving him a right to possession of the lands in case of default. That is the utmost extent to which at present the power of the tithe owner extends. But what will be his position under this Bill? First of all, there will be a process in the County Court, a process which may be defended to any extent; but when judgment has been obtained the incumbent will have the power of obtaining execution on goods anywhere—["No, no!"]—he will indeed—and payment by instalments. The creditor will also have the power of "lifting" that judgment into the Superior Court, in which he will have the power of obtaining a distringas on the stock belonging to the debtor wherever found. He may seize the lands, and he may attach all debts by garnishee order. He may then register his judgment, and he may obtain a discovery in aid of execution, examining where the property of the debtor is, and obtaining an execution wherever it is found.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not now discussing any scheme of redemption, but is discussing the Bill itself.
MR. S. HILL
I bow at once to your ruling, Sir, but what I was attempting to show was that the Bill would lead to an increased capital value of the tithes. I will only say further that at last there may be a committal of the debtor.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
The whole statement which the hon. Member has made is accurate from the point of view of a County Court order; but there are words in the Bill which expressly negative such an operation as that contemplated by the hon. Member. I am quite willing to insert words to make the point clear.
MR. S. HILL
I say distinctly there are no words in the Bill which in any way exclude debtors from the operation I have indicated. I challenge my right hon. Friend to show me 1048 one word of exclusion. Well, Sir, I say that if the tithe rent charge must be taken off the land we ought to wait until the redemption scheme is before us, especially before we pass any Bill affecting the capital value of tithe rent-charge.
§ MR. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
My opinion is that redemption is the only basis on which this difficult and vexed question can ever be fairly settled. The changes in agriculture during the last 50 years have been so great that any scheme without redemption it would be almost impossible to frame, and it would probably dissatisfy everybody. The interests of the Church would be greatly more advanced also by redemption than by any pettifogging measure like the present. Changes connected with agriculture in the Eastern Counties have been so great that agriculturists have been praying for a long time that the whole of this question may be taken into consideration, and Chambers of Agriculture in the district have arrived at the conclusion that the only solution of the difficulty is redemption. For that reason, if there is a Division on the Instruction, I shall, under present circumstances, feel bound to support the hon. Member; but I should have greatly preferred that the Government had relieved me from the dilemma by stating specifically that they will be bound in all honour to bring in a redemption scheme next Session. If they had done that in such a way that it would have been impossible to back out of it I should have been in a very different position. But they have not done that. Unless, therefore, I get a most distinct promise from the Government that they will bring in a comprehensive measure next Session, I shall be obliged to support the Instruction of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden.
§ * MR. STUART RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)
Mr. Speaker, I do not think there will be much hesitation among Welsh Members on this side of the House as to the course which they will take; this I can say on behalf of Welsh Liberals, that there are no better friends than they of tithe property, though they object to a proposal for its protection which is one-sided. And the reason why the Welsh people respect the property in tithe is not far to seek. It is because they regard 1049 that property as their own. With reference to this particular Instruction, I would only say that I believe they are favourably disposed towards it—first, as a protest against the inadequacy of the measure; secondly, as a testimony of the respect in which the Welsh Members hold the property of the tithe. There is another and a special reason why we desire to associate tithe redemption with any measure such as this: if you are going to alter the status of the property of tithe, as you do by this measure, you ought, by one and the same Act, to provide for its redemption on terms excluding the effect of your alteration. What is now proposed, as has been powerfully argued on the opposite Benches, is a large alteration of the status of the property of tithe, which must seriously affect the value of tithe, and yet it is proposed by you that the question of redemption shall be kept over until that alteration shall have so affected value. For these reasons, I believe Welshmen will support my hon. Friend in this Instruction. No doubt our main object is to protect this property in tithe, and we want a thoroughly comprehensive measure which shall not tinker, peddle, or palter with the subject in a one-sided manner, but shall deal with the question as a whole, and in a broad spirit of justice to all the interests and parties concerned.
§ * MR. SWETENHAM (Carnarvon District)
Mr. Speaker, I agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, and, unless I understood that there was a distinct pledge on the part of the Government to bring in a large and comprehensive Bill, I would hesitate before I supported the present proposal. But I understand that it is the intention of the Government in the future to bring forward a measure which shall deal with the whole subject. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden has made a most excellent speech, and in almost everything he has said I agree with him He has shown to me that he has studied the question in a most careful manner, and that he understands the principle of a proper system of redemption. He has also shown to me, and, I think, to the House conclusively, that the subject is so vast and complicated that it will 1050 require a strong and firm Government to deal with it. If my hon. Friend had attempted, as I have done, to draft a Bill, he would have found the difficulties increasing as he proceeded, and he would have discovered parts of his work destroyed by subsequent considerations. I am one of those who think that the principal panacea for all the troubles we have had lately is redemption. But that plan must be gradual, and I would like, if the hon. Gentleman could tell us that he has any plans on which he could found a Bill for the redemption of tithe, I am sure it would be dealt with on this side of the House with the greatest pleasure, knowing as we do how difficult it is to frame a measure. But the time is not at present ripe for this scheme. As to the present Bill, nobody can say for a moment that this Instruction is not an invidious attempt to shelve it for the present Session; and it was with the very greatest regret that I heard the observations of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Staveley Hill). Were it in order, I could certainly show that he was wrong in his law, for the very object of this Bill is that it should not be made a costly process for the incumbent to recover his tithes. It has been argued on the other side as if tithe was only paid to incumbents. But a very large amount of it is paid to lay impropriators and for the purposes of education, and when the question of redemption is dealt with, it will, as a matter of course, affect not only the clergy, but lay impropriators, and also the tithe belonging to Christchurch and other educational institutions. I hope, when the question is dealt with, it will be in a proper and adequate manner. But I venture to think that this is not the proper time for such a proposal, and I do hold that, in the interests of the Church as well as of order, there should be an easy and quick mode of recovery. I venture to hope this Instruction will not be carried.
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (East Denbighshire)
Sir, the hon. Member who spoke last reminded me by his speech of the saying that "the woman who hesitates is lost." Certainly, if the Government had wished to do an unpopular thing they could not have done it better than by bringing in the present Bill. But I must not pursue that subject further. The right hon. Gentleman the 1051 Home Secretary raised two objections to this Instruction. First of all, he admitted that the Instruction might, in the abstract, be right, but that there was not time to consider it. And the right hon. Gentleman further said that the Bill was too small, and that the Government could not re-open the settlement of the Commutation Act of 1836. My answer is that it does re-open the settlement of 1836, and it re-opens it only for the benefit of the tithe-owner, and without giving any corresponding benefit whatever to the tithe-payer. The redemption of tithe is certainly absolutely necessary. There is no charge so unpopular and odious, because of its uncertainty. There is no charge which goes up and down so much, and which is so disproportioned to the actual produce of the land. In old times it was not so. I can remember when the 10 stacks were set out, and the pastor took his tenth. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden referred to 1879. That was one of the most disastrous years to agriculture we ever had; yet, when there was not produce enough to pay the tithe, the farmer had actually to meet this enormous charge upon him. The real reason for this Instruction was put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Staffordshire, when he showed that the effect of the Bill would be to raise the capital value of the tithe, and so to alter the basis on which the redemption would take place. If you pass this Bill, redemption would be a very different matter to what it would be without it. Another argument which presses strongly upon Welsh Members is this—we believe the tithe to be national property, and we desire to see that national property put on some equitable and firm basis. It is said that the Government are pledged to deal with the whole question next Session. Where is that pledge? Will any Minister on the Treasury Bench get up and repeat it? The hon. Member for Maldon is considerably shrewder than the hon. and learned Gentleman, for he sees clearly enough that the Government have given this pledge in a general way—they have not given a distinct pledge. If this Bill were to pass we should never see a comprehensive Tithe Rent-Charge Bill again. The shoe pinches now, and, if this Bill passed, depend upon it the Government would not touch the subject 1052 again. On these grounds I shall vote for the Instruction of my hon. Friend.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
Sir, reasons general and particular have been given in favour of this Instruction. I confess I do not agree with the particular reasons, but I agree with the general reasons. The particular reasons, with some of the general, are in favour of the redemption of tithe. I am not at all in favour of the redemption of tithe. I regard it as national property, and I should like to see that national property still remain a first charge on the land. If it were to become personal and portable property, it would fall into the hands of the clergy, and we might try to ear-mark it, though I do not think we should be able to ear-mark it; and I am perfectly certain there would be greater difficulty in getting hold of it than if it were left on the land, if it were wished to induce the Government to devote it to the cause of the nation itself instead of the Church. That doubting Conservative the Member for Carnarvonshire, who said that some of the intentions of the Government are to be regarded as honest intentions, in this particular case is not going to vote according to his views, because the Government have some honest intentions in regard to the redemption of tithes next year. But he also stated fairly that the object of this Instruction is to shelve the Bill; and, in stating that, he convinced me that I ought to vote for it. I want the Bill to be shelved—I do not particularly care by what means. I respect anyone who in August tries to put a spoke in the wheels of the chariot of the Government at this period of the year. I intend to vote with my hon. Friend, but I feel it my duty to say why, because if the word "redemption" in the Instruction ever became a substantive Motion I would do my very best to oppose it.
§ * SIR W. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)
Sir, the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has certainly put the case with excessive clearness. He said he would vote for the Instruction, for he thought it would kill the Bill. This Instruction must kill the Bill if it is carried, and therefore I am not prepared to vote for it. Yet I do not agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. Swetenham) in thinking it is the forerunner of some greater measure. I do not feel at all certain that 1053 if this Bill is passed a great measure will be brought in. We have been expecting a great tithe measure for some time past; we were expecting it to be brought in this year; and we are gravely disappointed at the measure which is now placed before the House. No doubt the Instruction is one which we should all like to see carried, for I think the only way to calm the agitation in the country with regard to the tithe question is to have a scheme of redemption. And from the Instructions we have upon the Paper, it does appear that the House all round is of opinion that a much larger measure ought to have been introduced than the one we have now before us. What the country is looking forward to is that both sides of the question shall be fairly considered, and that the tithe-owner, and especially the tithe-payer, should receive that consideration which the altered circumstances of agriculture have made absolutely necessary at the present moment. The Government know that to accept any one of the Instructions would kill the Bill. ["No!"] Well, my hon. Friend's Instruction (Mr. Gray's) is one that would require clauses to make it workable; and are we prepared now, in the month of August, to go into the whole of those clauses to make it fair to all parties concerned? The Government are bound to declare—they ought to have declared before—whether they are prepared to receive any of these Instructions or whether they are not. They may say that they will adhere to the Bill as it stands. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the other night distinctly stated—and we shall hold him to his statement as strongly as we can hold a man to anything as to two things. First, that no imprisonment could take place for nonpayment of tithes.
§ * SIR W. BARTTELOT
The second thing he stated, equally clearly and distinctly, was that this Bill would not go one inch beyond the powers contained in the Act of 1836 with regard to distraint.
§ * SIR W. BARTTELOT
My right hon. Friend says "that is so." Therefore we have it now that the County Court 1054 is to have no power to imprison for the non-payment of tithe, and that distraint is to be confined to those powers alone contained in the Act of" 1836. Now that the House knows that, there is not so much harm in this Bill as we were led to believe. I will not go into the question of redemption, but it ought to be known that those clergymen who have glebes only and no tithes are at the present moment in a most terrible condition. But there is a much stronger case even than that. We have the case of the Bishops. The Bishops had their choice of land or money. Some took land; some money. But the moment the bad times came and their incomes from land decreased, the seven Bishops who had taken land demanded, as they were able to do, that they should give up the land and receive money. Those are absolute facts that cannot be got over. I merely mention them to show that both Bishops and clergy have declared that land does not pay, and therefore it is that any scheme which is brought forward should include a fair and reasonable proposal for redemption. It requires ample and careful consideration, and that consideration it is proposed should be given by a Joint Committee of both Houses. I would much rather the Government had considered this matter, and said that they had intended to bring in a Bill to deal with a question of this kind. Looking to all the circumstances of the case, I believe that the Government would not have introduced the Bill had they not believed that it was absolutely necessary to the maintenance of law and order. [Laughter.] I am sorry to say that law and order have been much at a discount, as instanced lately in the great City of Liverpool. I think we are bound to give the Government the power to maintain that law and order. Believing that the Government are not going beyond the four corners of the Bill by accepting any of the Instructions, I am prepared to support this Bill.
§ * THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir E. WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
I do not rise for the purpose of prolonging the Debate, but simply to answer the direct question of my hon. and learned Friend. The language of the Bill is perfectly distinct. I understood the Home Secretary to say that he considered the language distinct, and that imprisonment 1055 for non-payment of tithe should be made absolutely impossible—That judgment recovered for any such sum may he executed against all personal property, on which a distress for the sum could at the date of execution he levied, but shall not he executed in any other manner.That would absolutely exclude imprisonment, and it would also prevent the judgment being levied except on the same goods to which the distress applied. There is no doubt about it, and I am really surprised that my hon. and learned Friend, for whose opinion I have a great respect, could have come to any other conclusion. I am quite sure we shall, if necessary, accept his assistance with regard to the clause, because the intention of the Government was most clearly expressed by the Home Secretary on the Second Reading.
§ * MR. T. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
Sir, this Instruction attempts to widen the provisions of the Bill, for the reason which the Home Secretary gave, that the question of tithe is a vexed and complicated one, only to be legislated upon after long and careful inquiry and in all its bearings. Now, in disturbing the settlement of 1836, it ought to be in the interests of all parties concerned, and not in a one-sided, irritating, and futile manner. My second reason for voting for the Instruction is, that the Home Secretary, in reply to the hon. Member for Sussex, said:—"Before you can have any redemption, you must have a fair and equitable valuation." If that is so, he deals by that argument a deadly blow at his own Bill. Until you have a thorough settlement, which would make the valuation of the tithe general, you have no right to come to this House and ask it to pass a peddling and tinkering measure. The third reason is this: My hon. Friend asks the House to deal with the question of redemption on an equitable basis. It is carried on now, first of all, on an unfair valuation of the tithe, and, secondly, upon a still unfairer application of the tithe. In any redemption scheme brought before the House, there must be kept in view, first of all, that the first charge upon the land shall be general and fair, so that there shall be no irritation; and secondly, that the application of it shall be in accordance with the desires and wishes of the 1056 people concerned. This leads me to the fourth reason why I vote for the Instruction. Let hon. Members jeer as they may, it is perfectly true that the Welsh people—at any rate, an overwhelming majority of the Liberals and the peasantry of Wales—look upon this tithe as sacred in a sense to be used for the purposes of the whole nation. If you bring forward only this small measure, which does not include an equitable settlement of the question, you will increase fourfold the irritation which exists in Wales with regard to the application of the tithe. You are only making the people more stubborn; you will make their opposition more prolonged and bitter, and you will endanger what we consider to be a national property. This opposition would become so strong and stubborn that they would come to look upon the impost as a hateful one, to be done away with, instead of a great national property which should be made available for national purposes. For these four reasons, Sir, I support the Amendment.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 120; Noes 138.—(Div. List, No. 296.)
§ MR. C. GRAY
Mr. Speaker, the Instruction which I have to move is one which must meet really with the approval of the majority of hon. Members. We have heard among the reasons for the Bill that the clergy should be relieved from their dreadful position. I sympathise with poverty at whatever door it lies; but if I recollect the distressed condition of certain of the clergy in Wales, I must also carry my mind back to the distress which the tenant farmers have suffered during the last 12 years. If hon. Members only knew the terrible times that the tenant farmer of England has had to go through, they would surely recognise that every question which affects him is worthy the attention of the House. We have been told that certain clergymen are unable to educate their children, and have to resort to the eating of bacon. I am very sorry that such should be the case, but I know that thousands of British farmers have had to resort to fare no better than that during the past 10 or 12 years. I think the least we can do now, seeing that we have got so far along with this wretched, pitiful, and 1057 mean Bill, is to lay the onus on the shoulders of the landlord. I would only say, in conclusion, that if it is impossible to make my Instruction apply to existing contracts, I should be inclined to accept the proposal that it should apply to future contracts. I appeal to the House to remember the tenant farmers, however anxious it may be to better the position of some of the clergy.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide that the Charge be recoverable, from the landlord only."—(Mr. Gray.)
§ MR. MATTHEWS
Sir, the Government could not accept the Instruction in the form in which it has been moved. Under this Bill the occupier of the land is to be made the defendant in legal proceedings arising out of the non-payment of tithe, because that is the only way of tying down the remedy to the same goods as could now be legally seized under distress. If the County Court proceedings are brought against the landlord directly, it would be impossible to execute a judgment upon the tithe able produce upon the land. My hon. Friend seems to agree that where a tenant farmer has contracted to pay the tithe it would not be right to set the contract aside. In Committee I should be ready to propose a clause prohibiting any contracting out of the scheme of things that would exist after this Bill was passed. The tenant farmer would then be entitled, notwithstanding any contract to the contrary, to deduct from his rent any tithe paid by him. Under proceedings for the recovery of tithe rent-charge tithe able goods ought only to be seized. If the landlord be made the defendant, and proceedings are taken directly against him, the remedy of the plaintiff could only be exercised by the cumbrous process of appointing a Receiver to stop the rent, or by attaching goods which are not tithe able. The real purpose is through the occupier to get at the rent, and therefore at the landlord.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Sir, I think that in the last Division the House has given a very significant Instruction to the Government. This Bill has purposely been postponed to a very late period of the Session—to a period when 1058 the influence of the Government is almost supreme, and yet they have received a severe check. The County Members apparently have failed to come to town in the numbers expected by the Government. How can the County Members support the Government in the course they are pursuing? Is not this a Bill for County-Courting all the tenant farmers in England and Wales? The Home Secretary said, "We will not County Court the future tenant farmers." But the people who have to consider this question are the present tenant farmers. With respect to them, there is to be no relaxation of the law, but universal County-Courting. According to the Home Secretary, the clergy must get at the landlord through the tenant farmer. Why? If the landlord is the man who is to pay ultimately, why should he not be made to pay directly? On a former occasion the Government tried to place the charge where it ought to be—upon the landlord's shoulders; but immediately there was an insurrection of the landowners, though they called themselves the farmers' friends. When the method of levying tithe was to be altered, when a new summary remedy was to be provided, the landowners in this House at once cried out, "Do not make us suffer," and the Bill was drummed out of the House. My hon. and learned Friend (Sir W. Barttelot) is a most valuable representative of the landowners, and he told the hon. Member for Maldon that his Instruction could not be listened to for a moment. No; but you are quite willing to lay a burden on the tenant farmers in the interests of the starving clergy. The Home Secretary promises that under all future contracts the tenant will be entitled to deduct the tithe from his rent; but that is no consolation to the tenant farmers who are now suffering. It has not been found difficult to relieve people in Ireland in spite of existing contracts, and the tenant farmers of England will certainly ask for equal relief. The only proper way to deal with this question will be to put the charge upon the owner of the land, and not upon the temporary occupant. It is all very well to say the tithe is only to be levied upon the produce of the land. In my opinion, the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, the Member for Staffordshire, was perfectly right in 1059 saying that, as your Bill stands, the tax will not fall on the produce. The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that if this Bill is not to have the operation the hon. Member for Staffordshire sketched it must be very seriously altered. I do not, however, insist on that point. I insist on the point raised by the hon. Member for Maldon, whether the County Representatives in this House who call themselves the farmers' friends and who claim to represent the tenant farmers of England are going to subject the tenant farmers to a County Court action for the first time. If that is their intention I only hope they may succeed for the present, and I am sure they will not succeed in the future. The three acres and a cow was a joke to this Tithe Bill. A more monstrous proposal I have never heard of in my life. I think some of the gentlemen on the opposite side of the House will laugh the wrong side of their mouths if this Bill passes. The Government are in the interest of the tithe owner imposing an additional burden in the form of an additional remedy. They have the opportunity of choosing upon which of two parties that burden should he fastened, and they have chosen the tenant-farmer. That is their position, and I am satisfied that they should take up that, position, for it will make the injustice of their claim to be the farmers' friends as conspicuous now as it has been on former occasions For our part, we have no objection, and will be very happy to take issue with the Government upon the Amendment of the hon. Member for Maldon—an Amendment which is founded absolutely in justice and in policy—namely, that if there is to be this additional remedy, it ought to be placed upon the person to whom the rent is really owing; that is, the owner of the land on which the tithe is charged. No doubt, according to that theory, neither owner nor occupier would be liable, but the rent would. But you have chosen to say that tithe shall be treated as a debt solely leviable on the land by distress. The alteration proposed by the Bill is a very vital alteration in point of law. Agreed that the tithe is no longer a debt upon the land, but a debt recoverable by personal action, against whom is that personal action to be brought? Against the temporary occupier or the 1060 permanent owner? Gentlemen on the other side—the country gentlemen of England who call themselves the farmers' friends—say, "We won't have the action brought against us; we insist on its being brought against the temporary occupier." This is the issue that Her Majesty's Government have chosen to raise between themselves and the agricultural interest on the 12th of August. I wish them joy of their sagacity. It signifies very little what majority they may have on this Amendment. It is an Amendment on the policy and justice of which the country will have to decide.
§ * SIR. R. WEBSTER
I think the Government 'can afford to pass by the judgment already pronounced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby in what he called his explanation of their sagacity; but, at any rate, as the right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to make one of those speeches with which the House is now becoming familiar, he might in fairness have considered what the real position is, and what is the change contemplated in the Bill. Of course, we know that he is only answerable for himself; but when the right hon. Gentleman professed to speak as the legitimate leader of a united Opposition, he would do well to inform himself of the position of affairs at the present time. At the present time, as the right hon. Gentleman must know perfectly well, tithe is levied by means of distress. That distress does not touch the owner, and does not enable the tithe receiver to go against the landed proprietor in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman said the only remedy ought to be a available. It is strange that it has not occurred to the right hon. Gentleman or his Party to bring in a measure which would shift the liability to be proceeded against from the tenant to the owner of the land. Let us consider for a few moments what is the position of affairs. There are a certain number of people who can pay tithe and will not pay. This Bill is not directed against the honest farmer, who knows the tithe is a legal debt, and who is willing to pay if he can, but against those persons who allege that they believe they ought not to pay tithes because, as they suggest, the purposes to which the tithe is put are not those for 1061 for which it was orginally intended. But what is the position of the Government. Her Majesty's Government believe there is a great deal of trouble, annoyance, and expense connected with the levying of distress. It is admitted to be an obsolete, troublesome remedy which gives rise to a great deal of exasperation and feeling, and the Government are of opinion that all this may be avoided by a simpler procedure. The scope of this Bill simply is that, instead of having to resort to distress, the tithe receiver shall be allowed to sue the tenant in the County Court. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby knows perfectly well that any annoyance that has to be suffered at the present time is suffered by the tenant and not by the owner. It is simply desired, in the interests of those who are anxious to protect their own property, to render the means by which the tithe can be collected cheap, effective, and simple, and free from that friction which is so annoying in connection with the present method of levying distress. If by this Bill you were to make the landlords liable to be pursued, what would be the result? Has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten that to do that would be to put an end to all existing contracts? The hon. Member for Maldon has said that if Her Majesty's Government cannot agree to the landowner being held responsible in respect of existing contracts he will accept the justice of that plea. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby talks about justice and injustice; but I would like to know how he could justify a clause which would put an end to existing contracts by providing in the effect that the landowner shall pay the tithe in all instances. He knows perfectly well he could not have supported any such scheme, and he also knows perfectly well that what he denounced as a more monstrous proposal than anything he had ever heard of is simply a proposal whereby a certain number of the clergy who do not now receive their tithes are likely to get them without any additional burden being put upon the back of the tenant. I am perfectly certain that my hon. Friends behind me who are in favour of redemption are also in favour of this scheme for the purpose of putting an end to a difficult question in the interests of the tenant farmers. If the House is 1062 to be led to a conclusion, it will not be by such speeches as that we have just listened to. It will be rather by considering whether or not this Bill will remove this matter from the atmosphere of discussion, from the atmosphere of agitation, and from the atmosphere of that kind of disturbance which generally gathers round the levying of distress, by substituting for it a remedy in those cases in which it is not the tenant unable to pay who resists payment, but the tenant who can pay, but from wrong motives desires to make the collection of tithes as troublesome as possible. The Home Secretary has told the House what are the intentions of the Government, and I say it does not redound to the credit of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby when he delivers speeches which do not give a fair representation of the policy of the Government or of the means by which they propose to carry it out.
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
I will ask the House to consider where we are now and what the proposed alteration of the law will lead us to. The House will remember that on the Second Reading of this Bill I called the attention of the House to the words of Lord Salisbury—namely, "At the present time the tenant is subjected to inconvenience in respect of a debt that is not his own." Those were the words of Lord Salisbury, and I contend that under the existing law of this land the tenant-farmer is not legally liable for the payment of the tithe rent-charge. I say, secondly, that the owner of the land is not legally liable for the payment of tithe rent-charge; and, thirdly, that the only entity which is legally liable is the produce of the specific land from which it was raised. There is also this peculiarity in the existing law, that the legislation in 1837 did provide that when the tithe was levied on the produce the tenant, unless some contract existed to the contrary, should have the right to deduct the amount so paid from his rent. There is also this difference between tithe rent charge and Income Tax, that whereas in the case of Income Tax the landlord and tenant are absolutely prohibited from contracting themselves out of the Act, there is no such provision in the Tithe Act. Accordingly the landowners of England have as a rule—I do 1063 not say rightly or wrongly—contracted themselves out of the Act. They have, in fact, done what they tried to do with the income-tax until they were prevented by the Legislature. Now the Government say that the present arrangement is unsatisfactory. The Attorney General says that a large number of the clergy are deprived of their tithes. On the other hand, he says that a large number of tenant farmers will not pay though they can. So the Government propose some other remedy. What is that remedy? If the intentions of the Home Secretary are carried out—and the Opposition will do their utmost to see that they are—the only effect of the change will be to substitute the County Court bailiff for the landlord's bailiff. This is a worthless measure, so far as the clergy are concerned. But this is not the Bill as it stands at present. It goes a great deal further and imposes a new liability on the tenant, and the Attorney General defends it because he says the tenant can pay and will not pay, and the Government will make him pay. That, of course, means that the Government cannot now make the tenant pay, but will do so by the present Bill. As the hon. Member for Essex says, the Bill is going to make somebody personally liable who was not personally liable before. Accordingly, the hon. Member is moving an Instruction to make that somebody the owner of the land. The Government decline to accept that Instruction, on the ground that though so far as future contracts are concerned the landlord ought to be made liable, this principle cannot be applied to present contracts. But the Instruction itself does not say that in every case the landlord shall be liable. The Committee will take care that no injustice was done, and this Instruction provides that when we get the Bill into Committee we shall have power to deal with the chargeability of landlords in respect of this tax. It will then be possible to limit the remedy in any way that may seem desirable. The tenant farmer has a right to say—"If you impose this new personal burden you must consider my case as well as that of the tithe owner." You cannot shut your eyes to the real grievances of the tenant farmer—the unfairness of the mode of assessment; the unfairness of averages; the amount 1064 required to pay for the produce of a farm taken at a price which cannot be obtained. I see no reason why the Instruction should not be accepted. The Government is imposing a new liability; but those who oppose the Bill are quite content to go on as now. If the tenant is left alone we have nothing to say in the matter. But if the Government are going to interfere with the tenant then we claim an equal right to interfere with the landlords.
§ MR. H. WIGGIN (Staffordshire, Handsworth)
I have travelled 100 miles to oppose this Bill as strongly as possible. As a loyal supporter of the Government, I deeply regret that they have not seen their way to withdraw this Bill and bring in a stronger measure next Session dealing with the whole question, including the redemption of the tithe. The redemption of the tithe would relieve both landlord and tenant of an unpleasant burden. If the last Division had been delayed a few minutes the majority of the Government would have been reduced by six or seven, and the next Division may have a very different result. I do implore the Government to drop the measure this Session and deal with the question next year, so as to give permanent relief both to landlord and to tenant.
§ MR. A. F. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
I quite agree that the landlord ought to be made responsible, and that was no doubt the intention of the Act of 1836, but if you do make the landlords responsible, I do not know how you can come down on his personal property in the event of nonpayment of the tithe, unless you put in clauses to provide for that, and that course of procedure might lead to the loss of the Bill. I do not think much of the Bill, and if we allow the Bill to pass I trust that the Government will promise to bring in a Bill making the landlord properly responsible. At the same time, I hope a Bill will soon be introduced for the redemption of the tithe, which is the only way out of the difficulty.
§ MR. W. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
As I understand it, the Home Secretary engages to introduce a clause into the Bill which will make it impossible in the future for the landlords to contract themselves out of the payment of the tithe. Now, I wish to 1065 ask the Attorney General what will be the effect if the promise of the Home Secretary is carried out in the case of tenancies which are from year to year? A great part of the land of the country is held on yearly tenancy.
§ * SIR R. WEBSTER
It would be at the option of the tenant to give six months' notice in order to obtain more favourable terms from the landlord.
§ * MR. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
I wish to say a few words in support of the Instruction, as I have an Amendment on the Paper which cannot be moved unless the Instruction, or something like it, is carried. I am anxious for a speedy and satisfactory settlement of this question. It has been generally admitted that the only practical remedy short of general redemption is to make the tithe recoverable from the landlord. Many of those who, like myself, take this view object to the Bill because it is a step in the wrong direction, and, if passed, will be an obstacle to future settlement. Two years ago the Government themselves passed through the House of Lords a Bill making the charge recoverable from the landlord. Even in last year's Bill they recognised the principle which is contained in the Tithe Commutation Act—namely, that the tithe was to be payable directly or indirectly by the landlord. We know that under the Tithe Commutation Act landlords and tenants began by very generally contracting themselves out of the terms of that Act. But I believe that in recent years in many parts of the country, including certain portions of Wales, there has been an alteration in this system, and that there is now a growing practice on the part of the more sensible and liberal landowners to pay the tithe themselves. I feel certain that if this measure is passed as it stands it will do a great deal to discourage this growing and salutary practice. Again, I feel certain that this measure will tend to postpone the settlement of the question by future legislation. It is not merely that this measure, though a partial and tentative measure, tends to take away the pressure of responsibility from the shoulders of the Government to deal satisfactorily and completely with the subject; but it is that this measure, whatever be its exact extent, places a new liability on the shoulders of the 1066 occupier of the land; and I cannot believe that the present Government, after legislating in this direction this year, will next year be prepared to legislate in what is practically a contrary direction, that is to say, propose to settle the tithe question by placing a new liability on the shoulders of the owner of the land. I firmly believe the passing of this Bill will tend to delay the eventual settlement of the question, and not only that, but that it will also tend to discourage redemption.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I think it right to remind the hon. Gentleman that the Instruction relates to the recovery of the tithe from the landowner.
§ * MR. HOBHOUSE
I beg pardon for trespassing beyond the limits of the discussion. I am quite content to leave my argument as it stands—namely, that it is better for all parties that if any change is to be made in the mode of recovering tithe the tithe should be recoverable from the landowner, and not from the occupier of the land, with due regard, of course, to existing contracts.
§ * MR. ROUND (Essex, N.E, Harwich)
Two of the Representatives of the County of Essex have taken a prominent part in moving Instructions to the Committee, and I confess I feel some difficulty upon the present occasion. I agreed in principle with the hon. Member for Saffron Walden that there should be some scheme for redemption of the tithe rent-charge, and I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon that the burden of the tithe should be placed on the landowner. But I also wish to see this Bill passed. [Cries of "Why?"] Because I think the Government would be wanting in their duty if they did not endeavour to secure the payment of just debts to the owners of property in Wales. The incidence of tithe is a landowner's question, and it quite true that landlords have contracted themselves out of the Act of 1836 by agreements with their tenants. A change in the law to prevent this for the future is now proposed by the Government. I am perfectly willing to see tithe placed in the same position that Income Tax is placed at the present moment—namely, that the tenant, having paid the tithe, should be able to deduct it from his rent to 1067 the landlord; and I believe if that were done—and I understand the Home Secretary undertakes to carry that object into effect by clauses introduced in Committee—we should hear no more of the tithe difficulty. On this understanding I shall support the Government on the present occasion.
§ * MR. T. ELLIS
I desire to call the attention of the House to the declaration of the last speaker. He wishes to throw to the winds every declaration he has made in favour of redemption, and of putting the tithe on the landowner; in fact, he desires to break all his pledges to his constituents in order to strike a blow at the peasantry of Wales. That is the key and the clue to most of the arguments advanced from the opposite Benches. The Government, by bringing forward this Bill, propose to change the whole spirit and procedure and method of the Act of 1836; instead of making tithe a tax upon the produce of the land, they make it a personal debt upon the tenant. That is straight against the declaration of the Prime Minister, and straight against the wishes of their friends. I hope the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Gray) and his supporters, will not run away from their own declarations and their own Amendment, but allow the Government to act on the policy of scuttle, which is the chief characteristic of their present policy. The Prime Minister stated, in 1887, that, "tithe is a debt of the owner in respect of the produce of the land," and in 1888 he said "the occupier is not a debtor, and he is to suffer the inconvenience of a distraint for a debt which is not his own;" not merely is he to suffer the inconvenience of a debt which is not his own, but he is now to suffer all the pains and penalties of the County Court, and the distraint which will come from the 'Court, and all the heavy expenses, and, in the bargain, if he refuses compliance, the is to be gazetted as an ordinary debtor under the rules of the County Court. The Prime Minister paid us a compliment; he came down to Carnarvon to teach the Welsh people their duty with respect to tithe. He said:—I wish to ask those who are desirous of considering this question impartially to remember that tithe is realty a burden, not upon the tenant, but upon the landowner, and if the tenant has been obliged to pay, it has been owing to a blunder in the law.1068 And now you wish to stereotype this blunder in the law. The noble Marquess added—We are anxious to pass a measure which shall place it on the shoulder of the debtor, that is to say, on the landowner.That is, that the landowner who owes the tithe shall be the man to pay. The Government by refusing to accept the Instruction moved by the hon. Member for Maldon are running away and scuttling from the declaration of the Prime Minister. It seems, too, that they are running away from the wishes of their friends, the Welsh clergy. The Welsh clergy have sent to the Government from time to time very strong and urgent representations that the majority of them are starving, that is to say, the clergy of the richest church in Christendom are starving. They say, "We want two great amendments in the law: first of all, we want tithe to be a debt recoverable through the County Court; and, secondly, we want to make the true debtors pay—namely, the landlords." The Government are trying to please their friends, and at the same time to break the spirit of the Act of 1836. They want to put the pains and penalties upon the occupiers, and at the same time to let the real debtors go free. The Government themselves brought in two Bills in the House of Lords, one of the chief provisions of each being that the debt should be put on the landowners. I admit that very many of the Members for Wales were against putting the debt upon the landlords, and for the reason that we desire to have a complete settlement of this question and not a tinkering settlement. I maintain that this is a dishonest attempt to settle this question by merely evading it. There is a further reason why I ask my hon. Friends to stick to their guns. In Wales the clergy are the chaplains of the landlords and not of the people. Let the landlords pay for their own chaplains.
§ * THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster
The hon. Gentleman appears to be under the impression that the Government are not true to the principles which they have already announced in another place. Only a few minutes ago my right hon. Friend distinctly stated that the Government accept the principle that in the future there shall be no contracting out 1069 of the Act as it stands. That is to say, that neither the landlords nor the tenants shall be at liberty to contract themselves out of the Act of 1837, and that the liability shall rest in all cases of new contract with the landlord alone. The government propose to insert in the Bill a clause to the effect that Clause 80 of the Act of 1837, which prescribes that the tenant shall be entitled to deduct the tithe from his rent, shall have full effect notwithstanding any contract made after the passing of this Act, and every contract made after the passing of the Act shall, so far as it is to the contrary, be void. That clause will entitle every tenant to deduct on all fresh contracts the tithe from his rent. But what my hon. Friend proposes is that the tenant who has contracted to pay the tithe, notwithstanding the consideration which he has received in the rent which was fixed by the landlord, shall be entitled to deduct the tithe from the rent. That appears to the Government to be simple dishonesty. What we say is, that in future contracts the tenants and the landlords shall not contract themselves out of the Act of 1837. We propose that that shall be the law of the land as to tithe, as it is the law of the land as to the Income Tax.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
Let me call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that, under the Act of 1836, it is the duty of the landlord to pay the tithe. But they have not done so. When the right hon. Gentleman talks of dishonesty, I think he should put the saddle on the right horse. Dishonesty is on the side of the landlords, and not on the side of the tenants. We are having a very fine object lesson to-night. We shall see who are the real friends of the farmers. Those who are anxious to be the farmers' friends will vote in favour of putting this burden on the landowners.
§ * MR. W. H. SMITH
That difficulty occurs now. If the tithe is not earned and produced by the land it is not payable.
§ * SIR W. BARTTELOT
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) stated just now that I, addressing the Home Secretary, said "We will hold you to the bargain—namely, that the landlords are not to pay, but the tenants are to pay." I never said anything of the kind. The House will bear witness as to what I said. I said to the Government "We will hold you to the bargain with respect to imprisonment, and the distraint upon the land." I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman is not anxious to make a statement that is not correct.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
What I referred to was the hon. and gallant Baronet's emphatic statement that he held the Government to the declaration that they would oppose all Instructions. He will remember he called upon the Government to reject all Instructions, and he cited specially the Instruction of the hon. Member for Maiden.
§ * SIR W. BARTTELOT
My remark had reference to those two particular questions. I happen to have 24 or 25 farms, and I have paid tithe in respect of 21 of them. Two of the remaining three or four are held by men who do not wish to have the tithe paid for them.
§ * MR. H H. FOWLER
May I ask you, Sir, whether it would be competent for the First Lord of the Treasury to move the new clause he has just read, if the House rejects the present Instruction?
§ * MR. W. H. SMITH
On the point of order, may I point out that the Instruction is that tithe is to be recoverable from the landlord only.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The point is one for the Chairman of Committees to decide. I imagine, however, that if the Chairman of Committees is of opinion that the clause could not be inserted in Committee, the Bill could be re-committed for the purposo of inserting it.
§ MR. SALT (Stafford)
It seems tome that the difference between the Government and the hon. Member for Maiden is very small indeed. Could we not put the Instruction in such a form that the Government could accept it? The hon. Member proposed that the tithe rent recoverable should be thrown on the landlord. I am certain five-sixths of the Members of the House wish that that should be so. The only question is can it be done subject to existing contracts. It appears to me obvious that 1071 any provision to this effect which is inserted in the Bill must be subject to existing contracts.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I am not quite sure that the mind of the House is clear about this Instruction. There are two words in the Instruction which appear to me very significant—the word "recoverable" and the word "only," and if the Instruction is carried the principle will be laid down that the Committee would have power to provide that the recovery of the tithe, that is the getting of the tithe, is to be instituted against the landlord and against him alone. I do not think that in consequence of an Instruction of this kind the Committee would be at all precluded from safeguarding any rights under existing contracts. What I understand is suggested by the Home Secretary is that he will put in the Bill a clause providing that though the process of recovery given by the Bill is against the tenant, the tenant shall always have power to deduct the tithe from the rent. That is a very different thing to recovery from the landlord. I wish to draw a distinction between the two processes, and I must own it does occur to me there are cases in which the rent is not equal to the tithe.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 141; Noes 145.—(Div. List, No. 297.)
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)
I have now to move—That it be an instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert clauses providing for a re-adjustment of the method for taking the tithe rent-charge averages.I will endeavour to remember the necessary limitations imposed upon us at this stage, and avoid anything that can be construed into a Second Reading Debate, but it is absolutely impossible to bring before the House the arguments in favour of a re-adjustment of the method of taking tithe averages without, to a certain extent, dealing historically with the whole question. In the first place I would remind the House that in 1836, there was what was considered a statutory settlement of the question of the tithe-charge, its incidence and adjustment from time to time. Lord John Russell, in his speech on the Second Reading of the Bill of 1836, spoke of it as a permanent settlement for all future 1072 time. But that distinguished statesman once or twice made great mistakes in his use of the word finality. At all events the Government of to-day have for the first time—except in some trifling matters of procedure—re-opened the whole question, and that in the interest of one party, only the clergy. They have in fact brought in a Clergy Tithe Relief Bill. I am showing the ground for my Instruction, when I say that gives a claim to all concerned to come into this High Court and ask that their just claims shall be considered. In moving this Instruction, I will venture to say, I do so in the interest of the whole of the tenant farmers of the kingdom, though personally and peculiarly on this occasion I represent the Principality of Wales. Still it touches the whole of the great agricultural community to whom the tillage of the soil of the kingdom is entrusted. Speaking on a previous instruction, the Attorney General said this Bill provides a remedy in the matter of procedure at once cheap, easy, and effective, while it would impose no additional burdens. We dispute this altogether. There is every reason to fear that it will be neither cheap nor easy, and I will venture to prophecy it will not be effective, while it certainly will impose very heavy additional burdens. So I say on behalf of the tenant farmers of Wales, and I might say so on behalf of the tenant farmers of the whole kingdom, that if you are going to make this a primary objection on every tenant farmer throughout the kingdom, making the tenant liable to County Court process with all its incident expenses, surely the tenant farmers have a right to come here and demand a fair adjustment of the burden. They say relieve us from what is admitted on all hands to be an imposition according to the present method of adjustment which, in the present condition of things, works great hardship on the tenant farmers in hundreds and thousands of cases. Before I go to instances of this, let me draw attention to the present condition of the agricultural tenants, especially in Wales. The Attorney General has repeated what I do not hesitate to call an unjust aspersion on my fellow countrymen. He said that the Bill, which he described as cheap, easy, and effective, was intended only— 1073 and here he was indicating my fellow countrymen—to apply to those who were able to pay, but who pretend that they object to pay on conscientious grounds; and, again, he alluded to those who refused to pay from motives not creditable. I repudiate that as unjust in the last degree. I repeat what I have already said, that there are no people in the kingdom more willing to pay just tithes for a just purpose than the Welsh people. There is nothing more unjust than to say that they wish to evade their proper payment. What they do say is that whether they are taken into the County Courts or not, and subjected to additional expense, will not matter a pin as to the ultimate result. Let us, they say, have a fair re-adjustment of the incidence of the tax. They say they consider this a national property——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Member this is not a Second Reading Debate. I understand that he proposes to move an Instruction as to the method of calculating the averages.
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS
I quite feel the justice of your observation, Sir, but I venture to think that under the circumstances I am not unduly travelling beyond the scope of the Instruction. [Cries of "Order!"]
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member will not be in order in discussing the general question, he must confine himself to the specific Instruction.
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS
Perfectly so, Sir; I was only pointing out why I suggest a re-adjustment by indicating the exact position of the tenant farmer, and until I am able to point out the position of the tenant farmer under the new conditions of the Bill, I venture to submit, with the greatest respect, that it is impossible for me to say why the re-adjustment ought to come.
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS
Then, Sir, to what extent may I be allowed to put before the House the grounds for re-adjustment? I am proposing at once to deal with the nature of the incidence of the tax under the existing law. As the House is no doubt aware the present incidence of the tax——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The incidence of the tax has nothing to do 1074 with the question. The House has discussed that, and has now to deal with a specific Instruction to the Committee.
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS
I express my self lam afraid awkwardly, Sir. I may point out that the method of adjusting the tithe as based on a seven years' average was fixed in the Act of 1836. In that year the price was taken of the three staple products wheat, barley and oats, and, according to the then calculation, it was estimated that dividing £100 into equal proportions of £33 6s. 8d., that 94 bushels of wheat, 168 bushels of barley and 242 bushels of oats could be purchased for £33 6s. 8d. This was the process which was considered to be a permanent settlement in 1836. I will give a few instances of how this operates. We take the year 1886, which is the last year for which details are available, and we find that the tenant for every £100 he paid in 1836 would pay £87 in 1886—a very large reduction no doubt, and it will be said the average must consequently be a fair one. But I think nobody who has studied the subject at all, and certainly no agricultural tenant who has had to go into the matter, can fail to see that this very unfairly represents the effect of the agricultural depression throughout the kingdom. Instead of a reduction of 13 per cent the reduction should have been 20, 30, and even 50 per cent. It was very well put by a writer in the Quarterly Review for 1888, who dealt with the subject in a broad and comprehensive way, though not so liberally as I should like; the article was evidently written by a Churchman. The writer stated that so long as the tenant occupied the land for a short term or from year to year, and the average was calculated on the longer period, the tenant was unfairly treated. The writer goes on to indicate the methods by which reductions might be made gradually with comparatively small loss to the tithe owners, but with these*I need not trouble the House. Of course it is not my business here, and it would be presumptuous on my part, to lay down any detailed bases of re-adjustment. All I want to do is to ask the House to tell the Committee that some new method of payment by the tenant farmer is necessary. It is clear the seven years' average has not brought down the tithe 1075 rent-charge to anything like the proportion of the reductions of rent throughout the kingdom. If it were so the reduction for 1886 would be 25 per cent, and the figure would stand at £75 instead of £87 10s. Surely it would be reasonable to adjust payment on the basis of the previous year's prices, and that would be coming within a reasonable distance of the reductions made in consequence of the agricultural depression. Now, even if we took the previous year's prices as a basis of readjustment, what does the House think would be the immediate result to the tenant farmers of the whole kingdom? Why, it would relieve them to the extent of £500,000 a year. If in 1887 the tithe payer—the tenant farmer—had been dealt with on the principle I am explaining, he would have paid £500,000 less to the parochial clergy. Conceive what an enormous saving that would be to the struggling tenant; and, coming to my native country, if that readjustment were made to-morrow on the basis of the prices of 1887, the tenant farmer in Wales would be relieved to the extent of £35,000 a year. Only those who know the small peasantry of Merionethshire or Montgomeryshire, and of the North of Wales, only those who know how small are the holdings of these people, and how poorly they live, can appreciate how great a blessing that relief of £35,000 a year would be. I shall be told that this reduction would be a great hardship on the rural clergy. I quite feel the hardship of the case of the small rural clergy, particularly in Wales. There is no doubt that their struggle is a hard one. About a year ago there were some letters in the Guardian newspaper, written by Mr. Protheroe, who gave rather exaggerated accounts of the difficulties which agricultural depression has produced on the rural clergy. In the Midlands, where the clergy have exchanged their tithes for land, most disastrous consequences have followed. Owing to the depression of the past 12 years, rents have fallen 23 to 50 per cent. Mr. Protheroe says—The clergy feel the pinch of poverty, not, perhaps, in its acutest form of absolute starvation, but in the loss of these, so called, comforts, or luxuries, which, to people in their position, are so necessary.He goes on to say that he knows glebe owners, who, but for the assistance of 1076 their friends, would have been literally, and without metaphor, starving. No doubt these are very hard and sad cases, and, of course, they are worthy of the consideration of those who belong to the same faith, and who have wealth and means, and who come forward at times with friendly assistance to save the poor clergy from absolute destitution; but I have another client whom I am bound to represent. I sympathise with the poor clergymen when this time of depression comes on; but there are others, and a larger number, for whom I must plead, who are even more terribly affected by agricultural depression. I refer to the small tenant farmers who have had a small capital which has gradually become exhausted; who have been paying tithes which, if they had been fairly adjusted, having regard to the condition of agriculture, would have been 20 or 25 per cent less. These people are entitled to the sympathy of the House and to our legislative interference, if we are to interfere at all. That is my case for the tenant farmers. I say it is only justice and common fairness that when you begin breaking a contract in favour of one class, you should break it also in favour of the other. I regret to see in a circular issued from a palace in North Wales, and written to urge the passing of this Bill, the statement that if it does not pass it will mean the simple starvation of a large number of the Welsh clergy. I say if we pass this Bill without re-adjustment it will mean simply the starvation of many tenants, who will be deprived not of the luxuries but of the necessaries of life—of butter, bread, and cheese, for that is what they have been living on. I read with pain the words written by a Bishop of the richest religious body in the whole world. I say it is not fair.
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS
I beg pardon. I fear I have been carried away by my feelings, but I submit I received some provocation from the Attorney General. I will conclude by strongly urging the House not to disregard the appeal I make on behalf of the tenant farmers throughout the kingdom.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert clauses providing for a re-adjustment of the method for taking the Tithe Rent-Charge averages."—(Mr. Arthur Williams.)
§ * SIR R. WEBSTER
I will only detain the House for a few moments. The hon. Member has come down with what was apparently a set speech and has thought fit to put words into my mouth which I never used. I said not one single word about Wales. I never referred to Wales. I referred to those who were able to pay tithes and would not.
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS
I took the hon. and learned Gentleman's words down at the moment—"those who are able to pay but who refuse to pay on conscientious grounds from motives not the most creditable."
§ * SIR R. WEBSTER
I never referred to Wales directly or indirectly. The hon. Member says I referred to his own constituency, but I did nothing of the kind. As to the question of averages raised by the hon. Member, no one denies that the matter is one which should be inquired into, but the hon. Member has quite forgotten that when it was the interest of those who pay tithes to go by the seven years' average—when they were in the full swing of paying far less than if the last year's prices were taken—they said not a word—I do not complain of their conduct—to the effect that they are anxious for a reassessment. They wait until they feel the pinch before they cry out. I am not in the least suggesting or advocating seven years. I take it that the House has not got the materials before it on which it can decide whether it shall be three years or one year or more. The scale we now have has practically worked for 50 years, and it is only now hon. Members find it is working hardship. Does the hon. Member suggest that this House will, without much further inquiry and much greater knowledge of what is best, alter the old scale? The hon. Member does not make a single suggestion except that last year's average should be taken, and yet he knows as well as I do that some people recommend that a three years' average shall be taken, and other people recommend different systems. Surely he should have been prepared with the details of a 1078 practical suggestion. It would be unfair to the House to enter into the topics with which the hon. Member has adorned his speech. He has merely complained that the tenants object to seven years' averages. The Government know that this matter should be inquired into, but it would be utterly impossible in the scope of this discussion to determine what system should be substituted for the present. They do not consider themselves expressing an opinion in favour of the existing system, and they must be understood as declining to pledge themselves as to what they think would be the proper method. I do not think, under these circumstances, the discussion can lead to any useful result.
§ * MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
I rise to support the Instruction moved by my hon. friend the Member for South Glamorgan. I support it on the ground of simple justice. The arguments used by my hon. Friend are simply unanswerable. He demonstrated how very unjustly the seven years' averages have operated on the tithe payers for the last few years. Every hon. Member knows that during the last seven years prices of cereal produce have continually declined, wheat having gone down from 50s. a quarter to 28s. or 29s., and it is therefore hardly necessary to point out how cruelly this has operated upon a peasantry who have to pay tithes 20 per cent above the prices they can obtain for their produce. The experience of my own constituency has brought most forcibly to my mind the injustice, I might almost say cruelty, of the seven years' average; and mine is a typical Welsh constituency. It is composed mainly of small farmers, who are extremely poor and hard working. If the tithe rent-charge had been struck upon the average of the prices of the last two or three years, the amount payable would have been about £70, and not £87 10s. By passing this Bill we shall rivet the fetters of tithe upon the Welsh peasantry without granting them relief by placing the tithe on a more equitable footing, and we shall thereby, I may say, add insult to injury, and at any rate be perpetuating a great wrong. It was quite a revelation to me, when I first became a Welsh Representative, to discover the extreme poverty of the agricultural class in the 1principality, and if hon. Mem- 1079 bers knew the extent of it they would more fully feel the force of this Instruction. These small farmers live on the hardest fare, do all the work of the farm with their own hands, and earn less than an ordinary labourer. Some of them are so poor that they do not taste butter from year's end to year's end. You can imagine the feeling of injustice and soreness that is created when a struggling peasantry under these circumstances have to pay year after year tithe rent at the rate of £87 10s. or £90 when the produce only yields an average of £70 or £75—paying it all the while to a Church to which they do not belong and never enter. A great portion of the resistance of the people of Wales to the payment of tithe has arisen from the fact that the seven years' average has made farmers liable to pay a much higher rate than the prices of produce justified. They have asked for reductions of only 10 or 15 per cent when the tithe was 20 per cent above the current prices. It is not from any spirit of contumaciousness that there has been unwillingness, but it is from a deep instinct of right and wrong which lies at the bottom of the hearts of the human race. I wholly distrust the assurances of the Government that a large and comprehensive measure will be introduced next Session. The Government, I have no doubt, honestly mean what they say, but all are aware of the exigencies of political life and the demands that are always being made on the time of Governments; and I should be very greatly astonished if the Government, having passed this short Bill for the easy recovery of the tithes, burdened themselves next Session with a large measure. It, therefore, becomes the duty of the House to take securities that they will not let this Bill pass without provision being made for the equitable incidence of tithes. I hope the Government will not only yield upon this point, but will see their way tonight, or at a very early date, to withdraw altogether this most obnoxious Bill.
§ * MR. BYRON REED (Bradford, E.)
I differ from my hon Friend (Mr. S. Smith) and the Mover of the Instruction—firstly, upon the general ground that I am very anxious to see this Bill become law. I cannot help thinking we should be much better employed in pro- 1080 ceeding at once to thresh out the details of the Bill in Committee with a view to making the verbal alterations which hon. Members may think necessary, and the Government may be prepared to adopt, than in taking up time in the discussion of proposals which the Government and the friends of the Bill will of necessity feel themselves compelled to resist. The hon. Member for Glamorgan spoke of the Bill as it stands breaking the existing contract as between the tithe owner and the tithe payer. It appears to me that that argument was traversed in the preceding portion of the Debate by the Home Secretary when he pointed out that all the present Bill proposed to do was to expedite the means of recovering rather than to put the tithe-payer in any worse position as regards his liability than he occupies already. When the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glamorgan spoke of breaking contracts, he used words which, however high sounding, are, I think, inapplicable to the present position of affairs. The hon. Member for Flintshire spoke of the septennial average which was settled by the Tithe Commutation Act as an unfair average, at any rate during the last few years, and the hon. Gentleman strengthened that position by referring to the terrible agricultural depression which has made not only tithe, but rent, and rates, and taxes, a grievous burden to be borne by the struggling agricultural tenant. The rein I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and no Member of the House feels deeper sympathy with the tenant farmers of England and Wales than myself. But a contract is a contract, an agreement is an agreement, and a bargain is a bargain. The settlement arrived at 50 years ago by which a septennial system of averages was established was held to be peculiarly advantageous to the tithe payer, and very much to the detriment of the tithe owner. It is true times have changed since then; but, manifestly, if the tithe payer received the benefit of the arrangement when agriculture was in a prosperous condition, he must be prepared to take the rough with the smooth, and to adhere to the arrangement, even though it be to his disadvantage, when agriculture is in a depressed state. No doubt there is plenty of justification for a revision of the present system, and the Government 1081 have promised such revision. I, for one, shall be quite prepared to give whatever assistance I can to hon. Gentlemen opposite, in another Session of Parliament, to bring about a thorough revision of the present incidence of tithe. If it can be shown—as no doubt it can—that the septennial system, however favourable to the tenant some 50 years ago, is unfavourable to-day, hon. Members on this side of the House, as well as opposite, will, I am sure, be willing to take measures to bring about a revision of that state of things; but for the Government to accept this Instruction would be not only to jeopardise but to kill the Bill, and so deprive the struggling tithe owners of that protection and remedy which the circumstances of their case most urgently demand, and which, I venture to think, it is the business of the Government and this House to supply. The hon. Member for Flintshire spoke of the present Bill as riveting the fetters to the tithe payers of Wales, and implied that tithe payment was in the nature of bonds and fetters to the Welsh agriculturalist. Well, that may be a very good argument for the abolition of tithe altogether, but I have yet to learn that hon. Members on the other side of the House who represent Welsh constituencies are disposed to accept any such settlement of the question. On the contrary, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire at an earlier stage of the Debate declared that tithe was nowhere more respected than in Wales, for the reason that the people consider that it belongs to them.
§ * MR. STUART RENDEL
What I said was that tithe, as a property, was no more respected anywhere than in Wales.
§ * MR. BYRON REED
I do not think I did injustice to the hon. Member in what I said. The hon. Member said the Welsh people regard the tithe as their property, and that the grievance of the Welsh tithe payer is not to tithe per se, but to its application.
§ * MR. BYRON REED
I bow to your ruling, Sir, and beg pardon for having strayed; but you will recognise the difficulty of keeping closely to each separate Instruction when it comes before us. These arguments which 1082 come from the other side, if they mean anything at all, mean that tithe should be abolished altogether. If the farmers of Wales are too necessitous to pay tithes, it matters not whether they have to pay them to the Church, to colleges or schools, to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, or to lay impropriators. It is equally impossible to pay, whatever the purpose to which the money is to be applied. The hon. Member for Flintshire, in his concluding sentences, spoke in terms of commiseration of the poor farmer called on to pay tithe for a church he never enters. I would venture, with all deference, to point out that the question of Church attendance has nothing to do with the general principle before us, and still less with this particular Instruction. For the Welsh tenant to object to pay tithe on the ground that he does not go to church is as unreasonable as it would be for me to refuse to pay my butcher's bill because I differ from my butcher's religious or political opinions. ["Order, order!"] I will, however, refrain from running further risk of trenching upon the rules you, Sir, have laid down. I will merely again express a hope that the Government will not accept this Instruction, or any other Instruction which would jeopardise the Bill, and that in Committee they will not assent to any Amendment which will alter the scope or spirit of the measure.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 109; Noes 123.—(Div. List, No. 298.)
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The next Amendment is in the name of the hon. Member for the Ashburton Division of Devonshire (Mr. Seale-Hayne), and it is in these words':—That it be an instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide for the equitable incidence of tithe.This subject has been largely discussed under the previous Motions. I asked the hon. Gentleman what was the meaning of "equitable incidence," and he told me his meaning was that the tithe should not fall on those who object to its application—that is to say on those who think it should not go to the Established Church. I pointed out to him privately—and I now state it publicly—that the question involved does not come within the scope of the Bill but that a separate Bill would be required to deal with it. 1083 It could not be brought within the reach of the Bill by an Instruction.
§ * MR. T. ELLIS
On the point of order-It is a fact that many districts or parts of districts are free from tithe altogether. I think my hon. Friend, and certainly many Members of this House, are of opinion that all land should pay a certain amount of tithe——
§ * MR. G. O. MORGAN
I beg now to move—That it be an instruction to the Committee that they have power to review and revise the settlement made by the Act passed in the sixth and seventh years of his late Majesty King William IV., entitled 'An Act for the Commutation of Tithes in England and Wales,' and the Acts amending the same.This is of a more comprehensive character than any of the Instructions which have preceded it as it embraces nearly all of them, and I think I may go as far as to say that all hon. Members who have supported other Instructions will vote for this. The hon. Member who last spoke urged the House to reject the last Instruction on the ground that its adoption would prove fatal to the Bill. "Well, I take the liberty to ask the House to agree to my Instruction for that very reason. I think that alter the note of warning the Government have had, their majority having fallen in one Division as low as four, it must be evident to them by this time that the Bill is unpopular, even among their own supporters. It is certainly most unpopular in my part of the country, and the Government have selected a very unpropitious time to bring it forward, just when Her Majesty is about to pay a visit to Wales. [Cries of "Oh!"] Yes, no one regrets it more than I do, but I fear that the Government are in a fair way to make one of the most loyal parts of the country disloyal. It is agreed on all hands that the Act of 1836 was a settlement. That settlement has lasted a long time—over 50 years—and if it is now to be revised let the revision be fair to both sides. Lord Salisbury told a deputation not very long ago that the Act of 1836 was a sacred covenant, binding for all time, which it would be dishonest to break. But the Government are breaking it now, and what is worse, they are doing so in the 1084 interests of the tithe owner only. What will the Bill do for the tithe payer? It will expose him to the costs and trouble of County Court process, and give him no relief whatever. The Home Secretary says the process will not involve imprisonment, but I do not know how he proposes to prevent that. The right of bringing the tithe payer before a Court in a town where there is sure to be a deal of excitement and agitation is certainly not a thing that a clergyman would covet. But what I want to show is that this Bill gives a distinct additional collateral remedy to the tithe receiver without conferring any sort of advantage on the tithe payer. The Act of 1836 provides that "nothing herein contained shall be taken to render any person personally liable for the payment of the rent charge." Up to the present time tithe is not a personal debt, it never was a personal debt, or even a charge on the land. It is a charge on the produce of the land, and, therefore, if there is no produce no tithe is payable. Of course, in accordance with that general and sound principle, the amount payable for the tithe was regulated with reference to the value of the produce. The Act of 1836 made the charge a money charge on the producer, but it made the money charge depend on the value of the produce. The whole principle running through all the legislation up to the present time has been that the tithe has been a charge on the produce, and that the amount of the charge is regulated by the value of the produce. Now, however, you are introducing an entirely new principle into the law of tithe. The object of the Bill has been said to be to change the mode of recovery. That is not so, because you are not only changing the mode of recovery, but changing the nature of the debt. You are making it a charge not upon produce, but upon the real and personal estate of the debtor. The result is that you are placing a very much heavier burden on the tithe payer. Therefore this is an entirely one-sided measure. You give this additional remedy, and you create this non- existing debt against the debtor, if so he can be called, but you do nothing for the debtor. I credit hon. Gentlemen opposite with being the farmers' friends as much as 1085 we are, and I want them to look at the facts of the case. What is the time the Government are choosing for imposing this additional burden on the tithe payer? I suppose there never was a time in the history of agricultural depression when the price of corn fell so low as during the last 12 or 13 years. And this is the time you, the avowed friends of the farmers—the men who are constantly parading your sympathy for the farming interest—choose to impose this heavy additional taxation on the farmer without giving him anything whatever to make up for it. There are plenty of farms which cannot be let at any price whatever. Let me read the House part of an interesting letter which appeared in the Times of to-day, from Mr. Everitt, who is a tenant farmer who formerly represented one of the Eastern Counties which has suffered especially from this agricultural depression. He says:—Never since the passing of the Commutation Act, more than 50 years ago, has the burden of tithe pressed so heavily upon the agricultural industry as now. For 10 or 12 years the price of corn has been continuously falling. The lower it falls the more difficult it becomes to pay tithe at all. Owing to the action of the seven years' average, the amount we have had to pay during each of the last 10 years has been about 10 per cent higher than the price of the produce of that particular year taken by itself would warrant, yet we have had to pay it out of that produce. From a fifth of the rent as it used to be, tithe has become in many cases a third, a half, the equal of it, and in some cases all the rent. Indeed, some farms have actually been driven out of cultivation because no one would take them to pay the tithe as rent. As a rule, during these hard times tithe receivers have been very hard with tithe payers, and have insisted upon their full legal due. Consequently the feeling about tithe, both on the part of the farmer, and of the landowner, has become very strong. The burden is more onerous than ever and more unpopular.He adds:—I have attended many meetings in different counties during the last few years, called to complain of the oppressive weight of the tithe under the lamentably altered agricultural conditions, and am sure there is no market town in England where at a publicly convened meeting a resolution in favour of this Bill could be carried. Indeed, no one who had any knowledge of the agricultural situation would venture to propose one. The Bill is little better than an insult to one of the most suffering classes in the kingdom.Well, Sir, Gentlemen opposite are very fond of talking about the evils which are inflicted on the British farmer by 1086 foreign competition. But what is it that enables the American farmer, or the Canadian farmer, or the Indian ryot to compete with the British farmer in his own markets? Why, simply all these charges, the first and foremost among which is the charge for tithes. Of course, I should have no opposition to offer to a large and comprehensive measure that would do justice between the payer and receiver of tithes; but when I find the Government bringing in a measure such as this, which does no good to anybody, and inflicts endless trouble and expense on the tithe payer, I feel it my duty to oppose it in every way I can. I beg to move the Instruction that stands in my name.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to review and revise the settlement made by the Act passed in the 6th and 7th years of his late Majesty King William. IV., entitled 'An Act for the Commutation of Tithes in England and Wales,' and the Acts amending the same."—(Mr. Osborne Morgan.)
§ * MR. C. SEALE-HAYNE (Devon, Ashburton)
I do not propose to put myself out of order by referring to any matters which I intended to deal with by the Instruction which I had placed on the Paper, but I think I shall be in order if, upon the present motion, I refer to the labours of the Committee which sat last year, for the purpose of investigating the method of taking the corn averages as determined by the Act of 1836. I am astonished, considering that it is generally supposed that the farmers' friends sit on the benches opposite, that during the whole of that Debate we have not heard a single gentleman, either belonging to that Committee or not belonging to that Committee, who has referred to the grievances which affect the tenant farmers, and which were brought before the Committee by so many witnesses. The evidence brought before that Committee showed that the present method of taking averages is faulty, and is one which practically robs the tithe payer of a very considerable amount of percentage over and above that which he ought to pay. In the first place it is evident that the Government officials, who ought to attend at the various markets and obtain from the sellers as well as the buyers the prices 1087 for which they have sold their corn, are in many instances unknown, and many sellers even do not know that such an official exists. I know that the position of those officials was defended before the Committee by an official from the Board of Trade, but nobody except that official said one word in favour of those gentlemen, who are supposed to collect correct statistics at the various markets. Under those circumstances, it was perfectly evident to the Committee, and was one of the points upon which they dwelt in their Report, that their Returns were prepared upon incomplete information. It so happened that there was a Return which had been obtained by an hon. Member for one of the divisions of Shropshire, showing how many quarters of each species of grain was returned in the various markets, in different weeks, and also for a whole year, and we found that the average price was determined in some of these markets upon little more than 100 quarters of wheat or oats during the whole year, so that the average was determined upon a small and especially good sample, and consequently that the prices were considerably in excess of the real price of the produce of the land. We all know, having been told so over and over again, that tithe is a portion of the produce of the land, and if tithe in its origin was one-tenth part of that produce I should like to know why that part is not to be taken equitably, and did not include what is poor in quality as well as what is good. The tenant farmer has a very serious grievance in this matter. It is not only evident that what is good is necessarily sent to the market and obtains there the top price, but it is evident also that a vast amount of what the farmer calls "tail" corn does not come into the calculation of the average price in any way whatever. In addition to that, there is a large amount of corn consumed on the farm which is of inferior quality, which also does not come into the estimated price in any shape or form. The consequence is that the average is increased considerably above what, in fairness, it ought to be. There is one point which came before us in the Committee, and which, like the other grievances of tithe-payers, has not been dealt with at all in this Bill, and that is the question of 1088 re-sale. Corn which is brought into the market is sold by the man who produced it, and the price he obtains is that upon which the average ought to be calculated. The corn, however, changes hands at a profit, and the prices which are taken by the Government are not the prices which, are obtained by the men who grow the corn, but the prices which are the result of speculation upon the market, and consequently includes the profits very often of several middlemen, as also the cost of carriage. These are grievances which are not known to the general public, but which are familiar to everyone who represents an agricultural constituency. I sincerely trust that this Bill will pass in its naked simplicity and with all its imperfections upon it. I further sincerely trust that after the passing of the Act in its naked simplicity, we may have a General Election, so that we may take the sense of the county constituencies upon the subject. In that case, I am perfectly confident that the gentlemen who now sit opposite will be sitting very shortly on these Benches.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
As I had the honour of being a Member of the Committee to which the hon. Member has referred, I should like to say a few words. The hon. Member attached great importance to certain grievances, but the amount of that importance is nothing as compared with that which he attaches to his Party allegiance, because, sooner than have those grievances removed, he would like to see the Bill passed through without dealing with them at all, in order that his own Party may have the greater success at the General Election. The Instruction has nothing in the world to do with the matters to which the hon. Member has called attention. The hon. Member has confined his speech to the mode of taking the corn averages, although he ought to know that that was adopted long before the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act, and was only applied to that Act because it happened to be in existence. The hon. Member did not indicate how he would revise the taking of the averages, and while citing evidence given before the Committee of last year, the hon. Member did not quote the Report of the Committee, which gives a good answer to every one of the grievances complained 1089 of. The majority of the Committee did not agree with the hon. Member as to the effect of the evidence given before them, and in more than one instance, on the points to which he has referred, the hon. Member was himself in a minority of one.
§ * SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Well, on one occasion at all events. I will not now deal with these points, but the hon. Member's arguments respecting them are answered in the Report of the Committee. If any hon. Member thinks that the averages are taken on a wrong basis, I would advise him to study the evidence and Report before making any suggestions to the House on the subject. So far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned they will abide by the Report, and they are not prepared to legislate on these points. With regard to the Instruction now before the Committee, the right hon. Gentleman did not adduce one argument in its support. It is obvious that if the House were to agree to the Instruction it must defeat the Bill, and it is obvious also that the right hon. Gentleman desires to effect that object without in the slightest degree showing his own hand as to the manner in which the alteration suggested in his Instruction should be brought about.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman seems to regard it as a fatal objection to the Instruction that it would put an end to the Bill. I should have thought that what has happened to-night might have shown him that the decease of the Bill would not be regretted by either side of the House. It is with the greatest difficulty, and only by votes given very much against the grain, that the Government have secured a narrow majority. But how is this Instruction to be fatal to the Bill? Because, the principle of the Bill being that it is to at only against one party, the tenant farmer, the Government say it will be fatal to their Bill if counter- 1090 vailing justice be done to the other party. There are really three parties to the tithe question—the tithe owner, the tithe payer, and the tithe debtor. It is a curious thing that the debtor is the landowner, and the payer is the tenant farmer. The Government are legislating in favour of the tithe owner. They refuse to legislate against the tithe debtor; and they put the whole stress of the Bill on the tithe payer. In taxation it is always considered a great evil to make the trader advance the taxes. But this is what the Bill does to the tenant farmer. The Home Secretary says, "We will get at the landowner through the tenant, who shall be made to advance the tithe." The Chairman of Committees in his acute speech has pointed out what the consequence will be if the tithe exceeds the rent. It is said you cannot interfere with the contract between landlord and tenant under which the latter has to pay tithe. The conclusive answer is, you are affecting the condition of one of the parties, and, if you do that, you must redress the situation of the other. Stand by the contract if you like and leave the tenant alone; but if you must choose to meddle with the tenant you must, in legal phrase, reform the contract. You have no businsss to say there is one contract, and only one, that is sacred, and that is the contract between the landlord and the tenant. There is one contract that is quite as sacred, and that is the Parliamentary contract of 1836. This is a solemn contract into which Parliament entered with the parties to the transaction and with the tenant farmer first and mainly. The Act says:—Provided always that nothing herein contained shall operate to render any person whomsoever personally liable for the payment of tithes.A County Court Judgment would impose a "personal" liability on the tenant farmer, and that would be a deliberate violation of the statutory compact. The Government talk about the "agricultural interest," but we know very well what they mean by it. They mean the parson and the squire; and they do not mean the tenant farmer and the labourer. The Bill gives to the parson a facility for getting his tithe which he does not 1091 possess at present. Besides that, it guarantees the squire against hearing any part of the odium of that facility; and the tenant farmer is between these two millstones. That is the real meaning of the Bill. If for any adequate reason the Parliamentary contract is to be set aside, the contracts of all parties must be revised. That is the demand the Opposition make, and the Government meet it by saying, "We will do nothing of the kind." The hon. Member for Sussex (Sir W. Barttelot), finding all other arguments fail, and finding his difficulties shared by Gentlemen sitting around him, brings forward the shibboleth which is used when all other arguments fail, and whenever any injustice is to be supported, and cries out "Law and order." Well, do you not see you are making law and order ridiculous when you use it for purposes of this kind? Do you not see you are making the tenant farmers of England and Wales think very much what the tenant farmers of Ireland think about your law and order? If in a case of such palpable injustice as this you cry law and order, you bring law and order into contempt. There is no doubt this tithe question has led to occurrences we all deplore; but that does not affect the obligation to deal with it in a statesmanlike way by paying due regard to all the interests involved. The interests of all parties concerned ought to be fully and fairly considered; and the cause of law and order will not be promoted if one of the parties is treated in an unfair manner. By the rejection of these Instructions the Government are refusing all amendment to the Bill and disabling themselves from amending the Bill at all; because everybody knows the object of an Instruction is that it can be applied to Amendments which without it cannot be introduced at all. After the very singular indication of the feeling of the House, I should have thought that the Government would have been willing to reconsider their position. I do not know whether we shall be accused of obstruction, but I will venture to say that, considering the votes that have come from the other side in support of our Motions, a more legitimate opposition to a Bill was never offered; and I hope that opposition will be continued, and that in Committee the 1092 Bill will be fought line by line, in order that the country may learn its real character. Hon. Members may not like this reference to the country, but it must come, and that soon, if the Government persist in their line of action. My right hon. Friend is entitled to speak on behalf of Wales, and he proposes that the Committee shall have power to revise the existing settlement; and in this connection I would ask hon. Members opposite—the hon. Member for Maldon, for instance—to note that the President of the Board of Trade has said that the Government have made up their minds to make no modification with respect to tithe averages. I hope the country will take note of that statement—a definite and clear declaration on the part of the Government; and hon. Members must reconcile it as they can with the promise of a full and comprehensive Bill next year or the year after, or some years hence. Whenever we have the Bill, the Government have declared through the right hon. Gentleman that they will not tolerate any revision of tithe averages.
§ * SIR M. H. BEACH
That is not what I said. What I said was, that we should not undertake to legislate against the Report of the Committee of last year, and in favour of the view of the hon. Gentleman opposite. The question of the number of years on which the tithe average should be taken is entirely an open question.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has made that explanation, but I do not quite understand what the Government have made up their minds to do.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
What I have to say in regard to the tithe averages is this—that nothing can be more unjust to the tenant farmers than the operation of these averages upon the tenant farmers under the unprecedented low prices of agricultural produce. If you are going to affect their position adversely under 1093 the Bill, surely some relief ought to be given under the circumstances. So, also, in respect to assessment and other questions involved in the settlement. If the Government re-open this question I maintain that they are bound to review it as a whole in respect to all the persons concerned. It is most unfair to the House and the country that at this period of the Session a measure of this kind should be pressed as it is being pressed. The Government know perfectly well the distaste, the dislike, and the disapprobation with which it is looked upon even by their own supporters, and to interpose such a Bill in the middle of Supply is merely to waste time upon the subject. [Cries of "Order!"] I can soon place myself in order by a Motion if hon. Members drive me to such a course. I say it is most unfair to the House that the Bill should be forced upon us now. Of course, the Government may by a majority of four or even by a majority of one pass the Bill into law, but they will have no reason to congratulate themselves upon the success which they achieve. This Instruction raises a distinct issue, and upon that we are asked why we do not lay down our plan. But it is no part of our business to propound a plan. We only want to get out of the narrow limits imposed by the Bill, and allow the Government an opportunity, and allow hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House an opportunity, in Committee of making the Bill a just instead of the one-sided and iniquitous measure which it now is with respect to one of the parties to the transaction.
§ MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
The right hon. Gentleman condemns the Bill as one-sided, and condemns the Government for introducing it at this period of the Session. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that there is to be in the coming winter a repetition of the scenes of last year? Is the law to be defied and rights settled in 1836 to be entirely ignored, and are those who are entitled to tithe rent-charge to be deprived of it by an agitation conducted in the interests of a particular party? The issue is whether 1094 law and order are to prevail, or the will of a few gentlemen conducting an agitation in Wales. I object to a review of the Act of 1836, which is a most masterly piece of legislation. I wish the legislation of the present day were half as skilfully conducted. If the Act is examined it will be seen that almost every interest has been considered. All parties were called before the Commission, and every effort was made to secure a fair and equitable settlement of the question. It may be that in some instances the settlement may operate, I will not say unfairly, but to the disadvantage of one party, but is it possible to have a settlement involving a variety of interests without something of this kind? In some parts of the country the disadvantage is against the receiver, in other parts against the payer. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not indisposed to consider the whole question, but I object to the larger question being tied to a Bill of this character. The rights of the tithe-owners were established not by the Act of 1836, they existed as far back as historical memory goes, first upon custom, which afterwards was merged into the law of the land. When these rent-charges were established they became a first charge upon the land, and if the law were as supreme now as it was in those days, there would be no difficulty whatever in the collection of those tithes. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the tithe payer and the tithe debtor as though they were something different. Does the right hon. Gentleman, who has been a Chancellor of the Exchequer, know nothing of the Property Tax? There is the Property Tax receiver, the payer, and the debtor. There is the State which receives it, the tenant who pays it, and the landlord who is the debtor. The tenant pays the tax and deducts it from his rent; and I fail to see the smallest grievance in the matter of tithe to the tithe payer, who is neither more nor less than the medium employed for the purpose of collecting the tithe, the real debtor and the real payer being the landlord, from whose rent the tithe is deducted. I hope, however, the Government will be prepared to receive Amendments which may put the tithe payment on the tithe debtor, which may tend to prevent somewhat the tumultuous 1095 proceedings that have been witnessed in Wales, and which may result in a happy solution of this question.
§ MR. HERBERT GARDNER
I heartily agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman in his earnest wish that the settlement by the Government of the present day should be equal to that arrived at in 1836. The hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out that at that time the Government of that day showed itself ready to consider the position of all parties, and that is exactly what we ask the Government to do at the present moment in consideration of this Bill, but that is also exactly what the Government of to-day refuse to do by their absolute rejection of these Instructions. But the hon. and learned Gentleman was somewhat inconsistent in the way in which he praised the Government of 1836; because though he praised that Government for listening to both parties, he admitted that one of the two parties had a grievance and had to bear it as best it could.
§ MR. AMBROSE
I did not say that either party had a grievance now. On the contrary, I said the tithe-payer had no grievance, because he could deduct the amount of his payment from his rent.
§ MR. GARDNER
I will deal with that a little later. The hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that there would be no harm in the Government rejecting this Instruction now, because he hoped Amendments would be introduced in Committee in regard to these matters. But he seems to me to be absolutely ignorant of the Forms of the House; if these Instructions are refused it will be absolutely impossible to bring in any such Amendments in Committee, and therefore the matter cannot be dealt with in the manner the hon. and learned Gentleman would be prepared to deal with it. In the earlier part of his speech he said that this Bill was introduced in the interest of law and order. If we were able to believe all that has been said on the other side of the House, we should believe that the 1096 Bill is distinctly and specifically for one class of persons alone—those who can pay but who will not pay. But nothing more absolutely false was ever stated. The Bill is to apply to the tithe payers generally of the United Kingdom. Now, accepting it as a matter of argument that the farmers of Wales are dishonest in refusing payment—that I deny, but supposing it were so—this Bill does not deal with them alone, and why should the tithe payers of Essex and Suffolk be put to severe treatment because the Welsh tithe payers refuse to pay their tithes? It is absolutely absurd. The real fact is that the majority of persons who will be hit under these circumstances are the suffering tenant farmers and the small yeomen, not those who can pay and will not pay, and the result will be that for the first time the Government will succeed in bringing Tory tithe payers into line with the advocates of Disestablishment, and that surely ought to be a matter for consideration for sagacious Churchmen. I hope we may now have an answer from the Government whether in their promised Committee there will be an inquiry into the working of the Tithes Commutation Act of 1836. Will the Government now give us the answer they declined to give earlier in the evening? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade seemed to think he had given a sufficient answer to my hon. Friend on the question of corn averages, and taunted him with being in a minority of one on the Committee; but I remember Divisions on the Committee when the Government were only in a majority of one or two. I am sure the tenant farmers will not regard the refusal of the Government to inquire into the question of corn averages with absolute complacency. I have referred to the injustice of the septennial average, and will not go into that again. In the Debates on the passing of the Act of 1836 it was laid down that one of the reasons for its passing was that it would stop any tax on the money put into the cultivation of the land. Will any hon. Gentleman tell me that the tithe as paid now does not, in a great majority of instances, come out of capital poured into the soil since 1836 in order to improve the agricultural industry of this 1097 country? No one with knowledge of the subject will deny that. I really cannot congratulate the Government on their defence of their measure. I have not heard a single speech from Conservative or Liberal Unionists that has really been a defence of the Bill, and even from the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench it seemed to me there came a very half-hearted defence of their position. Under these circumstances, I ask the Government whether they do not think it would be well to accept this Instruction, which will give them an opportunity of reconsidering the matter, and of bringing in a Bill of a comprehensive character which will give satisfaction all round?
§ MR. C. W. GRAY
In regard to what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, I desire to say that I very much regret that there should have been so much Party animus in his speech. I regret also that the agricultural interest should again be made a sort of shuttlecock between the two Parties in this House. What I desire is that all sections of this House should try, if possible, to thrash this unfortunate Bill into a shape in which it will be beneficial, or kick it out altogether. The Instruction now under consideration is, undoubtedly, the most important Instruction of the five we see on the Paper, and I very much wish it had appeared first in the list, so that the Debates might have turned upon it. It is the most comprehensive of the Instructions; indeed, under it I should think that every subject of importance relating to tithe can be discussed. At any rate, I know that the interests of the agriculturalists are covered by the Instruction. The agriculturalists who are discontented with the existing law simply ask that the Commutation Act of 1836 should be reviewed. They say that agriculture has changed in its conditions since 1836, and it is upon that pivot that all their appeals turn. No doubt the Acts of 1835 and 1836 were well thought out, but whether or not they worked well for a time, I am most decidedly of opinion that they are altogether unsuited to the conditions in 1098 which agriculturalists now find themselves, and for that reason I must support the Instruction if the right hon. Gentleman goes to a Division. My hon. Colleague was quite right in drawing the attention of the House to the position of the yeoman farmer. There was a time when the yeoman farmer was described as the backbone of old England, and in discussing this question we must consider what effect the Bill will have upon that class. Everyone must admit the importance of the subject to that class. But is there a single line in the Bill calculated to give them relief? Not one. Nothing but the re-opening of the question of the Tithe Commutation Acts will satisfy the yeoman farmer, who has for 12 long years past demanded that the Tithe Question shall be thoroughly looked into. Her Majesty does not reign over a more loyal class, and is the answer to the demand, which the yeoman farmer has made to be that all the Government are prepared to give is contained within the pages of the Bill before us? If so, can anyone wonder at the yeoman farmer's disappoinment? They have been disappointed with previous Governments—though I do not wish to use the tu quoque argument against the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. The question is, not who has or who has not done anything for them, but what should be done now? This can be done—we can go back to the Commutation Acts, and ask how far they are applicable to existing circumstances. Where there is a will there is a way, and I am sure it would be possible to re-open these Acts, and try and make them more applicable; to the altered position of 1889. The hon. Member for Shropshire, who is a champion of the Church, might give us his advice in the matter, and I am sure we should be only too glad to pay every attention to his views. I must say, however, with regard to the Church view of the question, if you want to make the Church popular you must remove from that body every suspicion of greed. I feel convinced that if it goes out all over the agricultural districts—-at all events in England, and I will say nothing of Wales, as it is quite enough for me to deal with the wants of my own country—that the clergy would rather receive large cheques from the land- 1099 lords instead of collecting the tithe in small amounts. Whatever shaking the Church may receive in connection with this matter, will come, not from without, but from within. My opinion is, that if the Bill goes into Committee without the House having the benefit of this Instruction, the measure will not be productive of that advantage which the Government anticipate. Unless there is a very great difference between the Welsh farmers and the English farmers, it will have a disturbing effect in Wales. Who will say that the odium which now attaches to the collection of tithe will be removed when the County Court process is substituted for the present distraint? Who will put the rough process of the County Court in motion—who but the owner of the tithe? And surely the facts of the situation will be as apparent to the Welsh tithe payer as to every Member here. If I could do so without appearing to be presumptuous I would most certainly advise every hon. Member from Wales to do everything be possibly can during the coming Autumn to get the tithe payers of Wales to refrain from everything in the nature of disturbance. We in England are watching the action of our Welsh brother farmers with great interest. However severe the pressure of tithe paying has been upon the farmers of England we to the last man have paid the money so long as we had the cash. Of course, we have made our protest; and we shall continue to do so until the whole question is looked into on the basis recommended by the hon. Member for Denbighshire. We consider, however, that any one who encourages disturbance or who advises those who can pay not to pay is defeating the object he is supposed to have in view. The moment I find that any section of the agriculturalists of the country, whether in Suffolk, Essex, or in Wales, are banding together to refuse to pay what the law says is a just debt from them, to no matter whom, I shall lose Sympathy with that section. I hope hon. Members opposite will take this hint in good part. I am not saying that it is not right and fair that there should be a change in the law. We protest against the present law and sympathise with protests. I have been referred to once or twice in regard to 1100 the Committee which sat to consider the question of Corn Averages, and a feeling of esprit de corps would have prevented my making any allusion to that Committee had it not been for such reference. I have been appealed to as to my experience in connection with that Committee, and I answer frankly and unhesitatingly that I was very much dissatisfied with the Report which emanated from that Committee. I do not believe the Report fitted in with the views of the general agricultural tithe payer throughout the length and breadth of the country. Wherever I went after that Report was made I was told by the farmers: "We looked anxiously to see what your Report would be, and now it has come we think it worthless." It is quite true a gentleman who was once a Member of this House was called as a witness—I refer to Mr. Albert Pell—and he told us he was satisfied with the position of tithe legislation. I was very much surprised at that evidence, and could not consent to take it as that of a friend of the farmers. So one-sided was Mr. Pell's statement that I asked him whether he had any interest, directly or directly, in tithe as a tithe owner, and it then came out that he was a very large tithe owner. Upon that, so far as I was concerned, all Mr. Pell's evidence was very much discounted. I have been in a dilemma on this tithe question all the way through, but at the same time I have wished to be sincere. I have spoken my mind in the interests of my agricultural friends in the country, and so long as one hon. Member in the House will listen to me I shall continue to do so when opportunity offers.
* MR. WINTER BOTHAM (Gloucestershire, Cirencester)
The House has just listened to a very interesting and a very honest speech from a Conservative Member who represents farmers—who, finding his way, as so many others have done, to the House by promising to support the interests of the tenant farmers, does support those interests even at the risk of having to vote against his Party. I do not think the hon. Member, when he goes down to East Anglia again, will have anything to fear in rendering an account of the 1101 votes he has given on this Bill. The part of the country from which I come has been alluded to by the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks Beach) as one which has suffered almost as much depression, so far as the cultivation and the value of land is concerned, as even the East of England. I am able to corroborate the right hon. Baronet, and I am very glad indeed to be able to give my vote on behalf of the farmers who have suffered so much. The right hon. Baronet and those who have so long claimed to specially represent the agricultural interests, turn a deaf ear to the complaints of the tenant farmer and a ready ear to the complaints of the clergy and tithe-owner. The clergy seem to have advised the Government to upset the settlement come to in 1870 on educational matters—and I think they have done so unwisely. The change when it is effected will not be found satisfactory to those who have brought it about; and in like manner on this tithe question, when it is finally settled, the settlement will surely be in the interest of the tenant farmer who has waited so patiently for relief from admitted grievances as regard tithe for years. I do not see how any hon. Member, who really has the interest of the farmers at heart, can take exception to this Instruction. The settlement of 1836 referred to in it was a settlement to which there were three parties—the clergy, the tenants, and the landowners. The landowners soon managed after their manner to shift the burden from their own shoulders, leaving it on the tenants, although it is not a tenants' debt, and never was intended to be. In the interests of the tenant farmers of Gloucestershire, I protest against the present unfair attempt to upset the settlement of 1836 on behalf of a single class. I regard this Bill as an insult to the tenant farmers of England. I have not heard a whisper from hon. Members opposite to the effect that these tenant farmers have not paid their tithes—and paid them, too, when they could ill-afford to do it, and in cases where no abatement has been allowed. Why is this County Court process to be inflicted on them—why should 1102 they be insulted in this way in the interest of law and order in Wales? As representing an agricultural constituency, I feel it to be my duty to earnestly protest against this Bill, which I believe will be viewed with disfavour by agriculturalists throughout the length and breadth of the country. It is an old maxim of our Constitution that redress of grievances should always precede Supply. But you are not redressing the grievances of the farmers; you are altering the settlement of 1836 in the interest of the tithe owner alone—altering the position of affairs adversely to the tithe payers. I protest against that as being opposed to the great principle of redress of grievances going before Supply. What is this Bill for—this Bill brought forward at so late a period of the Session to take up the time of the House, to raise Party disputes and opposition, and create bitter feelings not only in Wales, but throughout the length and breadth of the country. What is the Bill to do? We hear from the Home Secretary that it shall be amended so as not to cause anyone to be imprisoned, for he has promised to insert words in it which will forbid imprisonment under the measure. It will do nothing but put a stigma and insult upon the tenant farmers, and pile up County Court costs. This Instruction is one that I heartily support, for I hold that if the settlement of 1836 is to be altered or modified at all, it ought to be amended all round, so that we may try to meet the grievances of the tithe-owners; we may also, at the same time, remove those of the long-suffering tenant farmers of the United Kingdom.
§ * ADMIRAL FIELD (Eastbourne)
As the Representative of an agricultural division in the County of Sussex, I desire to say a few words on this question. I think the hon. Member who has just spoken has touched the weak point in this Bill, which by providing that the tenant may be sued for the tithe, puts him in the position——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is going into the whole question of the Bill, and is not confining himself to the Instruction before the House.
§ * ADMIRAL FIELD
I will try to obey your ruling, Mr. Speaker; but, as I stated, the hon. Gentleman has hit the weak point of the Bill. I may say that nothing would induce me to support the Government and vote against this Instruction, but the conviction that we shall have a larger measure from them at a later period. I am in sympathy with all of these Instructions, and I think that every man in the House is in sympathy with them—indeed, Her Majesty's Government are in sympathy with them, and I only vote against them because I look on them as insincere—I mean in this respect—that it is utterly impossible that the Government could accept them, inasmuch as they could not be incorporated in the measure at the present time. This is simply a temporary measure, intended to meet a temporary difficulty, created by political agitators in Wales, and, unfortunately, the disease is spreading to certain parts of England. In saying this I have in my eye a country gentleman Magistrate, living in his own mansion, who declined to pay his tithe because the parson would not reduce the amount; and the consequence was that the parson was forced to distrain, the result being that a crowd gathered round the auctioneer, and there was quite a sensation in the neighbourhood. These are disgraceful scenes, and, for my part, I would send such men into any Court I could—a higher one than the County Court, if possible. When you have a man who can pay, and who will not pay, you ought to be able to treat him like an ordinary debtor. However, I do not like treating the tenant farmers, in this respect, as ordinary debtors. The Government, I understand, will insert a clause hereafter that will, in the case of future contracts, throw the onus of the tithe upon the landlord, who, after all, is the person who ought to pay the tithe. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby says we shall render ourselves unpopular, and that some of us will lose our seats over our action on this question, I reply that I, for one, am ready to face that contingency. The tenant farmers of England, and certainly those of Sussex, know that the Bill is not one that is levelled against them, but against disorderly people——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I must again remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that he is not speaking to the Instruction which is before the House.
§ * ADMIRAL FIELD
I beg pardon, Sir; but I find it very difficult to steer clear of the rocks and shoals which abound in this discussion. The word "cowardly" has been used against the Government. I do not know how that word was intended to be applied; but I think they are the real cowards who hound on the people to refuse to meet their obligations——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Gentleman would do better to adhere to my ruling. He has not once touched the subject yet, and I am afraid if he continues in the line he has pursued I shall be obliged to request him to resume his seat.
§ MR. H. COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
I rise to support the Instruction now before the House, and will give one or two-reasons for so doing. I have a strong conviction that the settlement of 1836 will have to be reviewed, but I desire that when it is reviewed it shall be reviewed in a comprehensive form. I hold in my hand a Petition sent to this House, and signed by Lord Aylesbury and several other Peers, who speak more strongly on this question than any hon. Member who has addressed the House to-night. Among the reasons they give for a review of the Act of 1836 they say that wages have increased to something like 50 per cent in the last 52 years. I am a large tithe-payer myself, and grow a good deal of corn, and I know what that means. They also say that while in 1836 corn was 56s. a quarter, it is now only 36s. or 37s. on the average. If we are to review the 1105 Act of 1836, let us not do it in a tinkering way. One hon. Gentleman spoke of the extravagance of the settlement of 1836. Now, I can recollect that settlement, and I tell the hon. Gentleman that the statesmen of that day, whom he was praising, were men who represented the Party on this side of the House, and who were opposed to the Party to which he belongs. The opposition to that settlement was much stronger than anything that has taken place to-night, and I say that hoc. Gentlemen should learn its history before coming here to talk upon this question. I feel that we are justified in saying that if we are to reopen this question we should review the whole position, and it will then be seen that the tenant farmers are those who have suffered most. What makes me feel that there is a great deal of dishonesty in politics is that hon. Gentlemen opposite who have said so much in favour of the tenant farmers do not allow us to measure their sympathy for that class. I ask will their sympathy lead them into the Lobby in favour of this Instruction? I desire that in re-opening this question we should do justice to all sides, and especially to that side which has been least considered in this matter. I allude, of course, to the tenant farmers who pay the tithe, but who ought not to have to pay it, and upon whom you wish to press more harshly the obligation which ought to rest on the landowners. I hold in my hand a letter from a distinguished Gentleman who used to be a Member of this House, and who is a tenant farmer. He states that—Owing to the action of the seven years' clause the tenants have been paying 10 per cent beyond what they ought to pay, and that, in many cases, the tithe instead of being a tenth, comes up to a quarter, and in some cases to a third, and in some cases to the whole of the rent.Now, the settlement of 1836 meant that the payment should be one-tenth only. The writer also says:—How any party, how any person professing to have the slightest desire to benefit the tenant farmers can vote for the Hill on this side of the House I cannot imagine.Well, Sir, I shall watch the matter in the Lobby presently, and the tenant farmers will also watch what is done, 1106 and if this Instruction is rejected it will be bad for that side of the House.
§ * MR. SWETENHAM
I desire to say a few words to explain why I, as a County Member, intend to vote against this Instruction. No one can view with greater regret than I do the fact that the Government has not had time during the present Sessi to review and revise the settlement made by the Act of William IV. That the time has arrived when that Act ought to be reviewed, I am quite satisfied; but it is manifest that at this period of the Session it is impossible to undertake the work. As the hon. Gentleman who moved the Instruction did not specify any of the points on which he proposes revision, I cannot help thinking that what he really means is what has been already discussed.
§ * MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I did not know it was part of my duty, in moving this Instruction, to state what particular Amendments I proposed to introduce; but if Her Majesty's Government will accept the Instruction, I am ready to put those Amendments on the Paper to-night.
§ * MR. SWETENHAM
I was only stating a fact. I wish the House to understand that, in my opinion, it will be absolutely necessary on some future occasion to consider the question of redemption as one of the modes of revising the Act; I also think that another mode of revision will be found in providing that in all future contracts the landowner ought to be the person to pay the tithe. I may also say that I think the Corn Average question is one that presses very severely on persons in the position of the tenant farmers. There are a great many other things that have not been considered, and which I trust may be dealt with in a future Session. I cannot help thinking that when the right hon. Gentleman said the present Bill changed the nature of the debt, he was in reality resorting 1107 to what he will forgive me for calling a quibble. The Bill does not change the nature of the debt; all it proposes is to change the nature of the remedy for recovering the tithe rent-charge, which is practically a debt on the land. The right hon. Gentleman, had not read the Bill carefully, would he have said the tithe was made a charge on the tenants' personal estate. It does not in any way make the tenant personally liable, any further than does the Act of William IV.; on the contrary, it specially safeguards him, so that the tenants' personal estate shall not in future be liable beyond what is provided by that Act. The last speaker asked what extra power does this Bill propose to confer.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is going beyond the Instruction, which isThat it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to review and revise the settlement made by the Act passed in the sixth and seventh years of his late Majesty King William IV.
§ * MR. SWETENHAM
I bow to your ruling, Sir, and would not have ventured into that part of the question had I not thought the hon. Gentleman to whom I have referred was in order in the allusion he made to it. I will no longer stand between the House and a Division, and will merely say I do not support this Instruction, because, as the last speaker has said, although it may do right to the tithe-owner and limit the wrong done to the tenant farmer, it nevertheless would unduly overweight the Bill and imperil its passage at this period of the Session.
§ * MR. S. RENDEL
I would observe that only one Welsh Member has spoken in reference to this Instruction, and that hon. Gentleman sits on the opposite side of the House. I think if any section of the House should receive indulgence on this occasion it is that to which the Welsh Members belong. We have been plainly told that we are responsible for occupying Parliament with such a 1108 measure at this untimely season. We are told that this measure is of our making, and this is said even by those who are otherwise opposed to the Bill, and only assent to it in consequence of the view they take of the conduct of the Welsh people in this matter. The hon. Member for Maldon, for instance, adjured the Welsh Members to do their best to see that law and order are henceforth better maintained oh this subject, and again, the hon. Member for Harwich, who dislikes the Bill, told us that he was prepared to support the Bill because of what is going on in Wales in regard to this subject. I doubt whether the hon. Member has a large proportion of the opinion of his constituents with him on this matter. To put this matter of breach of law in as succinct a form as I can, I refer to the charge delivered by Mr. Justice Field when opening the Summer Assizes for Montgomeryshire. The learned Judge then alluded to the general improvement that had taken place in regard to the observance of the law, and he expressed his satisfaction at the peaceful character of the tithe demonstration in that and the neighbouring counties. Latterly you have had the Welsh farmers resisting the payment of tithes up to the point of being turned out of their farms, and if all you do now is simply to enact a law by which they can be taken to the County Court, instead of having their goods distrained upon, the result will be very disappointing to those who believe that this measure will have a beneficial operation.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I must point out that the hon. Member is travelling beyond the scope of the Instruction.
§ * MR. S. RENDEL
I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and will only say, in conclusion, that I trust this Instruction may be carried in order that it may be possible to afford the tenant farmers and tithe-payers a reasonable expectation that something will be done in their behalf to render their position less onerous than it is at present; but instead of adopting such a course, Her Majesty's Government are now merely adding to 1109 the evil by attempting to pass a Bill under which the mischief will merely take a new channel, and in Wales, at any rate, I can assure them that they will find the last condition worse than the first.
§ MR. NEWNES (Cambridge, E., Newmarket)
As a large number of my constituents are interested in this question, I trust I may be allowed to occupy a few minutes of the time of the House, more especially as I do not often trouble it. I think, Sir, the number of Instructions that have been put on the Paper in order to enlarge the scope of this Bill affords proof of the bald, imperfect, and incomplete state in which the measure is now presented. Indeed, the Government have admitted this, because they have promised next Session to introduce something that will be more satisfactory. But although this promise has been made, one of the most ardent and loyal of the supporters of the Government, the hon. and gallant Member for Sussex (Sir W. Barttelot), has risen in his place and stated that he has long ceased to place any reliance on the promises made by the Government of legislation on the tithes question. If their own supporters cannot rely upon them, I am sure they can hardly expect us to do so. They say that another time they will give us a full and complete measure; but if there is time now to look after the interests of the landlords, there is also time—or there ought to be—to look after the interests of the tenants, and at any rate it is not fair for them to produce a one-sided result as this Bill certainly will do. I venture to say on the question of time that, if necessary, rather than do such a gross injustice, as I am sure this will prove to be, we ought to stop here till Christmas in order to do justice. This, Mr. Speaker, is a very large question indeed, and it is one which admittedly requires re-opening and re-settlement. The Government have admitted this, because 1110 they are promising us a settlement next Session. But I venture to say that to open it now in the closing hours of this Session in the interests of one party—the party of landlords—against the interests of the tenants, is a very strange method indeed for the Government to adopt in regard to the tenant farmers of this country for the continuous support which they have given to the Tory Party. I can assure the House that though it is not so in Wales, or in Ireland, the tenant farmers of England are the bulwarks of the Conservative Party; and this is how they are treated by the Government. Nothing will satisfy the overburdened tithe-payers of England but an entire re-opening of the settlement of 1836, and an adjustment of the question in the way we suggest in the Instruction of my right hon. Friend. The English farmers have borne their troubles with great patience; but I believe their patience is rapidly becoming exhausted, and this piece of business on the part of the Conservatives will open their eyes. If the Conservative Party desire to retain the support which has been so loyally given them by the tithe-payers in the past, they will, even at the eleventh hour, withdraw this one-sided and pernicious Bill.
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
The Instruction of my right hon. Friend raises the whole case which we have against this Bill, and the Division which the House is now about to take is really, I think, the most crucial Division we shall have taken the whole of this evening. I want, for a moment or two, to recall the attention of the House to what really is the point in dispute. By this Instruction my right hon. Friend asks the House to give the Committee power to revise the whole settlement of 1836, and he asks for that power because the Government propose to re-open that settlement with respect to one branch of it only. The only answer we have as yet received is not that the settlement ought not to be re opened, for everyone admits that it ought to be re- 1111 opened, but that there is not time to do it this Session. An hon. Member just now talked about the insincere position taken up by Members on this side; but I would ask whether there is any man in this House at this moment who in his heart of hearts believes that the Government is going to devote the next Session of Parliament to re-opening the tithe question. A very high authority—a gentleman in the most intimate confidence of Her Majesty's Government—has told us what they are going to do next Session, and I venture to say that that will occupy our whole time from the very day of the reading of the Queen's Speech to the day of prorogation, and there will be no Tithe Bill whatsoever next Session. This, therefore, is our only chance of dealing with the tithe question. We have not asked the Government on the 12th August to prolong the Session; indeed, we were quite willing on this side to give the Government every facility for bringing the Session to a close, and if hon. Gentlemen are kept here late it is entirely the fault of the Government which has thrown down the gauntlet, and has said that the settlement of the tithe question is of supreme importance, and that they are entitled to ask Parliament to sit on and do this work. Well, if the Government say that, we say we will have no half-hearted re-settlement. If the tithe settlement is to be re-opened in the interests of the tithe owner, it must also he re-opened in the interests of the tithe payer, and in the interests of the cultivator of the soil. The President of the Board of Trade has complained that we have not indicated in what direction we want this question reopened. Now, Sir, we hold, first, that as rent has gone down since 1836, so tithe also ought to go down if the settlement is to be re-opened. If land was in 1836 paying a rent of 30s. per acre, and it is now only paying 15s. per acre, then the tithe which in 1836 1112 amounted to 5s. per acre, ought to be reduced proportionately with the rent. I am not saying that that is right or that that is the contention we shall put before the House with reference to the re-opening of the question. We say, secondly, that the mode on which the averages are calculated is unsound, imperfect, and misleading. The right hon. Gentleman has referred us to the Report of the Committee. I have referred to the Report of that Committee; and I will not detain the House now by reading a number of extracts from the evidence which I have in my hand; but I may say that the testimony of men like Mr. Duckham and Mr. Clare Sewell Reade shows that the present mode of calculating the averages puts and additional burden on the land equal to at least 10 per cent. These are grave questions which cannot be settled in four or five minutes. We also complain that a large quantity of wheat and oats is not brought into the calculation. There are these three great questions to be dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman says, "I shall stand by the Report of the Committee," and he refers my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby to that Report. But the Committee did not accept the Chairman's Report. We cannot accept the Report of the Committee, which was carried by a narrow majority, as any settlement of the question. We say that if you want to re-open this question, if you want to throw the Tithe Commutation. Act into the melting pot, we are ready and willing to sit here to do so if you are; but if the question is to be re-opened, let us do justice all round. Let us settle what is fair to the tithe owner as well as to the tithe-payer. Let us re-open the whole question how averages are to be calculated and how tithes are to be paid. If you say in reply to that, "We have not time to do so," then I say you have not time to alter one of the three cardinal points of the settlement of 1836, and you have no right to attempt to alter the cardinal point which says that the landlord and not the tenant should be responsible for the payment of tithe.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
I rise to support this Instruction on grounds similar to those advanced by my hon. Friend (Mr. 1113 Newnes). If the Government were as honest as we should like them to be they would have moved in this direction by a Motion to revise the settlement under the Commutation Act. I do not know how far the Government have reviewed that Act, but certainly they are now doing their best to revise it by the proposition which is before the House; and I think that before they accuse the tenant farmers of breach of contract, they ought to have tried to have put their friends—the landlords—right first, because, undoubtedly, the landlords were the first to break the contract. They repudiated entirely the conditions of the Commutation Act by forcing the tenant farmers, against their will, to become responsible for the payment of tithe, instead of paying it themselves. I believe that is the sole reason for the present disturbances in Wales. They are entirely due to the plain dereliction of duty on the part of the landlords. If I understand it aright, the landlords refuse to carry out this part of the compact under the settlement of 1836. Under that Act it was never intended that the tenant should be liable. In fact, the settlement was made for the very purpose of putting an end to the payment of tithes by the tenant, because the payment of tithes by the tenant had caused so much irritation between the clergy and the agriculturalists of the country that it was found advisable to commute it into a rent-charge payable by the landlord, and that the tenant should be introduced only in the character of a "go-between." We are told that the settlement was a masterly piece of legislation. Why, if it was a masterly piece of legislation, do the present Government propose to disturb it in the interests of one party only, and to the detriment of the poorer of the two parties? I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon, when he said that two wrongs do not make a right. Even the Conservative Press in Wales is against the Government. The Western Daily Mail, a Conservative journal, in its to-day's issue says, speaking of this Bill and the 1114 present action of the Government, "We fear that it will aggravate the evil and make the relations between the clergy and their parishioners more unpleasant than ever." The Home Secretary says that this Bill affords an easy mode of collecting the tithe; but the Conservative Press do not even agree with that, for the Mail says, "It is a mistake to suppose that the present proposal will in any way make it easier to collect tithes in Wales." The tenant farmers of Wales will look upon this Bill as an attempt to threaten and coerce them into paying tithes to an alien Church, and in that is to be found the real difference between the English and the Welsh tenants farmers. This proposition will only cause irritation in Wales, and I am sorry to think of what may take place if the Government persist in pushing the Bill through. If there is not time now for the full settlement of the question, and to do justice to all classes, instead of doing an injustice to one class, and that one the poorer class, it surely will be far better to allow the present state of things to continue.
§ * MR. T. E. ELLIS
I desire, Mr. Speaker, to give reasons for the vote I am about to give, and I think I may say that if the Government desire to get this Bill through they had better allow the Welsh Members, who are most concerned in this matter, to have their say upon the subject. You have not yet got into Committee on the Bill, and you had better give us fair play and enable us to state our case. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, in reference to the settlement of 1836, said it touched three great interests—namely, the Church, the tithe-payer, and the landlord. I believe that the statesmen of that period felt in coming to that settlement that they were dealing with a still larger interest, and that was the interest of the nation itself. Before 1836 the tithe, as the hon. and learned Member for Harrow has told us, was merely a customary payment, but it had been productive of irritation, and if the hon. Member in their leisure 1115 moments will read the voluminous Reports of the Poor Law Commission, which sat for many years before 1836, they will find that the agitation against tithe and discontent at the payment of it was almost universal over the whole of England, and far more widespread than is the discontent now prevailing in Wales. The statesmen of 1836 felt that, unless they put the payment of tithe on some new basis it would be lost altogether, and they looked upon their work as saving a great property for the nation itself. Therefore the Act of 1836 was a settlement in favour not of a particular class, but of the whole nation. What we ask to-night in this Instruction is that if you revise and review that settlement, you should do it not in the interests of the tithe-owner, but in the interest of the cultivator of the soil, and above all, in the interests of the nation. One of the cardinal points of the Bill of 1836 was that the tithe was not made a personal debt. Section 67 of the Act of 1836 indicates plainly and in so many words that it is not to be a personal debt; but, at the same time, it had to be recovered in some way or other, and, therefore, the tithe was put not upon the landlord as such, not upon the tenants, but upon the produce of the land. Now, in this Bill you take away that, and yet you retain all the other anomalies of the Bill of 1836. You have thrown down the challenge to us in Wales, and I say that we have a perfect right, as representing the people of Wales, to ask that this House shall go thoroughly into the whole question.
§ It being midnight, Mr. Speaker rose to interrupt the Business.
§ Whereupon, Mr. W. H. Smith rose in his place, and claimed to move that the Question be now put.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 165; Noes 124.—(Div. List, No. 299.)
Question put accordingly—
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to review and revise the settlement made by the Act passed in the sixth and seventh years of his late Majesty King
William the Fourth, intitled 'An Act for the Commutation of Tithes in England and Wales,' and the Acts amending the same.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 133; Noes 155.—(Div. List, No. 300.)
§ Committee deferred till to-morrow.