HC Deb 14 August 1889 vol 339 cc1227-37

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 7, after the words "may be," to insert the words "if he (the tithe owner) has not distrained for the same."—(Mr. Secretary Matthews.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


May I venture to ask you, Mr. Courtney, whether we are to understand that by your ruling yesterday, the question of the entire abolition of distraint having been discussed upon an Instruction, it cannot be discussed again?


In reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I wish to say that the ruling I gave last night was that it was out of the power of the Committee to do away with the remedy of distress altogether, but that the Amendment of the Home Secretary gives an alternative remedy—namely, of suing in the County Court.


Then I would venture to submit that if your ruling is correct—[cries of "Order!"] Then I must really ask for the ruling of the Chair.


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is quite irregular.


I only wish to put the matter in this way. If, in spite of the arguments, Mr. Courtney, which have been placed before you, you still adhere to that ruling that we are debarred from considering the question of doing away with distraint, I am at a loss to see how the present Amendment can be put, because it does, to a certain extent, withdraw the power of restraint.


I explained this point to the Committee at considerable length last night, and I pointed out that my ruling was supported by what took place in the House itself upon the Instruction. The House entertained a Motion that it should be an Instruction to the Committee to provide in the Bill that tithe rent-charge shall be recoverable against the owner only. If that Instruction had been carried, it would have been in the power of the Committee to make the alteration, but the present Amendment leaves the power of distraint as it now stands, and does-not remove it. The process provided by the clause now under discussion is-not a process forced on the owner which he is bound to take, but one which is offered as an alternative. In my opinion, the Committee, although-they have no power without an Instruction from the House to take away, absolutely, the power of distress, are entitled to provide an alternative upon which the tithe-owner may elect to proceed.


I understand that the question which hon. Members desire to discuss is whether or not there shall be an alternative remedy —namely, the remedy by distraint, or the remedy by suing in the County Court. Now, I do not think that that question can be fairly discussed upon the present Amendment. I would therefore suggest that the matter should be deferred! till the Committee have considered the more important question of "owner" or "occupier," which will arise a few lines lower down in the clause. I do not think we can usefully discuss the question whether there is to be an alternative remedy, and to what extent it is to go, until we have decided, in the first place, whether the County Court process is to go against the owner or the occupier.


I understand the ruling of the Chairman to be that we cannot discuss the question at all—that, in point of fact, the result of the course taken by the Government upon the Instruction is, no discussion can take place upon the matter, but that distraint must remain. in full force as it did before, with the addition of an alternative. That is the ruling we have just heard. I bow to it, although, I confess, that I do not understand it.


The right hon. Gentleman is labouring under a misapprehension. There is no objection, in point of form, to the discussion of the question to which he refers.


I am glad to hear it. That, however, was the express subject of the Instruction.


The object of the Amendment, as I understand it, is to help the Committee by inserting a few words in the clause. Of course, the word "owner," which is to be discussed later, is of the utmost importance.


It is right that I should say that the Government are disposed to accept the Amendment to substitute the word "owner" for the word "occupier," so as to make the owner primarily liable for the payment of the tithe. The result will be that a good many of the Amendments which have been put down on the Paper for the purpose of altering the Bill so that the remedy may be against the owner, and not against the occupier, will become, of course, unnecessary. The Government will be ready to insert certain other clauses, in order to meet the cases where the tithes are greater than the rent, which have been referred to by so many Members, so that the owner should only be liable to the extent of the rent received. In these circumstances, I would suggest that we should postpone the present Amendment until this alteration can be made.


I have to express my gratification at the announcement of the Attorney General. It shows that the patient and arduous exertions of the Opposition have not been in vain. I will say nothing about the reproaches which have been addressed to me. I will say no more than that, as we are going to have a new Bill, I am very happy to think that none of the Instructions that have been rejected by narrow majorities will stand in the way of reconstituting the Bill altogether in its most material particulars. But I am not sure that the owner is to be substituted in the Bill for the occupier, as the Attorney General has not explained what the new clauses are that will be inserted. A whole scheme will be necessary, and, therefore, I think that the best course would be to postpone the further progress of the Bill. Indeed, I am not sure whether, under these circumstances, before we waste a morning that may be given to more useful work, we ought not to hear something of the new clauses which will bring about so material a change. Therefore, to put myself in order, I will conclude with a Motion, that you, Sir, do report Progress. The Government have already pointed out that the change made in the Bill by putting the onus of the payment of tithes directly upon the occupier is a great and material alteration in the Act of 1836, which declared that the owner should not deal with any person whatever. The action under this Bill primâ facie and entirely is against the occupier, although with restrictions as to the manner in which judgment is to be levied, and we think that is an unjust and unfair proceeding. The principle for which we have been contending for so many days is that if an action is to be brought personally against anybody it should not be against the occupier but against the owner. That principle, I am happy to say, has been recognised by the Government, who thus acknowledge that the view we have been maintaining is a right one. The primâ facie liability is upon the occupier, and from that point of view, if a judgment is to be levied upon the property of the occupier, the process is a simple one. But if the Government are going to change that and to levy the judgment upon the owner, who is not in possession and has no goods on which judgment can be levied, it is quite plain that an entirely new mode of procedure is to be inaugurated. At present I am in the dark as to the new clauses of the Attorney General. That the tithe charge upon the land should be borne by the owner is obviously fair, and after this announcement on the part of the Government it is only too plain that they are going to make an entire change in the whole system, which represents immense interests and millions of money in this country. Before we postpone so great and material an Amendment like the one before the Committee, the least we can ask of the Government is that the new Tithes Bill, founded upon new principles, shall appear on the Paper. Therefore, I move, Sir, that you do report Progress.

Motion made, and Question proposed; "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again."—(Sir W. Harcourt.)

* MR. C. W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)

The statement we have heard from the Attorney General so materially alters the character of the Bill that I shall at once support the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman to report Progress. At the same time, I may take this opportunity of saying that the proposal to throw the onus of payment upon the landlord is a principle which I entirely approve.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen)

We have now arrived at a point in regard to the Bill when I would recommend the Government to consult the learned Lord Advocate, seeing that they have accepted a principle that has been imposed in Scotland for hundreds of years —namely, that the landlords should pay the tithes. The Scotch system is based upon the principle that if the landlord does not pay he has always a representative—namely, the tenant whose rent is due or becoming due, and a simple process of attachment is put in force. There is, consequently, a double security for the tithe owner.

* THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)

I feel obliged to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) for the reference he has made to my right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate. I am sure that the experience which the House has had of the great ability of my right hon. Friend fully justifies the reference of the hon. Gentleman. I acknowledge that it is only reasonable that the Motion which has been made should be conceded by the Government. We shall lose no time in putting those clauses on the Paper which are necessary to give effect to the proposal which has been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. Under these circumstances, I trust that the House will now lose no further public time, but will at once proceed to the consideration of the other business standing on the Paper.

* MR. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)

I wish to take this early opportunity, as one of those who have urged the Government to convert the Bill from a bad one into a good one, to express my great gratification at the changed position of affairs. I trust the Government will lose no time in pushing on the Bill in its new shape, and will devote sufficient time to it to make it a good measure.

MR. LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)

I have no objection to the-alteration which the Government propose to make in the Bill; but when the Government first began the Bill, they announced that they would proceed with, it de die in diem. I hope that that promise will be kept, and that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) will say whether he is prepared to proceed with the Bill to-morrow.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I think the departure on the part of the Government practically opens out a new Bill for discussion. There is a feeling, not alone on this side of the House, as-to whether the opportunity for reporting Progress ought not to be utilised to-put off the Bill until next Session.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

I wish to put a question in reference to the remaining business upon the Paper, because if no satisfactory arrangement is made it will be open for any hon. Member to move, when the Speaker takes the Chair, that the House do now adjourn. We went into Committee on this Bill on the understanding that the Government proposed to take the Bill de die in diem; but they have now abandoned that course.

MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)

I should like to say how heartily I agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for East Somerset (Mr. Hob-house) This measure has always been viewed by me with but "partial affection," omitting, as it does, that most important provision—namely, that tithe should be paid direct by the landowner to the tithe owner. This I have always contended for, and the clause or power now to be added is, in my opinion, worth the whole Bill put together. No measure will ever be complete, however, that does not provide for the redemption, of tithes.

MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

The hon. and learned Member for Longford must remember that there are other Members of the House besides-Irish Members. The convenience of. Irish Members is a very important matter, and I agree that the Government ought to consult it; but I hope the First Lord of the Treasury will bear in mind that many English Members have given up many engagements, and stayed in the House at great inconvenience to themselves, in order to support the Government in passing this Bill, which they believe to be a necessary Bill. I therefore hope we may be able to get through the Bill without any unreasonable delay.

* MR. STUART RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell the section of the House most deeply affected by this Bill when it is likely to be taken again; and, further, I hope he will give us an opportunity of considering this entirely new Bill before we come to discuss it.


It is impossible to go on with the Bill to-morrow. The Amendments will not be on the Paper until to-morrow morning, and of course the question is a very grave one. It affects very large interests, and we cannot be expected to pronounce an opinion offhand.

* SIR W. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)

I at once acknowledge that I am very glad the Government propose to make this change. I think, however, that the loyal supporters of the Government have got much to complain of. The Government have put their supporters in a very false position by saying and arguing most strongly that the method proposed in the Bill is the only way the thing can be carried out, and then, without the slightest notice, making a change of front. However good the change may be in itself, that is not a fair way to treat their supporters. For my part I want a complete measure on this subject, dealing especially with redemption. It now appears we are going to have a half-and-half measure in consequence of expressions of opinion from all parts of the House—opinions which, with very little trouble, my right hon. Friend might have learnt long ago. I repeat that that is not fair treatment to the supporters of the Government, and I hope we shall never see it again. The change the Government propose is great, grave, and important, and I hope the clauses inserted will be such as will be fair, reasonable, and just to those concerned.


I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend was in the House when I stated that the interests to which he referred should be protected. I am to a certain extent personally responsible for not making the announcement earlier; but it seems to me it is not unreasonable that we should put upon the Paper clauses which will protect the landlord, who is to be called upon to pay. One of our clauses will, of course, reserve to the landlord his remedies against the tenants under existing contracts.


I should like to point out to my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir W. Barttelot) that there is another Motion that could be made on this subject—perhaps the most pertinent Motion—on which all the questions he desires to raise could be discussed— namely, that the Order for the Bill be discharged. The Attorney General has said quite truly that he is personally responsible, for he has been arguing with all his legal knowledge and ability that the tithe could not be levied on the owner.


My speeches are fortunately on record. I never said anything of the kind.


Then, no doubt, the mistake is due to the natural obtuseness which prevails on this side of the House. However, it may perhaps be better that we should report Progress now. When the Bill comes on for consideration again, and we have seen the Amendments of the Government, then, if the Government think it worth while to prolong the Session for the purpose of passing the Bill, hon. Members can consider whether a Motion should not be made to discharge the Order for the Bill, and whether a great measure such as this should not be postponed to a future Session.

MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)

I have taken a great deal of interest in this Bill from the commencement, although I have not addressed the House upon it so far. But I desire to express the opinion that this Committee should have, before Progress is reported, some definite statement from the Government as to what their real and ultimate intentions are. When the Bill was introduced it was comparatively simple and limited in its character. We have had one or two very important modifications of its provisions, and now the Attorney General has made an announcement of very critical importance, of such great importance that he and the First Lord of the Treasury admit it is reasonable the Committee should ask for a suspension of the consideration of the Bill until the situation is thoroughly recognised. The Attorney General has intimated that certain clauses are to be introduced, one with regard to the limitation of the liability of the landlord to the amount of the rent. I would ask him to tell us if he proposes also to limit the liability of the tenant as to the payment of the tithe rent-charge to the amount of the rent payable by him. I think, too, the Government ought to give us some information as to the general course of business.

* MR. G. O. MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)

I appeal to the Government to consider whether, under the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, it would not be better to drop the Bill altogether. It is now the middle of August, and we are confronted with a new Bill which will require many days to properly discuss. If the Government persevere in their present intention the House will probably be kept sitting until the end of September.

MR. A. S. HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)

A great many of us are afraid that by the present measure the additional power of recovery will increase the capital value of tithes. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Government will be prepared next Session to bring in a Bill so that this measure may not have this effect?

MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)

I wish to congratulate the Government on the step they have taken, and also to congratulate the House on the effect of its decisions and deliberations. Then I want to know whether the Government will embody in the new Bill some of the clauses proposed by Lord Salisbury in the Bill of 1887? If the Government are going to transfer payment to the owner, I think they ought to protect him to some extent as well as the occupier. Will the Government insert clauses in the new Bill dealing with the case where there is no rent to pay tithe?

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

I think the best thing for the Government to do is to inform the House what is to be the course of public business to-day and tomorrow. Is it intended, after having suddenly suspended the consideration of the Irish Votes, as suddenly to take them up again? Do the Government propose to take Supply to day and the Tithe Bill to-morrow?


If the Irish Members object to take the Irish Votes which are on the Paper to-day the Government will not press them. Then it is only reasonable that the Government should not proceed with the Tithe Bill to-morrow. We hope to put down on the Paper to-morrow the Amendments which are to be proposed, and I hope it will be possible to proceed with the Bill on Friday. Arrangements will be made, as far as possible, to meet the views of hon. Members who desire to consider the Estimates, and in making the arrangements last week for the consideration of the Irish Estimates the Government had entertained the hope that four days would have been sufficient for their consideration. I admit that the hope was an illusory one, but such was the expectation last week. In the course of the afternoon I will endeavour to come to an arrangement for the convenience of hon. Members as to the business for to-morrow, and I will state at the close of the Sitting what the business will be. In making the changes proposed we have endeavoured to meet what we believe to be the general desire of both sides of the House, but circumstances have rendered it unavoidable that these changes should be announced without much notice to the House. I appeal to hon. Members to give fair consideration to the proposals made by the Government, because they will be framed in such a manner as will meet all the objections against the measure, and conciliate the support of those hon. Gentlemen who sit behind the Government and all those who desire to see such a measure connected with tithe carried. In these circumstances, I ask the Committee to consent to report Progress.


What is to be done as to future legislation?


I think it is quite enough for the Government to deal with the business they have in hand at present.

MR. MURPHY (Dublin, St. Patrick's)

When are we to understand the Irish Estimates will be taken?


The Government are anxious to consult hon. Members from Ireland as to the order in which the Estimates should be taken. I understand that the Irish Members wish to take the Vote for the Land Commission first, and after that to take the Votes in their natural order—that is to say, the Lord Lieutenant's Vote and the Chief Secretary's Vote and so on.

MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)

Do the Government intend to take to-day the Interpretation Bill and the Technical Instruction Bill? With regard to the Interpretation Bill, I must offer the strongest opposition to one of the clauses; and with respect to the Technical Education Bill, I understand many hon. Members on this side of the House have objections either to the Bill itself or to certain clauses.


The first-named Bill is important, and I think the hon. Member stands alone in his objection to any portion of that measure. It is not generally opposed in any part of the House. Strong representations have been made to me by hon. Friends of the hon. Gentleman regarding the Technical Instruction Bill, and pointing out that it should be passed this Session. I am anxious that an opportunity should be afforded for the consideration of the Bill; but if the measure is strongly objected to the Government, of course, must give way.

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Friday.