HC Deb 16 August 1889 vol 339 cc1487-98

I ask leave to submit to you, Sir, a question relating to the Bill which stands first on the Order Paper to-day— namely, the Tithe Rent-Charge Recovery Bill. You are aware of the Amendments which it is proposed to introduce into this Bill, and I would ask you what is the practice and the rule of this House with respect to the introduction of Amendments of a very extensive character into a Bill during its passage through Committee. Perhaps I may be allowed to refer to the authority which we all refer to on these occasions. I have here Sir Erskine May's book on Parliamentary Practice, in which it is stated that— When a Bill has been committed pro formâ it is not regular to introduce, without full explanation, Amendments of so extensive a character as virtually to constitute it a different Bill from that which has been read a second time by the House and committed. In 1856, the Partnership Amendment Bill having been committed pro formâ, it was extensively amended, but no Amendment was inserted which it was not clearly competent for the Committee to entertain; yet, when an objection was urged that it had become a new Bill, the Minister in charge of it, while denying the alleged extent of the Amendments, consented to withdraw the Bill. When the Amendments affect the principle of the Bill, the more regular and convenient course is to withdraw the Bill and present another. That is what Sir Erskine May says. I observe that on the occasion here referred to Mr. Henley, a Member of great experience in the practice of this House, objected to the introduction of extensive Amendments affecting the principle of the Bill. Mr. Lowe said that— The hon. Member for Oxfordshire had given notice of his intention to move that the Bill should be rejected, on the ground that there had been an abuse of the forms of the House by the practical substitution of a new Bill. Then Mr. Henley said that— He felt that the new clauses had essentially altered the character of the measure, and that much inconvenience would result if the principles of what was really a new Bill were discussed in Committee. Accordingly that Bill was withdrawn, in order that a new Bill might be introduced. I would now ask you, Sir, kindly to say whether, when Amendments are of so extensive a character as practically to constitute a new Bill and to introduce essentially new principles into a Bill, it is not the rule and practice of this House that the Bill should be withdrawn, in order that a new measure may be introduced in its place?


The right hon. Member was good enough to give me notice that he would put this question to me, and as a very important principle is involved I propose, with the leave of the House, to go fully into the matter. I will first cite two precedents which, if they do not bear immediately upon this question, certainly illustrate the principle involved in it—the precedents of 1873 and 1878. In 1873 the University Tests (Dublin) Bill was introduced, and after leave had been given the measure was very much changed—so changed that the Speaker, having been appealed to, held that the Bill then before the House was not the same Bill for which leave had been given, and that Bill was accordingly withdrawn. In 1878 there was another Bill, the Hypothec (Scotland) Bill. When the Order for the Second Reading was read, objection was taken that the Bill had been so transformed as virtually to amount to a new Bill, and the Speaker then from the Chair ruled that, inasmuch as the Bill was a different Bill from that for the introduction of which leave had been given, a new Bill ought to be substituted, and the leave of the House should be asked to introduce it. The House will be good enough to observe that those are two cases of objection taken before the Second Reading, when the alterations had been introduced on the sole authority of the Member who had introduced it, and not by a Committee of the House. But the measure now before us—namely, the Tithe Rent-Charge Recovery Bill— is in a different position, for it has got into Committee. If I correctly gather the feeling of the House, it is that I should give a ruling with reference to this particular Bill. I wish expressly to say that in answering before a question upon this subject I desired to safeguard, as I do now desire to safeguard, the rights and the jurisdiction of the Chairman of Committees. I do not think it is proper that an appeal should be made from his decision to mine, and the House must run the risk of any collision of opinion, which, however, I may say very respectfully I do not think is very likely to occur. I now come to the case cited by the right hon. Gentleman as a precedent—namely, the Partnership Amendment Bill of 1856. That Bill was committed pro formâ, and a great number of Amendments were proposed in Committee, which so changed the Bill as to transform it into an entirely new Bill. The objection was taken, as the right hon. Gentleman truly says, by Mr. Henley that the Bill was entirely different, and that it would be inconvenient to discuss in Committee clauses the principles of which had not been affirmed at the stage of Second Reading. That, I think, is a most powerful and cogent argument. Now the present Bill, the Tithe Rent-Charge Recovery Bill, having been in Committee for some time, new clauses have been put down upon the Paper by the Government, and on comparing the Bill as it would stand with these new clauses embodied in it with the original Bill, that—namely, for the introduction of which leave was given, and which was read a second time, I am bound to say that I see a complete difference between them. In fact, nothing of the old Bill remains except the Saving Clause, the Interpretation Clause, and I think two or three other lines at most. An hon. MEMBER: "A line and a half;" and cries of "Order!"] In these circumstances, it seems to me that the Bill would assume such a shape that it would differ largely from that for the introduction of which leave was given. The right hon. Gentleman asks me what is the rule and practice of the House? I hope I am not afraid of taking responsibility upon myself; but in this case I do not wish to travel beyond the proper responsibility which attaches to me, and I express the practice of the House rather than the rule of the House, if I may distinguish between them. The practice of the House has unquestionably been, when a Bill has been so transformed, as in my opinion this Bill has been, that a new Bill should be introduced; that leave should be given to introduce it; and that the Second Reading stage should be gone through, when the general principles of the measure, as distinguished from its component clauses, can be affirmed. I express my opinion upon this point without the least hesitation, and I desire to affirm that opinion very strongly. Having said this much, I think I ought now to leave the matter in the hands of the House and the Government. I could not stop the Bill on the point of order as constituting a new Bill; but I do unhesitatingly affirm that the practice of the House has been in a case of this kind to withdraw the old Bill and then to introduce a new Bill in the amended form.


I have listened with great attention to the ruling which you, Sir, have now given on the question which has been addressed to you by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—a question arising out of the objection which was taken yesterday or the day before to our proceeding further with this Bill. I understand you to say that it would be contrary to the practice of this House that, in the circumstances in which we are placed, the Tithe Rent-Charge Recovery Bill in its present form should be further proceeded with. The first duty which I have to discharge in this House is to pay respect to any ruling which you may give from the Chair. It is with very great regret that I feel myself obliged in these circumstances to withdraw this Bill, which we had hoped to pass with the support of the great majority of the House. We were ready to agree to the changes proposed to be introduced into the Bill, although they would have undoubtedly altered very considerably the substance of a measure dealing with a question of great complexity and difficulty, and we certainly endeavoured to meet, as far as we possibly could, the reasonable objections of those who differed from us with regard to the course to be followed with a view to promote law and order in certain parts of Her Majesty's dominions. But, in the circumstances, there is only one course for me to pursue—namely, to move, with very great regret, that the Order for resuming the consideration of this Bill in Committee be discharged.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Order for resuming Committee on the Tithe Rent-Charge Recovery Bill be read and discharged and the Bill withdrawn.


The right hon. Gentleman must not misunderstand the object which I have in view. If the Government will now proceed with a new Bill in the form in which the Attorney General for the convenience of the House has drawn up those Amendments I, for my part, concur so entirely in the general principles of those Amendments—I am not speaking of all the details—that I will undertake to do all I can to assist the Government in passing such a Bill. The reason why I have objected to proceeding in the particular form of amending the old Bill is, first of all, because I believe—in fact, I may say I know—that considerable portions—not the whole, but considerable and important portions of the plan of the Government, portions of which I strongly approve, including the abolition of the power of distraint, could not have been introduced in the old Bill, and could only have been introduced in a new Bill. There are other portions, the portions that deal with the remission of the tithe in certain circumstances and the deduction from the rent to the landlord—those are parts of the Bill I think extremely important and valuable, and they could not have been proceeded with, in my opinion, under your ruling, Sir, which excluded the Instruction proposed by the hon. Member for Bristol, which was almost identical in its effect. If we are to go on with the old Bill and attempt to renew it "lock, stock, and barrel," we should make a mess of the whole concern. We should not be able to introduce any of the principles which the Government have desired to introduce, and the Paper would be in a state of chaos. What I desire is that the Government should introduce a clean Bill, if I may be allowed to call it so—such a Bill as that circulated in the form of the Amendments of the Attorney General. We can then consider that Bill and deal with it. It contains a principle which we on this side of the House approve of and have supported—namely, that the tithe shall be put upon the owner and not on the occupier. It contains a further principle, that the tithe shall be reduced when the rents and profits are not adequate to meet it. That is the principle we approve of and are prepared to support, and we also especially approve of the principle that in the future the power of distraint shall be abolished. These are three very valuable principles, but there is yet another principle in the proposed new Bill. There is the constitution for the first time of a universal Land Court for this country. The Government have proposed that the County Court should be appointed to inquire into and investigate rents, and to see what relation tithe bears to rent, and that if the rent is not adequate to meet the tithe, the tithe shall be proportionately reduced—that is, the Government propose to appoint a Land Court of Arbitration throughout the country to deal with all rents and all tithes. So valuable and, as some Gentlemen may think, so revolutionary a principle has probably never been introduced by any Government, not to say by a Conservative Government. Even if the Bill disappears, the principle it enshrines will remain, and if the Bill is introduced the principle of a Land Court will be affirmed, because from a Land Court like the Court proposed in this Bill, appointed for the purpose of deciding by arbitration how much tithe shall be struck off in consideration of the fall in rents and profits of land, from establishing a Court to ascertain what are the "rents and profits"—vague terms and difficult to define—but the Court is to determine how much of the tithe, or if the whole of it, is to be remitted—everyone can see that there is only another step to giving these Land Courts power to adjudicate between landlords and tenants, with power to reduce the rents. All I can say is that these Amendments of the Attorney General, upon which I congratulate him, which propound the principle of these Land Courts, which are to have plenary and absolute jurisdiction, I think without appeal, to determine per se the rights existing between the tithe owner and the landowner——


Order, order! The right hon. Gentleman is travelling somewhat wide of the question. It is my duty to inform him that according to the ruling of my predecessor in the year 1875 it is not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to discuss the merits or demerits of a Bill on a Motion for the discharge of the Order.


I was only discussing the merits of the Bill, Sir; but perhaps I was falling into the grave error of writers of epitaphs, and was including in my remarks too many encomiastic adjectives. What I desire to say, Sir, is that I myself, and I believe I may say a good many Gentlemen on this side of the House—though I have no right to speak for all on this side of the House—would be very glad to see the principles of this Bill established; and if the Government are in earnest in this matter, and if they will to-day introduce this Bill, already drafted and printed, and propose it for a Second Reading on Monday, so far as I am concerned they will have my support. I see there are some Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite who are not at all anxious to see this Bill passed; but I am happy to say that is not the feeling of all hon. Gentlemen opposite, for I am happy to see that the hon. Member for Maldon, to whom great credit has attached, and will attach, for the independent course he has taken in this matter, has a Notice on the Paper to-day that he will introduce a Tithe Rent-Charge Recovery Bill, and I hope he will do so. If he introduces the Government Bill I think he might carry it, as he carried, or rather did not carry, the Instruction winch has converted the Government. So far as I am concerned I shall be very happy to assist the Government in passing this Bill if they will introduce it. Do not let it be objected to on the ground of loss of time. There will be much less loss of time in discussing a Bill in this clear and concise form presented by the Amendments than the time that would be lost in discussing the chaotic mass of Amendments to the old Bill as it stands. Do not let it be said, if the Government are not going on with the Bill, it is because they have not time. The Government have quite as much time for dealing with a new Bill in this concise form as they would have had for discussing the Amendments to the old Bill. I make this offer to the Government sincerely, and I hope they will accept it.


I rise, Sir, at once to acknowledge the encomiastic adjectives of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman generally uses adjectives in great abundance. He has asked the Government to introduce a Bill similar in character to that which they hoped to pass with the Amendments on the Paper, and he has offered his personal assistance to the Government to pass such a Bill into law. If, Sir, the Government had any hope whatever that that offer of the right hon. Gentleman's would result in the speedy, rapid, and successful consideration by this House of this important measure they certainly would give most careful consideration to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman; but we have to consider the language of the right hon. Gentleman by the light of the acts of his hon. Friends whom he usually leads. I find on the Paper to-day three pages of Amendments proceeding from the opposite side of the House—three pages of Amendments to these valuable proposals of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. If this is the work of the 24 hours which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby said would be absolutely insufficient to consider the Amendments of my hon. and learned Friend, what will be the effect of the further delay which, according to the forms of the House, must necessarily intervene before we reach the Committee stage with a new Bill? If the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends will give the Government an assurance that this Bill as it is now shadowed forth will be passed forthwith, the Government will at once go on with it. But I read the Amendments on the Paper, and I see expressed in those Amendments determined opposition to the Bill as proposed. What interpretation, therefore, can I put upon these friendly assurances, these encomiastic adjectives of the right hon. Gentleman? I have heard this language used before by right hon. Gentlemen who occupy the Front Opposition Bench, and I have been obliged on many occasions to discount it by the action and conduct of their friends. If the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to give those assurances which have frequently been given, and which, I might almost say, were uniformly given by Oppositions in times past, though not during the present Parliament I am sorry to say—if he can give those assurances, then we shall be exceedingly glad to avail ourselves of his suggestion.

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

Perhaps I may be allowed to say, as a Representative of that part of the country which has been pointedly alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, that, speaking for my Colleagues and myself, while we are not unwilling to give a general approval to some of the broad principles of the new Bill, we shall feel bound to weigh and scrutinise most carefully its details, some of which may arouse our most strenuous opposition.

MR. SWETENHAM (Carnarvon)

Before the Order is discharged I desire to say that it is with very great regret I heard the determination of the Government. But I would ask you, Sir, whether it is not competent at the present time for the Government to withdraw the Amendments of the Attorney General and to take up the Bill where it was before they were put on the Paper? I think it would be most deeply to be deplored that this Session should terminate without a Bill passing which would certainly have the effect of restoring, or helping to restore, law and order in many parts of the country. To quote an expression used by the South Wales Daily News, "the tithe question is a useful lever for effecting disestablishment." As strongly as I can, I urge the Government to go on with the Bill. I may be permitted to say that, so far as the Amendments of the Attorney Gene- ral are concerned, I entirely agree with them in principle. Not only in this House, but for the last three or four years on every platform in the country it has been declared that among the many things for Parliament to do is the putting the tithe upon the owner, as was intended by the Tithe Commutation Act. While I agree entirely with the principle expressed in the Amendments of the Government, I cannot conceal from myself that even on the Ministerial side of the House there will certainly be Amendments to those Amendments. This will have the effect of keeping up the discussion for a long time. Therefore, unless the Government see their way to take up the original Bill, I hope they will persevere with the Motion to withdraw the Bill altogether.

MR. HERBERT GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)

I hope I may be allowed to say a few words, for I have taken great interest in this subject, which I have pressed upon the attention of the House, I hope not unduly. I hope the Leader of the House heard the remarks of his follower who has just sat down, because they will bring home to him and to the country that the opposition to the Bill does not proceed alone from this side of the House. I hope we shall not have it said that our opposition prevented the passing of the Bill. If the House will allow me I will shortly explain my own position. There are two parties in. the State who are much interested in tithe reform—one who object on conscientious grounds to the payment of tithes, and the other, in the agricultural interest, who only wish for a fair tithe. I am one of the latter, and should be prepared to support any Bill brought forward by the Government in the sense referred to by the right hon. Member for Derby. At the same time, I must admit that I think that the principle of re-adjustment ought to be included in any measure brought forward.

* MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

In a few words I should like to state my view of this very complicated situation. I listened, Sir, with great respect to your ruling, and with great interest to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and of the Leader of the House. When I heard the right hon. Member for Derby I hoped there was a prospect of settling this vexed and thorny question, because I am bound to give the right hon. Gentleman credit for straightforwardness when he says he is willing to help the Government in passing the amended Bill. The right hon. Gentleman speaks with great responsibility when he addresses the House, because, unfortunately, the usual Leader of the Opposition is not present. We are, therefore, bound to take what was said by the right hon. Member for Derby as the words of the responsible Leader of the Opposition. We had, then, an announcement from the Opposition, expressed through their Leader, that they would give their best assistance in passing the amended Bill. Now, I desire to say, with a full sense of my responsibility as representing as large a number of tithe-owners as any Member in the House; that I am prepared also to give the Government every assistance in passing the Bill, as it is proposed that it should be introduced. In doing so I am, of course, ready to make geat sacrifices on behalf of many tithe owners. At the same time, there is such a prospect of solving this vexed question as has never occurred before, and is not likely to occur again for a long time. I accordingly earnestly beg my right hon. Friend to re-consider the half decision at which he has arrived, and between now and Monday to come to the conclusion to introduce a new Bill. I know I am speaking the mind of at least some hon. Members on this side. I can promise the assistance of myself and my friends in passing such a measure. There must in such a question be compromise; there must be surrender, even loss. I earnestly hope that this question, which relates not only to the just rights of tithe owners, but to the peace of a great part of the country, may be peaceably settled. Such a settlement will not only remove the grievances of tithe owners and tithe payers, but will calm the disturbances which ha^ arisen in so many parts of the country.

MR. A. THOMAS (Glamorgan, E.)

I do not profess to express any opinion but my own when I say I do not believe that any settlement short of disestablishment will give any satisfaction to the Principality, and therefore I shall give all the opposition I can to the measure.

MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)

It has invariably been the practice in the House to accept the statement of a leader as expressing the opinion that he could carry his Party with him. I think it, therefore, somewhat discreditable that the right hon. Member for Denbighshire, rising after the right hon. Member for Derby, should have expressed a different view. I appeal to the Leader of the House, although the confidence of the Party has been somewhat shaken, to proceed even at the last moment with this Bill, which has been promised for three years, and is now almost brought to maturity. My right hon. Friend has declared that this Bill has been brought forward for the sake of maintaining order in the Principality. To maintain order is the duty of every Government, and is certainly the first duty of a Conservative Government. I earnestly trust, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will assure his supporters that he intends to stick to the Amendments of the Attorney General, and not to leave his Party in the extremely disagreeable position in which they now stand.

MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)

I do not intend to prolong the Debate, or to enter into the question as between the Bill abandoned and the Bill to be proposed; but, after what has been said from this side, I do not think I ought to sit quiet and allow it to be supposed that I will support the new Bill. I at once enter my protest against being supposed to agree with the provisions of this Bill. As my right hon. Friend said just now, it will require most careful consideration, and many of its provisions will be met with stern opposition.

Order for Committee read, and discharged.

Bill withdrawn.