§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ * THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Matthews,) Birmingham, E.
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I do not think it will be necessary to detain the House with any lengthened remarks. It is, in reality, a small measure, but notwithstanding this the Government hope it will prove to be a useful one. During the present Session, time is wanting to introduce and carry through the House a measure of a large and far-reaching character; and therefore the Government on consideration have determined to attempt to pass this small Bill, which they are very sensible is not one which can be regarded as dealing with the whole of the tithe question. The measure deals with a single point, not unimportant in itself, in regard to the means and method of recovery of tithe rent-charge. Until 1836 the mode of recovery of tithe in arrears was by judicial process. A person might, either by suit in the Ecclesiastical Court, or by suit in a Court of Equity, recover any arrears of tithe. But after the Tithe Commutation Act was passed the only remedy left for the 742 recovery of new tithe rent-charge was the remedy by distres. Whatever may be said for that remedy there is this broad objection to it—it is the act of a party only. By his own personally selected agent the party proceeds to recover rent-charge by the machinery of distress. Such a proceeding as that has necessarily led to some personal conflict between the tithe owner and the tithe-payer. It has involved in the late painful circumstances in Wales the employment at no small expense of what some hon. Members called emergency men, engaged by the tithe owner himself, chosen by himself, and employed by him to make seizure on goods. In the view of the Government that is a somewhat antiquated remedy which is certainly likely to lead to breaches of the peace and to personal conflicts between the parties. It is a remedy which is peculiarly distasteful to a large class of tithe owners—namely, those parochial clergy with whom it is a question not only of importance, but almost of professional duty, to be on friendly terms with their parishioners. It appears to the Government, therefore, that it would be better on all grounds that instead of this remedy by the act of a party there should be remedy by judicial decision. It is better that the tithe owner himself should not be judge in his own case, and be put to the assertion of his rights without any judicial decision. It is better in the public interest also that the payment of tithe should be enforced, as all other taxes are enforced—by the judgment and action of a Court. The Act effects nothing else than this. The liabilities of owners and occupiers are not disturbed in the least by the Bill. The limit of two years, as the period within which recovery must be made, is retained; and exactly the same property will be liable for seizure as before. Nothing in the Act will alter the priority of any tithe rent-charge in relation to any other charges upon lands, or alter the liability of any occupier or owner of lands as between themselves; and every occupier will have the same right of deducting from the rent payable by him the amount levied on an execution in pursuance of this Act as he would have if the amount had been levied by distress. The only change made is the substitution of the judicial process for the action of the party. The 743 hon. Member for the Saffron Walden Division (Mr. Herbert Gardner) has an Amendment on the Paper for the rejection of the Bill, and I would point out to him that, as I have said, the Government do not consider this a complete measure. With regard to the other hon. Members who have given notice to move the rejection of the Bill, I will wait until they have stated their objections before I deal with them. I wish, however, to make an appeal to the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), who has given notice of an Amendment to the effect—That no measure dealing with the recovery of tithes in Wales will be satisfactory which does not recognize the devotion of that impost to purposes generally acceptable to the Welsh people.For the sake of argument I will assume that the hon. Member is perfectly right in his view that it would be more acceptable if tithe were diverted from the purposes to which it has been applied for many centuries; but surely the hon. Gentleman must feel that his Amendment is totally irrelevant to the measure, which does not profess to affect the disposal of tithe at all, but deals with the simple question of making more rational and less arbitrary the manner in which tithe is collected. Assuming that tithe may be devoted to other purposes, a good, a safe, and a rational mode of recovering it now would be equally good and safe and rational in the future. I trust, therefore, interesting as the subject-matter of the Amendment may be, and relevant as it may be when another measure is before the House, that the question will not be discussed at length on the present occasion. As far as I can ascertain from Returns which have been placed in my hands, the amount of tithe for the whole of Wales is £274,490; of that sum no less than £61,168 belongs to lay impropriators. That is their private property, and it deserves the protection of the law as much as any other private property. Then £8,159 belongs to schools and colleges; £137,500 to parochial endowments; and to clerical impropriators, that is to the Ecclesiastical Commission, £67,600. Out of the recipients of tithe no less than £70,000 in round figures goes entirely for the purposes of education and national improvement and to private persons 744 who have bought their tithes for hard cash and are entitled to have their property protected. As to parochial incumbents, I have received letters from Welsh clergymen which will be of interest to many Members. Clergymen, because they are unwilling to enter into personal conflict with their parishioners, have seen themselves deprived of small and very often inadequate incomes, and their letters indicate a most lamentable condition of things. Their children are deprived of the means of education, and they themselves are stinted of the very necessaries of life owing to the unhappy differences which prevail in Wales. It is very difficult for a clergyman who desires to remain on a footing of friendly relations with his parishioners to assert by his own act the rights which the law gives him; and I hope that the Bill will confer some benefit upon this class, as well as upon other tithe-owners. I beg now to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ * MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
I think we have some right to complain of the speech of the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman has tried to show that the Bill is a small and insignificant one; but it is certainly, as the House will probably see, neither small nor insignificant We have also some right to complain of the Government for the manner in which this Bill has been brought forward. If common rumour is to be believed it would appear that the Government merely wish to take the sense of the House upon the Second Reading. If that is their intention and they are going to wilfully waste the time of the House at a period of the Session when time is all-important, if they contemplate sacrificing this evening to a merely academic and sterile discussion, I hope we shall hear no more charges of obstruction hurled at our heads either in this House or on platforms out of doors by right hon. Gentlemen who are directly responsible for the present loss of time. The opponents of the Tithe Bill may be divided into several classes. First of all, there is a large and increasing number who object to tithe on the ground that they wished to have a free Church, 745 who wish for what I may call free trade in religion, and who believe that protection in Church as in commercial matters may materially increase the cost with heightening the intrinsic value of the article; who maintain that it is inconsistent, if not unjust, to ask the majority to pay for the Church of the minority, a Church, moreover, whose services they do not accept, and whose spiritual comforts they pay for but do not enjoy. There is a a second class, who think that the tithes have been very much diverted from their original intention, which was to contribute something to education to assist the poor, and might, therefore, well be applied at the present day to relieve the increasing burdens on land. And there is a third class of opponents of tithe, on whose behalf I venture very humbly to speak, who look upon the question mainly from an agricultural point of view. They maintain that there has been a vast and unforeseen change in agriculture since the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act, 1836. They refer to the fact that land is actually passing out of cultivation because it is not able to pay the tithe levied upon it. Nor could it ever have been anticipated that the tithe rent-charge would amount to something like 50 per cent of the value of the land. I do not think they ever foresaw the poverty which has fallen upon the wheat-growing counties of this country. Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, roughly speaking, pay tithe rent-charge to the amount of something like £700,000 per annum —the whole charge being about £4,000,000. Therefore, these counties are paying at the present moment nearly one-fifth of the whole charge in this country. These counties, at the time this burden was put upon them, were the richest in the whole kingdom, because they produced the greatest amount of wheat in the country; but at the present moment they are suffering I more severely than any other from agricultural depression. Now, what is the attitude of the Government in this matter? In the earlier measures which they have brought forward, they seemed to recognize that there was some kind of grievance on the part of the tithe payer, who was the occupier, because they brought before the Houses of Parliament a Bill in which they proposed that the incidence of 746 the tithe should be transferred from the occupier to the owner. That Bill has been dropped. They hinted, moreover, something about a redemption of the tithe, which seemed to be a sort of recognition of some claim on the part of the tithe payer. But the Government's interest in the tithe payer seems to have gone smaller by degrees, and beautifully less, until the Bill, which they now present to the House, is neither more nor less than one conceived entirely in the interest of the tithe owner, and of no one else. I shall ask the House to reject this Bill for four reasons. First, because it is no use dealing with a question of this sort by peddling legislation; if you touch it at all, you must bring in a large and complete measure. Secondly, I object to this small and inoffensive Bill (as the Home Secretary would call it), because it goes behind the compact of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, in the interest of one party—namely, the tithe owner. Thirdly, I object to this Bill, be-cause it is so vaguely drawn in some of its most important provisions, that it would no doubt lead to confusion among the County Court Judges when they come to decide cases arising under it. Fourthly—and this is a most important point—I object to the Bill, because it for the first time introduces, for the benefit of the tithe owner, a system of fine and imprisonment against the tithe payer. I think hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will agree with me that these objections to the Bill are sufficient. When I first had the honour to represent my present constituency, my constituents and those living in the same part of England as I do, took this subject up, and pressed it upon me. I attended a deputation to the Prime Minister at the Foreign Office with regard to the original Bills which were brought forward by the Government. The Marquess of Salisbury, in reply, remarked upon the great intricacies of the question, and admitted then how very difficult it was for anyone to understand it. The remarks which the noble Marquess subsequently made proved to me and several Members present that the most eminent and distinguished of statesmen find it difficult to grasp even the elementary difficulties of this question. My own constituents pressed upon me the desirability of bringing 747 forward some Motion with regard to the readjustment of the tithe question; but, entertaining as I do a strong opinion on the difficulties of the question, I pressed the Government two years ago, and on several occasions, to grant a Commission to inquire into this matter; and had they listened to what was then said, the Government might now have been in possession of valuable evidence, which would have been most material in respect of the Measure which is adumbrated by the Home Secretary to-night. I think it is to be regretted that the Government did not see their way to granting such a Commission, but what was their reason for refusing it? All who take an interest in this subject have heard it maintained in private and on the platform that no inquiry could be made into this subject because the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 was a "sacred covenant" for all time, and to attempt to go behind which would be dishonest, and that was the reason I was refused the Commission for which I asked. I do not know whether that is the opinion of the Government now; but if that be their opinion, I want to know on what possible principle they can justify the production of this Bill. If it is illegal and unjust to go behind this compact under the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 in the interests of the tithe-payer, surely it is equally illegal and unjust and against principle to go behind this "sacred covenant" of 1836 in the interests of the tithe-owner, as you propose to do by this Bill. With regard to my second objection, I object to this Bill because it is so vaguely drawn that I have not the slightest doubt when it comes before the various County Court Judges, there will possibly be as many decisions as there are Judges in the kingdom. I would ask the attention of the House to Section 2 of Clause 1, by which the tithe-owner, if if he obtains judgment, may have it executed against all personal property. I maintain that that clause is capable of two interpretations. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is aware that the distress for tithe can only be levied under Section 85 of the Tithe Commutation Act, 1836, upon the land on which the tithe is charged, and on no other land. The right hon. Gentleman also knows that in those parts of the country where what is called "Field ap- 748 portionment" exists, the tithe can only be levied on the particular field apportioned in respect of which the tithe is charged. I maintain that there is no right of distraint on personal property, which is a very different thing from property distrainable under the Commutation Act. It may be that in one county, the County Court Judge will decide that you can distrain on personal property, and in another county the Judge might decide that you can only distrain on what is distrainable under the Tithe Commutation Act. I consider this a very serious blot upon the Bill, and if it become law and comes before the County Court Judges, must cause serious inconvenience. My fourth is, perhaps, one of the most serious objections to the Bill. It appears to me that if the Bill became law, the tithe-owner might inflict, or threaten to inflict, a very heavy fine upon the tithe-payer. Under the Commutation Act if the tithe is not paid within 21 days, the tithe owner may issue the statutory ten days' notice to the tithe-payer, and if it is not then paid, he may levy a distress upon the land, which is subject to the tithe in dispute. Now, the costs are exactly 2s. 6d., no matter how much the tithe is. But by this Bill the costs of recovering before the County Court is rather a serious matter. There is the judgment summons, the County Court fees, the solicitor's fees, and it may turn out that for a debt of £20 or upwards the costs will amount to £10 or £12. That does not seem to me a very small matter, but it is not the worst consequence of this power. As I understand, the Bill is merely permissive, and therefore the tithe owner has two alternatives. He may proceed under the present Act or under this Bill. In connection with this subject of tithe, there are inconvenient meetings held after the distress has been levied, in which political doctrines are brought forward, and which are obnoxious to the authorities, and lead sometimes to disturbances which I am sure we all very much regret. But if this Bill were passed, the tithe owner can go to the tithe payer, and say, "You can have your distress levied for half-a-crown, but if you insist on having a meeting, I shall go the County Court and fine you £10 or £12." I do not think that is such an innocent and insignificant measure as the Home Secretary supposes. On the contrary, I think it a most dangerous one, which 749 my hon. Friends from Wales will do well to take notice of. I really should not be surprised if my hon. Friends regarded this Bill as a sort of Coercion Bill for Wales. Then for the first time we have imprisonment introduced as a penalty on the tithe payer. Under the Commutation Act, recovery is ad rem; under this Bill it is ad personam—one meaning a recovery on the man's goods, and another a recovery on his person. Supposing a man has the means to pay, but does not choose to do so because of conscientious motives; by an order of the County Court that man may be imprisoned for six weeks. That, I think, is a very startling innovation to bring forward in what is supposed to be a small Bill. I think the House will admit that I have made out my indictment against this Bill. First, I have demonstrated that it is partial and incomplete, and lopsided. It breaks the contract or "sacred covenant" of 1836, in the interest of the tithe owner, and the tithe owner only. Secondly, I have shown that the Bill is inartistically drafted, and that it must inevitably lead to confusion when it has to be interpreted by the County Court Judges. Thirdly, I have shown that there are very serious innovations introduced, such as fine and imprisonment, and that you have given the tithe owner opportunity to intimidate and coerce the tithe payer with regard to his political and other opinions. I contend that, if I have proved one of these propositions, I have made out a strong case for the rejection of this Bill. And I go further. I maintain that I have proved every one of them. In a conversation the other day between the Front Benches, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said he was anxious for a settlement of this question. I am sure no one is more anxious than I am for a settlement; but this Bill, incomplete and undjust as it is, is in no way a settlement, but rather a further unsettlement of this most difficult and intricate question. What do the Government propose to do? They have refused the tithe payer even the contemplation of the Commission which I asked for two years ago, yet they come down to this House with an innocent little measure which goes behind the Act of 1836, in the interest of the tithe owner, and the tithe owner only. I cannot but think this will be unsatisfactory to every 750 tithe payer in the kingdom, but the consequences to Wales—against which country this Act is specially directed—may be even more serious. In Wales there are gentlemen who rightly, or wrongly, conscientiously object to pay the tithe; and if this Bill is passed, I cannot but fear there may be consequences in the Principality which will not only be disadvantageous, but even disastrous to the best principles of order and the best principles of law. It is for these reasons I ask the House to reject the Bill, and should the Government persevere, I shall deem it my duty to oppose it at every stage. I move "That the Bill be read this day three months."
§ MR. DILLWYN (Swansea)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to second the proposition of my hon. Friend, who has so ably and lucidly put the question before the House that I need not address it at any great length. I am very glad indeed to see a gentleman connected with English tithes state his objection to this most objectionable measure—specially objectionable to Wales. Tithes were originally a voluntary impost; by degrees the Church has, more and more, laid her grasp upon them; and the Home Secretary by this Bill proposes an arbitrary and easy mode for collecting this impost, which is felt to be oppressive in England and still more so in Wales. It is an easy and arbitrary measure in the interests of the tithe owner only. It enables him, by a short and easy process, to recover by fine—a process rendered more objectionable in Wales by the employment of soldiery and police to assist in the collection. It has been found so very objectionable as to lead the people of Wales to the conclusion that this cannot go on much longer. My right hon. Friend has alluded to the-Welsh objections to the payment of the tithes, and he has frankly admitted that the Bill is really directed at the Welsh tithe-payers. Of course, this is due to the fact that in England the payment of the tithes has not been enforced with so much vigour as in Wales; neither has the resistance been so strong. Now, the Welsh objection to these tithes is very great, and it arises not so much from an unwillingness to pay a fair and legal impost as from the feeling that this is an unfair and illegal tax. The object of an impost is that a Government 751 should have power to put its hands into the pockets of the ratepayers, and in return that there should be a quid pro quo—that some benefit should be conferred on the payers of the impost. But the Welsh people feel that no benefit is conferred upon them out of this tithe. They do not belong to the Church for the benefit of which the tithes are collected. They would willingly pay the impost if it was for their own interest. Hon. Members opposite laugh when I use the words "their own interest." Let me explain that the Welsh would have no objection to paying the impost were the proceeds spent on the education of the people. But they do not hold that it is to their own interest when the money is spent in maintaining a Church to which they do not belong, and which they do not attend. It has been said that the Church is gaining strength in Wales. I should like to refer hon. Members to an election which took place only yesterday. That does not look as if the Church were gaining strength. No doubt the election was fought very much on the Irish question, but the Church question was also raised in connection with it, and the overwhelming majority accorded to one candidate showed, at any rate, that the Welsh people have not altered in their dislike to the Church. I beg to second the Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Herbert Gardner.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ * MR. SWETENHAM (Carnarvon, &c.)
I have risen at the earliest possible moment in this debate to say a few words in reply to the objections which have been urged by hon. Members opposite against this Bill. In some remarks I agree with the hon. Member for Saffron Walden. I confess I could have wished that a considerably larger measure had been brought forward. I feel that the Government have been in labour for somewhere about three long years, and have succeeded in bringing forth a mouse. But, at the same time, that mouse is a little animal deserving, at the present time, of very great care indeed, and it 752 shall be my care to try and bring it to maturity, so as to make it a useful animal, not only in England, but also in Wales. Now, I quite agree with hon. Friends sitting on this side of the House, who hold the opinion that this question ought to have been dealt with in a much larger and more comprehensive manner. Still, I feel that this measure is only an instalment, of which more is to come; and I believe that if the Government upon this present occasion find themselves supported, as I am sure they will be, by all those who are the advocates of honour and justice, they will in turn, as soon as possible, bring forward a measure which will deal with such questions of burning importance as those relating to the redemption of the tithe—as to whether the averages shall be taken as now Septennially, or every three years, and as to whether or not there shall be some measure for the adjustment of tithe so as to make its incidence comparatively equal, instead of uncertain as at present. For instance, in Wales on some of the best lands the charge is only 6d. per acre, while it is as much as 8s. or 9s. per acre on some of the most impoverished lands. These are questions with which, on a future occasion, we hope to deal. What we have to deal with now is the present Bill. The hon. Member for Swansea, who has just spoken, has alluded to the soldiery and police who have, most unfortunately, frequently had to be imported into the Welsh parishes for the purpose of collecting the tithes. No one regrets that more than I do. No one has seen much more of the effects of that than I have; and it is in consequence of these proceedings, which ought never to have been allowed to be introduced into the tithe question—it is in consequence of them, that we are obliged to ask the Government to bring forward a measure of this nature. The hon. Member also told us that the real objection to the tithes was that in Wales the persons who paid them frequently did not belong to the Church to which the tithe is paid. In some cases, no doubt, it is so; but you must recollect that the tithe was left originally to the Church to which the payers may belong if they choose—it was left as an endowment to that Church—and you have no more right to take away that endowment than 753 you have to rob a merchant of that which is justly his due. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden made use of words practically to the same effect. He said that the tithes were being used to provide for the church of the minority. He also said the Welsh people wanted a Free Church. Yes, Sir; a Free Church is a nice sounding term, but there is an antithesis of that. It carries with it a suggestion that you are to despoil the existing Church, and I say you have no more right to despoil a Church of that which is justly its due than you have to rob a person of that which is justly his. If I remember aright, the heathen Town Clerk of Ephesus placed robbers of Churches in the same category as blasphemers. You may depend upon it that no Church will ever prosper if it is to be built up on that which is robbed from other people. And now as to the hon. Member's contention that the tithes are being used to provide for the Church of the minority. I do not know why he should say that, because, so far as England is concerned, most unquestionably, taking one particular denomination and comparing it with the Church of England, the latter Church, instead of being in a minority, is in a large majority, and I believe in an increasing majority. I trust it will ever remain an increasing majority. I have the very greatest sympathy with Nonconformists; there are many of them whom I respect in the very highest degree—many of them whom I can work with most sympathetically. They do an immensity of good in the country. But there are, unfortunately, Nonconformists and Nonconformists. I will tell you what I mean. I mean that there are political Nonconformists—preachers who edit newspapers, and who try to keep— and, I fear, effectually succeed in keeping—back religion and everything else that is sacred. Now, the hon. Member said that the tithe had been diverted by the Church from its original purpose; and that, at the outset, the tithes were devoted to education and the relief of the poor. I should like to know what research the hon. Member has made. Where has he found any authority, that is worth one penny piece, for such a doctrine? I maintain that nowhere can he find in any place deserving of consideration 754 any proof that the tithe was originally given for educational purposes, or that it was intended to be absolutely or directly devoted to the relief of the poor. Unquestionably it was so spent before the Poor Laws gave us a system of relieving the poor by the law, for until that time the clergy who received these tithes were almost the only persons who had the charge of the poor, and they, of course with the assistance of their richer neighbours, practically educated them and relieved their necessities. But it is only in that way that the tithe was ever devoted to the relief of the poor, or to the purposes of education. Therefore, you are not in any way by this Bill diverting these tithes from the purposes for which they were originally given. Now, there was another observation made by the hon. Member, and I wish to see how far I agree and how far I disagree with him. He made allusion to the agricultural changes that have been taking place since 1836. I know very well that there have been great changes. I know very well how, in some of the counties to which he has alluded, the land produces scarcely sufficient to supply the tithe. But there are greater anomalies which he did not refer to. I mentioned just now that in Wales, at the present time, some very excellent meadow land pays only 6d., 1s., or 2s. per acre, while land which is very poor indeed has to pay 8s. or 9s. per acre. I will tell you how that arises. When the Enclosure Act was passed a lot of new land, of virgin soil, was brought into cultivation; the farmer immediately plunged his plough into it, and it produced excellent crops of corn. When the Tithe Commutation Act was passed, this land was treated as being capable of continuing to produce these abundant crops, and a heavy tithe was put upon it, while the meadow land, which, as a fact, was better and richer, but which did not grow corn, practically came off scot free. What was the result? When wheat began to get so exceedingly cheap, the higher lands— to which the cartage of manure was difficult and expensive—were thrown out of corn cultivation in an impoverished condition. Now these are matters which must, in course of time, be looked into. I agree in that with the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. But let us see what is his real 755 objection to this Bill. He complained that it does not deal with the whole question. May I remind the House, however, that the Government are pledged to deal with the whole question, and that there is to be a Joint Committee of the Houses of Lords and Commons to inquire into the question of redemption of tithe. That is a very important matter for our consideration, and does away, to a great extent, with the complaint as to the limited character of the Bill. The hon. Member said that the Bill goes behind the compact of 1836, and that it is framed solely in the interests of the tithe owners. But he failed to give the House any ovidence in support of that suggestion. I think his remarks were founded upon a misapprehension. The Bill does not, as far as I know, go in any shape or way behind the Act of 1836. It is said that there was in 1836 a compact with the tithe owners that they should receive certain proportions of the crops—a third, I believe, of the yield of wheat, barley, and oats. But there was a tacit compact—an understanding that this arrangement depended on the maintenances of the prices of corn then ruling, and if the compact is to be broken, as it has been, on one side, surely the others have an equal right to break it. Then the hon. Member complained that the Bill was badly drawn and would cause litigation. Now, in regard to Section 1, Sub-section 1, which deals with the manner in which the distraint is to be executed. I was at first inclined to take a similar view; I thought it open to the interpretation by the County Court Judges that chattels would be liable to be seized for tithe. But now I cannot help thinking that that is a mistake, and I am perfectly certain it never was the intention of those who drafted the Bill that this should be the case. I have however, determined to propose an Amendment—and I hope and believe the Government will accept it—which will make it clear that nothing can be distrained on under the provisions of this Bill except what was distrainable under the Act of 1836. Then the hon. Gentleman went on to make a further statement; he went on to say that persons put into the County Court under this Bill would, if after that they continue to refuse to pay the tithe, be liable to imprisonment for something like six weeks. But there is nothing of 756 the kind in the Bill either directly or indirectly; indeed, the clause already referred to provides that the execution, shall not be levied "in any other manner" than that permitted under former Tithe Acts, and those words entirely protect a tithe payer from the liability of being sent to prison.
* MR. H. GAEDNEE
May I give a brief explanation? The expression referred to has nothing to do with the recovery of the tithe—an order by the Court for imprisonment will have nothing to do with the exaction of the tithe. The order for imprisonment will be for contempt of Court for not obeying the order of the County Court Judge.
§ * MR. SWETENHAM
I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong in his conclusions. I do not believe it will be in the power of the County Court Judge to order a person to be imprisoned if lie does not pay the tithe, because the clause provides that the execution shall only be upon such goods as could be taken in distress for tithe under the Tithes Act. I really think there is absolutely nothing in the objections which have been urged against this Bill. Fault has been found with it on the ground that it is permissive, but all it does is to enable persons to levy under the Act of 1836, or, if they prefer it, to adopt the more simple and convenient remedy provided in this Bill. Reference has been made to the conscientious objections of persons to pay the tithe. Living as I have done for over 40 years in Wales, and having been considerably connected with tenant farmers in Wales, especially in the two parishes where first the disturbances occurred, I think I know the ins and outs of this matter as well as any Member of this House, and I am perfectly certain that conscientious objections to the payment of tithes form no element in this dispute. There may have been such cases possibly; but they have not come under my notice, and I am sure that conscience has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the anti-tithe disturbances. Let us look this matter in the face, for I always like to meet my enemies in the open. The fact is the Nonconformists think, rightly or wrongly, that if they can create and keep up an agitation against the payment of tithes it will assist them very much indeed in getting 757 the disestablishment of the Church. They do not hesitate to say so, and I do not think hon. Gentlemen will say that I am wrong in making this assertion. But are they right in enforcing these principles by objecting to this Bill? Next Session, when the Government bring forward their larger measure, will be the time to raise these objections. I allege that the Nonconformists foster these disturbances; if they do not do 80 in words they do so by their silence; and I wish with all my heart that I could see Gentlemen with whom I am daily in friendly intercourse standing boldly in the gap, and telling their fellow countrymen not to be misled by agitators who trade upon their ignorance. After all it is the landlord and not the tenant who really pays the tithes, for although the tenant hands over the money, that very fact is considered in fixing the amount of rent. I hope that if there is a renewal of disturbance hon. Gentlemen opposite will go manfully to the people and beg of them not to be deluded by agitators who tell them that which they know is not true. I have now gone very feebly through some of the objections raised to the Bill. I trust that in the end the Bill will pass a second reading by a very large majority.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
We have just heard a defence of the Bill from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Swetenham). I can hardly congratulate the Government on their first champion of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman commenced by saying there were a good many grievances connected with tithe. He thought it was inequitably levied upon various classes of property, and then he proceeded to describe the Bill as a little mouse—a little mouse which was fed on Welsh cheese—and, having so described it, the hon. Member went on to anatomize the little animal, and said that the moment he saw the only material clause in the Bill he found that it would be so objectionable that he straightway devised an Amendment, which changed its character. He said the Government, not understanding their business, had put in a clause which would have a most mischievous effect to the tithe-payer. Then the hon. Member made a good many discursive remarks upon Nonconformists, and upon their consciences, which he 758 professes to understand. He said there were Nonconformists and Nonconformists; but that he objected to political Nonconformists. That is a criticism which is applicable to other classes, but you ought to extend the criticism. Supposing it is said that there are parsons and parsons, and that what you object to are political parsons. Suppose we said there are squires and squires, but what we object to are political squires. I think that would not be considered a fair observation either to parsons or to squires. In this country people are expected to be political, and I cannot see why political Nonconformists are to be condemned on account of their opinions. The hon. Member also said that the tithe-payers do not object to tithe on conscientious grounds, but because they object to the Church Establishment. But they object to both; they desire to see some other system than that of the tithe system established. It is perfectly plain that this question of tithe is indissolubly connected with the question of the Establishment. To endeavour to separate the two and say one is conscientious objection and the other is not, seems to me to misapprehend the character of the whole question. I object to this Bill on the very ground which seemed to commend the Bill to the hon. Gentleman. A small Bill dealing with a very great subject is a considerable evil. If I might a little change two well-known lines, I would say that in the view of the hon. Member—This Bill is good because it is so small,But it were better if t'were not at all.If you are going to touch the tithe question at all you ought to deal with it as a whole. I do not think hon. Gentlemen opposite are wise in touching it at all from their point of view. It is a very ancient building and it is not safe to meddle with it; and I would not advise hon. Members to begin taking bricks out of it. When I was at the Home Office, I constantly had visits from the Bishops who wished to have Bills introduced in the House of Commons with respect to the Church, and I took the liberty of giving them this advice—"My Lords, I think the less you trouble with the House of Commons the better from your point of view, because I don't think you are likely to derive any special advantage from that 759 course." But this question of tithe is eminently one which has two sides to it-As my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron "Walden (Mr. H. Gardner), in his extremely clear and able speech, showed to the House, when the arrangement of 1836 was made the prices of agricultural produce were very nearly as low as they are now, and that, too, under the highest system of Protection.
§ * MR. SWETENHAM
Not wheat on the Septennial valuation.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Yes, wheat. I venture to say you will find wheat in 1835 was below 40s. I remember very well Mr. Henry, a respected Member of this House, telling me that in 1835 a large number of farms in Oxfordshire went out of cultivation, because they could not pay the rates. The Reports of agricultural distress at that time show that there were quite as loud complaints as now in reference to the condition of agriculture. For a good many years after the Tithe Commutation Act was passed the Church had immense advantages, because the average price was very much above par for many years. But the case does not depend upon that question. It depends upon whether you are going to touch the settlement of 1836. My hon. Friend (Mr. H. Gardner) has said quite truly hat if you are going to touch the settlement of 1836 you cannot touch it on one side and leave the other side undealt with. If the tithe owner has complaints to make so has the tithe payer, and the Government have no right to deal with the question by considering the interests of one party and not those of the other party. The poor clergy are not the only tithe owners. A great portion, of the tithes in this country are in the hands of rich laymen, and the persons fortunate enough to become representatives of the despoiled monasteries of the time of Henry VIII. The principal revenues of Trinity College, Cambridge, are derived from tithe. Speaking of monasteries reminds me of another remark of the hon. Member. He says that a church cannot be prosperous that is founded on spoliation of other denominations. Whether spoliation of other denominations forms that sound foundation of the Established Church of this country which the hon. Member advocates I do not know; but I thought his remark was a little argu- 760 ment for such Friends of his as the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. DeLisle). Well, now the real question is, is it a fair way of dealing with the tithe question to deal with it in this piecemeal manner in the interest of one-side alone? I think it is not. It is said that the tithe is due, and that this Bill only provides a cumulative remedy. But what right have the Government to-give this cumulative remedy? What has taken place to alter the situation as provided in the remedies set forth in the-contract of 1836? It is absurd to say that the cumulative remedy is not altering the situation, because the Government are giving to one party a remedy which it does not possess without, considering the situation of the other party at all. It is unfair to deal with the question in this one-sided manner. If we are to have a remedy of this kind we ought to have done away with distress altogether, because the operation of distraint is always an odious operation, which belongs to ancient and feudal rather than to modern times. My objection is that you have no right to-attack or to change the settlement of 1836 without reviewing the interests of both parties to the transaction, and it is upon that ground I shall vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
The right hon. Gentleman has entirely ignored the special circumstances which, in the opinion of the Government, rendered it necessary, in the interests of the public peace and order, and for the proper execution of the law, that some measure such as we now propose should be brought under the consideration of Parliament. No one who listened to his speech would suppose that the right hon. Gentleman has the slightest knowledge of those painful circumstances which have arisen in connection with the collection of tithe in Wales; of the resistance which has-been offered to the bailiffs employed to-carry out the distraints; of the breaches of the peace in cases where, I venture to say, nothing whatever could be pleaded as to the incapacity of the tithe payer to pay tithe legally due. This state of things the Government thought it impossible to allow to continue without an attempt to find a remedy. I admit that the measure does not effect a complete 761 settlement of the tithe question; but it is an important measure from the point of view of the protection of those whose rights the law ought to be able to protect. This is not a question of large tithe owners dealing with small tithe payers. The real difficulty, the terrible part of the question, is the position of many a poor clergyman of a parish, who is dependent solely on his tithes for his maintenance, and is unable to go to the expense which a distraint necessarily involves in order, to collect tithes from those who are able to pay them and who are bound by law to pay them, but who decline to pay them for reasons stated in the speech of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn.) I hold in my hand a letter which is a bonâ fide representation of the class of cases which ought to be brought forcibly before the attention of the House. The letter is from a vicar of a parish in North Wales, and after stating the difficulties with which he has to contend in obtaining his tithes he says:—During the last 18 months I and my family have lived on a little bread, oatmeal, and bacon. Fresh meat is out of the question. If I were to put the present law into force it would cost me more than my tithes. The rector of an adjoining parish put the sheriff in two small farms for £7 each, and this cost £32 in expenses. I am drifting into debt to such an extent that I shall never be able to recover myself unless we should have some change shortly. I have been compelled to withdraw my children from school.That is but a sample of many cases in Wales, where through the lawlessness, for it is nothing else, of the tithe payers, the clergy are reduced to the state so pathetically described in the letter which I have read. And yet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, knowing of the existence of this state of things, ignores it altogether, and practically charges the Government with bringing before Parliament, for no reason whatever, a change in the law to the disadvantage of the tithe payer. I am as much opposed as any one to a change in the settlement of the Act of 1836, which would give an advantage to one side without any consideration of the position of the other. I think there is a great deal to be said for the position which the hon. Member for Essex (Mr. H. Gardner) took up in one part of his speech. I am connected with a part of England in which the tithes are as 762 heavy as in Essex, and in which the value of land has diminished as much as in Essex. The whole question of tithe is one which unquestionably deserves the early consideration of the House; but it is not a matter which it is possible for the Government to bring under the consideration of the House during the present Session. It is a question of the greatest difficulty and complication. The settlement affected by the Act of 1836 was a settlement of great complexity, and it was carried out with the greatest possible care. I do not feel absolutely certain that there is any such general desire on the part of tithe owners and tithe payers in England to re-open that settlement as would be necessary to give a sufficient impetus to any measure to pass it through Parliament. But, however that may be, there is no doubt whatever that a short or simple measure cannot effectually deal with the question. The Tithe Act of 1836 dealt separately with the varying circumstances of every parish in the country. In some parishes there are many tithe payers, in other parishes there are only one or two; in some parishes the tithes are very light, in others they are very heavy. Owing to the alterations in the value of land, tithe on building land, for instance, will be a very small burden indeed, while tithe on arable land may be an insupportable burden. In any complete settlement the separate circumstances of every parish in the kingdom must be considered. I devoted this year very considerable time to the preparation of a Bill dealing with this question. I had it in a shape in which it was practically ready for presentation. The Government, however, were unable to introduce it, though they hope to do so as soon as opportunity offers. In the meantime, we ask the House to alter the law, not so as to give the tithe-owner more than he can now claim, but solely to that extent which in our judgment is necessary to enable the tithe owner to enforce the rights which the law gives him. The hon. Members who have moved and seconded the rejection of the Bill were equally ready with their opposition to the Bills of last year, and will be equally ready with, their opposition to Bills of any kind dealing with tithe. Why is this? The hon. Member for Swansea said that 763 tithe is objected to in Wales as an unfair and illegal impost, because it is devoted to the maintenance of a Church to which the Welsh do not belong. [Mr. DILLWYN: I do not think I said "illegal."] The hon. Member went on to tell the House, much to my astonishment, that the Welsh would not object to pay tithe if it was devoted, not to the Church, but to educational purposes. Are not hon. Members aware that Christ Church, Oxford, is an educational institution? [Mr. T. E. ELLIS: For Wales?] Certainly, if the Welsh choose to go there. Is no educational establishment of value to Welshmen that does not happen to be in the Principality itself? The hon. Gentleman is himself an example of the advantages Welshmen derive from education elsewhere than in Wales. He was educated at Oxford, and Christchurch is in possession of a considerable tithe in Wales, and in no case has resistance to the payment of tithe bean greater than in the instance of the tithes due to Christchurch. Do hon. Members who object to the payment of tithes bear sufficiently in mind the harvest they may be preparing for themselves in the future? They desire—I suppose they anticipate—that some day the revenues of the Church in Wales, and possibly of other tithe owners, will be handed over to the community for some local purpose; but surely, in the meantime, the property must be kept intact. There will be no tithe left if the collection of it is allowed to become difficult or impossible. From their own point of view they are running the risk of depriving the nation of the reversion of a valuable property which, to whatever purpose it ought to be devoted, ought, at any rate, not to go into the pockets of the owners and occupiers of the land. This is what we desire. We do not touch the vexed question of whether the tithes should continue to be devoted to their present purposes or not; we simply ask Parliament to take care that proper facilities are given for the collection of tithes from those who are bound by law to pay them. I deny that this Bill involves any unsettlement of the settlement of 1836. I do not wish to enter further into that. My right hon. Friend has dealt with the second objection of the hon. Member for Essex, that the 764 Bill renders liable to County Court judgment other classes of property belonging to the occupier besides that which is liable to tithe, but I do not think the hon. Member heard my right hon. Friend's denial of that allegation.
§ * MR. HERBERT GARDNER
The explanation of the Home Secretary, however distinguished he may be as a lawyer, does not make the law of this country.
§ * SIR MICHAEL HICKS BEACH
Really I can only state what the intentions of Her Majesty's Government are. I can assure the hon. Member that is what we intend by the provisions of the Bill to which he took exception. The words, of course, are the words of the draftsman, and if they are not sufficiently clear we shall be perfectly prepared to accept Amendment to make them so. The third objection was that the tithe payer might be rendered liable to considerable costs by the working of the Bill and to imprisonment. I am informed that it is an entire mistake to suppose that the Bill will render the tithe payer liable to imprisonment; but if costs are incurred it can only be by resistance to the payment of the tithe due and to prolonged resistance to the judgment of the County Court. I think that a person who voluntarily places himself in this position of opposition should be mulcted in costs. These were the only objections raised to the provisions of the Bill. I do not think I need detain the House any longer. I have stated shortly, and, I hope, plainly, the intentions of the Government in introducing the measure and the necessity in their opinion for it. I leave the Bill to the judgment of the House, merely adding, as I stated at the commencement of my remarks, that we do not consider this in any way a settlement of the tithe question: that we are quite aware there is much to be said on behalf of tithe payers as well as tithe owners, in framing any general and complete scheme; and at the earliest opportunity we will endeavour to submit such a complete scheme to the judgment of the House.
§ * MR. T. E. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
It is very clear from the speeches of the Home Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade that this little Bill is aimed directly at Wales. The Home Secretary tried to make out that the Bill 765 will bring relief to the tithe payers in England and Wales; but now that is put aside, and it is confessed and admitted that the Bill is directed solely at the Welsh people. Now, from that point of view it is not merely a small Bill, but it is a dishonest Bill, for it tries by heaping up costs against the peasantry of Wales to evade this tithe question in Wales instead of settling it. Therefore, the representatives of the Welsh people look upon this as a dishonest Bill. It is a small Bill, but it touches the most thorny of all the questions, and raises the most conflicting passions and interests. It is no use to try and shirk those great issues that are raised whenever tithes are touched upon. We have heard on both sides of the interests of tithe payers, tithe receivers, and of landlords. Tithe payers grumble in England as much or more than we do in Wales, there is more complaint in England of taking the corn averages; but so far as Wales is concerned we care nothing about corn averages, we look upon this as a great political and national question, and not a question of corn averages and whether the tax is heavy or light. There are some in England and there are a few people in Wales who say this is a tax on industry that ought to be abolished, but with this the bulk of the Welsh people have no sympathy. They are not such infants in politics and economics as to think that the abolition of the tithe would do any good to anybody except the landlords. Some say the tithes are heavy, others that they are light. Now, this due to a large number of conditions, due to some extent to the suppression of the monasteries and the fact that the vast estates of the monasteries were entirely free, and at the dissolution of the monasteries that freedom of the land was secured by the Act of Parliament decreeing their dissolution. Another cause of inequality was the allotment, in many Enclosure Acts, of a certain number of acres to the Church in lieu of tithe. Now, no attempt on the part of the Government to equalize tithes will be satisfactory, so far as the tithe payers of Wales are concerned, and I think the same might be said of the majority in England. This Bill deals only with the tithe receivers, and they have very different interests. I think the 766 lay impropriator has an interest, not very honourable, certainly not very creditable to the history of this country. No sacredness should attach to the claims of lay impropriators, which are the worst burdens upon land, because whilst landlords do put buildings upon it, impropriators do nothing but exact the last halfpenny. Bishops and clergy of the Established Church look upon tithe as a peculiar property sent by Heaven in which they have a life interest, and the law has provided a peculiar mode of collection, allowing the receiver to go straight to the farmer and distrain. The touching of this property, the Welsh people have been taught, is robbery of God. It is blasphemous and impious, say the clergy, to touch this property; but we in Wales do not look upon the matter in this light. New methods of collection have been adopted, not by the clergy alone, but by some of the wealthier corporations in the kingdom. Not content with the method of distraint, they have brought in emergency men and dragoons to enforce these claims. But this was not sufficient to get the tithe, and now we have the assistance of the County Court invoked. The interests of payer, receiver, and landlord are all subordinate to the interest of the nation itself. This first charge upon the land we maintain—and I believe that jurists and statesmen maintain—this first charge is the property of the nation. This is the view held by my countrymen, and the charge that Welsh farmers are animated by greed in resistance to tithe is answered by the Report of the Special Commission sent to the disturbed Welsh districts two years ago. That Commission reported that there had existed in Wales for a long time a strong feeling that tithes were improperly applied, and the desire had grown up, not that tithe should be abolished, but that it should be applied to some lay purpose for the benefit of the nation. The hon. Member for Carnarvon, for the thousandth time, has brought in the dreadful agitator as the cause of all the difficulty; but this Commission reports that this feeling of the Welsh people has arisen from causes partly religious, partly social, partly political, and partly national. The people of Wales do not wish for any paltry settlement or tinker- 767 ing with this question; they desire that the property of the nation should revert to the nation and that it should be utilized, not for the sect of the minority, but to promote the good of the whole population. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir Michael Hicks Beach) read a very pathetic letter from a Welsh clergyman, with the object of proving that in the interest of the poor clergy the collection of tithe was to be enforced; but in the latter part of his speech he seemed to be shocked and surprised that there should be resistance to the payment of tithe due to the great Corporation of Christ-church, Oxford. He need not have been surprised. Take the tithe endowments of Wales from one end of the Principality to the other, and you find the history is one long record of spoliation. Many Ecclesiastical Corporations have some time or other dipped their hands into Welsh tithe. At the Reformation, for instance, tithes from one county were taken to found the bishopric of Lichfield, and from another to swell the property of the great Corporation of Christchurch, Oxford. It is not for me now to plead the necessities of Wales in educational matters, they are patent to all men, and yet the Nonconformist people of Wales are asked to pay willingly, spontaneously, and joyfully from their educational poverty to keep up the largest and richest and most aristocratic of the colleges of Oxford. Not alone is it for the purposes of education. According to the Tithe Return of 1887, the Dean and Chapter of Christchurch are the clerical appropriators of tithes of several parishes in Montgomeryshire, so that they are even here used to maintain the English Church Establishment. Some of the very best friends of the Church in Wales have seen for half a century and more that the continued existence of these abuses would inevitably arouse the strong feelings of the Welsh people against the Church. The people silently suffered for generations because they had no voice in political matters, but the best friends of the Church saw the prospect of a great uprising of the people against this system long ago, and you may find this clearly indicated in Mr. Jones' remarkable book, "The Rise of Dissent in Wales." The references there showing how Welsh 768 tithe is devoted to the support of Deans and Chapters and Bishoprics and other Church purposes in various parts of England will explain that resistance to the payment of the Christchurch College tithe which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade thinks so unnatural. There is a great corporation represented in this House by an hon. Baronet whom we all greatly respect. I mean the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I have no great complaint to make against the management of the estates of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; but the fact is that very many of the clergymen in Wales showed their sympathy four or five years ago with the farmers in their distress and gave small reductions of 5 and 7½ per cent.; and those who evinced a sympathetic spirit are able to get their tithes without any difficulty. But the Commissioners exact the uttermost farthing. No doubt there are parishes in which the payment of tithes to the clergy is stoutly refused; but in those parishes there exist the memories of great wrong and of the tithes having formerly been paid year after year either to immoral clergymen or to absentees who never came near the parishes. Throughout a vast number of parishes in Wales the history of the tithe is a record of its application to absentee tithe owners. For instance, I could point out a parish in Montgomeryshire, where some half a century ago tithes to the amount of £750 went to absentee clergymen, while the religious care of souls in that parish was entrusted to a poor curate with £90 a year. In these Tithe Commutation Returns you may see how the tithes are diverted to ecclesiastical purposes in England, as, for instance, part of the tithe collected in Brecon being devoted to the support of the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester and the Dean and Chapter of Windsor. Can the House seriously expect that at any time, now or in the future, the people of Brecon will be content to have this first charge upon their industry devoted to such purposes? Whatever pains and penalties you impose on the Welsh Nonconformist peasantry, you will not get one inch nearer to your goal. The Welsh people are hard to drive, and this is shown by the history of this tithe agitation. With police, bailiffs, and military, the attempt to collect the 769 tithes was a failure, for week by week the resistance of the people grew more stubborn. But then the Chief Constable of Montgomeryshire bethought him of a more peaceful method of collection, and he adopted the policy of consulting the people and conciliating them, and now tithes in Montgomeryshire are collected as easily as rent. This peaceful policy was jeered at by the Chief Constables of adjoining counties, but they have come round to the opinion that Major Godfrey was right, and they have followed his example. Now, the Home Secretary has told us that in the distribution of the tithes education gets a large share. Only a mere trifle of the Welsh tithes goes to the schools and educational institutions of Wales, the bulk of them going to All Souls College, and Christchurch, Oxford, the London Grocers' Company, Tewkesbury, Clare Hospital, and other bodies outside the Principality. Even the exceptions, and where schools and colleges in Wales get a share of the tithe, though well managed from an educational point of view, they do not give satisfaction to the Welsh people, as they are managed almost wholly by Churchmen. The chief of the arguments of the right hon. Member for Bristol was the pathetic letter which he read from a clergyman. I will not ask the right hon. Gentleman to which parish or county that letter related; but I imagine that in that parish, as in every other, there must be rich men and squires who draw the rent. I admit that to some extent it is a hard fate that a man should have to live on bread, oatmeal, and bacon, and seldom to get fresh meat; but, after all, that is the fate of nine-tenths of my countrymen in the rural districts. Although I am quite willing to admit that many of the clergy have suffered, what a scathing criticism this is upon the tithe system. Here is a poor people, without any of the advantage of a tithe endowment, though robbed and despoiled for generations, yet who have by their own efforts in their poverty built up a system of religious and educational institutions that all over Wales, in lonely valleys, on bleak hillsides, in busy industrial centres, and on the quiet country side, make provision for their religious and social advancement. What remains of the Established Church in 770 Wales is the rent receivers, large land owners, and capitalists of Wales, and yet your chief argument amounts to this, that the clergy are starved because those who receive their ministrations do not come forward in their support. We are often told that the clergy in Wales do their utmost to come into contact with their tenants. That is certainly a revelation. It is very desirable that the parson and his flock should know each other; and it may be, as a witness before the Richmond. Commission said, the payment of tithes is an opportunity of communication. It is desirable that the clergyman and his people should know each other, but there is the sad fact that the past history of the Church, its present condition, and, more than that, its present spirit in Wales make that well-nigh impossible. It may be said that in times gone by the state of the Church in Wales was sad and deplorable; half of the tithes in the various counties were enjoyed by absentee clergymen, but that now things are altogether changed. But the change is only in method, there are the same difficulties, the same estrangement now as there were a hundred years ago. It many cases—such, for instance, as that I referred to by question to-day—the clergyman is the owner and manager of the only public elementary and State-aided school in the parish, and no-Nonconformist in the parish can ever become a teacher in the school, or have a voice in its management. After long years of trouble and endeavour the Nonconformists of Wales obtained from Parliament relief in the matter of burials, and even the Archbishops and Bishops in the House of Lords thought it was expedient to make the settlement; but the Welsh clergy have set themselves deliberately to frustrate, as far as they possibly can, the working of the Burial Act. I have a further charge against many of the clergy, the most serious of all, that so strong is their antagonism to the Nonconformist peasantry that they have gone out of their way to make it difficult for the Nonconformist peasantry to remain at peace with their landlords. While such a state of feeling exists it is difficult, if not impossible, for the clergy to come into close or friendly religious relations with their parishioners. I am satisfied that any attempt on the part of the House to make the collection 771 of tithes more easy, by heaping costs on the peasantry, will only open again the bitter and lamentable controversy which raged some time ago, before the Chief Constable of Montgomeryshire intended a more peaceful policy in regard to tithe collection. The people of Wales were supported by the hope that at last the House of Commons would provide them some relief, but if you declare war against them instead of proposing a peaceful settlement of the controversy, then there will be a repetition of the regretable scene that took place in Wales some three years ago. The unanimous feeling of Nonconformists and of the feeling among many Churchmen too is that the Government should not have brought forward this peddling and tinkering Bill, but some scheme which would be a great and final settlement in accordance with the wishes of the people. Wales does not want this Bill, and as far as I can make out England does not want it. The only people who want it are corporations and the present tithe receivers in Wales. It is simply a piece of class legislation of the worst kind. The Bill may be a small Bill, but it is a Bill which will create great irritation, and inevitably disturb social order. Legal authorities declare that the Bill as drafted will inevitably result in imprisonment of people who refuse to obey the order of the County Court; and such a proceeding will make it more difficult for clergymen to collect these tithes. Does a Tory Ministry believe that because the debt is asked for by a County Court that the sturdy peasantry will immediately and spontaneously pay the tithe? No, the resistance will be still more stubborn, you will make the work of the Church in Wales still more difficult, and what, perhaps, hon. Gentlemen on the other side may think even more serious, it will lose you seats at the next General Election. I feel I have taken up too much of the time of the' House. I desire in this matter to be perfectly frank. So far as Wales is concerned, we do not be live in tithe redemption schemes, in tithe equalisation schemes, or in tithe-collection-made-easy schemes, which are all schemes for evading the question, or bringing relief to receivers, or landlords. What we want in Wales, and what the Welsh people have declared over and 772 over again, is that there will be no final and satisfactory settlement of the question until tithes are devoted to national purposes. The first charge on the industry and toil of the Welsh people must not be an engine used for keeping up religious inequality and the dissemination of bitterness and strife in Wales, but a great instrument for the common good and welfare of the people.
§ SIR J. MOWBRAY (Oxford University)
I will not attempt to follow the somewhat discursive remarks of the hon. Member, but as representing the Ecclesiastical Commission, I feel bound to take notice of some of the references to that body. At the conclusion of his speech the hon. Member expressed his desire to be frank, and I wish he had been equally frank at the beginning. He mentioned the Ecclesiastical Commission in connection with other Corporations who had, he said, dipped into the tithes of Wales.
§ * MR. T. E. ELLIS
I mentioned several instances in which Corporations had diverted the tithes to such purposes as the Bishopric of Gloucester and the Deanery of Windsor. I did not specially mention the Ecclesiastical Commission except as a large Corporation, which, with others, collected tithes in Wales.
§ SIR J. MOWBRAY
The hon. Member spoke of Corporations generally, and said that many of the great ecclesiastical corporations dipped into the tithes of Wales; but the hon. Gentleman seemed to have forgotten his own Return, laid before the House in April last, with respect to the income which the Ecclesiastical Commission received last year from Wales and the expenditure undertaken by it in Wales. That great Corporation received in the last year as annual income from property in Wales £28,799, and they paid away in Wales, to bishops, chapters, archdeacons, and to the Lampeter College, £32,023. In addition to that they paid in grants for the augmentation of benefices, £35,611. So that this Corporation paid away £7,000 more than they received in Wales, besides providing for the Welsh people such luxuries as bishops, chapters, archdeacons, and so on. It cannot, therefore, be said that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have dipped into Welsh tithes for other than Welsh purposes. I will not dwell at length upon the Bill, 773 but I think this Debate will probably convince the Government of the difficulty of dealing with large questions by small Bills,—but the Bill, so far as it goes, will have my hearty support. It is no less in the interest of the tithepayer than in the interest of the titheowner that the present antiquated and distasteful method of recovering tithes should be abolished. It has been urged that a County Court process of recovery would subject the tithepayer to imprisonment for resistance. But the Government have declared, and the Homo Secretary is an eminent lawyer entitled to speak with authority, that they have no intention of involving such consequences, and if there be any doubt as to the purport of the Bill an Amendment will remedy the difficulty.
MR. BANDELL (Glamorgan, Gower)
The Home Secretary has described the Bill as small, and the hon. Member for Carnarvon has added to the description "inoffensive, "but I cannot admit that this last description applies, I am sure that the Welsh people will consider it an obnoxious Bill, and I think it will only aggravate existing evils and double the cost of procedure for the recovery of tithes. My objections are directed against the Bill as aimed, as it assuredly is, at the Principality of Wales. Our objection is aimed not at the recovery but at the present application of the tithes. If you apply those tithes to uses which will meet with the general acceptance of the Welsh people you will have no difficulty as to their recovery. As to the present mode of levying distraint, the Home Secretary has described it as a cumbersome machinery. No doubt it is cumbersome; but I think it is less expensive and less objectionable than the method now proposed in substitution for it. It is less expensive because the present cost amounts merely to a few shillings, whereas the cost of County Court proceedings will certainly amount to a larger sum. When the tithe owner shall have gone into the County Court and obtained his Judgment and "no effects "are returned he will have to go to the County Court for his judgment summons.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
§ MR. RANDELL
I am glad to hear that denial from the right hon. Gentleman, but under the Bill as at present drawn up the judgment creditor has a 774 right to apply for a judgment summons. The Bill is objectionable also because the consequence will be the imprisonment of the tithe payer if he resists the bailiff of the County Court when he levies execution and there are no goods distrainable upon. I should be glad if the Home Secretary would rise in his place and tell us there will be no imprisonment under the Bill.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
As the hon. Gentleman challenges me I will at once declare that in my belief it is quite sufficient to tie down the execution to only such distrainable goods as are either upon the tithable land or upon land within the same parish and in the same occupation as the tithable land. Furthermore, the Bill prevents a judgment from being executed in any other manner than upon the seizure of such goods, and therefore judgment cannot be executed with the machinery of a judgment summons, which is such a bugbear to hon. Gentlemen opposite. That is the intention of the Bill, and if it be not carried out by the words I shall be prepared to strengthen and alter the words. I hope, therefore, that imaginary difficulties and obstacles will not again be raised on this point.
§ MR. RANDELL
I am glad to receive that explanation from the right hon. Gentleman, but as the Bill is drawn that is not so. The money is treated as a debt.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
The judgment recovered by the debt is to be treated only against certain defined property, and in no other manner whatever.
§ MR. RANDELL
Then I take it that the Government do not intend to give the tithe owner the power of applying: for a judgment summons. Well, if that be so, I say it is a perfect waste of time to discuss the Bill. The bailiff who will levy the execution of the County Court is very much the same person who distrains now for tithes. If the goods are removed the distraint will be an abortive instrument. I am sure the promoters of the Bill behind the Government will be very much surprised that the Government do not intend to give the power of imprisonment. I hope the Home Secretary will, for the sake of the landowners, provide that where there are sufficient assets to meet the execution the proceedings will be confined to the 775 County Court, and that the High Court will not be invoked, because the costs in the High Court in proceedings of thiskind are really a very serious matter to the landlord, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, as the tithe is a first charge on the premises, he will introduce a clause into the Bill making the wages of the agricultural labourer and the workmen a preferential charge before the tithe in the event of the bankruptcy of the landlord. I myself desire to express sympathy with those clergymen who find difficulty in the collection of tithes; but I say that the Government have it in their own power to remove that difficulty by disestablishing the English Church in Wales.
MR. JEFPEEYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
I must confess I am sorry the Government have brought in such a trivial Bill. I had hoped to see a more comprehensive measure than this, and one which would have settled the question and prevented discussion arising in future years. I have an Amendment on the Paper to the effect that no scheme will be satisfactory without a provision for redemption, but, in deference to the opinions of my friends, I have withdrawn it. Although it may with some justice be said that this is a tithe-owners' Bill, I think, at the same time, it will not do much harm to the tithe-payers. I think that tithe is a just charge on the land to be paid by the owners, and I should like to see a clause introduced into the Bill compelling owners to pay it still. I doubt whether the distress clause will be effective, because there is no doubt that the occupiers refuse to pay tithe, not because they cannot pay, but because they do not wish to pay; they desire to make a demonstration against the whole system of tithe. The occupiers will make the same demonstration when distress takes place under this Bill, and therefore I am afraid that the measure will not do much good. I do not wish altogether to oppose it, especially as we have heard from the Government that they will undertake next Session to bring in a Bill to deal with the collection of tithes. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) said about the prices of cereals at the present time as compared with the prices in 1835, I think his statements show he is not an agricul- 776 turist, because although wheat was at a low price in 1835 it was nothing like what it is at the present moment, and in 1835, when the Tithe Commutation Act was passed, the average in price during the seven preceding years was no less than 56s.,whereasat the present time it is about 28s, a quarter, or just half what it was then. There is no doubt that the tithe payers have had a considerable decrease in the payments they have made. Every hundred pounds worth of tithe in 1836 has now come down to a little over £80. If the corn inspectors did their duty properly, and calculated the averages of the corn, the tithe would be still further decreased, and I doubt whether there would be any necessity for a Tithe Bill at all. It appears, however, there is some difficulty in the way of the corn inspectors calculating the averages; and I can only hope that when we get a Board of Agriculture the work will be carried out in a more effective manner. In conclusion, I will merely say that if this Tithe Bill does no good, at any rate it does no harm.
§ * SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffs, Lichfield)
One point has not been mentioned, and that is that the Bill really means a Bill for facilitating the collection of tithes. I have been informed by land agents and others that it will increase the intrinsic value of the tithe 20 to 30 per cent. We have been informed that next year a Joint Committee of the two Houses will meet to discuss the matter, and that a larger measure will then be brought in. Any Redemption Clause will have to be based on the then value of the tithe. The Government say this is a very small Act; but, at all events, it raises the value of the tithe some 20 or 30 per cent, and when we have to pay a capital sum for doing away with the tithes, what will then have to be dealt with will be the value of the tithe at that time. Speaking as a tithe owner, as well as a tithe payer, I say the tithe owners have never paid one farthing towards improving the land. I know that in some cold clay soils, if it had not been for the enormous amount of money spent by the owners and occupiers in improving the land, it would not now be producing even the value of the tithe. We have heard a very pathetic story from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks Beach).Let me tell a 777 very pathetic story, too. It has come under my personal observation that a clergyman of the Church of England, in receipt of £600 or £700 a year, has gone away and left his parish in charge of a poor man with a large family at a guinea a week. I have known the family to be very near starvation. I say that whether the minister of the parish is a priest of the Church of Home, or a Nonconformist minister, if he has the confidence of his congregation, they will keep him in a moderate degree of comfort. One would almost imagine that from what has been said that there were no Nonconformists except in Wales. I speak from experience when I say that a very large proportion of the people in the North of England are Nonconformists, and the same thing can be said of the miners of Cornwall. Though the Nonconformists have no revenue from the State, a large proportion of the country is covered with their chapels; stipends are paid, preachers are supported, and not only minister to the ordinary congregations, but travel about at their own expense, and Sunday after Sunday preach to people who would otherwise receive no attention, owing to the neglect of the Church of England clergy, who are dependent on the State and not on their own conduct for their maintenance. It seems to be altogether out of the question that the Government should bring into Parliament such a onesided Bill as increases the value of these tithes from 20 to 30 per cent, and brings no corresponding advantage to the tithe-payer. I am a lay proprietor myself. I hope I may be forgiven by the hon. Member for Wales who sits behind me. My ancestors purchased certain tithes, and I have consequently had experience not only as a tithe payer, but also as a tithe owner. I have heard that certain of the clergy of Wales have made reductions in the tithes; but I have not heard from Gentlemen opposite that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have made any reduction, although their tithes have in some instances brought the tenants to ruin. This Bill will raise the value of the tithe without giving any corresponding advantage whatever to the tithe-payer. I think it would be well for the Government to re-consider the whole question.
§ MR. CORNWALLIS WEST (Denbigh, W.)
As this question of tithes 778 has been much under the attention of my constituents for some time past, I may be allowed to say a few words. I regret very much that I am unable to support the Bill. I consider it at the present juncture quite an unnecessary Bill. We are settling down in Wales to a conviction that it is better to wait until the question of the tithe is dealt with in a large and comprehensive manner, and I believe that such a Bill as this will only exasperate the Welsh people and make them more determined than they ever were in their opposition to the payment of tithes. If the Bill or some similar measure had been proposed some months ago, there would have been some reason for it; but it is unquestionable that matters are now settling down, and there is very little likelihood of any disturbance arising in the Principality. My hon. Friend the Member for Merionethshire (Mr. T. Ellis) stated that the clergy and the landlords of Wales were, if I mistake not, in a sort of conspiracy against the Nonconformists; that it was very much in consequence of the line of action which those two bodies take that there is so strong an opposition to the payment of tithes to the Church. But my hon. Friend seemed to forget that the tithes are paid not only to the Church, but to the charitable and educational institutions of the country. In my own district people have absolutely refused to pay tithes for the maintenance of a school. I entirely object to anything like a systematic agitation against the payment of tithes; but, at the same time, I do not deny that in the Principality there is a sentimental grievance which must be overcome. If the Government will give a pledge that in the next Session this whole question will be dealt with in a broad and liberal spirit, that will be quite enough to prevent any further outbreak of tithe riots, and such a Bill as we are now discussing is unnecessary and uncalled for.
MR. FARQUHARSON (Dorset, W.)
I wish to express my regret that the Government have brought forward this Bill at all. Possibly it may be necessary that greater power should be given to titheowners to assert their rights in Wales, but there is scarcely a tenant-farmer in England who will not consider the Bill a reflection upon his honour. In no instance has it been proved that 779 the opposition to tithe in England has been founded on anything else but inability to pay tithe. At the present time, when the farmers are scarcely able to pay their rent or their tithe, it is most impolitic to bring in a measure which will encourage titheowners to recover in an arbitrary and hasty manner. I had certainly hoped that when a measure of this sort was brought forward, not only the interests of tithe-owners, but also the interests of the tithepayers would have been considered. It does not seem right that we should have a Bill carried through Parliament which will largely increase the value of the property of the tithe owners, and considerably decrease the resisting power of the tithepayers. As far as I am concerned, I may say that I shall support the Government in the Lobby, not because I approve of the Bill, but because they have given a distinct assurance that the sting of the measure is withdrawn, and that the power of imprisonment will not be enforced. On these terms, and these alone, will I vote for the measure.
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)
I confess that since the Bill has been in my hands, and especially since this discussion commenced, I have been at a loss to understand why the Government have brought this proposal forward. What can they expect to gain by introducing such a measure? In the first place, it is clear that, instead of introducing peace into the Principality, the Bill will increase the distraction which reigns there on the tithe question; it will renew the feeling of irritation which happier councils had allayed and dissipated, and one hon. Member, who represents a district in which the feelings between the people and the police have been most strained, has assured the House that if the measure is passed it will do a great deal of harm. And yet, at this late stage of the Session, when we have so much need for every spare moment for more important business, the House is called upon to spend a night in considering a weak and futile Bill—a Bill introducing a new method of procedure which is not wanted, and which will entirely fail in its effect. It is admitted on all hands—even by the supporters of the Government who have spoken and who have damned the Bill with faint praise 780 —that the Government proposal fails to deal with the great question of the adjustment of the tithe, which has been raised during the late years of agricultural depression. It will fail completely to relieve the tenant-farmer in periods of difficulty, and it leaves untouched the practical questions which ought to be dealt with. Now, I propose to deal with the matter from the point of view of a Welsh Member. It seems to me that the Bill is a most unfortunate one—it is a feeble attempt to suppress by a new mode of procedure what the Welsh people believe to be a great Constitutional right, i.e., the power to make a public yet peaceful protest against what they consider to be an unjust law; and1 nothing that the Home Secretary can say will persuade the people of the Principality that the Bill, if passed, will not rob them of a Constitutional right. They have a conscientious feeling that the tithe is not properly due to the people to whom it is now legally payable. They believe— and they have reason to bslieve—that the proceeds of the first charge upon the land should be applied in other ways. They recognize the existence of a law which compels them to pay the tithe; but they also hold that if the law is enforced, they have a right to use the occasion of its enforcement as an opportunity for a Constitutional protest against the application of the tithes in Wales. If this Bill passes into law, the whole of the Welsh people will resent it and resist if. They desire to make this known. What is the attitude they have taken up? It is that of protesting, as our forefathers have protested from time to time during the whole of our history. It is the old, old story; it is a repetition of what took place 50 years ago in Ireland, where, in 1831, there were 7,000,000 of people, of whom 830,000 belonged to the Protestant minority, the rest being Roman Catholics, and mostly poor peasants. Over 6,000,000 of a poor, wretched, half-starved peasantry had to pay tithes in Ireland for the support of an alien Church—the Church of those few who owned almost all the land and almost all the realisable property in the country. But that was not all. In times off terrible depression they found it impossible not only to pay the tithe, but also to pay the exorbitant rents which were 781 being extorted from them, and so they resisted. What happened then was infinitely more terrible than anything that has happened in Wales. The ascendant minority in Ireland made use of the armed forces of the Crown, as unhappily now, in violation of our Constitutional rights, they make use of those forces in compelling civil process. The result was dreadful slaughter, which lasted for years. There was no occasion on which tithes were attempted to be levied that the soldiers did not come into collision with the peasants; fierce bloodshed followed, and there was dreadful loss of life until one man—Thomas Drummond—appeared in Ireland, and refused to lend the forces of the Crown for the purpose of enforcing civil process. Directly he declared that the military and police should only be called out to suppress riot, the whole aspect of affairs changed, and from that moment peace took the place of disorder, although the contest over the tithe question did not cease until the year 1870. As long as Mr. Drummond was Under Secretary for Ireland the people had faith in him. Well, in Wales the authorities have been weak, foolish, and wicked enough to call out the police and soldiery to assist in these distraints. Can you conceive anything more irritating and more exasperating—more likely to bring about a collision—than this calling out of policemen and soldiers in order to intimidate the most law-abiding people in the world? Of course, they would not stand it; and I am not surprised at it. I will give the House an illustration of what has taken place. I happened last January twelvemonth to be down in Pembrokeshire, and I was told there was going to be some terrible business. I took an early train and alighted at a little village station, the platform of which was occupied by a body of policemen drawn up in military array. I overheard a conversation between two policemen. One asked—" Well, what are we going to do to-day?" "Aye," replied the other, "we'll show them we're as good as the redcoats. "I at once went to the Chief Constable, told him what I had heard, and suggested to him it was a serious thing to take men in this temper among a peaceful people. He was wise enough to realize the gravity of the situation. I accompanied the force, and 782 I told the people that I was a Welsh Magistrate and a Welsh Member. I assured them they were entitled to express their opinions in an open and public manner. Well, they did nothing which could even provoke a breach of the peace; the greatest good humour prevailed throughout the whole proceeding. The people are naturally angry when they see that they are being dragooned; they will not stand it; they will obey the law within the limits of the Constitution, but they have a right to protest against an unjust law, and they should be allowed to do so without being intimidated. It is not necessary we should have these new Acts relating to County Court procedure, and I do hope that the Government will relieve itself of the grave responsibility of pressing forward this measure. Just think for a moment of the position with which we now stand. We are approaching the end of a long Session; surely, we have already had enough time needlessly occupied in futile business without spending two or three nights over this Bill. The feeling in the Principality is so deep, and the idea is so thoroughly rooted in the mind of the Welsh people that the Bill is intended to be a Coercion Bill, that it will be the duty of the Welsh Members—and I hope that in this we shall be assisted by other Members of the House—to do everything in our power to prevent the Bill passing into law. I hope the Government will recognize the fact that their supporters are indifferent as to the fate of this measure. Last Session you tried a very much more comprehensive scheme; you tried, in fact, to imitate the experiment of Irish legislation in 1836. But you did not do it effectually. You bribed the landlords in Ireland to pay the tithe by giving them 25 per cent of the value, but after all you did for them they are now complaining bitterly of the fixed charge upon their estates. You had to withdraw your Bill last year, and I venture to tell you that you will never settle the tithe question unless you, or somebody else, deal with it in a broader and more comprehensive manner. In Wales it will never be settled until the tithes are applied to national purposes. It is perfectly idle to urge—as the right hon. Baronet did—that the Welsh people are receiving a much larger contribution 783 than is derived by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners from Wales itself. We were told that while Wales pays £30,000 in tithes, the Principality gets back £64,000. But that is one of the things of which Welshmen bitterly complain, and which they resent most deeply. The money does not come back to the Welsh peasantry or the Welsh farmers. It goes into the pockets of the Bishops and the clergy, into the pockets of the very people whom the Welsh regard as intruders, and as being in the Principality to perform no legitimate or useful functions, because the Welsh people have provided themselves with their own places of worship and their own ministers, and the £60,000 a year goes to the support of a comparatively small body of clergymen who minister to the wants of a small minority of the people—a minority mainly composed of Englishmen. These things provoke bitter animosity; why seek to continue it by pressing forward this needless measure? What does the Bill really mean? When I first read it, I came to the conclusion that as it was drawn it meant that a failure of a levy for tithe under the County Court procedure would be followed by personal liability. However that may be, I am quite willing to accept the assurance of the Home Secretary that this is not the intention of the Government, and that it will be safeguarded against. Therefore, we get rid of any chance of putting into prison a farmer who refuses to pay tithes. Then what is the advantage to be gained from this Bill? Instead of going on to the premises and levying a distress by a |special bailiff, you must appeal to the County Court, go through an expensive procedure, time and money are wasted, and, after all, in the end the same sort of distraint will have to belevied, and very likely by the same bailiff. What is the use of inventing this perfectly fatuous new procedure when the present system of distress will answer all purposes? Let me, in conclusion, ask do you think that if you spend two or three days in passing this Bill into law, you will be expending the time of the Session usefully? I venture to think you will not, and I warn the Government that a grave responsibility will rest upon them if they persist in pressing forward this measure.
§ BARON DIMSDALE (Herts, Hitchin)
I wish the Government had dealt with this matter in a more complete and comprehensive manner. This is a question which seriously affects the position of the Church, and the difficulty is rapidly extending to the Eastern counties. It will be remembered by those who have studied the past history of the tithe question, that in the year 1881 the Richmond Commission reported that the time would come when the payment of the tithe would have to be placed compulsorily on the land owners. That, indeed, was the intention of the settlement of 1836, and I think it is very much to be regretted that an opportunity has not been taken to solve the tithe question upon that basis. I think, however, that in addition to such a measure it would be wise to have some complete and well-considered system of tithe redemption, because although it may be true that you make the payment of the tithe by the landowner compulsory there are other persons who are affected, such as the small freeholders, who would consider it a great hardship to pay the tithe, and therefore this question could not be adequately settled unless you couple with the payment of the tithe by the land owner a judicious measure of tithe redemption. I own I am one of those who think that this Bill does not go far enough, because it deals merely with the fringe of the question; but, at the same time, I think we shall not be acting inconsistently in adopting it. It is desirable that we should pass some such measure as this, because it wilt pave the way for that complete and final settlement which I think most persons are anxious should be carried out. The object of the Bill is to improve the present procedure, and to substitute a County Court process for the unreasonable and antiquated system of distress; and I believe that if you make this change you will get rid of a good deal of the irritation which is now caused by the enforcement of the payment of the tithe. I cannot quite understand why the power of distraint is retained in the Bill. I think it desirable that we should have only the new and the simpler remedy provided by the County Court procedure, and that we should take the opportunity of getting rid of that old-fashioned weapon of distraint. I hope that the Government will pass this Bill as rapidly as 785 possible, because by so doing they will pave the way to a complete and final settlement of this question, which I trust will be secured at no very distant date. I believe that by a judicious measure of commutation we may relieve agriculture of a burden at once heavy and injurious to its interests, and at the same time improve the position of the receivers of the tithe.
§ SIR T. GROVE (Wilts, Wilton)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken seemed to be a victim to the fallacy that by passing this Bill he would do away with the principle of distraint.
§ BARON DIMSDALE
Pardon me. I did not say that. What I want is to have the power of distraint taken away, and to have substituted for it the County Court process.
§ SIR T. GROVE
What I contend is, that if you do away with the power now exercised by the tithe owner, he will still be unable to get the money except by distraint. The process will be this: the person who refuses to pay the tithe will be put into the County Court, the debtor possibly will refuse to pay, and the bailiff will then go on to the premises and seize, if necessary, not only the stock and crops on the farm, but any personal property he may find in the debtor's house. You do not get rid of the law of distraint; you simply adopt a more cumbrous process of doing exactly the same thing as you do now. A great many hon. Members seem to think that by this new process you will avoid the friction which now exists between a clergyman who distrains and his tenants. Do you think that the tenants will have a bit more good feeling towards the clergyman who distrains under this Bill than he has towards the clergyman who uses the present process of distraint? We are wilfully wasting a great deal of time, and if the Government carry their Bill they will be in exactly the same position as they are now. In my own county the clergy have in many cases made reductions of tithe, and showed sympathy with the tenants under agricultural depression; and what has been the result? The tenants have tried to meet them in every possible way; and there is no occasion for such a coercive measure as that now proposed by the Government. If the Government proceed with, the Bill, contrary to the advice of hon. Members on both sides of the 786 House, the measure will never get through Committee, but will be challenged on every point. No measure in regard to the tithe question will be satisfactory unless it includes a plan of redemption, and any Government which undertakes to deal with this great subject ought to include the question of redemption in its scheme. The present Bill will no doubt increase the value of the tithes; and, therefore, if a plan of redemption be brought forward on a future occasion, it will put the tithe owner in a much better position than that which he now occupies. Even if the Bill gets through a second reading, I hope the Government will be wise in time and not endeavour to pass it through Committee, because if they do it will cause them, both now and hereafter, more trouble than they have any idea of.
§ SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)
If this Bill is likely to be so futile and inoperative a measure as is represented by the last speaker, and by other hon. Members opposite, I do not quite see how it can increase the value of the tithe as they contend it will do. Surely the two statements are contradictory. As a supporter of the Bill, I quite admit that a very strong and very reasonable objection to the Bill is taken by those who complain of its being an incomplete measure. Sir, it is avowedly and admittedly an incomplete measure. It is perfectly obvious to those who have carefully followed the history of the tithe question of late years that no measure will be ultimately satisfactory as a solution of the question which does not provide an equitable system for the redemption of the tithe. It is equally obvious that there must be some scheme for the more regular adjustment of the tithe to the quality and producing power of the land on which it is levied. There are, undoubtedly, many other points that will have to be settled before this great and important question can be regarded as ultimately disposed of. Only a short time ago I myself came to know of a parish where the land was going out of cultivation, and the place was becoming almost depopulated, owing to the agricultural depression and to the fact that the tithe was really larger than the rent-producing power of the land. Therefore, I 787 must entirely sympathize with my hon. Friend the Member for the Maldon Division (Mr. C. Gray), who complains of similar circumstances; but I appeal to my hon. Friend to remember that half a loaf is better than no bread, and especially in regard to this particular Bill, which deals with that part of the question that is of the first and most pressing importance. And my hon. Friend will surely remember what has been the pressure on the time of the Government, and will bear in mind that Ministers cannot accomplish impossibilities. They cannot drive four coaches abreast through a narrow place like old Temple Bar, and I do trust my hon. Friend will see his way cordially to support the Bill. Surely the measure does deal with the most pressing point. The objection taken by the hon. Member for the Saffron Walden Division (Mr. H. Gardner), that it will not be operative, is entirely baseless, inasmuch as it does all that can be done at present to put an end to the crying scandal of the scenes we have all witnessed with so much pain in connection with the levying of distress for tithe in Wales. The evils of the present system will at any rate be greatly modified by substituting for the present process the more reasonable one of the County Court. That alone, in my opinion, is ample reason why the Government should press this Bill through Parliament, and I sincerely hope they will do it. The hon. Member for the Saffron Walden Division admits himself that the present system of levying tithe is objectionable. The hon. Member does not tell us, at any rate in terms, that he repudiates the legally binding nature of tithes. He does not deny that, as the law stands at present, they are payments legally due to the tithe owners. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down spoke euphemistically about resistance to the payment of tithes in Wales. He said he thought people did not actually resist the tithes, but allowed them to be enforced. But the allowing them to be enforced produces such scenes as those which we deplore, and such scenes as the hon. Member who spoke last specially deprecated as the result of the employment of police and military in support of the civil powers. These things are greatly to be deprecated; but, under the present circumstances, they are absolutely 788 inevitable. The hon. Member for the Saffron Walden Division objects to the Bill because it provides a reasonable method of recovering what he does not deny is a just and reasonable debt. Some hon. Members have spoken of the Welsh tithe payers having conscientious objections to the payment of the tithe in support of a Church of whose teaching they do not approve, as if that fact were reasonable excuse for their refusing to pay. Well, Sir, in the first place, I would ask the hon. Member to say what he thinks about the lay owners of tithes. Their rights surely ought to be considered. I could understand a man saying—" I have a conscientious objection to pay tithes, and I will suffer a loss rather than violate my conscience; I will sever my connection with the land; I will retire from an occupation that forces me to violate my conscience. "I should think such a proceeding a highly Quixotic one, but at any rate it would be a moral one. When, however, a man says he has a conscientious objection to paying tithes, and therefore puts the money in his own pocket, keeps that which he knows to belong to somebody else, and allows the law to be enforced before he pays, all I can says is I do not understand the morality of such a proceeding. It reminds me of what I think I may call the famous remark sometimes attributed to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), when he said of a certain celebrated statesman," I do not object to the right hon. Gentleman always finding he has got an ace up his sleeve, but I do object to his saying that a Divine Providence placed it there. "In my opinion, the mere fact that this Bill will provide a rational method for recovering just payments, and will do away—to the utmost extent compatible with legality and justice—with those painful scenes which have recently been witnessed in Wales, is quite sufficient justification for the passing of the measure, and I hope the Government will persevere with it.
§ * MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
It is perfectly consistent on the part of hon. Gentlemen who oppose this Bill to say that while they think it will be futile and useless as far as remedying the grievances of the tithe payers is concerned, it will yet be pernicious in its operation, inasmuch as it 789 establishes a new principle not only as to the practice of collecting tithes, but also as to the theory on which tithes are based, because, instead of effecting a permanent settlement of the present difficulty in Wales, it has a tendency to aggravate and intensify the existing discontent against the payment of tithes as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill defended it on the ground that it was a little Bill. It is a little Bill, in the sense that it is short, but it is by no means little in its application. It will apply not only to Wales, but to the Eastern Counties of England, three of which, as has been said by a previous speaker, pay no less than one-fifth of the whole amount of tithe payable. The President of the Board of Trade made use of one very pregnant sentence in the course of his remarks—a sentence which will be remembered and quoted hereafter when the rest of this Debate is forgotten—when he referred to the possible reversionary interest which the people have in this great national property. In making that admission, he made one with which most Members on this side of the House will be disposed to agree. The right hon. Gentleman used the admission for the purpose of showing that hon. Gentlemen who, in opposing the Bill, do anything to diminish the actual amount of the tithes paid, are, by so doing, diminishing the ultimate amount of what may come to be the property of the nation itself. The question, whether the nation has a moral right to this property at the present time, is an abstract question, and the question of whether it will eventually have an actual right to it is a question of prophecy. There is one question which is an actual question at the present time, and that is, who is it who pays the tithe, and upon whom does this burden ultimately fall? I think I shall be able to show that the burden ultimately falls upon the nation as a whole. In the first place, it will be generally admitted it cannot fall on the tenant, because, if tithes were abolished tomorrow, that would be a present to the landlord. It cannot fall on the labourer, because the fluctuations in the wages of labourers are due to well ascertainable and well ascertained causes. It cannot fall on the landlord, because the landlord, or his 790 father, or his ancestors bought the land subject to a certain payment. Upon whom, then, does the burden fall? I think we can judge from this analogy that in all counties in which tithes have been abolished there exists a very heavy taxation upon land—a taxation more than equivalent, in some cases, to the tithes paid here; and if tithes were abolished it would probably follow that there would be imposed upon land an additional taxation about equal to the tithe paid at the present time. The money that would, under these circumstances, go into the pocket of the nation as a whole now goes into the pocket of a limited number of individuals; and, therefore, I say that the burden of payment ultimately falls on the nation as a whole. The fact, however, that the nation may have an ultimate right to the tithe, and that the burden falls upon it now seems to me no reason whatever why, when there is an admitted grievance, as in the present case, Parliament should not deal with that grievance. This Bill provides an entirely partial and onesided settlement of the difficulty. It does nothing with regard to the question of re-adjustment. An hon. Member on this side of the House spoke of the corn averages question. That is a subject on which a rather keen interest is felt in some quarters. Some fifty years ago, when the price of corn was high, the farmers sent all their corn to market, and, therefore, the calculation was made on all the corn. At the present time, when the price is very low, they only send their best corn to market, and, therefore, the calculation is now made only on the best quality, and to that extent is unfair to the tenant. As to the question, whether tithe should be paid directly by the owner, it has twice been pointed out in this House—once in the Debate on the Agricultural Holdings' Bill and again by the former Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers)—that there is a certain lever in the hands of the landlords at the present time owing to the loss incurred by the tenant in giving up his holding. To that extent I contend we must make a certain allowance and a certain qualification in saying it is a matter of in difference whether the tithes are paid by the tenant or by the landlord, because the burden must, to a certain extent, fall more heavily on 791 the tenant than on the landlord. These are some of the grievances with regard to the payment of tithes on which that Bill does absolutely nothing, and such a measure, it seems to me, is likely to do much more harm than good with regard not only to Wales, but to England also. No doubt we must all sympathize with cases of distress on the part of clerygmen in Wales, but there are similar cases of distress in England also. It is, however, a matter of common notoriety that the gravest cases of distress are those of clergymen who depend not upon tithe alone for their income, but upon their glebes. Therefore this Bill only slightly benefits the owners of tithes, although at the same time it introduces a dangerous principle, and, on the other hand, it is absolutely useless with regard to remedying the grievances of the tenant, and points to a prospect of still further discontent and yet further disturbance.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)
It is made a complaint against the Bill that it is not a Bill for the relief of the tithe payers, but I do not know why it should be. The Bill does what it professes to do—namely, to enable the tithe owners more readily to receive their dues. The tithe rent-charge is a charge upon land, and ought to be paid like any other charge; but in many cases it has not been paid, not because those who ought to pay it could not do so, but because they have conceived a desire not to pay it, and because they had been led not to pay it by persons who ought to know better. The result is, that in many parts of the kingdom, and especially in Wales, tithe owners are at present in a state of abject distress. Gentlemen opposite say in a perfunctory manner that they are very sorry for the distress of the clergy, but they will not lift a finger to relieve them. We do not come cap in hand and ask for contributions for the relief of the clergy, but we call upon the House to assist the clergy in obtaining their just rights. I will take the liberty of reading to the House two letters, showing the distress to which the Welsh clergy have been reduced, owing to the non-payment of tithes. One of these letters was put into my hand to-day; it comes from a gentleman who has taken an active part 792 in relieving the distress caused by this anti-tithe agitation. The writer says:—A letter was forwarded to me about a fortnight ago which had been addressed to a person well known for his generous support of the distressed Welsh clergy. It contained the following statement, which, I have every reason to believe, is absolutely correct:—'A large number of my tithe payers have not paid any tithes for upwards of three years. I held my audit a few days ago and received only £12, not sufficient to pay the premium now due on my insurance, by which I had hoped to make some little provision for my family in the event of my death. I have a wife and eight children entirely dependent upon me. I have incurred large liabilities in the abortive attempt to recover my dues. The insurance premium must remain unpaid, and the insurance must consequently lapse.My correspondent goes on to say—This is not an isolated case. I know of many others of the same kind. I may say that I myself should never have been able to keep up my own insurance had it not been for the assistance of some members of my family, who I may observe are by no means able to afford to assist me without inconvenience. The sufferings of the Welsh clergy have been intense, and they have been endured with wonderful patience. Every economy has been practised, and many bitter privations submitted to. They have now reached the breaking-down point, and unless the Legislature intervenes I shudder to contemplate the prospect that awaits us in the immediate future.Here is another letter received from an Anglesea rector, who said:—I sincerely hope that the Government will pass the Tithe Bill this Session. It becomes very serious for the clergy to get their tithes. I am 68 years of age. I am not able to stand the excitement of distraint. Seven tithe payers owe me their tithe for the last two years and six months. The sum altogether is £150. In fact I have been robbed of my money to a great extent for the last two and a half years by abatement and everything, and there are many in the same situation. We would rather lose almost anything than sell them up.These are the only cases I will trouble the House with. These are by no means isolated cases, but if there were no other cases than these to which I have referred, they would be ample justification for the Government coming forward at the present time and doing something to settle this question. I admit it is not a complete settlement of the question, but it is a Bill brought in with an honest endeavour to enable these gentlemen whose right to their property is just as good as the right of hon. Members to their own private property—[An hon. MEMBER: 793 "No"]—to get what was due to them. I charge hon. Gentlemen who have obstructed this Bill in a most contemptuous way to-night!—[Cries of "Order."] I think I know the rules of order—I charge upon hon. Gentlemen, if they obstruct and object to this Bill, to bring forward some remedy of their own; because to say the clergy are not entitled to these dues is to say that which is not capable of being proved. One statement was made by an hon. Member opposite (Sir John Swinburne), who spoke of a poor curate, who had undertaken the duties of an absentee for a guinea a week, but, at least, it can be said that the curate got what he contracted for, miserably small though it be, but those who are affected by the anti-tithe movement do not receive the stipends to which they are entitled by the terms of the benefices which they bold. We have heard something about the way in which the tithe rent charge is met, and upon this I have some information in a letter from a firm in Carnarvon. The writer says:—On Friday and Saturday last we conducted 16 sales for tithes in the parishes of Llanfihangel-Glyn-Myfyr and Llanfor, in the counties of Denbigh and Merioneth respectively. We had applied to the Chief Constable of both these counties for police protection, but upon their representation that they had come to an arrangement with the leaders of the people that the sales should be carried out peaceably, we consented to attempt to carry them out supported by only one policeman. We think it only right to inform you, in justice to Mr. Stevens, the auctioneers of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and fearing you may have been misled by the newspapers, also by statements made by certain Members in the House of Commons as to other sales carried out by us in Carnarvonshire, what is really meant by these sales being carried out peaceably. In the latter of the two parishes (Llanfor) mentioned, immediately upon our arrival we were surrounded by a large mob, amongst whom were the so-called leaders of the people, who at once told us we were expected to join in a procession after the sales were over into the neighbouring town of Bala, about six or seven miles distant. Upon our demurring to this we were informed that if we resisted we should be forcibly dragged by the crowd. The sales then proceeded amidst wild excitement, blowing of horns, &c. At every farm terms were dictated to us—if we did not accept which we were told we should be left to the mercy of the crowd. One man whom we brought with us was objected to and violently beaten with sticks, and his life only saved by the great courage displayed by the one inspector with us and by our consenting to have him sent back to Bala. We were ourselves 794 threatened with violence over and over again if we did not accept terms proposed by the crowd; and finally, the only way in which the so-called leaders could protect us was by hurrying us into the different farmhouses we arrived at and themselves guarding off the people. We were also forced to march into Bala behind two effigies of the clergyman amidst a yelling mob hooting and jeering the whole way. We simply write this to you to show what is meant by the statements made by certain Members, that if no police are employed in these distraints they can be carried out peaceably.If that is a description of the way in which the law is being enforced and assisted in Wales, a case is made out for the interference of the Government. It is perfectly idle to raise upon this Bill the question of Welsh disestablishment. This is simply a question of protecting those who have a right to their property, and it is because I believe this Bill is an honest attempt to enforce that right without violence, but with firmness and decision, that I give it my cordial and earnest support.
* MR. WASHINGTON (Monmouthshire, W.)
One is a little anxious in rising in opposition to the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, because as I understand the matter any opposition to this Bill is to be deemed obstruction, and any difference between the views we may entertain and those held by himself and his friends will be considered as an attack upon the rights of property. Notwithstanding, however, the great dread I may have of the hon. Member's censure, I venture to say that I do draw a distinction between property in tithes and property generally. There can be no doubt, and anyone who has taken the trouble to ascertain the origin of property in tithes will at once acknowledge it, that this property stands on a totally different basis from ordinary property, from land or personal property. There is no property I know of more closely associated with public and local duties than property in tithes, and there is no property in respect to which public and local duties are less observed. The consequence is that there has grown up in the Principality for whose special behoof this Bill is brought in—according to hon. Members opposite—there has grown up a very great disinclination to pay these tithes upon principle. Not upon the principle to which the hon. Member who has just sat down alludes to in such a complimentary manner, not, as he hinted, 795 to avoid just obligations. This principle is one that I hope even the hon. Member will recognise, namely the principle that by paying tithes without a solemn and earnest protest the Welsh people would be maintaining a system which their consciences condemn as inimical to the public welfare. Now these tithes, at any rate throughout the Principality, have been associated with the support of the Church. I am very much surprised to find the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Michael Hicks Beach) coming to us with a letter from a distressed clergyman in Wales. We sympathise with the distressed clergymen very much, but I am bound to say that I think the reply to that letter should have been something to this effect—"I am very much surprised that you, a member of the wealthiest religious association in the world, should have been obliged to write such a letter as that to me. If you only look outside the walls of your own church you will see dotted about the neighbourhood three or four chapels, the ministers of which have no tithe provided for their support, and whose congregations are not drawn from the richer classes and are not of high social position such as those who attend your own church, and I am surprised that you should have been obliged because of the default of those to whom you administer to write such a letter of complaint." It is a scandal, we admit that it is a scandal, that such a letter should be written. But the scandal does not rest on those who refuse to pay tithes so much as it does on those who are ready, rich though they may be, persons of position though they may be, persons of high character though they may be, to take religious services at the expense of other people. It would have been very much to the point if the right hon. Gentleman had said this—"Those wealthy persons to whom you have very properly administered religious services should pay for what they receive themselves. "There has been, no doubt, a considerable amount of disturbance in connection with the collection of tithes. It is said that this measure is promoted as a measure of police, that is the last justification we have had of it. But I can find nothing in the Bill which answers to the description of it as a measure of 796 police. Tithe owners have now the right to levy tithes by distraint, and if this Bill is passed they will actually have the same right as they have now, only that it will not be called distraints, it will be called execution, and between the time of application for payment and the levy of distraint the tithe owner will be able to add some 30 per cent to the amount of his claim. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, who always takes a great interest in Welsh subjects, and answers for the Government on such subjects, for which class it is the Bill is brought in. Surely not for the tenants, who will pay; that would be absurd. Then will it be said it is brought in for those who are willing to pay. What foundation is there for the argument that they will be more willing to pay the larger sum; the sum increased by the addition of costs than they are to pay the smaller sum which now can be demanded. What warrant is there for saying that they will be more ready to pay when the claim is made by the County Court? There is no suggestion or warrant for such a supposition. The only difference will be that you are removing the opposition of the tenants from opposition directed against the agent of the tithe owner to opposition directed against the Ministers of the law; and herein lies the reason why the Bill is introduced. By this Bill, the persons who collect tithes will be able to stand in a different position from a mere bailiff of the tithe owner. It is because Her Majesty's Government are anxious to give the tithe owners some new, some additional right, that they are desirous that this Bill should pass. They are anxious that tithes should be collected by persons who if resisted, or who if they make an arrest and are met with an attempt at rescue, could at once take those who oppose them before a Justice of the Peace. The Government are anxious to move the distraints which now exist into a different category; into the category of an execution under the County Court, which can be protected by criminal proceedings. That is why the Government are so anxious for this measure. Again it is said that this is a substitution for the present method. It is not a substitution at all. Do the Government propose to substitute for the cumbrous method of raising the 797 tithe an easy, inexpensive one? On the contrary, they leave the cumbrous expensive method where it was. They do not in the least abridge the rights of tithe owners as they now exist. All the Act will do will be to give a remedy of a very serious character. If a man owes tithes to the extent of £10 he will be ticketed up and down the country throughout every trade circular as a defaulter, and his credit thereby will be very much affected. That I suppose is a desirable thing in the view of Her Majesty's Government that they should be able to affect the credit of those men, who, speaking from my own knowledge, are conscientious in their opposition to these tithes. Upon these the Government are anxious to impose a discredit which does not now attach to them. More than that, this remedy is a much more costly one than the remedy which now exists. I am not speaking of professional costs. Apart altogether from these there are certain necessary fees attendant on County Court proceedings; five per cent as soon as the plaint is entered, and then 10 per cent for hearing fees. 4s. 6d. in the £1 must go before you can arrive at the point at which the Act says you may levy and take in execution. The costs very much add to the burden of the tithe. And for what purpose? Can Her Majesty's Government believe that those who, rightly or wrongly, object to the tithe of £10 will not object to the addition of 4s. 6d. in the £1 to that £10? Can it be the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that the man who objects to pay the lesser sum will readily pay the greater. That seems to me utterly absurd. I cannot help thinking the Government have brought in this measure in order to strengthen the hold of the tithe owner if they can. This tithe property has, as we know, for years been in a perilous condition, and the Government by this Bill are attempting to give it new strength, new life; so that when a comprehensive Bill is introduced the present Bill may be quoted as giving a Parliamentary sanction to the property, thus enabling it to be redeemed at a higher rate.
§ * MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
I wonder whether the hon. Member who talks about tithe-rent charge being given a new Parliamentary sanction by this Bill is aware that it 798 has possessed that sanction for many hundred years?
§ * MR. WARMINGTON
§ * MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
The tithe was sanctioned centuries ago, and was commuted into tithe-rent charge more than 50 years old by Act of Parliament. The tithe is national property says the hon. Member, then would it not be a good thing to give the nation the means of getting it collected? The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill summarised his objections under four heads—(1) it was too short; (2) it was too long; (3) that he could not understand it, which he amply proved by complaining (4) that it involved fine and imprisonment. How can hon. Members talk of being taken by surprise by this Bill, when for the last three years promises have been made to deal with this matter; at length we have got a Bill which, though not a very large measure, does deal with the question in a practical way. It is not at all necessary to go into the origin of tithe, or to discuss whether the property belongs to the nation or to this or that individual—tithe ceased to be exclusively ecclesiastical property at the time of Henry VIII., and hon. Members who have spoken on the subject seem to forget that some tithe rent charge forms part of the endowment of Nonconformist chapels. This Bill is essentially a measure for the promotion of social order. It is a police Bill. It is a Bill intended to remove a legal difficulty, and the ground on which we ought to support it is that social order has already been very gravely disturbed. There have been riots; the military have been called out; emergency men have been brought on the scene; special commissions have been appointed; police have been sent from one county to another to assist in the enforcement of the law, all because of the unpopularity of the method provided by law for recovering just debts. By this Bill we hope to get rid of the "man in possession, "the bailiff is always a most unpopular person. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has said, the present method of collecting tithe rent charge is a relic of barbarism. This old system of asserting one's individual rights, by personal instead of judicial agency, ought to be got rid of. Why, I ask 799 do not hon. Gentlemen opposite, who on all other matters affect to be so eager for reform, assist in ridding us of this barbarous anomaly? I should like to read to the House a few statements, showing what is going on in Wales at the present time. One gentleman, a clergyman in Pembrokeshire, says—It will be quite useless to have another sale here without the military. Matters are getting very serious. Our lives are not safe. The roughs in the neighbourhood use threatening language. My hedge, close by the Vicarage, On which were growing some nice firs, was set on fire about 10 o'clock this day week (20th Feb.). Fortunately, the neighbours saw it before going to bed, or I do not know what would have been the result … Deacons were seen throwing rotten eggs, old hoots, and clods at the police, who were doing their duty. The parishioners, with few exceptions, about a dozen, behaved well. Others came from the surrounding neighbourhood, engaged to create a disturbance. I must apply to the Chief Constable for protection, or take lodgings at Newport.That is a grave state of things to be going on at this time of day, and gives a different complexion to the question from that presented by an hon. Gentleman opposite, who told us that everything was perfectly quiet now. Why, not six weeks ago, in South Wales, people were so treated that they declared they could not move without the military, and in North Wales the same difficulties have occurred within the last fortnight. If this Bill does not pass, the Principality will be in a state very much like that of some of the worst parts of Ireland during the winter months. It is stated in the document I hold in my hand that—The church windows have been broken, and the church gate unhinged and thrown into the middle of the adjoining highway.I wish to impress on the House that almost exactly the same methods are being adopted in Wales by the Anti-tithe League—that being the name by which, I think, the Association is called—as are used in Ireland. Let us take the case of boycotting. I have here an extract from a letter written by the wife of a Welsh clergyman, and she says—The boycotting continues of Church people. The last is our blacksmith, who has always been in the habit of giving his arm to my husband on dark nights coming home from church. It appears he was seen doing so last Sunday, and consequently he got well abused by some anti-tithe farmers, and told that if he went to church 800 again they would take every scrap of work from him. Having a family, of course he must give in to them. He told me this himself yesterday.That is an example of what is going on in many other places. I now turn to the threatening letters. This system, I may inform the House, has been going on since 1885, and is still in force. Here is an example—This note is a warning to you that if you do not make a deduction of 25 per cent, in the tithe of your parish, your home, yourself, and all you possess will be dynamited and blown up. What will a man give in exchange for his life. Take this warning. Justice for "Wales.Inside was a small wooden coffin. Here is another sample. It was sent to an innkeeper—Notis. Sir, I understand that you are the parson agent; but whoever will pay this next tithe without the reduction of 20 p. c. will be boycotted. I am Home Rulers Determined.Then we have the fact that payment of the tithe-rent charge is being made in secret. I have letters which say—Some of those that have paid came stealthily for fear of their neighbours.And, again—People have sent their tithes to me by night, and have begged me earnestly not to make the fact of their having paid known, lest they might in consequence be injured.The result of all this has been a most dreadful social disturbance all over the country. Some of the unfortunate clergy, have been reduced to a state of great distress. Here is a case in point—I have been obliged to dismiss my servant and recall my son from Oxford. We live in one room for the sake of saving coals, and, also, have been obliged to forego the use of butcher's meat for the last six weeks.Then, again—Looking to the tithe-payers I can see no hope of having my just dues at present, and unless your association will kindly step forward to help me I see no chance of relief from any human quarter.Well, Sir, it has been said that the objection to pay tithe-rent charge is based in a conscientious objection to the uses to which it is applied; in truth, there is no conscience in it at all. The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Merioneth, said if the tithe-rent charge were only given to some public or national purpose there would be no objection to it at all; for instance, there would be no objection if it 801 were only used for educational purposes. Well, Sir, I find that the Ruthin grammar school, which is under joint nonconformist and church management, cannot collect its endowment in tithe-rent charge, and is endeavouring to recover what is due to it by distraint under serious difficulties. The people do not pay their just debts, simply because it is rendered easy not to pay. But hon. Members must not suppose that the unfortunate farmers of Wales are in full sympathy with the anti-tithe movement. The fact is that they are very tired of it, and they would gladly welcome any means of getting rid of their subscriptions to the League, and at the same time of being emancipated from the tyranny of that organization. I can assure the House, that the tenant farmers of Wales, taken as a whole, would be only too glad to see this Bill passed into law. Of course, no Radical Welsh Member would say so, they are not free men; and it is left to men, who, like myself, know North Wales and are conversant with what is going on, to inform the House on these matters. I can assure the House that the state of feeling I have indicated is general, and that but for the influence of a few persons, many who are heartily tired of this business would have paid their tithe rent charge in full long since. It is the weakness of the law which enables the Anti-Tithe League to thrive. In cases of resistance recovery by distraint is well-nigh impossible, so an immense amount of tithe-rent charge remains unrecovered. I will give a few instances. In one case the net value of the tithe rent charge is £163, and the amount received was £38; in case number two, the net value is £330, and the receipts £59; in another case the value is £186, and the receipts £22; and in another case the value is£681, and the amount received £171. In each of these cases large allowances were promised by the incumbents. It would seem that those incumbents who are most liberal are in reality the worst treated, because the people think they can play with them more securely. I hope I have been enabled to prove that, after all, those who want to apply the tithe-rent charge to other objects than those to which it is now applied would do much better not to allow it to be lost 802 in this way, and I am quite sure that the farmers of Wales as well as the tithe owners will be thankful to Her Majesty's Government that for the sake of law and order, and for the general contentment of the Welsh people, they have introduced this Bill.
MR. P. MORGAN (Merthyr)
I do not think I have ever heard such attacks as have been made on Her Majesty's Government for the Bill they have now brought forward. We are told that the remedy of those who complain of this tithe system is that they can leave the land on which the charge is levied. We have also been told by one hon. Member that he entirely disbelieves in the statement that the general voice of the Welsh people is opposed to the present system, but that he considers it his duty to support Her Majesty's Government in passing this Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Carnarvon boroughs (Mr. Swetenham) did not compliment the Government when he referred to their alliance with the Liberal Unionist party as having resulted after two years in nothing more than wha he called "this mouse. "The fact is that those of us who have the honour of representing Wales and of living in the Principality feel that the Welsh people are almost unanimous in their opposition to the tithes, not so much on the ground of personal liability, as because they consider it an insult to their intelligence on the ground that although they do not believe in the Church, they have to subscribe to its maintenance by means of the tithe. The people of Wales have for years been clamouring for legislation in regard to educational matters and for the disestablishment of the Church, and now the Government are offering legislation, which is intended to assist the tithe owner in going to the County Court to obtain his tithe and costs; the very same remedy as that which he has at present being placed in his hands the moment he has obtained judgment, because it is notorious that the bailiffs of the Court are the men employed to enforce its decrees by means of distress. Therefore, the passage of this Bill will give the tithe owner no advantage he does not now possess. It is an insult to the Welsh people to pass a Bill that is merely intended to facilitate the carrying out of an existing system which they 803 declare to be offensive and obnoxious. I hope the House will seriously consider this point before it agrees to read this Bill a second time. There is not one representative of the Principality of Wales who can get up in his place and assert that the Welsh people are in favour of this sort of legislation.
§ * MR. C. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
I am bound to say that in my opinion it is a mistake that a Bill of this nature should be the first measure which this House is asked to pass during the present Parliament on this vexed question. I know that in saying this I may be open to criticism on the part of hon. Members on this side of the House who stand up for the interests of the Church. But I will say to those hon. Members that I am just as jealous as they of the protection of the property, either of Church or Chapel. I have always understood that the property in tithe rent is a very difficult one to describe, and when there are such contrary ideas with regard to the character of this charge, there is the more reason that the question should be thoroughly gone into. I think the time has come when this question should be fairly faced, and I believe that it will be in the interests of those who are attached to the Church, that it should be faced in a bold, a manly, and a straightforward manner. It would, in my opinion, be better in the interests of the Church and of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that this question should be firmly dealt with by a Parliament constituted as the present Parliament is, rather than it should be left to the tender mercies of some Parliament which may, at a future day, succeed it. We are told that farmers who object to the tithe are spoliators, but I do not think they object to the principle of the tithe itself so much as they do to the amount of the charge. There has always been something peculiar about this tithe rent property. If we go back to the passage of the Commutation Acts in 1835 and 1836, we shall see that the legislation was rendered necessary by the reasons closely allied to those which render it necessary now. Fifty years or more ago it was found that the altered conditions of agriculture rendered the whole system of levying tithes quite inapplicable to the then exist- 804 ing state of things. It was argued that the improving farmer who was going in for modern agriculture was not only giving his quota to the tithe owner, but that he was also giving him a direct interest in the improvements the farmer was then effecting. That was considered a reason for asking Parliament for a re-adjustment of the whole question; and it was supposed that by raising the tithe on the prices of wheat, barley, and oats, the question would be fairly settled for a long time to come. I believe it did settle the question for a long time, and no one who took part in the passing of those Acts could have hoped for more. May I ask the House to consider the great changes that have taken place in agriculture since 1836. Then we had Protection. We are told that Protection is dead, and can never be resuscitated; but we know that railway and steamship enterprises have turned the agricultural industry topsy turvey. Is it not fair, then, that we should ask that this tithe system should be overhauled. The Government do not deny the necessity for opening up the whole question, but I am told that this Bill merely attempts to deal with just one little branch of the question. The English farmers have waited patiently year after year for 10 or 12 long years of agricultural ruin, and they have been told over and over again that this vital question will be threshed out in Parliament; they have continued to pay their tithe as long as they have had the necessary cash to meet the debt, and as long as the law stands as it does they will pursue the same course; but having been so law-abiding they ought to have been treated with more consideration than they have experienced. I know perfectly well, or I think I know, that the present Government have some very good intentions in connection with this matter, and I am addressing these remarks more to the power behind the Government that is pushing them on, and that originated this measure, than to the Government itself. I am addressing myself to the Church party, and, if they would allow me to say so, I would observe that they have made a very great mistake in pressing a measure of this sort to the front before they have stated what they will do with regard to the whole question. It is all very well 805 for us to he told that this Bill is only the fringe of the question, and that a great Bill dealing with the whole question will be introduced later on. Yes; but when will that be? We have come to the end of the Session, or very nearly 80, and I hope we shall not have to come here again until late in next February. How do we know what may not crop up in the meantime, and how do we know that we long suffering farmers of East Anglia may not have to go on suffering for years to come without redress? If I voted for this Bill instead of standing up for the British farmers in an independent way, those who sent me here would say that I had shown too much loyalty to my party. Expressions of approval at my observations have come from the other side, and though I am thankful for them I am sorry to gain those expressions at the expense of any one on this side. I am thankful to hon. Members on my own side for the very lenient way in which they have allowed me to give my views on this question. With regard to what has fallen from the hon. Member for Merioneth and the hon. Member for the Eye Division of Suffolk as to the tithe being devoted to national purposes, I must say I think it would be a great mistake from an agricultural point of view if their desires were to be realized. I would ask the hon. Member for Eye what the farmers of a Suffolk parish would think of the arrangement if the £400, £500, or £600 they pay in the shape of tithes were to go away from their parish and be taken to London—to some central office at Whitehall—to be spent all over the country, in Manchester, Birmingham, London, and other large towns? How much would the hon. Member be able to tell his constituents they would be likely to see returned to the parish from which it was taken?
§ MR. E. S. STEVENSON
I did not advocate anything of the kind. I pointed out that if tithes were to be abolished to-morrow in England, as in other countries, a tax would be imposed upon land very much corresponding to the amount now levied in tithes.
§ * MR. C. GRAY
I am glad the hon. Member does not advocate the application of the tithe to national purposes, but several hon. Members sitting on that side of the House most decidedly did so, and if they will regard the remarks 806 which, perhaps, too personally I have addressed to the hon. Member for Eye, as addressed to them my purpose will be serve I. I should be very sorry to see the money going away from the country parishes and passing through a London office. It is bad enough when we are short of money to have to pay the last penny to the clergyman—who is not always very generous—but we do sometimes get a little deduction from him. From the gentleman who would come down to us with a black bag from London we should never get a penny back. Though I hope soon to return to my old allegiance, on this occasion I shall be obliged to walk out of the Lobby without voting.
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton)
Although this question must he looked at from an English as well as from a Welsh point of view, after the speeches we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and the hon. Member for Merioneth it is idle to shut our eyes to the fact that the Bill has a peculiar bearing upon Welsh interests, and any alteration that may be made must have special reference to Wales. With reference to these two speeches to which I refer they suggest two observations which I should like to make to the House before touching on the general question. The first is this: I cordially concur with the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that it cannot be the desire of any section of the House to destroy the property which is represented by tithes. I have no desire to make a present to the land owners of Wales of the tithes chargable on their land, and any weakening or destruction of property in tithe would not benefit the tenants, but would put money into the pockets of the landlords. Whatever our views may be as to the appropriation of tithes, we are bound as trustees for the public to preserve that property in its present state. We ought not to sanction any legislation that would tend to destroy the value of that property, and I am sure that those of my hon. Friends who desire to see this question dealt with on a broad and national principle will support that view of the case. I deplore the sneers which have been levelled at the Welsh Nonconformists in the course of this Debate. 807 It has been suggested that the Welsh farmers have resisted payment of tithes, not because of their religious scruples, but because they wish to save their pockets. It is the fashion now-a-days not to believe anyone who claims to have a conscience. If a man says, here or elsewhere, that he does a thing from conscientious motives, an opinion unfortunately prevails that he is not only stating what is untrue but is doing an improper act under the specious pretext of being influenced by a good motive. I think, and I hope the Church of England Members opposite will endorse what I say, that when we bear in mind the history of Nonconformity in Wales—its splendid self-sacrifice, quenchless hearty enthusiasm, and magnificent generosity. Welsh Nonconformity is not only one of the most precious inheritances of the Welsh people but a principle which we, as a nation, ought to value; and we ought to give some credit to those who profess it for being actuated by conscientious motives. Coming back to the speech of the Home Secretary, as to what is really the legal position in reference to this tithe rent charge and its recovery. It has been assumed throughout the Debate that the person liable to pay the tithe is the occupier, but Lord Salisbury said last year in the House of Lords—The occupier is not the" debtor, and, he has to suffer the inconvenience of a distress for a debt which is not his own.Now, I want to start my argument with that. It is Lord Salisbury's declaration that the obligation to pay tithe is one which does not legally rest on the occupier, and that if the occupier is subjected to distress he is subjected to an inconvenience for a debt which is not his own. A fortiori that would apply to a judgment of the County Court. The Home Secretary glided over the great change he is going to make in the procedure for the recovery of tithe— and I must remind the House what is the law as to the recovery of tithe at present. It is no debt of the tenant, according to Lord Salisbury. Neither is it a debt of the landlord. It is a charge on the produce of the land, and nothing else. The law does not recognise it as a debt at all, but merely as a charge upon the land which must be levied out of the land. The Act of 1836 provided that— 808Nothing herein contained shall be taken to render any person whomsoever personally liable to the payment of the rent charge.I take my stand on that. That was the fundamental condition of the Act of 1836, that no person should be personally liable for the payment of tithe rent-charge. What is now proposed is an alteration of the law. It is proposed for the first time to render some persons personally liable, and to change what is a charge upon the land into a debt, recoverable from the person who, according to Lord Salisbury, is not the debtor. The excuse put forward for that change is that it is in the interest of law and order. Is that so? The Welsh tenant who now declines on conscientious grounds to pay tithes will continue to decline to pay on the same ground, and there is not a pin to choose between the present method of levying distress and the execution which will take its place. I understand the President of the Board of Trade to say it is not intended to levy execution upon anything which cannot be now taken under a distress. That is not expressed in the Bill. If a clause to that effect is introduced, the effect will be to give us a new Bill, and I must confess that a great deal of my objection will be removed; but assuming it will be altered in that sense, the charge will still be a debt recoverable under a judgment. That involves the introduction of the power, which is possessed by the County Court Judges, of sending the debtor to prison under an order made upon a judgment summons for contempt of Court in not paying the debt. The President of the Board of Trade says the settlement of 1836 was one of great complexity, which could not easily be described, and he doubted whether any Government would have sufficient public sentiment behind it to enable it to carry a measure disturbing that settlement. I agree with that statement, and that is my answer to the last speaker. The question undoubtedly is one of great complexity. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is of opinion that there are a great many points on which the settlement of 1836 should be re-opened. If there were no other question to be settled, the farmers contend that there should be a re-valuation. It is not a question of what the temporary price of corn may have been in 1836, or in 809 the seven years preceding, or the seven years succeeding; but, as a matter of fact, the annual rental value of land in this country has seriously depreciated. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will not deny that. In the Committee on Woods and Forests, now sitting, they have ascertained that the depreciation in the value of Crown land since 1836 is something like 33 per cent; and I think my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford will say, as to the Ecclesiastical Commission, that the depreciation with other property has been the same. Very well, then, have not both the landowner and the tenant the right to say—"If you are going to reconsider the settlement of 1836, let us consider the basis on which that settlement was made. If rents have gone down why should not tithes also go down? "And not only has the value of land decreased something like 33 per cent., but there is a question raised as to the number of years over which the average is taken. There is, I think, a consensus of opinion that seven years is too long a period to settle prices by average. And there is a question as to the mode in which averages are calculated. If you re-open this settlement you must re-open it on the side both of the tithe payer and of the tithe receiver. But this is simply a Bill for re-opening the settlement in order to impose what was not imposed in 1836, and what has not been imposed by any Government since then. It is proposed for the first time to impose personal liability upon the tenant; a liability which he was never subjected to before, and it is also proposed to enforce that liability by all the consequences of a County Court judgment. Last year the Government proposed to deal with this question by transferring the liability from the tenant to the landlord, but they were unable to carry that proposal through. This Bill is an attempt to prejudge the question, and I should like to know why a settlement which has been accepted as the truest and best—namely, the placing of the burden on the shoulders of the landowner, should be discarded and put on one side. Why not deal with this matter in the same way as the Income Tax is dealt with? A tenant is not allowed to contract himself out of that, and the landlord is bound to allow the deduction; but in the case of the tithe 810 rent-charge, the landlord can compel the tenant to contract himself out of the deduction. I do not wish to go into the details as to what is the best and true mode of settling the tithe question. I do not wish to raise the question of the terms of redemption. I fully appreciate the statements which were contained in the letter read by the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, but I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that there are not other teachers of religion who are perhaps in the same unfortunate position as the writer of the letter which he read to the House. Though I feel the most sincere sympathy with the case of the writer of the letter, I should like to make one remark in reference to it. About a month ago, in reply to a Motion by my hon. Friend, the Member for Swansea, it was pointed out on the other side of the House that there were not two Churches in England and Wales, but that the Church of Wales was essentially a part of the Church of England." And, if so, we must remember that this clergyman is a clergyman of the wealthiest church in Christendom. Is not that a bitter condemnation of the system? I do not wish to mix that up with the case which my hon. Friend, the Member for Merionethshire, put as to what he considered to be the unfair appropriation of the funds. I put that on one side. There are clergymen for whom I feel the sincerest sympathy, and who, I admit, are deprived of their fair and legitimate income under the operation of this law. But I put it to the House that these facts show what a deep-rooted feeling there is in Wales upon this question, and how necessary it is that statesmen should at once approach the settlement of it. I rest my opposition to the Bill neither on the demerits of the present tithe system nor on the sufferings of the present tithe owner, but I submit that the legislation of 1836, with the consent of both the great political parties, made a settlement of the tithe question. That settlement has been in force half a century. I believe the time has arrived when it is necessary to reconsider it, and we have no right to prejudice that reconsideration by a partial dealing with the subject as against the tithe payer and in favour of the tithe owner. On these grounds 811 shall feel it my duty lo vote against this Bill.
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES,) Cambridge University
I do not think the right, hon. Gentleman could have been in the House when the Home Secretary explained his view of the meaning of the clause to which the right hon. Gentleman has taken particular exception, and I therefore wish to repeat the Home Secretary's statement that no liability to the person is intended to attach to the Judgment of the County Court. My right hon. Friend has ingeniously enough evolved that liability as incident to County Court procedure, but that is a matter which can easily be dealt with in Committee, and again I repeat that it is no part of the intention of the Government that any such personal Liability should attach to the judgment of the County Court in this matter. "With regard to Clause 1, I cannot see how the intention of the Government could have been more clearly expressed than by enacting that the execution of a judgment is to be confined strictly to that particular class and description of property upon which a distress can at the present time be levied, for the clause expressly provides it shall not be executed "in any other manner. "And if the right hon. Gentleman could suggest any language which will more expressly exclude from the operation of this Bill any other goods, I am sure the Government would be very grateful. It is not intended to give any new remedy, but simply to alter the machinery by which the remedy is obtained. In pointing out the complexity of the settlement of 1836, and the difficulty of dealing with all the various points involved, the right hon. Gentleman has very sufficiently answered the speech of the Member for East Essex, who seemed to think the Government to blame for having dealt with only one part of the question. The right hon. Gentleman is frank enough to say that he looks in the near future to an attempt on the part of the Government to grapple with the whole question. His great objection to this Bill is founded on the fact that he thinks it might prejudice a more comprehensive measure; but the House will probably conclude that his apprehensions in this respect are extremely exagge- 812 rated. Indeed, we find the question likely to be prejudiced in a different direction by the state of feeling which has grown up in some parts of the country. The Government think it is necessary for a proper consideration of the tithe question as a whole to make it clear to the country at large that tithe is to be recoverable by the ordinary legal machinery. I claim for this measure, to which no one has attributed an enormous importance, that it will clear the ground for a fairer and juster consideration of the whole question when Parliament comes to deal with it on a future occasion. It is impossible in discussing this question to avoid some reference to the tithe agitation in Wales, although this is not exclusively, nor even mainly, a Welsh question. The right hon. Gentleman has deprecated what he called anything like sneers at Welsh Nonconformity. I think it is only right to say that, while I for my own part should be very sorry to embitter the discussion by sneering at any body of religionists in Her Majesty's dominions, and indeed, I recognize the great self-sacrifice and earnest piety which distinguish the Welsh Nonconformists, yet it is obvious that the aggressive attitude of Welsh Nonconformity has provoked many of those unfortunate social symptoms in the Principality to which reference has been made. I am quite certain that if the Nonconformists of Wales would set the Churchmen the good example of abstaining from violent language, they would contribute largely to a happier state of things. I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman understands the Welsh language, but if he would get some one to translate for him certain articles in the Welsh papers, he would find they contained language which would perfectly account for the violent refusal of the legal obligation to pay tithe by a part of the Welsh population. It is indeed impossible to separate the propaganda of the Welsh Nonconformist papers from the disturbances which have recently occurred in what used to be the most law-abiding part of Her Majesty's dominions. And it is a consequence of that unfortunate state of things which has grown up during the last few years that the Government have brought in I this Bill, as a preliminary to more extended legislation on the subject. The I right hon. Gentleman has quoted a 813 passage from a speech delivered by the Prime Minister last year in the House of Lords. I do not care to rely on quotations unless I have the context before me, and not having that speech here, I am unable to say how far that passage may have been modified by subsequent sentences. The right hon. Gentleman has attributed to Lord Salisbury the very pronounced opinion that a tenant is to be distrained upon for a debt which is not his own, but he (the right hon. Gentleman) immediately afterwards went on to lay down the doctrine that the charge which has to be satisfied, either by distress or execution, is a charge on the produce of the land, and surely that can only be levied in the first instance upon the occupier of the land. If the tithe is to remain a charge upon the occupier of the land, I do not see how we can reach the produce in the hands of any one except the person to whom that produce belongs. If the right hon. Gentleman accepts his own definition of tithes, he cannot be in a position to affirm that the tenant is distressed for a debt which is not his own. I have been much interested by the speech of the hon. Member for Bye. I think it was a speech of very rare candour. The hon. Member for Eye said that tithe was a burden on the nation because, if there was no tithe, the nation might be in a position to levy a much heavier land tax. That is at least a novel proposition which the hon. Member has contributed to the discussion of that question. The speech of the hon. Member for Monmouthshire is hardly characterized by the same degree of candour as that of the hon. Member for Eye. The hon. Member for Monmouthshire has endeavoured to draw a distinction between property in tithes and other property, which he seems to hint would justify persons liable to tithe in refusing to pay it. Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to advise any person liable to the payment of tithe that he is in a position to refuse payment of it because it is a property that could not be recovered at law? If he is not prepared to do that, it is hardly candid in him to use language which when read out of doors might be interpreted to mean that persons may be justified in refusing payment of tithe, whereas they would not be justified in 814 refusing to discharge other legal obligations. The hon. Member has talked in familiar language of the tithe-payer protesting against a bad system. I myself am far from attributing the resistance to tithe entirely to mercenary motives. No doubt there is much of honest conviction mixed up with it; but I think it is unbecoming in a Member of this House who is credited with some knowledge of the law to insinuate that there is such a difference between property in tithe and other property as might seem to justify resistance on the part of those who are liable to tithe to the payment of their just legal obligations. The hon. Member divided tenants into two classes—those who are willing to pay tithes and those who are unwilling; and he asked for which class is this Bill intended. Well, my answer is that the Bill is not intended for either the one class or the other. It is not a Bill levelled at any one particular class of persons in any particular part of the country. It is intended to be general in its application. It will not affect those who willingly recognize their liability, and if it in any way impairs the power of the resistance which some persons at present offer to the just demand of the law, it comes merely as a supplement to supply a defect in the machinery of the law, and it will not alter the law itself. I desire, before sitting down, to repeat that there is no intention by this measure to prejudice any question as to property in tithe, and no intention to alter the remedy for the non - payment of tithe. It is a Bill merely to give a more practicable and useful machinery for the enforcement of legal obligations; and from that point of view I believe that it will command the confidence of the majority of this House, and give satisfaction to the people of this country.
§ * MR. STUART RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)
In spite of the lateness of the hour, and of the fact that right hon. Gentlemen on both Front Benches have just spoken, I ask the indulgence of the House to allow one more Member from Wales to take part in the Debate, because the Bill is undoubtedly specially aimed at the Principality, and is intended to deal with a condition of things which has arisen there in regard to the collection of the tithe. Now, Sir, in the course of this evening, some 25 Mem- 815 hers have addressed the House, and eight of them have been Representatives of Wales and Monmouthshire. Still, the subject is far from exhausted from a Welsh point of view. I will not, however, trespass long on the time of the House; I propose rather to deal with the Bill in only one aspect. I think the Government have fairly admitted that this is a measure of police. The object of the Bill is that the Government shall be able better to discharge its responsibility as an executive in the collection by creditors of their just debts. In that aspect of the case, I think the Government have proceeded upon very imperfect information. The Bill, as a measure of police, is, at the best, obsolete and out of date. It might have been that three or four years ago the condition of things in Wales with regard to the collection of tithes justified, in the minds of some persons, some such strengthening of the law. But the Government has failed to follow closely what has been going on in Wales with regard to that condition, and I submit that the course it is now taking, so far as from rendering the collection of the tithe more satisfactory to the executive, and assisting in the maintenance of law and order, will have directly the reverse effect. It was honestly believed in this country, and in this House, that the disturbances which undoubtedly took place in Wales were characteristic and fair examples of what the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Government Bench last called the "unfortunate disturbances which have disgraced the most peaceful and law-abiding part of the Kingdom. "In point of fact, the disturbances were rather the result of accident than of malice or ill-will, and the Commissioner whom the Government sent down to the spot must have satisfied the Home Secretary that they were the result of misfortune rather than of deliberate intention, and that there was no ground for supposing that they would be renewed. In Montgomeryshire we find a desire on the part of a most respectable portion of the tenantry to take legitimate advantage of the state of the law in regard to the collection of the tithe, and by challenging distraint to express an opinion as to the appropriation of it. They are at the same time most desirous that their action should not be discredited by any 816 violence. Indeed, they take steps to prevent any breach of the law, and those steps have hitherto proved perfectly successful. The House has been informed how our Chief Constable Major Godfrey has over and over again found it possible to allow the protest desired by the tenant-farmers to be duly made without any serious inconvenience to the tithe owner, or anything like a breach of the peace. It is now long since any disturbance whatever characterised the collection of tithes, therefore we maintain that the Bill is entirely out of date and uncalled for. But what will be the actual result of passing the Bill? Those in Wales who have been struggling to allow a protest of a political character to take place in connection with the collection of tithes—a protest unaccompanied by any disturbance—have triumphed in the end. There is no doubt we have succeeded throughout the length and breadth of Wales. So much so that a few newspapers and persons of more lively views reproach us with having killed the tithe agitation in Wales. By attempting to pass this Bill the Government are practically renewing the whole difficulty. They are not in any way preventing those who would otherwise resist the collection of the tithes from resisting it: the Bill is utterly and entirely ineffective in this respect. But they are creating a new departure and challenging fresh disturbance. One who knows the state of Wales might almost think they have some sinister desire that disturbance should occur, that penalties should follow, and that the unfortunate Welsh people should in some way or other be put in the wrong. I appeal most earnestly to the Home Secretary and to the President of the Board of Trade—who, I am sure, are not aware of the actual state of Wales—to aid the Welsh in maintaining the existing order of things, under which no disturbance can occur, under which I think we may pledge ourselves no disturbance will occur; and not by a fresh departure, not by administering some mild dose of coercion, for this is nothing else, tore-kindle smouldering fires, and invite the people to begin in an unfortunate manner the struggle which we all know is in prospect for the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales. All they have to do is to leave well alone. The case for the 817 Bill disappeared long ago, and it is only fair to the Government to say that Members from Wales, I believe almost unanimously, will find it their first duty, not to the violent party, if such a party exists, not to the extreme party in Wales, but to the party of moderation, to the best of the Welsh Nationalist party, to resist the progress of this measure by every means in their power. We know perfectly well that the passing of the measure can have but a bad influence in Wales. We are not against property in tithes. We do not consider this is a very desirable moment to endeavour to strengthen that property, and we look with some suspicion at the attempt to strengthen it and give it a large percentage of value in view of the time, which is coming, when it will have to be commuted. But we wish to safeguard the property as much as any Members of the House. We have no designs upon it which are unrighteous in any form or way. Our sole quarrel with it lies in its present appropriation. We desire, however, that no new law shall be made which will undoubtedly have the effect of placing the greatest possible strain upon the maintenance of peace and order in Wales, where at present there is no real breach of it and no cause for any interference.
§ MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
I only desire to inform the Home Secretary what has been said in his absence by the Postmaster General. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton very clearly expressed the objections that are felt on this side of the House to the Bill. They are mainly two. The one is that the Bill for the first time makes the tithe rent a charge upon the person, and the other is that the Bill makes the charge one upon personal property other than the produce of the land which has hitherto been chargeable. The Postmaster General has assured us that there is no power of imprisonment under the Bill. That is a repetition of what the Home Secretary said, namely, that the tithe is not to be a charge upon any person. But the Postmaster General went a step further: he told us that it is not to be a charge upon any personal property other than that which has been chargeable hitherto. What, therefore, remains of the Bill? Nothing whatever but an extra 818 step in the law. Instead of going direct to the farmer with a distraint if he refuses to pay, we are now to go through the County Court and approach him with an execution, a process by which the costs will be enormously increased.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
As an agricultural member, I wish to ask the Home Secretary one question, and that is, will the Government state definitely whether they are willing to bring in next Session a Bill for the compulsory redemption of tithe, because in the event of an unfavourable answer, although I am neither a blasphemer nor a plunderer of Churches, I shall be obliged either to follow the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. H. Gardner) into the Lobby, or walk out of the House like the hon. Member for Maiden (Mr. C. Gray.)
§ The House divided:—Ayes 212; Noes 160.(Div. List, No. 228.)
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 208; Noes 151.(Div. List, No. 229.)
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.