§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (3.58.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICKS BEACH, Bristol, W.)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the few observations which it will be my duty to submit to the House I shall not address myself in any way to the Amendment which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Rendel) has placed on the Paper. The hon. Member asks this House to affirm—That no measure dealing with tithe rent-charge will be satisfactory to the people of Wales which does not recognise the fact that tithes are national property, to be devoted to national purposes, and that the tithe rent-charge in Wales ought to be applied in accordance with the constitutionally-expressed wishes of the people of the Principality.Now, Sir, I do not agree with the view of the hon. Member and his friends that Parliament has any right to deal with tithe rent-charge as national property. But I decline to argue that question now, with every respect to them and with a complete admission of the importance of the Amendment in itself, because I would venture to submit to 242 the House now, as I submitted last year, that this is not a Bill which in any way proposes to deal with the appropriation of tithe. It is a Bill solely intended and purporting to secure the better payment of tithe, to prevent property which, whether it belongs to the tithe owners, as we think, or to the nation, as hon. Members opposite think, is a valuable property, from being lost by remaining in the pockets either of the owners or occupiers of titheable land who have no right to it. Therefore, Sir, I shall confine myself to an attempt to explain to the House the provisions of this Bill and the difference between this Bill and that which it was my lot to introduce last Session. In the first place, hon. Members will have observed that this measure contains no provision for redemption. In 1889 a very general desire was expressed among Members on both sides of the House that the law relating to the redemption of tithes should be amended, and last Session we inserted in our Bill certain proposals with a view to facilitating the redemption of tithes. I am bound frankly to admit that those proposals did not meet with any very encouraging reception, and I think that, generally speaking, there has been shown since they were made a disposition on the part of hon. Members who have principally taken an interest in this question to prefer that there should be some inquiry, both into the principle of the law of redemption of tithes and the mode in which that law has been administered, before any fresh legislation is proposed on the subject. We have, therefore, omitted from this Bill any provisions as to the redemption of tithes, and it is our intention to advise the appointment of a small and competent Commission which shall examine into the matter, and which will, I hope, without any undue expenditure of time, make such a Report on the subject as may enable Parliament to deal with it to the benefit of owners and payers of tithes. Therefore this Bill is confined simply to amending the law relating to the recovery of tithes, and in the first and second clauses of the Bill we have endeavoured to carry into effect the proposition that the owner of titheable land should be prevented from contracting himself out of his liability to pay rent-charge, and that 243 the law should be altered to give the tithe owner a direct remedy against the owner of the land instead of the tenant. Last Session I was told that I was treating this matter as if it were only a Welsh matter. There is no doubt in my mind that the urgency of this question mainly arises from the widespread resistance to the payment of tithes in Wales, and to the scenes of disgraceful violence by which that resistance has too often been accompanied. But we are prepared to maintain that it is quite as necessary in England as in Wales that the owners of land should in the future be prevented from making their tenants parties to a transaction with which they have nothing whatever to do, and that the produce and stock of a tenant should be safe from being distrained upon for a debt due by the landlord. There are two important changes in the procedure proposed in the first and second clauses of the Bill. The first clause proposes, as the Bill of last year proposed, that tithe rent-charge should be payable by the owner of the land, notwithstanding any contract between him and the occupier of the land, and as that imposes a liability on the owner, it goes on to provide that where the occupier is liable under any contract made before the passing of this Act to pay the tithe rent-charge, then he shall cease to be bound by that part of the contract; but during the period he shall, unless he otherwise agrees, owe to the owner such sum as the owner has to pay for that tithe rent-charge. Last Session the Bill proposed that the sum to be paid by the occupier should be owed as rent, and that therefore it would be recoverable in the same way as rent. This Bill proposes that it shall only be recovered as tithe rent-charge is recoverable—namely, by distraint under the Tithe Act. Therefore I think it will be clear to the House that in this respect the tenant is in no way placed in a worse position by the provisions of the Bill than that in which he has placed himself by voluntary contract on his part, and, of course, it will be in his power—in the power either of the landlord or the tenant if they dislike that position to terminate the contract in the ordinary manner. There is another important change of procedure in the second clause, which deals with the recovery of tithe rent - charge. 244 Last Session's Bill proposed that recovery by means of a Receiver should be substituted for distraint under the Tithes Act. That was objected to very strongly, because it was contended that such a procedure would be very oppressive upon the owners who were also the occupiers of the land, and particularly on small frecholders. Now, the Irish Act, under which owners of land there were made subject to the payment of tithe rent-charge, provided a mode of recovery which we have imitated in the present Bill. It provided for the appointment of a Receiver by the Court only in cases, where land was let, and therefore there was some rent to receive, and it provided also that where the owner was the occupier the recovery should be by distraint. That is practically our proposal in the second clause of this Bill. Where the owner is also the occupier we propose to retain the power of distraint under the Tithe Acts. Some Members may ask what is the object of enforcing this through the County Court. I will endeavour to explain. I believe it will be a great advantage to the tithepayer because, while now he is liable to be distrained upon at the will of the tithe owner by any agent appointed by the tithe owner, in future he can only be distrained upon by a qualified officer, after being heard by the County Court, which will decide, after giving him full advantage of the provisions of the third clause of the Bill. It will also be an advantage to the tithe-owner, because the direction of the Court will save him from the damages to which he might become liable if he distrained on a mere tenant under the mistaken belief that such tenant waa the owner of the land. These are the main alterations in the procedure proposed in the first and second clauses in the Bill; and now I come to the third clause. It has been contended very often before, and I daresay it will be contended again, that the proposals of this Bill amount to an alteration of the Act of 1836, in favour of the tithe owner, and that Parliament ought not to take this step without making some corresponding alteration in favour of the tithepayer. Well, that argument ought not to be carried quite so far as it has been, because it is absolutely contradicted by the simple fact that on no less 245 than 14 occasions since the passing of the Act of 1836 that Act has been amended by Parliament, in favour of one side or the other, without taking any corresponding advantages into consideration at all. I think that view to which I have referred underlies both the Amendments on the Paper by the hon. Members for Suffolk and Essex. The Member for Essex goes further than the Member for Suffolk. He refers in his Amendment to appreciation or depreciation in a way which I confess I do not understand. He proposes—That it is desirable that, before any legislation affecting the appreciation or depreciation of tithe rent-charge is presented to Parliament, an inquiry should be made, either by Royal Commission or otherwise, into the working of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, under the present altered and unforeseen conditions of agriculture.Well, if the effect of this Bill was to depreciate the tithe rent-charge, I cannot see on what ground, from the hon. Member's point of view, his proposition could be sustained. His contention is that it would appreciate the value of the tithe rent-charge; but I venture to say that if we have due regard to the great and increasing number of cases in which the tithe rent-charge is paid directly by the owners of land to the tithe owner, and also to the fact that there will be cases, if this Bill becomes law, in which it will be inconvenient to the tithe owner rather than to his advantage—if we have due regard to these facts I do not believe that such calculations as have been made of the great appreciation of tithe rent-charge which the Bill will produce will be found to have any real foundation whatever. I believe that any appreciation of tithe which may be the result of this Bill will be amply met by the proposals which are contained in the third clause. But what do the hon. Members really want? What I think they really want is contained in the words of the hon. Member for Suffolk (Mr. F. Stevenson), who proposesThat, in the opinion of this House, no measure dealing with the mode of levying tithe rent-charge will be satisfactory which fails to make provision for an equitable revision of tithes in accordance with the altered conditions of agriculture.That is their view; they ask that tithe rent-charge should be lowered where the 246 value of the land out of which it issues has decreased since 1836; but when the matter was discussed in the House last Session, the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) and, I think, the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) also, pointed out that the matter could not stop there, and that, in fact, whoever may be the person who stands in the position of the tithe owner, whether the existing tithe owner or the nation at large, in common justice we could not require him to have his good bargain under the Tithe Act of 1836 set aside, and his bad bargain under that Act enforced, and that, therefore, equitable revision would mean that where the tithe was too high it should be lowered, and that it should be raised where it was too low. I, however, venture to submit that it would be absolutely impossible for any Commission to recommend, or for the House of Commons to adopt, such a proposal as that, because to do so would be to reverse the great principle of the Act of 1836, which was universally accepted at that time, and which, I believe, would be universally accepted at the present day—namely, the abolition of the growing tithe. For more than 50 years the owners of titheable land have been rendering their land more productive by expending large sums upon its improvement on the faith of the principle so embodied in the Act of 1836 that growing tithe should be abolished, and I should like to know how it is possible now to turn round upon those men and say, "We have lowered the tithe in certain cases owing to the depreciation in the value of land, but we intend to raise the amount of the tithe charged upon your land because owing to your expenditure it has increased in value." A policy such as that would be an impossible one, and therefore I consider that the so-called equitable proposal put forward by the hon. Members for Essex and Suffolk would not be entertained by the House of Commons for a moment. What I think, however, can be done is to meet reasonably these hard cases which are due to the temporary depression of agriculture. I call that depression temporary because it is the opinion of those who are most experienced in such matters that the present depression is by no means likely to be of a permanent character. The 247 principle upon which we have attempted to deal with these hard cases is that the tithe rent-charge should never be permitted to exceed the net profits of the land. I think that to apply that principle boldly would be in the interest of the tithe owner. I think that it is generally felt that it would be impossible for us to apply fairly the principle I have just indicated without the intervention of some local tribunal accustomed to the practice of local valuation, because, where land is not let, it would be difficult to arrive fairly at the net value of it in any particular year without ascertaining the rent that it might reasonably be expected to let for. Therefore it was that last year I proposed that the net profit should be a special rateable value fixed by the Assessment Committee of the Union in which the lands are situated, and that the tithe rent-charge should never exceed the amount so fixed, the result of which would have been that an allowance varying with local circumstances of from 10 to 15 per cent., being the difference between the gross estimated rental and the rateable value, would have been made in all cases to the owner of land for repairs and other expenses, the remaining balance being taken as the net profit of the land. I confess that last year I found some little difficulty in explaining that proposal, even to Members of this House, but that, I have no doubt, was my own fault. I feel, however, pretty certain that, owing to the peculiar nature of our rating laws, it would be very difficult indeed to frame that proposal in such a shape as to be intelligible to the Assessment Committees, who would have to administer the law, and, therefore, this year we have departed from that proposal, and have substituted for it that which is embodied in the third clause in the Bill, namely, that the assessment of the land under Schedule B of the Income Tax shall be taken as the gross annual profit of the land. Of course, that amount would be merely the basis for the calculation of the net profits, because it would be necessary to make certain deductions from it in order to arrive at the net profits of the land. What those deductions should be is a matter for future discussion, but we propose that they shall be taken as one-third. Therefore, in no case would 248 the tithe rent-charge exceed two-thirds of the amount at which the land was assessed under Schedule B of the Income Tax. I believe that that proposal is more favourable to the tithe rent-charge payer than that which was contained in the Bill of last Session. I believe that it will in all cases allow not merely for repairs and maintenance and management of the property, but that it will also leave some beneficial interest to the payer of the tithe rent-charge. I must say that, in my opinion, neither those who originally gave the tithes nor those who framed the Act of 1836 intended that the tithe rent-charge should deprive the owner of the land of all interest in his property. Our proposals could not result in permanent loss to the tithe owner, because if through them the amount of the tithe were to be reduced in any case owing to the depreciation in the value of land, and the value of the land were to increase subsequently, the Surveyor of Taxes would, undoubtedly, raise the assessment of the land under Schedule B of the Income Tax, and thus the tithe rent-charge would be raised automatically. There are provisions in the clause which will prevent it from being unfairly applied against the tithe-owner, where there has been a special apportionment of tithe rent charge on a certain portion only of the land of a parish, or where land is intentionally kept in an unprofitable condition for building purposes. I do not think that it is necessary for me to say anything about the other clauses in the Bill, but I venture to contend that by the proposals in the third clause we have done something to meet the desire that this Bill should contain an alteration in the law favouring the tithepayer as well as the tithe-owner. We were twitted last Session, and I daresay that we shall be twitted again this year, with changing our proposals in this matter. I can only say that I am not in the least ashamed of having altered proposals relating to the details of legal procedure in a matter which is about as complicated and technical as any which the House could be called upon to deal with, but I should be ashamed if I had neglected to avail myself to the full of the criticisms and the suggestions which can be drawn not merely from the discussions 249 of last Session, but from the Amendments which were then placed upon the Paper. We have endeavoured as far as is legitimately consistent with the principles of our Bill to meet those criticisms and suggestions, and we shall continue to follow that course with regard to any suggestions that may be made in the course of the Debate on this Bill, and which appear to spring not from a mere desire to delay and to obstruct legislation, but from a real anxiety to secure, with fairness to both sides, an amendment of the law which all parties profess to desire in itself, and which, in my humble opinion, has been too long delayed. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time." —(Sir M. Hicks Beach.)
§ (4.28.) MR. HERBERT GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
, in whose name the following Amendment stood upon the Paper:—That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that, before any legislation affecting the, appreciation or depreciation of tithe rent-charge is presented to Parliament an inquiry should be made, either by Royal Commission or otherwise, into the working of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, under the present altered and unforeseen conditions of agriculture,said: I am glad to notice that the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman have not been addressed to the criticism of his Bill, and I think that both he and the Government have great cause to be thankful at the position of the question, because I notice that in the present measure the Government have retreated from all the propositions which they have brought forward in all their previous measures, such propositions involving not merely matters of legal procedure, but vital principles. Her Majesty's Government have in reality turned a complete political somersault, and have brought in an entirely different measure. In the Bill brought in in 1888 the onus of the tithe was absolutely placed upon the occupier. I ask the House whether these are mere questions of procedure? Therefore, I say the right hon. Gentleman and the Government are open to the criticisms I have ventured to offer. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has made an important statement in the course of his speech in moving the Second Reading of 250 the Bill. He has stated that he shall ask the House to assist in the appointment of a Commission to consider the redemption of tithe. Now, that is a subject on which many hon. Members hold different views; but speaking from the point of view from which I regard it, from which my own constituents regard it, and, I may say, from which the tithepayers of the Eastern and Southern Counties regard it, I say that we should not welcome any Commission for the Redemption of Tithes if it were not also charged with the establishing what we consider a fair tithe would be. The right hon. Gentleman went on to drag the red herring of growing tithe across the path of those gentlemen who are opposed to the view which those in the Eastern Counties take on this subject, but I hope the House will permit me to point out that in the Amendment which stands in my name I have merely asked the Government for an inquiry with a view of seeing whether it is necessary that any revision of the tithe should take place. Neither am I in any way opposed to legislation on the subject. On the contrary, I hold that legislation may be necessary and salutary in regard to this highly difficult and important question. Just as our predecessors in 1836 were able to carry through their exceedingly difficult, technical, and much misunderstood Act, so, in the present Parliament, if some reasonable and well-digested measure were approached in a moderate and conciliatory spirit by both sides of the House, it would be possible to legislate on this subject in the right direction. But whatever may be said by Her Majesty's Government, I am certain that this measure can only be regarded as a very small measure, and, also, as a most incomplete measure. It professes to deal, in some way, with the interests and grievances not only of the tithe owners, but also of the tithe bearers. With regard to the tithe bearers, as far as I can see, this Bill only touches the fringe of the question, and when its contents come to be known in those counties which are most concerned in the matter, it will be unanimously rejected by them as useless and unsatisfactory. When there are two or three parties to a dispute such as is raised between the tithe owners and tithe payers, legislation to be permanent must not be conceived in 251 a one-sided spirit. If legislative action is to be satisfactory it will most probably take the form of a compromise, but it must be a fair compromise, in which both parties will be able to shake hands, and the result will be of a soothing character. But this Bill is not a sedative; it is rather an irritant; and, in my opinion, small as is its scope, it will have the effect of arousing and exciting the attention of the tithe payers, and inducing them seriously to consider their grievances; and, when the Government have thus aroused and excited the tithe payers' attention, the Bill they have introduced will leave them with the impression that they are, in reality, worse off than they were before. I do not suppose that anyone even on the Benches opposite will dispute that this question is a most highly complicated and difficult one. The Prime Minister certainly admitted this when I, and others, waited upon him as a deputation at the Foreign Office at the commencement of his term of office. He also admitted that this was his opinion when he introduced his Bill in the House of Lords, and he has again made the same admission, both in the Press and on the platform. But there is another and a very significant circumstance which may be regarded as conclusive of the fact that the Government look upon the question before us as one of an exceedingly difficult and complicated character, and that is the fact that, although we are now entering on the fifth Session of the present Parliament, during which they have held office for four years, and although this question is admitted by them to be of the highest importance, Session after Session has been allowed to pass, and yet, up to the present moment, although possessed of a large and overwhelming majority, Her Majesty's Government have been unable to induce Parliament to accept one of the measures they have brought in dealing with this question. I think I stand upon strong ground when I say that this is so difficult and technical a subject that the Government have not been able up to the present time to find a solution of the problem it presents. If Her Majesty's Government in the hey-day of their youth and strength have not been able to pass a simple measure on the subject, how can they hope to be 252 more successful in coming to us at a period when Parliament has long passed middle-age, and asking us in an exceptional Session to accept such a proposal as that which they have now brought forward? I think the House may well pause before it accepts, under such circumstances, a measure which the Government have hitherto been unable to pass. If the Government, with the best intentions in the world, have not been able to deal successfully with this question, the reason is obvious and simple—it is because it is idle to tinker with a great question of this sort. If they re-open the settlement of 1836, as they do by this Bill, and as they have done by every Bill they have brought in on the subject in the past, they must do it in a broad and statesmanlike manner, and not approach it in a small tinkering spirit such as that in which they approach it now. Having said so much, I will venture to offer a few criticisms on the measure as it stands. To my mind it is almost as unsatisfactory as was the previous measure; although no doubt the Government, bearing in mind the criticisms passed on their previous attempts at legislation on this subject, have to some extent modified their previous proposals, still, the present Bill does not in any material degree differ from their previous effort. True, it changes the incidence of the burden of the tithe from the occupier to the landowner, but, so far as the tithe payer is concerned, it contains nothing that will make it more acceptable to him. The object of the present proposal is apparently to make the landowner directly responsible for the payment of the tithe rent-charge. Personally, I have no objection to that; but I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and those who have assisted him in bringing in this Bill, consulted the occupiers, and, if so, what was it the occupiers said? Did the demand for the change of incidence come from the occupiers in the eastern or southern counties? I venture to say "No." The demand has in reality come from the tithe owners, who wished to appreciate their tithes by obtaining greater facilities for their collection. The farmers say that if, as is the case in your present Bill, you put the charge on the landlord, the landlord will most 253 certainly, when he has the opportunity, add the amount on to the rent, so that the occupiers will not be one penny the better for the change. Indeed, the farmers put this forward as a contention against the Bill; they say that, during periods of agricultural distress, when the tithe has been unduly oppressive, they have hitherto been able to go to the tithe owner and appeal to his generosity for some concession in regard to the tithe, and that in many cases, for instance, as I hear, in the County of Hampshire, Lord Winchester and several other lay impropriators have reduced the tithe by a large percentage. But what do you do by this Bill? You put the landowner in front as the tithe payer, and thus you make it impossible for the occupier to appeal to the generosity of the tithe owner. I must also say that in places where at the present moment the tenants are on the most amicable terms with the landowners this Bill would bring about a state of things very undesirable to both parties. We are told that it is only the landowner who is to pay the tithe. The landowner in the opinion of some of my hon. Friends, is a millionaire, or at any rate one of that class of whom it is said, "They toil not, neither do they spin," but I would point out that this measure will affect a large number of landowners who possess very small areas of landed property, namely, all those coming within the yeomanry class. I do not desire to weary the House by going into statistics, but I saw in a return for the year 1873 that in the county of Kent, which is a county that at the present moment is one of the heaviest-tithed parts of the kingdom, there are only 382 landowners who hold more than 500 acres each, while there are 7,000 who hold land varying in extent from one to five hundred acres. These are the men you are going to make responsible for the payment of the tithe. If you were dealing only with wealthy landowners there might not be so much objection to the proposal; but how will this Bill compare with the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836? In this measure you insert a clause making the tithe recoverable in the County Court. See what effect this will have, and what a difference it will make in the case of the small yeomen with regard to 254 the question of costs! Under the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 the whole preliminary expense in a case of legal procedure for tithe consists of half-a-crown for a statutory notice. By this Bill you transfer the procedure to the County Court, and I will venture to say that, in a disputed case where, say, £20 is sued for, and witnesses have to be called, the cost will amount to something like £10, or 50 per cent. of the whole amount at issue. Now, let me come to the famous clause which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has put forward as such a tempting sop to the tithepayer. I refer to the clause which deals with the question of the remission of the tithe rent-charge. No one who has studied the question can help seeing that this two-thirds average is far too high, and that it will not touch one-fiftieth part of the cases of distress. I have not before me the statistics which are doubtless in the possession of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade; but, without having seen them, I have no hesitation in saying that this clause will not touch 100 cases of distress out of the whole number. At what cost are we going to purchase this small concession to the tithepayer? Why, by declaring by a solemn vote of the House that two-thirds of the annual value of the land is in our opinion a fair, just, and non-excessive tithe. In this matter I think I shall have the sympathy of my agricultural colleague the Member for Maldon. The hon. Member has attended many meetings of tithe payers, but I ask him what sympathy he could expect to meet with from them if he gave his vote in Parliament in support of the proposition that two-thirds of the annual value of the land is a fair and just and equitable tithe? Now, I should like to put before the House some reasons why there should be a Committee of Inquiry before legislation, as the fairest way of approaching the question. In the first place, all on this side of the House hold that tithe is the property of the nation, and that Parliament, as guardians of the public purse, whether they be in favour of the Established Church or of Disestablishment, are bound to see that that national property is neither lost, destroyed, nor endangered. I know that if you leave such a 255 cause of friction among many of the tithepayers of the counties of England, you will come within very near distance of an agitation for the abolition of tithe. This is said to be a purely landlords' question, but, if that is the case, then I must say that the farmers show a most loyal, and I would even say a quixotic, interest in the landlords' affairs. But they hold that it is not a landlords' question. They hold, rightly or wrongly, that the land of this country is the raw material on which they work, and that if you put an excessive charge on that raw material you must injure the manufacture. The fear of an agitation for the abolition of tithes was one of the great reasons for the passage of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836. It was the fear of its utter loss to the nation and to the Church which induced men so different in politics as Mr. Hume and Sir Robert Peel to vote for the Bill on that occasion. Sir, there is the question of the septennial averages. By the test of 1836 the tithe is calculated on the average value of wheat, barley, and oats for the seven years preceding that in which the tithe is paid. The result is that the farmer may be called upon in his first year of the tenancy, though that year is one of a disastrous nature to agriculture, to pay tithe based on the average prices realised in the seven preceding and prosperous years. It is admitted by all parties that the subject of the septennial averages is one which might well be inquired into. Many hold that the return of the averages, made by official inspectors, is a fallacious return. It is held that they are made upon small samples of the best qualities of wheat, barley, and oats, and therefore the prices fixed are fallacious. I 'am not supporting this argument myself, but this argument is undoubtedly true—that it was the intention of the Tithe Commutation Act that the tithe in future should fluctuate with the price of cereals, as it had done in the past. That intention is borne out by a remark of Lord Lansdowne on the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Lords, where he said that it was necessary in equity that the payment of the tithe should fluctuate with the value of produce. But let us suppose that the three cereals were chosen as the standard because in the 256 opinion of the statesmen of that day they were less fluctuating than other articles or money would be. They supposed gold would not appreciate but rather depreciate in the coming year. They had many reasons for supposing that corn would remain more or less stable in value. The direct contrary has come about. Since the Act of 1836 gold has appreciated and corn has fluctuated. If this be true, no sound financier would in the present day take three cereals as the stable standard of value. If that intention be true, as to the vital principle of the Act of 1836, you certainly have a reason why, at any rate, there should be some inquiry into the subject. The Act of 1836 has not carried out the intentions of its original framers. Lord John Russell, in introducing it, said it was a plan which in future years would leave persons at liberty to cultivate their land without any apprehension of the augmentation of tithe. Every one connected with agriculture knows that the value of tithe, measured by the value of produce, has already augmented to such an extent that in some cases the land has been driven out of cultivation, while in many cases the tithepayer has been unable to cultivate his land at a profit. Yet by this very Bill you wish us to admit that two-thirds of the annual value of the land is the just and equitable value of tithe. Those who framed the Act of 1836 would have laughed such a suggestion to scorn. I think I have made out some case in regard to the matter. At the same time, if I moved my Amendment in a direct form it would limit discussion, which I have no wish to do. I do not wish for a moment to press anything more than I have stated in my speech. Dull and wearisome as this subject may be, it is one which affects a vast property of £60,000,000 belonging to the nation, and it also affects what was formerly the principal, but now is, unfortunately, a decayed, industry of this country — agriculture. It is for the House to decide whether my arguments are of value, and worthy consideration. It is for the House to decide moreover whether, by accepting the Second Reading of this Bill, they will reopen a great question affecting a great National property and a vast National interest. Leaving a partially futile and 257 incomplete proposal, they will proceed, I venture to think, on the broader and safer lines of inquiry before legislation—the lines which, in my humble judgment, are sanctioned by every precedent of moderation, equity, and justice.
§ (4.48.) MR. C. W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I agree with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden, but I fancy there are not many hon. Members opposite who go with him in the recommendation that the tithe should be lowered. What we have to consider from. the tithepayer's point of view is whether it would be better that this Bill should be read a second time, thus certainly affording some measure of relief to the tithepayer, or would it be better to say "No" to the Second Reading of the Bill, and trust to hon. Members opposite going further for the relief of the tithepayer than the present Government proposes to go. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden has told us that the farmers of the Eastern Counties disapprove of the proposals contained in this Bill to transfer the onus of paying the tithe to the landlord. Where he got his information from I cannot imagine.
§ MR. GRAY
I am very glad to obtain that information. But if the hon. Member thinks that that Chamber always expresses the opinions of the farmers of the Eastern Counties, I beg him not to be thus misled. I have every respect for the Essex Chamber, belonging to it as I do, but it sometimes gives expression to opinions which are not entertained by any large proportion, or even by a majority, of the farmers of East Anglia. Again I ask the hon. Member how it is, if it is so unfair from a tenant-farmer's point of view to transfer the onus of tithepaying from the tenant to the landlord, how is it that Members of the Opposition voted with me when I brought this question to an issue a Session or so ago. Evidently, at that time the hon. Member did not disapprove of that which he says the farmers of East Anglia to-day disapprove of. I am fully as anxious as my hon. Friend that those very hard cases to which I have often alluded, in which the tithe 258 has become a more valuable property than the landlord's beneficiary rent, should receive attention. I hope to have something to say on that matter in Committee; indeed, I think the very drafting of this Bill challenges a discussion on that point. But where should we be if we refused to pass this Bill and awaited the Report of a Commission such as the hon. Member proposes. In the first place, we should have to wait for the Report of the Commission, and all that time the vexed question would remain unsettled in Wales, and the tithepayers in East Anglia would have no relief whatever. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in his speech, which, if I may be allowed to say so, was the best on the tithe question I have ever heard in this house, said there had been tithe legislation thirteen or fourteen times since the passing of the Commutation Act, and on each occasion the tithepayers' interest had been ignored. I took it he adduced that as a reason why in the future their interest should be considered.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
My hon. Friend misunderstood me. I said that in some cases the advantage of the tithe-owner, and in others that of the tithe-payer, had alone been affected.
§ MR. GRAY
I certainly did misunderstand the right hon. Gentleman. I am glad we have some precedents for considering the tithepayers' interest. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden asked how the tenant-farmer would be bene-fitted by transferring the payment of the tithe to the landlord. As matters stand, there are many difficult questions in connection with the collection of the tithe, such as the taking of the corn averages, and it is obvious that if the tenant-farmer is relieved of the payment, of the tithe he will also be relieved of his anxiety in regard to the settlement of these difficult questions. In my opinion, the changes which have been made in the Bill are good in every respect; but it is hardly fair on the part of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden to claim these changes as the result of action taken by himself or his Party. There are many hon. Members on the Government side of the House who have acted most cordially with myself in making our views understood by the Government. 259 And those hon. Members may certainly congratulate themselves on having made some impression on the Government. I do not believe that the yeoman farmer will be in the least degree injured by the present proposals; but I did see a danger to the yeoman farmer in the last Tithe Bill. In most cases the present Bill will leave him much in the same position, but there will be far more cases of relief afforded than is supposed by the hon. Gentleman opposite. The man farming his own land who on his assessment can show that his tithe will be more than two-thirds of the annual value will obtain the same relief as the large landlord will obtain. As to the relief clause, I most earnestly hope that, before the Committee stage is reached, the Government will once again consider some of the suggestions made by their own supporters, and especially I hope that they will reconsider the possibility of altering, with fairness to both parties, the point at which relief can be obtained from two-thirds to one-half. The question is not merely one of the remission of the tithe rent-charge when it exceeds two-thirds of the annual value of the land. The assessment is based upon what may fairly be called two rents—the rent paid to the landlord, and the rent paid to the tithe owner. So the Bill really provides that remission shall be given only when the tithe exceeds two-thirds of itself, plusthe rent to the landlord. Such a provision very greatly limits the scope of the relief afforded by the Bill; and many hard cases will obtain not a shade or shadow of relief. For instance, let the House consider the case of the farm upon which successive landlords have spent immense sums of money, and which now pays a rent of 4s. an acre to the landlord and a tithe rent-charge of 5s. an acre. At the time when the tithe was adjusted, in 1836, that farm was perhaps paying a landlord s rent of 25s. or 30s. an acre, while it paid a tithe of only 6d. or 8d. an acre more than it does at present. In this case no relief will be afforded by the Bill. As this question is being opened up I hope that the Government will go further than they at present propose to do. If they cannot at once accept my suggestion as to the change from the two-thirds to one-half, let them at least leave it an open question to be decided by the 260 House. I should like to see what the hon. Member for Saffron Walden will do if such an Amendment has a fair chance of being carried by the House. I should like to know what the leader of the Opposition will say about it, because I am aware that there are many hon. Members on the other side of the House who maintain that there should be no relief whatever given to the tithepayers as long as there is a single penny coming from the land. When I bring forward my Amendment in Committee I hope that the Government will allow it to have a fair chance, and that they will not appoint the Government Whips to tell against me. I think on the whole that the tithepayers of East Anglia will consider that a spirit of compromise has been shown in this Bill; and, although it cannot be looked upon as a final measure to settle the entire vexed question, at any rate it is a Bill which has considered the interests of both parties concerned in the question. I have no doubt that a final settlement of the question must come under some scheme of redemption, but the House of Commons is not quite ready to pass such a measure as I should consider fair to the tithepayers. A good deal more information is needed before Parliament is really able to settle what a fair scheme of redemption would be. That is the reason why I was so anxious to get the redemption clauses cut out of the last Bill. That has now been done, and we have the promise of the appointment of a Commission to consider the possibility of redeeming the tithe—a promise worth a hundred such visionary offers as have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I hope the Bill will be read a second time, although I shall do everything in my power to press upon the Government in Committee the adoption of the Amendment substituting a half instead of two-thirds as the point at which relief is to be forthcoming.
§ (5.20) MR. PICTON (Leicester)
I congratulate the Government on having brought in a Bill infinitely superior to any before laid on the Table of the House. As they have been told by the hon. Member who last spoke, the weak point of the Bill is the stage at which the relief is to be granted. The hon. Member desires to make it at one-half instead of two-thirds. Some of us 261 would desire to see it lower still, but at any rate by this Clause the Government have laid themselves open to very serious attacks. So far as the Bill removes the payment from the occupier to the owner, I think that it only carries out what was originally intended by the Act of 1836. Lord Grey, as the last survivor of those who took an active part in the negotiations of that year, explained in the Nineteenth Century last year that this was undoubtedly the intention of the measure. I think that on the whole the present Bill carries out that intention very satisfactorily. I am pleased, therefore, to observe subsection 3 in Clause 1, which removes some of the objections felt by many hon. Members on the Opposition side as to the rigour with which tithe was to be exacted from the occupier. I understand that that portion of the rent which is paid by way of tithe, through the landlord, is only to be exacted by the same means as are now used for its recovery, and that the distress, if any, is only to be on the produce of the land. That being so I should have the greatest pleasure in voting for the Second Reading of the Bill. But I believe that an Amendment will be moved on a matter of principle by an hon. Member on my own side of the House, and if this is done I shall be bound by my convictions to give that Amendment my best support. We have heard a great deal about the hardship which is inflicted on landowners, and it is evident that these pleas ad misericordiam will be used as a lever whereby to reduce the provision of two-thirds to a half, or even less. I think that those pleas are altogether unfounded in justice. Hon. Members argue as though tithe were an additional charge on top of rent. It is nothing of the kind. Tithe is a portion of the rent taken away from the landlord for purposes at present ecclesiastical, but I venture to predict that soon it will be applied to secular purposes. It should be set apart for national and public purposes, and I hold that hon. Members will be utterly untrue to their trust as defenders of the public interest if they give their consent to allow it to be diminished to any extent whatever. If it be said that the land cannot bear the burden, then I say, let the land be 262 surrendered. We hear a good deal urged about the excessive amount of the tithe, but the cases referred to are exceptional. When the Commissioners fixed the amount of the tithe, as Lord Grey shows, they did not estimate what was the value of one-tenth of the gross produce of the best cultivated land; they took the parish as a whole, they ascertained the average amount of tithe yielded by the parish for the previous seven years, and apportioned the amount over the land in the parish. I say it is not fair to take extreme cases as instances of the way in which the system works. It was agreed in 1836 that the arrangement then come to should be a final settlement, and I contend that we have now no right to vary it. So strongly do I feel this that in Committee I shall oppose Clause 3. I know that the arrangement therein proposed is not intended to be permanent, but it will put money into the landlord's pocket, and it is unsatisfactory because it is a surrender of the nation's rights.
§ (5.26.) MR. W. J. BEADEL (Essex, Chelmsford)
It seems to me that the Government have opened up a very wide question, especially if, as the hon. Member who last spoke suggests, in case the land cannot bear the tithe, it is to be surrendered, and pay no rent to the landlord at all. Now, the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 was passed for the purpose of making that which was an uncertainty into a fixed charge, subject only to septennial averages, and tithes have since been considered to be just as much a fixed charge on property as if a rent-charge had been left subject to the septennial prices of Consols. The tithe owner therefore felt that he had a certain sum fixed, so to speak, for ever, subject only to the septennial averages of wheat, barley, and oats. Hon. Members who have studied this question know that, so far as two of those cereals are concerned, the average is very nearly the same as in 1836. The whole of the depreciation in the value of tithe is owing to the fact that the average price of wheat has been so materially reduced. Hon. Members are not prepared to do that which is to the interest of the country, namely, see whether we cannot approximate the price of wheat somewhat nearer to that at which it stood in 1835. If we could 263 do that, there would be no necessity to bring in a Tithe Bill, and there would not be that terrible depreciation in the value of land which exists now, to say nothing of the desperate condition of the tenant farmers, still more the lamentable position of the agricultural labourers, whose wages are kept down because the land will not allow a fair return to be paid them for their labour. I would support a Bill which takes away from a tenant the payment of the rent-charge. For a great many years I have been professionally concerned in landed matters. I have always felt that the tithe rent-charge was a charge upon the land, and where I have acted for large estates, I have always paid it on the part of the land lord instead of permitting it to be collected from the tenant. Where the tithe was the support of the rector or vicar I did not think any man occupying the position of spiritual pastor of a parish, ought to be obliged to dun his parishioners in order to get his daily bread; therefore, any measure which will transfer the tithe from the tithepayer, and make it a charge absolutely on land, meets with my hearty approval. I also think the change of recovery from distress to the County Court is right in principle. There is nothing so severe as the law of distress if exercised to its fullest extent. But not only that; if the tithe is a charge on the land, and a distress is issued on the tenant's goods, you are virtually distraining the goods of another. Therefore, for these reasons I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ (5.32.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
I shall not detain the House long, as the reasons which make a revision of tithe necessary have been explained very fully by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. H. Gardner), and as it will be impossible, under the rules of the House, for me to move the Amendment I have placed on the Paper, I think it would be better to reserve what I have to say upon the Amendment until a later stage. I think hon. Members must have been struck with the change in the attitude of the hon. Member for the Maldon Division of Essex (Mr. Gray). Two Sessions ago the hon. Member took the initiative in moving an Amendment to the Tithe Bill, and in the Division which took 264 place the Government majority was reduced to four. Last Session the hon. Member spoke in favour of the Instruction I moved on going in Committee in favour of an equitable revision of tithe; but he voted against the Instruction. Now, however, he proposes to support the Bill as a whole. He has put down one or two minor Amendments which he intends to move in Committee. For instance, he proposes to reduce what is described as the two-thirds of the annual value to one-half. The question which naturally suggests itself is whether a change has come over the hon. Member, or over the measure of the Government. It seems to me the change is rather with the hon. Member than with the measure. It is true there is nothing in this Bill about redemption, but the other portions of the measure very much resemble those of the measure of last year. There is novelty in the proposal that under certain circumstances when the tithe exceeds two-thirds of the annual value the tithe should be reduced by the amount by which it exceeds two-thirds of the annual value. In last year's Bill there was that somewhat objectionable special rateable value clause, but the proposal the Government now make does not appear to me to be at all satisfactory as compared with the amendment which the Attorney General proposed in the measure of the year before last, which was to the effect that the Court, on being satisfied by evidence of its justice, should make such order for the remission of part of the sum claimed as should prevent the total sum of the tithe rent-charge from exceeding the annual sum or what in the circumstances of the case might reasonably be taken to be the net profit of the land. That proposal appears to be very much fairer to the tithepayer than the proposal of this year. The President of the Board of Trade referred to the Commission which he proposes should be appointed to deal with the question of redemption, and the hon. Member for Maldon described that Commission as a bird in the hand. Is it intended that the Commission shall deal simply and solely with the subject of redemption, because, if so, I entirely fail to see how it can benefit either the tenant-farmers, or the yeomen farmers, or the rest of the agricultural community as far as their immediate needs are concerned. 265 But if the Commission is to deal with other subjects in addition to that of tithe redemption, I think we are entitled to hear a little more on the subject that what was stated at the commencement of the Debate. Will the question of corn averages come within the powers of the Commission?
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON
Then I think the bird is a very insignificant one. What has been urged again and again on this side, and I think also by hon. Members who sit behind the present Ministry, is that one of the greatest grievances in connection with this question is the grievance surrounding corn averages. Is that question going to be dealt with at all by Her Majesty's Government, either by reference to the Commission or in any other form, because, if not, we have a right to do our best to incorporate provisions in that direction in the present measure. There are very grave and serious questions connected with the matter of corn averages. For example, that which is set down as the average price of corn is not the actual price which the farmer gets for corn, because regard is not paid to the numerous sales and re-sales of corn which take place, or to the fact that the farmers only sell their best corn. We have been twitted by the President of the Board of Trade and also by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) with a desire to reduce the tithe as a whole, to impair the corpus of the tithe. There is no desire to impair the corpus of tithe, but there is a sincere desire to minimise as far as possible the grievances that are common to so many agricultural classes. I believe there is the strongest desire in every quarter of the House to preserve, as regards the principle of it, what is at the present time national property devoted to Church uses, and what may, under a different set of circumstances, be national property devoted to other than Church uses. It seems to me to be somewhat shortsighted on the part of those who advocate the maintenance of the tithe at its existing figure from the point of view of the Church revenues, and also on the part of those who advocate the maintenance of tithe at its present figure on 266 behalf of those upon whom the tithe may eventually be bestowed to resist the proposed amendment. If the property is national property surely that is no reason why certain people who have to pay tithe should be unjustly treated. The contrary view must be the correct one. If the grievances are removed the property as a whole will be rendered more secure in the long run. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden referred to what he called the extreme views of certain tithepayers. I think he said there were certain persons who declared that tithe was merely one-tenth part of the prairie value. I do not suppose that there is any hon. Member who will countenance that view, but so far as principle is concerned there is a good deal to be said for that view. Tithe is the tenth part of that which is the gift of nature, and no doubt in its origination it was intended that one-tenth part of what was the gift of nature should be bestowed as an act of gratitude. That was, of course, in a day when agriculture was not based to the extent to which it is now on the widespread application of capital. In the days before the introduction of agricultural machinery and artificial manures, and manures based on the use of artificial food, there was in principle a good deal to be urged in favour of that extreme view. We, of course, take a totally different view. We take up our position on the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, but we say that that Act did not contemplate the new conditions of agriculture; it did not take into account the necessity for making a different use of the system of corn averages. That system was in force at the time, and was adopted by the framers of the Act. We have been able during the last 50 years to see what the operation of the Act has been, and surely in face of the depression of agriculture and of the great injury done to a great class in the community, it is high time we should adopt some more stringent method of dealing with this great national question. Reference has been made to what was the opinion of Joseph Hume in 1836. Joseph Hume expressed the view that the Tithe Commutation Act was rather in favour of the tithe owner than of the tithepayer. I should like before I sit down to refer to one matter on which it would be 267 desirable to obtain one or two words of explanation. I want to know what is the method of application to the County Court. As I read Clause 3 no remission can be granted to a tenant unless proceedings have been previously taken in the County Court. No automatic procedure is provided by the clause. There is also another point on which some explanation appears to be desirable. The President of the Local Government Board has told us that there is no personal liability involved in the Bill, but I should like the Attorney General to say whether it would be possible to construe Sub-section 3, Clause 2, into an admission of personal liability. As it will not be possible for me to move my Amendment, inasmuch as no Division can take place upon it, I shall content myself with taking such steps later on as may tend in the direction the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. H. Gardner) has alluded to. The appointment of a Commission to deal with the question of redemption would perhaps postpone the settlement of the matter till a very distant period. The Commission would take a long time in reporting, and even after it had reported there would still be the question of corn averages to be dealt with. I do not feel prepared under the circumstances I have alluded to, to give the Bill the support which under other circumstances I should be only too glad to afford to it.
§ (5.53.) SIR W. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)
I think no one who has considered the difficulties of the tithe question will refuse to admit that any Government attempting to deal with a question of this complicated nature must have a vast number of opinions expressed and many of them adverse to their proposals, but I believe Her Majesty's Government have made a fair and honest endeavour, after considering the opinions expressed in all parts of the House, to secure the settlement of an important part of this very difficult question. As to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. W. J. Beadel), we must not forget that the tithe was originally one-tenth of the produce of the land. I feel certain my hon. Friend will not deny that if the old system had been maintained till the present day, there are large tracts of country in England which would have 268 really paid little or no tithe at all. In 1835, when the Poor Law Act was passed, the burden was something like 10s., 11s., or 12s. in the £1. Since that Act came into force, however, it has sunk to something like 2s. 6d. or 2s., or even less in the £1. The tithe owner got the full benefit of the reduction, as the calculation on the enormously higher charges for the seven preceding years was made. In 1845 came Free Trade, which is admitted by a large proportion of Members of this House to have been a great benefit and a great blessing to the country. The price of wheat has, however, gone down immensely. I think if the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) were a large land-owner he would take a very different view of the question from that which he has stated. I appeal to him as a fair man, and I venture to say if he considers the question from the point of view of fairness and justice, he will not be in favour of exacting the last farthing from the owners of a certain class of land which is hardly capable of paying anything. Those who are conversant with the way in which the commutation took place, will know how much fairer it was to some parishes than to others, not from the fault of the Commissioners, but from the fault of the people themselves. I know a parish where the clergyman of that day was a remarkably shrewd and intelligent man, and he took down the exact amount of tithe he collected from each farm, so that when the Commutation Act came into force he was able to show that so much had been collected from the various farms. The tenants had not taken the trouble to put into writing what had been taken from the farms, and naturally the clergyman got the best of the bargain, and obtained more tithe than the land had a right to bear. I merely mention this as an absolute fact, although I am not urging the reopening of the whole of this very grave question. But I wish to point out it is necessary to deal leniently with certain classes of poor land that under no circumstances are able to pay a heavy tithe. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) has taken one view, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Forster) took another view. In the debate which took place in the early part of this year 269 he pointed out as clearly as any man could from the falling-off shown in the Returns of the value of agricultural land that this land has very largely depreciated from its value a few years ago. When tithe was 12 per cent. above par, tenant-farmers and others paid the charge. I do not say they paid it with alacrity, but they paid it because they were making a good profit out of the land and were able to pay the full tithe. But now that tithe is 23 per cent. below par—not as my hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire said that it has fallen 35 per cent. below—he takes the figures from the highest to the lowest, whereas he should have taken the fall from par. Now, I say, when tithe is 23 per cent. below, people are less able to pay tithe than when it was 12 per cent. above par. I am sorry I did not hear the earlier part of the speech of my right hon. Friend (Sir Michael Hicks Beach). No man understands the subject better than he does, and few have suffered more than he has from the bad times. In that part of his able speech I did hear, he did give us some hope that in regard to a certain quantity of land that does not pay its way—is not able to pay tithe on its produce—the Government are prepared to consider the position of this class of land. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. C. W. Gray) has stated that he intends in this connexion to substitute "one-half" for "two-thirds," and I venture to hope my right hon. Friend will give this proposal a fair and candid consideration. I echo what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eye (Mr. F. Stevenson) said. I hope there will be no mistake about the question of personal liability. I have asked the question before, and my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General gave me that assurance which I believe he will again give to the hon. Member, that there is to be no personal liability. That was a question settled by the Act of 1836, and I feel sure that my right hon. Friend will not depart from that settlement. There is one other question — that of redemption, I may say this much, that, while I agree to a certain extent that in certain instances re-valuation might be necessary, yet the question is such a large and such a grave one that you cannot expect Her 270 Majesty's Government now to enter into it. With regard to redemption it is different. I will venture to say there is no man having the welfare of the English agriculturist at heart who does not believe that every burden that can be taken off the land should be removed. The way to that is by a fair, reasonable and just scheme of redemption between tithe owner and tithepayer. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with that liberality for which we have to thank him as applied to local rates, will find it in his heart and in the interest of the country in dealing with this question to be a little more liberal than the proposals suggested last year. It is a question undoubtedly of paramount importance— it is the only way to settle this grave and complex question. I will only venture to say in conclusion that I am sure my right hon. Friend has again taken this Bill in hand with the full intention of pushing it through, and I am equally sure he will give fair consideration to all fair and reasonable suggestions made in Committee. I hope the Government, having for the fifth time brought a Tithe Bill forward, will not be satisfied until it is passed with such Amendments as may be found necessary. It would be discreditable to the Government if this should not be so, it is demanded in the interests of tithe owners and tithepayers. Though I do not care very much for some parts of the Bill, yet I believe it will effect a necessary settlement in some parts of the country, and I heartily support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ (6.8.) MR. STUART RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)
I rise to move the Amendment of which I have given notice, and I have reason to believe that the Amendment commands the support of something like seven-eighths of the Welsh Representatives. The right hon. Gentleman has treated this particular Amendment as having only an indirect bearing on the Bill before the House, but I think the House will admit it has a direct bearing on it from the Welsh point of view. And as the Bill is essentially a Welsh Bill, and is most distinctly aimed at Wales, I hope the House will extend some forbearance to Welsh Members who desire to state their case against the Bill. One must begin by making a hackneyed statement and reminding the 271 House that the Welsh are essentially a law - abiding people. How is it that the Welsh people, who have proved a law-abiding people for so long, are the cause of this exceptional measure standing in the forefront of the Government programme, and being brought again and again before the House? Have there been any facts of sufficient solidity to show that upon this question of tithe the Welsh people, who by the tradition of centuries claim the character of a law-abiding people, to-day furnish the necessity and argument for this Bill? If the House will bear with me for a moment, I would remind hon. Members that the right hon. Gentleman put the case for the Bill on the resistance to the payment of tithe and scenes of disgraceful violence in the Principality. Well, if these scenes have occurred in rare cases over a very considerable period of time, it is quite clear that any disorder among a few irresponsible persons has been met by the force the law has at its command, and I do not believe that it is possible to show from any but a partisan view any necessity for this measure from this cause, and this will be clear the moment the Government take measures to procure independent and judicial evidence. The Government will find then that the case is against them. I appeal to the Attorney General, through whom, at a very early stage, an eminent, able magistrate, Sir John Bridge, was sent into Wales in connection with these matters. It will be within the recollection of the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Report of Sir John Bridge was of the most reassuring character. Thirty-one unfortunate men had been committed for trial for a breach of the peace, and he advised the Crown not to press the charge against three-fourths of these, and the remainder were let off with a trivial fine of half-a-crown. Then I may mention a still more eminent judicial authority—Mr. Justice Field—and I would cite his testimony, as it appears in the report of his charge to the Grand Jury at the Assizes in North Wales, in the summer of 1889. It is a long way back, but there has been no disturbance since worth much notice. Mr. Justice Field said he was glad to find that there was almost a total absence of crime in the 272 country, and he was happy to see that by a mixture of firmness, conciliation, and good sense, the majority of those who had refused to pay tithe had come round to payment, and that only a small remnant indeed refused obstinately to obey the law. Though the tithe might be in some cases a heavy burden, it must be met by representations to the Legislature and the Executive. Then the Judge went on to express approval of the course taken in Montgomeryshire and followed in other counties. This is independent, judicial, and impartial evidence, and I think it should be met by something more than partisan evidence on the other side. How is it that these disturbances arose at the outset? They began at the lowest water-mark of agricultural depression, and among a set of farmers who had been diligently taught that tithes were among the other burdens on the land which the Government of the farmers' friends proposed to lighten. They really believed that the tithes were as liable to reasonable abatement in bad times as rent. I think Mr. Justice Field's words gave support for that belief. They asked for an abatement from such bodies as Christchurch College and from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and this request the Commissioners and the Christchurch College Authorities thought it their duty to resist. Can we wonder that feeling should have run high in such a case as that of the Ecclesiastical Commissiouers? Their position is this: they draw large sums in tithe from the Principality, and they are also large land owners; they took credit for the fact that as land owners they were making an abatement of ½ per cent. on the rent, but they refused any abatement on the tithe on the ground that they gave more tithe to Wales than they took from the Principality. Now, a very little consideration will show that this was adding insult to injury, because the extra tithe so given was a subsidy to a Church Establishment not supported by the people, not in sympathy with the people, and therefore the Welsh people had all the stronger inducement to make their lawful protest against the payment of this particular tithe, which they did. This it is that constitutes the case for the Bill —this opposition in these particular cases, opposition of an exceptional origin, 273 of a very scattered character, which after all has shown no symptoms of rising to a serious point, and might now be treated as practically obsolete. But the right hon. Gentleman regards the Amendment which the Welsh Members were desirous of submitting to the House as not germane to the Bill, on the ground that the question whether tithe is national property, does not arise out of anything in the Bill. I can hardly understand how that can be maintained, because it would seem that unless tithe be regarded as public property, this Bill would be an extremely bold and audacious interference with private property. I can hardly understand under what constitutional title except that of tithe being national property it is competent for Parliament to remit a portion of the tithe, as proposed in the third clause. I should have thought all the many dealings with tithe by Parliament—I think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned there had been 14 such dealings —I should have thought these were all based on the admitted fact that tithe is national property, and I could hardly have supposed any other contention could be urged. The dealings, too, have been, it appears, generally or universally in the interest of tithe owners. Well, such one-sided legislalation which even goes to the extent of of extinguishing a portion of the tithe could certainly only be founded on the principle that tithe is admitted to be national property. Talk of remission of the tithe! Surely that is a very strong step to take on the part of those who have been using such hard words to Welshmen on the subject. We have been told we are sacrilegious robbers, that we are attacking the Ark of God in this matter: all the bitterness of the odium theologicum has been directed against us. I make bold to say there are no better friends to the property in tithe in the House of Commons than the Welsh, members who now object to this Bill. They are genuine friends to property in tithe; and if it is supposed that this is an attempt to foist in indirectly a disestablishment debate on the House, I can assure the Government that the view of Welshmen is that we should proceed to disestablishment not by 274 way of disendowment, but to disendowment by way of disestablishment. Whatever be the fate of the Motion, we shall not be deterred from taking the course we pursued when a Bill of this nature—I admit a much more objectionable Bill—was before the House last Session. We shall move a preamble to the Bill. We believe that the essential foundation of a Bill of this kind is that it is national property, and that this property is at the disposal of Parliament. Having established that principle, we shall not rest contented until we have realised our hopes and developed the constitutional position of Wales and her claims on this property. We maintain you must first give us an equitable position in the application of tithe before you attempt to tighten the grip and to police the property, before you deeply wound the feelings of a religious people with a measure of this coercive kind. Welshmen believe this a most mischievous measure, and we do not believe it will in any degree remove any of the difficulties with which the collection of tithe is now accompanied. We are satisfied it will aggravate the religious position, and increase the social schism in the Principality. You are making the Welsh clergy more than ever the exclusive chaplains of the squires, driving them into a mischievous class association with the English-speaking and the larger landowners, as opposed to the people, and this cannot help forward the interests of religious or social progress. We think you are running a risk in another direction. There are happily in Wales a very large number of freehold occupiers, yeomen, the strength and backbone of the population, a part of the population which all friends to the Principality desire to encourage and protect. Their interests will suffer most under this Bill. But besides taking a part that will go far to increase our religious and social difficulties, we feel that you are extending those difficulties to the agrarian condition of Wales, and Wales is primarily an agricultural country. Statesmen should observe this beginning of danger, this new source of trouble between landlord and tenant. With these views I press my Amendment, and hope a Division will be taken.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no measure dealing with Tithe Rent-Charge will be satisfactory to the people of Wales which does not recognise the fact that Tithes are National property, to be devoted to National purposes, and that the Tithe rent-charge in Wales ought to be applied in accordance with the constitutionally expressed wishes of the people of the Principality,"—(Mr. Stuart Rendel,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (6.27.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
In seconding the Amendment I will first say that I think the Government would have acted more wisely and fairly if they had allowed more time to intervene before the Second Reading stage. It was not in accordance with the usual practice that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said not a word on introducing the Bill, and the Bill only reached us last Friday, so that there has been no opportunity of consulting our constituents or inviting an expression of popular opinion. Of course if the Bill were the old Bill reintroduced I could understand this proceeding, but the Bill from beginning to end is a new Bill. Under the circumstances I can understand that my hon. Friends who represent English agricultural constituencies regard the Bill as a crude and unsatisfactory measure. But I approach the Bill simply as a Welsh Member and from a Welsh standpoint, for it was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman that the origin of the Bill was due to the scenes in Wales. It is, in fact, a Bill to set the Welsh Church on its legs by setting Welsh landlords and tenants by the ears. Now, I do not think that the Bill will be more effectual for putting the Church of England in Wales on its legs, because it makes the landlords collectors of tithes for the clergy. I am not, however, going into a Disestablishment Debate, which more properly belongs to the Motion my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea intends to bring forward; but, as Member for the county which has been specially attacked—Denbighshire—I must enter my protest against the calumnies uttered against it. The right hon. Gentleman 276 says the Bill has been rendered necessary by certain deplorable acts of violence in Wales, and it is said that this is the only justification for the Bill? Now, I agree with the hon. Member behind me that all these stories have been either grossly exaggerated or are entirely without foundation. The Welsh people are justly proud of the immunity of their country from crime, and I will call the attention of the House to what was recently said by Mr. Justice Vaughan Williams with regard to the small amount of crime in Wales. He remarked upon the fact that at three assizes in Welsh Counties there was only one prisoner for trial—a circumstance to which I should think it would be very hard to find a parallel in England. Moreover, the annals of crime in Wales show that the amount of crime there in proportion to the population is one-half what it is in England, and that the greater part of that crime is really imported from other countries, and yet in spite of all this we find these gross attacks made on the character of the people. We find them charged with the basest and meanest conduct, and there is no epithet too strong for the English Press to apply to them. I will give an instance to show how baseless are their charges. The Bishop of St. Asaph three months ago brought a most offensive charge against certain leading members of the important body of Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. He was reported to have said that at some tithe distraints a mock celebration of Holy Communion was actually carried out by a deacon of that body. The Bishop afterwards corrected this, and said that it had been done in the presence, and apparently with the sanction, of a deacon of that Church, but, though challenged by Major Godfrey, Chief Constable of Montgomeryshire, and myself, and many others, to give names and dates, he has never done so. If charges of this kind are to be made they ought to be proved; if not true, it is disgraceful that they should be made. With regard to the Amendment on the Paper, which I have the honour to second, it exactly defines the position of the Welsh people with regard to tithe. It begins by saying that tithes are natural property. I should have thought that that is almost a 277 truism. Now, I am going to quote what to my mind is one of the highest, if not the highest, authority in the House on this subject. The words I am about to read were spoken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in the Debate on the Irish Church Bill. On March 23rd, 1869, he said—It was for the nation that the property was given. It is true it was given to corporations. Yes; but why? Not that they might enjoy it as private property, but that they might hold it on condition of duty. They were only convenient symbols—convenient media for its conveyance from generation to generation. The real meaning, scope, and object was that through them it should be applied for all time to the benefit of the entire population of the kingdom, and this was a natural and intelligent arrangement when the entire nation was of one faith. In proportion as Dissent and difference of opinion creep into the country, the foundation of the religious Establishment so endowed comes to be by degrees more or less weakened and impaired, partly in proportion as the number of Dissenters is strong, partly in proportion as they are disposed, or not disposed, to acquiesce in the continuance of the Establishment.Now, I ask, how are you going to ascertain whether the Nonconformists in the Principality are, or are not, disposed to acquiesce in the existence of the Establishment? I say there is only one test— namely, that adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian three or four months ago, in speaking on the question of Scotch Disestablishment. He said—My point is this—not only that the opinion of the Constitutional Representatives of Scotland is in favour of Disestablishment, but that it is increasingly in favour of it—that there is a regular and steady movement in Scotland, the evidence of which cannot be mistaken, all tending in the same direction.What was that evidence? Why, in 1886 there were 24 Scotch Representatives in favour of the Disestablishment of the Church in Scotland and 16 against; in 1888 there were 40 for it and 20 against it, and in 1889 the numbers were 38 to 18, or, roughly speaking, two to one. What is the case in regard to Disestablishment in Wales? People say the cause of Welsh Disestablishment is not progressing, and I should like to apply the test of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian to the question whether this is true or not. I am old enough to remember when Mr. Watkin Williams brought forward his Motion for Disestablishment 20 278 years ago. Only five Welsh Members were then found to support the Motion, whilst 13 voted against it, and 11 did not put in an appearance. In 1886 the numbers were 24 to 4, and what is the case now? Why, we have 27 Welsh Members out of 30—9 out of 10—pledged to support the Motion of my hon. Friend near me. Apply another test, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian applied to the case of Scotland. Speaking of the bye-elections, the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that since the General Election there had been 14 bye-elections in Scotland, and that, of the Members elected, 11 had been for Disestablishment and 3 against. In Wales we have have had six bye-elections, and in every case the Member returned has been favourable to Disestablishment. Can there be any doubt, then, as to what is the "constitutionally-expressed opinion" of the people of Wales? To go back for a moment to the position of the Welsh people, I would say it is not surprising to find them doing just what the Quakers did in the case of the church rates some 30 years ago, and saying, when asked for tithe, "You must come and take it if you can." I maintain that they are not only morally but legally justified in taking up that position; of course, I am not speaking of cases of violence, which everybody deplores. Mr. Justice Wills, in a charge to a grand jury at Beaumaris on the 22nd February, 1888, said—If the people said they were unwilling to pay for what they did not like, and that they simply submitted to distraints to show their protest against the law, they would be perfectly justified in doing so. As long as they did that nothing could be said against them. This was the course which had been systematically carried out by law teachers.I think that course a very natural one for the Welsh farmers to pursue, so long as they find that Parliament turns a deaf ear to their appeals. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) taking notes. I admit, of course, that all violence is illegal, but I leave the right hon. Gentleman to answer this extract from the charge of Mr. Justice Wills, which I have just laid before the House. In the county of Montgomery, thanks in a great measure to the tact and judgment of the Chief Constable (Major Godfrey), there has 279 been no violence. Unfortunately that has not been the case in the county I represent, but I cannot help thinking that whatever disturbances have occurred have been largely due to the way in which the tithe has been collected. I have said again and again, and have been much-abused for it, that the sending down of a regiment of hussars nominally to protect the tithe collectors was a great mistake. But I will not say more on the subject, as I believe the matter is being considered by the County Council of Denbighshire, and is, so to speak, sub judice. As to whether the Church in Wales should be disestablished or not, I may say that I have here the opinion of another great leader. This is what the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), the then leader of the Liberal Party, said—When Scotch opinion, even Scotch Liberal opinion, is fully formed on the subject, then the Liberal Party as a whole will be prepared to deal with the question on its merits, and without reference to any other question.The opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, supported as it is by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale, expresses the views of the whole of the Liberal side of the House on this question. As I say, I regret that violence has occurred in Denbighshire, but will this Bill remedy the evil? I believe that, so far from remedying it, it will only increase the irritation. From the second clause of the Bill it will be seen that before any step can be taken by the tithe owner for the purpose of recovering his tithe he will have to go to the County Court. There will, in my opinion, be demonstrations when the tithe owner brings his case before the Court in order to obtain his tithe; for if there is one thing more than another which the Welsh farmer has a horror of it is the County Court, and if there is one thing more than another that is likely to embitter the relations between a Welsh parishioner and his vicar, it will be the thought that the vicar can drag the parishioner before the County Court to compel the payment of tithe. It is said that it will not be the parson who will have recourse to the County Court. That may be so technically, but in the end the result will be the same. When the 280 tithe owner has got his judgment or order there are two processes provided by the Bill. If the owner is also the occupier, an officer of the Court, who, I suppose, will be the bailiff, is to have the powers for the recovery of the sum that are conferred by the Tithe Acts on the owner of the tithe rent-charge for the recovery of arrears of the rent-charge. Thus he will be placed in exactly the same position which he occupies at present, except that the order will be carried out by an officer of the Court. What is gained by having a double judicial process, except that there will be two opportunities for the display of hostility to the parson?—for there is, first of all, the process of obtaining judgment, and then there is the placing of the tithepayer in the position he at present occupies in the matter of recovery. Coming down to the House just now I was asked by a friend, "You are not going to oppose this Bill?" I replied that I intended to oppose it, whereupon he said "Why do that? It will serve to create even stronger ill-feeling against the clergy, and in that way will precipitate disestablishment." In the case where the owner is not the tithepayer you will have a receiver and that will add enormously to the cost of recovery. It is said that this measure transfers the liability from the occupier, who is generally a Nonconformist, to the owner, who is generally a Churchman, and that it will be found more easy to get the tithe from the owner than the occupier. That leaves out of sight the fact that an enormously increasing number of people in Wales are both owners and occupiers. There is an immense number of small occupying owners in Wales, and these are the men of whom you have to think in regard to this Bill. But I do not find any very great disposition on the part of Churchmen, who are owners, to contribute to the maintenance of their own clergy. It is shown in a pamphlet, which I hold in my hand, that in 1879 in the dioceses of Bangor, St. Asaph and Llandaff, the sum received in tithes amounted to over £101,000, whilst the voluntary offerings amounted to only £4,738—so that for every £1 an incumbent received from the tithe he obtained something like 10d. from his own congregation. No doubt large sums were contributed by these congregations for 281 other purposes, but the fact that voluntary offerings should have sunk so low at a time when the clergy were in the direst need, and when the Bishop of St. Asaph was making an appeal to the English to support them, shows that Welsh laymen do not set a very high value upon the maintenance of their clergy. A great Conservative Congress was held at Rhyl last year, and an address was delivered by the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord G. Hamilton). The meeting was preceded by a conference, at which one gentleman said that—In Wales Conservatives and Liberals were united, not in an objection to the payment of tithes, but in an objection to paying them to the present recipients.I may say that this is really the whole of the Bill. After about four years' incubation this is the Bill that is brought forth by the Conservative Party. We on this side are willing to wait. We know that Welsh Disestablishment has now been adopted as a plank in the platform of the great Liberal Party. But what are we to say of a Government which, after five attempts to deal with the question, produces a measure of which the very best that can be said is that it combines the maximum of irritation with the minmum of efficiency?
§ (6.56.) COLONEL CORNWALLIS WEST (Denbigh, W.)
I do not intend to follow my right hon. Friend through the rather discursive speech he has just addressed to the House. I am rather inclined to make no reference whatever to the question of the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church, not because I do not realise the fact that a large proportion of the Welsh people are in favour of Disestablishment, but because I cannot see how it is possible to import into a Bill of this character any such large question as that of Disestablishment. This Bill is required, to a considerable extent, to put an end to a condition of things which has brought disgrace on the Principality. Where my right hon. Friends were during the months of August and September this year I do not know. All I can say is that I was residing in Wales, and that within a very few miles of my house serious disturbances took place. I was not actually present, but 282 saw the magistrates on their return from one of the distraint sales, and had an opportunity of hearing from their own lips exactly what took place. They were honourable gentlemen, and men who were not likely to exaggerate, and they led me to believe that which I now most distinctly state, namely, that unless the military had accompanied them to the distraint sale there would have been not only a serious riot but bloodshed. It is no use minimising facts. The fact is that the Welsh people have been stirred up by a society called the Anti-tithe League until they consider it obligatory to assemble in large numbers in order to assist the farmers in their protest against the payment of tithes. If they had simply protested and acted in a peaceable way as the Quakers did I should have nothing to say to it. They have their own conscientious, religious views, and I think they would have been justified from their own point of view. But when the Anti-tithe League insisted on large crowds assembling to the distress of every right-minded man in the neighbourhood, it is really ridiculous to tell us it was wrong to summon the military or to take such steps as were necessary for the aid of the civil power. I know what great difficulty there is in convincing many of my hon. Friends that the Welsh people—law-abiding as they are—could have been in such a state of excitement as to warrant the calling out of troops. I can only say that I believe the Chief Constable, upon whom we have heard animadversions this evening, is a man of discretion and judgment, and that what he did in advising the magistrates to summon the military was no more than his duty, and what he was bound to do. When that officer is compared with another Chief Constable in a different part of the Principality it must be remembered that the Chief Constable in Denbighshire is in a very different position. Mr. Gee is at the present moment actually sitting on an Inquiry instituted at the instigation of the Joint Police Committee under a protest from the minority; but, at any rate, there is an inquiry going on which is of a most unsatisfactory character. The Chairman, the Treasurer, the President, and several members of the Anti-tithe League are now actually conducting an inquiry into 283 the necessity of calling out the military some four or five months ago, and they will, probably, report that there was no occasion for the course then adopted. From all I have seen in the Press and heard about the matter, I think it will be clearly shown that there was occasion for the step thus taken, and that the justices were not in the wrong in having called out the military. Indeed, I think they did the best thing they could have done when, acting under the advice of the Chief Constable, they summoned a troop of hussars, whose presence enabled them to ensure the collection of tithes in a peaceable way. I am a landowner myself, and I have friends in the same position who have told me what I believe to be the case, namely, that the Welsh tenant-farmers will be only too thankful when this question has been set at rest by directing payment of the tithes by the landlords instead of as at present by the occupiers. I, therefore, look upon this Bill as a means of preventing in the future the sort of friction which has taken place in the past, consequent to a certain extent on the conscientious convictions, and to a certain, extent also on the great ignorance, of the tenant-farmers as to the payment of tithes. I do sincerely think there are many who believed that by protesting in the way they did against the payment of tithes, that payment would altogether cease. When they discovered that it was the desire of everybody to make the payment still more secure, and that they would have to pay under any circumstances, things quieted down, so that at the present moment, in the greater part of the Principality, the tithe is being collected with comparative ease. Although this is undoubtedly the fact, it is, at the same time, perfectly true that within the last four months there have been very serious disturbances in the Principality arising out of this question. With regard to the Bill before the House, I must confess that personally I am disappointed that it has not been found possible to persevere with the Redemption Clauses of the old Bill, because I believe they would have effected one of the most valuable changes that could be brought about, inasmuch as there are, at the present moment in Wales, a large number of freeholders whom this Bill 284 will not touch. It would, I think, be a most desirable thing, in order to put a stop to the trouble we have lately been in, that a measure of tithe redemption should be introduced. I may as well add that, not only has there been great indisposition as to the payment of tithe to the ecclesiastical owners, but also a very strong indisposition to pay tithe at all, either to schools, charities, or to any other institution. And it is the opinion of almost everybody connected with the schools and charities in Wales that, if the tithe agitation had gone on for any great length of time, the probability is that the property in tithes in Wales would have entirely lapsed and been lost to the people. We look forward, at least some of us look forward—for I do not say that individually I should care to see the whole of the tithes diverted from the uses to which they are now put—but at any rate there is a strong feeling in the Principality in favour of using the tithes for some really national purpose. Whenever that time does come, we shall have the property intact, whereas, if this kind of agitation does go on a little longer, my firm conviction is, notwithstanding what has been said by other hon. Members, that this property in tithes would be seriously jeopardized, if not lost altogether, so far as the Principality is concerned.
§ (7.21.) MR. ABEL THOMAS (Carmarthen, E.)
I cannot endorse the views of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and should be sorry to think that the views he has enunciated were in any way a reflection of the views held by my constituents or the people of that part of Wales from which I come. I am glad to be able to inform the hon. Member that the Anti-tithe League, as far as South Wales is concerned, has practically not had very much life in the matter of the collection of tithes. It has never interfered with the collection of tithes in any way, and I challenge any hon. Member to show a single instance in which there has been any commotion arising out of the collection of tithes where the Anti-Tithe League have interfered. The only reason why there has been any commotion at all in regard to the collection of tithe is that among the Welsh people there is, and always has been, a wide-spread feeling of dissatisfaction at being compelled to pay tithe for the support of a Church the doctrines 285 of which they do not approve. It has been said by the hon. Member who has just spoken that the collection of tithe in Wales has now become easy, and if he be right, as I sincerely hope he is, and if the Government accept his view of the case, then I say the whole groundwork on which this Bill is based is completely cut away. It seems to me that the main reason for bringing forward this Bill during the present Session is the discontent that exists in the Principality, and nothing else. It has been introduced because of the riotous proceedings that have taken place in Wales where the tithe has been compulsorily collected, and I trust that the hon. Member who has just addressed us will concur with nearly the whole of the Members for the Principality in voting against the Government on this measure. I am not going to follow the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. S. Rendel) in the reasons he has assigned for believing the tithe to be national property. It seems to me that after what he and the right hon. Member for East Denbighshire (Mr. G. O. Morgan) has said, our opinions on this side of the House have been fully ventilated. We have also had the opinion of the Member for West Denbighshire (Mr. C. West) in our favour, because he believes that the tithe is the property of the nation. Assuming that that is the case, I really cannot see how the Government can possibly do anything except bring in such a Bill as is suggested by the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Rendel), recognising the fact that the tithes belong to the nation. If the tithes be national property, it should most certainly be used for national purposes, and it may be that it is, to some extent, being used for national purposes in England. That, however, does not concern my argument to-night. It is very certain that the tithe is not being used at the present moment for national purposes in Wales. The Church of England is not the National Church in Wales at any rate, and I think I am far below the mark when I say that notwithstanding all the taunts which have been made with regard to the relative numbers of Nonconformists and Churchmen in the Principality, there can be no doubt whatever that there are at least three Nonconformists to every Churchman. I do not 286 think anyone will be prepared to challenge this statement, namely, that three out of every four persons in Wales are Nonconformists, and not Churchmen. [Cries of "No!" and "More!"] I am satisfied with the three to one, and I will go a step further. The way in which even so large a number of Churchmen is got at is by taking the towns into consideration. The strength of the Church in Wales is not in the country districts, but in the towns. Wherever you go into the Welsh speaking districts of the Principality, you will find the strength of the Church Party lies in the towns, and that in the rural districts the Church is nowhere in point of numbers. The reason I mention this is because tithe is not paid in the towns, whereas it is exacted in the country. This measure is one which will affect not the people living in the towns, but those residing in the country, and I submit that in the rural districts of Wales there are close upon six tithepayers attending Chapel to one attending Church. If the tithe be intended for national purposes, it should be devoted to the good of the six rather than for the benefit of the one, say for purposes of education, and objects of that kind, certainly not for the teaching of doctrines which to the Nonconformists appear to be entirely wrong. The only other point on which I wish to say a word in regard to this part of the controversy is this: we in Wales have shown our discontent with the present state of things. In scores of parishes in Wales the tithes are collected in places where no service is held in the parish church, or where the parish church is in ruins and there is not a single inhabitant attending the Church Service. In hundreds of instances, out of 200 or 300 inhabitants of the parish, there are only six or seven who attend the so-called National Church, so that you have property belonging to the nation being devoted to the benefit of a very small portion of the people against the direct wishes of the vast majority of the population. We are told that there should be no riots in the collection of tithes and no discontent on the part of the Welsh people, and I quite agree that whenever there is a case of assaulting a bailiff and other officers sent to collect the tithe it is a sad 287 thing that such proceedings should take place, We know that these things do happen occasionally; but let me put this question: Suppose that instead of being paid to the National Church the tithe were paid to the Baptist denomination, and the farmers paying the tithe were all Churchmen, what would Churchmen generally say under such circumstances? I venture to think that there would be even more discontent, and that that discontent would be exhibited in a more striking way than it is at the present moment. It is of no use tinkering with this measure. You are only hiding your heads in the sand. You are now only putting a buffer between the clergyman and the tithepayer. The tenant knows perfectly well that in consequence of the Commutation Act his sheaf of corn will still go, although it will be paid to the landlord instead of the tenant. Do you imagine that, because the tithe is no longer paid to the clergyman but to the landlord, that you are going to satisfy a rational or thinking people? It seems to me absurd. You cannot satisfy them in that way. The only way to satisfy them is to nationalise the tithe, and apply it for the benefit of the people at large. I am sure we have behind us the vast majority of our constituents supporting us in voting for this Amendment, and I trust that in time both sides of the House will be found insisting in devoting the tithe to the purposes to which it should have been applied many years ago.
§ (7.17.) MR. BYRON REED (Bradford, E.)
Sir, had it not been for the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite, I should not have intervened in this Debate. Their remarks, I think, were not germane to this Bill, seeing that they introduced wider issues relating to the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales. When we have a direct Bill or Motion on that subject before us we shall not be slow to deal with it in a fitting fashion. But this present measure is of an eminently simple and business like character, intended to deal with certain local difficulties, which, owing to the conduct of agitators and the vernacular Press, have been caused in Wales. We strongly object to the Disestablishment of the Church by piecemeal. We are prepared, I repeat, to deal with Disestablishment when that question is properly 288 formulated before the House, but we decline now to go beyond the limits of the Bill before us. I think we have cause to complain of the tactics of agitators in Wales, who have selected as the object of their attacks persons who are the least able to resist them. I maintain that no more cowardly agitation has ever been set on foot than the agitation directed against the poor clergy of North Wales. I am in possession of considerable information from that part of the country. It shows that in a huge number of cases, owing to the inspiration of the vernacular Press and the unscrupulousness of agitators, many of the poorest clergymen, with their families, have been deprived of the common necessaries of life, and not only that, but they have been assailed with the foulest abuse. The services of their Church have been mocked, and unmentionable things have been done with regard to matters held most sacred by Churchmen. Because these poor clergymen have resorted to the only means they possess to recover that which is due to them, they have even been assailed with physical weapons, and I am sorry to say that the assailants have been inspired by men who should be leaders of the people in right things, but who unfortunately too often lead them into evil courses. As an instance of the oppression of the poor clergy, let me quote a few figures regarding the half-dozen parishes in the archdeaconry of Cardigan. These figures show a bad state of things, but I believe the position has become worse since the time to which they refer. In the parish of Whitechurch the present value of the tithe is £109, and the amount of arrears is £171; Troedyraur, £239 13s. 2¼d., arrears £501; Penbryn, £269 6s. 6¼d., arrears £238; Kilrhedyn, £295 5s. 7¾d., arrears £258; Llanfyrnach, £192 16s. 5¼d., arrears £321; Bridell, £140 10s. 4¼d., arrears £249. This, then, is the justification of Her Majesty's Government for the present Bill. By its proposals the poor clergyman will not require to set that cumbrous machinery of distraint in motion which has enabled the anti-Church agitator to raise popular feeling against the clergy. By the Bill resort may be had to the simple and prosaic machinery of the County Court; and I venture to predict that within 12 months from the 289 passing of this Bill little will be found for the County Court to do in regard to it, and that the tithe will be paid regularly, fully, and freely. I do not understand why hon. Gentlemen opposite should object to that being the case. What is their main argument at the present time? That tithe is not an exclusive property, belonging not to a religious body for religious purposes, but to the nation for national purposes. Of course, that is a proposition which we on this side are prepared to deny and to traverse in every particular and detail. From their own point of view, however, hon. Members opposite are interested in maintaining this property in its integrity, and in seeing that it is not wasted. In maintaining the corpus of the property unimpaired we are with them, and this Bill will effect that object. I trust that it will be passed into law. I can assure Her Majesty's Government that among the clergy, and the poorer clergy in particular, this Bill is being hailed as a measure of justice, of policy, and of relief; and if any other argument were needed to show that Her Majesty's Government are on the right course, it would be found in the violent opposition of the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite.
(7.27.) MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is rather extraordinary that the only Member on the other side who should criticise our action is one who represents a constituency in the North-East of England, who knows nothing of Wales except what information he derives at secondhand from interested and partisan sources. No attempt has been made by the Minister of the Crown in introducing either the present or previous Bills to give any authentic details respecting its necessity. There has been a general reference to the deplorable disturbances in Wales, and the widespread resistance to the tithe in Wales. No official attempt has ever been made to show the exact limit and extent of these occurrences, and if any such attempt had been made by authentic official Returns they would have shown that the House has been utterly bamboozled with respect to them. There should be some relation between the remedy and the extent of the evil to be rectified. 290 How does the matter stand? It is admitted by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill that the measure is largely due to what has occurred in Wales. But this Bill extends to the whole of England, and totally alters the method by which tithe is to be recovered, and dislocates the relations between landlord and tenant throughout all England and Wales, and all this is done because of certain disturbances in Wales. To what extent did those disturbances prevail? There is absolutely no data before the House to show that, and the right hon. Gentleman was compelled to rely on general statements. There is nothing to show that the difficulty was in any way widespread. I am a Member for a County Division, and to the best of my knowledge in the County of Carnarvon difficulty arose in only two or three parishes, and the same may be said of the County of Anglesey. If there were more cases, certainly they were not so violent as to impress themselves on my memory. I am aware that in the Counties of Denbigh, Montgomery, and Flint resistance to the tithe has been more extensive; but, still, even if Returns as to those counties were obtained, I venture to think it would be found that the area of disturbance was astonishingly small, and English landlords would be disgusted on finding that they had been led to support a Bill of this kind through difficulties so limited in character and extent. When Ministers propose an important Bill of this kind they ought to be able to prove something more than that there has been disturbance in a particular locality; they ought, at any rate, to show that unless the law was altered the disturbance was likely to become permanent. Yet they have not attemped to show that. Those who have studied the question know that the disturbance has arisen from a combination of two circumstances, the first of which is that the entire tithe in Wales is used not as national property should be, but for the benefit of only a small proportion of the population. The second circumstance is the agricultural depression. Neither of these causes would alone have been sufficient to cause the disturbance. The appropriation of tithe to sectarian purposes prevailed long before this difficulty arose, and, therefore, that cannot by itself be said to be 291 the cause of the disturbance. Then as to the agricultural depression, that has prevailed in England to an even greater extent than in Wales, yet there the difficulty has not arisen, because in England there has been no such acute sectarian injustice. Consequently the cause of the difficulty is to be found in the combination of both circumstances acting in an acute degree during the past four years. Is there any probability of that state of things continuing? There is not. The agricultural depression is already passing away, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Denbighshire—although he takes an opposite view to that held by his liberal colleagues—admits that in the greater part of Wales tithe is collected with great ease. It is true that a certain amount of exasperation exists, but that is in places where unwise methods of collecting the tithe have been resorted to. Where tact and judgment have been used, these disturbances—which I deplore as much as anyone—have ceased. The trouble has prevailed almost entirely in the parishes where the tithes belong to Christchurch and to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The Member for East Bradford referred to the poor clergy, but it has not been in the parishes where the poor clergy have the tithes that the disturbances have mainly arisen. Again, the trouble has not been brought about by anti-tithe league agitators, as suggested by an hon. Member, for, in point of fact, the chief constables have repeatedly applied to the anti-tithe league officials to accompany them to the scene of the trouble to assist with their influence in suppressing disorder. The so-called agitators, therefore, so far from stimulating, have done a great deal to repress disorder. The fact is, the farmers, seeing the landlords were granting abatements of rent, considered that the clergymen should show sympathy in like manner, especially as they received no return from the parson for the tithe, and had to maintain their own ministers and places of worship. I am not going to argue the question of Disestablishment; I am only stating what was the feeling of the Welsh farmers—the feeling which gave rise to the disturbances. If we could only get an official Return it would, I think, be found that in no single case where the clergyman offered an abatement did trouble arise. There was always 292 a desire to compromise with the clergyman, and, to use a figurative phrase, the only cases in which "blood was spilt" was where abatements were refused and distraints issued. The fact is the disturbances which have arisen have been owing solely to the obstinacy of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who refused to abate their demands. The landlords of England ought to know whom they have to thank for the burden which is now being thrust upon their shoulders. I have one more word to say before I sit down. The hon. Member for East Bradford spoke of statistics. Now, why do we not get statistics from the Government? Why do they not call in Returns showing the number of distraints, the number of occasions on which the military were called out, the number of cases in which police assistance was sought, the total number of tithe payers, the amount of tithe paid, and the proportion of disaffected parishes to the whole number, the number of persons charged, and the numbers of convictions in respect of tithe disturbances. We do not get these Returns because they would not strengthen the hands of the Government. The disproportion of parishes where disturbance has occurred to the whole number is simply absurd. I have seen letters published in the papers from Welsh clergymen deprecating the publication of any such Returns, on the ground that they would be very misleading, as many clergymen, rather than have a disturbance in their parishes, had quietly pocketed the loss, and would prefer not to have the fact made public. But surely where it is the case that a clergyman has foregone his tithe rather than distrain, the fact is known to every one in his parish, and no harm could be done by mentioning it in a Parliamentary Return. It could not bring any odium on him; it would, instead, reflect credit on him. No, the reason for not giving those Returns is that it would show that the trouble was confined to a very few parishes, and that it was the action of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Christchurch in enforcing payment in full which had created it. If there had been many disturbances, surely the Police Court records would show that many persons had been charged before the Magistrates with creating them, but, as a matter of 293 fact, there have been scarcely any convictions. The ultimate object of this Bill is to stave off Disestablishment. The Government and Lord Salisbury think it will have this effect. If I held that opinion my opposition to it would be far more intense. But all Welshmen and Welsh Conservatives in particular know that the feeling in favour of Disestablishment is too strong to be stamped out. This has recently been significantly illustrated by the fact that even in Anglesey, the county in which the Conservatives have the best chance of winning a seat, they are obliged to rely on a candidate who will pledge himself to Disestablishment. That is a significant fact. This Bill will tend eventually, as a large number of the measures passed by the present Government have tended, to the advantage of Members on this side of the House and the party they represent in the country. What has been the effect of the measures, on the passing of which Conservatives most pride themselves? Why, their conversion of the Stock Bill injured their friends the capitalists, and their Local Government Bill took power out of the hands of the Welsh Conservatives and put it into the hands of the Welsh Liberals; and so, when this Bill has been passed, the Tory Government will find that it has sacrificed the landlords of England and Wales in vain, for Welsh Disestablishment will not have been put back one day, and after Disestablishment is carried Wales will have the advantage of having to deal with the landlords only, and not with the tenants. If, therefore, this Bill is passed, I shall look upon its enactment with considerable equanimity As, however, I consider that no case has been made out for such a far-reaching Bill I shall vote against it. It will certainly do that cause more good than harm, and that fact will go far to reconcile me to its enactment.
§ (7.30.) SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)
I find it rather difficult to follow the arguments of the last speaker, and probably the House will scarcely understand whether he intends to vote for or against this Bill. I was very glad, as an English Member, to hear from the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for West Denbighshire that hon. Members from Wales are by no means unanimous in their opinions as to the propositions set forth by the Mover 294 and Seconder of the Amendment now before the House. That Amendment asks the House to say that no attempt shall be made to deal with this burning question of tithes until we are satisfied of the truth of some supposed or alleged opinion in Wales, that tithes are national property and must be devoted to some national purposes which are not set forth in the Amendment itself. Now, I think, with the hon. Member for West Denbighshire, it is highly improbable that the Representatives for Wales will be unanimous on that point, and it appears absolutely ridiculous to suppose that the whole of the population of an important part of the kingdom will lend themselves to such an absurdity as is embodied in the Amendment. While I wish to congratulate the Government on the care which has evidently been taken in drafting this Bill, and the consideration shown for the views of Members of all shades of political opinion, I must say I was heartily glad to hear the emphatic disavowal of the right hon. Gentleman the President, of the Board of Trade of any intention on the part of the Government to lend any countenance whatever to the proposition that tithes can be regarded as national property. I would ask the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment why do they not give us some more definite idea of what they mean by tithe being national property? Possibly they mean that the House has the power to transfer the ownership of tithes from the present to other owners. It has such a power no doubt, but if it were to do that arbitrarily to-morrow, surely the right hon. Gentleman the Seconder of the Amendment would agree with me in calling it confiscation. What does the right hon. Gentleman want?
§ SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE
Then I take it the right hon. Gentleman would deal with tithes in the way in which the revenues of the Irish Church were dealt with by compensating the present holders and abolishing the imposition for the future. But what does he propose to do in the case of the lay impropriators? Does he mean to tell us he would simply treat them as tenants for 295 life? Let me take a concrete example and put it before the right hon. Gentleman. Supposing that adjacent to the right hon. Gentleman's own property is the property of, say, Mr. Jones, who owns the tithes of the parish, he or his father having purchased them, does the right hon. Gentleman mean to advise the House that the tithes thus purchased are public property that may be confiscated without compensation, or with only compensation to the present owners, as if they were only tenants for life? The right hon. Gentleman instanced the case of the Irish Church, and said that was the principle upon which the disendowment of that Church went. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that the lay impropriators are, by an Act of the Legislature, to be suddenly turned into tenants for life? It seems to me that to state the proposition in that bare form is to show its absurdity, or rather its injustice.
§ MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
The case of the lay impropriators was specially provided for by the Irish Act, and what I wanted to show was that our demand could be met in the same way.
§ SIR R. LETHBRIDGE
I will take the right hon. Gentleman's argument from another point of view. He seems to avoid the point as to the lay impropriators; but I am ready to meet him as to those cases where the tithe is attached to the ecclesiastical service of the parish. Does the right hon. Gentleman ask that the tithe should be confiscated without compensation? Probably he will say, "No; I would treat the present owner as if he were a life tenant, and give him compensation for his life-interest, but in the future I will take away the tithe from its present allocation." Then I would ask the right hon. Gentleman would he deal in the same manner with the Trust Funds of the various Nonconformist bodies throughout this Kingdom? He knows as well as I do that there are a large number of cases throughout the Kingdom—such as those of Wesleyan chapels and Baptist chapels—where the fee-simple is held in trust for certain uses—uses which as a Churchman I honour as much as I do those that are for the benefit of the Established Church of England. I would stand up in defence of any such trust as that, and against the Legislature attempting to tamper with it. I think it is 296 only fair, then, for a Churchman to ask the right hon. Gentleman why he applies to a Trust Fund connected with the ecclesiastical service of the Church of England arguments which he would not apply to the Trust Funds of Nonconformist places of worship? I turn now to another argument adduced this evening as to why we should have no hesitation in tampering with tithes. I refer to the suggestion that because landlords throughout England have more or less been compelled by the stress of circumstances to make terms with their tenants and to lower their rents, tithe owners ought to do the same. Of course, it will be obvious that the automatic operation of tithe averages does to some extent deal with tithe in this manner, but I would also point out to hon. Members who take up that position that the present Bill deals with exceptional cases, where the tithe exceeds a certain proportion of the value of the land. I should like to note, in passing, that perhaps the strongest argument addressed to the House this afternoon with regard to the general question of the tithe being national property is the argument of the right hon. Gentleman opposite when he said—The Government are now acknowledging this principle, because in certain circumstances they propose to abolish the tithe where it amounts to two-thirds of the value of the land.It seems to me, however, that the answer to that argument is obvious. Great and exceptional cases of difficulty and distress ought to be met by the Government in an exceptional manner, but that ought not to be made an argument for establishing any such monstrous proposition as that to which the House is asked to assent this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. C. W. Gray) is anxious to make the limit at which the tithe shall cease to be levied a half instead of a two-thirds limit. The matter is one which clearly admits of argument. There is no magic virtue whatever about the two-thirds. I would point out to my hon. Friend, however, without insisting that his view is a wrong oue, that tithepayers, like the rest of the community, should bear in mind that it is a dangerous thing to tamper with what are distinct rights of property in this matter. It seems to me that exactly the same arguments will hereafter be 297 used with regard to the property of the landowners themselves, and the property of other capitalists, and with regard to property generally. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon will take this point into his careful consideration, and I think he and his friends will be well advised if they do not press their views too strongly in this House. We have been referred to the charge of a distinguished Judge, and have been told that the action of the Quakers in resisting various demands made upon them which they regarded as unjustifiable is a sort of precedent for the deplorable scenes that have been enacted in Wales in resisting distraint for tithe. The justice of the application of that analogy entirely depends on the question whether the resistance to the tithe was a violent one or the contrary; whether it was carried out in opposition to the law, or whether those who made it submitted at once and fully to the operation of the law, only entering a peaceful protest. I am sorry to say that the accounts in the papers and what we hear from our friends in Wales seem to me to show that this has been anything but the case, and that resistance has been often stirred up by unprincipled agitators, who have induced ignorant farmers to believe that they could obtain a remission of unjust taxation if they only agitated against it. Before I conclude I should like to say I regret with some of those who have spoken to-night that it has been found necessary for the Government to drop those clauses of the old Bill which referred to redemption. I should like to see the whole question of tithes dealt with, and I think that tithe owners as well as tithepayers recognise that it would be impossible ultimately to obtain a final settlement of this question without devising some equitable mode for redemption. But I am well satisfied that the Government have done what they have done in order to deal with the most flagrant aspects of this burning question. I believe that the transference of the liability for the tithe from the occupier to the owner and the change made in the procedure for recovery will to a large extent do away with the deplorable state of things we have all so much regretted to see in Wales, that it will enable the tithepayer honestly to pay his tithe in the most convenient manner, and the tithe owner fairly and justly to receive it. Therefore, Sir, I shall have 298 much pleasure in supporting most strenuously the Second Reading of this Bill. (8.13.)
§ (8.45.) MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
At the risk of somewhat wearying the House we are obliged as Welsh Representatives to state our case with much fulness, because the view of the Welsh people differs so entirely from the view of the English people, that justice will not be done to the Welsh people unless the House is fully informed as to the point of view from which constituents regard this question. We represent here a nation of Nonconformists, and these naturally look at the whole of this tithe question in the dry light of history. In their eyes it is not covered by a nimbus of ecclesiastical romance; it is not obscured, as it is in the eyes of many English persons, by myths which have gathered round the history of the subject. It is well-known to the Welsh people that no sacredness whatever attaches to the tithe question. They are familiar with the origin and with the history of tithes, and they know that there is no sacrilege in secularising them. The Welsh people are well acquainted with the fact that the whole tithe system originated in the darkest ages of the Christian Church. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, and I commend to him a passage from Dr. Stubbs, an acknowledged authority on ecclesistical history and especially upon tithe property. Dr. Stubbs, Bishop of Oxford, in his Constitutional History of England, says—The recognition of the legal obligation of tithe dates from the eighth century, both on the Continent and in England. In A.D. 779 Charles the Great ordained that everyone should pay tithe, and that the proceeds should be disposed of by the Bishop; and in A.D. 787 it was made imperative by the legatine councils held in England, which being attended and confirmed by the kings and ealdarmen, had the authority of witenagemotes, from that time it was the subject of not unfrequent legislation. The famous donation of Ethelwolf had nothing to do with tithe; but almost all the laws issued after the death of Alfred contain some mention of it.This is a fact of enormous importance as bearing on the whole tithe question. Here it is acknowledged by a great Church historian who has dealt with the tithe question that there was no legal obligation attaching to tithe until the 8th century. It had no existence in the early centuries of the Christian Church at the 299 time when Christianity was purest. When did the legal obligation attaching to tithes begin? At the most corrupt period of the Christian Church, when ecclesiastical authorities were most rapacious and tyrannical, when they extorted from weak Kings the most injurious concessions under threat of pains and penalties in the future world. This was the time when the legal obligation to tithe sprang into existence. There is no mention of the subject among the earliest Christian writers, or in the sacred documents which form the foundation of our Christian faith. From beginning to end of the New Testament there is no reference to the obligation of paying tithe. The writings of the New Testament laid the support of the Church on the voluntary alms of the faithful. The tithe system is entirely a Jewish institution, which came to an end at the advent of Christ, equally with the rite of circumcision and the Feast of the Passover. It would be just as reasonable to enforce the observance of these last as to enforce the obligation of tithe. These facts are well understood by the Nonconformists of Wales, and we cannot wonder that, with a knowledge of these facts, no sacredness attaches in their eyes to ecclesiastical tithes, and they despise all the charges brought against them of sacrilege and of the spoliation of sacred property. The people of Wales are also acquainted with the history of the appropriation of tithes. They are well aware of the corrupt channels through which the whole tithe system has passed. They know that there is no institution which has been more thoroughly abused during the last 800 years than the tithe system. It is an example of almost every kind of rapacity and venality. Originally exacted most unjustly, the tithes have been alienated most unjustly. They have rarely gone to their proper recipients—the hardworking parochial clergy. The greater part of the property went for ages to the monks, and at the dissolution of the monasteries, by Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, much of the property was transferred to Court favourites. Hence the unnatural institution of lay impropriators, the heritage to us of the spoliation of the tithe property at the time of the Reformation. Their whole history is a history of rapacity and callous disregard of moral obligations. 300 These are undoubted facts, the accuracy of which no honest Church historian disputes. These facts are perfectly well-known among the Welsh people, and they are also fairly well-known among the Nonconformists of England, though in this country they have not excited so much interest. With a knowledge of these facts, can you wonder that the people of Wales look upon the whole tithe system as rotten, and as the misappropriation of national property? I am quite willing to admit that matters in Wales are not so thoroughly bad as they were before the Tithe Commutation Act. Before the passing of that Act, almost every abuse flourished darkly. From a well-written and clear statement of the revenues of the Church of England in Wales, by the Rev. H. W. Clark, I find that at the time of the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act only some 50 per cent. of the tithe went to the parochial incumbents—that is to say, those who did any work for it. But now 63 per cent. of the tithe goes to parochial incumbents, while 37 per cent. goes to those whom we may call alien proprietors who take this property from the country, making no return for it by any service. These are the grounds on which, in my opinion, it is impossible to settle this question finally without taking into account at the same time the appropriation of tithe, and making this appropriation a part of the settlement. It is well understood by all intelligent persons that the abolition of tithe is out of the question, because they know that the abolition of tithe simply means adding the amount to the rent of the landlord. There may have been some ignorance on this point in the earlier phases of the agitation, but the subject has been so thoroughly threshed out before the public that but a very small residuum of ignorance on this point now remains. The idea of the abolition of tithe has faded away, and in lieu of it there is the strongest conviction that it is our duty to maintain intact the tithe of the country as a most valuable national property. I believe that in saying this I am expressing the opinion universally held by my constituents and the majority of the people of Wales. Moreover, we are here to speak on behalf of the deep religious convictions of the Welsh people. It is no mere question of 301 pocket. The question of tithe is one which touches the peace, the social happiness, the welfare, and the religion of the country. The Church of England wears a very different aspect in Wales from that in which it appears in England. In Wales it is a constant irritant, and a source of disturbance to the peace of the country. To Welsh Nonconformists it has always been an anti-national, an aggressive, an alien Church. Living a threatened life it is forced by the necessities of its existence to seek strength and support from every side. It is a proselytising and meddlesome Church, interfering at every turn with the freedom of Nonconformists; it touches them in the schools, in their farms, wherever the richer classes come into contact with the working and middle classes. The Church of England appeals to the population of Wales very differently to the way in which it appeals to the population of England. In Wales it wears a different guise; it comes to the people in an alien robe, and it is a source of annoyance, conflict, and friction. Holding these views, I and my friends think we are right in putting before the House the absolute necessity of changing the destination of tithe. We believe that true statesmanship would deal with the root and source of the evil—with this cause of vexation and annoyance which has prevailed so long. We are here to-night to urge these views. We will do so in season and out of season. We shall have no peace in the Principality until the doctrine of religious equality is accepted. We believe that the Church of England severed from the State in Wales will have an active and useful career there. Certainly, such severance will remove the incessant irritation and collision which exist at present. I appeal to those who desire to give vitality to the Church of Wales to remove that which is a source of weakness and danger to that Church; and if that great act of justice is done, I believe every Welsh Member will bear me out in saying that Wales will become the most contented portion of Her Majesty's dominions.
§ (9.4.) MR. ATKINSON (Boston)
The speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down seems to me to have two parts—one referring to the tithe question and the other—the latter part—having reference to the Debate on Disestablishment, 302 which has yet to come on. The hon. Member objects to the manner in which the Government are dealing with the tithe question. The hon. Member considers that he represents the Nonconformists, and no doubt Nonconformity is strong in Wales; but it is stronger in England, so far as numbers are concerned, and there is a strong feeling in England in favour of the settlement proposed by the Bill. If the grievance is so great as hon. Members represent it to be, why did not the Party opposite deal with it when they were in power? They treated the question in the same manner as they did the question of the Ballot, for, though they had many opportunities of dealing with that question, they held it over from year to year. They made a great deal of it before getting into power, but, having secured that, they put it by only to bring it out again on the hustings. They were sorry when it was settled. In like manner they left the tithe question severely alone when they were in Office; and as soon as a strong Government attempts to deal with it, they declare that it is merely patching. But suppose it is patching, how much better is that than doing nothing at all? As a matter of fact, tithes are property, and must be looked upon and dealt with as such. Doubtless the manner in which hon. Gentlemen opposite have dealt with property in the past has given them very hazy notions with regard to it. As they have dealt with the property of the Irish Church and the property of the Irish landlords, they would now have the House deal with the property of the Church in Wales. And apparently they do not reflect upon the condition of things that this course of proceeding may bring about—that before long property in bales of cotton, and property in ships, and all kinds of property may be interfered with. The fact is, that no better proposal than the present one has been brought before the House for settling the question. It provides for a case of difficulty; but if hon. Gentlemen opposite can produce something better, they will always find the Members on this (the Ministerial) side so fair-minded that they will do their best to make the Bill better and more agreeable to all parties concerned. But if it comes to interfering with the principle of the ownership of property—if it comes to a 303 question of stealing the property of the tithe owners and others—it is clear that a Conservative Government and the Conservative Party never can identify themselves with the proposal. If gentlemen buy property subject to tithe we must take that into account. The tithes which may come from that property will not count in a charitable point of view, and, therefore, they are absolutely due as a debt, and ought not to be repudiated. I can assure my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. S. Smith) that if it were his property that was threatened we should be just as strong in that principle as we are now. No doubt hon. Gentlemen opposite find it easy to bring people to their way of thinking, for they declare that the abolition of tithe will put money into the pockets of the farmers, and there are, unfortunately, many people who welcome the prospect of becoming enriched at the expense of their neighbour. I will not believe but that there are many Calvinistic Methodists in Wales who repudiate such principles. I am a Nonconformist myself, and I unhesitatingly declare that the Government have honestly done their best to deal with this question regardless of whether it is likely to be ultimately to their advantage or not. One of the popular speakers representing a Welsh constituency to-night said he should be glad to see the Bill pass, as the credit of it would be given to the Liberal Party. But the passing of the Bill will not redound to the credit of the Liberal Party, as they are not a party to its passing. The Bill comes from this side of the House, and the credit of it will belong to the Ministry, who propose it, and their supporters who help them to carry it.
§ (9.10.) MR. ALFRED THOMAS (Glamorgan, E.)
I rise to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend. I am sorry I cannot speak of the Bill in the eulogistic terms adopted by the hon. Member who has just sat down. I look in vain for one essential of a Bill of this kind, and that essential is conveyed in the Amendment alone. It is plain to those who look for anything like peace in the Principality that such a provision as that included in the Amendment is needed. On looking closely at the Bill I can come to no other conclusion than that it is drawn in the interest of the clergy alone. I sympathise with the clergy, 304 and much regret to hear that there is any suffering amongst them, but if there has been it is much to the disgrace of the members of the wealthy Church of which they are ministers. This measure would be appropriately called the Clergy Relief Bill. Instead of putting an end to difficulties it is going to add to them. I do not say that there have not been some harsh and cruel deeds—although there have not been many of them—performed by landlords in Wales, and especially in Cardiganshire, where some of the tenants were turned out because they voted against their landlords. In most cases, however, the most cordial relations exist between landlords and tenants. But how will it be if this Bill becomes law and the landlords become collectors of this impost? The bitter feeling which existed between the Jews and the publicans of old will be nothing to that which will be created between the farmers and the landlords. The Bill is simply a humiliating confession on the part of the Government that they are incapable of dealing with the question, and I can only look on the measure as a putting off of the evil day. The Government cannot say they do not know the opinion of Wales on this question. They well know that 28 out of the 34 Members who represent the Principality, including Monmouthshire, were returned here on the distinct understanding that they were pledged to Disestablishment. In view of the protests uttered by my colleagues, I can look upon this measure as nothing less than an insult to Wales. Do the inhabitants of Wales deserve such treatment? Are there any people in Her Majesty's dominions who are more loyal and law-abiding? I am afraid that if the Bill passes, its effect will be to fan into flame that great fire of discontent which has been smouldering so long in the Principality.
§ (9.15.) MR. J. LLOYD MORGAN (Carmarthen, W.)
The Welsh Members do not object to the Government dealing with the tithe question, but to the way in which they deal with it. After previous failures of the Government they have at last succeeded in introducing a Bill that at any rate commands the support of Members on their own side of the House. I have very grave doubts, however, as to whether they will be successful in getting their followers in 305 Wales to accept the Bill with approval. In my opinion the measure will not give that relief to the clergy which is anticipated. The great difficulty in the collection of the tithe to-day will still remain. The small freeholders who farm their own land are the men who make the strongest protest against a system in which they do not believe, and they will be in precisely the same position in the future as they are to-day, and the Government may depend upon it that the same difficulties will arise in the future as have arisen in the past, because these men will make as strong and persistent a protest as they have ever done. This Bill may, to some small extent, remove the friction which now exists, but if it does, it will create another kind of friction, which, as time goes on, will create a much worse state of things than has yet arisen. The landlord will have to pay tithes to the clergyman, and it will be found that the relations between the landlord and the clergyman will become much strained. I trust it may never be the case, but we may have to meet a period of agricultural depression in the future. The clergy will not grant the landlords any reduction. They declined to grant any substantial reduction to the tenant-farmers during the period of depression through which we have just passed; à fortiori, they are not likely to grant any reduction to the rich landlord and the squire. Tenants will go to their landlords and will say, "We must have some reduction in our rents, or we cannot meet our liabilities." The landlords will grant a reduction, but the clergy will refuse to make a similar reduction to the landlords. The Government will consequently discover some day that, instead of this Bill having strengthened their position in Wales, it has created far greater discontent than we have ever had in the past, and between classes who are now on perfectly friendly and amicable terms. The Conservative landlords in North Wales met together at a conference in Rhyl about 12 months ago. They appear to have discussed the Government Tithe Bill very fully, and a long report of the proceedings appeared in the Times newspaper. The landlords present seemed to consider that the very idea of introducing a Tithe Bill to throw the liability on themselves was absurd. They came to the conclusion that there were 306 other and far more important matters which ought to take up the time and attention of Parliament, some of which they proceeded to discuss. The following resolution was proposed:—That, in view of the considerable number of unfit and discreditable clergy occupying positions in the Church of England in Wales, it is desirable that a cheap and summary method of getting rid of them by a mixed tribunal of clergy and laity be established by Parliament.That was the opinion of some of the leaders of the Tory Party in North Wales. The Motion appeared to be too drastic, and a resolution was passed in favour of a Church Discipline Bill. Sir R. Bulkeley stated that not very far from his own house there stood a church in which no service had been held for more than 12 months, and that the tithe of the parish had been exacted all the same. He asked what answer he could give when the people of the parish came to him and said:—"We are ready and willing to pay the tithe if we have our services properly rendered, but when there is no service we do not see why we should pay the tithe." Sir R. Bulkeley said, if tithe legislation was to be initiated with a view of relieving the clergy and putting an end to disturbances, it was also high time that reform was started in the Church itself. I think I have now shown that the Government have signally failed to satisfy the landlord class in Wales, and that by that failure they will create the friction to which I referred a few moments ago. The party it is sought to benefit under this Bill is the clergy. Let us see whether the measure will confer on them the immense benefit it is supposed to do. By adopting County Court proceedings you bring the clergyman into much closer conflict with the tithepayer than before. The clergyman becomes a plaintiff in the action. The scene of the conflict will, doubtless, be removed, but the issue will be exactly the same, and the conflict will be brought much more prominently before the public than ever, because the people are sure to turn up at the County Court in pretty large numbers. I am convinced that, when the clergy come to understand the exact position they are placed in, they will scarcely be grateful to the Government for this measure. Allusion has been made to the charge of Mr. Justice Wills to a jury in North Wales some time ago. The only conclusion one could draw from 307 his remarks was that there were two ways of paying tithe and both were equally legal. Before the Commutation Act was passed it was the duty of the clergyman to collect the tithe himself. There are two ways. One is for the farmer to take the tithe to the incumbent. Welsh farmers are for the most part men who never attend the Established Church, and who do not believe it to be necessary in their parishes, because it is opposed to the voluntary system which is the spiritual mainstay of the Welsh people. They are strongly opposed to the existence of the Established Church, and yet they are expected to go cap in hand to a clergyman whose presence is not required and ask him humbly and mildly to accept a sum of money for services he has never rendered. That is one way of proceeding, and that is a legal way. There is, however, another way which I think is quite as legal, and it is for the farmer to take up this position and to say—"If I am compelled to pay a debt which I recognise no moral obligation to pay, you must come and take your tithe. You have your remedy, and here it is for you." That is the position the Welsh Nonconformist farmers take up, and I venture to submit it is a perfectly honest and straightforward position. Having said so much with regard to this Bill, I would repeat that the fault we find with the Government is not that they deal with this question, but to the mode in which they have dealt with it. If they wish to deal with it in a satisfactory manner, let them do so in the way proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Stuart Rendel). I do not want to go into the question of Disestablishment, but I am convinced that no settlement of the tithe question will satisfy the Welsh people which is not based on the lines proposed by this Amendment, namely, a measure acting on the recognition of the fact that tithe is national property, and should be devoted to national uses. What is almost universally recognised to-day on this side of the House, and largely on the opposite side, is the fact that tithe is national property, and as such belongs to the people. It is clear that this must be so. The nation has never parted with its fee-simple in that property; it has never vested this property in the Church and it is now widely acknowledged 308 that tithe is the property of the nation. If this be so, the only logical conclusion we can come to is that it ought to be dealt with, not for the purpose of maintaining a class whose presence is not required, but for the purpose of benefitting the nation at large. If this Bill does not benefit the clergy or tithepayer, and irritates the landlord, it will at least accomplish one thing; it will prove more clearly than ever that the Established Church in Wales is a complete and signal failure, because it shows that in order to get the Welsh people to support it you must bring in the element of compulsion, and in an even more offensive manner than in the past. It is not seriously to be supposed that in bringing in a Bill of this kind the Government are going to settle the great question which has agitated the Welsh people for half a century, although the question is one which we hope to carry to a conclusive issue before long. It is not by dealing with great questions like this on narrow grounds that they can be satisfactorily or permanently settled. If this is to be the method, the result will only be that one agitation will follow another. You may shift the scene, but the issue at stake will be the same because the principle remains the same; and I say that this Bill has done much towards proving and conclusively establishing our case, namely, that the Church in Wales, though having many advantages in its favour, has entirely failed to gain the affection of the Welsh people. If the Church had gained the sympathies of Wales, and was progressing and increasing in strength and influence, does anyone suppose it would be necessary to bring in a Bill of this kind for the purpose of compelling the payment of tithe? As I have said, some aspects of the Bill are objectionable to us on this side of the House; but when it becomes law and begins to create renewed friction we shall have to say, and that before very long, that after all a Conservative Government has done much for the cause of religious equality in Wales.
§ (9.35.) MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
We have been told by the last and by one or two previous speakers that the tithe is generally recognised as national property, 309 and the hon. Member who has just sat down has asserted that this Bill is being passed solely in the interests of the clergy. Now, I would point out that, out of a total amount, roughly speaking, of £4,000,000, which is the yearly value of the tithe, £766,000 belongs to lay impropriators, while £96,000 belongs to schools and colleges, only the remaining portion belonging to the clergy; that is to say, the clergy have the greater part of the tithe, but not the whole. If hon. Gentlemen are right in saying that the tithe is national property, they ought to be glad that this Bill has been introduced, because its effect will be to render the collection of the tithe much easier than at present. The consequence will be that the security for the property will be thereby improved, and, therefore, those who regard the tithe as national property ought to welcome this Bill. But there can be no doubt that tithe has been for a lengthy period recognised as national property, because it has been sold over and over again, and we know that those who have bought the tithe own it in exactly the same legal manner as others own property of another description. Therefore, I cannot see how you can interfere with this kind of property without at the same time interfering with the rights of other property. The hon. Member who last spoke asserted that in times of agricultural depression the tithe ought to be reduced in a corresponding degree, but I would remind the House that the tithe has already been considerably reduced. The hon. Member shakes his head. Let me remind him that, instead of being £100 as it was on the commutation value of 1836, the present value is only £78, and there is not the slightest doubt that next year it will be still further reduced to £75. Therefore, out of the whole annual payment to be made next year, there will be a reduction of no less than one-quarter, the result being that the total sum payable will be £3,000,000 instead of £4,000,000 ten years ago; therefore, it will be seen that there has been a considerable reduction on account of agricultural depression. I would also remind the House that the Bill contains a provision for the reduction of the excess of the tithe when it exceeds two-thirds of the value under Schedule B. Doubtless that provision will not very 310 often be put in force, as there are very few places in England where the tithe does or will exceed two-thirds under Schedule B. And in any case where that occurs, the tithe will have to be more than double the rent. I am glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that a Commission is to be appointed to inquire into the redemption of the tithe, because I think that that is the only means by which the tithe question can be brought to a final termination. I think that those gentlemen who are so fond of talking of the tithe being national property ought to be glad to welcome a proposal that will tend to put that property on a better footing than it occupies at present. The value of the property will necessarily be much enhanced by the fact that the interest on the redemption money will be so much more easily collected than is the tithe at the present moment. So far from the occupiers not wishing this Bill to pass, I can only say that, speaking for the great body of English farmers, I am sure they will receive the provisions of the Bill with acclamation. What the farmers are crying out for is that the owners should be rendered liable for the tithe, and that the occupier should have nothing to do with it. It is said, however, that, if the owners have the tithe to pay, they will charge the occupiers more rent; but the farmers are not so simple-minded that they are unable to make their own bargains. When they propose to rent lands which are tithe-free, they will not care very much what the owners say about the tithe; they will only give what they conceive to be a fair rent. There can be no doubt that the principal clause of the Bill is that which throws the burden of the tithe upon the owners of the land. This is what we have all been wishing for, and have asked for over and over again. The Government are now ready to grant it, and in addition to that they have introduced a clause giving remission in certain hard cases. This being the case, I regard the Bill as a good one, and I trust that this House will assist the Government in passing it into law.
§ (9.43.) MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
I think it is somewhat beside the question for hon. Members on the other side of the House to bring forward the 311 case of the lay impropriators, because the Government themselves have not brought that case forward in this measure. For my part, I am not aware that any difficulty has been experienced in regard to the tithe payable to lay impropriators. This measure has been brought forward with one object, and with one object alone. It is what has been well termed a Clergy Relief Bill, for it is a Bill to facilitate the payment of the clergy for what they do not do. The Government merely open their eyes to the fact of the resistance which has taken place in regard to the collection of tithe in Wales. The Government, seeing this resistance, say—"We must compel these people to pay their tithe." They fail to look deeper down for the cause of this resistance. That cause is so deeply rooted that a small Bill of this kind will necessarily fail to get rid of it. We have been told that we wish to interfere with the rights of property. We do not wish to interfere with the rights of property at all. It has been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that the tithe is national property. [Sir M. BEACH denied.] Every responsible statesman has admitted the fact. ["Oh!"] The admission has been made by the Leader of the House himself. He said last Session that the tithes are national property, except that they were to be applied to a particular purpose, that is the maintenance of the Church in Wales. I was going to say that the Government themselves are tampering with property. They are, too, interfering with the right of contract, which has been a sort of god with the Tory Party for many years past. They are interfering with the property of the lay impropriator. Supposing a lay impropriator holds tithe upon a farm where the tithe exceeds two-thirds of the annual value, what does the Government propose to do? They propose to take away part of the property of the lay impropriator, to wipe off part of the tithe, and put it into the hands of the landlords. That will follow if the 3rd clause is carried into effect. It will be possible that 33 per cent. of the property of one individual will be transferred to the pockets of another. One hon. Member said that we on this side claimed that credit would redound to us from the Bill. I do not see what 312 credit attaches to it. What we said was that it would redound to our advantage ultimately. Its effect will be to change the resistance to the payment of tithe from the clergyman to the landowner, who will experience the ill feeling now directed against the former. The Bill will place landlords and tenants at loggerheads. The hon. Member for East Bradford said the Bill contained mechanical and simple machinery. On the other hand, I find that the Home Secretary said something very different last year, namely, that in recovering the tithe rent-charge titheable goods only ought to be seized, but if the landlord were proceeded against directly, then the proceeding could only be by the "cumbrous process of appointing a receiver." This is now called "a simple mechanical process." I should like to point out one very injurious effect which this Bill may have if it pass. Considerable ill-feeling is shown towards the Church of England because it is maintained out of the public funds. It is proposed that the County Court shall now come to the assistance of the Church. Is it not possible that there will next be an aversion to Courts of Justice? If the County Courts are made use of in the way suggested, may such a contingency not be contemplated? I do not know who has asked for this Bill. It is not the lay impropriators, not the tenants, and not, so far as I am aware, the landlords. The Government are asking us to pass a little measure for the benefit of the clergy, and they wish to put a little of the tithe into the pocket of the landlord under Clause 3. Who has really been agitating for this Bill? We have not. The feeling against tithe in Wales has grown up spontaneously; it was natural that it should do so. The agitation for this Bill is on the part of the Bishops and clergy. We know very well that there are Bishops of the Principality who do not spend all their time there, and who seem better cut out for lobbying than for preaching. I am sure that in the minds of some it is considered that the man best fitted for the high office of Bishop in these days is the fighting man—one who can bring pressure to bear on the Government to pass a Bill of this kind. By this Bill the Government will create greater feeling against the Church than has existed already, and in that way they 313 will facilitate the work of Disestablishment. Even if you get rid of the tithe agitation by this Bill, and you will not, you will have a land agitation springing up in its stead. A considerable portion of the tithe paid by the Principality goes to support institutions in England. We hear talk of "poor little Wales," but surely poor little Wales might be allowed to retain her own property. From the county of Anglesey £1,534 goes to England; Brecon, £2,235; Cardigan, £1,000; Carmarthen, £2,860; Carnarvon, £1,505; Denbigh, £3,103; Flint, £2,845; Glamorgan, £3,386; Merioneth, £1,760; Montgomery, £4,474; Pembroke, £861; Radnor, £1,874; Monmouth, £1,455—making the grand total of £28,900 derived from the Principality for institutions in England. It may be said that this money goes to educational institutions, in the benefits of which Welshmen may participate. But let us see to what this money is devoted. Of this £28,900, there goes to the Dean and Chapter of Oxford, £2,513; to the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester, £2,947; Dean and Chapter of Winchester, £2,404; Dean and Canons of Windsor, £1,824; Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, £1,456; Dean and Chapter of Worcester, £1,330; Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, £1,215; All Souls' College, Oxford, £875; Dean and Chapter of Bristol, £811; Bishop of Chester, £768; Bishop of Lincoln, £400; Christ's College, Cambridge, £370; London Grocers' Company's Schools, £327; Eton College, £200; University College, Oxford, £37; and so on: and for suspended prebendaries and sinecure rectories, £6,816. This money really, therefore, is applied to Church institutions in England and to the support of wealthy cathedrals. I would like to be enlightened on one point. One hon. Member on this side of the House has referred to the question of personal liability. We rejoice that the Bill is as harmless as it is; most of the fangs have been taken out of it. But can imprisonment follow if the payment of tithe is resisted? [Sir RICHARD WEBSTER was understood to indicate that it could not.] I am told by the Attorney General that it will not. We will take care that the necessary provision is made in Committee on that point. But what I wish to know is this, whether if there is any resistance 314 by the tithepayer to the process of the County Court, he will be liable to imprisonment, for contempt of Court; whether, while he is not directly liable to imprisonment, he may be indirectly liable. I want to be satisfied, if possible, that nobody will be liable to imprisonment under the Bill. If the Government do pass the Bill, I am sure they will be sorry for it in future years.
(9.55.) ADMIRAL MAYNE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)
I did not intend to intervene in this Debate, but as it has been stated on several occasions—two or three times this evening—that the Welsh Conservative Members do not dare to support this measure openly, I rise to say that, speaking for one-third at least of the Conservative Members of Wales, I am perfectly prepared to support the measure now under discussion, and the fear expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite lest the Conservative Party should injure themselves by their legislation is very soothing; but we are hardly able to believe in this anxiety, for we feel pretty well convinced that no matter what measure is brought forward by the Government gentlemen on the other side will vote against it. So far as I am personally concerned, I have been obliged to relinquish the religious aspect of the question. I was at one time dragged into a correspondence with a representative of Disestablishment and anti-tithe, who finished it by saying that he knew Conservatives did not regard the law of our Lord, by doing to others as we would be done by, forgetting that charity is also a Christian virtue. One hon. Gentleman opposite spoke of the landlords of Wales as being opposed to this Bill. I can unhesitatingly say of the landlords of South Wales, or that part of it with which I am acquainted, that they are most strongly in favour of it, and that several have urged me to bring any influence I have to bear upon the Government to pass this measure. Hon. Members say that process by means of the County Council will not stop agitation. I do not believe that. It will stop it for this reason, that the tithepayer knows that under that process he will ultimately not only have to pay the original tithe, but the law costs also. Therefore, unless I am greatly mistaken in the character of those whom I have the honour to represent, and whose astuteness I highly 315 esteem, they will not go into Court with the certainty of having to pay about double what they would originally have to pay. I remember a speech by the Member for the Rhondda Valley Division at Cardigan, in which he said that he would not only abolish tithes, but, at the same time, he would pass a Bill prohibiting the landlords from increasing the rent. What epithet would describe such a suggestion? What is the state of affairs in Wales? A case recently occurred in the adjoining constituency to my own, in which two men between 60 and 70 years of age were sent to collect tithe, and they were set upon by a mob and so severely injured that the Magistrates imposed a penalty of £25 upon their assailants. It is because we believe that by giving the control of these matters to the County Court Judge we shall best prevent such disgraceful acts that we strongly approve this measure. I support this Bill as a matter of law and order as far as the Principality is concerned, and because, in my belief, it will put an end to the most discreditable scenes which have taken place in the collection of tithe. It has been remarked to-night that the clergy in Wales have not given up a large proportion of their tithes, but their total income is, as a rule, so very small that it is impossible for them to do so. I know the case of a clergyman with a wife and six children to support whose whole income for 1889 was only £73! How could he possibly remit any portion of his tithe. I believe I represent the feeling of all landlords, at least in South Wales, when I say that this Bill will stop an agitation which has been maintained not so much for religious as for political purposes.
§ (10.5.) MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
I am a Metropolitan Member, but as I was responsible in the last Parliament for an Act which dealt with a portion of this difficult question, I am sure the House will not consider I am presuming in venturing to express an opinion on this Bill. Now in Kent and Sussex we were face to face with a difficulty quite as serious as that which has presented itself in Wales, and we set ourselves to see whether the trouble could not be got rid of by some system of redemption, Such a system was embodied in the Act passed by the last Parliament, with the result that substantial relief was given to the tithepayer, 316 fair compensation was provided for the tithe-receiver, and the whole difficulty was settled. At the present time there is no trouble in Kent and Sussex in the hop-growing districts with reference to what was known as the extraordinary tithe on hops, fruit, and market garden produce. I hold that the Government would have dealt with this tithe question much more satisfactorily had they proposed some system of redemption. But they have confined themselves to dealing with the recovery of tithe rent-charge. I admit that their Bill is a great improvement on the measure of last Session, and that it will deal effectually with the question of the collection of tithe, but to suppose that a mere provision to facilitate the recovery of tithe will dispose of the great tithe difficulty in Wales is absurd. Hon. Members who have spoken on this question have referred to the intense feeling that exists in Wales on this question—a feeling directed not so much against the payment of tithe rent-charge as against the application of it. I may read to the House two or three sentences from a speech by the acting Chairman of Quarter Sessions for the County of Cardigan. This gentleman said he felt, as regarded the peace of the country, it was absolutely idle to talk of a measure shifting the onus for the payment of tithe from the tenant to the landlord; it was trifling with the question. If it were to be dealt with at all it must be on the lines of a redemption scheme. There was a strong feeling in Wales on religious grounds against the payment of tithes, and it would not be got rid of by any arrangement making it payable through the landlord. So much as to Wales. Will the Bill be useful in England? The tithe question in England is a much larger one than it is in Wales, for in one English county alone we pay more tithe than is paid by the whole of Wales. In the Principality the total tithe amounts to £274,000 a year; whereas, in the County of Norfolk, it is £277,000; in the County of Berks it is £88,000; in Cornwall, £101,000; in Devonshire, £181,000; in Dorset, £89,000; in Essex, £250,000: in Kent, £257,000; in Somerset, £155,000; in Hampshire, £172,000; in Suffolk, £205,000; in Sussex, £159,000; and in Wiltshire, £142,000. I am quite satisfied that you will not deal with this question 317 either in England or in Wales finally and satisfactorily, unless you pass a statesmanlike measure for the appropriation and application of tithe, and you must do it first by a system of redemption, which will honestly fix the value of the tithe on the landlord's property, and give substantial relief to the tithepayer, and then, after providing for all vested interests, you must devote the tithe surplus to public uses. I am very glad to hear that the Government propose to appoint a Commission to deal with the question of redemption, and I hope that the Commission will be able to suggest some satisfactory redemption scheme. I intend to vote for the Amendment, in order to enforce the view I entertain as to the appropriation of tithe. I notice that there is among hon. Gentlemen opposite a disposition to dispute the proposition that tithe is public property. But that it is so has been asserted continuously by Parliament ever since 1836, and the strongest assertion of the principle is to be found in the very fact that Bills have been passed which could have no possible justification, unless tithes were public property. Tithe, undoubtedly, is a public property, having a local character, and I believe when dealing with tithes regard will have to be paid to local claims. There are portions of this Bill which are open to criticism. In the first place, the proposal to make the landlord liable to pay the tithe and to give him the right to recover it from the tenant, when the tenant has contracted to pay it, is one which must be viewed with considerable care. I gather that under the Bill the landlord is to have all the rights which the tithe owner at present possesses. In Clause 1 it is provided that the sum shall be recoverable from the occupier by distress; but, later on in the Bill, it will be found that all the enactments of the Tithe Acts shall be available for the recovery of tithe rent-charge under this Act. If the landowner is to have all the rights for the recovery of tithe which at present the tithe receiver has, will he have any remedy beyond that of distress? An hon. and learned Member says, No. What, then, will happen when there is an insufficient distress on the land to meet the tithe? Is the landowner to have the rights which are at present conferred upon the tithe owner? If so, I do not very well see how the tithepayer 318 will be in a very much better position through the tithe owner having first to go against the landowner in the County Court. I have here a bill of costs which an unfortunate tithe payer was recently subjected to. A distress was attempted for a sum of £11; there was insufficient produce on the land, and the tithe-owner consequently put in force the provision of 6 and 7 William IV., and took possession of the land. Ultimately the costs charged against the payer of tithe through the default for £11 amounted to £46 10s. 2d. If the right to resort to process of that kind is to be transferred from the tithe owner to the landlord I do not see how the position of the tithe payer will be improved where he is a tenant and has to continue to pay in consequence of a current contract. I look upon tithe as a property which ought not to be frittered away. At the same time I am quite sure that the public would not desire to deal harshly or unfairly in cases where the land is unable to bear the full tithe; public feeling is certainly in favour of some considerate treatment of persons in the possession of land overburdened with tithe. The Bill does give relief in extreme cases of this character, and that is all that can reasonably be required. While I shall vote for the Amendment to assert my opinion that tithe is public property, I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill as a practical measure to preserve that property.
§ (10.23.) SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
I am glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in the House, for I wish to point out to him that this Bill bristles with breach of contract. When the Irish Land Bill had to be altered, the right hon. Gentleman adhered to the principle that contracts once entered into ought never to be broken. However, the very first clause of this Tithe Bill enacts that certain things shall be done "notwithstanding any contract to the contrary." I suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible as a Member of the Government for the drafting of the Bill; but I venture to suggest that landlords in England have trouble enough in coming to arrangements with their tenants without having the contracts broken without rhyme or reason, or by the desire of either party by an Act of Parliament brought in to serve the 319 purpose of bolstering up the Church of England. I speak as a payer and an owner of tithe, and I say I do not want this Bill passed at all. I do not know anything more mischievous than the drafting of this Bill. Goodness knows, we, landlords in England, have tried to keep on good terms with our tenants, but here all our contracts are to be ruthlessly torn up. A more disagreeable method of collecting the rent I do not know, and this is the reward of the English landed proprietor who has endeavoured to manage his property with some degree of respect for the wants and necessities of his tenants, and with some sympathy for them in these bad times. The Bill is simply intended to back up the Church of England. The Government some day will bring in a Tithe Redemption Bill, and this measure is simply intended to increase the value of tithe in view of that redemption. The hon. Member for the Maldon Division of Essex might have told the House that the tithe now varies in value from 18 to 21 years' purchase, but that if this Bill is passed it will at once be made 25 per cent. more valuable, and of course the redemption will be on the basis of the higher value. The tithepayers will derive no advantage from the Bill. Why not at once repeal the Act of '36, and let the parson collect one-tenth of the produce. You would soon then arrive at the real value of tithes. Under Section 4 of Clause 1, the occupier is to pay the rates for the parson in advance and to collect them afterwards. A more preposterous proposal I never heard of! I want the House to consider where would the tithes be if the owner or occupier of the land (like the tithe receiver) had done nothing to improve it for the last 54 years. In such a case what would have been the present value of the tithe? I know of many cases in which, if nothing had been spent upon the land, the land would not produce the tenth part of the tithe, let alone any rent. Then, again, the landowner was to proceed by process of distress to recover the tithe—which he had advanced to the parson—from his tenant. A more distasteful process for a landlord to pursue I do not know. This Bill is simply intended as a Parliamentary bribe to the clergymen of the Church of England. 320 Those clergymen have always supported the Conservative Party, and knowing that that Party will not be much longer in office they say to the Government, "Give us our reward while you are in office." Some day or other a Bill for the redemption of tithe will be introduced, and then this measure will be flourished in our faces and will be taken as a basis of redemption. A more iniquitous and unconstitutional Bill was never introduced in the House of Commons.
(10.32.) MR. DAVID RANDALL (Glamorgan, Gower)
I desire to offer a few observations upon this Bill. In the first place, I have to confess my surprise as a Welshman that we have been deserted in this discussion by the leaders of the Liberal Party. I had hoped, after the various promises that have been made at Sheffield and elsewhere, that at any rate when we came to discuss this matter, which is so important to the Welsh people, we should at least have received the assistance of some prominent member on the Opposition Front Bench. Well, from a Welsh Nonconformist point of view no doubt the present Bill is less objectionable in its character than the Bill of last Session, for it seems to me to leave the occupier, as far as any legal remedy against him is concerned, very much in the same position as he is in to-day, save that, if he resists the payment of tithe, he will in future have so fight the landlord instead of the tithe owner. This is a position of things which I would commend to the consideration of landlords in this House, for I think it is a state of affairs calculated to open up the agrarian question in the Principality. Yet at the same time the Bill will, no doubt, injuriously affect the small freeholders in Wales. In Wales and Monmouthshire there are some 5,300 small freeholders. In Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, and Pembrokeshire, where the tithe agitation, which is now in abeyance in anticipation of the results of this Bill, is likely to be as lively as ever, there are upwards of 2,000 small freeholders. These men, I take it, will offer the same sturdy resistance to the payment of tithe in future that they have offered in the past. For example, the yeomen of Montgomeryshire, so long as they know that a large portion of the tithe in Montgomeryshire is devoted to the enrichment of Christ Church 321 Oxford, will resist payment under a County Court process as much as under distress as at present. This Bill threatens to confiscate the holdings of these men, and to hand them over to the tender mercies of the officials of the County Court. Personally, I have great sympathy for the poor clergy in the Principality, but at the same time I ask the House to have more sympathy for the small freeholders in Wales. The only real relief for the poor clergy of Wales from the oftentimes intolerable conditions in which they find themselves is the Disestablishment of the Church. I know many of the poor Clergy, if they were allowed to speak out for themselves, would welcome Disestablishment quite as heartily as any Nonconformist. No doubt the Government think that by this new method of recovery they will remove the friction that at present exists in Wales, but the working classes in the towns where the County Courts are held will be greatly surprised to see a minister seeking his remedy in a Court of Law. The President of the Board of Trade said he was quite prepared to receive any suggestions or Amendments from this side of the House, provided they are made in a fair spirit. I offer one or two Amendments in that spirit, and I hope they will be accepted. I notice in the Bill an entire absence of any provision for appeal or for trial by jury. Appeal as a right in County Court cases simply extends to actions where the subject matter exceeds £20 in value, and trial by jury is only allowed in cases where the subject matter exceeds £5 in value. The large number of cases arising under this Bill will be under the limits of £20 and £5. I acknowledge that when either party is dissatisfied with the direction of the Judge, either as to a question of law, or the admission or rejection of evidence, the President of the Board of Trade should confer special power of appeal, not as by leave of the Judge but as a matter of right. I do not intend to occupy the time of the House any further, because I feel sure the Government intend to carry the Bill probably to-night, and under these circumstances whatever objections are made on the Opposition side of the House will fall on deaf ears; but I wish to offer my protest at any rate against what is one-sided legislation.
§ (10.40.) MR. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
I cannot let this opportunity pass without entering my protest as a Welshman against the Bill now before the House, though I agree with what has been said by several hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, that this Bill is, to a great extent, an improvement upon all its predecessors. The Bill appears to me to be like a cat-o'-nine-tails without its fangs, or a serpent without its sting. Those who have opposed, for four years at least, the passing of previous Tithe Bills, are to be congratulated upon the success of their opposition, which is shown by the introduction of the mild Bill which is now before the House. Mild as it is, however, it is as much a Welsh Bill as the previous Bills have been. It is as much a Bill of pains and penalties to Wales as any of its predecessors. Now, our case as Welshmen is in a nutshell. We do not object to the payment of tithes as such, we believe with you, Sir, the tithe is a reservation of a part of property in land for national purposes and national uses, and were it devoted to any such purposes the Principality, the Welsh people, would be as good payers of tithe as are to be found in any part of the United Kingdom. But, as it is, the strong and overwhelming sentiment and reason which has led to the resistance of the payment of tithe in Wales is the sense of injustice in respect to the way in which tithe is applied. I assure the House with the honesty of a Welshman, with the honesty and sincerity due to the House, that the present Bill, nor any other Bill, will not remove the difficulty, nor abate one iota of the repugnance to payment of the tithe, until the money so paid is applied to Welsh national purposes. On the other hand, what is the object of this Bill? Is it not to support the Church in Wales and other parts of the Kingdom, so that the Church, in its turn, will support the Government? Probably that is the real view and intention of many hon. Members, but they would not care to state it in this House, or out of it. The noble Lord the Member for Darwen, however (Lord Cranbourne), in his letter to the Times, on July 8th, had the honesty to state the real object of passing the Tithes Bill in the House. He plainly stated that in the interests of the Tory Party the Government ought to carry 323 the Bill. I question very much if the Bill will make the collection of the tithe in Wales more easy. I also believe that the small freeholders in Wales will persist in their objection to the payment of tithe in future as much as ever they have in the past. I thought that in this Debate we were going to be spared the doleful cadence respecting the poor clergy in Wales; but the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Byron Reed) would have it out. I venture to assert, however, that in the parishes in Wales the hon. Member named not more than one-seventh or one-eighth of the people are church-going people. That being so, what have the people as a body to do with the poor clergy? Are the clergy not the clergy of the rich and wealthy people? Since they are, is it not the duty of the wealthy people to support them? Ought the wealthy people to ask the poor people, who have to support their own ministers, to support the clergy of the Church of England? There is no such claim on the poor people of Wales. It is time the cry against the Welsh people for not supporting the clergy should be done away with, for if there is any shame at all it attaches to the wealthy people who receive the clergy's ministrations, but are not prepared to pay for them.
§ (10.49.) THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES, Cambridge University)
I have been struck, as any listener would be struck, by the extreme inapplicability of the Amendment to the occasion on which it has been brought forward. It appears to me that it would be quite competent to any hon. Member to support the Amendment and also the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill. There is nothing in the Amendment which traverses the Second Rending of the Bill, and there if nothing whatever in the Bill which is in any way concerned with anything in the Amendment. Therefore we have had the evening which might have been devoted to a useful discussion of a very practical measure devoted to a sort of preliminary canter on the question of Welsh Disestablishment. I venture in the first instance to make my protest against the waste of time. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Yes, hon. Members will have an opportunity of entering into the question of Disestablishment, whenever it is brought forward in a real and 324 practical shape. Every speech made to-night, since that of the hon. Member for Suffolk, has really had no practical bearing on the Second Reading. I wish hon. Members, if they deny the truth of that statement, to answer me a very simple question. The Amendment states that tithes are national property, to be devoted to national purposes, and that the tithe rent-charge in Wales ought to be applied in accordance with the constitutionally-expressed wishes of the people of the Principality. Assuming that to be the case, is that the smallest reason or argument why the House should not pass a measure for making the recovery of tithe more efficient? If hon. Members opposite are really in earnest in the propositions they have embodied in the Amendment, they ought to be the foremost supporters of the Bill if they wish to preserve this so-called national property. I venture, however, on behalf of the Government, to traverse the proposition absolutely that the tithe is national property. What are the arguments put forward this evening in support of that proposition? The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. S. Rendel), who is, at least, as much an alien in Wales as the Church, put forward as his argument in favour of regarding the tithe as national property, that if it was not national property Parliament would not be legislating about it. But does not the hon. Member see that that argument goes rather too far?
§ MR. RENDEL
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I referred undoubtedly to the fact that the Government are legislating for tithe in a manner which shows, according to my interpretation of their action, that they base their legislation upon the principle of its being national property, and I referred in particular to the third clause as justifying that statement.
§ MR. RAIKES
That may have been the meaning the hon. Gentleman intended to convey, but I took down his words, and what he did say when dealing with the question of tithe being national property, was, "On what other ground could Parliament be justified in dealing with the tithe?"
§ MR. RAIKES
Just so. Well then I wish to point out that if the fact of Parliament 325 dealing with tithe constitutes it national property, then the whole of the property of all the railway shareholders in this kingdom is national property. We may take another instance. This House has dealt in a very drastic manner with the property of Irish landlords, but it has not yet gone so far as to say that landed property in Ireland is national property. I think we must really have a better argument than the fact that Parliament is proposing to legislate upon the question to justify the extreme assumption that tithe is national property.
§ MR. RENDEL
I beg pardon for again interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but I must respectfully submit that I have not put forward so absurd a proposition as that merely legislating on the subject of tithe makes it national property. I have pointed to this legislation alone. I quite agree that it would have been an admirable preamble to the Bill to say that tithe is national property, but I have never stated the proposition which the right hon. Gentleman attributes to me.
§ MR. RAIKES
I pass to the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman the member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan). He says he has always believed tithe to be national property since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) in 1869 referred to the property of the Church of Ireland as having been always the property of the nation, and spoke of the clergy of the Church as being only the medium through which the property was administered. This may be all very well for those who found their faith on the ipsi dixit of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, but it does not appear to me to be sufficient. We have to go further back to get at the point. The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. S. Smith) has told us that this became national property because it was so ordered by Charlemagne, but I am not aware that the laws of Charlemagne were ever current in this realm. I demur to this being considered national property. On the contrary, every one who examines the history of tithe foundation will find it was specially and entirely given for religious use. It was given to the parish in each case. It has never been national property; it has always been parochial property. It has never been 326 given to the State, and it never formed any part of the property of the State. I must apologise for stating these self-evident truths; but so much sophistry has been employed during the Debate that it is necessary to clear the air by downright assertion, which I challenge anybody to controvert. Well, hon. Gentlemen opposite have tried to minimise the disturbances which have taken place in Wales, but they have not been able to altogether make away with them. They have told the House that Mr. Justice Wills made a certain declaration as to distraint for tithes; that there is nothing unlawful in subjecting oneself to distraint for tithe. Of course not; the unlawfulness begins with resistance to the process of law for the recovery of tithe. A man may refuse to pay any debt, and there is nothing illegal in that, but he acts unlawfully when he resists the legal process by which it is sought to recover the debt. It is because unfortunately, in the Principality of Wales chiefly, there has been a disposition to resist the recovery of just debts by legal process, and this resistance has been carried so far that it has been found necessary to consider how the law may be amended, and amended in such a way as to preserve property of the greatest possible value to the Church, to which it now belongs, and which would be of the greatest value to the nation if the nation is ever prepared to confiscate it; which will at the same time not give undue advantage to tithepayers, while reserving the rights of tithe owners, yet tending to make the payment of tithe somewhat more easy, to relieve those who pay it, at least in some degree, by the mode in which it is paid. That is the position of the Government by this Bill, and this is the principle underlying every measure on the subject introduced during the present Parliament. I, for one, do not regret that we have been obliged from time to time to postpone consideration of this question, and I think our opponents are fairly entitled to the credit of having by their criticism enabled the Government to bring in the Bill in a form which is admitted to be less objectionable to them. The Debate has been conducted almost wholly by Welsh Members, and particularly by younger Members of the House. It is 327 always interesting to have a Debate conducted almost entirely by new Members, but I may in a friendly manner warn those hon. Members that if they continue to sit here, as I hope they may, 25 years hence they may find some of their speeches delivered in their hot youth rising up in judgment against them when the speakers, of to-night are of more matured views, and have had longer experience of political life. Some of the speeches made this evening rather smack of the platform than of utterances we are accustomed to associate with debate in the House of Commons. I do not wish to criticise in an unfriendly manner speeches of gentlemen who have come in hot haste from their constituencies. I am glad they should come here and ventilate opinions where they may be met with argument and subjected to criticism from an independent Press, which is not bound always to justify to the letter everything said at a Welsh meeting, provided it is spoken in the vernacular. A point has been made as to the absence of violence during the last few months in the unfortunate differences which have arisen in Wales, and I am glad to admit that there has been a less exhibition of violence in Wales during the last few months. I was particularly struck by the observation of a Welsh Member, who said that there were no people in the world who would so readily maintain the integrity of the tithe as the Welsh, provided it was destined to some Welsh object of which they approved. It seems to me that might be said of any person who wishes to make free with his neighbour's property. He can always pretend to respect the integrity of that property when he gets possession of it. If a man takes a sovereign from my pocket it is poor evidence of his honesty to tell me that he is prepared to preserve the integrity of the sovereign, and will only devote it to purposes of which he thoroughly approves. But admitting there has been rather less demonstrative violence displayed in Wales during the last few months against the collection of tithe, a very important reason for this seems to have been overlooked by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Have they considered that the violence which has occurred on former occasions has greatly deterred the clergy from endeavouring to enforce their just rights? Have they 328 not the frankness to admit that it has been made really impossible for the clergy to face the expense of recovering what is justly theirs? I will venture, in connection with this, as hon. Gentlemen have endeavoured to minimise the sufferings inflicted on the clergy, to give some figures quoted by the President of the Board of Trade when moving the Second Reading of the Bill last Session. Speaking on March 27, my right hon. Friend saidIt is impossible to obtain full statistics because they can be obtained only from individual tithe owners, who would be reluctant to state their losses lest they might be made a ground for additional losses in future. But I have the facts with regard to 75 parishes in the diocese of St. Asaph, and I will state them to the House. In those parishes during the two years 1883 and 1889 a sum of £38,918 of ecclesiastical tithe was due. Of that sum £10,230 remains unpaid, and £3,000 has been expended in compelling payment of the rest. Now, I can show that that non-payment has not been due to a general inability to pay, but that the tithe has been purposely withheld in large proportions in individual cases. Of these 75 parishes in 42 between 10 and 20 per cent. is unpaid; in 19 parishes between 20 and 30 per cent.; in 7 parishes between 30 and 40 per cent.; in 4 parishes between 40 and 50 per cent.; and in 3 parishes between 50 and 60 per cent.That is evidence of the tender solicitude for the poor rural clergy so touchingly attested by many hon. Gentlemen in the course of the Debate. It has been observed by hon. Members opposite that the poor clergy of Wales ought not to starve because they belong to such a rich community. The hon. Members opposite think it right to take away from those poor clergy that which is legally their due in order to make them the recipients of charity. That is what hon. Members opposite call charity and that is what they call honesty. I think it is well this should receive full consideration. We have heard hon. Members declare that the objection is to the payment to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and to Christchurch, Oxford, but there is no disposition to refuse payment to the poor rural clergy. Why, then, has all this terrible suffering fallen on the rural clergy? Christchurch can take care of itself; the Ecclesiastical Commissioners can take care of themselves. It is upon the weak and defenceless humble clergy of Wales that the blows of these defenders of the integrity of tithe fall with merciless severity. I, for one, should 329 be extremely ashamed to come forward as the apologist of such proceedings as have taken place in Wales during the last few years. The hon. Member for Flint says that only a few ignorant people have ever thought that they could get out of payment of tithe altogether, but I am inclined to think there are rather more of that opinion than he would have us suppose. What is the meaning of the title of "The Anti-Tithe League" if it does not mean that the Association is formed for the purpose of getting rid of the tithe altogether, instead of for merely altering its destination? How can those who, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Osborne Morgan), know perfectly well everything that takes place in connection with the "Anti-Tithe League" stand up and profess that they and their friends are actuated by the desire only to divert the tithe to some other purpose, when they know what Mr. Gee has been teaching and preaching in the County of Denbigh for years? I hope now the air has been cleared that the Bill will be considered on its merits, and I almost cherish the hope that the hon. Member (Mr. Stuart Rendel) may, after what has been said, see that it is quite possible for him to retain his own opinion and yet not refuse a Second Reading to the Bill. He will have an opportunity of bringing his question forward on the Preamble. I hope that this Bill will be considered on its merits, and that, notwithstanding the sham fight with which the Government is threatened, when the measure gets into Committee this very useful and practical piece of legislation, which has received the approval of the great majority of this House, will speedily become law.
§ (11.15). SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
The Postmaster General has brought against my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the representation of Wales what is a very serious charge in an assembly of practical men—that this Amendment is not applicable to the Bill. The Amendment is a Welsh Amendment; the Bill has its origin in Welsh causes. The Bill is a remedial measure for Wales, and we shall see how this remedial measure is regarded by Representatives from Wales, and I must own that I doubt whether the speech of the Postmaster General—a speech which I am bound to 330 say was marked by those deep feelings with regard to Church questions we know the right hon. Gentleman has held through life—I doubt very much whether that speech will commend the Bill to the people of Wales. Now, this Bill is brought in to apply to the whole country over which in England and Wales the Church exists. It affects the whole country, but the causes are from Wales, and from Wales alone. If England were only concerned, this Bill would be utterly uncalled for, and this point I earnestly desire to press upon hon. Members. If England alone were concerned, there would be no reason whatever for the Bill. No argument has been given to show that in England there is any reason for altering the process of getting in the tithe because in England there is no moral or religious difficulty whatever in the payment of tithes. I do not refer to exceptional cases, such as those in which members of the Society of Friends and others are concerned, but in England the difficulty consists, wherever there is a difficulty, in there being little or nothing from which to pay tithe—the inability of the farmer of the land to meet the payment of tithe. Now, that difficulty is very much greater than the Government have been willing to confess. I am sorry the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Gray) did not devote a greater part of his speech to giving us instances of the very practical suffering that exists in some parts of the Eastern Counties. Under the original Corn Laws when exceptional advantages were given to corn growers, great breadths of country were laid down under corn, which in these Free Trade days have gradually passed out of corn cultivation until what remains can no longer be cultivated with profit; but nevertheless the land bears the weight of tithe, because it bore corn in the old days, when the price of corn was high. I have it on the authority of a newspaper which both sides recognise that there are six farms together in one county—Wilts, I think, where the tithe together amounts to fully half the rent. The difficulty in England is inability to pay the tithe; and this Bill does nothing worth mentioning to aid the farmer, the landlord, and the small yeoman occupier. What does Clause 3 do? When the tithe rent-charge amounts to two-thirds of the 331 annual value of the land under Schedule B the tithe shall be reduced. What is Schedule B? It is the gross rent of the land. Now, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman opposite are there many estates in England so happily situated that all the expenses of management, including building and fencing, do not amount to 33 per cent. of the gross rental? The experience of my friends in different parts of the country is that before the fall in rents the expenses of management were 25 per cent., and now they are 33 per cent. Therefore the expenses practically represent the 33 per cent. or third which is to be deducted under the third clause from the gross value; so that the concession made by the Government is that the tithe rent-charge shall not be reduced until the whole of the net rent is taken up in paying it. So far as England is concerned, there is no need for the Bill, and it gives no relief to the tithepayer and no advantage to the tithe owner; but in Wales there is the religious difficulty; there the farmers are unwilling to pay for the support of the religion of a rich minority by these tithes, which constitute the entire religious endowment of the country. It is said no arguments have been adduced to show that the tithes are national property. They are undeniably public property, and therefore they ought to be devoted to public purposes in which all are interested, and not to public purposes for the benefit of only a section of the public. In free and representative countries, when difficulties arise, the custom is to consult the people or their Representatives. Now, my hon. Friend has brought forward his proposal for dealing with the difficulty to devote this money in Wales to the general purposes of Wales. The Government, on the other hand, press forward their solution in the shape of this Bill. We are now going to a Division, and it will be interesting to look at the Division List to see how many of the Representatives of Wales and of Monmouthshire are satisfied with the solution of this question proposed by the Government, and how many prefer the solution suggested by the Amendment.
§ (1.30.) The House divided:—Ayes 224; Noes 130.—(Div. List, No. 4.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for to-morrow.332
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)
I hope it will be possible to take it to-morrow after the Irish Land Bill.