§ Order for Committee read.
§ *(8.35.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
I rise to move the Instruction to the Committee of which I have given notice, and which in substance is similar to that I moved on the Motion for Committee on the Bill last Session. 597 I had hoped that the Government would have made such modifications in this Bill as to have rendered this Instruction unnecessary. Unfortunately, though the Government have made certain modifications, for example, the redemption scheme does not find a place in the present Bill, and the provisions in Clause 3 are modifications, yet our expectations are disappointed, and the changes do not embrace every aspect of the question as we desire they should. On that account I have to give a few reasons why this Instruction should be supported, though after the discussion of last Session it is not necessary for me to enter at any length into the details of the question. Last Session the Attorney General in the course of debate on this Instruction gave one or two reasons why it could not be accepted. Speaking of corn averages, the main question we desired to deal with under cover of the Instruction, the Attorney General said—Her Majesty's Government are ready to give effect to any such scheme by practical legislation as soon as it can be devised, but,he went on to say, and this was the reason he opposed the Instruction,If the Instruction is passed, it will enable hon. Members to load the Bill with an unlimited number of Amendments.No doubt from his point of view there was a reason for opposing the Instruction, but it does not hold good now, because the Government have undertaken to refer the question of redemption to a Commission, and this question of revision might also be referred to the same Commission. If such an undertaking is given, I shall be glad to withdraw the Instruction, but I see no sign yet that the Government intend to take that course. On Monday I asked the President of the Board of Trade, with regard to the Commission to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded, whether the question of corn averages was to be referred to it, and the right hon. Gentleman said he spoke simply of referring to the Commission the question of redemption. Then this afternoon my hon. Friend (Mr. Gardner) put another question, and obtained a similar answer—that the Commission would only refer to the subject of redemption, and the right hon. Gentleman added that naturally the Commission 598 would have before it the existing state of things as affecting different parts of the country, but the Commission would have these facts before it just as the Executive Government had when preparing the present Bill. Well, there is no satisfaction in that. If the Commission is confined to dealing with the question of redemption only, why not exclude the whole question of revision? I do not wish to dwell on the causes which render revision necessary. I pass to one or two points bearing on the Instruction, and ask the Government to consider the position in which we are now placed. After an experience of 50 years the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 has been found to operate most hardly in the corn-growing districts, especially in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Kent, which four counties pay £1,000,000 a year of tithe, or about one-fourth of the whole tithe of the country. I shall not touch upon the Welsh part of the question, for that is entirely different. In Wales apparently there is no great desire for revision. As affecting Wales, the question is one of principle, and when this part of the subject was debated on Monday, we supported Welsh Members in their contention that tithe is national property. Reciprocally, I hope we may claim the support of Welsh Members in this English part of the subject when we show that the English agricultural classes labour under very serious grievances, which the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 professed to remove, but as a matter of fact has done nothing to minimise. Whether the tithe is Church property or national property, devoted now to Church purposes, it will be made much more secure if the grievances of the tithe payer are removed in time. If, on the other hand, you allow these grievances to remain unredressed and to grow in magnitude, then in the long run it will not be a mere question of temporary revision such as is contemplated in the Instruction, but there will be danger to the existence of the tithe as a property at all. It is no doubt the intention of Her Majesty's Government that this Bill should not impose any personal liability, but it would be satisfactory if the Attorney General would assure the House that by no effort of legal construction could this be interpreted out of the Bill.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON
If it can be pointed out that this is not touched by the Bill, then there is one reason in support of my Instruction and a revision. If the Bill is merely for the benefit of the tithe owner then it may be asserted that the benefit to the tithe owner ought to be counter-balanced by a recognition of the claims of the tithe payer. There is another question—whether under Clause 3 it would be possible for the tithe payer to obtain an abatement in the case of tithe exceeding two-thirds of the annual value of the land without proceedings having previously been taken against him by the tithe owner in the County Court. If that is the only way in which the tithe payer can obtain a remission, I venture to think that in few instances will an abatement be obtained. The quiet easy-going tithe payer, reluctant to put himself in a humiliating position, will obtain no abatement. The tithe payer who makes a great outcry about his position, who refuses to pay, and who acts in what may be called a lawless manner, or at any rate in a manner not conducive to good relations with his neighbours, will obtain a remission. The construction which may be put on the provision in Clause 3 is that the remission cannot be obtained except in cases in which proceedings have previously been taken by the tithe owner through the Court; and if that is the case, then there is a clear case for this Instruction. What the tithe payer wants is not the opportunity of making an appeal ad misericordiam but a system by which his grievance will be redressed when it can be shown, and this is not provided by such a process as I have indicated arising out of Clause 3. There is a case for establishing some automatic system by which the remission may be obtained. We want to know whether in particular cases scattered over a wide area or parts of the country there is such an unjust system at present prevailing, in consequence of the operation of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, as to call for the operation of some such system of remission, either by the House or by a Commission to be appointed. As to Corn averages, I think that there is apparently no indisposition on the part of the Government to grapple with that 600 subject. If that is the case, then why not refer the question to the Commission which is to deal with the question of redemption? Surely it is a sufficiently cognate subject to refer to the same Commission? I fail to see any adequate reason why corn averages, which deeply concern the payment of tithe, should not be referred to the Commission which is proposed to deal with redemption—the two subjects are so interwoven that you cannot separate them. In regard to corn averages, two points came out clearly before the Committee on the subject which sat upstairs, and I fail to see why some practical act on cannot be devised by the Redemption Commission, why the Redemption Commission should not endeavour to deal with the sale and resale of corn; and with the other and perhaps wider difference which exists between the system which was employed by farmers more than 50 years ago, when they sent all their corn, good, bad, and indifferent, to market, and that of the present time, when they send only their very best corn; why the price on which the average is taken should not be the price the farmer gets, but the price recorded after the best corn has passed through several hands by process of sale and resale. I venture to think that the Government ought to refer the whole of the question of revision to the Commission which they propose to appoint. If they cannot hold out any hope or make any concession, I am afraid that it may be necessary to press this Instruction to a Division. If, however, the Government make a concession on this point, or if they enlarge the scope of the reference to the Commission, then our work will have been performed, because it will be made clear that the question of revision is not alien from the task, to which a Commission on Redemption would devote itself. I appeal to the Government to make this concession in time. It is a concession urgently needed in the Eastern and Southern agricultural districts, and not only there. The Government proposals are inadequate and incomplete if they simply deal with redemption. I trust the Government will accept the suggestions I offer, and include this question within the scope of their Commission or accept this Instruction to enable Amendments to be moved in committee
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide for an equitable revision of tithes in accordance with the altered conditions of agriculture."—(Mr. F. S. Stevenson.)
§ *(8.54.) SIR JOHN SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
I would like to call the attention of the House, and more particularly that of the President of the Board of Trade, to the fact that not only is this tithe question rampant in the Eastern counties to which my hon. Friend has more particularly referred, but in the five Northern counties, all of which at the time of the great European War were growing corn. After Waterloo the greater portion of the land was allowed to go away to weeds. Then, 54 years ago, at the time of the Tithe Commutation Act, tithe was exacted on the lands which still remained under grain cultivation. Since the repeal of the Corn Laws, in 1846, nearly the whole of this remnant has passed out of cultivation. Tithe owners have done nothing to reclaim the land, which was thoroughly exhausted by constant corn growing, but the right hon. Gentleman argues that if we begin to revise the tithe we may be raising the value of tithe on grass lands. I traverse that statement, because tithe owners have had no more to do with making the land productive than Irish landlords have done for their tenants' farms, nothing at all. The land would be almost valueless at this moment, and I speak from 25 years' experience of growing grass, for anything the tithe owners have done. You may look over one side of a hedge anywhere and see land worth. 5s. or 7s. 6d. an acre under grass, and on the other side you will find land worth £3 or £4 made so simply by the capital and industry of the owner or occupier, or both. Tithe owners have no right to any increase in the tithe, because they have incurred no risk, and have invested no money in draining, in lining, or manuring. That was settled 54 years ago, and now all compacts then entered into are to be torn up, arrangements, between tenants and landlord to be upset, and the latter is to be placed in the invidious position of collector for the clergy of the district. Well, what do you give in return? The right hon. Gentleman has made much of the remission provided by the third clause, 602 that if the tithe exceeds two-thirds of the value there shall be a remission of the excess. But this is a mere fragment of the whole question. Then we are told by the President of the Board of Trade that this is only the beginning of the tithe question, and that the Government intend to have the tithes commuted. But how are you to get at the value of the capital sum which is to be borrowed by the tithe owner except by this Bill, which increases the value of the tithe 25 per cent.? I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman has tried to sell his tithes? If sold now, tithes may bring 17 or 18 years' purchase, but after this Bill is passed they will bring from 25 to 27 years' purchase to the owner. If we then object to the commutation proposals, we shall be told we are too late and should have settled this point when this Tithe Rent-Charge Recovery Bill was before the House. I maintain that the Government are establishing a false basis for the redemption of tithe. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman is aware that a large portion of the tithe in Durham and Northumberland goes to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I do not think it will make it more easy for them to collect if this matter is placed on a false basis; a hardly-driven bargain, all one side, has never been found to work smoothly. Her Majesty's Government are tearing up contracts and increasing the security of tithe, making it a first-class security equal to the rates, and yet they give nothing in return, but the promise, of a remission of the excess over two-thirds of the annual value of the land. I do not think a more one-sided bargain has ever been brought before Parliament, and I think it will not be found easy to work in future years.
§ (9.1.) MR. H. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
I wish to say a few words in explanation of the vote I am about to give. If I thought this Bill had been introduced or was intended as a final settlement of the question, my vote would be given for the Instruction, because I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eye in most of his remarks, and also in what he has said of the altered condition of agriculture. In 1836, when the Tithe Commutation Act was passed, this country had not embarked upon that unhappy fiscal policy which has 603 crippled, if it has not absolutely ruined, that industry which gentlemen on both sides profess to consider the most important of British industries—I mean agriculture. Had it been anticipated that such a terrible fall in prices, and such terrible damage to the agriculture of the country, would have followed, I cannot think that we should have had the tithe imposed upon the owner as it is now. I am well aware that the question of re-valuation is one of enormous difficulty; in the opinion of some, and I believe of the President of the Board of Trade, it is one of insuperable difficulty. I, myself, believe that in the re-valuation of the tithe will be found the only solution of the question. I am sorry to hear from the President of the Board of Trade that nothing is to be referred to the Commission but the question of redemption. I had hoped, and still hope, the right hon. Gentleman will enlarge the scope of the Commission, and adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Eye as to the inclusion of the question of re-valuation. I do not, however, think that these considerations need occupy our attention at the present moment, nor do I say that my voting against the Motion to-day will prevent me from supporting a proposal for the consideration of re-valuation and re-adjustment, if it is made on a fitting occasion, from whatever quarter it may come. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, stated that this was not a measure for the appreciation or depreciation of tithe, but for facilitating its collection and making the owner, not the occupier, responsible for its payment. As these are two good objects, and as the effect of the Instruction would be to kill the measure, I shall give my hearty support to the Bill. I must, however, say—and in this I speak for a great many agricultural Members in the House—that our support will be a great deal more hearty if the Government feel themselves able to adopt the Amendment of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden, which is regarded as of great importance.
§ *(9.7.) MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
I cannot understand why the Government do not feel themselves able to accept this Instruction, and I am sure many hon. Members will be disappointed that the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade cannot see his way 604 to include within the scope of the inquiry by the Royal Commission the question of the re-valuation of tithe. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider his decision, and I am sure that if he does so, and will refer the question of revision to the Commission, my hon. Friend will withdraw his Instruction. I have never been able to understand why, on both sides of the House, there is such a fear of revision of tithe. I will go further, and say I do not understand why there is so much fear of a reduction in the total amount of tithe in the present depressed state of agriculture. I disagree altogether with the hon. Member for Leicester. I do not understand why, if the burden of tithes is unjust, it should not be alleviated. Whether the tithe is Church property—as the Party opposite hold that it is—or national property, neither the Church nor the nation ought to desire to derive from it a revenue which is unjust. It is perfectly clear that when the settlement was made in 1836 the present state of things was never contemplated. It is not quite correct to say that tithe is an absolutely fixed amount like a rent-charge, because the Act of 1836 provides that it shall vary according to the septennial average. No doubt, when it was provided that there should be a septennial average, based on the prices of wheat, barley, and oats, that very basis was established for the purpose of making the charge absolutely fair. But we must all know that the septennial average on wheat, barley, and oats is not now a fair one. The relative prices of these descriptions of grain have changed, and there is a just demand for revision of tithe, even if it is only to alter the products on which the septennial average is based. In many ordinary cases the tithe bears so heavily that it is called a second rent, and it falls practically upon the tenant farmer. The cause of its bearing so heavily is to be found in the depression which has occurred in the agricultural industry. In one of the parishes I have the honour to represent—Bilton, near Rugby—the tithe was apportioned in 1841. A valuer was sent down from London, and he went to work in a very haphazard way. He, as I am informed, went on the land, inquired of the labourers what it was likely to produce, and what was likely to be the value of the produce, and he apportioned the tithe accordingly. 605 What has been the result? Why, that fields adjoining one another, having exactly the game quality of land and the same tillage, have to pay tithe of 4s. an acre, 6s., 8s., and even 10s. an acre. It comes to this, that in that parish, land—in respect of which the owner pays the tithe—produces to him 23s. rent, and he has to pay 10s. worth of tithe. In 1841, when the apportionment was made, corn, I believe I am right in saying, was 64s. 4d. per quarter. A gentleman who happens to be an owner of land in that parish—a good Conservative, I believe, and supporter of Her Majesty's Government—writes—I think it is framed,speaking of the Tithe Act,in the interests of the clergy and with no regard to those of the tithe payer. If the tithe had been re-apportioned there might have been no necessity to sue the landlord in the County Court. But this Bill enables the parson to get his pound of flesh, whether it is just or otherwise.…. To exact from the land the proportion of tithe now which used to be paid when corn was double the price, is, to my mind, dishonest and arbitrary. This Bill will not settle the matter. It will only embitter the laity against the clergy, and, perhaps, cause the latter to be less esteemed generally.The Bill itself contains provisions for the revision of tithe, as it says that where the tithe amounts to two-thirds the annual value of the land it shall not exceed that amount. This, however, will only touch very exceptional cases. Some hon. Member said the other night that he did not suppose there were 100 cases in the whole country where the tithe exceeded two-thirds of the annual value. I do not know about that, but we can see that these cases dealt with in the Bill must be very rare as compared with, the great majority of cases in which no relief whatever is given. The very essence and origin of tithe is that it ought to bear some proportion to the actual value of the produce of the land, and ought not to be regulated by the prices of other produce which the land does not yield. Well, if that is to be done there should be some revision of tithe, and, accordingly, I shall give my vote to-night for the hon. Member for Eye. I hope that before the President of the Board of Trade moves the appointment of the Royal Commission on the Redemption of Tithe he will see his way to enlarge the scope of the Commission, and include the revision of tithe.
§ (9.18.) MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
I do not believe that there can be any lasting settlement of this question unless the matter of re-valuation is-dealt with. It seems to me, however, that to attempt to include that subject in this Bill would be to kill the measure, as so many measures have been killed before. This Bill is desired in England as well as in Wales, not only by the clergy but by many other people. I hope that the scope of the Commissioners' inquiries will be so enlarged as to enable them to deal with the point to which I have referred. Surely it is ridiculously inconsistent that in one place the tithe should be in excess of the rent, and that it should be far below it in places adjacent. The machinery for re-valuation is ready to hand, and if the Government hold out no hope that the demand for it will be met, great dissatisfaction will be caused. However, as I have said, the question of revision goes beyond the scope of this Bill.
§ *(9.20.) MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
When the hon. Member for Eye moved this Motion last Session the circumstances were entirely different. The Government had brought forward a Bill which did not give satisfactory relief in the direction in which this Bill gives relief. There was no provision in it for dealing with exceptionally hard cases where the tithe is so heavy that it prevents the satisfactory letting of the land. The present measure does deal with such cases, providing for remissions of tithe where the charge exceeds two-thirds of the rental value of the land. There is a good deal of confusion introduced into this Debate by referring to tithe in general terms. There is no such thing as tithe in districts in the sense of a charge or rate of so much in the £1, or so much per acre. Prior to the Tithe Commutation Act in 1836 the tithe was levied in kind. The tithe owner took a certain share of the produce of the land, but the Commutation Act altered all that. According to Sir Robert Peel—The object of the Act was to get a fixed money payment in lieu of tithe, and thus to put an end to the discouragement of agricultural improvements and the demand for increased tithe in proportion to improvements.The tithe rent-charge was put on particular land. It was to vary according to certain corn averages which have 607 had, perhaps, not so large an effect as hon. Gentlemen representing agricultural constituencies desire. Still, they have had an appreciable and important effect on the actual money payments in lieu of tithe. Hon. Members have only to refer to the very useful table issued under the sanction of the Commissioners to show the operation of the corn averages. The operation of the corn averages has largely reduced tithe in accordance with the altered conditions of agriculture. In 1883 tithe was about par price—that is to say, £100 of tithe produced £100 4s. 10d., but under the operation of the corn averages £100 of tithe has been reduced to £78 1s. 9d.—some think there will be a further reduction, to £73 or £72. Therefore, there is a gradual and appreciable diminution of tithe in accordance with the altered condition of agriculture. Lay tithes are sold, not as a right to take tithe in particular districts, but as sums of money payable annually out of particular lands. The people who own these lands bought them subject to the tithe, and the people who buy tithe rent-charge buy fixed sums charged upon and payable out of particular land.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON
There is a deed in every parish which is called the Tithe Award and Appropriation, and that deed, Which is the common property of the landowner and the tithe receiver, their common title deed, in fact, states that on particular parcels of land or on particular farms there is charged not so much per acre but certain sums annually payable. The landowner has bought his land subject to the payment of this annual sum, he has given so much less for it because of its being burdened with this annual charge. What is now proposed in this Instruction is a revision of tithe and a readjustment. What is readjustment? To take tithe rent-charge from land which pays it at present, and put it on land which does not pay it? The question of revision is a different thing. That must mean reduction—making a present at the expense of the tithe owner to the landowner. I sympathise with my hon. Friend when he says that in certain cases the tithe may be so heavy that 608 it may prevent cultivation of the land, and prevent either the tithe owner or the landowner deriving benefit from the land, and that the State should come in as a matter of public policy, and revise the tithe; and as the Bill of the Government deals not only with the collection of tithe, but will give relief in exceptionally hard cases, I shall cordially support it. The tithe owner practically has, under the existing law, the first charge upon the land—[Sir J. SWINBURNE: Produce.] That is a distinction without a difference. That sort of argument would have been very well 50 years ago, but, under the Act of 1836, tithe is now rent-charge, and property has been bought and sold subject to this rent-charge upon the land. It is absurd to argue that the charge is payable out of the produce as having practical application to the consideration of the question. The truth is that, for all practical purposes, this is a rent-charge upon the land. It is a rent-charge, wanting certain conditions and advantages usually associated with rent-charges, but it is none the less a rent-charge. It is true yon cannot sell the land to pay the charge, but you can distrain, and if there is not sufficient distress you can take possession of the land and hold it, and that is a very practical remedy. The Bill of the Government relieves the tenant, and puts the tithe on the landlord's shoulders. To that extent it is a most satisfactory measure. It also provides that, whenever the tithe is so heavy that it threatens to wipe the landowner out of existence, which was never intended by the Act of 1836, the landowner shall have the right to claim a reasonable abatement and so have a share of the land. As a matter of right, I am very much inclined to think that the landowner would have very little case; but it is a concession made, as a matter of public policy, in a generous view of the relations between landowner and tithe receiver. I am very much surprised that my hon. Friends have not received the Bill with cordiality and gratitude. I know that there is a feeling of dissatisfaction in certain districts as to tithe. But this dissatisfaction to a large extent rests upon a want of knowledge of the circumstances connected with tithe, and what are the relative interests in it, and what are the liabilities connected with it. I agree to 609 a very considerable extent with the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, that tithe is public property, and I hope ultimately to see tithe applied to public uses. I look forward to a scheme for the redemption of tithe, which will capitalise the value of the tithe, and fix the capital value upon the land, and so practically get rid of difficult questions and unpleasant associations, while preserving tithe as a national property for public uses. I do not want to see tithe frittered away or destroyed; at the same time I wish to see the charge levied with due consideration. I cannot vote for the Instruction of the hon. Member for Eye, and I intend to vote in favour of the Bill.
§ *(9.38.) MR. C. W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, the rather long speech of the hon. Member for St. Pancras seemed to me more in the nature of a speech on the Second Reading than one confining itself to the Instruction of the hon. Member for Eye. I will not now attempt to traverse his arguments, with which I entirely disagree. I do not think the hon. Member was quite consistent in the speech. He took very high ground as to the first claim of the tithe owner, and as to the tithe rent-charge being on all-fours with a mortgage. But afterwards he did admit that the tithe rent-charge should not leave the landowner without some little share in the value of his property. I think the two ways of putting it are rather inconsistent. The hon. Member for Eye made an offer to the Government in reference to the promised Commission. The Instruction itself is a very clever one; I am sure the speech of the hon. Member in moving it, considering that he sits on that side of the House, was also clever. There was a great deal in it with which I thoroughly agree, but there is a little difficulty in understanding what he means by the word "revision," which may mean a little or a great deal. If it means a re-valuation of the tithe all over England I should not be able to agree with it. I could not stand up in my place and ask, for specific reasons, that the tithe in a particular locality should be lowered, and at the same time not allow, for the very same reason, that it should be increased. The offer of the hon. Member for Eye not to push his Instruction, 610 if the Government would allow the question of tithe averages, in these altered conditions of agriculture, to be included in the reference to this promised Commission seems to me to have put some of us who sit on this side of the House in a somewhat difficult and close place. I certainly think that this question should have some fair opportunity of being inquired into. I think that we who are too well acquainted with those districts where things have become so altered ought to have some liberal and fair opportunity of bringing our grievances before this House, and having our cases put in the Journals of the House. I do not think that the Government can positively exclude some evidence upon these various questions from being put before the Commission. Last year I presented a Petition signed by Members on all sides of the House asking the Government to give us a Commission upon tithe redemption. I do not quite remember the actual wording of that Petition, but I think it asked for a Committee or Commission, in the first place, to inquire whether there was any necessity for redemption, and I take it that that would, at any rate, be part of the duty of the Commission. I do not suppose it would be taken for granted that redemption is really necessary. Having made the preliminary inquiry, I think the door would certainly be open to us to bring up questions such as we have heard raised by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. F. S. Stevenson.) The knotty point for the Commission would be the terms to be set up, and certainly we of the Eastern Counties, where agriculture is so changed, would never listen to any proposal of redemption for the same number of years' purchase to be relieved of the tithe on our lands in Essex as would be given for land that is actually worth more than it was in 1836. I do not see that the Government could prevent a certain amount of evidence being taken on questions of that sort. The hon. Member was good enough to say he would not press the Instruction to a Division if it were understood that the other questions I have referred to should be brought before the Commission. If that should be the case, I trust that some evidence at least will be put before that body as to the position of the 611 farmers of the Eastern Counties in regard to this important subject.
(9.46.) MR. J. ELLIS (Leicestershire, Bosworth)
I have only a very few words to say upon the subject now under discussion, but I desire, on behalf of my constituents and the agriculturists of Leicestershire generally, to say that it would afford them very general satisfaction if Her Majesty's Government would accept the suggestion contained in the Instruction moved by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. F. S. Stevenson). As a born agriculturist the question is one in which I myself have taken considerable interest, and I may say that there is a very strong feeling on the part of my agricultural friends on this subject. They are of opinion that the measure by which the tithe is collected is an unfair measure. If the hon. Member for St. Pancras were right in stating that at the Tithe Commutation of 1836 a certain sum had been fixed and that that was an unalterable sum, I and my friends would have been satisfied, because we do not wish unfairly to lessen the amount of tithe. I agree with the hon. Member that the tithe is public property, and that any unfair lessening of the amount would simply mean the handing over of the sum thus deducted for the benefit of the landlords; but I must repeat that I think the measure under which the tithe is at present collected is an unfair one. At any rate, the subject is one which demands inquiry. I have been familiar with the way in which barley is prepared and dressed for the market for the last 40 or 50 years, and I can state that the alteration which has taken place in the mode of threshing has made a difference in the weight of the barley of two stones in the quarter. The old measure under the system of threshing by hand was 15 stones to the sack, whereas under the present system it is 16 stones to the sack. This, I assert, is one of those things which have affected the amount of the tithe. To many hon. Members this may seem to be only a small matter. But when we have regard to the fact that most of the barley which is grown in Leicestershire and in the Eastern Counties is sent to two or three different markets and that the account is taken first to Huntingdon, then to Leicester, and then to Burton, we have before us a state of things which I think demands some 612 inquiry. I have stated that the measure is not the same as it was in 1836, and that is the view taken by my agricultural friends in Leicestershire. The tithe is not oppressive in that county, because the conditions of farming there are different from those which appertain to Essex. In Leicester we have what is called mixed farming, and under that system the farmer may escape, whereas in the Eastern Counties he cannot escape without paying the full amount of tithe. I do emphatically urge, on behalf of the agricultural tenants of England generally, that the measure by which the tithe is collected should be inquired into. I cannot see why Her Majesty's Government should refuse this request. I say that whatever was agreed to in 1836 was a fair settlement as between the landlord and the tithe owner; but if the measure has been altered in the meantime, as we aver to be the case, we ought to readjust it. I think the Government are quite right in placing payment of the tithe on the landlord instead of on the tenant. That seems to me to be a very simple proposition, and I, for one, am of opinion that half the rates ought to be put upon the landlord in the same way. I am sure the Government will give great satisfaction to their followers and to the agriculturists at large if they will allow the inquiry which is asked for into this matter.
§ (9.52.) MR. D. A. THOMAS (Merthyr Tydvil)
Before this discussion closes, I should like to say a few words upon the question that has been raised. Those who take the same view as myself will either vote against this Instruction or refrain from voting altogether. I have listened to several of the speeches that have been made in support of the proposal, and I have as yet failed to find any argument in favour of the course the hon. Member for Eye proposes to take. In point of fact, we have hardly heard a single word of solid argument in support of the Motion. The view which I entertained upon this subject was well expressed in the course of last Session by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, namely, that the tithe is national property, and I think that we must watch with jealous care any attempt to fritter that property away. Those who support the hon. Member for Eye have been very frank in the expression 613 of their views. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Gray) said that for his part he could not conscientiously support any proposal to re-appraise the tithe, and that the term equitable possession is merely a sounding phrase which, in reality, means reduction. We are not prepared to reduce the tithe. If it be necessary to make any alteration in the charges on the land to meet the altered conditions of agriculture, it should come out of the landowner, and not out of the tithe, which is, really, national property, and when this Bill comes into operation that argument will be still more applicable, because the tithe will be a first charge on the land and not on the produce of the land. Any abatement of the tithe must consequently be an increase on the value of the land to the landlord. This is the reason why, if the hon. Gentleman who moved the Instruction insists on going to a Division, I shall feel compelled to vote against it. We who take this view are the more disposed to adopt this course because we believe that we are within a measurable distance of getting this national property devoted to national purposes.
§ (9.56.) MR. H. GARDNER (Saffron Walden)
I think, Sir, that we on this side of the House who are identified with agricultural constituencies are at the present moment between cross fires, whether from the orthodox cannon of Her Majesty's Government or the bombardment of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras. But I would venture to point out to those who take an interest in this particular subject that, for my part, and that of my hon. Friends who have moved and supported the Instruction, we are quite as jealous of the public property as those who oppose it profess themselves to be. We consider the tithe-rent charge to be national property allocated by the State to a specific purpose, and which may be allocated by the State to a different purpose if Parliament should so decide. Bat we who have some knowledge of the agricultural districts, and have taken some trouble to inquire into this special question, have formed very strong opinions upon it, which are opposed to those of the hon. Members for St. Pancras and Bosworth. If the Liberation Party join with the Church Party in order to wring the last farthing out of the land, it is probable that in the rural 614 districts there will arise an agitation for the abolition of tithes altogether. This is what has already taken place upon the Continent, and our predecessors in bringing on and passing the Commutation Act of 1836 were fully alive to what was then taking place in the South of Europe. Lord J. Russell referred to the case of Austria, where an anti-tithe agitation was then going on. He pointed out that an agitation was then proceeding against the payment of tithe in that country, an agitation which, even at that time was likely to come to a successful conclusion. We know now that that agitation has succeeded all over the Continent, and that successful agitation furnished a sufficient warning to those who are engaged in passing the Act of 1836, which was supposed to include some reduction of the corpus of the tithe. Hon. Members on both sides of the House agreed to that reduction in 1836 because they saw, as some of my hon. Friends on this side do not see at the present moment, that if they did not agree to pay a tithe they were likely to lose that portion of the national property altogether. It is absurd to call this a landlords' question. [Cries of "Question!"] I feel sure the House will admit that I am applying myself distinctly to the Instruction, which is the question now before us. Hon. Members say this is purely a landlords' question, but let those hon. Members go down to the rural districts and hear what the farmers have to say on the subject. You may tell them that it is theoretically and logically a landlords' question, but you will never convince the farmers of the Eastern and Southern Counties or any of the corn-growing districts, that the money comes directly out of the pockets of the landlords, and not out of the produce of the land. In other words, they believe that an excessive tithe is a hindrance and injury to agriculture, and not a mere matter of debit and credit on the landlords' bankers' books. I support the Instruction of my hon. Friend for this reason, that I am certain that any revision of tithe must include a preliminary inquiry as to whether a revision is necessary or not. One special argument that has been put before the House on the present occasion has never been answered by any Member who has spoken on this subject, and I am assured that the agricultural constituents 615 would very much like to hear some definite and distinct statement of the Government upon it. In my opinion, the great argument for any inquiry into the Act of 1836 is this, and it goes to the vital principle of that Act, namely, if we can show that our predecessors were wrong in calculating what should be taken as the measure on which the tithe rent-charge should be valued, we must admit that we have gone into the central principle of the measure of 1836 in order to make out some of the grounds on which we say that the inquiry asked for should be granted by the Government. The argument is this, that by the choice of the three cereals—wheat, barley, and oats—in the Act of 1836 it was intended that the tithe rent-charge should in the future be a fluctuating amount, in the same way as tithe in kind had fluctuated in the past. And that contention is borne out by the speech of Lord Lansdowne—to which I have referred—on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Tithe Rent-Charge Bill in the House of Lords. And if it be true that the three cereals were taken because it was the intention of the framers of the Act that the tithe rent-charge should in the future fluctuate, it must be obvious to the House at the present moment that the mode of taking the corn averages as proved by the evidence brought before the Committee, and as recognised by everyone who understands agricultural matters—is utterly and entirely wrong. If the tithe rent-charge is to fluctuate according to the produce of the soil, you must take the whole of that produce. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade shakes his head at that argument, but let us take the converse way and see how it works out. If the three cereals were not chosen in order that the tithe should fluctuate as it had done in the past, why, then, were they selected? We are told it was because they Considered at that time that the three cereals would be less fluctuating in the ratio of exchange of other articles than money. In other words, our predecessors in 1836 imagined that money—that gold—would depreciate in the future as it had done in the past, and they imagined so with some reason and justice: for as we have been reminded by the hon. Member for Faversham, the iniquitous Free Trade Bill had not been 616 passed, and at that time, too, they had no idea that giant steamers would travel across the ocean with cargoes of corn, and accomplish the journey in a few days. Therefore, they thought that though the population of the country might increase, the value of corn would not decrease, though that of gold might do so. What has happened? At the present moment is there any sound financier who would take corn as a stable standard of value? Absolutely the reverse of what was anticipated by our predecessors who carried the Act of 1836 has come about. If you say it is wrong that the corn averages were intended to fluctuate as the tithe had fluctuated in the past, or, if you take the converse of the proposition, that the three cereals were chosen as the stable standard of value, you will see that the conclusion is utterly wrong. These are arguments which should receive some answer from the Government. If either of them be true, then it is obvious that the Act of 1836 has failed in a very vital principle. The fact of the matter is, that Her Majesty's Government have stood on very firm ground as long as they called the Act of 1836 a solemn covenant, but as they have chosen to open it without being asked they have lost that sound basis. Having done so, they cannot deny that the question of having some inquiry is, at all events, deserving of attention.
§ *(10.9.) SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
It has been suggested that this Instruction has been brought forward in the interests of the tenant farmer, but I think I can show from experience it is nothing of the sort. I believe it is absolutely in the interests of the landlord. We were told just now that land is not affected by the payment of tithe. The fact is, that as a result of the passing of the Extraordinary Tithe Redemption Bill, which made the landlord liable for the extraordinary tithe, the tenant simply asks the landlord what the rent is, without going into the question of what that tithe is which the landlord pays. That has been the case with regard to extraordinary tithe, and it will happen in this case also. Therefore, I think it is in the interest of the tenant that this Instruction should not be carried. The Government have determined to examine into the question of redemption; and, for my own part, I do not 617 see why the landlord should not be allowed to redeem this tithe, with which he alone is concerned, as he has been allowed to redeem the extraordinary tithe. The working of the Bill for the redemption of extraordinary tithe has been of immense advantage to the tenants, and if the Government follow the course they have promised, equal advantage will, I believe, accrue from the redemption of the ordinary tithe. I do think, then, that the adoption of this Instruction can only do harm to the tenant.
§ (10.15.) MR. A. J. WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, W.)
As I had the honour last Session of seconding the Instruction which the hon. Member for Eye has again moved, I venture again to address the House upon this very complicated subject. But I will not occupy the time of hon. Members more than a few minutes in explaining my attitude in regard to this Instruction. If I thought for one moment that the revision of tithe was going to reduce the aggregate value of what in Wales, at all events, we look upon as national property, I should not support the Instruction, but I am convinced that it will not have that effect. If I understood the Instruction to mean simply that you are to go into the question of the amount of tithe now payable in such counties as Essex, Suffolk, Hampshire, and Wiltshire, which are suffering, as I think unfairly, through the methods of taking the proportion of the produce of the land to be paid, I would not vote for it; but I understand it to be a question of a re-consideration of the way in which averages are at present taken, with a view, if necessary, to the entire re-valuation of the country as regards this taxation. Surely it is not unreasonable to say that if you begin to tamper with the Act of 1836 the Government ought to include in the inquiry which I understand they are prepared to grant, the whole question of the present tithe averages. Such an inquiry would satisfy the country. Last Session the President of the Board of Agriculture made a significant statement when he warned the House that if an Instruction were accepted with reference to the over-burdened corn-growing districts in the East of England the consequences might be rather awkward for the whole of the tithe paying owners throughout the kingdom. I cannot help thinking 618 that that may be the reason why the Government are not prepared to extend this inquiry. I should like to point out that if the averages were based on wheat alone, the value of £100 tithe rent-charge of 1836 would now be £59 13s.; if based on meat alone it would be £133; if on meat and wheat together it would be £96; while if on wheat, meat, barley, and oats, instead of £59, it would be £93 6s. I cannot help thinking that if we went thoroughly into the whole question before a Royal Commission, it would mean this, that the tax upon corn-growing areas throughout the country would be largely reduced by spreading it over the whole produce of the land.
§ (10.21.) MR. PICTON (Leicester)
My hon. Friend who spoke last is apparently in favour of the creation of a new tithe altogether. I think that that is a totally unacceptable idea. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden concluded his speech by saying that the Government were tampering with the settlement of 1836. I cannot acknowledge that for a moment. They are simply enforcing what was understood in 1836, namely, that the landlord should pay the tithe. But my hon. Friend, in order to press on the Government the necessity for making this revision, dealt with the very great changes which have taken place in agriculture in modern times. It was just because the statesmen of 1836 felt that changes were coming on that they sought to make a settlement once for all which need not ever be disturbed. It is well-known, that the tithe owners at that time thought they were making a great surrender, for they naturally expected that agriculture would improve, and that that improvement would lead to an increase in the value of the produce. But Lord John Russell and other statesmen held at that time that any increase in the value of the produce of the soil should be equally divided between the farmer and the landlord. That, indeed, was the effect of the settlement of 1836, and it, therefore, seems to me that the arguments as to changes in the system of agriculture are irrelevant. My hon. Friend asks for an inquiry which is to result in what he calls an equitable revision of tithes. Does he mean lowering the tithe in one place and raising it in another? We all know that the raising of it is impossible, 619 and therefore what my hon. Friend means is simply a reduction of the tithe. I maintain that the nation owns the tithe, and that to reduce it would be simply to rob the nation of it, and against that I must most emphatically protest. We have heard a good deal about this being a burden on agriculture. But is it a burden on agriculture to put a charge on the landlord? Of course, if you put a specially unfair charge on the farmer I can understand its being a burden on agriculture. But that is not the case with the landlord. If the landlord's interest in the land does not yield him a legitimate return for his capital then he can make the land over to the public. It is not necessary for him to hold it as a losing concern. Regarding the Amendment of my hon. Friend as a movement towards the reduction of tithe, which I contend would be a robbery of the nation, I shall certainly vote against it.
§ *(10.28.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICKS BEACH, Bristol, W.)
I do not think I ever listened to a Debate in which the proposition before the House was so conclusively negatived on its own merits by those who supported it. The Motion is that it should be an Instruction to the Committee that they should have power to insert clauses in this Bill providing for an equitable revision of the tithe in accordance with the altered conditions of agriculture. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that before this Motion was placed on the Paper its supporters had some definite idea as to the way in which they would carry out their views, and were prepared with clauses for that object. But now the hon. Member who placed the Motion on the Paper, and the hon. Member for Saffron Walden who supported it, indicate that what they really want is an inquiry into the matter. I confess I cannot understand why the Member for Saffron Walden, if he desires an inquiry and is not prepared with clauses, did not move the other day the Motion of which he has given notice. The hon. Member's speech to-day was an echo of what he said on Monday. The whole pith of it was a desire for an ideal revision of tithes. The hon. Member for Suffolk has repeated the speech he made last Session and on Monday, and I do not think, therefore, 620 it is necessary that I should deal with the arguments of these two hon. Members at any length. It seems to me that the Instruction is a deliberate attempt to kill the Bill. They want to be able to overload the Notice Paper with Amendments upon every conceivable subject relating to tithe, and so to make it impossible to carry the Bill through Committee in any reasonable time. The Bill is smaller than that of last year, and deals solely with an alteration in the liability for tithes and the mode of recovery, and to raise upon it all those questions that have been previously debated would, I think, be an abuse of the forms of the House. Among those questions is, first, that of the mode of taking cornaverages. If any hon. Member desires to alter the present mode, and will submit any practical proposals on the point to the House, they will receive fair consideration. But I am bound to say I cannot see how anyone can ascertain the market value of corn that is never taken to the market at all, or how it would be possible, considering the great difficulty that is now felt in obtaining Returns from dealers in corn, to alter that system for one under which it would be necessary to obtain Returns from a different and a far larger class of men, namely, the farmers, who sell corn in the first instance. Then there is the question of the proportions of the different kinds of grain which form the subject of the corn averages, and of these cases of special apportionment, owing to which it may happen that one field may have a tithe rent-charge of 10s. per acre, and another next to it only 5s., or 2s. 6d. Next comes the question of revision, which in the view of the hon. Members for Suffolk and Saffron Walden means solely a lowering of the tithes. But, as has been pointed out, if equitable revision means anything it must mean not only the lowering the tithe where it is too high, but raising it where it is too low. That would involve the re-opening of the settlement of the Act of 1836, a course which no Commission would recommend, and which no House of Commons would sanction. If hon. Members want the tithe lowered in cases where there has been great depreciation in the value of land, that is precisely what we propose to do in the third clause of the Bill. If hon. Members are dissatisfied with Clause 3 as it stands, 621 which provides for revision in certain cases, let them move Amendments to carry out their wishes, and their proposals will be considered. The Government look on that matter as one to be settled by the House on its merits, though when the time comes I shall be able to defend the proposals of the Government. We are asked if it would be possible to carry out the provisions of the third clause in relief of the tithe payer without application to the County Court. Of course it would be. The tithe payer can show his assessment to the Income Tax, and if that shows that the tithe is more than two-thirds of the value of the land, no tithe owner would be such a fool as to appeal to the County Court. I do not suppose that in nine cases out of ten there would be any necessity to appeal to the County Court at all. The pith of the Debate has been in the demand for an inquiry. What hon. members seem to desire is that there should be a sort of general and roving inquiry into all the questions I have referred to, including, of course, the subject of the equitable revision of tithes, but I must say at once that the Government are not prepared to assent to such an inquiry. They do not believe that an inquiry into the equitable revision of tithes would lead to any practical result. They believe that the depreciation of agriculture which they deplore ought to be met by temporary relief in the way proposed by the provisions of this Bill. But although the Government propose strictly to confine the inquiry by a Royal Commission to the subject of redemption, yet I entirely agree with what was stated by the hon. Member for Maldon, that an inquiry into the question of redemption must also have regard to the special circumstances of the tithe rent-charge in each particular case. Last Session we proposed to abolish the existing law with regard to redemption, and to enact that the Board of Agriculture should, in certain cases, with the consent of both parties, fix the price at which the tithe rent-charge should be redeemed, and that in fixing that price they should have regard to certain considerations of much the same kind as those taken into account by the Commissioners who carried out the Act for the redemption of extraordinary tithe rent-charge. One of those considerations was 622 any such increase or decrease in the proportion between the annual value of the tithe rent-charge and the annual value of the lands out of which it issues as might affect the security of the rent-charge: and this is a point which, in my opinion, must necessarily come before any Commission dealing with the subject of Redemption. I will not detain the House any longer, and will only further express the hope that the House will reject, by a decisive majority, the Instruction, which is meaningless, because its promoters could not carry it out, and which can only be intended to defeat the Bill.
§ (10.42.) The House divided:—Ayes 68; Noes 203.—(Div. List, No. 9.)
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1,
§ (10.54.) VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N. E., Darwen)
I would ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he cannot tell the House precisely when the consideration of the Bill in Committee will be resumed, or give an assurance, at any rate, that the Government will proceed with the Bill and pass it into law with all dispatch.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday, 22nd January.