§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *(4.33.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH,) Bristol, W.
In calling the attention of the House to this subject, I think I need hardly preface my remarks by reminding the House that it is a question of so difficult and complicated a character, and one that excites so many different interests, that no Government would willingly press it as we have continually pressed it upon the attention of Parliament without being convinced that there is urgent necessity for the amendment of the law. But in the observations I shall make I do not intend to address my arguments to the present appropriation of the tithe. The right hon. Member for Mid Lothian has said that we should carefully sever in our minds those questions which relate to the present appropriation of the tithe from those questions which relate to the tithe itself. This is a Bill which relates to the tithe itself. We have no intention of dealing with questions which relate to the appropriation of the tithe. That appropriation we hold should continue as it is at present. With regard to lay tithe, whether it belongs to individuals or Corporations, I will say that it rests upon as good a title as any other property, and it could be no more equitably applied to public purposes without compensation to its owners than could the watch in the pocket of any Member of this House. In the case of ecclesiastical tithe we hold that it is not national property in the sense of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea; we hold that it is the property of the Church or of her ministers, held by her or by them in return for certain religious services for the benefit of the nation at large, and that Parliament has no right to devote it to other purposes. I do not expect many hon. Members opposite to agree to that view, but at 40 least they will, agree with the words of their leader when he said that the tithe itself is a property which ought to be respected and preserved, with due regard to the rights and position of all concerned in the administration and use of it. That it should receive that consideration and respect from those who hold it to be, as he holds it, the national property, and that in giving it that consideration we must take care that in our disputes about modes and circumstances we do not allow it to be frittered away. Whatever opinion we may hold as to the proper destination of tithe, this, at least, is not susceptible of argument to the contrary, that it is now a debt legally due from the it the payer to the tithe owner, and I cannot understand how anyone can argue that it is right that the payment of a debt which is legally due should be withheld because the debtor does not agree with or approve the purpose to which his creditor will apply the money if it is paid. Now, I perceive with surprise that the hon. Member for Leicester, of all the Members of this House, has placed on the Paper a notice for the rejection of this Bill, because I read some words of his the other day, in which he expressed the opinion that it is the duty of those who regard the nation as ultimate landowners to keep a firm grip on that part of the rent which was accepted in 1836 as an equivalent for tithes. What I would, submit is that he is not keeping a firm grip on the tithe under the present state of the law. I wish I could put before the House full statistics of the amount of tithes unpaid in Wales alone during the last three years. But it is impossible to obtain such 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 1888 and 1889, a sum of £38,918 of ecclesiastical titne 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' 41 Of those 75 parishes, in 42 between 10 and 20 percent is unpaid; in 19 parishes, between 20 and 30 per cent; in seven parishes, between MO and 40 percent; in four parishes, between 40 and.50 per cent; and in three parishes, between 50 and 60 per cent. I will not dwell on the hardship to the clergy of this state of things. I am alluding, as the House will understand, simply to ecclesiastical tithes. I will not dwell, I say, upon the hardship to the clergy, although I think I should remind the House that in the case of the Welsh clergy no one can say that they are wealthy, grasping, or hard landlords; no one can say that it is their fault —if it be a wrong to any one that the Church is established. They are poor men, at any rate; men of small private means; men who have devoted their lives to the Church in the faith that the law will secure to them a small but an adequate subsistence; and it seems to me a strange Christianity which passes by, without regard to the suffering of such men as these sufferings which have in some cases come very near starvation—and which would refuse to them the payment of their legal due, not from inability, but from very much less worthy motives. I do not know whether I shall be told that the proportion of tithe unpaid, after all, does not amount to much. I would say this, that the example of non-payment is very infectious, and if it is allowed to continue I feel quite sure of this, that it will be so widely followed that the funds from which hon. Members opposite expect to derive in future great things for Wales will become little more than a voluntary rate, and will gradually disappear. Now, can that be a result which hon. Members below the Gangway desire to promote? I can understand their objection to the present appropriation of tithes; but I cannot understand their opposing a Bill which does not touch the present appropriation of tithes, but which simply desires to secure that they will continue to be paid. The hon. Member for Leicester may think that he is doing a good deed in endeavouring to deprive parsons of their tithe, but the result will be that the tithe of which they are deprived will not long remain in the pockets of the tenant-farmers. It is absolutely certain that when a farmer has contracted to pay tithe 42 rent-charge and declines to fulfil his obligation when he is able to do so, some other person will soon offer a higher rent to his landlord, that farmer will disappear, and the tithe will go into the pocket of the landlord. Is that the result which the hon. Member for Leicester desires? 1. can understand that the Liberation Society will praise him for opposing the Bill, but any praise of theirs will be outweighed by the condemnation those in favour of land nationalisation will bestow upon him for making over to the landlords a property which belongs neither to the owners nor occupiers of the land, and which his great predecessor in spoliation, King Henry VIII., took very good care they should not have after he despoiled the monasteries centuries ago. If my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea could have his way to-morrow, if he could by a stroke of the pen devote ecclesiastical tithe to those educational purposes which he had at one time in his mind, or to those large and vague financial purposes which he now seems to threaten the House with, I would still see sufficient reason and necessity for the measure of which I am moving the Second Reading. This matter is not only a Welsh one. No doubt it is only in Wales that those disgraceful riots and disturbances, that open resistance to the payment of tithe, which seems to have been copied from Irish models, have occurred; but in other places besides Wales there is a strong and mistaken feeling in the minds of tenant-farmers that the tithe is a burden on them, owing to the fact that under the existing law they are made parties to a transaction between tithe owner and tithe payer, in which they have no real interest whatever. The Tithe Commutation Act intended tithe to be paid by the owner of the land; and it is, perhaps, no wonder that the system which has been so widely adopted has led the tenant to believe that he bears the burden of a charge which certainly ultimately in any case must fall on his landlord. The object of the first part of the Bill, therefore, is to carry out the principle which I think was accepted with unanimity by the House last August, and to impose the liability for the payment of tithe directly on the landlord. An occupier will not in future be liable to the payment of tithe, and will be free, 43 where the land is let, from being harassed by distraint for it. The liability will be, in all cases, on the owner, to be enforced by a Receiver appointed by the County Court. When an occupier has contracted to pay tithe rent-charge before the beginning of this Act, the tithe rent-charge paid by the owner will be added to the rent until it is otherwise agreed between him and his landlord. I do not think that anyone can contend that this is not a change which is to the obvious advantage of the tenant-farmer. In the present state of the land market he is able whenever he likes, practically, if the arrangement which the Bill provides is considered by him to be unfair to himself, to make a fresh arrangement with his landlord; and as everybody knows during the past 10 years there have been numerous instances throughout the country where tithe, having been formerly paid under an agreement by the tenants, the liability by mutual agreement has been transferred from the tenants to the landlord. Of course, the change will be an advantage, generally Speaking, to the tithe owner for obvious reasons, but it is one, as I think, which the House will see involves an alteration in the security for the tithe. At present the security for the tithe, now that the occupier is liable, is the stock or produce of the land. That stock or produce, being the property of the occupier, and not of the owner, can no longer be security when the liability is placed directly on the owner, You must maintain, I think, the principle of the Tithe Commutation Act, which was that no personal liability should be imposed on anyone for the payment of the tithe. You must also maintain what was practically the principle of that Act, that nothing should be liable to the payment of tithe except that which arises out of tithe able land. Therefore, maintaining both those principles., it is proposed that the new security fur the tithes shall be that which is the produce of tithe able land to the owner—namely, the net rent. Of course, it is not an easy thing to define what is the net rent of the land to the owner. In previous Bills it was defined as that which the County Court Judge should decide to be the net profit of the year for which the tithe was due, and the Bills provided that that tithe should never exceed that amount. That raised, 44 when examined, several very important difficulties. In the first place, was such net profit that which the owner had actually received or that which he might have received? It is obvious if it was-defined as that which he had actually received during the year it would be open to a landowner, by collusion with his tenant, to remit a, portion of his rent for a time or to postpone the payment of his rent, and thus absolutely defraud the tithe owner of what was due to him. On the other hand, where the land was not let, I should maintain that it would be absolutely impossible to discover what had been the net profit of the land to the owner and occupier in any particular year. You can only discover that by taking an average of years and considering what the land would let for from year to year, because anyone who knows anything about the matter will be aware that it would be perfectly easy so to manipulate farm accounts as to show no profit at all in any one year when a considerable profit might really have been made and put into improvements of stock or improvements on the land. Therefore, we have felt that net rent should be defined practically as the rent which the land would let at from year to year, and taking that view we have felt that the County Court Judge was not the proper person to decide upon it. He may have no knowledge of the particular locality. He is not a tribunal for valuation. The proper authority to decide upon it is the tribunal of valuation for the district, which is the Assessment Committee for the Union.: and, therefore, we have inserted in the Bill provisions under which the tithe-payer can obtain a special rateable value from the Assessment Committee of the Union, and with that special rateable value can appeal to the County Court Judge to reduce the tithe payable by him for that year to an amount not exceeding-the special rateable value of the land on which the tithe is paid. I will endeavour by an example to explain the working of the 2nd clause. Suppose two farms in a parish, each of them let at a rent of £150 a year. Under the ordinary system the gross estimated rental of those two farms would be fixed at £150 each. Suppose one of them subject to tithe of £75 a year. In that ease the gross estimated rental of the titheable farm to the 45 occupier of it would be put at £75 a year, and the tithe of £75 on the farm would be assessed to the owner of the tithe. Suppose the rental of those two farms reduced to £70 a year each, the tithe remaining the same as before. Then the occupiers would both appeal against their assessments, and the gross estimated rental on the same principle would be reduced, that of the tithe-free farm to £70 and that of the titheable farm would disappear altogether; but the owner of tithe on the titheable farm would still continue to be assessed to the tithe at £75. That would be the case under the existing law; but now would stop in the operation of the 2nd clause of this Bill. The payer of the tithe on the titheable farm would appeal to the Assessment Committee to give him a special rateable value. He would prove that he let his farm for £70 a year, although he paid a tithe of £75. They would reduce the gross estimated rental of the tithe from £75 to £70. A deduction of 10 per cent., which is the usual deduction in farms, would then be allowed in calculating the rateable value from the gross estimated rental, and that would bring the special rateable value of that farm to £63. Then the £63, minus any quit rent, would be the sum which the County Court Judge would decide would be the tithe due to the tithe owner instead of £75. I would remind the House that this provision is merely an adaptation of the provisions of the Act of 1836 to the change which imposes direct liability on the owner. Under the provisions of the Act of 1836 where there; is no produce there will be no tithe, and where there is only an amount of produce corresponding to a certain amount of tithe it is all the tithe owner can recover. I believe in those provisions we shall have a change in the law which will be of advantage to all the classes concerned. It will be a fair relief to the tithe payer, but it will also be an advantage to the tithe owner, because it is surely very much better for him to obtain a reduced tithe than to be put to the loss and inconvenience of having the land thrown out of cultivation altogether, or to having to cultivate it himself. It will be an advantage to the public, because so long as there is any rateable value of land at all, so long will there be a reason why a tithe payer 46 should keep it in cultivation, and the tithe will cease altogether in the almost impossible ease of there being no rateable value of the land at all. I would submit to the House that those provisions of the Bill are no more than just to the tithepayer. Many suggestions, however, have been made that they are not sufficiently just, and that in return for the imposition of a direct liability upon the owner of the land some allowance should be made to him by this Bill. Reference has been made in some quarters to the allowance of 5 per cent., which was one of the provisions in the original drafts of the Bill of 1887. I can only say with regard to that that grave objections were made to it at the time, because a general average of that sort would work unfairly in many particular cases. Of course, where it is the present case that the owner of the land pays tithe, as often happens, without any charge whatever to the owner of tithe, it would hardly be fair to charge the owner of tithe with a deduction of 5 per cent. on account of the passing of this Bill. Where the collection from the occupier now costs less than 5 per cent. to the owner of the tithe, as it often does, there also it would seem to be unfair to charge him with a deduction of 5 per cent. on account of the passing of this Bill. Where, as it sometimes might happen, the tithe is now paid by a single large occupier for land belonging to several non-resident owners, and the Bill makes a change in the payment of tithe by those non-resident owners instead of by the single occupier, you certainly could not charge the tithe owner for what is no benefit to him at all. This appeared to us to be a sufficient objection to prevent us from inserting in the Bill the provision that there should be an average deduction of 5 per cent. from the tithe. But a larger suggestion has been made, namely, that there should be some re-opening of the tithe settlement of 1836. I should like to know what is meant by the suggestion. You certainly cannot re-open the tithe settlement of 1836, if you mean by that re-opening the award by which the sum to be paid in each parish by way of rent-charge instead of tithe was fixed as the average sum received for tithe during the preceding seven 47 years, because the data are gone upon which the award was made. But it would be possible to re-open the process by which, under the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, that award was converted into a money payment varying from year to year—I mean the system of corn averages, The Act of 1836 provides that the rent-charge, when ascertained by the award, shall be commuted into a payment varying with the annual value of corn. The suggestion has been made, and it was carefully considered by the Corn Averages Committee of 1888, that this subject should be re-opened, so as to compel the corn averages to be calculated on the first sales, instead of the re-sales of corn, and also to include unsold corn in the average. I believe the latter proposition would be absolutely impossible in practice, because I do not see how you can ascertain the market price of unmarketed corn. As regards the first proposal, I will only say that these averages have ever since the Tithe Commutation Act been calculated not on growers' prices, but on market prices. Market prices must include all expense and profits between the producer and the consumer. But whether these suggestions are feasible or not, I would impress upon the House that the adoption of either of them would amount to reopening the system of corn averages, and that in any such re-opening the tithe owner would have a just right to demand that the whole subject should be revised, and that other articles of agricultural produce, besides wheat, barley, and oats, should be taken into consideration in the calculation of averages, such as meat, hay, and wool. I can assure the House it would be absolutely impossible to alter that system by the insertion of other articles, or by varying the proportions of the articles in any way but one to the advantage of the tithepayer. The only way in which the present system of corn averages could be varied to the advantage of the tithepayer would be by taking the averages solely upon wheat, or in a larger proportion upon wheat than at present. That proposition was made and rejected at the time of the discussion on the Tithe Commutation Act. If it was not just at that date, it could not be held just now, when the proportion of wheat produced in this country to the amount of barley and 48 oats is very much less than it was at the time of the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act. On all these grounds I can hardly believe there can be any real argument in favour of re-opening the system of corn averages. I have this further argument against it: that there is no ground for any proposition which would involve a general or universal reduction of tithe. There is unquestionably in certain parts of the country a very considerable grievance—a grievance with which I sympathise myself most heartily, and a grievance which I can assure the hon. Member for Leicester is not due, as he supposes, to fox hunting, or the preservation of ground game. What is the grievance? It is that in certain parts of England, particularly in Essex and Berkshire, the value of the land on which tithe is charged has deteriorated since the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act more than the reduction of 22 per cent. in the value of the tithe as fixed by the Act. Where the land has deteriorated less than 22 per cent., or where it has increased in value since that time, then, if there is any grievance, it is that of the tithe owner. The only possible grievance to the tithepayer is where the land has decreased more than 22 per cent. in value. I think I have shown that there is no ground for a general re-valuation of tithe. But would a partial re-valuation be possible? The suggestion has been put forward that there might be a re-valuation of tithe in parts of England where the grievance which I have just mentioned exists. What would that mean? It would mean that where the Act of 1836 has given a good bargain to the tithe owner, you should annul that bargain, but where it has given him a bad bargain he should be held to it. It does not appear to me that such a proposal would be consistent with justice. There are tithe owners, like the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Colleges at the Universities, which own tithe in many parts of England; if you lowered tithe on these grounds in some parts of England, surely you ought to raise it where it is less than a certain proportion of the value of the land in other parts of England. But even in individual parishes in Essex and Berkshire; it might be found that one farm in a parish, perhaps through neglect, has fallen very heavily in value, while other 49 land in the parish might have been much improved in value by the expenditure on buildings by the landowner. Would it be fair to the tithe-owner to lower the tithe on the farm which has fallen in value, and not to raise it on the farm which has improved in value by reason of the owner's investing his capital in it.' But would it be fair to the tithe-payer to raise it on the land which has increased in value? It would be most unjust towards the landowner, who, relying on the settlement of 1836, and the abolition of the growing tithe, has invested his capital in improving his land. There may be a change in the circumstances of agriculture some day. I devoutly hope there will be, and that the value of land will go up again. If you reduced the tithe now on land which had fallen in value, ought you not to raise it again if the value of that land increased? If so, have you not struck a fatal blow at the principle of the abolition of the growing tithe, which was the great advantage of the Tithe Commutation Act, and which was more beneficial to agriculture in this country than anything else that has been done by it? It may be asked, "Is there anything in this Bill to meet the grievance of the tithepayer?" That brings me to the part of the Bill which relates to redemption. Provisions as to redemption, I think I shall show, are a boon to the tithepayer as well as the tithe owner, and may be a special boon to those parts of the country most affected by agricultural depression. We have not thought it right to propose anything like a compulsory or universal redemption of tithe. I do not believe that is desired by the tithe owner or the tithepayer at any price which an impartial tribunal would award as a fair price to the parties concerned. What we have thought it right to do is so to alter the law as to afford to either party desiring to redeem, every facility that can he granted for the purpose consistent with justice. The law with respect to tithe redemption in ordinary cases at the present time allows the Hoard of Agriculture, if they see fit. to order the redemption of tithe under 20s. a year at a price equal to 25 times the commuted amount, on the application either of the titheowner or tithepayer; and the redemption of tithe over 20s. a year at a price not less than 25 times the commuted amount, on the joint application 50 of tithe owner and tithepayer, with consent of the Bishop and patron, where the tithe owner is the incumbent of a benefice; and it makes no provision which would enable the tithepayer to arrange to pay by way of instalments the capital sum fixed for redemption of the tithe. The provisions of the law with regard to redemption at the present moment are a dead letter. The Land Commissioners, to whom the Board of Agriculture have now succeeded, inform me that they did not think it fair to enforce upon the tithepayer the redemption of the small tithe at a price 25 times its commuted amount; and with regard to the redemption of the larger tithe it is obvious that with £100 tithe at the price of £78, and no allowance for rates and taxes, very few tithepayers would care to redeem at the commuted amount. What we propose in lieu of the present system is this —to abolish the limit of 25 times the commuted amount, and to allow the Board of Agriculture to fix the price in cases below 20s., or in the case of building land. In the case of lay tithe of a higher amount than 20s., the duty of the Board of Agriculture would be simply to sanction any agreement the parties might arrive at. In the case of ecclesiastical tithe over 20s., their duty is proposed to be the same, except that, in accordance with the precedent of the Globe Lands Act, 1888, they may overrule the objections of the Bishop and patron on satisfying themselves that the redemption is for the permanent benefit of the benefice. Now. I would call attention to an important provision in Clause 10. In deciding on this, and in fixing a pries for the redemption of the tithe, the Board of Agriculture will have regard, not as now to the commuted amount of the tithe, but to any increase or decrease on the current year and the six previous years, in the annual sum payable on account of tithe, which is, of course, it very different thing, and to the amount of rates and taxes charged on it during that time for which no allowance can be made now—not to any fixed number of years' purchase, but to the circumstances of each particular ease, and especially to any such increase or decrease in the proportion between the annual value of the tithe rent-charge and of the land its may affect the security of the tithe rent-charge. The principle upon which these provisions 51 are based is this that you cannot fairly settle this matter on a system of averages. You must deal wish the redemption of tithe as the commutation of tithe was dealt with, according to the circumstances of each particular case. Where the rates are low, and the amount of the tithe in proportion to the annual value of the land out of which it springs is low, so that the security is good, of course, in such a case the price of redemption would be high. But in those cases in Essex and Berkshire to which I have alluded, where the rates have become, owing to the depreciation in the value of other property in the parish, a tremendous burden on the tithe owner, and are now very high, and where the amount of the tithe, perhaps, almost swallows up the value of the land out of which it springs, so that the security for the tithe is very much reduced, there obviously the price of the tithe would be very low. The proposition is that each case shall be judged on its own merits. Now, I quite admit that redemption in each case is to be voluntary on both sides. But the sensible tithe owner would surely consider the risk he runs from the diminution of security and the increase of his rates, and would consent to redemption on fair terms, even though it might be at a comparatively low price. I need not dwell upon the advantage to the tithe owner and the tithepayer of increased facility for the redemption of small tithes or of tithes payable on land which is to be divided into small plots for building or other purposes. A small tithe is a nuisance to the tithepayer, and a great source of trouble and expense in collection to the tithe owner, and obviously it is the interest of the tithe owner to redeem such tithe on a very much less number of years' purchase than 25 years, which is now the minimum fixed by law. The tithe on land to be cut up into small plots for building or other purposes certainly ought to be redeemed in the public interest. It is not well that the owner should sell the land to a number of small freeholders, charged with little payments of this kind, of which the purchaser may be absolutely ignorant when he agrees to buy. We have inserted in the Bill provisions for enabling the tithepayer, where redemption has been agreed upon, to provide the capital sum for redemption in a manner 52 which shall be easy to himself. Where lay tithe is concerned he will be enabled to charge his settled estate, or other estate, with a capital sum or with an annuity for its redemption. Where the tithe is ecclesiastical tithe he will pay the price of redemption by annual payments for 50 years, of 4 ¼ per cent. on the capital sum to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. They will form a Tithe Redemption Fund: and out of it they will pay interest at the rate of 3⅜ per cent. on the redemption price to the owner of the tithe which has been redeemed. I do not think I need enter into the minor details of the Bill: and I have really to thank the House for the patience with which they have listened thus far to what, I fear, has been a dull exposition of a very complicated subject. What I would say with regard to the redemption scheme is this: I think I have amply shown that the law with regard to redemption does require amendment, and we have made proposals which, in our judgment, will be fair to both the parties concerned, and which shall also secure that the tithes shall not be frittered away. I do not suppose for a moment that our redemption scheme is perfect or incapable of amendment, and we shall receive suggestions for amendment, from whatever quarter they may come, with perfectly open minds, provided only those suggestions are just to the interests of both the parties concerned and to the interests of the public. I doubt whether it is possible, on any subject which excites so much interest as this, to propose a Bill which shall meet with universal approbation; I am quite sure it is impossible to do so on the tithe question; but this, at any rate. I may say, I make no objection whatever to the opposition with which this Bill has been met. I do not care for the opposition of those who oppose the Bill because they want to make the payment of tithe as difficult as possible, in order to injure the Church, or of those who think that they find in this tithe question a useful lever, as it has been called, for upsetting the Establishment, and wish that that lever should be kept in the hands of the people. Nor of those who are the foes to all property, and are trying to delude some unwary landowners into believing that the foundations of one kind of property 53 can be weakened without injuring those of all other kinds of property. When I come to the criticism offered by tithe owners on one side and tithepayers on the other, I am very much disposed to set one against the other. When I am told by the Tithepayers' Association that this Bill is entirely in the interests of the tithe owner, I turn, on the other hand, to a letter which I read the other day from an indignant tithe owner, in which ho described the Bill as anInhuman measure of simple spoliation, furnishing fresh evidence of the general decay of principle which threatens the very existence of society.I say these criticisms may be setone against the other, and in the middle of them I find reasonable safety. I commend the Bill to the fair judgment of the House as an attempt to do justice to both sides, and to the interests of the country at large, and as a measure which, in our belief, if it should become law, will have this beneficent operation—that it will put an end to a mistaken grievance which is the main source of the strength, if not of the existence, of a lawless and dangerous agitation.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ (5.28) MR. PICTON rose——
§ *MR. SPEAKER
In point of form, other Amendments on the Paper will take precedence of that of the hon. Member.
§ No other hon. Member rising,
§ MR. PICTON
said: Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman has taken a sanguine view of the safety of a middle course in a case where "Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, volleyed and thundered." No doubt the question is a complicated one, and last Session the leader of the House promised that it should be submitted to a Joint Select Committee of both Houses, so that it might examine and report upon the complications to which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded. That would have been a reasonable course, and it would have been especially reasonable and wise if the noble Lord, who has presided over a meeting of the Tithe Question Association, had been appointed chairman of the Committee. The right hon. gentleman 54 has quoted something I have written, but he misunderstands my position. It is because this Bill relaxes the hold of the nation on the tithe, juggles with it, and turns into a portable form the nation's property, so that it can be easily carried off hereafter, that I, for one, strongly object to the Bill. No doubt the tithe is legally due from the tithepayer to the tithe owner, but it is likewise the property of the people of this country in general. I am anxious it should not be taken away from them, and I am anxious it should not be lessened in value. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the case of Wales. Wales will have much better exponents of her cause than I can pretend to be, and yet such is my sym pathy for the Principality that I cannot help making some remarks upon the case of Wales. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the 75 parishes in the diocese of St. Asaph, where, out of £38,000 of tithe that is due, £10,000 remains unpaid, and he went on to refer to the strange kind of Christianity that passed by the sufferings of the clergy, which are brought about by this large proportion of the tithe remaining unpaid. In my opinion it is a strange kind of Christianity that leads the members of the Established Church in Wales to allow their clergy to suffer in this manner, and which seeks to throw the burden of the maintenance of the clergy of that Church upon the poor farmers of Wales. The right hon. Gentleman was quite wrong in his allusion to myself. He said I might obtain the praise of the Liberation Society for the course I am now taking. On the contrary, the hon. Member for West Bradford (Mr. Illingworth), who is a distinguished member of the Liberation Society, has expressed his strong-disapproval of my action. Therefore, it is not to the Liberation Society I am looking for praise and encouragement. I look, as I hope to show presently, to the common sense and the substantial interests that are at stake. The right hon. Gentleman has also said that nothing is liable to be taken in satisfaction of the tithe-charge except what is grown upon the land, and that the new Act will carefully preserve that state of the law. I hope to show it will do nothing of the kind. Not only will the produce of any particular plot of land be liable for the tithe-charge upon it, but 55 that of other plots held by the same farmer, as well as his furniture, will also be liable to make good any deficiency. Instead of abolishing distraint this Bill doubles the power, and extends distraint to the farmer's household goods, as well as to what is growing on the land. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the value of land in Berkshire and Essex has very considerably diminished. So it has, and it is a great shame that in this country, which possesses the richest-and largest markets in the world, the Government should have been so blind to the nation's real interest as to allow the value of land to go down as it has done. I cannot believe that this is an absolute necessity; and, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman himself looks forward to another and a better state of things, when the value of the land may be restored, and the value of tithe likewise. But he wants to sell tithe now when everything is depressed, and when a comparatively low price can be obtained for it. To that extent he will diminish the value of the nation's property. With that policy I entirely disagree. But the Government are evidently puzzled in this matter. This is the fourth Bill they have brought in on this question, and everyone has differed from the rest. This looks like uncertainty, vacillation, and weakness of purpose. The present Bill is no better than any of the others. It is simply an attempt to delude public opinion, which they dare not face. Does it conciliate public opinion on either side? We have the Resolutions of the Tithe Question Association and of the Farmers' Alliance; we have articles and letters in the Mark Lane Express, a paper not much inclined to Liberalism; and we have articles and letters in the paper called Agriculture, and all of them are bitterly opposed to the measure brought in by the right hon. Gentleman. With a, good many of the articles and letters I agree, for my first objection TO his measure is that it does nothing whatever for the relief of agriculture, or for the relief of the farmers working on the land. I am perfectly anxious not to be misunderstood on this point. I am aware that many crude proposals are made which assume that it would be a relief of agriculture to lessen the amount of tithe, or, in other words, to upset the settlement of 1836. I am not of that opinion at 56 all. My method of relief would be very different to that. The Government will not face the real grievance, which is that the tithe system takes out of the land every year a very large sum of money which ought to go towards lightening the financial burdens of the people, but which is devoted to the purposes of what can no longer be considered a National Church. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the tithe is as much the property of the Church as a, man's watch is the man's property.
§ MR. PICTON
Yes; and the right hon. Gentleman denied that tithe was in any proper sense the property of the nation, adding that it was the property of the Church. For the belief that tithe is the property of the nation we have authority. That great statesman, Lord John Russell, in bringing forward the Tithe Commutation Bill in 183G, distinctly stated that the tithe was national property, and no one, either in this House or the House of Lords, has attempted to question the accuracy of that statement. At the opening of this very Session the right hon. Gentlemen who respectively lead on each side of the Table spoke of tithe as national property. No one, as far as I know, differed from them; but I will take the words of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that it is the property of the Church. What is the Church? Will he define the Church of England? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House in what respect the Church of England differs from the English nation? I am a member of the Church of England. I decline to be considered anything else. I was christened in the Church of England, and though I have not very frequently attended its services I have sometimes done so with, I hope, considerable profit. I disavow altogether that I have any desire to increase the difficulty of collecting tithes in order to injure the Established Church as a spiritual and a religious institution. But the Church of England is by law established. I defy the right hon. Gentleman to distinguish it from the English nation. I know the right hon. Gentleman may tell me, as learned professors and distinguished lawyers have done, that he himself is technically wrong in calling tithe the 57 property of the Church, that it is the property of certain Corporations, some Corporations sole and others aggregate Corporations. He knows that is a technical description. He himself says it is the property of the Church. I maintain that tithe is the property of the English nation, considered as a Church; and that if the English nation wills that this property shall be put to other uses, it will never he deterred from acting by the reflection that it belongs to the English nation in its spiritual and not in its secular capacity, and so I do not think that the observation that it is the property of the Church will be of very much avail. Our real grievance is that large sums of money, amounting altogether to no less a sum than £4,000,000 sterling, are taken out of the land year by year and handed over to the Church, which ought to be applied towards lightening the financial burdens of the community. I may be told that this is not the light in which the Tithe Question Association and the Farmers' Alliance regard the matter. But I am not so sure of that. At any rate, I think they are very rapidly coming to that way of thinking, and, if anything will drive them to it, it is certainly the Bill now before the House. They want teaching; they want to understand that if their burdens are to be lightened it can only be done by diverting the nation's property to do the nation's work. The money might be spent in the provision of additional schools, or in the establishment of Agricultural Colleges, which are very much wanted, or in promoting higher education of every kind. I am persuaded that if the people once learn that such application of the property of the nation would lessen their burdens and tend to increase their profits, we should very soon have them on our side in dealing with the relief that is to be given to the occupying tenants and those who toil on the land. The right hon. Gentleman said the Bill will prevent distress, and he based his assertion on the presence of the 1st clause. But under the 6th clause tithe is to be regarded as rent. How do people recover rent? Is it not usually by the process of distress? Would not the same power of distress apply to this tithe rent-charge, which is turned into rent? Suppose a farmer pays £50 rent and £50 58 tithe. At present, tithe cannot be recovered from him except by distraining on the crops growing on the land; but by the 6th clause the £50 will be turned into so much additional rent. He will owe it to his landlord, who, if it is not paid, may proceed by way of distress upon everything the man has got. Therefore, instead of abolishing distress, the Bill makes distress more acute, painful, and dangerous. Besides that, at present the farmer may only be distrained upon by one person, the owner of the tithe; but if this Bill passes be may be distrained upon by either of two, by the tithes owner or the receiver appointed by the County Court. The "receiver" includes the manager, and he will have power, if he thinks proper, to take the farm out of the hands of the farmer. Therefore, I contend there are two parties who may distrain, not only upon the produce growing out of the ground, but upon everything in the stables and houses. I wonder at the boldness of any Government coming forward and saying that a Bill like this is any relief. Again, it is provided that application may be made to the Assessment Committee in order to obtain a special assessment. Just, in passing, let me ask the House if this is not tampering with the nation's property? You are to have the value of the tithe lowered in this insidious manner, and yet nothing would induce the right hon. Gentleman to disturb the settlement of 1836. It can be disturbed all over the country by the Assessment Committee. I have here a list of 18 farms, the letting value of each of which has gone down, in 20 or 30 years, by more than half, and, in some cases, by more than two-thirds, and even more than five-sixths. The tithe, of course, remains the same. I find a case of a farm, which formerly was rented at £1,600, with tithe amounting to £400. The landlord has agreed to let it for £650, the landlord himself paying the tithe. If the landlord goes to the Assessment Committee and obtains a reduction, into whose pocket will the profit go? It will go into the pocket of the landlord-And so landlords get as much as ever they can screw out of the tenants. If the landlords do not get more now, it is only because they cannot. If the special assessments are reduced, landlords who 59 are accustomed to get as much as they fairly can will, of course, get the benefit of the lowered assessment. I hold that the clause providing for appeal to the Assessment Committee will almost invariably operate—and always in times of prosperity—in favour of the landlord, and not of the occupying farmer. Then, says the right hon. Gentleman, there is this magnificent project of redemption. In the Land Commissioners' Report for 1888 I find that an annual amount of tithe, reaching £17,500, has been redeemed for £443,000. What I should like to know is whether on those farms where the tithe has been redeemed the farmers get their land at lower rates? Do they not pay the interest on the money that was expended in the redemption of the tithes? Does the landlord hand over the interest on the money to the tenant? Certainly not, if he can avoid it. Whether the tithe is redeemed or not, the occupier is called upon to pay as much as the land will produce. But when it is said the landlords are made liable, I quite agree in the desirability of that. I think they ought to be more liable than they are now; but, as I have shown, the tenant is liable to the owner. You make matters worse for the farmer by giving the owner a firmer grip of him than he had before. It will be easier for the owner to get at the tenant, and he can do it at less expense. The Amendments which were proposed to the Bill of last year were much better than anything to be found in the present Bill. There the County Court was made a sort of Court of arbitration. That proposal was strongly supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) who, I am afraid, frightened the Government by the way in which he praised it; the result being that the clause has disappeared. Short of such interference as was then projected between the landlord and the tenant there is no hope of helping the farmer at all, except by the devotion of the tithe to the lightening of the burdens of the people. I maintain that that is the proper purpose of the tithe. Prom time immemorial one-tenth has been stopped out of the produce of the land. For whom is it stopped? I know some people will say, "It is stopped for the glory of God." I know no batter way of glorifying God 60 than in serving our fellow-creatures. No one would be so blasphemous as to suppose that the tithe can be of any use to the Almighty. The tithe was given for the purpose of doing good to our fellow-creatures. It was, of course, devoted to certain ornate church services; but, in addition, it was devoted to alms-giving, and to the help and relief of the sick. Why, Sir, the monasteries of old times, though they were associated, especially towards their latter end, with many abuses, were amongst the most beautiful our history can show. They were formed of men professedly, at least, and often really, associated together as brethren for the glory of God through service to mankind. All the tenants of the estate regarded the good brethren as indeed their brothers and their helpers. In all times of application the people went to them for help; in all times of perplexity they appealed to them for advice and were never refused. The monasteries were, at any rate f6r a long time, a source of beneficence in their neighbourhoods; and not merely of spiritual, but of secular service as well. Well, Sir, I say that the tithes which, in former days, were devoted to the use of the monasteries ought now to be devoted to the good works which the monasteries performed as far as those works are consistent with our times. The misuse of tithe in its devotion to a Church which is no longer national is bitterly felt in the Principality of Wales. Those spiritual wants which the mediaeval Church supplied in its own way our fellow-country men in Wales meet by voluntary contributions. They build their own temples of worship, they support their own ministers, and the enormous majority of the people of Wales never trouble the so-called National Church for any service whatever. Whatever the Representatives of English constituencies do, I earnestly hope the Representatives of Wales will fight this Bill to the death, and never be content with anything but the restoration to the people of what is their right. The Welsh people have been far too patient, so patient that they have been looked upon as poor-spirited. I believe that if they had gone the right way about it, the way they have been taught by the Irish Members, they would have had the so-called National Church in 61 Wales disestablished and disendowed a generation ago. Whatever Members may think, the fact is that the feeling in the Principality is becoming beyond endurance. The steam has got up so high that there may be an explosion any time, unless something is done to meet the discontent. Now, Sir, who will have to value the tithe? The Board of Agriculture is to have a great deal to do with it. What is the Board of Agriculture? It is represented in this House by a highly respected gentleman who professes to understand all about rural life, and who is a great authority on sport. But I presume the Board is composed of representatives of the land-owning interest, and I suppose they will see that the price at which tithe may be redeemed is brought down as low as possible. The Bishops are to have a voice in the matter; but I do not think they will avail against the worldly-minded astuteness of the members of the Board of Agriculture. The Board is a very dangerous Body indeed to deal with this national inheritance. Now, to whom is the inheritance to be made over? To the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Who are the Ecclesiastical Commissioners? They consist of two Archbishops, 31 Bishops, three Deans, and 21 laymen. The fact is, that the Commissioners are not a national Board, but simply trustees for a religious denomination. They are a Church Company Limited, and to this company Parliament is asked to make over the enormous capital that may be realised by the sale of tithes. Putting if at a very low estimate, tithes ought to realise a capital of between £00,000.000 and £70,000,000 sterling. It may be said that the transaction is too big to be effected, and that the probability is that the sales will never be carried out. Why bring in the Bill at all if that be so? I must assume that the Bill will be carried out. Just think of the difference between our condition and that of our children if we allow such a Bill as this to be carried out. We have a revenue of about £3,300,000 secured as a first charge on the national land. Our descendants, if this transaction is carried out, will possess some 60 millions in a very portable form, which can be easily carried off. Now, do not let me be misunderstood. Of course, I am insinuating nothing whatever against the perfect 62 honour and high integrity of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; but, after all, what is the duty of a, denominational trustee? It is to do the best he can for his denomination, and in the event of disendowment if the Ecclesiastical Commissioners find themselves with GO millions of Government and other securities in hand, they will, no doubt, feel it to be their duty as denominational trustees to do their best for the Anglican Church. Therefore, I strongly object to making over this property to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who are entirely unfitted by their position to be entrusted with such a duty. I observe that the Farmers' Alliance, on March 10, passed a Resolution to the effect—That no measure dealing with tithe will he satisfactory which does not demand that the redemption price he handed to the County Councils.["Oh."] That shows that, in the opinion of the Farmers' Alliance, the County Council is certainly a more trustworthy and desirable Body to deal with the matter than the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It is said that the land of poor old England is worn out, and only tit for sport. Well, the fact is, the land of this country is no longer the poor man's farm, but the rich man's sporting ground, and until that is altered the land will never be worth more. But if this country has only 10 years of thorough-going Radical Government— not merely Liberal, but pure and unadulterated Radical Government—the value of the land here will be in creased at the very least 50 per cent.; and while the tenants will be better off, the landlords may have reason to bless their stars they have had the Radicals in office; but the makeshift scheme before the House will only hinder such a blessed time, and retard the reform which is absolutely necessary For these reasons, I move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Picton.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."63
*(6.14.) MR. S. T.EVANS (Glamorganshire, Mid)
In rising to address the House for the first time I desire to appeal for that indulgence which the House, in its generosity, always extends to new Members. I should not have ventured to address the House for the first time on a vexed and complicated question like this, except for one reason, and that is the intense interest my constituency, in common with all the other constituencies in Wales, take in the matter. I think it is very evident, from the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, that tin's Bill like the Bill of last Session, is brought forward simply and solely on account of something that has happened in Wales. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by saying that there was urgent necessity for an amendment of the law. I do not know where that necessity has arisen unless it be in the Principality. At the conclusion of his speech the right hon. Gentleman said he thought the Bill should pass, so as to put an end to a mistaken grievance and a dangerous agitation. From this again, it is very evident that the part of the country the Government have in view in proposing this measure is the Principality of Wales; and touching upon something that has fallen from the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton), if I may be allowed to speak on behalf of my Colleagues in the representation of Wales, I will say that it is our intention to do our utmost to defeat this Bill, both upon Second Reading, and also in Committee. I go further, and say that, as Welsh Members, we expect the English Liberals and Radicals to help us, and if we are not so assisted, Wales will have something to say about it. Of course, the Irish Members will assist us, I know. Now, the Welsh people take a very broad view of this matter. They regard tithe as national property, and, holding that view, they are naturally very dissatisfied with the narrowly conceived measure which is now before the House. We are supported in our contention by such an authority as the leader of the House, because in the recent debate on the Address the right hon. Gentleman said—The right hon. Gentleman (the Member for Mid Lothian) referred, in terms which I desire to re-echo, to the question of tithe. 64 He said that tithe ought to he respected and preserved as national property. I re-echo that sentiment, and it will he the effort of Her Majesty's Government to present a Bill to that effect.I do not know whether this measure appeals to the House as one which is going to preserve tithe as national property or not. but to us it does not so appeal. If it is national property, what does the measure do with regard to it? I have said it is narrowly conceived. I use the words advisedly, and I may say I was much amused in reading the debate on the Bill of last Session, to find observations made by a late Tory Member of this House, in which he compared the Bill then before the House to a little mouse. He added that the mouse was "a little animal deserving at the present time of very great care indeed, so that it might be brought to maturity"—I suppose this Bill is the maturity of the mouse of last Session" so as to make it a useful animal not only in England but in Wales. "I admit that this Bill is a little more extended in its dimensions—it might be compared to a rat, but whether it is a rat or a mouse, it is equally objectionable. What does the Bill do? It merely touches the fringe of a very large question, and I think, with all deference to the President of the Board of Trade, it does reopen the settlement made in 1836, when the Tithe Commutation Act was passed. We hear a great deal about needy clergy, and about tithe owners having lost a large part of their property. We have not had the fact stated that since 1836, whereas the value of tithe has been below par for 22 years, it has been above par for 31 years. If the settlement is going to be opened at all it ought to be opened from the point of view of all the parties to the settlement. But this Bill is a Bill to help one party alone, and that party, of course, is the clergy of the Church of England. There is a little given to the landlord, but I think we are correct in saying broadly that the object of the Bill is to give relief to one class, and one class alone, and upon that ground it is a piece of class legislation, which this House ought not to pass. The measure is divisible into three parts. First, there is the remedy proposed for the recovery of tithe, and, again, we have the aid of 65 the County Courts, though not in the same way as was suggested last year. The remedy given is not, as was proposed last year, by suing the tenant, but by making the owner liable, and enabling the County Court to appoint a receiver of the rents and profits of the land. The hon. Member for Leicester has pointed out that whereas the 1st clause in the Bill pretends to abolish the remedy by distress for the recovery of tithe rent-charge, other portions of the Bill heap distress upon distress. If the 3rd clause is passed in its present shape, it will not only be possible to distrain for the tithe, but for the costs, which may amount to 50, 60, or 70 per cent. Then the 6th clause of the Bill, as it stands, will also allow distress; therefore, the grievance as to distress is not done away with at all. There is another grievance which will be inflicted if the Bill passes, and that is that the receiver may also be made manager of the farm. [Cries of "No, no!"] I have read the Bill, and I think if hon. Gentlemen will read it they will say "Yes, yes." As to the remedy, I will merely add that in Wales we have heard a, good deal about Church and State; it seems to me that if the Bill passes in its present form the phrase will be changed into Church and County Court. The second part of the Bill relates to the special rateable value. Under the Bill of last year, the tenant was to pay the tithe, and the tithe owner might more easily recover by suing him. There was to be no relief for the tenant. But this year, when the Government proposes to change the liability for tithe from the tenant to the landlord, the landlord is to have relief. As to the Assessment Committee, I hope that if the Bill gets into Committee the Government will be able to place the decision of the rateable value in the hands, not of the Assessment Committee (a body which does not command confidence, except that of the parsons and landlords), but in the hands of the County Councils. The third part of the Bill is that which deals with the redemption of tithe, and, so far as I can see, it does not commend itself to any portion of the community. We were told by the President of the Board of Trade that he did not propose to discuss the present appropriation of tithe. It is evident to the House already 66 that the discussion has gone into that groove, and in that groove it will remain-But the Bill itself does have regard to the appropriation of tithe, because it says that if tithe rent charge is redeemed the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are to use the redemption value of the tithe for the permanent benefit of the benefice; that is, to establish for ever the present appropriation. It cannot be expected that the people of Wales, who are a nation of Nonconformists, are satisfied with the present application and appropriation of tithe. They might be more satisfied with it if, as in the olden days, a third of the tithe went towards the assistance of the poor. But from the days of that great spoliator—as he was called by the right hon. Baronet— Henry the Eighth, tithe has gone almost altogether into the Church channel. In Glamorganshire £40 a year only goes out of tithe to a charity instead of a third of the whole, as in the days gone by. Let me also draw attention to the fact that out of the County of Glamorgan, £3,000 a year is taken in tithes by the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester. How can it be expected that the people of Wales, of poor little Wales, as the Principality is sometimes called, can be satisfied with such an appropriation of tithe by the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester Cathedral. I venture to hope that the Government, for their own sake, will do with this Bill as they did with their Tithe Bill last Session, that is, withdraw it. I am satisfied that it would be to the interest of the clergy themselves if the Bill were withdrawn. What ought to be done with tithes in Wales is to re-adjust them, and to nationalise them. We have heard of the grievances of farmers in England, but, strange to say, we find no relief in the Bill for them; the proposals are made in the interest of the starving clergy. Weil, I hope the Church is not in such a degraded state as to allow its clergy to starve. I am afraid the Government take their views of Wales too much from the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General. An estimable man and an able administrator he no doubt is, but of Wales he knows next to nothing. I say it advisedly and without offence; more is required than a summer residence in the Principality to understand the views and aspirations of the Welsh people. If, 67 after all, your clergy are starving what a commentary is that upon the conduct of Churchmen. They have had their churches built, and their parsonages and their rectories provided, and yet the rich people of Wales, landlords and merchants, allow their clergy to starve! Nonconformists have not only erected their own chapels but maintain their own ministers, and you hear nothing of their ministers being in distress. If the Government would only look the matter really in the face the decision to which they would come would be this: that the voluntary system which has succeeded in Wales in regard to Nonconformists, would also succeed in regard to the Church. We have no quarrel with the Church in Wales. We do not want to injure the Church; we want to get rid of the Establishment, not of the Church. If the adherents of the Church were to rely upon the voluntary system, and upon the liberality of its own supporters, I am sure we should hear the last of a starving Welsh clergy. I thank hon. Members for the attention with which they have listened to me on this my first time of addressing the House.
§ *(6.35.) MR. GEDGE (Stockport)
I do not pretend to follow the hon. Member for Leicester through his very discursive speech, in which the whole civil and ecclesiastical history of the country was touched upon, more or less, but I feel indebted to him for putting at the close of his observations his objections to the Bill under four heads. To these I will endeavour to make a reply. The first great grievance is this: that the Government do not, as he says, face the real problem before them, that being, in his view, the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the National Church. The hon. Member who spoke last, and whom, though I am not an old Member of the House, I may congratulate upon the clearness and force of his first address, that hon. Member states, following the hon. Member for Leicester, that he has no wish to injure the Church; he only wishes to Disestablish it. Well, whether he would consider it an injury to himself to be deprived of his income, or even of his pocket-money, we can easily guess. For it is not a question of Disestablishment; they care very little for that, the real question is Disendowment, not Disestab- 68 lishment. The hon. Member who wishes the Church disestablished would also have it disendowed, and that he calls doing it no injury ! All I can say is that if any religious body can get on without any income, and finds no difficulty in raising funds to carry on its spiritual work that, is a very fortunate body. I do not believe any body, especially such a body as the Church of England, which carries on its work so well—with some faults, no doubt—can, without great injury to its philanthropic and religions work, be deprived of the income which the piety of our fathers provided for some of our Ministers, for it is only a part who are thus paid, and the large majority are not at all well paid. It seems to me that when the hon. Member quotes Scripture to justify himself in the policy he recommends, I may remind him of another passage of Holy Writ where the refusal of tithe is called a robbery of God. If it was described as a robbery of God in God's own inspired language to take the tithe from the Church then, it is clearly a robbery of God now. If it was possible to rob God then it is possible to rob Him now. The hon. Member for Leicester is a believer in Scripture, as I am, and I ask him how does he show that what was robbery of God then is not robbery of God now? But, of course, we are not hero to listen to lectures on behalf of the Liberation Society. We have had one, but I will not go into that matter. We are told the tithe is national property, and in some sense it is; it is Trust property, and, like other Trust property, and, indeed, like all property, it is in the power of the State to interfere if it is used in a manner detrimental to the State. Our lives and property belong to the State, in the sense that Ave may be deprived of either in the interest of the State. But I deny that tithe is national property except in one sense, except in the sense that every person may call himself a member of the Church. It is true any person in the country has a right to go into the Church, and to require the services of the Church ministers, and on these grounds it is perpectly fair that this national property should be devoted to the maintenance of the Church, because the whole nation is entitled to the services of the Church. Whatever may be going to happen at a future date, at all events at the present 69 time the enormous majority of the people of England and Wales are in favour of maintaining the establishment and endowment of the National Church. When the majority is on the other side then you can do what you like, hut even then I would submit to hon. Members that to disestablish and disendow a historic Church, which has existed for 1,600 years, and whose resources have been largely supplemented by contributions from, its members within the last century—perhaps more was given to the Church in the last century than in all the preceding centuries I say it is a very serious and a tremendous undertaking to disestablish and disendow such a Church. I do not remember the exact words, but I remember the force of an expression used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian not many year? ago, when he stated that to separate Church and State would be tearing from the State its main part, leaving a scarcely recognisable mass. But we are not to come to the Disestablishment of the Church with a light heart upon the Second Reading of a Tithes Bill. Are hon. Members prepared to take up the position that nothing should be done to alleviate any grievance found in the actual working of things in the Church of England because they think it ought to be put an end to, or, at all events, ought to be disestablished and disendowed? Are they going to say that because they wish for a tremendous change, they will not deal with this grievance in relation to the collection of tithes? That is like the practice of the peace-at-any-price party, which refuses to go to war on any occasion whatever. I hope we shall not follow such a policy, but, as practical men, look at the existing state of things, find out where the shoes pinch, and, if we can, make them easier without regard to a tremendous change which may possibly come fat some future time. The Bill, says the hon. Member for Leicester, does no good to the farmers. Well, many tenant farmers have very little to do with tithe payments at all, and they never have except by their own contracts, and where this is the case, the Bill leaves them pretty much in the same position as they are at present. But the existing law does interfere with farmers very prejudicially, and in a manner that has caused a great deal of the present 70 trouble; and on this point it is the Bill proposes relief. The hon. Member says distress is professed to be taken away, but that it is not; it is made worse. But let us look at the matter. The tithe is supposed to issue from the land, and to be charged on the produce of the land. Every landlord, with a few exceptions, has bought or inherited his land subject, to this charge, and, as a matter of convenience, landlords have frequently arranged with tenants to pay it, and instead of receiving a higher rent, including the rent-charge, the landlord receives a lower rent, leaving the tenant to pay the tithe rent-charge. And they have done this on this principle, that tithe goes up and down, in accordance with prices of commodities produced, and so when prices go up it is fair the tenant who produces them should pay rather more, and less again when prices are low. This arrangement has been found mutually convenient. But under the Act of 1836, though the land and its produce are ultimately liable, the tithe owner is not allowed to enforce payment from the landowner until he has first levied a distress on the crops of the tenant farmer, even though he pays a full rent and the landlord may have covenanted to pay the tithe rent-charge himself. Now, that grievance this Bill removes, and the tenant farmer will have a guarantee that his crops will not be distrained upon except he has himself brought himself under that obligation. Where is the hardship? If a man covenants with his landlord that he will make the payment, and if his rent is proportionately less, what hardship can there be? We are net living in Ireland; we are not under a Home Rule Parliament to upset all land agreements; we are living in England or Wales where the law requires all covenants shall be performed. I give it as the result of my legal experience that if a man has entered into a covenant, and has brought himself under liability, the simpler and speedier you make the process of recovery to compel payment the more merciful it is to him. You do not help the debtor by forcing the creditor to go a roundabout and costly process to compel payment, for the cost of this must ultimately fall upon the debtor; the truest kindness is to make the process of recovery sure, simple, 71 speedy, and inexpensive. Therefore, to the extent to which the farmer owes this tithe rent-charge, to that extent it is a boon to him to have the means of recovery as easy as possible. Then there is an objection—it was not urged by the hon. Member for Leicester, but I have read it in a newspaper as an objection, the Bill affords no relief to the tithepayer or to the landlord. But why should there be a relief? If A owes to B and B has to pay, how can A or B get relief, except the one from the other? Both owner and payer, it is said, speak evil of the Bill, and how then can it find approval when it is cannonaded from both sides? But suppose the right hon. Gentlemen had brought in a Bill of which alone the landowner spoke well would not that Bill be open to still stronger condemnation from the tithepayer? The fact is, to use the old simile, you cannot get more than two pints out of a quart pot. If you have a tithe rent-charge payable to the person entitled to it, you cannot give relief except out of the pockets of the one or the other, unless the State intervenes with its credit, as has been proposed in the Irish Land Purchase Bill. Another complaint of the hon. Member for Leicester is that the value of this national property will be diminished by the new process of recovery, that the tithe rent-charge being national property, and put into a more portable form, may more easily be run away with. Let us bring this to a practical test. He was anxious to, what I should call, confiscate this national property, to take it away from those to whom it now belongs for certain purposes and give it to others. Which is easier, to confiscate it when put in a portable form under Trustees and under the control of Government, or when derived from land all over the country? The argument of the hon. Member reminds me of the Roman Emperor who wished that all his people had one neck that might be dealt with by one blow. Those who desire to confiscate should hail this Bill for bringing the property together in a portable form, that the hon. Member and his friends may, if they have the opportunity, walk away with it. He tells us the value will be depreciated because people will redeem the tithe rent-charge, when 72 agriculture is depressed, and he indulges in a prophecy, which I am sure we shall be all grateful to have fulfilled, of an end to agricultural depression and a rise in the value of land of 50 per cent. True, the price we shall have to pay will be 10 years of Radical rule, and I dare say in the next quarter of a century he and his friends may have that period of power—I hope not longer—and if I live to see the result I shall be quite ready to congratulate them on management which has brought about higher rents for the landowners, better profits for the tenants, better wages for labourers, with corn remaining at a low price. But I venture to remind the hon. Member that except in cases where the commuted value of the tithe rent-charge does not exceed 20s. redemption can only take place by agreement between tithe owner and tithepayer, and is it consonant with reason, with even selfish reasons, that the tithe owner will consent to redeem at a period when values are low, and, even if, from personal motives, he does that, does the hon. Member suppose for a moment that the Bishops, whose intervention he scoffs at, are likely to consent to such a redemption? Until prices have risen to a normal condition it is not likely the tithe owner will consent to redeem, and I think the hon. Member need not fear for the national property being taken away because there is the advantage of it being more easily recovered. Better to recover £95 easily than £100 with great difficulty. The hon. Member's last objection is to increasing the power of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. But he should see, if he reads the Bill carefully, that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have, in the sense he means, no power whatever. He objects to the devotion of the fund to Church purposes, but it is by law the Commissioners will be compelled to devote the funds to that purpose, and, whether the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, or the County Council, as he would wish, act as Trustees, they would equally be compelled to comply with the conditions of the law, but as the Commissioners have the administration of other funds for like purposes it is but natural that they should include this duty as Trustees among others. As to the redemption to be paid for tithe in the possession of laymen, I see no such necessity, and I 73 hope in Committee an Amendment may be introduced by which the Commissioners may not have the disposition of money with which they have nothing to do.
§ *MR. GEDGE
I am glad to have that assurance. The hon. Member for Leicester is under an entire misconception as to the duties of the Receiver as to whom he expresses so much dread. He will be a Receiver for the landlord, not for the tenant, and the power to appoint a Receiver is found in every well-drawn mortgage, and, indeed, the recent Conveyancing Acts give the power without the clause. The Receiver will in no way interfere with the tenant's management of his farm; he takes the position of landlord and receives the rent from the tenant. There are defects in the Bill which I hope may be amended in Committee, as, for instance, the special assessment clause. By this clause if the rateable value of the land be less than the tithe rent-charge, then the tithe rent-charge is to be reduced to that rateable value, and that is a boon to which I am not sure the landlords are entitled. Under the Act of 1836 the landowner and tithe owner could, by agreement, exempt certain land in a parish from tithe rent-charge on condition that the charge should be transferred to other land in the same parish. Thus, supposing an owner has 1,000 acres, he could make 600 acres free, and transfer the whole charge to the remaining 400, providing that the latter was three times—not 10 times—the value of the tithe charge. Therefore, it does seem to me that on the principle that you cannot eat your cake and have it too, this special assessment clause confers on all landlords an advantage they cannot claim in such cases. But I very cordially support the Second Reading of the Bill, leaving what I consider defects to be dealt with in Committee.
§ *(7.0.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
As perhaps was inevitable from the course of events, the Bill undoubtedly, from our point of view, shows a certain advance on the measure introduced last year. The Government have been taught by the sad experience of last year to avoid certain pitfalls, and, no doubt, at first blush, it would 74 seem there is a transfer of burden from tenant to landlord. The more closely the Bill is looked into, the less, I think, will it be liked. We find that the measure contains certain clauses relating to redemption. That, no doubt, is a very praiseworthy object; but when matters come to be closely examined, we discover the probability that these clauses, in the case of certain lands -in Berkshire for instance—would produce the result that the tithe might possibly be redeemed at three or four years' purchase, and then this property, in which, as the President of the Board of Trade once said the nation has a reversionary interest, would be largely frittered away. Another, and perhaps the most important proposal contained in the Bill, is that the payment of tithe shall in future be made by the landlord and not by the tenant. That was obviously the intention of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, and no doubt that is in itself a praiseworthy aim; but when one examines the method by which the tithe may be recovered under this Bill, it is seen at once that the tenant farmer is not in reality placed in a position of greater advantage than he previously occupied, because, instead of there being only one process by which the amount of the tithe can be recovered from him as now, he may be subjected to at least two processes. The first of these is that of distraint, which, under the Bill, will still be retained; the second is the new process instituted by this measure—a process of recovery through the mechanism of the County Court agency, by a Receiver who is also to be manager of the farm. The result of these proposals will be to make the tithe more valuable to the tithe owner by increasing the security, while it will at the same time make the tenant farmer's position more difficult. Take, for instance, the case of a tenant farmer who now pays his tithe in the shape of increased rent. Suppose that the landowner becomes suddenly insolvent after the tenant has paid his rent, but before he (the landowner) pays the tithe to the person who is entitled to receive it. What would be the result? After three months the process of recovery in the County Court will be resorted to; and as I understand the Bill, it is possible that the tenant may be compelled to pay the tithe twice over—after having once paid 75 it in the form of increased rent, the Receiver appointed by the County Court might come down upon the produce of the land, and upon the stock of the farm and secure the tithe for the tithe owner——
§ *MR. F. S. STEVENSON
Well, I hope that this point will be made quite clear later on in the debate. All I can say is that, at the first blush, it seems to me that the Bill exposes the tenant to this serious loss. There is one point of view from which it has been suggested this measure may be likely to prove a gain to the tenant. When the tenant leaves a farm at the present time, he must, to some extent, leave behind him an amount of sunk capital, in spite of the Agricultural Holdings Act, and that amount of sunk capital acts as a lever in the hands of the landlord, by which he is able to extort certain terms from the tenant. Therefore, the transference of the payment of tithe from the tenant to the landowner appears in some slight degree—although possibly in an infinitesimal degree—to operate in favour of the tenant. Still, the burden of proof of this remains on the side of those who favour this measure. There is, however, a class which the Act is not likely to benefit. There are a considerable number of freeholders in Lincolnshire, Wiltshire, and other parts of the country, and how, I should like to know, will they be benefited by the provisions of the Bill? The measure increases the security of the owner, and it gives him additional methods of recovering tithe, but no benefit of any kind can accrue to the tithe-paying, land-owning, cultivator. That class is not so numerous as it ought to be, and as I should wish to see it; but still it is a very considerable class, and I must say that this measure will have the inevitable effect of placing additional difficulties in the way of increased proportion of the population of this country becoming land-owning cultivators. I do trust that if this Bill is read a second time these provisions will be carefully examined in the interests of the class to whom I am alluding, and that amendments in their favour will be introduced in Committee. There are other provisions contained in this Bill which will have to be closely scrutinised; 76 for instance, those provisions which professed to give relief to the land in certain exceptional cases where the value of the tithe exceeds the rateable value. I do not see how the Act will benefit those cases in which the tithe comes up to the amount of the rent, or how, in other cases, it will prevent the tithe continuing to swallow up both rent and profits. It has been pointed out by one hon. Member for Wales that had it not been for the grievances in Wales this Bill would never have been brought forward. Though the grievance was very sore in Wales, this measure will not affect Wales most as far as the actual monetary value of the tithes is concerned. The evil is felt in this country to an even greater extent than in Wales. Let us take the Counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Kent. Those four counties, including the amount of tithe payable to clerical appropriators, parochial incumbents, and lay impropriators, and to schools and colleges, between them pay one-fourth of the tithes of all England and Wales put together. In all England and Wales the tithes amount to about four millions. Those four counties pay a quarter—that is, about £993,000. That, of course, shows that the four counties named are very largely interested in the question. How will this measure affect them? There is one portion of the Redemption Clauses by which I think they will be very much affected in the long run, and that is the provision by which the sum of money obtained by redemption is to be handed over to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It is true the Commissioners are to be bound to pay the interest where the sum obtainable from the tithe is expended now, but what guarantee have we that sooner or later a move will not be made for expending that money obtained out of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Kent, in other places than those in which the money is expended now. Whether or not the tithe is national property, it seems to me that the money should not be expended in other parts of the country, but only within the limits where it is now raised. That is, I think, altogether in accordance with the requirements of justice and the needs of the case. If you hand over all the money obtained through the medium of redemption to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, you 77 cease to have any guarantee whatever that that money will not be expended elsewhere.
§ *SIR MICHAEL HICKS BEACH
The price of redemption in each case must be placed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to the separate account of the particular benefice to which it relates.
§ *MR. STEVENSON
If I remember right the interest is to be paid for ever to the particular benefices upon which that money is now expended. I think, however, that most hon. Members will be of opinion that the words "for ever" in an Act of Parliament must be taken with a certain grain of salt. Those words "forever" occurred in 1782, when the Act calling Grattan's Parliament into existence was passed. The words, however, did not mean more than 18 years. What guarantee is there that these words mean very much more in the present instance? There are many counties in which hardly any tithe is paid, and, consequently, very little expended. In the County of Westmoreland the tithe rent-charge of all kinds only amounts to £7,500 a year. It would be obviously unfair that money should be taken, as might ultimately be the case, from the four counties I have previously referred to, and expended in other parts of England. Other considerations have to be met before we can support in full a measure of this kind. It is very desirable to know why the Government have not been able to deal with that wider question of the Corn Averages. I failed to gather from the statement of the President of the Board of Trade any conclusive reason why the House is not to be called upon at the same time to deal with that portion of the question. Is this great question of the Tithe Commutation Act of 18:36 to be opened up mainly in the interests of one of the parties to that settlement, namely, the tithe owner, and not in the interests of the tithepayer, when undoubtedly in certain portions of the country the tithepayer is rightly complaining of certain admitted grievances? A Select Committee of the House of Commons which sat upon the question of Corn Averages did not find any very conclusive reasons against adopting remedial legislation in the direction of improving the method by which these corn averages are arrived at. The grievances on this 78 point are conclusive. There is, first of all the grievance which raises a great deal of interest amongst farmers. It is, that some 50 years ago they were in the habit of sending all their corn to market, and consequently the valuation was taken upon the whole of that corn, whereas now the worst description of corn is consumed on the farm, and it is only the better kind, which is sent to market, so that it is upon the prices fetched by that better kind that the valuation is made. Would it not be posible to introduce some legislative device to deal with that portion of the question? Then, again, there is another question connected with the subject of the corn averages which excites more attention, though it is, perhaps, of less importance than the previous consideration. Corn is bought at small markets by middlemen, and then taken to larger markets and sold at a higher price; and it is upon the second rate that the valuation is taken. Then there is a third, and, perhaps, greater grievance than any other—the taking of a septennial valuation. I think it was urged before the Select Committee, and with a great deal of truth, that in 1887 the value of £100 of tithe rent-charge, calculated on the annual average, amounted to £70; whereas, calculated on the septennial average, it was £84. No doubt there are difficulties in the way of taking an annual average, but there are no difficulties in the way of taking a triennial average. If we are to re-open the settlement of 1836 at all in the interests of the tithe owner, we must, at the same time, re-open the question in such a way as to meet such requirements of the tithepayer as are in accordance with justice and the fitness of things. Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell were both of opinion that the settlement of 1836 was effected for the benefit of the agriculturalists in order to remove restrictions which had previously prevented the free and unfettered application of capital to the soil. Sir Robert Peel, when he introduced his Bill in 1835, said—The object of the measure is to put an end to the discouragement of agricultural improvement and to the demand for an increased tithe in proportion to the improvement of the land.79 In the same year Lord John Russell, in answer to a deputation of his constituents, who petitioned that tithe should he commuted for a money payment equal to one-tenth of the rent, said that tithe was not one-tenth of the rent, but it was a tenth of the produce. He added that he considered tithes to be an institution of a barbarous age. These, then, were the views of the men responsible for the settlement of 1836; and those views, though perhaps they are to be taken generally in connection with the legislative proceedings of that time, also have a more permanent value, because they show distinctly that in the minds of those who were responsible for that settlement, it was regarded not so much as a final settlement, but rather as a temporary settlement with a view to the then existing: state of agriculture. The amending measure of 1839 shows that at that time the Act was not regarded as altogether a final settlement. These, then, are some considerations with which we might expect to be confronted in a. Bill of this kind, and yet the measure contains no provisions of that kind at all. I venture to submit that even from the point of view of tithes being a national property, there is no reason why, because the nation has an ultimate reversionary interest in tithes, grievances should not be remedied. I ventured to submit to this House last year the principle that at the present time it is really the community as a whole on whom the tithes fall as a burden, and for this reason: It cannot be said the tithes fell as a burden on the land-lord, because the landlord has bought his land subject to that burden. They do not to any great extent fall upon the tenant, because if the tithes were abolished to-morrow, they would be a present to the landlord. They do not fall upon the labourer, because the labour market fluctuates according to the law of supply and demand. Therefore, as the tithe does not fall as a burden upon either of these three classes, it falls as a burden on the community at large; and if the tithe is to be abolished, it will be necessary to introduce a corresponding Land Tax in its place, and to impose it for the benefit of the nation. If we acknowledge that the burden falls upon the community and the nation has an ultimate reversionary interest in the matter, it strengthens the argument very 80 considerably for granting to Parliament that power which, I believe, it now possesses of being able to deal with the tithe in such manner as it pleases either by decreasing or increasing it. In the present case, inconsequence of the enormous fall in the value of agricultural produce, there is, undoubtedly, a case in favour of remission and not in favour of any increase. For my part, I have come to the conclusion that the amount of good which may be contained in the measure is very small indeed as compared with the amount of evil, and therefore if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leicester is pressed to a Division, I shall go into the Lobby with my hon. Friend. Of course, I do not mean to imply that I agree with all the hon. Member said; but I do adhere to the conclusion that the tithe is a burden on the community, and that the nation has an ultimate reversionary interest in it, and I submit that there is no reason why we should not deal with admitted grievances when those grievances are found to interfere with the economical resources of the country. Let the House bear in mind what occurred at the time of the French revolution. The tithes were abolished all of a sudden in France, and made a present to the landowners. In that country there is an enormous number of landowning cultivators. But the present was not a permanent one, because a few years later taxation was put on the land to a greater extent than the burden of tithe which previously existed. Does not this bear out my theory that the general community has an ultimate reversionary interest in tithe? I can only, in conclusion, again point out that this Hill does little or nothing for the benefit of the occupiers, and entirely fails to redress the grievances of landowning cultivators, yeomen farmers, and small landowners.
§ (7.28.) MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
I hope that the Bill will become law, as I regard it as an honest attempt to settle this vexed question upon a fair and rational basis. The whole object of the Bill is to throw the burden of paying the tithe upon the landowner, and to excuse the tenant from that burden altogether, and therefore it may well be called a Tenants' Relief Bill. At the present time, as hon. Gentlemen must know, a tenant invariably prefers to 81 take his farm tithe free, and he makes his own terms with his landlord. I believe that the majority of new leases provide for the taking of the farms tithe free. The hon. Member for Leicester has suggested that the reduction of the assessment will prove a boon to the landlord; but surely he knows that the occupier invariably pays the rates, so that he will be the gainer by the reduction of the assessments. Stress has been laid on the proposal enabling the County Court Judge to appoint a manager of the farm in default of tithe payment; hut this is, after all, merely a legal expression. The agent appointed will not manage the farm; he will only be the receiver of the rent under the process. The landowner has certain charges on his land which he in bound to pay: and whatever may be done between two people, one of whom receives and the other pays rant, you cannot benefit one without injuring the other. The hon. Member for Leicester would rather like to injure the landowner in some way; while the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment equally dislikes the Church. This Bill brings the two parties into direct communication by means of the Redemption Clause, and, I believe, with benefit to both. Now, the value of the tithes, roughly speaking, is £4,000,000 a year; and of this the parochial incumbents and clerical appropriators receive £3,000,000, while the remainder is devoted to colleges and schools and lay impropriators. I know that in Wales it is considered a very bad principle that the Church should receive anything at all. But we must remember that this property belongs to the Church, just as private property belongs to the individual. A good deal of friction between the incumbents and the parishioners will be done away with by this Bill. I know that the opponents of the Church dislike this, especially in Wales. In the South Wales Daily News, an August 15th, 1889, appeared the following:Plain speaking La best, and we may plainly say that tithe is a useful lever for upsetting the Establishment, and the people must keep hold of that lever.Therefore, it is quit;' apparent that in Wales the tithe is to be used as a lever for disestablishing the Church. It is said in the Bill that tithe of the value of 20s. is to be compulsorily redeemed. I 82 should be very glad to see that increased to £5. I think there are a number of small freeholders on whom tithe is a burden they would be glad to get rid of, and I hope that this portion of the Bill will be extended to allotments. Where land is cut up into allotments, I think the tithe ought to be redeemed so that it may no longer be a burden. With regard to excess of tithe over rent and redemption, no doubt those two points are chiefly interesting to landowners. It may he a great grievance, hut I think that there are very few cases in which the tithe exceeds the rateable value of the land. In future, wherever that happens, the excess is to be eliminated altogether. That is a strong point, and we must remember that the gross rent is not the rateable value of the land. The rateable value is from 10 to 12 per cent. below the gross rent. Therefore, it is a very considerable reduction in some cases. It is quite fair; and I believe that the tithe owners agree to it, and it certainly will be of immediate benefit to the tithepayer. It has been said, why not fix the redemption value? It has also been said that redemption cannot be carried out because it is an indefinite affair, and that it will be a difficult thing for the landlord and tenant to agree upon a certain price. But the difficulty in the way of a fixed redemption is that the rates vary so in different localities, in three adjoining parishes in Hampshire the rates are 2s., 3s., and 4s. 2d. in the £1 respectively, or 10. 15, and 21 per cent., so that the net value of £100 of tithe rent-charge in those parishes would he £90, £85, and £79. It is manifestly impassible to fix any cert tin number of years' purchase which would be fair and equitable throughout the country. What I should like to see would be that when the tithe owner and tithepayer agree to redeem, the mutter should be referred to the Board of Agriculture, or some other known valuers, to fix the price of the tithe redemption so that it could be carried out at once. If that were done, I think, in many cases redemption could be very easily carried out. With regard to reducing the septennial averages to triennial, I do not think the tithepayer would like to do that. I think they are in favour of the septennial average. Seven years ago the tithe was at 83 £100; it is now £78; next year it will be about £75, at which I believe it will remain for some time. If corn went up in price suddenly next year and the following years, we should have higher tithes under a triennial system, but under this septennial average we must have it low for several years. Every £100 of tithe rent-charge is at present worth £78 under the septennial averages, and you must take off another £20 at least for rates, &c, before the tithe owner touches his money. In any redemption scheme all that would have to be calculated, and you would also have to consider the increased rates which would fall upon the landowner in lieu of the rates which were formerly paid by the tithe. It has been calculated, taking the whole of the agricultural laud in England and Wales, that these increased rates would come to about 2d. in the £1. All this must be carefully considered, and, therefore, it is the more necessary when the two parties agree to redeem that the price should be fixed by some Body like the Board of Agriculture. I am sorry that the Government have not guaranteed the money for redemption at a lower rate. I think the case might have been met by means of a Government guarantee, such as that proposed for Ireland. By such a scheme, I think, both the tithe owner and the tithepayer would benefit, because the one would be eager to redeem and the other would be only too glad to get his money. If the interest were reduced from 4 per cent. to 3½ per cent., or something like that, it would be a great boon to the tithepayer. For myself, although I am only a poor landowner, an agriculturist I may say, I should be very sorry to be relieved of any of my burdens, or enriched in any way at the expense of the Church. I hope there are very few gentlemen in the whole of England who would be willing to enrich themselves, or seek relief from any of their burdens, at the cost of the Church. I do hope this Bill will be read a second time and become law, and so bring this question to a final settlement.
§ *(7.43.) MR. STUART RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)
Sir, I think it must be clear after the very forcible maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glamorgan, that this Bill is in truth 84 a Welsh Bill, though it has no support from Wales whatever. Wales is already beginning to speak about it. The County Councils of Wales are speaking. The County Council of my own county of Montgomeryshire passed this resolution:—That this Council expresses its opinion that no Tithes Bill will be satisfactory to the Welsh people unless it takes into consideration in what manner all the Welsh tithe rent-charges now applied to ecclesiastical uses may he devoted, so as to benefit the whole nation. Further, that any measure having for its object merely an alteration in the mode of collecting the tithe rent-charge, or removing the responsibility for the payment of the tithe rent-charge from the tenant farmer to the landlord will only increase the objection which, in consequence of the present application of the tithe rent-charge, exists so strongly in Wales against its payment.And the County of Merionethshire passed, this resolution—That this Council having learnt that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to deal with the tithe questions in the approaching Session of Parliament, urges upon the Government the necessity of introducing a Bill that will acknowledge the tithe as national property to he applied to national purposes only.I have no doubt that the County Councils by a large majority will take the trouble to express themselves to the same effect. Surely the fact that Wales is practically unanimous against this measure ought to be taken into consideration. We hear a great deal about the suffering produced and the oppression that is exercised in regard to this question, and I ask what better justification could we have for asking, for demanding the right to legislate for ourselves, and what other course is open to us than that which we now take when the Government proposes a measure like this, which is deliberately aimed at Wales, without taking the trouble to ascertain the feeling of the Welsh people with no attempt to conciliate public opinion on the subject. It is said, however, that we are naughty children and should be punished, and everybody regards this as a punitive measure. It is because we have misbehaved ourselves that the Bill has been brought in, but whatever movement there has boon in Wales in relation to this question, has been absolutely and entirely spontaneous. It has sprung from the agricultural and peasant population of Wales. It has not been set on foot by writers on the press, 85 or by popular representatives competing for popular fame, but it has sprung entirely from the agricultural population, who regard their present relation to the clergy as intolerable. The people of Wales refuse to pay for work that is not done. We all know that they do the work themselves in the noblest spirit, and in the most generous manner. They find their own spiritual advisers and ministers, and they object to pay for those who profess to do the work, and who do not perform it. It has been alleged that they have a pecuniary interest in this question, but it would be hard and unjust on the part of this House, or of the English people, to endorse any such accusation. The Welsh provide more amply for ministration to their spiritual wants than any other people in the United Kingdom, and it is no mercenary motive which influences them. It is with them purely a question of principle—a question of right and morality, and the reason they are so unanimous against this measure is because they cannot consent to any Act of Parliament that will perpetuate a state of things amounting to the gravest injustice. I think the Government ought to have been more ready to take notice of the fact that in the matter of tithes our Welsh people were really more conservative than the English people. The distinction which may be drawn between England and Wales on this question is, that while Wales generally admitted the burden and is prepared to protect the property and to assist in carrying out any legislation for the purpose of that protection it nevertheless rejects the application. In England, however, this is not the case; England admits the application, but is, to some extent, beginning to reject the burden. Already, there are indications in this country, of which the Government ought to take note, that the burden of tithes on the English farmer is setting him at loggerheads with the parson in too many cases. This Bill is intended to flog, but it flogs the wrong man, and is likely to raise dissatisfaction through the entire regiment. We ask ourselves what are likely to be the consequences. We see plainly it is a measure of police, and I trust that Parliament will listen to the protest of Wales, whatever may be the view of Her Majesty's Government I 86 think the Welsh Members generally will agree in advising the Government that as a measure of police this Bill will certainly not make it easier to keep the peace in Wales. Doubtless, you alter the form of procedure, but you do not take away the objections to it; you render the process more punitive, but I am quite satisfied that those who have studied the question most intimately, and who desire to save Wales from the risk of any intemperate action on the part of the people, would be the first to assure the Government that in their honest belief this measure of police will not make it easier for them to keep the peace in Wales. As to its being a protection to property the measure will simply be the means, in a number of cases, of setting land-lord and tenant by the ears. It will transfer the grievance from the parson to the landlord, and will help to create a laud question in Wales. If the Government intend to render this measure a protection for property in tithes, they will make a re-adjustment and valuation of tithes absolutely necessary in England. Is is said the measure is intended as a means of relief to the Welsh clergy. Well, Sir, I am sorry for the Welsh clergy; their lot is a miserable one. They are a peasant clergy, who are isolated and alone, and if anything is done that can add to their present hardships, it would be to me a matter of regret, but do you make it easier for them by this Bill, which will have the effect of rendering their present isolation more complete? It makes the clergyman absolutely dependent upon the squire, and renders his chance of recovering his hold on the people even less than it was before, if that be possible. If it is really the intention of the Government to hide this question from the public view, and prevent the external exhibition of the sentiment of the Welsh people in the matter, nothing could be more puerile. The tenant must know what he pays for tithes, the tithe will vary every year, and the tenant must certainly be possessed of the fact that he is paying the tithe, in whatever way he does pay it; therefore, to try and hide the matter must be a complete failure. But after all, the main object of this measure is to give a lingering life to the Church, Establishment in Wales. On this question I would ask the Government whether they have ascertained the opinions of the 87 Welsh Members, whether Conservative, Unionist, or Liberal, on this point. For ray own part, I am quite certain that they would not advise the Government that this Bill will afford the slightest chance of extending the dwindling days of the Church Establishment in Wales. All it will do is this, it will do something towards involving the question of Church Establishment in England, and the Government ought to be aware that they are running this risk. For my part, I do not care whether it produces this effect or not, because I am a Liberationist at heart. I trust, however, that the Government of this House will face what is the real question in Wales. If they do this the solution will be easy enough. It is to relieve Wales of the Establishment. There is no desire in Wales to attack the Church itself, except as an Establishment. Welsh people are a religious people, and never attack religious institutions, and I know that they have an immense respect for the history and tradition of the British Church. They are in the position now of having had a great quarrel with it, and still desire a reconciliation. I think it is a most serious and unhappy error of judgment, through want of personal contact with and knowledge of the people, to suppose that the Church of Wales would be other than benefited by being relieved of Establishment. The whole object of this measure is simply to save a little time. I think the delusion is entertained by friends of the Establishment in England that if the Establishment in Wales only has a little longer lease of life it will recover its hold upon the people. Their policy of holding on I believe to be an immense mistake. I do not want to indulge in figures, for I think there is nothing that may be made more misleading, but so far as the material progress of the Establishment is concerned I would ask, has it gained of late more hold in the affections of the people? We see plainly that Wales is more in earnest in this matter every day; and any one who faces an election in the Principality knows perfectly well that it can have no other result than a demand for Disestablishment. What is the policy which has led to the introduction of the present Bill? It is more than the policy of gaining time. It is a challenge to the 88 people of Wales. Does Parliament desire to assist the Establishment in Wales in the business of proselytising, by upholding the Church in an unfair position? If Wales cares for Disestablishment and for her own nationality, she cares still more for fair play and justice, and she will never abide the result of any contest where the fight is not fair. How can it be said to be a fair fight when the Church possesses all these revenues, which the Welsh people think she ought not to possess. It is clear that the least the Church can do is to enter the arena on the same footing as Nonconformity, and to rest like Nonconformity on her high and sacred calling and mission; and then, in a fair and honourable rivalry for the general good of the people, to take that result which her merits, her energies, and her zeal will give her. To pass an Act of Parliament in order to assist her in maintaining an unjust state of things will never help her in the eyes of Wales. In her own interests, as much as in the interests of justice, the Welsh are only doing their duty in resisting this Bill to the utmost of their ability. (8.5.)
§ *(8.35.) VISCOUNT WOLMER (Hants, Petersfield)
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire is always entitled to great respect in the House whenever he speaks of the affairs of Wales, and consequently his criticisms both as to the possible effects this measure will have, if passed, not only on the Church question in Wales, but also on the probability or otherwise of its succeeding in its avowed object, the protection of property and making the enforcement and collection of tithes more easy, his opinion of the success or failure of the Bill in that respect is worthy of consideration by the House. But when the hon. Member leaves Wales, where we allow his opinions are entitled to all respect, and enters into the field of prophecy, or the possible and contingent relations not only of the Church question in England but also the relations between landlords and tenants in England, then I think we are entitled to turn to him and say that on English questions our opinions are, at least, as worthy of consideration as his. I wish most emphatically to express my dissent from all he says as to the probable or possible effect of the Bill in regard to England. First, I will deal with that portion of the hon. Member's speech in 89 which he, in S3nse, if not in actual words relied on the all-pervading fallacy that farmers in England have anything to do with the tithe question. It is true that, by a most unfortunate use of the Act of 1836, landlords have used farmers as the most convenient instruments for the payment of this debt, but it is also true that the farmer has only been an instrument, and has no further interest in the payment of the debt than the hon. Member would have if he paid sixpence for me at the neighbouring post office. Surely this consideration somewhat clears the ground, and surely, that being so, all question as to the Bill not effecting a relief of the farmer and doing the farmer no good, all this argument is beside the mark entirely. If it has any effect on the farmer at all the effect is favourable, for it will relieve him from the false position of being distrained upon for adebt he does not owe, and it may have another effect in the adjustment of the rent between himself and his landlord, when he will have the "pull of the market," and in bad times may be able to get a little abatement. But that is the whole extent to which this Bill can affect the farmer. It really seems unnecessary to go over this well-trodden ground again, but the fallacy on this point is so prevailing that it may be necessary to recapitulate. Does the farmer pay the tithe? Obviously he does not; for if he farms two adjoining pieces of laud, and pays tithe on the one and not on the other, he pays an equivalent in rent in the latter case. Does the landlord pay the tithe? No, he does not. Here I come to a very ingenious theory of the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Stevenson) but to which I must dissent, but at the same time allow me to point out that the speech entirely answered in advance that of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, who argued against the injustice of making the Welsh farmer pay tithe at all to the Church. The hon. Member for Eye proved conclusively that the farmer does not pay tithe at all, and the basis finally arrived at by the hon. Member was that the tithe is paid by the community. This is an extraordinary theory to have recourse to. The landlord does not pay the tithe, for if he inherited the land he paid the less succession duty than if there had been no tithe, and if he paid 90 cash down he paid a sum much less than if there had been no tithe rent-charge. But does the fact that neither the land lord nor the tenant pays the tithe involve the vague and shadowy theory that the community pay it? Suppose the hon. Member for Eye had left me a fortune with it charge of £100 upon it for the National Gallery, can it be said that this is a charge on the community? No: the original donor pays it. The original donor of the tithe, long since defunct, pays the tithe; it is not paid by any living organism, landlord, tenant, or community. That brings me to the "conscience" argument. The hon. Member for Montgomery shire appealed to Members to believe that he and his friends in their advocacy of Welsh Disestablishment did so on the principle that they believed it would be for the best for their country and for the Church, and we should he ungenerous and unjust to deny them the credit of this, though we may be opposed to them, and they will equally give as credit foe conscientious motives. This leads me to that argument so often used that Welsh farmers object to pay tithes to an alien Church. Now, I do not wish to raise this question of an alien Church, or of Disestablishment, but I do want to examine this particular plea, and I ask how can men object to pay that which is not, and never has been, their own? The money which the Welsh farmer, acting as the agent of the landlord, hands over to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, or to the clergyman, is not his money or his landlords. It makes no difference in tracing the origin of the property; and the agency by which it is paid, it makes no difference in point of fact whether the money is paid to the Church, or whether, in the time of the millenium referred to by the hon. Member for Bradford, it is paid for the draining of your neighbour's field or mending local roads. In neither case does the landlord or the tenant pay the money; he merely hands over money that never has been his, and if ho keeps it in his pocket he robs the person or Body to whom that money belongs. I can quite understand that Welsh farmers who have not had the opportunity of examining the very intricate question of the origin of tithe are conscientiously convinced that they are paving this money to the sup- 91 port of an alien Church. I do not quarrel with the Welsh farmer, for this his argument is based upon ignorance for which he probably is not responsible. Now members take exception to that remark; but if they are of opinion that children at a Board School, or even at any public school, are educated to understand the Tithe Question, I do not agree with them. It is an extremely elaborate question on which many well-educated men are ill-informed, and I therefore insinuate nothing against the intelligence of the Welsh farmer when I say he may be legitimately ignorant of the true nature of tithe. Therefore, in this debate we have two classes of objectors to meet— we have the objectors whose principles are embodied in the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Farquharson) and the class of objectors to whom the hon. Member for Eye gives some sanction when he said how hard it is that the yeoman or small landowner cultivating his laud should have to pay tithe upon it in those years when agricultural distress and Free Trade have so reduced the value of corn. Well, it is a very hard thing that he should have to pay this and his other claims, such as taxes, for instance; but I do not see how the small landowners can be dissociated from landowners as a whole, and I maintain that whether the tithe is paid to the Church or to some Public Body, in neither case has the landowner any claim whatever to have this question re-opened for his benefit. I am glad to see there is one part of the question upon which hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway take the same stand with me, differing as we do on the Church question. What is the history of the Tithe Commutation Act that it is sought to re-open? The hon. Member for Eye says it ought to be re-opened in the interest of payers as well as owners? Why, it was a settlement which no doubt was largely brought about with a view to taking away hindrances to the development of agricultural science. Yet it was a settlement from which landowners have reaped enormous profit. I should like to read to the House the evidence of Sir James Caird, and I suppose we all admit his authority on matters of land value. Before Mr. Inderwick's Committee in 1881 Sir James Caird was asked 92Do you adhere to what you said, that if the old rate of participation had continued in regard to tithe the income of the Church would have been £2,000,000 more than it has been, and that the whole of that difference has gone into the pockets of the landowners?Sir James Caird's answer is—So far as I know. I do not know where else the difference can have gone.Well, if that is the case, as I believe it is on what past principle can the advocates of the landowners ask that the question shall be re-opened in their interest? Surely they have done pretty well by the bargain. Therefore, the real question before us, whether we are Churchmen or whether we are Liberationists is how the value of the tithe can be properly maintained. Whether the Church is to be disendowed and the tithe used for the various purposes such have been referred to or not, it is quite clear that it is the interest of those who advocate either view that the tithe should be as large as possible. I do not think the members of the Liberation Society are likely to lend their votes to any Amendment having the effect of re-opening the question in the interests of the landowners. But, says the hon. Member for Eye, there are certain districts in Berkshire, in Lincolnshire, and elsewhere, where land has so deteriorated in value, that payment of tithe has become an impossibility, and where exceptional circumstances have prevailed exceptional measures must be taken or agriculture will be at a standstill. Now, I have no personal knowledge of such districts, and I view with a little suspicion any proposal to re-open this question in however small a district, for it is obvious that the first person to derive benefit will be the landowner; but if an argument can be made in favour of any scheduled district, no doubt the House would be ready to listen to such an argument if properly supported by facts. But, upon the general ground of re-opening this question, I must protest against the claim of the tithepayer to re-valuation. It being alike the interest of Churchmen and Liberationalists to see I that payment of tithe is made secure, and that tithe should be made as stable as possible, it is difficult for me to appreciate the attitude of hon. Members who oppose the Second Beading of this Bill. I can, understand their special technical objections levelled at the Redemption Clauses, but I do not under- 93 stand such opposition levelled at the earlier portion of the Bill which has no other object in view whatever except rendering' the collection of tithe more secure. What was the argument running through the speech of the hon. Member for Montgomery shire? He appealed to us, and he will do me the justice to allow that I give him fall credit for the conscientiousness of his appeal, upon the principle by which he is actuated. But granted that he is actuated by principle only, how does the question of the collection of tithe at all affect the subject? If he is actuated by a principle quite extraneous to all outside considerations, as I believe it is, how can it affect the advancement of that principle so dear to our opponents, that tithe should be collected by the County Court and not by means of distraint? There is a section of Liberationists in Wales who openly avow other motives, but I do not believe the hon. Member gives them sympathy or aid. We have heard read to-day an extract from the South Wales Daily News, in which it is openly stated, "We must keep this open as a lever for the Disestablishment of the Church." I appeal to hon. Members who are above such motives as that, whose views on the question are dictated by a sense of what they consider right, and not as a means of keeping open a sore for political ends; I appeal to them to regard this Bill from the point of view whether it will bring about a greater amount of kindliness and peace to the country; whether it will help to explain to the tenant that tithe is but a debt due from the land, and will put an end to scenes of ill-blood and disorder, which have brought discredit on the fair fame of Wales. If the Bill is approached in this spirit, and not in a hostile spirit such as finds expression in the sentiments of the; South Wales Daily News, I feel confident that although details of the Bill may be open to criticism, and they may do good service by suggesting amendments, that hon. Members will support the principle of the Bill and unite with us in bringing about a better application of a law, which they hope some day to turn to their own advantage.
§ MR. A. THOMAS (Glamorgan, E.)
The noble Lord (Viscount Wolmer) has asked what will bring peace to Wales. Disestablishment will bring peace to the 94 Principality—nothing else and nothing short of it. I thank the Government for bringing in a series of Tithe Bills, for I am bound to say that by their action they have done more to advance the cause of Disestablishment than all the efforts of Liberationists put together. I regret, however, that the Government have put on the landlord the duty of collecting tithe. In Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire, those counties in Wales about which I know most, the most cordial relations exist between Landlord and tenant; but if the landlords have to collect the tithe, I certainly have fear as to the future. I should have thought the Government would have taken to heart the lesson they were taught last year. They must not suppose that all those who voted for the Amendment to last year's Bill were at one with that Amendment. As a matter of fact, they were not, and many of them only voted for it because it was the only means they had of expressing their opposition to the measure. It is said that the Welsh tenant farmer objects to pay tithe. He does not, any more than he objects to pay-any other just debt. What he objects to is that the tithe should go to a small Church, to the Church of the landlord, the Church of the wealthy people, the Church of about one-sixth of the people. I do not know whether the majority of the people of England object to the Establishment or not, but my mind is quite made up on that point as regards Wales. Of 34 Members returned by Wales, 28 were returned to advocate Disestablishment. As to the provisions of the Bill, I cannot find much fault; my objection is to the application of the tithe. It has been said by some Gentlemen that tithe is required in order to ensure the success of the Church of England, and last year the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. B. Reed) asserted that the Church of England has succeeded not only in the English-speaking districts of Wales, but in the Welsh-speaking districts. I rejoice if the Church of England has succeeded, but I think the hon. Member will agree with me that the Church has succeeded nowhere in Wales more than in Cardiff. In that town the Church of England has 18 places of worship and sitting accommodation for something over 10,000 persons. But to carry on her great work there how much does the 95 Church receive by way of tithe? Not a larger sum than £350 a year. As matter of fact, the Church of England succeeds most in Wales in the very place where she receives least tithe. I do not deny that in the ranks of the Church there are many very popular men. For instance, there is no more popular man in Cardiff or Glamorganshire than the Dean of Llandaff. But the question of Disestablishment in Wales is the burning question. The people may be divided on other questions, but as to Disestablishment they are at one. The Government may legislate as much as they like in regard to tithe; but until they bring in a great and comprehensive measure for the Disestablishment of the Church of England, there will be no peace in the Principality.
§ *MR. HEATH (Lincoln, Louth)
I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill because I think the Government have dealt very ably with this thorny question of the tithe. The measure contains three principles which seem to me to be well worthy of support, namely, making-tithe apply like any other debt; putting the actual burden of the tithe upon the proper shoulders—those of the landowner —and facilitating the redemption. At the same time, I think the Bill has some defects, and I hope we shall see it amended before it becomes law. One defect is, that it gives a great deal more to the tithe owner than to the tithepayer. We have heard a great deal to-day about the landowners; but this question docs not affect the landowners or large farmers at all. In the case of the large farmers, the tithe is reckoned in the rent. But there is a very large class of small freeholders in this country—in the division I represent there are 2,000 of them—and it is on them the burden of the tithe falls. I hope some Amendment will be carried which will give some quid pro quo under this Bill to these small freeholders. When the Tithe Commutation Act was passed, the tithe owners took the remedy of distress, because at that time that remedy was probably the cheapest and readiest to adopt. Now, owing to circumstances, the remedy of distress is no longer so easy as other remedies. These small freeholders, under present circumstances, have certain advantages. It is not worth while, for the purpose of getting a small payment, to incur the 96 odium and cost of distress, and, in many instances during the hard times of the last few years, the small men have got reductions and time, which they would probably not have got if this Bill had been in force. I hope the Government will see their way to giving them some compensation for the loss of this advantage something in the nature of the 5 per cent. proposed when the original Bill was introduced. That would make the measure much sweeter to them if this were done. I hope, also, we may see another Amendment carried. We are going to advance 33 millions of money to the Irish farmer to allow him to redeem his rent, and I hope the small English freeholder, whose dessert and whose need are quite as great as those of the Irish tenant, may have the same advantage as yon are going to give the Irish tenant. I trust we shall enable the small freeholder to redeem his tithe by means of a small annuity extending over 49 years at 4 per cent. In my opinion, this Bill will settle a great question which has been troubling us for many years; will remove what has been for a long time a great stumbling block in tin-way of the English Church; and, with the Amendments I suggest, will be received by the tithe owner as well as the tithe-payer as a great boon.
§ *(9.20.) MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS (Glamorganshire, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading said that in the settlement of 1836 the principle was laid down that there should be no personal liability. If the House will allow me for a moment to turn back to the proposals of the Government on this question during the last few years, they will find that this is, at all events, a new discovery on the part of Ministers. In 1887, for reasons with which I need not now trouble the House, a great deal of dissatisfaction had arisen with reference to the incidence of the tithe rent-charge. The clergy could not get their tithes, and the farmers said that they could not, or would not, pay them. The Prime Minister introduced a Bill in the House of Lords, in which he proposed to abolish distress and to turn the tithe rent-charge into a civil contract due from the landlord. He also proposed to bribe the landlord with 5 per cent. commission in order to induce him to become the collector of the tithe. The 97 provision gave rise to a storm of opposition on the part of the clergy, and the proposal to pay 5 per cent. was rejected or withdrawn. In an essay which appeared in the Quarterly Review, and which was attributed to Lord Salisbury and his nephew, there was a very hostile criticism on the attitude of the Whigs at the time of the publication of the Unauthorised Programme One epigram used in that essay has remained in my memory. The writer said, "The Whigs regarded the Unauthorised Programme with public approval and private imprecation." A similar attitude was adopted by the landlords when it was proposed that they should become liable for the tithe as a simple contract debt to he recovered in the County Court. Another Bill was brought in in the Session of 1888. That measure proposed to abolish distress and adopted substantially the same method as we find in the present Bill. It gave great dissatisfaction. The whole of the landlord party throughout the Kingdom evidently regarded it with jealousy, suspicion, and dislike, and it was dropped. In 1889 it became necessary that something should be done in a substantial way. The Welsh people struck against the payment of tithe. The Bill of 1889 abolished distress, and it also proposed to put the payment of tithe on the tenant. The Government now come back to the method of 1880. They propose to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of personal liability of both tenant and landlord; but, at the same time, to impose grievous penalties very often upon both. Though the order of the County Court Judge can only be enforced nominally against the landlord there is only an apparent withdrawal of liability. It seems to me there is a very close family resemblance between the provisions of the Bill and the eviction process adopted in the case of the Irish tenants. The difficulty arises when the landlord has paid the tithe and has put it on the rent. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomery shire has pointed out in reference to this Bill that 28 out of the 30 Members for Wales are opposed to it, and that those 28 Members represent an enormous majority of the Welsh farmers. But I contend that it does not stop there. I wish to submit that they also represent the land - owning classes throughout Wales. I find in the Times of December, 98 1889, a very curious report of a great meeting' at Rhyl. The Times' report says of this meeting that the most diverse opinions were entertained on all the subjects brought forward with the exception of one, and that was that there was a perfect unanimity of feeling to the effect that the Tithe Bill which laid the burden of paying the tithe on the Welsh landowner was impracticable. Mr. Humphreys, a Welsh landlord, is reported to have said that the Government proposal simply transferred the onus of the payment of tithe from the tenant to the landlord, and that all it meant was that the estrangement which had existed between the clergy and the farmers would in future exist between the landlords and the clergy. Another Welsh landlord, Mr. Priestley, in his speech, gave utterance to similar opinions, and added that he "had no doubt that tithes must go sooner or later, and the Church, and all of them would be the stronger for it. The Conservative Party and the Government ought to be warned that the great majority of the people in Wales looked upon these proposals (the Government tithe proposals) as absolutely inadequate." Well, the result of this meeting was, of course, an immediate outcry on the part of the Welsh clergy, some of whom wrote to the Times complaining of the attitude and demeanour of the landlords towards the Church. One letter which appeared in the Times asked "what the landlords had done to help the Church and to increase its popularity," and the leading article which appeared in the same issue said the answer to that question must perforce be "very little." The article also went on to speak of the falling out which had taken place between the clergy and the landlords of Wales as "a very unlovely quarrel." Now, that was a state of things which arose in Wales when these proposals of the Government were first made public. It was felt that the result of adopting them in Wales would be to transfer the friction which exists with the clergy from the tenant to the landlord class, and it was held that nothing could be more undesirable. This Bill, as has been well said, is nothing more nor less than a Bill of "pains and penalties," by which a most invidious duty is east upon the landowning class a duty which must cause a great deal of ill-feeling and difficulty 99 between the landlords and the clergy. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade made an observation about the lawlessness of the refusal to pay a just debt; and I think his observation was directed mainly against my Colleagues and myself in this House, seeing that we represent the great body of the Welsh people. I think it is most unfortunate that, in discussing a Bill of this kind, such a tone and temper should be adopted by a Minister of the Crown. I, for my part, do not for one moment refuse to accept responsibility for what has taken place in Wales. It is perfectly clear that this Bill is the outcome of the Welsh agitation, and it behaves the House and the Government now to face the whole matter. The late Dean of Bangor, the brother of the Bishop of St. Asaph, himself admitted that "five-sixths of the Welsh-speaking people are outside the Established Church in Wales." Archdeacon Howell also, in a remarkable sermon, declared thatThe majority of the Welsh people are not to be found within the pale of the Church whose adherents were largely made up o English settlers and anglicised Welshmen.Now, Archdeacon Howell is him sea Welshman; he was born within a mile or two of my native place; he was brought up among the Welsh people; he is an eloquent Church clergyman; and here we have from him a distinct admission that almost the whole of the Welsh-speaking people are outside the pale of the Established Church. Now, who are the people who have set on foot the agitation which has led to the introduction of this Bill? They are the Welsh Congregationalists and Baptists, and members of other denominations. These people have built their own places of worship out of their scanty earnings- —the colliers, the peasants, the agricultural labourers, the small farmers, the small shopkeepers, have been for centuries building up the whole structure of that great religious faith which is so vital throughout Wales. For generations they have been doing these things; and yet, during the whole of that time, £280,000 a year has been withdrawn from the produce of the soil, in the shape of tithe, in order to pay the clergy who minister to only a small minority of the population, a minority which consists mainly of English 100 born people. Up till 1868 they had to submit quietly to this state of things, because they had no adequate representation in this House; but in 1884 they began to give utterance to their views, and, having had the franchise extended to them, they were able to state their opinions on this and many other matters of great interest to their country. In regard to the agitation in Wales on the tithe question, I wish to point out that they have not violently resisted the operation of the law, except in a few eases where they have been irritated by injudicious treatment. In the majority of cases they have adapted the system pursued by the Quakers in reference to the church rates. They simply said, "Here is public money which you apply to purposes contrary to our principles. We will not resist you, but we will not pay these tithes until yon put in operation the methods which the law affords you for executing process against us." For my part, I do not want to see any change in the attitude of the Welsh people, and I hope that they will continue determined to oppose this payment towards the maintenance of an alien Church. I trust they will maintain that attitude until the tithes which are, collected are applied to national and public purposes.
§ *(9.45.) MR. BYRON REED (Bradford, E.)
I should not have taken part in the debate at this stage had it not been for the somewhat pointed references made to myself by the hon. Member for East Glamorganshire. I noted with some satisfaction that the observations which it was my privilege to make in this House when the subject of the Church in Wales was debated last year fell upon an interested hearer in the person of the hon. Member. Sir, the personnel of this debate, so far as it has proceeded, is a sufficient index of the premises of this measure. It is a fact that, so far as the opposition to the Bill is concerned, it has been mainly expressed by Welsh Representatives; and I am perfectly willing to admit that it was the fact of the peculiar difficulty in Wales in connection with the collection of tithe-rent charge which gave rise to the necessity for legislation in this respect. I am not by any means desirous of limiting, nor, indeed, does the Bill propose to limit, this reform in legislation 101 to the Principality of Wales. On the contrary, I hold that the tithe owner and the tithe-payer all over the country will be benefited by the provisions of this Bill, which is shortly to become law. I think the tithe owner and the tithe-payer will find their relations in regard to this peculiar form of rent-charge more harmonious and more convenient than they have been in the past. I have been very much puzzled to understand in the course of this debate the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have been accustomed for a number of years to hear, not only in the House of Commons, but also in the country, declamations from hon. Gentlemen opposite and their associates against the payment of tithe as a State tax; and I have been accustomed to hear these Gentlemen urge public audiences to agitate for the abolition of tithe, not on the ground of its wrong application, but on the ground that there is a bad principle involved in the tithe itself.
§ *MR. BYRON REED
In spite of the contradiction of hon. Gentlemen opposite, I say, from my personal knowledge of the facts, that that has been the vein in which the tithe controversy has been carried on; and I am speaking in the recollection of the House when I say that objection has been made to the payment of the tithe itself, and not to the application of the tithe. But now, Sir, we hear that tithe is a most excellent charge, and one most proper to be paid, and one which should be cheerfully met, if only its application were fair, and that the real objection to this Tithe Bill is not in the fact that the tithe payment is to be enforced, but it is to the religious purposes to which some of the tithe payments are applied. I am not in the councils of the Liberation Society; but I believe hon. Members opposite, who are members of that Organisation, claim that tithe is national property, and, being national property, that it ought not to be handed over to a religious body—it ought not to be diminished by one jot or tittle in bulk or volume; so that by-and-bye, when a future Parliament comes to deal with the question of Disestablishment, the tithe will be more easily available for secular purposes by reason of the operation of the provisions of this Act. I am not, Sir, now attempting to draw aside the veil of the future. I merely mention this matter 102 by way of expressing surprise, and of taking public note of that extraordinary metamorphosis in the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, which has been exhibited in the course of this debate. I heard with some interest the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester, and I have to thank the hon. Gentleman for a most important and valuable admission which he made. The hon. Gentleman, speaking in reference to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, said that the Commissioners were not a national body, but were trustees for a religious denomination. I do not understand him to dispute the accuracy of my quotation. Then, what becomes of the claim of hon. Members opposite to the properly which these Commissioners hold in trust? What becomes of their claim to this as national property? If the Commissioners are trustees for a religious denomination, then surely the application of the property held in trust must he to that religious denomination. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leicester for giving me a weapon to be used in the controversy outside this House. There is another observation of the hon. Gentleman which merits further notice. He has thrown acuriousside-light on the motives and aims of hon. Gentlemen opposite. He said that tithes are a first charge on the national land. I do not know what he meant to imply by that expression, and whether he meant to suggest that he is a disciple of Mr. Henry George, and that this House may look forward to a debate at no distant period when the hon. Member will propose a Resolution in favour of the nationalisation of the land, which., being interpreted, means taking away other people's property. But the observation, coming from him, struck me as being peculiarly significant, being associated, as it was, with the desire to deprive the National Church and other-tithe owners of their property in this form of rent-charge. I commend the observation to landed proprietors on the Opposition Benches, who are, on other-subjects, often found associated with the hon. Member for Leicester. It is a matter which may give them some concern. And now I pass to the observations 6f the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glamorganshire, to whom I must say I listened with considerable pleasure, and in whom I recognised a decided acquisition to the debating strength of 103 this House. The hon. Gentleman quoted some remarks made by the First Lord of the Treasury not long since upon this subject, and he suggested that the right hon. Gentleman admitted that tithes wore national property. It may not be within the knowledge of the hon. Member that the First Lord of the Treasury, having had his attention drawn by the Member for Stockport to the language which he had used, two days later explained to the House the precise meaning which he attached to the term National, and that he thereby considerably modified the impression which his previous words had conveyed. No doubt that explanation escaped the hon. Gentleman's notice.
§ *MR. S. T. EVANS
No: it had not escaped my notice; I happened to have the explanation in my hands when I was speaking, and had any remarks fallen from the First Lord of the Treasury I was quite willing to refer to that explanation. I rather think, as a matter of fact, that the right hon. Gentleman adhered to his statement that tithes were national property, although he qualified his statement by saying that he did not agree with our proposals regarding the application of them.
§ *MR. REED
I will not further contest the point. I am speaking in the knowledge of the House, and I believe that hon. Members on both sides will agree that the First Lord of the Treasury qualified his original statement in a very marked degree. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Welsh, as a nation of Nonconformists, were not satisfied with this appropriation of national property. I venture to point out that it matters not to the House whether the Welsh are a nation of Nonconformists or anything else, or whether they regard tithes as national property or otherwise. I regard the payment of tithe as a duty which every honest man who contracts it ought to pay. Let it be remembered that tithe is not a charge forced upon a man against his will. No man need contract to pay tithe unless he likes to, and if he does undertake the obligation he receives a full consideration for it. If he becomes a tenant of a farm upon which tithe is payable, he gets the holding at a lower rent than ho would have to pay for a tithe-free farm; and if he purchases land liable to tithe he gets it at a proportionately lower price than is 104 charged for land on which there is no such liability; and I say it is the essence of the grossest dishonesty for a man who has made a bargain tinder these conditions to conic to this House with a grievance on his lips and ask for relief from a contract to which he became a party with his eyes open. I am sorry to be hard on the hon. Member; but I should like to correct him as to a matter of history. Reference has been made by the hon. Gentleman to the tripartite division of tithe, and I am aware that it is said by some controversialists that in the old days tithe was divided into three parts: one third for the maintenance of the fabric, one third for the support of the minister, and one third for the relief of the poor. The hon. Member apparently adopted that view, for he has referred to the third part as that belonging to the poor. May I point out to him that it must be in the knowledge of almost every scholar and every antiquarian that that tripartite division was never the law of the land in Britain? It was the law in certain countries on the Continent; but it was never the law here, and at the most it was only a recommendation—an expression of an amiable hope to the Bishops of the Church, more than 1,000 years ago, that some of the tithe should be thus devoted to the poor. I believe the highest authority to whom I could refer the hon. Member is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, who, I think, will confirm my view that a tripartite division was not a part of the law of this land. Now, I pass on to the concluding observations of the hon. Member. He spoke in tones of complaint of the effect of the tithe on a certain parish in Glamorganshire. The hon. Member stated that the County of Glamorgan paid £10 a year to the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester.
§ *MR. S. T. EVANS
What I said was that £3,000 per annum went from Glamorgan to the Dean and Chapter, and that there was only one solitary sum of £40 that went to charitable objects.
§ *MR. BYRON REED
I apologise to the hon. Member for having confused his statement, and of course I at once accept his explanation. The point is, as I understand it, that the poor country of Wales has to contribute large sums of money in tithe payments for ecclesiastical purposes to a rich country like 105 England. But even if that is so, Wales receives much more from England in return. I have here a Return dated 12th April, 1889, showing that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners received from Wales £28,796 per annum—a very formidable sum, I have no doubt the hon. Member for Glamorgan will say. But, on the other hand, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have paid back for ecclesiastical purposes in Wales the sum of £67,634, showing a balance given for ecclesiastical purposes by England to Wales of £38,838. This Bill has been described as a "Clergy Relief Bill." I am not ashamed to accept that designation. But I would prefer to call it the "Clergy Protection Bill." It is something more, because it protects the lay as well as the clerical tithe owners and not only that, but it protects the Nonconformist ministerial tithe owners; and that there are such may, perhaps, be in the way of information to some hon. Members. I am not ashamed to defend the temporalities of the clergy, who have no direct representation in this House. The clergy, at any rate, have a good claim as citizens for the preservation of their temporalities. By reason of their office, by the necessity of their environments, by the fact that most of them are poor and isolated, the clergy have a peculiar claim to our consideration. When I think of their heroic examples, their kindly and boundless charities, their exalted personal character, and their high education and learning, I feel impelled, as a layman of the National Church, to stand up and defend the temporalities and rights of the clergy in this honourable House. It is because I believe that the present measure will, in a great degree, bring that about, that I wish most cordially to support and aid by all the means in my power its speedy passage into law.
§ *(10.7.) MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
Mr. Speaker, the clergy of the Church of England have hardly any right to complain that they are not well represented here, at all events as long as they are represented by the hon. Member who has just sat down. At the outset, Sir, I must deny that the farmers of Wales seek to escape the payment of tithe. They have objected all along, not to the payment, but to the application of the money. Now, this is 106 essentially a Welsh Bill, and admittedly nothing would have been heard of it if it had not been for the agitation in Wales. The name of the Postmaster General is on the back of the Bill, and he is a sort of standing counsel to the Government in Welsh matters. But on this matter I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman represents the opinions of the University of Cambridge rather than those of Wales. Having just come from the Principality, I can assure the Post master General, with some confidence, that the Bill is generally, if not universally, condemned. If is not liked by landlords, tenant-farmers, County Councillors, or Nonconformists; and I much doubt whether the clergy would like it if they were not just now bound to be thankful for small mercies. It is looked upon as an attempt to do that which nothing short of a miracle will do, namely, to set the Church of England in Wales on its legs again. The Welsh landlords and tenants regard it as a Bill to set them at loggerheads for the benefit of the Welsh parsons. I think, however, we ought to be grateful to them for it, for in the Carnarvon boroughs, when this Bill was introduced, it created such a, scare that the Conservatives found the greatest difficulty in obtaining a candidate, and, like the people in the parable, they had almost to go into the highways and hedges to compel someone to come in. The Government in bringing forward the Bill at the present time has not exactly shown the wisdom of the serpent. The position of the opponents of the Bill is perfectly well defined. They do not object to the incidence of the tithe: what they object to is its application. They claim as their authority the First Lord of the Treasury, who described tithes as national property. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last stated perfectly truly that the right hon. Gentleman qualified that statement by saying that the tithes are national property, because the property of a national Church; but that is true only in a limited sense; and it is not true of Wales, where only three out of 30 Welsh Members can be rallied to vote against the disestablishment of the Church. The right hon. Gentleman drew a picture of the sufferings of the Welsh clergy. No one sympathises more than I do with the sufferings of the Welsh clergy; but do not those sufferings show that they 107 have lost the affections of their flocks? I Are ministers allowed to starve by the Baptists or Congregationalists of Wales, the Wesleyans of Cornwall, the Unitarians of Birmingham, or the Roman Catholics of Ireland? A clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. H. W. Clarke, has recently published a pamphlet on The Past and Present Revenues of the Church of England in Wales. The figures are taken from official sources, and it is there shown that in the three dioceses of Bangor, St. Asaph, and Llandaff the tithe rent-charge payable to incumbents amount to £101,856, while the pew rents, fees and offerings for the maintenance of the incumbents in 748 Episcopal churches amount to £4,738, or £7 a year from each congregation, consisting of the richest classes of Wales. For every pound each clergyman derives from tithe rent-charge he obtains from his own congregation the sum of 10¾d. The Bill begins at the wrong end. Let the tithes be applied to national purposes, and it will be found that the collection of them in Wales will be as easy a matter as the collection of Poor rates and School Board rates. That seems also to be the opinion of English farmers, for at a meeting of the Farmers' Alliance a Resolution has been passed declaring that—No measure will be satisfactory which does not demand that the redemption price he handed to the County Councils, or which makes any alteration in the mode of recovery.But then it is argued that, as this Bill deals simply with the mode of collecting the tithes, we, to whom the collection is comparatively a matter of indifference, have no right to oppose it. I cannot accept that view of the case. We who oppose this Bill believe that a State Church is an evil in itself, and we absolutely decline to be parties to any measure which has for its object the securing in perpetuity of the revenues of the Church. No doubt it is unfortunate for any Church to be unable to collect its revenues without coming to the House of Commons for aid. But that is the fault of the system, not the fault of those who oppose the Bill, and they cannot be blamed for taking the opportunity to raise such a debate as this. The Bill has met with strenuous opposition from all interests; but with regard to Wales, the strongest opposition seems to have come from the habitual sup- 108 porters of the Government. A Conservative meeting at Rhyl was held three or four months ago, preceded by a conference of Conservative landowners. The meeting-was held to consider the Tithe Rent-Charge Bill of last Session, practically the same measure as that before the House, and the First Lord of the Admiralty spoke. Here is a paper with a report of his speech, surmounted by a portrait of the noble Lord, which hardly does him justice. But though the meeting was called to bless the Bill, it reversed the part of Balaam, for it ended in cursing-it altogether. Every one of the papers interested in agriculture, too, oppose the Bill, root and branch, and as was stated by a speaker at the Rhyl meeting in Wales, Conservatives and Liberals are united, not in an objection to pay-tithes, but in an objection to pay them to the present recipients. The Bill is divided into three parts. The first deals with the means of recovering the tithe rent-charge, substituting an action in the County Court for distress. The second transfers the liability of the rent-charge from the occupier to the owner; and the third part contains the redemption clauses. I do not think these latter clauses will be of much use, because the tithe owner will not desire to redeem, in view of the lower interest which he will receive, and the tithepayer will not in many cases be able to do so. In Wales there is the very strongest objection to the substitution of the County Court for distress. The Welsh farmer hates nothing so much as the County-Court, and for the clergy to bring their parishioners into the County Court would certainly not help to increase their popularity. Moreover, the proposition of the Government substitutes an expensive remedy for a comparatively inexpensive one; and the occupier would become liable not only for the tithe, but for all the costs of the County Court action, amounting at least to £10 or £12. Then the execution is to be carried out by Receivers (who are also to be managers), and I can assure the House that there is not a more cumbrous and expensive process than this. In fact, those who wish to disestablish the Church could not serve their ends better than by strongly supporting this part of the Bill, for it is sure to intensify the unpopularity of the Church. In substituting the owner for the occupier as the 109 person liable for the charge, little benefit will be achieved, because the landlord will be sure to add the tithe to the rent. Then, of course, the large number of small Welsh occupiers, who are also owners, will receive no relief, and nearly every one of them is a Nonconformist, They have before offered a passive resistance to the tithe, and they will still continue to do so, while the people of Wales will continue to sympathise with the sufferers. One of the effects of the Bill will be that under Sections 1 and 6 (Sub-section 2), the tithe owner and land owner will be able to agree as to the amount of the tithe behind the back of the occupier, who will become ultimately liable. I will also say that the Government have chosen a singularly inopportune moment for bringing in this Bill. Just when the three counties which bore one-fifth of the whole tithe-charge of England— Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk—were recovering from the agricultural depression, the Government, the friends of the landed interests, are re-opening the question of tithes in the interest of the tithe owner. I also think the moment singularly inopportune with regard to the state of the agitation in Wales, which was beginning to die out. So long as the Establishment remains some form of agitation will remain, but this particular agitation was beginning to die out. Things were beginning to settle down when the Government rake up the slumbering embers. I cannot help thinking that It would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie, especially as it seems to us that the proposal they are making contains the maximum of irritation with the minimum of result. There are three methods of dealing with such a question as this. You could boldly grasp it and treat it as a great national question—that is the best way. The second best way is to let it alone, and the third, or worst of all way, is to potter and tinker with it. That is the method adopted by the Government who have brought forward these cumbrous proposals. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman opposite has a docile and obedient majority at his back who will pass the Second Reading of the Bill; but I warn the right hon. Gentleman that it is not until the measure gets amongst the shoals and quicksands of Committee that its real fats will be decided. In the 110 meantime, I ask is it wise, just, or statesmanlike, to force on a Bill of this kind, admittedly designed to meet the case of Wales, against the unanimous feeling of Welsh Members, for not one single Conservative Welsh Member has had the courage to get up and support the Bill, although five Welsh Members have spoken from this side against it. Is it wise to force a Bill of this kind down the throats of even a small nation like Wales—for the measure is especially aimed at Wales? It is because I hold it to be neither wise, just, nor statesmanlike that, whatever may be the opinion of my Colleagues around me, I shall feel bound to vote against it at every stage.
§ (10.35.) MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
The information of the right hon. Gentleman is singularly misleading. He has first of all assured us on his own knowledge that the objection to pay tithe in Wales is wholly on account of its application. I take leave to contradict that statement flatly. Several of the fights about tithe have been in cases where the owners are not ecclesiastical, and the principal fight has been about the tithe paid to the undenominational society of Christ Church. The objection to the payment of lay tithe, therefore, has been as great as that to the payment of ecclesiastical tithe. I think I am entitled to correct the right hon. Gentleman on this point. But the right hon. Gentleman then brought us news of certain Conservative meetings at Rhyl, and he tells us that declarations were made against the Bill of last Session.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
Well, let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that that Conference passed by an unanimous vote a resolution approving of the Government Bill of last year, which the right hon. Gentleman says was the same as that now before the House. I think, therefore, I have a right to say that the right hon. Gentleman, before setting himself to tell us what the opinion of the people of Wales is on this question, should have satisfied himself thoroughly as to the accuracy of his information. Then the right hon. Gentleman tells us that the Church people are very few in Wales, as if that had anything to do with the question. As a matter of fact, the 111 Church people are a larger Body than any other religious denomination in Wales. ["Oh!"] Yes; the Calvinistic Methodists, who are the next in number, are 50 per cent. smaller. ["Oh!"] Will the hon. Member who challenges the statement name any Religious Body which is more numerous than the Church?
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
Those are the inaccurate assertions which are made by the opponents of the Church in Wales, while the men who make them are afraid of a religions census, and content themselves with gathering statistics at chapel doors. They know that if they had a census the facts which are now well-known would then be placed on an authoritative basis. The right hon. Gentleman objected to throwing the burden on the owners instead of the occupiers, and making the tithe rent-charge recoverable by the owners.
§ *MR. O. MORGAN
No; I said I had the greatest objection to altering the remedy from distress to the County Court.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
That is the same thing. If you have a distress you must distrain upon the occupier; you cannot do so on the owner, as he has no visible property to distrain on. The right hon. Gentleman has not so much criticised the Bill as gone off upon broader issues. He has said that the tithes are national property. Well, that is a matter upon which we hear so many loose opinions that, perhaps, it will be as well to mention what the law is. Lord Brougham has said—I think the right of the Church in the property it enjoys is sacred as the rights of individuals to their estates and freeholds, and that the parson of the parish has as good a right to the tenth part of the produce of the soil as the body of the proprietors and occupiers to have the other nine-tenths.And that the pastor of a parish has as good a right to a tenth part of the produce of the soil as anyone had to any property. Then the right hon. Gentleman may have once read Blackstone, though he has forgotten him now. Blackstone says—The clergy have precisely the same right to the tithes as the heir-at-law has to his ancestor's estate, and the proprietor has no more reason to complain that his land is not tithe free than he has that his neighbour's field is not his own.Professor Freeman also says— 112Church property is not national property except in the same sense that all property is national.After this, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman will not repeat the statement that the tithe is national property. He and his friends may wish it to be so, and use arguments coloured by that desire, but national property it is not. I decline to discuss this question as though it were an ecclesiastical question. I hope it will be dealt with on the broad principle of the security of all property. The payment is now to be made by the landowner as we all know it was intended to be by the Commutation Act. I defy any Welsh Member to go to an agricultural constituency and put it before the farmers whether they would like to have the tithe paid by themselves or their landlords. I defy any Member to get a majority in favour of tithes being paid by the farmers themselves. Why, only the other day the Farmers' Club declared that the landowners, if they paid the tithe themselves, would have little to complain of. I have taken pains to ascertain what the opinion of the agriculturists is on the point; and when I brought forward a Bill some four or five years ago to make the tithes payable by the landlord, almost all the Chambers of Agriculture were in favour of it. Farmers to a man were in favour of it, though they may be, as the Mover of the Amendment described them in the Contemporary Review, men "of obstinate and bucolic habits." The agitation in Wales is described as a spontaneous agitation, but it is nothing of the kind. It is a got up agitation. It has been described by a great authority on the question as "an artificial growth, assiduously cultivated by Liberationist orators and a vernacular Press." The same writer declared—It may, in fact, be truly said that the anti-tithe agitation of North Wales has, in the main, emanated from the office of the Banner at Denbigh. The Organisation and pulpits of the chapels, aided by house-to-house visitations of Calvinistic Methodist deacons, backed by the inflammatory harangues of itinerant agitators, and encouraged by the promises of the vernacular Tress, spread the contagion from parish to parish. In one case which has come to my knowledge, the principal agitator was a local money-lender, who put the screw upon his debtors to join the agitation. Threats, coercion, intimidation, were freely used.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
I am quoting the language of Mr. Prcthero, who is, I suppose, one of the best authorities on the subject. I am glad to say that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has described the Welsh people as the fairest-minded people in the world. Yes, and so they are. It is only a minority of agitators supported and backed up by political partisans who are unfair. The great body of Nonconformists strongly protest against the method of the hon. Gentleman and his friends, and one Calvinistic minister, the Rev. Parry Hughes, has said—I conceive that nothing so unjust or illogical as the present persecution of the clergy was ever projected, and I acknowledge with shame that it has been reserved for the Nonconformist promoters and supporters of the anti-tithe campaign in Wales, in defiance of the claims of morality, justice, and fair play, to trample ruthlessly on the rights of men who, through no fault of their own, depend for the necessaries of life for themselves and their families on the ancient eu system of this country.It is not certainly all the Nonconformists who approve of the methods adopted by hon. Gentlemen and their friends, and the farmers in Wales and England are one and all in favour of the Bill. I looked forward on this occasion to the strong support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt). I do not know why he is not in his place — and I do not know where ho is — but his language last year was so kind with regard to a Bill, which was really the same Bill as this, that I certainly thought he would have been here to assist the Government.I will undertake," said the right hon. Gentleman, "to do all I can to assist the Government in passing the Bill, because it contains three valuable principles—payment by the landlord, abolition of distress, and reduction of the tithe when the land will not bear it.I defy anyone to say these are not the three leading principles of this Bill. I can assure the Government that they have in this matter the whole popular feeling of the farmers at their back: that the landowners, on the whole, are willing to accept the Bill; and that probably the owners of the tithe rent-charge, although they will suffer in some respects by the Bill, will, for the sake of peace and quiet, which above all things they desire, accept it.
§ (10.55.) MR. WARMINGTON (Monmouth, W.)
I can hardly congratulate the Government upon the Representatives 114 of Welsh opinion among their supporters. It is a very singular fact that no one on the other side of the House is able to express with any authority the opinion of Wales on any question which agitates the Principality. The hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. Stanley heighten) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) can in eloquent terms say what the opinion of the Principality is, but we fail to find any Representatives of a Welsh constituency who supports the statements which those Gentlemen use. I wish to question altogether the axiom laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and to which he himself does violence in his own Bill, with regard to the nature of the property in tithes. The Authority which, under the Bill, has to deal with the subject of tithes is the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. If the right hon. Gentleman had consulted the history of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, he would have found it was too late in the day to say that the property which belongs to the Church Establishment is not property which can be dealt with by the State. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners were constituted by Act of Parliament, and dealt with Church property on the footing of its being national property. They take away the endowments of one diocese or of one parish and transfer them to another. The hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton) does not know the depth of feeling on this subject which exists amongst the Welsh farmers. These men are not, as the hon. Member seems to suppose, in favour of the abolition of tithe on the ground that it is a private debt. They consider it as the misapplication of public, property. If I should be asked to describe this Bill, I should say it is merely an attempt to prop up the Establishment in Wales from the outside. I agree that the Church in Wales has done a good religious work: but if the Church desires to have its influence extended, it is not from the outside sources it should seek its strength, but from sources within its own walls. If those who are the devoted members of the Establishment in Wales desire to extend its work let them do their duty to their own Church in the same way as members of other Churches in Wales do their duty to their own religious denominations. If that is done, no doubt 115 considerable influence will be exercised on the religious feeling in Wales. But this is not an attempt to strengthen the Church from the inside; it is an attempt to strengthen the Church from the outside; to strengthen it by means of money which is dragged from the pockets of those who do not believe in the Establishment in Wales as a religious institution. The farmers of Wales raise the objection to tithe because they have a settled conviction that they are paying money which had its origin in national purposes towards a religious institution which only ministers to the religious wants of a small minority of the population. I was very much surprised to hear that the hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. S. Leighton) had the hardihood to say that the Church in Wales is the strongest religious institution in the Principality. I do not know how he measures strength. [Mr. S. LEIGHTON: By numbers.] There is a different way of measuring strength. I should like him to measure strength in this way, which, I think, would be a fair method: Let him take the support of the Church that is rendered by those who are members of the Church. He will then find that the Church of England in Wales is one of the weakest religious institutions in the Principality. Let him subtract from the revenues of the Church the contributions of those who are not members of the Church—contributions which are forced from them by the law of this country—and he will find that the Church is one of the weakest of the religious institutions in the country. Last year the Postmaster General spoke of the distress of the Welsh clergy, and said it was a scandal. Of course it is. No one denies that; least of all do the Welsh Representatives. But to whom is it a scandal? Is it a scandal to those who do not profess to support the clergy? Is it a scandal to those who do not regard the clergy of the Church of England as their ministers? No, Sir; it is a scandal to those who profess the same religious opinions as the clergy; it is a scandal to those who, being best able to support ministers of religion, fail in their duty and leave it to outsiders to find the means by which the clergymen can live properly. Now, this Bill is very complicated. I admit it has been very carefully prepared; it is very much superior, so far as draftsmanship is concerned, to 116 the Bill of last Session. But, at the same time, its object is easily seen. Its object is not in the least degree to benefit the payer of tithe, but to benefit the owner of tithe. I think the right hon. Gentleman might have explained a little more what he means by the provision as to the appointment of a Receiver. As I understand, it will be competent for the Receiver to manage the farm. What does that mean? Why, the costs of the Receiver will add enormously to the burdens which have to be borne by the tithepayer; and if the Receiver is also to manage the farm, he may borrow money and expend it in management, so that the man in occupation may be kept for years out of the beneficial enjoyment of the holding. Poundage and the costs and expenses of the Receiver and manager will more than double that which the tithepayer was originally expected to pay. And this, it is said by the right hon. Gentleman, is to be a benefit. I do not believe that the ownership of tithe is inimical to the tithepayer. As a rule, tithe owners and tithepayers have that amount of common sense which shows them that they are in fact partners in one concern, and I do not think the tithe owner can agree to a measure which he sees places an additional burden upon the tithepayer as this Bill does. I hope that the Government will profit by the experience of last Session, and withdraw the Bill. The Postmaster General, who stands in the place of a Welsh Secretary, is anxious, I understand, to send a message of peace to Wales. But the right hon. Gentleman must see that there is no message of peace in this measure; but, on the contrary, that there is in it a great element of discord between the tithe owner and tithepayer. The right hon. Gentleman would do well to persuade his Colleagues that this measure will not prove the means of bringing round the people of Wales to favour Establishment. If I were speaking merely as a Party man, I should say I desire nothing better than this Bill; but I am not anxious to speak as a Party man. I am anxious for this question to be settled, but the settlement ought surely to proceed upon the principle that that which is public property ought to be applied to public purposes.
§ *SIR W. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North-West)
I desire to say a few words on this 117 important question. Any one who has listened attentively to the debate must say that up to this it has run very much in one groove. I should like to remove it from that groove. It has been, in reality, a Welsh debate. I sympathise with those gentlemen who are anxious to state their views with regard to the Church of England in Wales, yet they must remember that this Bill applies to the whole of England. I think no one will deny that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has very clearly laid before us that which he intends by the Bill. Let me go back for a moment to ancient history. We had a. Tithes Bill in 1887, but it was not pressed to a Division in this House. In that Bill there was 5 per cent. to be paid to the landowners. That was to cover other proposals in the Bill which they thought might be very objectionable to many of the landowners. But that 5 per cent. was cut out of the Bill, and then the Bill itself disappeared from the scene. We then had another Bill. That Bill contained a provision which placed upon landowners a personal responsibility, indeed more than a personal responsibility. If, for instance, you lived in Middlesex and had property in Yorkshire, and the Yorkshire tithe was not paid, the tithe owner could come down on your property in Middlesex and take sufficient to satisfy the tithe in Yorkshire. That was a proposal which no reasonable man would have accepted. I would have fought it to the death. Such a proposal would never have passed into law. After that another unfortunate Bill was brought forward. If the opinions of many gentlemen on this side of the House had been listened to that Bill would not have been pressed so far as it was: but the Bill was pressed on, and then what a change of front took place ! Why was the change made? Because my hon. Friend the Member for the Maldon Division of Essex (MR. G. W. Gray) nearly carried an Amendment embodying the first principles of this Bill. My hon. Friend, therefore, ought to be satisfied with the present measure. The right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), who was then leading the Opposition, stated distinctly that the change the Government had made was me which he could absolutely support, and that he believed hon. Members on 118 the Opposition Benches would support the Government in carrying the Bill. That Bill was ruled out of order. The Government, however, profiting by the experience of the past and relying on the fair and reasonable support of the House of Commons, now places before it the provisions which were in the proposed Bill withdrawn last year. I think the Government are right in bringing forward this Bill, and I believe that any fair and reasonable Amendments will be carefully considered by my right hon. Friend in charge of it (Sir M. Hicks Beach). I think my right hon. Friend has done a great service to the House. If there is any man who has suffered from the agricultural depression it is he. I believe he has looked at both sides of the question, and can represent the views of all who are interested in it. A right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench said he should oppose the Bill on every point. I hope this declaration will strengthen my right hon. Friend in the determination that, as far as the main principles of the measure are concerned, he will adhere steadfastly to them if he really means to carry the Bill at all. There is not a, man in the House who would not say it would be a disgrace to a strong Government like this after bringing in a Bill for the fourth time to withdraw it from the consideration of the House on account of the opposition of a few Gentlemen on the opposite side. If they go on boldly I hope they will pass a measure which will settle this question for many years to come. Reference has been made to the disturbances which have gradually sprung up in Wales since 1887. The way to prevent disturbance from growing is to be firm at the commencement. If the Government had been firm, if with a steady and resolute hand they had put down the disturbances they would not have grown at all. I venture to think that the provision with regard to the special rate is one that is in the interests of the landowners as well as the tenants, because they will be able to go to the Assessment Committee and get the absolute sum approved, which sum if less than the tithes, then the tithes will be reduced to that sum, and the tithe owner will have to pay the rates, no rates being charged upon the land. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that he might go a step 119 further in that direction. We have heard that there are a large number of small holders who suffer tremendously by the present depression. We know that when the tithe commutation took place in 1836 the rates were more than double what they are at present. Who has benefited by the reduction of the rates? Has it not been the tithe owner? If you read the statements made at the time by Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell, you will find they were both agreed that if the price of wheat went down, some re-arrangement ought to be made, and that they went further, and said the object of the commutation of tithe was to enable those who were putting their money into the land, namely, the landlords, to make such great improvements as have been made since the Act of 1836. Then it was said the reason for fixing the payment was that there should be no extraordinary change: that it would be most unfair if an increase of tithe were made on account of the improved cultivation of the land, and, though an enormous change has taken place since the repeal of the Corn Laws, yet it would be dangerous to reopen the fixed basis. We have to deal with it as it stands, and I venture to hope and I believe that the relief, small as it is, will be of service to a large number of people. But I go one step further in regard to the Redemption Clauses. My right hon. Friend has been much criticised upon these, and an hon. Member has said—Whatever you do if you redeem the tithe and get rid of the burden on the land, we shall place some other burden on the land, for that is what we think we ought to doBut I would like to ask the hon. Member for Leicester about this. He cannot be of that opinion he will not put another shilling on the land for has he not undertaken that if he should have the management of affairs, if he should ever sit there as Prime Minister, he would get an increase of 50 per cent. from the land? I confess I should like to know how he proposes to do it, and if he succeeds I will be his humble disciple. We have heard lately through the elaborate speech of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary how he proposes to deal with tenants in Ireland; and surely if we are to have a redemption scheme worthy of the name, we may urge upon my right hon. Friend, with the assistance of the 120 Chancellor of the Exchequer and with the magnificent security of a first charge upon the land, that we might have the money advanced to us at a very much more reasonable rate than that mentioned in the Bill. That is one of the questions I hope my right hon. Friend will take into account: but believing that, upon the whole, he has endeavoured to fulfil the pledge given by the Government last year, and although there are some points in the Bill I do not approve of, and which may be amended, yet still I believe that if my right hon. Friend is only firm and sted fast in his purpose, he will carry this to a successful conclusion, and at the end of the Session we shall have the credit of having placed upon the Statute Book a measure which I venture to hope will settle this difficult and dangerous question of tithe for many years to come.
§ (11.30.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
As one who strongly opposed the Bill of last year, I feel bound to say that I think the present is a very carefully prepared Bill, and one which might, by amendments in Committee, be made a very good measure. The debate so fat-has been carried on upon two lines; by those who have supported the Bill and mildly criticised it, and others who have dealt with the measure from a Welsh point of view. The arguments of the Welsh Members may be summed up in this, that they would find no fault with the Bill provided it were to include a clause which should disestablish the Church in Wales. Whatever differences of opinion hon. Members may have with regard to the proper use and disposition of the tithe rent-charge, we must all agree that the tithe should be preserved in its integrity for any use to which Parliament may choose hereafter to devote it. That is exactly the principle of the Bill. I am exceedingly glad that the Government propose to relieve the tenants from the payment of the tithe rent-charge. It was the greatest mistake that the tenants ever had to pay it, and it is contrary to the intention of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836. I believe it was brought about by the land agents to save themselves the trouble of making those small payments. In Lincolnshire, Northumberland, and many other counties, on all the large estates the tithe rent-charge is paid by the landlords; but where it is paid by the tenant it is for the convenience of the landlord, and the tenant gets a 121 return for it at the rent audit. I am quite certain the system has been a very bad system, and I think no one who reads the Act of 1836 can fail to sea that the idea of the tenant paying the tithe is much deprecated. I am therefore very glad that it is proposed to make payment by the tenant illegal, and we shall get rid of the scandal of a tenant being distrained upon for that which ho is not bound to pay or entitled to pay except as a matter of convenience for the landlord, and I believe recovery through the County Court is the proper method to adopt. With regard to the certificate of the Assessment Committee, I agree with my hon. Friend who spoke last that this is a valuable provision of the Bill. It is fair to everybody all round, because land is depreciated in most counties from 22 to 25 per cent., and therefore the tithe owners' charge on the land ought to be reduced by the same amount. But I am not very well pleased that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should be the Body to administer the Act, because they have a very good character for running up expenses, and a very bad character for expediting business, and I am afraid a great deal of toll will be paid by the clergy for the work transacted for them. In regard to the redemption clauses of the Bill, I should like to ask why it is that when the landlords are unable to pay the capital amount of redemption, they are asked to pay 4 per cent. on mortgage to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, for I find in another part of the Bill that the Tithe Receiver gets 3⅜ per cent. What becomes of the other rive-eighths paid by the landlord? Surely that should not be allowed to fall into the jaws of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Surely it would be better if matters were carried on as now, and that landowners might pay direct to the Tithe Receiver an amount say of 3½ or 3¾ per cent. It would be a saving to landowners and to the tithe receiver, and the only people who would lose by the arrangement would be the officials of the Ecclesiastical Commission, with whom, I confess, I have no sympathy. Then I would call attention to Section 3, Sub-section I, under which power is given to provide that all lands in the possession of the same owner shall be liable for the tithe due upon part of the land. Now I cannot see Why these words 122 should be included. Surely whether a man is a large or a small landowner, or whether his occupancy is small or large, he should be dealt with on the same terms. But under this clause a man might have a large farm, part of which might be of great value, and part very poor land, paying badly, yet the grass land might be made liable and brought under the Receivership for the tithe not paid on the clay land. I make these remarks with a view to assist the Government in the Bill. I cordially support the Bill, and hope that every one who can assist in making it a perfect measure and a benefit to all concerned will vote for the Second Reading.
(11.40.) MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark Mid)
I have been very much interested in the reasons assigned for supporting the Bill, but most of all by the right hon. Gentleman who told us generally that the Bill was for the benefit of tithe owners and tithe payers; but nine-tenths of his speech was devoted to the Bill as it would affect the people of Wales. Wales was in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman throughout. The President of the Board of Trade has told us of some imaginary opponent of the Bill, whose picture, as the right hon. Baronet drew it. was like Henry VIII. Well Henry VIII. was a Welshman, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there are still Welshmen who would strike as big blows at the Ecclesiastical Establishment as ever Henry VIII. did. It is plain from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that ho has in his mind the interests of tithe owners only. He wants the tithe owners in England to have the same facilities for borrowing money from the taxpayers, as he and his Party are ready to give to the landowners of Ireland. To describe the Bill as a Tenant Parmer's Relief Bill is to describe it quite wrongly. How will the tenant be benefited? If the obligation to pay tithe is shifted on to the landlord, but if the tenant in his turn has to pay the amount to the landlord, how will the tenant be better off than before? When the hon. Member opposite argued that tithe is the property of the Church, think he ought to have consulted his leaders on the Front Bench. The First Lord has explained, I think, that when he said tithe was national property he 123 did not mean exactly what others did; but the President of the Board of Trade had admitted the same thing.
I do not wish to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman, hut I thought he used the expression "national property," though he qualified it with other words.
§ *SIR MICHAEL HICKS BEACH
I never used it. What I did say was that the hon. Member for Swansea, had described the property as national, but that I did not agree with him.
I find that the right hon. Gentleman did not use the words "national property," but the words "public property"; so there is not a great distinction. Then the hon. Member for Hants said that he did not wish to be relieved of his own burdens at the expense of the Church. Well, I can assure the hon. Member that the tenant farmers of Wales, have no such wish cither. They protest against the payment of tithes on public grounds, and not from any notion of private benefit. The agitation in which they have taken part has landed the farmers of Wales in very heavy expenses. Then we had the speech of the noble Lord (Viscount Wolmer), which, I suppose, was directed to showing that he has inherited a legal mind, but really it amounted to no more than the assertion of absurd legal quibbles. Then, from a Lincolnshire Member we had quite a pathetic appeal to the Government to make the thing a little sweeter to tithepayers, for there were 2,000 such among his constituents. And doubtless the Government will do this, and the assistance of the British taxpayer will be asked to lend money at 2¾ per cent. Night after night we have heard taunts in this House of speeches being paid for; but the speech of the hon. Member for Bradford is delivered almost nightly at 30s. and second-class return fare. We have heard the speech often, and I suppose often shall hear it again. Then we had the speech of the hon. Gentleman from Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton). It amused us, coming among some 124 very dull speeches; but who is the authority Prothero he quoted? Is he another of the 30s. speakers? Hon. Members think such allusions are bad form, perhaps, but let them remember this when they use taunts against us on this side. There are four Conservative Members for Wales, but they are not in the House, and they will not dare to speak in support of the Bill, although they may vote for it. The Bill will not put down agitation, which will be carried on by farmers who own their farms. Agitation is not the cause but the effect of a real grievance, and agitation will go on until the Church in Wales is Disestablished.
§ (11.55.) Debate adjourned till tomorrow.