§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir M. Hicks Beach.)
(5.15.) SIR W.HARCOURT (Derby)
I may state, at no unnecessary length, the reasons why I feel bound to vote against the Third Reading of this Bill. There are circumstances in connection with the Bill of which I confess I do not remember any example. During the progress of the discussions on the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman who has charge of it has very fairly recognised that there are omissions which ought to be supplied. One of these omissions related to the very important question of derelict farms, and when an Amendment dealing with that matter came to be discussed the Government found themselves unable to defend their own Amendment. These deficiencies were discovered too late to be remedied in Committee, and the Government promised to deal with them when the Bill came before the Upper House.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICKS BEACH, Bristol, W.)
I simply withdrew the Amendment.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I pointed out at the time there was great difficulty in dealing with the matter at that stage, seeing that it was a vital and important matter. The Government saw their Amendment would not hold water, and withdrew it; but I certainly did not anticipate they would leave their Bill 501 derelict as well as the farms. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will admit the intention to reserve this Amendment to be dealt with in the House of Lords, for he pledged himself the Bill should come down to this House in a form which would enable this matter to be discussed. And I assert that the House of Lords is a singularly inappropriate Body to deal with these matters, for it consists of large tithe owners and landlords. If, therefore, there were no other reason, I should vote against the Third Reading of a Bill admitted by the Government to be an incomplete measure. These conditions have been produced by the desire of the Government to rush legislation of some kind, regardless of its thorough consideration. In 1889 the Government introduced a Bill to settle the tithe question on the principle of throwing all the burden of the tithe on the occupier. This was strenuously opposed by the Liberal Party, who were denounced as wicked obstructionists. Our opposition was described as factious. Yet the Government saw fit to give way, and that principle, which has now been rightly abandoned by the Government, would have been embodied in an Act of Parliament but for the strong opposition of which the Government complained. In the course of the Debate on that Bill we were described as unscrupulous obstructives, as Church robbers, and as the friends of disorder. Then in 1890 the Government introduced another Tithe Bill of quite a different character. It embodied the principle for which we had contended, namely, that the liability should fall on the landowner, and not on the occupier. The old Bill had disappeared, Sir, mainly by reason of your ruling, because you determined that the Amendments proposed by the Attorney General were so complete a change in the character of the measure that they, in fact, constituted a new Bill. Now the first Bill of 1890, so far as it placed the liability on the owner instead of the occupier, was a measure to which I, at least, offered no objection. Still, the Bill contained a number of provisions which, in our opinion, were most injurious to the occupiers of the land. It made occupiers, who were under a contract to pay tithe, liable to execution, bankruptcy, and eviction. It gave most extraordinary powers in the case of the small yeoman, and 502 enabled a receiver to go in and intermeddle with his farm. To these things we offered strenuous resistance. Again, we were denounced as unscrupulous obstructives, but with the unexpected assistance-of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Compensation Clauses we got rid of that Bill. And the result of our unscrupulous obstruction was that the Amendments for which we contended have now been adopted in the present Bill. We now have No. 2 Bill of 1890 before us. The 1st clause contains a principle for which I have always contended, namely, that the liability shall be on the owner, and not on the occupier, and that the Bill also removes many of the objections we had entertained to its predecessor. Therefore I, for one, did not vote against the Second Reading. I was quite willing, bearing in mind how far former Bill shad been amended in their progress, to see if this one could not be made to fall in with our views. I have forgotten to mention the ambitious scheme of redemption which characterised the two first Bills, and which was found to be so totally unworkable that it had to be thrown overboard in the present Bill. But I repeat, I was extremely willing to see if this Bill could not in Committee be made acceptable. With reference to the present Bill, this I will say: that the 1st clause contains a principle for which I have always contended as against the principle contained in the Bill of 1889. That, in point of fact, is what we have achieved by our opposition. But there is one thing to which I do not think sufficient attention has been called in this House, and I doubt whether it is understood in the country. One of the great professions of the authors of the Bill of 1889 was that it would be a great thing to do away with distress for tithe. But this Bill does not do away with distress for tithe at all. Distress for tithe will exist as much with this Bill in operation as it exists now. Distress for tithe is the only remedy. If you look at Clause 1 you find such sums shall be recoverable from the occupier by distress in like manner provided by the Tithe Act with respect to arrears of tithe rent-charge. That is the old remedy of distress, and no other; it is also the only remedy under Sub-section 2 of Clause 2, in the case of occupying owner and the occupier 503 under covenant to pay tithe. Under Clause 2 we find the order of the Court shall be executed by an officer appointed by the Court, who, subject to the direction of the Court, shall have the powers of distraint conferred by the Tithes Act. Therefore, in the great majority of cases, distress will be the only remedy, as before; and therefore the idea that this Bill has some particular merit in getting rid of distress is a total delusion. It is also believed that under this Bill the owner will take the whole liability for tithe, that he will make a new arrangement with his tenant, and that the tenant will know nothing about the payment of tithe as such. That is the idea of Clause 1, but it is a mistake to think this will happen. In Section 2 of Clause 1 we come upon the case of the occupier who is liable, under covenant made before the passing of this Act, to pay tithe, and that sub-section will govern nearly all the tenant-farmers in this country. Of course, if you have a lease of seven years and that comes to an end, then a new contract can be made in which the tenant-farmer may no longer be subject to the payment of tithe; but in the case of tenants from year to year, which constitute three-fourths or more of the agricultural tenancies in the country, there will be a continuing contract made before the passing of the Act, and the tenant, therefore, will continue to be liable to pay tithe, unless he gives his landlord notice to quit and a new contract is made, which is not likely to happen. Therefore, in tenancies from year to year, this Bill will have no operation in relieving the tenant from payment of tithe; he will continue to pay tithe not levied from him as rent, but qua tithe, and levied by the landlord instead of by the tithe owner, levied in the same way, by distress. The situation, therefore, will not be altered in the slightest degree. I suggested, not in the House— but I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman objects to my mentioning it—that we should apply to the case of tenant-farmers the same words as were put into the Tithe Commutation Act of 1883, by which year to year tenancies would be treated as annual tenancies simply, so that the provisions of the Act would come into operation with reference to every annual tenancy at the end of six months. 504 If that had been put in the Bill the tenant farmer would be relieved from payment of tithe, he would know nothing of tithe as tithe, and his arrangement would be made with his landlord quite irrespective of the payment of tithe. Now that would have been a reform worth making, but this Bill will leave the tenant-farmer, in the case of an. annual tenancy, liable to pay tithe, just as he is now, and the tithe that the landlord pays will be recoverable, not as rent, but qua tithe, and by distress. Let me illustrate this. Suppose a tenant in Wales, willing to pay rent—unwilling to pay tithe. He will pay his rent, and the landlord will say, "I have paid the tithe; you must repay me." The tenant will refuse to pay tithe, as he has before refused, and the landlord will then distrain as and for tithe, and never as rent, under this Bill. I point these things out, and depend upon it you will find the "rub" of this when you come to the working of the Act. The notion that you have instituted a reform as to the liability for tithe when you object to provide for year to year tenancies will be discovered to be a great delusion. That I have to say on the 1st clause of the Bill. I think it is very defective in that respect, though I have no objection to the principle of the clause. Then we come to the important Clause 2. I have said the only machinery left in this Bill practically, with the exception of the collection of rents by the receiver, which, in my opinion, will only constitute a small part of the operation of the Bill, is by distress. You may say so it is now, but it will not be at all after the passing of this Act as before, for you have called in the machinery of the County Court to effect this distress; it can only be done by that machinery—an expensive, inconvenient, and oppressive machinery. Therefore, we have laboured through this Bill. I confess that was my object, to reduce the difficulties of the County Court in the execution of the provisions of the Bill. I will bear testimony, as I have done before, to the extremely reasonable, courteous, and conciliatory manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has conducted these discussions, and that the Bill has reached its Third Reading stage is mainly due to the change in the management of the Bill, from a former experiment 505 of which, we have had experience. But though the right hon. Gentleman has accepted something like 10 Amendments of a material character from this side of the House—a circumstance which shows that charges of obstruction are totally unfounded—although the right hon. Gentleman has allowed there are omissions in the Bill which have to be dealt with else where, or not dealt with at all, there still remain points in the 2nd clause which make the danger so great that they constitute the main reasons why, not having voted against the Second Reading, I feel bound to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill. First, take the matter of expense. What right have you to benefit the tithe owner and to put the tithe payer to greater expense in doing so? Is there any man in the House who believes that if you are going to exact this tithe charge through the machinery of the County Court the tithe payer will not be put to far greater expense than he now incurs? Every man of practical experience knows that will be the case. The right hon. Gentleman opposite did not feel at liberty to allow that costs should be restricted. We fought this question of costs hard—we fought for a Schedule for many hours, and we had the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Sir H. James), the only assistance we had from the particular Party of which he is a Member, in reference to this Bill, and indeed all our Amendments were mainly defeated by those gentlemen, who say they are Liberals in all things save in reference to Ireland. There have been narrow majorities far below an ordinary Government majority, but those majorities which have defeated our Amendments for the interests of small owners and occupiers have been made up of the Liberal Unionists. Therefore, I do single out the solitary and remarkable exception in the assistance we have received from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bury. But do not let it be said there was obstructive opposition, for if after a few hours—I might say after some days—we succeeded in obtaining a Schedule of costs, it was worth the time expended. But the Schedule does not go far enough. The Schedule only deals with the fees in Court, and not with those extraneous costs which will be the 506 inevitable consequence in many cases of giving this jurisdiction to County Courts in Wales. You are, I say, doing that which we have always protested against, giving an advantage to the tithe owners at the expense of the tithe payers—an advantage to which the tithe owners are not entitled, and for which the tithe-payers ought not to pay. This is a great blot in the Bill. I will not say much about the 3rd clause of the Bill, that is in charge of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Gray). I voted with him, and we were defeated by the votes of representatives of the great landowners in England. I suppose they thought they were acting wisely, at all events they are generally able to take care of themselves, and I do not feel very much called upon to contend in their interest; but I doubt very much whether the small owners and yeomen of England, who are not so able to take care of themselves, and who have few representatives or sympathisers on that side of the House, will regard this achievement, this principal measure of the Session of a Tory-Unionist Government, as a blessing in disguise; at all events, the disguise is very complete, and the blessing will disappear as the Act comes into operation. Apart from these matters, there is one matter which is conclusive in inducing me to vote against the Third Reading. We contended that if you were going to confer a jurisdiction necessarily more vexatious and more costly than the existing proceeding, you should take very great care to make that jurisdiction one which would engender confidence, and not irritate and cause vexation among the people among whom it is to be newly introduced. In Wales you are going for the first time to County Court the great majority of the agricultural population. ["No, no!"] That, in itself, is a serious matter. The right hon. Gentleman says "No;" but I speak on the information of persons well acquainted with conditions of agricultural tenure in the Principality, which I do not assert that I am. I will say large numbers of the population. You are going to County Court these people; what does this mean? It means bringing them in matters that affect their deepest sentiments and strongest convictions under the jurisdiction of a tribunal that is as ignorant of their feelings as it is of their language. That is 507 one great defect in your Bill. I will say nothing against the County Court Judges, except that I think they are not very likely to know much of the sentiments of the Welsh people, and will not gather it from any knowledge of the language in which those sentiments are expressed. If you tell me the Courts will deal with these matters as with other small debts, that is nothing at all to the purpose. This is not a question of small debts at all, and it has never been under the jurisdiction of the County Court as a small debt. You are making it a County Court question for the first time, and you are bound in doing this to see that the County Court shall be surrounded by proper safeguards appertinent to this new jurisdiction. There is this also in the peculiar condition of Wales: that whereas in England the great majority of the persons amenable to the Bill will have the right to appeal to a jury, in Wales hardly any of the persons subject to the Bill will have that right. We have contended throughout this Bill as well as we could that if you granted this new jurisdiction you should at least give in that jurisdiction some weight and some voice to public opinion and popular sentiment among the Welsh people. If you had chosen you might have mitigated, I think, the exasperation which may be caused by this Bill, and I think you would have been wise if you had done so. The Government think our opposition to the Bill has been too strenuous. I suspect that one of these days they will regret it was not more strenuous and more persistent, so that we could have converted them from their errors on this occasion as we did before. The day will come when the Government will be only too glad to concede the right of trial by jury to Wales, as they are now glad to cast the burden of the tithe on the owner instead of the occupier. I do very much regret that again the Government have availed themselves on this matter of the assistance of their allies who are Liberals in all things except as affecting Ireland. They have voted down Welsh opinion in favour of trial by jury; this is a test of their Liberalism in all things except as regards the Union. If the Government had made this concession I think we might have made a settlement of this question, and certainly I would not 508 myself—I speak for no one else—be voting against the Third Reading of this Bill. You think this Bill is going to settle this question, and bring tranquillity to Wales. I hope it may. I wish I thought it would. I think it is much more likely to bring a sword than to bring peace. At all events, from the form this Bill has finally assumed, in spite of all our efforts, successful on some points, but unsuccessful in many more, I have come to the conclusion without hesitation that I must vote against the Third Reading of a Bill which, I am sorry to say, I believe will cause more evil than it is likely to cure.
§ (6.52.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
We have just witnessed what is always a great and solemn spectacle—that of a man struggling with the supreme difficulty of explaining the reasons for the difference between his views and his actions. I am quite sure, judging from the erratic course the right hon. Gentleman has hitherto pursued on this subject, that if it had remained among the Forms of the House that there should be not only the Question that the Bill be read a third time, but also the further Question that the Bill should pass, on that further Question the right hon. Gentleman would again change his mind. What are the reasons the right hon. Gentleman has given for taking, with regard to the Third Reading of this Bill, a different course to that which he adopted on the Second Reading? First of all, he told the House that the Bill is better than previous Bills. The right hon. Gentleman claims the parentage of the principle on which the Bill is based, namely, that the liability for the tithe rent-charge should be transferred from the occupier to the owner. I think, however, that it ought to be stated, in all fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, that it was on his motion and persistent action that the House in 1889 established that principle in opposition to the Bill then proposed by Her Majesty's Government. [Sir W. HARCOURT: I admit it was with his assistance] The right hon. Gentleman further claims that a great part of the Amendments which he and his friends proposed to our Bill of last year have been adopted in the present Bill; that during the progress of the Bill through Committee we have adopted ten 509 at least of the Amendments proposed on his side of the House; and he has praised, in terms for which I thank him, the manner in which I have attempted to perform the duty of conducting the Bill through the House. Surely these are all reasons for not taking a more hostile course to the Bill on the Third Beading than he did on the Second Beading. The right hon. Gentleman says the Bill is admittedly incomplete. I have made no such admission. The right hon. Gentleman declares that we have recognised an omission in the Bill which ought to be remedied, and he referred to the question of derelict farms and the right of entry of the tithe owner. I myself never regarded the right of entry of the tithe owner as a right of any serious value to him; and if that right is to be complicated by questions of compensation, I do not think we have done any injury to the owner of the tithe rent-charge by omitting it from the Bill.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Will the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to explain, for certainly it has not been understood until now. Is it understood, then, that this Bill abolishes altogether the right of entry upon the land by the tithe owner?
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The 2nd sub-section of Clause 1, as it at present stands, leaves only the right of distraint to the tithe owner to be carried out through the County Court. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Norfolk, with regard to which I have made a promise on behalf of the Government that we will endeavour so to amend it in another place that the House may again have an opportunity of discussing it. That promise was made simply because hon. Members lost their opportunity of discussing the matter, not because I myself had any objection to the Amendment. The only point upon which the right hon. Gentleman can fairly say the Bill has been admitted to be incomplete by us is that just at the close of our proceedings on Tuesday night the Attorney General, at the urgent request of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, consented to include in the Bill certain provisions as to costs of solicitors and witnesses in undefended 510 cases which he had previously promised would be made by Rules of Court. I must say I think the contention of the right hon. Gentleman, that he is justified in objecting to the Third Reading because of the incomplete condition of the Bill, is not founded on the facts of the case. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to complain that the Bill does not abolish distraint for tithe rent-charge. We have never said that the Bill does abolish it. What we have said is that it abolishes the liability of the tenant for the tithe rent-charge, and abolishes the possibility which now exists that the tenant may be distrained upon for a debt that is not his own. Under Clause 1, he can only be distrained upon for the equivalent of the debt which he has himself contracted to pay, until he chooses to make a fresh contract. The right hon. Gentleman objects to the time when the 1st clause will take effect, but he never placed an Amendment on the Paper to carry out his views. He objects to Clause 2, on the ground that it will bring into the County Court a large number of the people in Wales. But the only people, either in England or Wales, who can be brought into the County Court will be the owners of land. No doubt there are in Wales a considerable number of small owners of land; but to say they form a very large part of the population is to speak with an exaggeration which is hardly worthy of the right hon. Gentleman. There is no injustice: there can be no injustice to Wales in this matter, or in the matter of trial by jury. The right hon. Gentleman also objects to the County Court as the tribunal in these matters, because he thinks its decisions will not be based on popular sentiment. I hope judicial decisions will never be given in accordance with popular sentiment. I hope they will be given in accordance with justice and law. Hon. Members from Wales admit that they have confidence that the County Court Judges will act according to law and justice. But if the right hon. Gentleman feels so strong an objection to the 2nd and 3rd clauses, how is it that when these clauses were put from the Chair his name does not appear among those who voted against them? The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) at the time pointed to the absence of the 511 right hon. Gentleman as a proof of his lukewarmness.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Permit me to say I had an engagement which I could not break, and which made it necessary for me to be absent when the Division on Clause 2 was taken. I certainly was not deliberately absent.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I entirely accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, and I will not pursue the subject. The real question is not the consistency of the right hon. Gentleman, but whether the Bill in its present shape is such that the House ought to accept it? I will not, however, enter into a discussion of the merits of the Bill, for these have already been fully discussed. I believe it to be a measure which will be an advantage to the tithe owner in assisting him to recover a debt legally due to him; an advantage to the tenants of England and Wales, who will be freed from liability to distraint for a debt not theirs; and an advantage to the tithe payers, who, in cases where it can be shown that the tithe, owing to agricultural depression, is excessive, can claim and obtain relief and remission.
§ (6.5.) MR. W. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)
I cannot allow the Third Reading to pass without recording on my own behalf and on that of my constituents, and I hope I may without presumption add the people of Wales, my protest against the principle of legislation involved in this Bill. This is no doubt, in name, a Bill for England and Wales, but no one will deny that in substance it is a Bill to punish persons in Wales who have declined to pay tithe, not because they desire to rid themselves of a just and honest obligation, but because they object to what they consider the misappropriation of the tithe. That such is the true intent of the Bill was confessed in some observations which were made in Committee by the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes). I have no sort of inconsistency to defend, nor do I think there is any inconsistency in the course which has been taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. I presume the right hon. Gentleman, in common with others, might well have approved of a portion of the general principle of the Bill, whilst he hoped his own efforts and the 512 efforts of others would have the effect of inducing the Government to adopt such suggestions and Amendments as would have enabled him on the Third Reading, not partially or generally but wholly to approve of the Bill. That expectation, if it was indulged in by the right hon. Gentleman, has been lamentably disappointed, and we are confronted by the argument that the Bill is being passed for the benefit of each and all the various classes of society within the Principality of Wales, while the Bill is condemned by the almost unanimous voice of the Representatives of that country. The Government refuse to allow the people of the different nations who go to make up the Kingdom to legislate for themselves within their own borders on the ground that the House of Commons is able and willing to consider their case; and yet when the whole body of the Representatives of one of the nations unite with one voice in condemning the provisions of a Bill ostensibly brought in for their benefit no heed is given to the representations made. If the measure is to benefit Wales, why do the Government not take care to make the majority of the Welsh people their coadjutors in the work of pacifying Wales? Why do the Government exclude the people from the exercise of part of the judicial functions with which in other matters they are entrusted? Why is it there has been such a desperate resistance to the demand for trial by jury? In principle it cannot be pretended that there is anything in the arguments of the supporters of the Government, because trial by jury already exists in cases where the amount in dispute is over £5 Why if there is no question of principle, and the Bill is for the benefit of Wales, do the Government decline to make the people their assistants in carrying the measure into effect? The effect of refusing trial by jury in cases under £5 is really to deprive the people of Wales of the right of jury trial in such cases altogether, because, practically speaking, the people who will be brought into Court under the provisions of this Bill will be persons whose tithe is under £5. I object to the Bill, not only because it is an irritating measure, but a measure which increases and aggravates and complicates the difficulty which already exists around the collection and appropriation 513 of tithe in Wales. I object to the Bill because it is unnecessary, and not demanded by any large section of the people. Who is it who demands the Bill? It is not the landowners. It is not the tenant farmers or small yeomen, and it is not in all cases the clergy, because in some parts of England, notably in Essex, dread notes of dissatisfaction have been heard from them. And in some parts of Wales the clergy themselves do not seem to regard the Bill as a boon. The increased expenses which will be put on the people through the intervention of the County Court will put a new bone of contention between the people and clergy, in addition to sowing dissension between the landowners and the clergy. I consider it is going to extreme lengths for the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to characterise the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, or that of any other Member of the House in regard to the Bill, as erratic, especially when we recollect the peculiar gyrations and singular evolutions which have been performed by the Government itself in regard to the tithe question. I should have thought that, under the circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman would have avoided imputing to the Opposition a course of conduct which has so signally marked the proceedings of the Government on behalf of certain classes who are now owners of tithe. There have been some amendments made in the Bill, but those amendments do not reach the point which the Welsh Members wish to attain. The right hon. Gentleman eloquently and warmly expressed the hope that our Judiciary would never be affected by popular sentiment. In a sense, I re-echo the right hon. Gentleman's hope. If the right hon. Gentleman means that those who exercise judicial functions ought not to be affected by the clamour of the moment I agree with him; but if he means that Judges are to shut their eyes to the circumstances that surround them, if he means that people who share in the popular sentiment are to be excluded from the administration of judicial functions by being kept out of the jury-box, I disagree with him in toto. I do not desire to frame any indictment against the County Court Judges of 514 Wales; but Judges have their prejudices as well as jurors. It is impossible for a man to disentangle himself from the effect of his training and surroundings, and it is because I and my hon. Friends believe the prejudices of the one class are less injurious in the long run to the nation's welfare than the prejudices of the other, that we are anxious to insist that justice will not be done if the people of Wales are not made assistants and coadjutors in the carrying out of this Bill by being empannelled as jurors in cases under £5 as they can be in cases above £5. With this protest on behalf of my constituents, against what I believe to be an unnecessary and mischievous Bill, I shall go into the Lobby against the Third Reading.
(6.20.) MR.C.W.GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
Since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) has imagined that I was opposed to this Bill, he has been good enough to pay a good deal of attention to my views. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to do so once more and refrain from opposing the Third Reading of this Bill. It contains so valuable a principle in its 1st clause in regard to the transference of the tithe to the right shoulders that I think we ought to allow the Third Reading to be taken without waste of time. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that he left Clause 3 entirely in my hands. Well, it is in reference to Clause 3 that I have been at issue with the Government; but I have been beaten, and I will not unnecessarily prolong the Debate by reiterating what I have said about it. I will say that at a former stage of the Debates on this vexed question I hoped that more concessions would have been made by the Government on Clause 3. I based that hope on words that fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes), who, replying to an appeal on my part respecting the value of buildings, said the point I had urged in regard to a separate assessment of buildings and land, and a reduction of the rate able value of buildings was one which the Government regarded as well deserving of consideration. But as the Debates proceeded, and some hon. Members opposite—particularly the hon. Member for Leicester and the hon. Member 515 for Northampton—turned their prentice hands to the defence of property, I knew my cause was lost. The alliance then made between the representatives of the tithe owners here and those Radical Members would, I knew, be too much for me, and I acknowledge that it is useless for me to try again to get any of nay views incorporated in Clause 3. All I can say is, I hope that when this question again engages the attention of Parliament—and it must do so when the Report of the Commission on the Redemption of Tithe is presented—the compromise and the give-and-take of which we have heard so much, will be more real than they have been during the present Debates. Before I sit down I wish to thank the Government, and especially the right hon. Gentleman (Sir M. Hicks Beach) in charge of the Bill, for the continued courtesy with which they have treated the views that have come from all sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill did somewhat, I must admit, upset my equilibrium the other night by the way in which he was good enough to apply to me the simile of the ostrich. But I have since had time to rub up my natural history, and I find that, after all, I need not mind the simile, because the ostrich is described as a wary bird that is difficult to catch, and that, when assailed at close quarters, is in the habit of giving very hard kicks. After the very hard kick the right hon. Gentleman says I gave him the other night it would not be graceful on my part to say more on the point.
§ (6.25.) MR. G.OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
As I am one of the Members for a county which is, perhaps, more affected by this Bill than any other, I should be wanting in my duty to my constituency if I did not enter a final protest against it. Upon the whole, I think the Bill in its present shape is rather better than the measure as first produced to the House. I cordially acknowledge the great courtesy and good temper which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has shown during the whole Debate. If I may say so, it seems to me he has a shown qualities which mark him out for even a higher position in this House than that which he at present occupies. But 516 having said this, I must add this Bill will be immensely unpopular in that part of Her Majesty's dominions for which it is specially intended. Look at the Division Lists on this Bill. I think nearly all the Liberal Members for Wales—certainly all those in town at the present moment—voted solid against the Government proposals. But there are three Conservative Members for Wales and two for Monmouthshire. Out of these five Members, only one—the Member for Pembroke Boroughs, who, after all, represents what is called "little England beyond Wales"—is the only man who has given any support to the Government. It is literally a "one man, one vote" support. I agree with my right hon. Friend in saying it is scarcely prudent for the Government to force down the throat of the population which will be chiefly affected by it even a good Bill. There is in Wales a much larger number of small occupying freeholders than the Government supposes. There are certainly very many thousands of them. The 1st clause maybe welcomed by these men, but the 2nd clause will be resented by them. That clause constitutes the Welsh County Courts tithe collectors to the Welsh clergy. It makes a popular tribunal the agent of an unpopular law. What do you gain by such a provision? It will make the Courts unpopular without adding to the popularity of the clergy. You will have litigation in every case, conducted in populous centres, where of course it is much more easy to get up hostile agitations, and when this has been done, you will have to go through the same process as at present, the only difference being that the distress will be levied by the Court and not by the tithe owner. It is quite clear that the clause will not be acceptable to the County Courts or to the numerous litigants who will find their business stopped by the number of cases that will be brought into Court by the Act. It has been called a Clergy Relief Bill. I doubt very much whether it will do much good to the clergy. I believe there are many clergy who feel that the Bill will only make their position more untenable than it is at present. I believe it will be another downward step in the direction of the future of the Welsh Establishments.
§ (6.31.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)
, who spoke amid cries of "Divide," said: I am by no means a strenuous supporter of this Bill, but I cannot give a silent vote for the Third Reading, because there is much in the measure which I and many of my friends disapprove. Bat if anything could have induced me to support the Bill with all my heart it would have been the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman and by hon. Gentlemen opposite against it. There can be no doubt that my right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill has with the utmost courtesy accepted many Amendments from the other side, but I cannot say he has treated Amendments coming from his own side in the same way, and the result is that the Bill is capable of much improvement. I was not thoroughly aware of what the Bill did until I read it as amended—and I doubt whether other Members were. It is one of the inconveniences of rushing a Bill through Committee that it takes just as long on Report as in Committee. I find that the 1st clause of the Bill deprives the landlord of his present right to enforce a tenant's covenant to pay the tithe rent-charge, and leaves him open to the one remedy of distress to enforce payment of the tithe rent-charge. That seems very objectionable. The 2nd clause deprives the tithe owner of his right to get his money by distress at the end of 21 days, and keeps him waiting for probably five months before he can do anything at all. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that he does not value very highly the power, of which the Bill also deprives the tithe owner, of taking possession if the land is in the owner's occupation, but I can assure him, from my own experience and practice, that that power is very efficacious. It is true it is seldom put in force, but that is because the mere threat of exercising it is sufficient. The tithe owner can only get the tithe out of the future rents if there is nothing to distrain on, and they will not be able to touch them until a year after they are due. The Bill also makes the rates assessed on the tithe rent-charge a personal debt due from the tithe owner, who may not have received the tithe rent-charge on which they are assessed—a personal debt which can be obtained by execution or distress upon his property. 518 The argument of the hon. Member for Cardiganshire (Mr. Bowen Rowlands) simply came to this: that the law ought either to provide for the immediate dis-endowment of the Church of England or to provide that no tithe rent-charge should be recoverable against any occupying tenant. With regard to the costs, I must point out that they can never be incurred by the defendant unless he has refused to pay that which the Court has decided to be a just debt, and if any costs are incurred it will be his own fault.
§ (6.39.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I should not have interposed at this stage of the Bill but for a remark of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), who endeavoured to make out that I and some of my hon. Friends differ from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) in the recommendations he has made with regard to the measure. On the contrary, as far as I am concerned, I have voted consistently every time in the same Lobby as my right hon. Friend, and there has not been one of my right hon. Friend's recommendations which has not had my concurrence. As nearly all my right hon. Friend's recommendations have been carried without a Division, I should like to know what has led the Member for Derby to believe that we differ from my right hon. Friend. Though I supported the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Maldon Division of Essex (Mr. Gray)—and regret that it was not carried—I loyally accepted the decision of the House. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will be right and I wrong, and that the Bill will prove thoroughly satisfactory to every one in the country.
(6.41.) MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
I desire to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and of the Attorney General to the 5th sub-section of the 2nd clause. It provides—Where the occupier of the lands out of which the tithe rent-charge issues is liable under any contract made before the passing of this Act to pay the tithe rent-charge, and is, consequently, liable by virtue of this Act to pay the amount thereof to the owner of the lands, the owner of the lands shall serve notice of such liability on the owner of the tithe rent-charge, and, thereupon, before an order under this section is made, there shall be such 519 service on and hearing of the occupier in addition to the owner as may be prescribed.But there is no penalty whatever imposed and no security taken that the owner shall serve such notice, and, therefore, it seems to me that there has been an oversight. There ought to be a provision declaring that where the owner of the land neglects to serve notice on the owner of the tithe rent-charge, then his remedy against the tenant shall cease. If no penalty is attached to an omission of this kind on the part of the landowner, it is questionable whether he does not by omission render himself criminally liable to an indictment. Under the Bill a statutory obligation is imposed, but no penalty is provided for non-performance of that obligation. I merely draw attention to this in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider the matter with the view—if he agrees with me—of having the defect in the Bill cured in another place.
§ (6.44.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
I intend to vote against the Third Reading of this Bill, and I venture to trespass on the time of the House for a few moments in order to say what I had not an opportunity of saying on the Second Reading of the Bill. [Cries of "Divide!"] I object to the Bill because it is an openly avowed electioneering Bill, and nothing else. We are told that it is the result of a bargain between Lord Salisbury and the Church—the Bill being offered to the Church for its support at the next election. Well, I object to the measure being forced through Parliament simply on that account. If it were brought forward as a matter of business to facilitate the collection of tithe, I could understand it, and should support it, but we know very well it is no such thing. Then, I object to the Bill because I object to any interference with the collection of tithes until the question of what shall be done with this national property has been settled by Parliament. That is one of my strong objections to interfering with the subject at all, because I say it settles nothing. It does not get rid of the question before us, and which has been before us all along. So far as the 1st clause is concerned, I, of course, heartily agree with the principle that the landlord or owner of the land should pay the tithe. It was 520 always intended that he should do so, but most landlords have contracted themselves out of it, and would do so now if they could. [Continued cries of "Divide!"] We have been told by the Postmaster General that the real reason why this Bill is brought forward is to settle the religious difficulty in Wales. Well, this is not going to settle it, and, even if it were, to my mind it is not the proper way of settling it. My opinion is, that the proper way to settle the matter is by Disestablishment and Disendowment; but I do not want to go into that question until it is before the House. I have here a letter from a noble Lord, written in January of this year, in which the same opinion is expressed. At any rate, therefore, we shall have one supporter when this Bill gets to another place. [Cries of "Name!"] I have no objection at all to giving the name. I refer to Lord Brabourne. That we should have a proper settlement of this question in the way I point out is the view not, perhaps, of the money-making Bishops, but of the hard-working clergy. They would prefer to see a settlement by Disestablishment and Disendowment, because the present difficulty separates them from the people. But I have another objection to the Bill, and that is that the tithe is not now, and will not be when the measure is passed, honestly divided amongst the Church ministers. We are constantly being told, especially by the Church, that, the religious income is for the religious instruction of the whole of the parishioners. That I quite agree with, but I disagree with this Bill, because it does nothing to compel the Church itself to divide the income properly amongst its own ministers. The parish in which I live has five churches, each with an ecclesiastical parish of its own. [Renewed cries of "Divide!"] Perhaps it will surprise some people who support the Church so strongly to hear that the whole of the income in the parish goes to one church, and that the other churches which are called upon to perform four-fifths of the work have no endowment whatever, and have to depend, like the Nonconformists, on what they receive from the people. Is that right? Is it right for one clergyman of a parish to put the whole of the income in his pocket and allow other 521 clergymen to do the work? Before I agree to any interference with the collection of the tithe I want to see these questions settled, and I am speaking not as a Nonconformist, but as a Churchman. I have another reason—[Cries of "Divide!"]—and a very important one, as it comes from the Church herself. The Church has declared that it is persecution to force people to pay tithe in support of a Church they object to. I may be told that that is not correct, but my attention has been called to the fact that this subject was discussed in 1771. [Cries of "Divide!"] I have here a copy of a letter written by the celebrated Benjamin Franklin on this question of persecution. On June 3rd, 1772, he wrote:—"Sir, I understand from the public papers——[Continued cries of "Divide!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
1 must point out that the hon. Gentleman's observations are not relevant to the question before the House.
§ MR. MORTON
The letter shows that the Church of England claimed that it was persecution to compel Episcopalians to pay tithe or tax in support of the Presbyterian Church, and the Americans settled the question (and that is what I want you to do before you pass this Bill) by allowing every person to pay his tithe or tax to the Church he made use of, and gave the minister of that Church power to compel him to pay it. As a Churchman, I object to persecution, and I object to dealing with this tithe question until we settle it in the interest of the whole of the people. [Cries of "Divide!"] If the Bill had been brought in by a Liberal, not a single Member on the other side would have voted for it. I shall vote against it as a Churchman and a churchwarden, and I shall oppose every Bill of this sort until you are prepared to disestablish and disendow the Church.
§ (6.57.) The House divided:—Ayes 250; Noes 161.—(Div. List, No. 56.)
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.