§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Lords' Amendments be now considered."
(3.20.) SIR W.HARCOURT (Derby)
. I wish to ask what course the Government propose to take with reference to these Amendments generally. With regard to the first Amendment, which has reference to writs of habere facias possessionem, the Attorney General proposed a similar Amendment before the Bill went to the Lords. Objections were taken to the Amendment on both sides of the 1441 House, and, after a good deal of discussion, it was withdrawn. It would be highly undesirable that this House should, by the withdrawal of the Amendment by the Government, be deprived of the opportunity of discussing this clause and of proposing an Amendment which would be unobjectionable. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will support us in rejecting this Amendment as it comes down from the Lords. The next principal Amendment introduces the entirely new element of land occupied rent free. Certainly, I think that is not a matter which the Government can consider necessary or desirable to be introduced into this Bill. On that subject I hope the right hon. Gentleman will state that he will not support a new proposition of such a character introduced at this stage of the measure. Next I come to the most important and most serious of all the Amendments sent down by the Lords. It is the one marked "C," and has reference to costs. The House will remember that one of the most contentious points in this Bill was the question of costs. We fought the matter out largely in this House, and it was the willingness of the right hon. Gentleman to make a concession on the question of costs that greatly facilitated the passage of the Bill. But for that concession it would not have passed through the House of Commons without a great deal more opposition. The principle adopted in the Bill and adhered to throughout was that there was to be no personal liability for costs, and everybody felt that costs ought to be reduced to their lowest possible measure, and that there should be no personal liability in respect of costs as the result of introducing the machinery of the County Courts. The Lords' Amendment entirely overthrows that, because it provides that the costs shall be recovered as in the case of an ordinary action in the County Courts. This result will be to overthrow the whole basis on which costs were settled in Committee of this House as long as they are declared to be costs by the County Court Judge. I would suggest to the Government that it is inadvisable to introduce into the Bill an alteration that would cause so much irritation as an alteration like this. It would be extremely irritating to the 1442 small tithe owners, especially in Wales. Therefore, I hope the Government will stand by the settlement made in the House of Commons, and will insist upon removing from the Bill one of the most irritating elements which can be introduced into it. I think the Government came to an honourable understanding with the opponents of the Bill that it should not be altered in this way. I am aware that these Amendments were not introduced by the Government in the House of Lords, but by persons who spread tares among the wheat, and I ask the Government to stand by the principle which they enunciated in the House of Commons, and to keep the Bill upon the footing on which it loft this House by their consent and with their support.
§ *(4.26.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
I hope the House will not be disposed to enter on this question into a general discussion of the Lords' Amendments, for I think the House will see that such a course would not be in accordance with the usual practice. But I am far from complaining of the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman in asking what the intentions of the Government are with regard to the three principal Amendments. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Government are not themselves responsible for these Amendments. I think they are all due to a noble and learned Lord, who has hitherto been spoken of in this House with the respect due to him, until the right hon. Gentleman—an old Colleague—compared him to a certain personage of whom the less that is said the better. The Amendments were introduced by Lord Selborne, and I think the House will be disposed to consider that they come from one who has given special attention to a subject of which he is practically master. With regard to the first Amendment to which the right hon. Gentleman calls attention, I cannot quite accept the account which the right hon. Gentleman has given of the action of the Government in this matter. The proposal which was made for an Amendment practically to the same effect was not in Committee, but on Report. That proposal was withdrawn in accordance with the general wish of the House; and 1443 if it was intended to introduce another Amendment in the place of it in this House, it could only have been done by re - committing the Bill. Consequently, I do not think it can be fairly said that Her Majesty's Government, in accepting this Amendment, have in any way taken a step which is unfair to the House of Commons or which precludes the House of Commons from considering the subject. In another place it was contended that it would not be fair by the Bill to deprive the tithe owner of the remedy which the Act of 1836 already gave him. The Government agreed to the Amendment in the other House, and I am prepared to move that the House should agree with their Lordships in respect to it. The second important Amendment is intended to meet cases in which, as the Bill stands, the occupier has made such a bargain in regard to the rent as will have the effect of practically depriving the tithe owner of the tithe. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway very property called my attention to this matter, which certainly had escaped notice. It was a matter which required to be dealt with, and Lord Selborne proposed the clause as a remedy. I therefore propose to ask the House to agree to the Amendment. I must say I think that the chances of attempted evasion of liability have been much increased by hon. Members drawing attention to what it was possible to do. The third important Amendment is on the question of costs. It proposes that the Court shall have power to order that any costs which it finds are vexatiously or oppressively occasioned be paid and recovered in the same manner as in any ordinary action in the Court, thus imposing a personal liability for costs which are vexatiously caused. I do not mean to say that strong reasons might not be given for this Amendment; but, at the same time, I have to recollect that throughout the Government have recommended the Bill to the House as one that does not impose any personal liability, either for tithe rent-charge it self or for costs incurred in the course of enforcing payment. On the whole, having regard to the objections which have been raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, and the history of the proceedings on the subject of costs, I think it would be wise 1444 for the House to disagree with this Amendment.
§ (4.35.) MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
It would, of course, be irregular at this stage to enter into details of the Amendments. We on this side rejoice at the decision of the Government with reference to the last Amendment referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. But with reference to the Amendment incorporated in Clause B, I think that requires further consideration. I hold that the way in which it has been dealt with in another place is most objectionable. As these Amendments were only circulated yesterday we have had scarcely any time in which to consider them, or in which to draw up any counter proposals that may be necessary. I hope the Government will give us further time to consider the matter.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Lords' Amendments considered.
§ Amendments as far as the Amendment in page 1, line 11, agreed to.
§ Page 1, line 11, leave out from the word "but," to the word "he," in line 12, the next Amendment, read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The House will recollect that when this clause was considered and a proviso inserted on the Motion of the hon. Member for Norfolk, I undertook that the omission of the proviso should be moved in another place in order to give an opportunity of considering the matter. One point included in the proviso was that where the tenancy terminates on March 25 or September 29, and the occupier is under a contract to pay the tithe which falls due on April 1 or October 1, he is not to be relieved of his liability to pay up to those dates, notwithstanding the expiry of his tenancy, and the omission of the words now proposed to be omitted will make this clear.
§ (4.39.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I think this Amendment is more important than might be supposed from the mere words. 1445 Surely the liability to pay tithe ought not to extend beyond the period of the tenancy?
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The only effect of the omission of the words will be to make the tenants liable in cases where the tithe falls due only a few days after the expiry of his tenancy.
§ (4.40.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I am afraid the effect will be more wide-reaching. It will make the tenant liable to an indefinite extent for tithe after his contract has expired, and that will be a very dangerous proceeding indeed.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 149; Noes 99.—(Div. List, No. 92.)
§ Page 1, line 14, leave out the words "That tithe rent-charge," and insert the words "The tithe rent-charge which such occupier has contracted to pay," the next Amendment, read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
§ (4.51.) MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give some explanation of this. I may be very obtuse, but I think this is a very complicated Amendment, and as we have only had it in our hands a few hours it is necessary for us to call on the right hon. Gentleman to explain the effect. I may be told that if I had followed the Debates in the other House I should have been able to understand; but I am not a frequent visitor to that place, nor do I carefully study the reports of its proceedings. If the right hon. Gentleman will give us some explanation I am sure the House will be much obliged.
§ (4.54.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon)
I shall move the omission of the words "has contracted," and the insertion of words to make the clause read as follows: "Which such occupier is liable under the said contract to pay."
§ (4.55.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not see why the Government should object to that. It is much simpler than the present form.
§ Amendment to Lords' Amendment to omit the words "has contracted," and to insert the words "is liable under the said contract," put, and agreed to.
§ (4.56.) Lords' Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
§ Lords' Amendment, page 1, line 16, to leave out from the word "rent-charge," to the word "provided," in line 18, the next Amendment, read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the-Lords in the said Amendment."
§ (4.57.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I do not see any reason for the omission of these words. They were accepted upon my Motion, and I hope the Government will stick to them. One of the chief reasons why the Lords struck out the words was that they objected to the tithe being earmarked. Now I contend that the tithe should be earmarked in order to enable the tenant to see that he is not called upon by the new statutory contract to pay a sum which he was not under a liability to pay before. The object of these words is very evident. Let me put a case before the House. Suppose a tithe rent-charge of £5 is by the fall in the value of corn reduced to £4 10s., how is the tenant to know he is not called upon to pay more than he was liable for under the old contract? A very high authority in the other House, no less an authority than the Prime Minister himself, said it was of the utmost necessity to keep the tenant in the dark as to what he will be called upon to pay. But although we are always willing to listen to the recommendations of the Prime Minister, I think the House will agree with me that people who are placed under certain obligations by Act of Parliament should know the exact extent of these obligations. Yet the object in omitting these words is to keep the tenant in the dark.
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I would point out to the House that the Amendment was inserted on the Motion of no less an authority than Lord Herschell, whom I certainly should prefer to the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. S. Evans). I do not think, however, that 1447 very great importance need be attached to it, and, therefore, I shall not object to the House disagreeing with the Amendment.
§ (5.2.) VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N.E., Darwen)
I hope the House will not disagree with this Amendment, as I think the Lords did quite right in omitting the words they have struck out. I do not believe that the effect of it will be that any occupier in Wales will be left in the dark, as has been suggested, and certainly no hardship can attach to the occupier if these words are omitted. I would, therefore, suggest that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade should adhere to the Amendment made by their Lordships.
§ *MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I am glad to find from what the right hon. Gentleman has just said that he admits the existence of what I regard as a distinct understanding come to in this House when the matter was before it. It would appear that the real object of the Lords was to disguise the payment of an unpopular charge.
§ *MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)
I will point out that unless this Amendment of the Lords' is passed, it might happen that a landlord giving a receipt for this charge without stating the fact would thereby render the receipt bad in law; and there being no legal voucher that the money had been paid, it might have to be paid over again.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
For my part, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will adhere to the statement he has just made, and not insist upon the Lords' Amendment.
§ *MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
I cannot understand why it is that hon. Members opposite, after the Government have given way, should persist in forcing the Lords' Amendment upon us. For what reason do they object to the receipts setting forth distinctly what the money is paid for? I should think there must be something absolutely dishonest in the mind of a man who refuses to say what he gives a receipt for.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
I have an Amendment which, as the time has been very limited, I have been unable to place upon the Paper. I propose, in order to 1448 carry out still farther the recommendation of Lord Herschell, to add, after the words "rent-charge," in line 17, "and the occupier shall not be liable to pay except on such receipt being given to him by the owner." This, I think, will supply all that is necessary in regard to this matter.
At the end of the words restored to the Bill, to insert the words "and the occupier shall not be liable to pay except upon such receipt being given to him by the owner."—(Mr. Samuel Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
I hope the hon. Member will not press this Motion. There is quite sufficient in the clause as it stands to show that the money is paid in respect of tithe rent-charge, and to stamp the obligation resting on the person receiving the money. As was pointed out in Committee, the object was not to alter the liability, but to direct that the landlord should ear-mark or stamp the amount received for tithe rent-charge. I think it is hardly fail-now to alter the provision in the way proposed by the hon. Member.
§ Question put, and negatived.
Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 26, to leave out from the word "by," to the end of the Clause, and insert the words—
Sections eighty-one and eighty-five of the Act of the Session of the sixth and seventh years of the reign of King William the Fourth, chapter seventy - one, and the enactments amending those sections, and not otherwise,
§ the next Amendment, read a second time.
§ (5.12.) MR. S. T. EVANS
The whole of Section 1 was struck out by the Lords in order to insert quite a new remedy, enabling the landlord to distrain for his tithes, or rather the words were re-inserted in an altered form. I want to point out that that alteration is a very serious one. The words were originally "by distress in like manner as provided by the Tithes Act." The Lords referred to two sections of the Act of 1836, namely, Sections 81 and 85. I have no objection to the words as they stand if they are confined to Section 81, but I think the words in Section 85 ought to be 1449 omitted. I have a strong reason for this. Section 81 enables the tithe owner to distrain for tithe after giving the usual 21 days' notice; and it goes further, because it provides that whenever any rent-charge payable under the Act shall be in arrear on part of the land situate in the parish in which the rent-charge is due, and which shall be occupied by the person holding the land for which the rent-charge is made, the landlord may distrain upon land which is the property of the occupier. The result would be that where a man farms under a landlord, and holds property of his own, if this section remains unaltered the landlord will be allowed to distrain not only in respect of his own property, but also on the land of the tenant; whereas the tithe the tenant has contracted is only in respect of the land he occupies as tenant. I say that the landlord ought not to be allowed to distrain on any land but his own. I do not propose to proceed with the Amendment I had intended to move if the Government will consent to strike out the words "and Section 85."
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I think the House will see that the hon. Member proposes to deprive the landlord of a part of his right. The hon. Member wishes that the landlord should not have the power formerly conferred upon the tithe owner. That is contrary to the position we have always taken up. We did not accept the suggestion made in the other House of increasing that right by giving the landlord the same right of recovery in the case of tithe rent-charge as in the case of rent. I would ask the House to sustain us in the position we have assumed from the beginning of the Bill.
§ *(5.17.) MR. C. W. GRAY
If the right hon. Gentleman charges us with inconsistency in respect of certain changes made in the Bill, I would point out to him that to do so is to use a double-edged weapon. Several matters have been thought of by hon. Members since the Bill left this House, and we claim that if we see a point which is relevant to some Amendment coming from the other House, we have a perfect right to raise that point, although we may not have seen it when the Bill was discussed here before. As far as I can understand, we are asked to give the landlord exceptional powers. ["No!"] If we are not, 1450 then we have nothing to complain of. But are we not going to give the landlord the power which the tithe owner has only had?
§ *MR. C. W. GRAY
But the landlord is to have power not only to distrain on his own land, but also upon other land which the tenant may hold as a yeoman farmer; and if it is proposed to confer that power on the landlord, I shall do all I can to defeat it.
§ *(5.20.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
It seems to me that the power which is conferred on the landlord is unjust, and the fact that it is conferred by the Act of 1836 does not make it less unjust. I shall certainly support the hon. Member's Amendment.
§ *(5.21.) MR. SIDNEY GEDGE
I think it would be far better to have the Lords' Amendment as it is. At present, if the occupier does not pay the tithe rent-charge, the owner may distrain upon the land out of which the tithe issues, and also on any other land within the parish of which the occupier is the owner, or which he holds under the same landlord. This Bill proposes that the occupier shall no longer pay the tithe rent-charge, but that the landlord shall pay it, and it gives the landlord identically the same powers as the tithe owner possessed, so that the occupier is in no worse position, while the landlord is in a worse, and not a better, position, because he has no general powers of recovery, but only those which the tithe owner had before.
§ (5.24.) MR. H. GARDNER
I would point out to the hon. Member that this proposal vitally touches the interests of the occupiers, and hon. Gentlemen opposite who are concerned in this question purely from the agricultural point of view will vote with us on this occasion.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has also spoken. I wish to point out to hon. Members that the proper time to move an Amendment is before I put the Question "That the House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment." Under the circumstances, I will regard the Question as not put.
§ (5.27.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I beg to move the omission of the words "and eighty-five" so that I shall be in Order. I would point out that the Lords' Amendment would impose a practical hardship. A yeoman farmer may have contracted debts for seeds, manure, and stock, or may have borrowed capital to cultivate his own farm, giving a bill of sale. As a distraint for rent takes precedence of all other debts, the landlord would be able to distrain on the yeoman farmer's land in respect of tithe issuing from other land he holds under that landlord, and not only the yeoman farmer, but his creditors, would suffer. The effect of the section, if adopted, would be to discourage cultivation.
§ Amendment proposed to the said Amendment, to leave out the words "and eighty-five."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'and eighty-five' stand part of the Amendment."
§ *(5.29.) VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
I would willingly regard the tithe rent-charge as part of the rent which the tenant pays to the landlord, but the House has decided that it will make a distinction. I hold that the landlord should have exactly the same power to recover from the occupier which the tithe owner has at present. It is quite evident that the landlord ought to have the same power of recovery from the occupier as the tithe owner has now. it has been said that some of us on this side of the House never speak except in the interests of the Church. This proposal has nothing whatever to do with the interests of the Church, but it would, I think, be very unfair to the landowner.
§ *(5.32.) MR. C. T. DYKE ACLAND (Cornwall, Launceston)
The noble Lord has omitted to observe one point in Clause 85 of the old Act. I think it is clear from the wording of that clause that the intention was that the person paying the tithe in respect of one holding should be one person only, and if a yeoman should be liable in respect of the whole of his occupation, though part of it might belong to another owner. What we are now discussing is his liability for tithe as a tenant only. The whole question now is whether the landlord shall have the power to recover the 1452 tithe from land in respect of which he has not paid any tithe.
§ MR. H. R. FARQUHARSON (Dorset, W.)
I think the landlords suffer so-many injustices under this Bill that an extra one more or less will not make much difference. But the small yeomen of the country will be immensely surprised if they find landlords can not only distrain upon their own property, but also upon the yeoman's property. If any landlord sitting upon the Conservative side of the House made such a proposition, it would be a very remarkable thing if he found his way to-the House again, supposing he had a single yeoman in his constituency. There will be endless complications-Who is going to say which is the tithe and which the rent? Take the case of a man paying £100 a year for rent and tithe. Suppose he has paid £75 on. account and the landlord says, "The £25 balance is tithe, and I am going to" distrain on your freehold for it." The tenant will say, "Not a bit of it; one of the three £25 which made up the £75 was for tithe, and therefore you cannot distrain upon my land." I believe if this Amendment is not carried it will give rise to endless difficulties, the presence of which will afford solid ground for the landlords looking to the-House for compensation in respect of its-action in the matter.
§ *(5.35.) MR. STUART RENDEL. (Montgomeryshire)
I can assure the noble Lord opposite that we entirely acquit him of the charge that he never rises to speak except in the interests of" the Church. We admit that he occasionally speaks in the interest of the landlord. I think that on the present occasion he has transferred his advocacy from the Church to the landlord, because I understood him to say that he thought it obviously just that any power the tithe owner might have for the recovery of the tithe should now be vested in the landlord as against anybody else. I cannot realise the justice of that proposition at all. I have always understood that the tithe was a charge primarily on the land. It does not seem to me that because a man collects that charge by deputy the latter is to have against somebody else precisely the same rights as the tithe owner him against him. The proposition of my 1453 hon. Friend is that Clause 85 should not apply to the present case, and that the landowners should not have the extreme statutory right as against the occupier, which the tithe owner enjoys under the Act of 1836 as against the landowner.
§ (5.37.) CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
May I ask whether there is no distinction between this case and the case of a landlord who distrains on his tenant in the ordinary way? If the landlord is to be allowed to distrain on the land of a yeoman I would point out that the tithe upon that land will probably have already been paid. I should be very much indisposed to support this Amendment of the Lords in any case; but if the view I take of the matter is the correct one, I shall certainly not support the Amendment.
§ (5.38.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I must say that in regard to the course of the previous discussion and the understanding between the two sides of the House, I shall be indeed surprised if the majority of the House should come to the con-delusion that the clause ought to deprive the landlord of his remedy when he has paid the tithe which the tenant ought to pay. Last year we introduced a provision that where the landlord paid the tithe himself it should be treated as rent as between the landlord and tenant. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) said this would be an unfair thing, because at present the tithepayer is only liable to be distrained upon under the Act of 1836. The right hon. Gentleman and others pressed us to give the landlord, who has paid the tithe, the same remedy as though he was the tithe owner, and no other remedy. That principle we accepted. We were pressed by the hon. Member for Stockport, and many other hon. Members behind us, to give the landlords that remedy which would naturally flow through a breach of contract. We resisted that pressure; we declined to in any way depart from the principles which were pressed upon us by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. That was not all. In Committee Section 85 was discussed, and the Bill left the House with the bargain carried out that the landlord would pay the tithe, and have as against the tenant the same remedy that the tithe owner would have had, and no more. What 1454 has happened since? A verbal alteration has been made, and that is made the ground for the suggestion that the House of Lords have altered the Bill, and for the re-opening of a question which was discussed and settled. I confess I should be surprised if those who remember what we went through on the occasion of former Debates think it right to depart from what was accepted unwillingly by hon. Members behind the Government and pressed upon the Government by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is perfectly true that the particular remedy to distrain for rent only exists with regard to the particular farm which is occupied by the tenant; but what happens? The tenant could be made bankrupt; he could be sued, an ejectment could be obtained and the whole of the stock, crops, and furniture might be removed from one farm to the other. The hon. and gallant Member for the Holderness Division (Captain Bethell) has put a question to me. The landlord in respect of rent has larger remedies, has remedies which go right over the whole of the land occupied by the owner. He can make that owner bankrupt; he can turn him out of the farms by means of an ejectment, and therefore the position is this; that this is an attempt to cut down the particular remedy of the landlord who has paid the tithe. I trust the House will adhere to the position prior to the Bill leaving the House.
§ (5.44.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I quite agree with the Attorney General as to the general change made in the original provision. I confess that when I first saw the Amendments of the Lords, I was utterly unable to understand why they altered the Bill. I thought they had some object in making the alterations, and that they regarded this as something different from the arrangement to which the Attorney General has referred. It is ridiculous to say this is better drafting—it is worse drafting. The Attorney General has not attempted to explain why the alteration is made; but he has appealed to us on this side of the House, and to me specially, to adhere to Clause 85. I do not know whether Clause 85 was discussed; it was certainly not discussed when I was here, because I have learned a great deal more about 1455 the clause in this Debate than I ever heard before.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I thought when the Attorney General said it was discussed in Committee it must have been when I was absent. But the hon. Member for Mid Glamorgan was never away. Now that the Lords have brought the clause specially under our notice, I think we are entitled to see what the operation of the clause will be. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire has pointed out what an exceedingly invidious position a landlord will be in if he is empowered to exercise such, power as this. I think there are few people who would be disposed to say that a landlord should distrain not only upon in the case of the farm which the tenant holds under him, but also in the case of some other farm. Few people would have the courage to make such an assertion unless it be the noble Lord the Member for Darwen, who, in the interest of truth, justice, religion, and piety, would do his duty and distrain upon the yeoman. Such an operation would not commend this Bill or the persons who took advantage of it to the agricultural tenants of the country. In the interest of the Bill the Government would do well not to press the powers under Clause 85. In respect to the argument of the Attorney General, I should like to say I have never heard of a landlord sueing the tenant for the non-payment of tithe. I have always understood that the landlord has been willing to leave the tithe owner to enforce the obligation in regard to tithe. I am fully persuaded that if this clause is ever acted upon a great deal of irritation, vexation, and discontent will be created; and in opposing the clause I do not consider I am departing from any understanding which has been come to.
§ *(5.52.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I cannot quite accept the theory that the right hon. Gentleman is so ignorant that he did not appreciate what has been done. Let me point out what the House will do if they agree to the omission of Section 85. Section 81 limits the power of distraint to land liable to the payment of any tithe-rent charge. The only lands thus liable to the particular tithe rent-charge are lands upon which the par- 1456 ticular tithe rent-charge is apportioned, and, therefore, in order to prevent an occupier from escaping distraint altogether by removing his stock or produce from one field to another, the Legislature-in 1836 gave the tithe owner further powers of distraint which are conferred upon him by Section 85. If Section 85 were omitted the result would be that landowners in many cases would be compelled under the Bill to pay the tithe rent-charge which the tenants have contracted to pay, and they would be absolutely prevented from recovering it from the tenant, because the stock or produce would be removed from one field to another.
§ (5.55.) The House divided:—Ayes" 189; Noes 132.—(Div. List, No. 93.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Page 2, line 12, the next Amendment; agreed to.
Page 2, line 23, after the word "powers," to insert the words—
(3.) If such officer satisfies the Court that there is no sufficient distress on the said lands, the Court may authorise the person entitled to the sum ordered to be recovered to sue out a writ of habere facias possessionem, in accordance with Section 82 of the Tithe Act, 1836; and the said person on obtaining possession shall, in accordance with the Tithe Act, pay the surplus (if any), after payment of the tithe-rent-charge and expenses, to the owner of the lands, and, while in possession, be under the obligation not to permit or commit any waste,
the next Amendment, read a second time.
§ *(6.11.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The hon. Member for Mid Glamorgan has given notice of an Amendment to this proviso, but I think I can meet what he wants by the Amendment, a copy of which I have placed in his hands. What I propose is to leave but the words in the beginning of the proviso down to the word "court" in the second line, and insert—If the Court is satisfied that the officer would find no distress, or not sufficient distress-on the said lands, the Court "—may authorise, and so on. That will insure that the officer shall attempt to distrain, or prove to the satisfaction of the Court there is nothing to distrain upon.
Amendment proposed to the said Amendment, to leave out from the word
"If," to the words "the court," in line 2, and insert the words—
The court is satisfied that the officer could find no distress, or no sufficient distress, on the said lands."—(Sir M. Hicks Beach.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said Amendment."
§ (6.12.) MR. S. T. EVANS
The right hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity of seeing this Amendment, but I cannot say I have had time to properly consider it. The original proposition was that the officer should satisfy the Court; but now the right hon. Gentleman proposes to turn the sentence topsy-turvy, and says "if the Court is satisfied." I do not wish to prejudice the discussion of the Amendment generally, and I say nothing about giving a hearing to the tenant, as to which my hon. Friend will have something to say. I observe that the words do not indicate how the Court is to be satisfied. I do not myself see the advantage of the words. If the clause is to come in let it come in as it originally stood. What is the reason for altering the words in the old Act, that "if there shall be no distress," and so on, the writ may issue? What is the difficulty that the wording is intended to meet?
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
My suggestion was to meet the point the hon. Member desired to raise. I do not desire any alteration.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment proposed, to amend the Lords Amendment by leaving out from the word "if" to the word "no," in line 1, and insert the words "there shall be."
§ *MR. C. W. GRAY
On a point of order, Sir, I wish to oppose the Lords' Amendment altogether; does that Question come later?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member may oppose the Motion that the Lords' Amendment, as amended, be agreed to.
§ (6.16.) SIR W. HARCOURT
Of course, all these Amendments are subject to the 1458 general objection we feel to the whole proceeding. On the very words of the Amendment the real objection arises, the evil pervades the whole thing. If there be no sufficient distraint on the land it involves that you are still to have a remedy for the recovery of the tithe. Well, surely the whole principle you have gone on in the Bill is to diminish the claim for tithe in proportion to the yield of the land, and à fortiori if the land yields no tithe you should have no remedy. On what grounds do the Government justify the reduction of the tithe in the case where the rent is in a certain degree less than the tithe, or more than a certain proportion of the tithe? Yet here is a proviso introduced into the Bill for giving a remedy against land which yields nothing at all. It really is a contradiction in terms. Therefore, although I do not advise taking a Division on the Amendment, it is still open to us to object to the whole principle, for clearly it is an absolute contradiction of the principle on which the Bill stands, the reduction of the claim for tithe in proportion to the yield of the land. Where the land yields nothing at all there is no revenue for tithe.
§ *(6.18.) MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
This section is not to apply merely to land that yields no-produce, it applies to cases of land where at the time of distress there is not sufficient on the land to answer the distress, and the two cases are entirely different. During a large part of the year the bulk of the land of a farm may have nothing on it capable of being distrained upon.
§ *MR. T. H. BOLTON
Take pasture land where during the winter months there may be nothing to distrain upon. Then, again, take orchards, where there may be for a considerable time no produce capable of distraint. I know a case in Kent to which this section was applied. An orchard had not produced any kind of fruit worth gathering for several years. Tithe had accrued, there was nothing on the land to distrain, and this section was put in force. It was manured, dug, pruned, and cultivated by the clergyman of the parish, and he afterwards took a crop of fruit, and 1459 partially paid himself. The tenant in I that case afterwards issued a writ of supersedeas, and having paid the balance of what was due for the tithe and the expenses, resumed possession. There is no doubt that unless this power to take possession is retained as a final remedy there will be cases of perfectly good land paying rent, from which it will be almost impossible to obtain tithe if the landlord and tenant together resist it.
§ *(6.19.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Surely we can come to an agreement on this, which is merely a verbal Amendment, and then come to the main Question.
§ Amendment agreed to.
(6.20.) MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
I wish to move the insertion of an Amendment after the word "lands," and my object is this: As has just been mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, occasionally there is land which at certain times of the year is bereft of all chattels on which distraint could be levied. It would be possible, if the words remain in the clause, for the tithe owner to drop upon these lands at that particular season when there would be no distraint available, and thereupon having proved to the Court that there had been an attempt to seize, but without avail, a writ of habere facias possessionem would be put in force. I am not taking a merely theoretical objection—it has proved a very practical difficulty. Some little time ago in Denbigh a hardship of the kind did arise. There was accommodation pasture land upon which a tithe owner gave notice of his intention to distrain. That notice was given when there was a large number of cattle on the land. The notice was given in August, the ten days expired, and the tenant expected distraint. But the tithe owner did not distrain. He waited until late in the season, when the pasture was exhausted, and two months afterwards, when the tenant in the ordinary course of farming operations withdrew, on the approach of winter weather, his cattle to the homestead—this, understand, was mountain land, accommodation land some miles from the homestead—then the tithe owner dropped upon the land, sent the bailiff, got him to swear there was 1460 nothing to distrain upon, and made application for a writ of habere facias possessionem. This application was resisted, and the tenant, through counsel, undertook that if the writ was not issued he would put sufficient distress upon the land to meet the tithe, and assured the Court that the cattle were taken off in the ordinary course of farming. Yet still it was held that there being no distress at the time the bailiff went there, and there being no such proviso as this I am about to propose, the Court was bound to issue, and did issue the writ. Now, in Wales there is a considerable amount of pasture land in the mountain districts which from the end of October to April or the beginning of May is free from any cattle; mountain land upon which no cattle, horses, or sheep can live during the winter. Without the words I propose, a tithe owner, for the simple purpose of annoyance, and to put a tenant to heavy costs, could wait until the winter, then send his bailiff up to the mountain, prove there was no distress, and apply for a writ. I propose, therefore, that it shall be open to the tenant to show that the want of distress was simply a temporary one in the ordinary course of farming, that in the ordinary season there would be sufficient distress, and that, therefore, the writ ought not to issue.
Amendment proposed, in line 2 of the said Amendment, after the word "lands," to insert the words—
and there is no probability that the re will, in the ordinary course of farming, be sufficient distress thereon."—(Mr. Bryn Roberts.)
§ Question proposed, "That these words be there inserted."
§ *(6.25.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The hon. Member proposes to throw a very difficult duty on the Court in requiring it to decide on a matter of probability. The Court can only decide on the matter of fact whether there was an absence of distress. Moreover, the hon. Member assumes most extraordinary conduct on the part of the tithe owner when he supposes he will act, as is suggested, for the sake of annoying the tithepayer. The object of the tithe owner is to get his tithe paid, and therefore he will not levy his distress at a time when he knows there is nothing to distrain upon. It is not reasonable to suppose the tithe 1461 owner will act in such a way simply to annoy the tithepayer, for he will annoy himself a great deal more if he levies distress at such a time in order to obtain the alternative remedy of entry on the land, for he will then have to cultivate or stock it himself. I cannot think that it is necessary to insert such an Amendment as this.
§ (6.29.) The House divided:—Ayes 121; Noes 205.—(Div. List, No. 94.)
§ (6.41.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I beg to move to insert the words—After notice given to and hearing of the owner and occupier of the said lands.I desire to point out that the sub-section as it stands will enable the Court on the mere ex parte statement of a bailiff to issue a writ of habere facias possessionem. That, I think, is undesirable, and accordingly I move to insert words providing that before the writ can be sued out notice shall be given to the owner and occupier of the lands, and an opportunity afforded for their being hoard. The proposal of the sub-section will be a very expensive process. In the first place there will be the appearance before the County Court Judge, which will count for something, then there is the order of the Judge for the suing out of the writ, then there is the preparation of the affidavit in the country and the application in Chambers in London for the inquisition. That means two separate sets of solicitors, and means the employments of counsel here, the preparation of affidavits, and the hearing in Chambers of the whole of the facts which ought to have been heard in the County Court. Then after the High Court has issued the writ another writ is issued to the Sheriff—a writ of inquisition to inquire into the amount of arrears due in respect of the tithe rent-charge. Then there is the return made by the Sheriff to the Court again, and after that there is another process. According to the proposal as it stands it would involve three separate processes to try this one simple question—the ex parte statement to the County Court Judge, the application to the Court, and the trial before the Sheriff. The Sheriff has to pay the jury, and the hearing of a writ of inquisition before the Sheriff is not an inexpensive process. There are further fees to be paid, besides solicitors and witnesses 1462 costs. If these words of mine were introduced, the result would be that the bailiff, in making his application to the County Court Judge, would be cross-examined by the owners and occupiers as to the circumstances upon which he came to the conclusion that there was no distress on the farm. In the only case I know where this writ was issued, before the bailiff entered, the cattle had been driven to another farm. The cattle were only temporarily absent; but, simply because he did not for the moment discover anything distrainable on the property, the Sheriff returned that there was nothing on which distraint could be levied, and all these processes had to be gone through in order to seize the land for the purpose of discharging the tithe rent-charge, whereas if he had waited a short time he would have discovered the cattle. To meet cases of that character and prevent tithe owners from entering upon expensive and unnecessary processes, I propose the simple method of giving notice to the owner and occupier to appear before the Court. If the bailiff, on the first visit, finds there is not sufficient distress, the Court would call in the owner to give a sort of undertaking that when the officer visited the farm on the second occasion he should find sufficient distress. No occupier, or professional man representing him before the Court, would think of breaking his word after giving an undertaking of that description.
In line 2 of the said Amendment, after the word "may," to insert the words "after notice given to, and hearing of, the owner and occupier of the said lands."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (6.47.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I have no objection to dealing with the substance of the Amendment, but I think the particular line the right hon. Gentleman has taken does not meet the case. It is not necessary to put in the owner, as we are only dealing with the question of there being sufficient distress on the premises. I would suggest that the words should run—After such service on the occupier, if necessary, as may be prescribed, and after hearing such occupier if he desires to he heard.1463 The words "if necessary" would be to meet the case of derelict farms, and it was in respect of those farms that this clause was inserted.
§ (6.48.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I will withdraw my Amendment in favour of that of the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lords Amendment amended, by inserting in line 2, after the word "court," the words—
After such service on the occupier, if any, as may be prescribed, and after hearing such occupier if he desires to be heard.
§ (6.49.) CAPTAIN BETHELL
The Amendment says the writ of habere facias possessionem shall be in accordance with Section 82 of the Tithe Act of 1836. But the latter part of the clause incorporates a certain part of Section 83 of the Act of 1836. The man in possession is bound to furnish accounts to the Court under which he acts under this section; and there are also forms by which the man in possession can be put out. Should not the man in possession be obliged to present accounts to the Court, as he is under the Act of 1836?
§ Amendment proposed, in line 4 of the said Amendment, after the words "eighty-two," to insert the words "and eighty-three."—(Captain Bethell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'and eighty-three' be there inserted."
§ *(6.52.) MR. T. H. BOLTON
When there is no distress the receivership is practically determined, and the matter is handed over to the Superior Court. My hon. Friend (Mr. Lloyd-George) was mistaken in supposing that the process of writ of inquiry by the Sheriff will be at all necessary. I apprehend it will not be necessary. On the production of an order of the County Court Judges an officer of the Superior Court should issue the writ of habere facias possessionem, and possession would be taken. It would have been better, I think, if the Bill had provided that the County Court Judge should, on facts being proved before him to justify an application to the Superior Court, have had powers conferred upon him to make an order in the nature of a writ of possession. Then jurisdiction should have been given to the County Court 1464 Judge to require the tithe owner to render an account of his possession of the property, and to grant an order for determining the possession. The process would then have been more simple. I suppose now it is too late for the Government to adopt that suggestion, but if, at any future time, the Act is amended, this must be done, in order to cheapen and simpify procedure.
§ (6.55.) SIR R. WEBSTER
There is not the slightest intention of relieving a-person who has taken possession of the land from obligations such as are contained in the existing law. The idea in referring to Section 82 of the Act of 1836, was to get a starting point. The County Court would be able to do that which was pointed out by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Bolton). It would be a matter of form.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (6.56.) MR. H. R. FARQUHARSON
I have an Amendment on the Paper, but I do not think it will be necessary for me to move it, as I believe the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade proposes an alteration which will remove my objection. It does not altogether satisfy me, but it is sufficiently satisfactory to render it, unnecessary for me to go on with my Amendment.
At the end of the said Amendment, to add the words 'and either to cultivate the lands in a good and husbandlike manner according to the custom of the country, or, if he lets the land, to bind the tenant so to cultivate them.' "—(Sir M. Hicks Beach.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words, be there added."
§ (6.58.) MR. BEADEL (Essex, Chelmsford)
I beg to suggest that, instead of the words proposed by the right hon. Gentleman being added after the word "waste," they should be inserted after the word "obligation" in the preceding line, the effect being that the person obtaining possession shall be under an obligation either to cultivate the land in a good and husband like way according to the custom of the country, or, if he should let the land, to bind the tenant so to cultivate it.
§ (7.0.) MR. S. T. EVANS
This illustrates the difficulty we have in discussing Amendments of so technical and compli- 1465 cated a nature, especially when they have not been put upon the Paper. As the case stands, it would seem that the man who takes possession cannot turn out the man who has possession at the time of entry, but could put another tenant in his place. I would advise my hon. Friend to ask the Government to postpone the further consideration of this clause, so that we may have further time to consider it. It certainly raises very important questions of a complicated and technical nature, which we not only want to consider ourselves, but upon which we may require to take the advice of experts.
§ (7.3.) MR. T. H. BOLTON
I would certainly join in the request that the Government should postpone this clause, because I feel serious doubts as to whether the County Court Judge has the power to make such an order as is suggested. Is it proposed that the County Court should have power to make an order in the nature of a writ of possession, power to take accounts and have control of the property, power to put the tithe owner in possession, and to exercise a certain control while he is in possession, and further power to make another order in the nature of a writ of supersedeas to give re-possession of the land to the landowner? This is very serious and important, as it empowers the putting in of the tithe owner not only to hold and use the land, but to let it; he may, if he sees fit, turn out the tenant in possession and put in a new tenant, granting a tenancy from year to year. In the last case this tenant could not be got out under two years' notice. I am not opposing this power; but I hope we shall have further opportunity of considering the clause, and, in saying this, I would remind the Government I have supported the Bill consistently, and that I am not, therefore, likely to make any suggestion that is not in the best spirit.
§ (7.10.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I can confirm the statement of my hon. Friend behind me, that he has given valuable support to the Government on this Bill, and I would venture to point out that we are now in exactly the position we were in when this very clause was in Committee. When it came to be discussed in Committee it was found that it was surrounded by so many difficulties, 1466 and that there were so many points which required to be gravely considered, that after debating it for several hours the Government, in order to allow the clause to be placed on a respectable footing, said they would deal with it on the-Report. When we came to the Report stage the clause was still found to be surrounded by so many difficulties that the Government then thought the best thing they could do was to abandon it. But now, without further consideration, the clause is sent down from the House of Lords and we are asked to pass it in a form the Government did not think it right to put it in when it was in this. House before. I say that this is not fair; and I feel that the appeal which is now made to the Government is a just one, namely, that if the clause is to be persisted in we should have further time to consider it. Either let the Government do as they did in Committee and on the Report of the Bill in this House, and abandon the clause, or, if they think it of such importance that they must press it, let them give us-more time to consider it. One very serious question has just been raised. I was not in the House when the Attorney General spoke, but I should be very much surprised to hear him pledge himself to the opinion that the County Court can issue a writ of fieri facias possessionem. In my opinion that does not lie-in the jurisdiction of the County Court. If you refer to Section 82 of the Tithe Act it will be seen that it never contemplated the issue of a writ by the County Court. It assumes that that can only be done by a Superior Court, and the reference made in this Bill, in my opinion, only authorises an application to a Superior Court to issue such a writ. I should be much astonished if the Attorney General said the clause gives any authority to the County Court which it does not now possess. Under Section 82 there was power to have an inquisition before a jury, but that is done away with, and therefore you are not leaving the law as it stood before, but are substituting for the inquisition as to the amount of rent recoverable what I regard as a very dangerous thing, because it certainly is a dangerous thing to deal with that Section 82 simply by inference. Had you re-enacted Section 82 or said it shall disappear, I could have understood it; but it seems to 1467 me that by the clause as it stands the law will be most materially altered—because you say, not by express words but by implication, if there is not sufficient distress on the land the Court may authorise the person entitled to recover to sue out a writ. That is not the way in which we ought to deal with difficult and delicate questions of jurisdiction. I hope Lord Selborne is not responsible for such slip-shod drafting as that of this clause. By Section 82 the rent-charge is to be in arrear if unpaid for the space of 40 days, and if there be no sufficient distress it is to be lawful for the Judges at the Courts of Westminster to order a writ to issue. Is that abolished? If so, show me the section and the words which abolish it. You cannot abolish it by implication. The Court is to require the bailiff to summon a jury to assess the arrears of the tithe rent-charge. Have you abolished that, or is it to go on? We never conceived such an absurdity as that contemplated by the hon. Member for Oldham—that all these preliminaries will have to be gone through before the County Court made the order. The people who drew this Amendment in the Lords have not seen that they were bound to abolish the jurisdiction already existing before they created a substituted jurisdiction. What is to prevent a man, before taking proceedings before the County Court, going to the Superior Court under Clause 82? What I want to know is whether all these antecedent processes which are referred to are to be abolished or to remain. If they are to remain, it is impossible to have anything more oppressive; if they are to be abolished, where are the words abolishing them? This Amendment must have been drawn in ignorance of the law, and I cannot attribute it to the authorship which the President of the Board of Trade has described. If the owner of the tithe rent charge can sue out a writ of habere facias possessionem what becomes of the writ of the High Court? You cannot abolish or create a jurisdiction without the use of careful, accurate, and statutory terms. These are important questions which the House ought to consider before abolishing jurisdictions of this kind, and creating an apparently new jurisdiction. Therefore, I urge the Government to give us time to consider how the law is to be 1468 altered. It is quite plain that you are not leaving the law as it is. The law is totally different to what is contemplated by this Amendment. If it is intended to insist on this proposal, I should support the Motion for Adjournment.
§ (7.22.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I can only speak with the indulgence of the House, and I should like to say at once that I made a mistake when I said that the County Court issued the process. There is no necessity for postponement, as the preliminary steps to which reference has been made would no longer be necessary.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The question is whether any writ can be issued without an inquisition upon the order of the County Court. There are no such words in Section 82, which imply that a writ can be issued without an inquisition. It is a condition precedent.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
That is a matter of opinion. The Statute says that the County Court may issue the writ, and, with due deference to the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman, I have no doubt the proceedings may be taken up under Section 82, at the stage of the issue of the writ. At any rate, that is the procedure we contemplate. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman what is the necessity for this procedure. It has become necessary to deal with derelict farms, on which no distress could be levied. We have already provided for the protection of the occupier, if he desires to prevent the writ being issued. The writ being issued, it is desirable that further proceedings should be under the Act of 1836; not Section 82, as the right hon. Gentleman observed.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Yes; I beg pardon; the Act of 1836. Practically speaking, it is only after the issue of the writ that the machinery of the Act of 1836 is applied. I think no such difficulties as are anticipated will arise, and there is no necessity for postponement, because we do not propose to abolish the existing law.
§ (7.25.) SIR H. DAVEY (Stockton)
If anything showed the necessity of further consideration of this question, it is the speech which the Attorney General has just made. With all his experience and learning, he stated an opinion which he now says was 1469 a mistake, and has stated a second opinion which he says is right. The effect of this clause is that a person has to go to the High Court, and whether that is a convenient procedure, and whether a man is to be knocked from one Court to another, I leave to the House to judge. But we have been under the impression that up to the present time the intention was to enable the County Court to issue the writ. The High Court has no jurisdiction except under Section 82 of the Act of 1836, and it cannot be denied, I think, that it can only issue the writ in accordance with the conditions prescribed by that section. I do not for one moment set up any opinion which I might be able to form in opposition to the opinion of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, but I think it must be obvious to the House that, whether his opinion is right or wrong—and I confess with the utmost humility it does not commend itself to my mind—we are legislating in the dark. We are asked to pass one of those sections which are too frequent in Acts of Parliament, and of which the framers do not know the meaning. Who pays to construe them? The suitors have to pay for construing Acts of Parliament. If the Attorney General had not given so clear an opinion, I should have said that it was almost impossible to argue that the fact of the County Court authorising a person to go to the High Court of Justice under Section 82 could mean anything else than that the preliminary proceedings in that section, by which the High Court acquires its jurisdiction, are to be complied with. And if that is so, I fail to see how the writ will be issued in accordance with Section 82. I may be, probably am, wrong, but if there is a particle of doubt, I would suggest to those who have charge of the Bill, that they should put the clause in such a form that plain people who read it may understand it.
§ *(7.29.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
I beg to join in the request to the Government that this matter be postponed. I think if we had time to consider the matter, by to-morrow we could make the clause perfectly clear.
§ *(7.30.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The Government fully appreciate the difficulty 1470 of the subject, and are far from desiring the House to come to a decision upon it without full consideration. The question before the House is the insertion of the words which I have moved. I would suggest, if the course is in order, that those words shall be inserted, and that then the Debate on the question whether the House shall agree with the clause-shall be adjourned untilafter the consideration of the other Amendments.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I understand that the proposal is to adjourn the consideration of this clause until after the other Amendments are disposed of. Such a. course is novel; but if it meet with the general consent of the House I will not, under the circumstances, object to it, provided the Motion is made by the Minister in charge and that it meets with the general assent of the House.
§ (7.32.) SIR W. HARCOURT
It is evident that this clause has been brought forward without due consideration. There are only two courses open to us; either to postpone the Bill or to drop this clause altogether.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The noble Lord, who seems to consider himself in charge of the Bill, will, I suppose, tell the Government what they are to do. After the argument of the hon. Member for Stockton—than whom, despite his modesty, we could have no higher authority—we know that this question is not even arguable. Under the Act of 1836' the High Court could alone issue the writ, and although as the Attorney General admitted, the Government intended that the writ should be issued by the County Court, we know now it cannot be done.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
I made a mistake to-night in saying that the Government intended that the writ should be issued by the County Court.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then the Government did not communicate their intentions to the hon. and learned Gentleman. No doubt they intended it should be so.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
I have taken the full blame on myself. It is not a question of the Government communicating their intentions to me. I was responsible for the original suggestion. I have frankly said that I made a mistake in answering a question across the floor of this House, 1471 and of that the right hon. Gentleman may remind me as often as he chooses, but he must not misinterpret my position.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I did not intend to do so. It was originally intended that jurisdiction in these matters should be transferred to the County Court, but it is now quite clear that that has not been done, and that it remains with the High Court. I think we ought to prolong this Debate, unless the Government choose to drop the clause out of the Bill.
§ *(7.37.) MR. C. W. GRAY
The proposal embodied in the Amendment of the President of the Board of Trade does not altogether meet the views of my friends and myself. The whole subject is so complicated that the more the House attempts to deal with it the more difficult it appears. At the earliest moment I shall move the rejection of the clause altogether, so that we may return to the position occupied when the House first went into Committee. I do not wish to be unfair either to the tithe owner or the tithepayer.
§ *(7.40.) SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
It seems, from the proposition made in such a fair spirit by the President of the Board of Trade, that this clause must be amended, and I therefore think it would be much better for the Government to take up some other business for the remainder of the evening, and endeavour, before again bringing this matter on, to amend the clause in a practical way. At present, so far as we have been able to gather from the Debate, the lawyers on both sides of the House are unable to understand it, and, therefore, I am sure that laymen cannot be expected to do so. When the clause is brought forward in a form in which it is possible to understand it, I think we shall be able to discuss the matter. I beg to move that the Debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Joseph Pease.)
§ *(7.42.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
It is quite clear that as this Amendment now stands we cannot put it into a satisfactory shape. I think the best course would be to disagree with the clause, 1472 and then leave it to their Lordships to endeavour to put it in another and more satisfactory form. If we adopt that plan, and the clause is sent down to us in an acceptable shape, it will be open to us to discuss the matter. That, I hold, is the only course it is practicable to adopt.
§ (7.43.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I agree with the hon. Member for Stockport that it is desirable we should agree with the Lords' Amendment.
§ *(7.43.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I had hoped my suggestion would have met with general acceptance, as it would not have placed any hon. Member in a worse position; but as there seems to be a determination on both sides not to accept the clause in its present form, time may be saved by disagreeing with it forthwith. This course will be adopted by the Government, but only on the complete understanding that we are free as to the course we may adopt in regard to the subject both here and in the other House.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment to the said Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment, as amended," put, and agreeed to.
Page 2, line 28, after "1836," to insert the words—
And where any of such lands are held at one rent together with other lands in another parish, the court shall apportion the rent between the said lands and the lands in the other parish in proportion to their rateable value,
the next Amendment, read a second time, amended, and agreed to.
§ Several Amendments agreed to.
Page 3, line 4, after the word "prescribed," to insert the words—
And hearing of such occupier if he appears and desires to be heard. Any owner of the lands who fails to serve such notice as aforesaid on the owner of the tithe rent-charge, shall not be entitled to recover from the occupier any sum which he has paid on account of tithe rent-charge as aforesaid, unless and until he has, after notice to the occupier of his application for the same, obtained from the county court a certificate that the failure to give such notice was not intentional, and that the occupier has not been prejudiced thereby,
the next Amendment, read a second time.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 2 of the said Amendment, to leave out the words "and desires to be heard."—(Mr. S. T. Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 6 of the Raid Amendment, to leave out from the word "aforesaid," to the end of the said Amendment.—(Mr. S. T. Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said Amendment."
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment amended, in line 9, by inserting, after the word "That," the words "there was good and sufficient cause for," and leaving out the words "was not intentional."
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment, as amended," put, and agreed to.
§ Amendments, as far as Clause B, agreed to.
§ Clause B (Lands occupied rent free), the next Amendment, read a second time.
§ (7.55.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I think this is the proper place to move the Amendment to leave out from "order," to the end of the clause, in order to insert the following words:—Sum ordered to be recovered or the portion thereof remaining unpaid shall, until payment thereof, he a charge upon the interest in the lands of the owner of such lands, but such charge shall not be enforceable by sale until a year has elapsed after the creation thereof.This is one of the most important Amendments which the other House has made. It is intended to meet cases where the rent of the land is insufficient—where the receiver has nothing to receive, and where, consequently, the tithe owner cannot get the tithe. The question was raised when the Bill was in Committee in this House and the Government failed to grapple with it. This proposal, I take it, has been inserted with the concurrence of the Government, and we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman that the 'Government mean to adhere to it. I hope that the House will understand the 1474 meaning of it. In any case where the rent is insufficient to satisfy the tithe rent-charge, the Government have actually come to the conclusion that the occupier shall, in consequence of the default of the landlord, be subject to distress and have to pay, not only the tithe, but also the costs. Certainly one noble Lord proposed to give the occupier interest at the rate of 4 per cent.; but if the rent is not sufficient to pay the tithe what chance will the occupier have of getting from an impecunious landlord, not only what he has paid, but also the interest? Let us take a concrete case: A man takes a farm for fourteen years, and in consideration of erecting certain buildings he is to have it for the first seven years at a peppercorn rent. During that time he may be saddled with the payment of tithe and not have a chance of getting anything back till the eighth year. I say it would be most unfair to make the tithe in such a case as that provided for in the clause rest on the occupier. It ought to be a charge on the land. Is this House going to allow the money which ought to be expended in the improvement and cultivation of the land to be taken out of the pockets of the occupier for the benefit of the landlord, a miserable 4 per cent. on the money being allowed the occupier? There was a difficulty, but the Government have dealt with it in the worst possible manner, in the most oppressive manner against the occupier, they could devise. What is to be done if this Amendment is neglected, and I hope the House will neglect it. It is not, for us to propose a remedy. The Government have thought fit to stir up the question of tithe, and if they find difficulties facing them it is for themselves to find a means of getting out of them. But if the Government say they cannot suggest anything which would be more consonant with justice than the Amendment on the Paper, I think I can suggest a better remedy. I propose there shall be a charge on the land. That is not a hardship upon the landlord. The obligation to pay rests upon the landlord, and, therefore, you ought not to do anything which is oppressive to the occupier. The proposal I made originally was that there should be a sale of the land, but I made the proposal without sufficient consideration, and I agree its operation would not be 1475 fair to the landlord. But if the landlord does not pay, if he likes to make an arrangement with his tenant and gets the upper hand in any bargain with the tenant, it is upon him that the Government ought to saddle a new obligation under an Amendment of this kind. I beg to propose my Amendment.
Amendment proposed, in line 7 of the said Amendment, to leave out from the word "the," to the end of the said Amendment, and insert the words—
Sum ordered to be recovered or the portion thereof remaining unpaid shall, until payment thereof, be a charge upon the interest in the lands of the owner of such lands, but such charge shall not he enforceable by sale until a year has elapsed after the creation thereof."—(Mr. S. T. Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said Amendment."
§ (8.5.) SIR R. WEBSTER
The hon. Gentleman and his friends recognise there is a difficulty to be dealt with. They proposed some time ago to find a remedy in the sale of the land, but they have abandoned that proposal. What is the difficulty which has to be met? It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has pointed out, that the discussion initiated on the previous stage of the Bill has opened people's eyes to a way in which the payment of tithe could be evaded. Let us take a simple case: Suppose a landlord and tenant enter into an agreement whereby the tenant says "instead of paying you £50 a year rent for 10 years I will pay you £400 down." The occupier knows perfectly well that tithe is due and would become due from year to year; he knows the land is worth £50 a year, but he elects to pay a proportionately smaller sum down in order that neither party may be required to pay tithe. I submit there is no hardship in such a case in putting the occupier in the position of owner. I appeal to the House to consider what is the best and fairest way of dealing with such an attempt to evade the payment of tithe, You cannot sell the reversioner's interest; that is an impracticable remedy. When you are dealing with land which is fairly worth from year to year more than the tithe, you ought to provide that the tithe should he received in anno in anno. Take a case where a 1476 tenant agrees not to pay rent for say seven years, but to spend what he otherwise would pay as rent upon farm buildings. I submit that in such a case the tithe owner ought not to be deprived of his tithe.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
Suppose, as very often happens, the occupier says, "I must have farm buildings" and the landlord says, "I am a poor man, I cannot afford to erect buildings, but if you will erect them I will let you off the rent for seven years."
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
That is simply a re-statement of my proposition. Surely the hon. Member does not mean to suggest he would countenance a bargain whereby a poor unfortunate clergyman would be deprived of £10 which might be due to him as tithe. The clause contemplates cases in which it is the bonâ fide and willing purpose of the occupier-to do something other than pay rent. If it is the willing purpose of the occupier to pay his rent otherwise than through the proper channel, we ought to protect the clergyman in his claim on the land. I do hope that when hon. Members argue this question, they will not change the premisses upon which my argument has proceeded. Those premisses are that if there is an annual value, and the landlord is willing that that annual value shall be replaced by bricks and mortar, the tithe owner shall not be deprived of his tithe. Justice and equity dictate that the tithe owner ought to be protected in case such a bargain is made, and the proper remedy is that suggested by this clause. (8.10.)
§ *(8.46.) MR. STUART RENDEL
It cannot but be matter of regret to some of us that a question we regard as of much greater importance than other questions dealt with earlier in the evening should have come on for discussion in a very thin House. We have had the advantage of a full explanation of the Government view from the Attorney General, and he has courteously challenged us to meet him in argument, only stipulating that we should not depart from the case he has put before us.
§ (8.47.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,1477
§ *MR. STUART RENDEL
The Attorney General has stipulated that we should keep strictly to the case he has submitted, and I will endeavour to do so. This lacuna in the Government measure has been discovered by my hon. Friend (Mr. S. T. Evans), whose grasp of the whole subject has been admitted by the House, and we have to consider the Government proposal to fill it under the disadvantage of having been able to give only scant attention to the proposal. Now, why is it that the Attorney General assumes that exceptional security is required in the circumstances of land, the rent of which has been paid by premium, and is not payable year by year; and why, if there is to be this extra security for the tithe owner, is the occupier to be at the cost of it? I do not know whether the Attorney General would like an innocent layman to suppose that any legal liability for tithe rests upon the occupier, that the occupier under any circumstances is to be a guarantor of the tithe on behalf of the owner? The occupier surely is no more bound to take cognizance, whether the tithe is paid or not by the landowner, than he is bound to take cognisance whether the landowner has paid his Land Tax or any other of his personal liabilities? I do not think that it is sufficient argument to use now to say that the occupier should bear the brunt of this. That there are tithe owners in circumstances of great distress, that there are, as the hon. and learned Gentleman says, parsons in circumstances that excite our sympathy, may be true—and we cannot but consider that these circumstances reflect the greatest discredit upon the landed class in Wales on whose behalf the system exists; but why the occupier should be held responsible in this case I cannot understand, unless it comes from old traditional usage which made the occupier liable for the tithe. No doubt, in the operation of the Act of 1836, the occupier has been largely held liable where he ought not to have been, and the single merit of the present measure is that the occupier is relieved from this liability. It seems to me that it is a contradiction of the general spirit of the measure to attempt to treat the tenant as an additional security for tithe. To take the kind of example cited by the Attorney General—an occupier who 1478 agrees to pay for a 10 years' lease of a farm worth £50 a sum of £400 down. It is the contention of the Attorney General that the occupier in making his bargain ought to consider the liability of the land to tithe. But why? Why is a tenant to be so alive to this particular liability of the landlord any more than to any other? But granting that the man is quick enough to know all the circumstances, why is he, in consequence of his having paid £400 for the farm, to be placed under a special liability that would not naturally exist? Surely, if any one is to be placed under exceptional liability, it is not the man who has paid the £400, but the man who has got it—the man who has taken the immediate benefit, and not the person who has acted in all innocence and good faith, and with no intention of entering upon this new liability. It is a similar case to that brought forward by my hon. Friend (Mr. S. T. Evans)—a more direct case, where a tenant or occupier agrees to provide buildings or improvements necessary for occupation of the farm, the landlord not being in a position to find these and the tenant undertaking these receives a lease on beneficial terms. When the tenant has then and there, by the terms of his bargain, parted with his rent in advance, now, is it reasonable to say, that he is to bear the burden of this new arrangement, and not the man who has received the full immediate benefit? I suggest that the saddle is being put upon the wrong horse. I can only conjecture that this is from old, unfortunate habit, too long followed. It is not for us to suggest the remedy; this is a Government measure, for which we are not in any degree responsible. I confess it is beyond my power to suggest one, but, none the less, we are entitled, and indeed bound, in the interest of the occupier, to indicate to the best of our power the injustice that will arise by this means of meeting a difficulty—a difficulty which will be sure to arise more frequently in the future. It is opposed to the general spirit of the measure, which is to transfer the burden of tithe from the occupier to the owner.
§ *(8.59.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
It is certainly a singular thing that this blot in the Bill was not discovered in the passage of the Bill through the House before it went to another place. 1479 The discovery is due to the acuteness of my hon. Friend and his special knowledge of this subject. The effect of the clause, as it stands, has been fairly stated by my hon. Friend. It is to make the occupier liable for the default of the owner. Surely the proper course would be to give a statutory remedy, not against the occupier, but against the owner—against the man who actually made default. The whole thing is full of difficulties, and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, that he should pursue the same course with regard to this Amendment as he followed with regard to the Amendment recently disposed of. The clause, as it now stands, is calculated to work serious injustice.
§ (9.1.) MR. H. R. FARQUHARSON
If there is anyone who will be tired of these Debates, I should think it will be the poor clergyman, who is trotted out on every possible occasion. The Attorney General has once again appealed to our sympathy on his behalf. It seems to me that such appeals betoken a very weak case, because the poor clergymen for whom the Attorney General pleads belong to the richest Church in the world, and it is ridiculous to suppose that the members of that Church would allow a clergyman to starve for the sake of £10 a year. The Government have, in effect, said: "The clergy are very poor fellows; help them out of the landlords' pockets." I object to that. The clergy are practically being helped, to the disadvantage of the landlords, and for the very reason that landlords are no longer to be allowed to let their farms to the best advantage. I have no doubt there are thousands of instances in the country where landlords have let their farms for 7, 10, and 14 years, on the understanding that for the first few years the rent shall be low, and higher in future years. If this Amendment from the Lords becomes law, it will be no longer possible for a needy landlord to so let his farms. Indeed, he will have taken away from him the only possible means of letting his farms at all. Again, some landlords let farms at a low rent in consideration of the tenant putting up buildings. It is said this should not be allowed; but it seems to me that if the land is of so little value, that the reduced rent con sequent on building's being put up by 1480 the tenant would put it below the annual value arrived at by valuers, it-would be of advantage to the tithe owner that the buildings should be put up, because, although he would be a sufferer for a few years, he would be a gainer in the long run. The two cases I have given are far more common and likely to occur than the exceptional case which the Attorney General gave us of a landlord accepting £400 or £500 down in order to escape the payment of tithe. I was shocked when I read the suggestion made in another place that landlords were to be found who, for the sake of swindling the tithe owners, would agree with their tenants to take less rent. What would the Representatives of the tithe owners in this House say if we came here and attributed bad and unfair motives to them? I hope the Government will see their way to consent to the entire rejection of the Amendment. It contains a very unfair innuendo against the landlords, and, in addition, it will simply bring about what the Government have all along tried to avoid—that is to say, riots and troubles arising from distraining on the occupier. If the promoters of the Bill wish to secure the ostensible object with which the measure was brought forward, they will consent to the withdrawal of the Amendment.
§ (9.7.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
The weakness of the defence of the Government on this clause is, that it assumes that the clause will only be applied to cases in which collusion exists between the landlords and tenants. That is not the case. It will affect persons who have entered into a perfectly bonâ fide agreement. There is nothing easier than to give the County Court Judge some discretion to discriminate between the two cases. I believe the only object of the Government is to reach cases of collusion, and that object would be amply met by conferring such a discretion on the County Court Judge. It strikes me that the Government have not in the slightest degree aimed at refuting the arguments adduced on both sides of the House against the Lords Amendment. Take a case in which an owner lets his land to the occupier at a premium. Supposing land lies fallow for some years, it requires the expenditure of a considerable amount of capital to restore it to something like good condition. How will this section operate in such a case? 1481 The landowner may be impoverished by the number of years his land has been out of cultivation, and may be unable to spend all the money that is needed to restore the land to proper condition. An agriculturist may say—If you will let me this land for, say, ten years, I will spend so much money, and at the end of the ten years I will pay so much rent.In a case of that kind the occupier will be punished for entering into a perfectly fair transaction, and one that is in the interest of the occupier and of the public. The Government seem to have ignored the interest of the public. It is to their interest that the land should have all this capital spent upon it; but the Government, by this section, would be penalising the action of capitalists who desire to restore the land to a state of cultivation. It would be inflicting a punishment on persons who are desirous of benefitting themselves, and the owners and the public, by cultivating these lands. Again, the clause "will be a hardship on the occupier. It will refer to contracts prior to the passing of this Act. No power of this character was incorporated in the Act of 1836, therefore nothing of this sort could have been in contemplation when the agreements referred to were entered into, and there cannot have been collusion. But this Amendment would be of so sweeping a character that it would affect agreements entered into prior to the passing of the Act. It would inflict hardships on the bonâ fide occupiers. I observe that these words are in the clause, "provided that every such occupier shall be entitled in addition to any other remedy." I suppose that means the occupier may, if he is compelled to pay the tithe under the clause, draw upon the owner. But the remedy given to the occupier is perfectly useless in the case of impecunious persons who let their land on the condition that the tenant spends money upon it. In such a case the occupier who has, perhaps, been finding-labour and improving the farm may find himself penalised to the extent of £50 a year. I would suggest that the clause should be confined to cases where the County Court Judge considers that there has been collusion. I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House must be not only agreed but eager to find a remedy so that the tithe owner may not be defrauded. I think the 1482 County Court Judge should be allowed discretion in the matter, and that the Government should compare the operation of the clause to agreements entered into after the passing of the Act, because there could not have been agreements prior to it, such a law as this never having been contemplated.
§ (9.16.) MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
I deny that there is any hardship to the occupier involved in the Lords' Amendment. What is proposed is in operation now in the case of the Landlords' Income Tax. The tenant is the man upon whom the officers of Her Majesty's Revenue come down and insist upon paying the Landlords' Income Tax. The tenant is the only man who can be forced to pay in the first instance, and the remedy which the tenant has is precisely the remedy which is given to the occupier in this. Bill. A tenant has a right to deduct the Landlord's Income Tax from the rent he pays, and if the landlord declines to acknowledge the debt he is liable to a fine of £100. A similar state of things is proposed in the case of tithe. Where is the hardship to the occupier? He will have his remedy against the landlord. The section is intended to provide against collusion. There are no doubt landlords who will endeavour to evade the payment of the tithe rent-charge, and the method suggested seems to me an excellent one to frustrate any such unlawful endeavour.
§ (9.20.) SIR W. HARCOURT
We are all familiar with the fact that the hon. Member who has just sat down is the champion of the tithe owner. We have heard the claims of the tithe owner put pretty high, and the privileges of the parson elevated sufficiently in former discussions, but when the hon. Member puts tithe owners on a par with Her Majesty's Exchequer, to which are given remedies unknown in any other case, I think he is a little too strong. It if admitted that the man who is to pay is not the right man; but because it is difficult to get at the right man, it is intended to make the wrong man pay, and let him get his remedy from the right man if he can. Everyone admits that the owner should pay, and having made that a principle of your Bill you then go at the occupier and say he shall pay this and recover it from the owner if and how he can. As 1483 my hon. Friend below the Gangway (Mr. Lloyd-George) pointed out, he may be a perfectly impecunious man; therefore, you may be making a man who ought not to do so pay the money without any remedy at all against the man who, it is admitted, ought to pay. I hold that in the majority of these cases the landowners will be impecunious persons, and it is the habit of impecunious people to try and get money down for their present necessities. The landlord in these cases will be a man who will go to the tenant and ask for £500 down in order that he may go to, say, Monte Carlo. He gets his £500, and when that is spent what remedy will the tenant have against him? Can anything be more grossly and monstrously absurd? Do right hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that when an Act of this kind comes to be applied against the tenant farmers of England and the people of Wales they will not cry shame upon the Government? As the hon. Member below the Gangway has pointed out, it is not only to cases of collusion that this Bill is to be applied, but to all contracts entered into before the passing of the Bill. What sense or justice is there in that? A more gross and monstrous piece of injustice than is proposed in this clause it is impossible to conceive. I do not know whether this is one of the clauses for which the Government is responsible, or whether they will say, as they have said in other cases, "Please, Sir, it was the other boy, Lord Selborne." That is the line the Government are prepared to take in these Amendments, and they say that Lord Selborne is such a good boy that whatever he proposes must be right. To take an instance from criminal law: Suppose that the police, being very anxious to punish "Jack the Kipper," took hold of the first man they could find, who was the wrong man, and put the penalty upon him, but made a proviso that he should recover against the right man, could anything be more monstrous? Yet that is exactly the proposal now made. Because you are not clever enough to get at the right man you go at the wrong man. This Bill will apply to all the tenures in the country, some of which were more common in past times than they are now. Ecclesiastical property was formerly held on beneficial leases, yet that is precisely the class of lease which it will be 1484 unjust to bring under this clause. The clergy wish to have it both ways—to introduce, in fact, a new kind of "benefit of clergy." Because people are clergy it does not release them from their ordinary obligations to their fellow-creatures. Such a proposition as that contained in the clause before the House could not be made except on behalf of some privileged class of the community. If there is a difficulty, let hon. Gentlemen opposite devise some means to obviate it, and of getting at the right man. It is not for me to suggest the means. Hon. Gentlemen opposite remind me of a picture in Punch, in which were represented a number of rustics, one of whom said, "Here's a stranger; let's heave half a brick at him." Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to say, "Here's an occupier! Let's heave half a brick at him," and let him recover against the owner if he can. A more discreditable proposal never emanated from so august a place as that from which this comes. I will do the Government the credit of saying they have never had the face to make such a proposal to the House of Commons. A proposal so iniquitously unjust and so entirely in favour of landowners could never have come from any place except the House of Lords. We are accustomed to strange proposals from the House of Lords, and this is certainly as strange a proposal as ever came from there. I hope we shall offer the most determined opposition to it, and discuss it fully so that the people affected will understand it, and know by whom it is being done and the quarter whence it proceeds. Here is a Bill which proposes to lay the liability for tithe upon the owner, and now it is amended by the House of Lords so as to lay the burden upon the occupier, and leave him to recover as best he can. If he succeeds in recovering, he is to have 4 per cent. for his money. I hope the House will strongly resist this iniquitous demand upon the tenant-farmers of England—to advance money which they do not owe, leaving them to take their chance of getting it back again from the people who ought to pay.
§ (9.31.) MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S E.)
I think the hypothetical case put by the Attorney General is hardly sufficient to justify the introduction of this clause. I always understood that the great redeeming points of the Bill 1485 were reduction of tithe, in. accordance with the altered value of agriculture, and payment by the landlord instead of the occupier. It seems to me that by this clause the last and greatest advantage of all is taken away from us.
§ *(9.33.) MR. ROBY (Lancashire, S.E., Eccles)
I have listened, as far as I can, to the cases which have been put forward, and I find they are three in number. One refers to derelict estates, which cannot come under the clause at all. They will be put out by the 5th clause, which says that if the tithe exceeds two-thirds of the annual value then it shall be reduced in proportion. Secondly, as to cases of collusion between landlord and tenant to avoid the tithe rent-charge, this clause would only govern contracts made before the passing of the Act, and could not therefore include cases of collusion. Again, if there are cases of collusion, why in the world should you fall upon the occupier rather than upon the owner? One will probably have received something in the nature of rent, and upon him the burden ought to lie. The other case was that put by the hon. Member for Mid Glamorgan, of a tenant having taken a farm for a considerable period of time on the understanding that he was to lay out a considerable amount upon it. To make the occupier pay in such a case would be contrary to the very purpose and object of the Bill. The original Act of 1836 enabled the landlord to pay through the occupier. The remedy proposed by this Bill is to throw the payment on the landlord; yet, in a case where the occupier has been laying out money upon the estate, you actually say that he shall pay the tithe rent-charge, and not the landlord, and shall have his chance of recovering from the landlord. I have not heard a single case in which it would be be reasonable to get this money from the occupier. I think the Government must in all fairness see that, in accordance with the very object of their own Bill, they ought to endeavour to discover some means by which to put it upon the owner directly; and if they can devise no better means, let them accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mid Glamorgan.
§ (9.38.) MR. C. W. GRAY
No one was more surprised than myself when I saw this clause introduced. I remember an Instruction of some three or four years age to the committee that 1486 tithe rent-charge should be recoverable from the landlords only. That principle was entirely accepted by Her Majesty's Government; but now we find that we are to have a re - introduction, under certain circumstances, of the process of recovery from the tenant. If the tithepayers of England had an advocate as able as the Attorney General has proved in behalf of the tithe owners, I do not think a proposal of this sort would have had a chance of success. We have heard a good deal about collusion between the tenants and the landlords to keep the tithe owner out of his tithe. I do not think there is much evidence of such a danger. Further, I would remind the House that the annual value of the land is to be decided by Schedule B of the Income Tax, which is sometimes far beyond the actual rent and tithe put together. We find overand overagain, where the rent has almost vanished, that the Income Tax is still something considerable. We have heard, Mr. Speaker, a great deal about the give-and-take principle; but we find that all the changes in the Bill are on behalf of the tithe owner, while the tithepayer is entirely neglected, so that these assertions about compromise and give and take scarcely hold water. If the Church wants to rush to her destruction, why this is the very way to proceed. If the tithe owners act in defiance of the principles recognised in the early stages of this Bill, they cannot be surprised if, when the day of reckoning comes, though I do not wish to see it come, if the farmers say that "Whoever are the tithe owners, they cannot be harder taskmasters than those we have had." The Bill as it left this House ought to have been considered sufficient as far as the tithe owners are concerned. I do hope this House will not go back upon the recognised principle of the Bill by once more making the tenant farmer liable; for surely if the landlord's credit is good enough for everybody else, it ought to be good enough for the tithe owner. Surely, if the task of endeavouring to devise some scheme which would afford sufficient protection to all parties were seriously approached by the lawyers in this House, they would be able to arrive at a solution of the knotty problem without any unnecessary interference with the interests of the tenants.
§ (9.45.) MR. H. GARDNER
Whoever is responsible for this clause, whether the Government' or Lord Selborne, has framed it in a very singular way, because those who pose as friends of the farmers and the agricultural interest are supporting it solely on the assumption that the whole of the farmers and landlords of this country desire to enter into a fraudulent conspiracy to defraud the tithe owners. They suppose that labouring as the farmers do in all parts of the country, and especially in my own Division, under the effects of long-continued agricultural depression, they are ready to pay large sums of money to their landlords, and in collusion with them, for the simple purpose of defrauding the tithe owners of what is their just due. It seems to me that the proposal is preposterous. In previous Debates on this unfortunate Bill I warned the House that if it did not consider the interests of the tithe payers the day would come when the Tory tenant and yeomen farmers of England would find themselves in line—shoulder to shoulder—with those who are helping forward the disestablishment of the Church. When I made that statement it was received with derision; bat from the speech of my hon. Colleague opposite, it would appear that the words I then uttered were the absolute truth, which is now proved up to the hilt. If the Government rashly persist in bolstering up the tithe owners by clauses such as this, the farmers who have hitherto in the main supported the Tory Party will certainly at no distant day take action with those who seek the disestablishment of the Church.
§ *MR. C. W. GRAY
The hon. Member will excuse MR. I did not say they would be certain to do this; but I said I should not be surprised, if the day of reckoning should come, to find a considerable change in the feelings of the yeomen farmers on this subject.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
What the hon. Member says bears out what I have already stated, that the yeomen farmers will on occasion find themselves on the same side as those who are opposed to the Church Establishment. The right hon. Gentleman opposite occupies a position on this question which, with all due respect, I venture to regard with pity. He must have been greatly irritated by the stringent criticisms 1488 coming from his own side of the House, especially when he heard the speech of the hon. Member for Shropshire. Because if ever there was a speech tending to convert hon. Members' on that side of the House to our opinion with regard to this clause it was the speech of that hon. Gentleman. I should think the right hon. Gentleman must have said on hearing it, "Save me from my friends." One of the reasons why the Tithe Commutation Bill of 1836 was introduced was that it would encourage persons to put capital into the land which was not to be taxed in the future as highly as in the past. But this clause proposes to put an additional tax on the capital invested in land, because if an owner, wishing to improve his land, lets it at a low rent so that capital may be put into it, this clause will penalise that operation. If the clause is passed what will be the position of the present tenants? It is obvious that they cannot act in collusion with the owner; yet by the present clause that imputation is cast upon them. The object of this Bill, and the intention of the House in passing it, was to transfer the burden of the tithe from the occupier to the owner; but if we accept this clause, which I hope we shall not do, we shall contravene the general assent of the House to the original intention of the Bill by once more putting on the back of the occupier a burden which ought to rest on the shoulders of the owner.
§ (9.52.) MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
We have heard a great deal about the yeoman farmer; but the fact is, that this clause does not apply to the yeoman farmer at all—it is entirely confined to the occupier. I confess, however, that I do not like the clause. The main feature of the Bill has hitherto been the transfer of the tithe from the occupier to the owner. We now find that under this clause where the tithe is not paid by the owner recourse is to be had to the occupier. I think it is a bad clause. I am sorry it has been introduced, and I think the Government would act wisely in rejecting it.
§ *(9.54.) SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
I object to this clause, because it treats the landowner as if he were prepared to enter into a conspiracy with his tenant to defraud the tithe owner. There could hardly have been a greater slur on the 1489 landowner than is contained in this clause. Under these circumstances, I think the Government would do well to expunge the clause from the Bill. The Bill left the House of Commons after full Debate and consideration, and much giving way on both sides, as in some degree a fairly workable Bill; but it comes back from another place in a shape which is almost insulting to every landowner and tenant farmer in the country by suggesting that they are capable, by a system of underhand dealing, of defrauding the tithe owner.
§ *(9.56.) MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)
I cannot help thinking that the Government would do well to adhere to the clause as it has come from the other House. Its main object is to prevent anything like collusion between owner and occupier. We have heard a good deal about bolstering up the tithe owner. I confess that I do not exactly understand what that means, because whilst in many cases the tithe owner is the clergyman of the parish, in others he is a layman, and the tithe is admitted to be in the nature of a property. This being so, whoever is the owner of the tithe has a right to it as his property, and has a right to have that property preserved. To preserve that right is the only object of this clause; it may be that it is not worded in the way hon. Gentlemen opposite desire, but its object certainly is to preserve the right to property which is legitimately owned. If the ownership of this property should be transferred to the nation it would be found that the nation would prove a harder taskmaster than the present tithe owner. The clause gives the tithe owner no new right, and if anyone could show that it did confer a right which the tithe owner does not now possess that would be a strong argument against it. With regard to what has been said of the occupier, the liability to the tithe which rests on the owner will, under this clause, should the occupier prove to be pro hac vice the owner, devolve upon him.
§ (10.0.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
I think the right hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension; but even at this, the eleventh hour, it is not too late for him to alter his mind. The only voice raised in support of this clause has been that of the hon. Member for Shropshire, for even the hon. Member for 1490 Oxford University merely supported the clause on the understanding that its operation should be limited to cases of collusion. At the present time it is not so limited. I object to the clause as a whole, because it provides a means by which a coach-and-four may be driven through the Act. The principle of the Act, so far as it has any principle at all, is that the tithe should be paid directly by the landlord; but this clause will enable that principle to be entirely discarded, and I venture to say that it will be discarded in cases far more numerous than have been imagined. The hon. Member for Carnarvon referred to the case of derelict farms. Now I know of an estate which has been derelict for four or five years. It is now to be let for a term of years at a nominal rent in the hope that the tenant may put capital into it, and that in that way the resources of the land may be adequately developed. I think it almost impossible to give a satisfactory reason for introducing a clause of this kind into the Bill. If it is to be aimed at cases of collusion, why not state so plainly? I think it most unfair on the part of the Attorney General and his colleagues to call upon us to devise a remedy for this state of things. I think the responsibility for devising such a remedy should rest with them alone.
§ (10.3.) MR. WARMINGTON (Monmouth, W.)
I was surprised to find this clause introduced in another place, and to hear an attempt to justify it here. If it is intended to aim it at conspiracy, why not state that on the face of the clause itself? If such a clause had been proposed by any Member on these benches when the Bill was in Committee in this House, I wonder what would have been said. Indeed, I think the authors of this clause altogether wrong the tenant farmer of Wales when they suggest he is willing to enter into a fraudulent conspiracy to prevent the tithe owner being paid. I pass that by; but let me ask the House to consider in how many cases this clause will work the grossest injustice. The person who proposed it certainly had the erroneous opinion in his mind that the occupier was the permanent holder of the land. We know, on the contrary, that he only occupies the land for a limited term. He may have a lease of the farm for seven years, and in the sixth year, if the tithe 1491 is not paid by the landlord, the receiver can come in to seize. The probability is, that the landlord will be an impecunious person; the amount of the tithe exceeds a year's rent, and where, I should like to know, is the tenant to recoup himself, seeing that the next year's rent, for which he is liable, will not be sufficient to cover the amount which he has been made to pay for tithe? I submit that you will be dealing most unjustly to the tenant if you insist on keeping this in the Bill, because he will not be able to recover what he has paid for the impecunious landlord.
§ (10.8.) The House divided:—Ayes 140; Noes 87.—(Div. List, No. 95.)
§ (10.18.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I beg to move to add, at the end of Clause B, the words—Provided further that such occupier shall he entitled to recover from such landlord by action at law any such amount which shall have been recovered from him under this section as aforesaid as money paid on the account of such landlord.It is admitted on all sides of the House that the obligation to pay tithe rent-charge is to fall upon the landlord, and in order to meet that the Government propose that in certain instances the tithe owner shall be able to recover by distress against the occupier. Could anything more improper be imagined? I think that, according to the elementary principles of justice, whenever anybody is called upon to pay a sum which another man ought to have paid, he should have the power of recovery from the latter by action at law. The object of my Amendment is to secure that, and I trust that I shall have the support of the Attorney General and of other legal authorities on that side. I think it monstrously unfair to say that the landlord who has to pay tithe rent-charge, and whom, under the Act of 1836, it was intended should pay that charge, is now to be allowed to avoid his liability, and that you should allow the tithe owner to recover by distress against the occupier, and put him to the expense and annoyance of having a distraint upon his premises in order that the debt of another may be recovered. Of course, it may be said that the tenant is to receive 4 per cent. upon the outlay; but that is not sufficient, and I think the reasons I have urged will satisfy the House of Commons that it is not fair 1492 that this liability to distress should be thrust upon the tenant.
Amendment proposed, to add at the end of the said Amendment the words—
Provided further that such occupier shall be entitled to recover from such landlord by action at law any such amount which shall have been recovered from him under this section as aforesaid as money paid on the account of such landlord."—(Mr. S. T. Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ (10.22.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I understand that the Government are willing to accept this Amendment. So far, so good, as regards giving some remedy to the occupier. But I should like to point out that, in order to avoid one evil, they are falling into another, because the basis of this measure has been that there is to be no personal liability imposed upon anyone. Yet it is perfectly obvious that the result of this will be to overthrow the whole basis of the measure, because, although it is founded upon the principle of no personal liability, yon are adding to it now a proposal to make a personal liability on the part of the owner at the suit of the occupier. This shows that the matter has never been properly considered. You have got an acknowledged evil that may arise in the case of collusion. A natural thing would have been to draw up a clause pointed at collusion, and have limited it to that. The whole argument of the Attorney General was founded on the necessity of dealing with collusive facts. The Government have now got into a scrape, and the difficulty is how they can get out of it. Can it be done by simply giving the occupier a right of action at law against the owner? Bear in mind the argument which we have been urging, which is, that the owner may be impecunious. And then I would like to know what sort of remedy would it be to the occupier to give him a right of an action at law against the impecunious owner? It does not benefit him in the least. We want an answer on this point from the President of the Board of Trade. The Attorney General is no doubt most competent to deal with matters of law, but it is a remarkable fact that upon this clause, although appeal after appeal has been made by county Members on Benches opposite to the Government to give a satisfactory answer on this point, 1493 we have not heard a word from the President of the Board of Trade. The Attorney General has favoured us with a technical argument based entirely upon the assumption of collusion. It is quite plain, however, that this clause is not a collusion clause. It is a clause which will have a very wide operation, and although the Amendment of my hon. Friend may afford some remedy, it is not to be supposed that it in any way gets rid of the main difficulty. That will remain. We object to placing the primary liability on the occupier. You may apply remedies which may, more or less, repair that injustice, but still you have inflicted upon him a grievance. We have objected, and shall continue to object, to this proposal, and I think we are entitled to have from the right hon. Gentleman, who is responsible for the conduct of this Bill, an explanation why the House of Lords has introduced a clause altogether contrary to the fundamental principle of the Bill. That principle is that the tithe shall be a charge on the owner, and not on the occupier. The basis of this clause is that the charge shall fall on the occupier first, and not on the owner. The Government apparently are willing to accept that clause, which is a direct violation of the principle of their Bill. I repeat that the Bill embodies two principles. The first, that the owner is to be liable, and not the occupier, and the second, that there is to be no personal liability imposed. Yet this very clause makes the occupier liable instead of the owner, and it also imposes a personal liability. Why do the Government accept this clause? It is a clause which has been foisted into the Bill in the House of Lords. You would not have listened to it if it had been proposed in this House. You would have said that you would adhere to the principle of your Bill. Why, then, do you not take the wise course of dropping this proposal, and adhering to the principle of your Bill? It surely would be easy to devise some method of dealing with cases of collusion without infringing the fundamental principles of your Bill. It is not for us to discover methods of dealing with this difficulty. It is apparently not for you, because otherwise you would have discovered them in the House of Commons before the Bill went up to the Lords. You accept an 1494 Amendment which has not come from your own mint, but is a foreign coin altogether, and which will give a remedy that is obviously inadequate and unjust. We are bound to fight this as hard as we can. We say that this is a gross injustice to the tenant farmers of England; that it is contrary to the pledges you have given in this House to the effect that the occupier should not be made liable for the tithe. Here you put a direct liability on the occupier, and leave him to recover if he can. That is not only in violation of every pledge given by the Government, but is inconsistent with all the principles on which they passed the Bill through this House. If they choose to force through a clause of this kind, which injures the tenant farmers of England at the instance of the landlords, they will have to render an account of it. It is a very clear and plain issue, and we shall be glad to hear not a technical argument from the Attorney General, but an argument from the social and political advocate of this clause, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in answer to the appeals made to him by the County Representatives who sit behind him.
§ *(10.33.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The right hon. Gentleman complains that I did not address to the House a social and political argument on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mid Glamorgan (Mr. S. Evans). It appeared to me that my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had adequately and sufficiently dealt with the subject already. The right hon. Gentleman has entered on this Amendment, as he often has done on other Amendments, upon the principle of the clause. I decline to follow the right hon. Gentleman into his argument on that point. If it has to be re-argued another opportunity will arise He is very hard to please. If we had resisted the Amendment the right hon. Gentleman was, I think, prepared to denounce us for not giving the tenant a proper mode of recovery. As we accepted it, the right hon. Gentleman denounces us for imposing a personal liability on the landlord. We innocently thought that in this matter we were meeting an argument the right hon. Gentleman had himself addressed to the House. The right hon. Gentleman said a little time ago— 1495 "What a terrible position the tenant would be in if the liability were imposed upon him when, perhaps, he and his landlord had agreed that he should hold the occupation on the condition that he should give the landlord £500 to go to Monte Carlo with!" We thought that the right hon. Gentleman was for once serious, and we have endeavoured to give the tenant in such a case the remedy to which he is entitled against this impecunious landlord.
*SIR M. HICKS BEACE
I do not want to detain the House on this subject. We think the Amendment is a fair one, and, therefore, we have accepted it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ (10.36.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I now propose to add a further Amendment. I think it has been assumed during the whole course of the discussion on the last Amendment that the landlord and tenant might enter into an agreement with the object of evading the operation of this Act, and the clause was inserted in order to meet such a case. It was inserted, first of all, at the suggestion of Members on this side of the House. It is fair in so far as it operates against any collusion between owner and occupier. The argument of the Attorney General in support of the clause was directed exclusively to such cases, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Mr. Talbot) supported the clause on that express and exclusive condition. I shall expect the support of the hon. Gentleman, in endeavouring to confine the operation of the clause to cases of collusion. There are cases in which a bonâ fide arrangement may be entered into between landlord and tenant whereby the land may be made rent-free for a certain number of years. It is not right that the tenant should be penalised in those cases simply because the owner does not perform his obligations. The tenant will have carried out his contract. The addition I propose to the clause will, I think, meet every legitimate demand which can be made on the tithe owner.
Amendment proposed, after the words last added, to add the words—
Provided also, that the Court shall not make such an order as is contemplated by this section in any case, unless it is satisfied that
the contract of tenancy under which the occupier is in possession of the said lands is the result, in so far as the amount of rent reserved is concerned, of collusion between the said owner and occupier to evade payment of tithe."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ (10.40.) SIR R. WEBSTER
It has been suggested I spoke of fraud and fraudulent conspiracy. I certainly never referred to fraud or fraudulent conspiracy, and I am not aware I used the word collusion. I referred to several cases which were not collusive. I spoke of perfectly bonâ fide arrangements, and I remember distinctly using that expression. I pointed to cases of bonâ fide bargains whereby a landlord and tenant agreed that on consideration of money being spent on buildings, no rent should be paid for seven years. I argued that that would be a bonâ fide contract; but still a contract whereby the tenant or occupier would acquire an interest in the land and in the buildings without the liability of either party to pay tithe, because the owner would say there was no rent, and the occupier would say he was not liable. It seems to me the words of the hon. Gentleman will simply limit the remedy the House adopted by a large majority a few months ago to cases in which there is fraud and collusion. I think justice requires that the tithe owner should be protected in cases in which, without fraud, without collusion, there has been that kind of bargain made by the tenant with his eyes open, whereby he has elected not to pay the landlord rent, but to spend the money either on buildings or in benefitting his own occupation.
§ (10.45.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I cannot help wondering where it was——[Cries of "Vote!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to like this discussion. I was going to ask where it was that the Member for Oxford University (Mr. Talbot) derived the impression to which he gave utterance so emphatically with regard to collusion. I know where I derived that impression. It was from the speech of the Attorney General, and no doubt the Member for the Oxford University derived it from the same source. It has been argued all through this clause that collusion is the offence that is aimed at. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite who have protested against this clause will notice that this is disclaimed by the Attorney 1497 General, and that it is directed against legitimate, businesslike transactions between landlord and tenant. That, of course, is entirely inconsistent with what the President of the Board of Trade said earlier in the evening, namely, that the clause "was suggested originally in order to prevent collusive action, and that it was adopted by the House of Lords on that ground. At the last moment, under the pressure of debate, the Attorney General says it has nothing to do with collusion. Let us take the last view of the Government that this has nothing to do with any improper attempt to evade tithe, but is aimed at the regular, orderly, and businesslike relations of landlord and tenant. I hope the President of the Board of Trade, when he condescends to speak, will disavow that position. But for the present I will take the view of the Attorney General that this is not to affect any legitimate——
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
It is scarcely fair of the right hon. Gentleman. I was pointing out it was not aimed solely at that.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Did not the Attorney General state he never alluded to collusion? If he did not, then this Amendment is aimed at legitimate transactions. That is a perfectly fair statement of what the Attorney General said. Let us take that as the basis. Are you going in this Amendment, which is not part of your original policy, which has never been defended by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill except on the ground of collusion and illegitimate relations, to launch against the tenant farmers of England a provision which makes them responsible for the payment of the tithe in perfectly legitimate transactions in relation to land? Why do you force on this clause in this way? If the hon. Member for the Oxford University is content to have this clause limited to cases of collusion, why do you accept it from the House of Lords as applicable to cases which are not cases of collusion? It is unfair in legitimate transactions between landlord and tenant to impose such liabilities on the occupier, and leave him to recover from the 1498 owner as best he may. Of all classes in England the tenant farmers are least in a position to advance money which they do not owe.
§ *(10.54.) SIR. M. HICKS BEACH
The right hon. Gentleman has entirely misrepresented, first, the argument of the Attorney General, and, secondly, the possible operation of this clause. The Attorney General did not use the argument which the right hon. Gentleman attributes to him—that this clause is not intended to apply to cases of collusion. It is intended so to apply; but the argument of the Attorney General was that there may be cases as between landlord and tenant which the Courts would not interpret to be cases of collusion, and yet which would be cases to which this clause ought to apply. The right hon. Gentleman also said that this clause would come into operation in the case of an ordinary agreement between landlord and tenant. That is a complete delusion. In such cases the rule is that a rack-rent is paid for the land; and in no such case would this clause come into operation. The only case in which the clause would come into operation would be one in which the landlord and the tenant had deliberately contracted together that the farm should be held at less than a rack-rent, either by the payment of a fine, or by the granting to the landlord of some corresponding advantage, with the result that the yearly rent by which the tenant held the farm would become insufficient to satisfy the sum ordered to be recovered for the tithe rent-charge. Anybody who knew the relations between landlord and tenant in England knew that such cases would be extremely rare.
§ *(10.58.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I hope my hon. Friend will press this Amendment to a Division, because I think it puts the saddle on the right horse. The Attorney General has shifted his ground, and says that the clause is intended to apply to bonâ fide bargains between landlords and tenants. Under such circumstances the clause is a monstrously unjust one; it makes the occupier liable for the acts of the owner, for which he is not responsible. To throw this burden, in the first instance, upon the tenant and give him a remedy, which after all may be purely illusory, does seem to me, coming as it does from the self-styled farmers' friends, one of 1499 the moat extraordinary proceedings I have ever heard of. The only course open to the Government is to send the clause back to the House of Lords in the hope that they will return it to us in a shape that will be consistent and just.
§ (10.59.) MR. H. R. FARQUHARSON
I am quite aware where the idea of collusion came in. The very foundation of this Amendment in the Upper House was the idea of collusion. So long as I believe that the clause is aimed purely at collusion I have no objection to it, except that I consider it to be a great insult to the landowners and tenant-farmers of the country. Now, however, it is clear that it is aimed at other cases. I can give two very common cases in which it will prevent landlords getting tenants at all. In the first place, there are innumerable cases where landlords let their farms during the first few years at very small rents. That is often owing to the foulness of the land or other circumstances. Sometimes a tenant will not take land at a low rent if he has to pay the tithe upon it. Then, again, in the case of buildings or improvements, these a tenant may contract to construct on condition of a low rent; this will be put an end to if the tenant is under this liability. The tithe owner will be the gainer by an arrangement of the kind, for if buildings are erected and improvements made the certainty and regularity of the payment of tithe is assured. I hope the Government will agree to define the clause so that it shall deal only with cases of collusion, and if it is so confined it will not be put in force so long as landlords and tenants exist on their present relations.
§ (11.1.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I think this Amendment is well calculated to test the bona fides of the Government in relation to this clause. We pay them the compliment of supposing that the clause is accepted as a means of dealing with cases of collusion; but if the Government say "no" to that they put themselves in a very awkward position, and make a monstrous and indefensible proposition. If it is intended to deal only with cases of collusion I join with my hon. Friend opposite in urging the Government to say so. There has been an interesting discussion, and in relation to what the Attorney General has said 1500 I am fortunately able to justify the statement of my hon. Friend that the object with which this Amendment was introduced in the House of Lords was to meet cases of collusion, and such cases only. The Attorney General need not be ashamed to have introduced the word collusion, for it was used by the Prime Minister himself. It will be interesting to the House to hear what the Prime Minister actually said. In the discussion of the Amendment the noble Lord said——
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
I rise to order, Sir. Is it order for the hon. Member to quote from Debates in the other House during the present Session?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Upon that point, Sir, may I ask you whether on consideration of Lords' Amendments, it is permissible, or not, to discuss the grounds upon which an Amendment was adopted in another place?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
No doubt it would not be the proper Parliamentary course to refer at length to Debates in another place, but it may be necessary to refer in some form to a statement upon which an Amendment has been founded.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
Following upon your ruling, Sir, I venture to think that the House would prefer that I should not use words of my own in giving my impression of what took place, but that I should cite the very words used by the Prime Minister. This is the Hansard record of what was said—After the matter has been enormously discussed in private, though no doubt it is surrounded with difficulties on every side "——
§ *MR. J. G. TALBOT
I rise to order, Sir. I understand you to say, Sir, that it would be out of order to quote words used in Debate in another place, though an hon. Member has a right to refer to arguments used.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
No, I did not say that, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me for saying so. I did not say it would be irregular or unparliamentary; I said to follow in detail the arguments used in another place would be irregular, but to simply quote words used would be to quote the foundation of the Amendment.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
It seems to me that these points of order hon. Members are so anxious to raise show the anxiety to keep out of view the very object with the Amendment was introduced. I hope I may now proceed to read the words used by the Prime Minister in reply to 1501 the speech of Lord Selborne in moving the Amendment:—After the matter has been enormously discussed in private, though no doubt it is surrounded with difficulties on every side, no remedy has been proposed that is entirely satisfactory. Although it is somewhat clumsy, and will operate rather by deterring the owner than by any effect of its own operation, still it will practically prevent that which we have reason to apprehend, namely, a collusive arrangement of the terms of occupancy for the purpose of evading payment of the tithe rent-charge. When my noble and learned Friend first Drought this question before the House, I thought it was rather like the question of the Confessor who asked the groom 'whether he ever greased the horses' teeth in order to pre vent them from eating oats '—' No, but I will take care to do it next time,' was the answer of the groom. I thought that the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord was due rather to his own enormous ingenuity "—thereby indicating his belief that there would not be many cases of collusion—and would rather have a tendency to raise in the minds of evil-thinking men some idea of evading the rent-charge by a method which they never would have thought of themselves. When the noble and learned Lord had once raised it he was certainly bound to find a remedy, and I think the remedy proposed would be satisfactory.Now, that is the argument from this side on the question. We are willing, if you think there will be cases of collusion between landlord and tenant, although we disagree entirely with the Amendment as a whole, and hope to fight it to the bitter end, yet to confine the clause so that it shall be so far harmless. We propose our Amendment so that it shall not extend to bonâ fide arrangement as to the terms of occupancy, which would be manifestly unfair, manifestly unjust, and would introduce the greatest amount of friction in the operation of such a provision. It is wholly unreasonable that an occupier, having made his arrangements for occupation, should then find himself called upon to guarantee a debt due from his landlord. The Attorney General has said the words are meant to deal with cases where there is a beneficial lease; but I draw attention to the words, which say that "where there is not sufficient rent to cover the tithe." This is not a case of nominal rent even. The Attorney General went on to say that if a tenant enters into a bonâ fide arrangement of this kind he must do it with his eyes open. But why should he be made to pay the tithe rent-charge in any case? I think the Government are taking a mistaken view of 1502 the application of the clause. Let me put this case: Suppose a tenant says to his landlord, "My house is in an unsound condition; the roof is nearly off, and is a source of danger to myself and my family. I want you to rebuild or re-roof the house." The landlord, from too frequent visits to Monte Carlo or from any other reason, is not in a position to undertake the repairs. He says, "I have no money to put a new roof on the place; but I am quite willing that you should do it and keep back the cost from the rent." Now, is it fair in a case of that kind to say to the occupier, "You must pay the debt which the Act says the landlord is to pay and no one else?" The tenant to have his eyes open! Why, I say, is the tenant to guarantee this more than any other debt of his landlord? It will be remembered that two or three years ago the great argument for introducing a Tithe Rent-charge Recovery Bill was put by the Prime Minister in this way: The law as it at present stands makes the occupier pay the debt of another, and difficulties arise from the fact of this debt being due from the landlord, and yet the occupier is made to pay it. We sweep this away, we get rid of that difficulty, and yet here the Government at the suggestion of their ultra ecclesiastical supporters propose to bring in the very same difficulty which Lord Salisbury wanted to abolish in the Tithes Bill of—I think it was, 1887. Let the clause be confined to cases of collusion only. It will still be a bad clause, and still ought to be thrown out, and to this we shall direct our efforts.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
I only wish to say that the hon. Member seems to forget the nature of tithe, and that by the Bill the tithe rent-charge is not a debt due from the landlord, and if it were so there would be no necessity for this clause at all.
§ (11.13.) MR. H. GARDNER
I confess I am entirely in a fog as to what the Government intend by the clause, because we are told in the first place by no less an authority than the Prime Minister, and I imagined the same from the introductory remarks of the President of the Board of Trade, that it was intended to prevent a fraudulent conspiracy between owner and tenant to defraud the tithe owner of his just and legitimate debt. But the Attorney General just now told us this was not the only 1503 case, but, said the hon. and learned Gentleman, to my astonishment, and I think to the astonishment of every hon. Gentleman on the other side who represent an agricultural constituency, the clause is not framed to prevent collusion.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
Not against collusion only, but it "was also to meet bonâ fide cases and arrangements made in the interest of agriculture and the benefit of an industry not, I am sorry to say, at the present moment in such a flourishing condition as it ought to be. Now, our predecessors in this House in Debates upon the Act of 1836, pointed out that one of the objects of the Act was to forward the interests of agriculture and assist capital being put into the land. Again and again when this Tithe Bill has been before the House the Government have declared that nothing in the Bill shall put agriculture in a worse position than it is in under the Act of 1836. But this action of the Government now will have a direct tendency to prevent capital being put into the land. It is entirely against the principle laid down in past Debates that the Bill shall not put tenant or landlord in a worse position than that in which they were placed by the legislation of 1836. The President of the Board of Trade says this is to apply to cases in which a man pays down a sum of £500 and no rent afterwards, cases where, in fact, a man gets a beneficial lease. It is a most extraordinary proposition to put the clause in operation in such a case. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite who have the agricultural interest of the country at heart will mark this point. The fact is, the whole object of the clause is to screw out the uttermost farthing of the tithe; and once again we have, on this Amendment come down to us from the Lords, a proposal in the tithe owners' interest which, on former occasions, has been repudiated by the Government.
§ *(11.16.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
I may remind hon. Members that the clause simply does that in one case which the law now does in all cases. The Bill will relieve the occupier in all other cases, but this is an exceptional case in which, owing to the arrangements entered into between occupier and tenant, the tithe owner cannot get his 1504 tithe rent-charge from the rent. When a man takes a farm under an agreement of the nature which the hon. Member has referred to, he makes a sort of purchase, and he must ascertain in making his bargain that no charge comes in before his interest. The existence of the tithe rent-charge is known, and to what has been urged about the interest of agriculture and beneficial leases there is the reply that the application of this clause is universal now, and it has not been attended with those results Members apprehend.
(11.17.) MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS
It seems to me that the same arguments which support the principle of Clause 5 and the remission of tithe rent-charge where it exceeds two-thirds of the rent, equally apply against this clause. One object of the Bill, it has often been stated, is to prevent land being' thrown out of cultivation, and thus the Bill is in the interests of agriculture. But here is a case in which the land, having gone out of cultivation, or having no buildings, or standing in need of improvement without which it would not be possible it should be brought into cultivation—the land must be let at a nominal rent. Now, if it is right to remit tithe rent-charge where it exceeds two-thirds of the value of the property, equally then the tithe should be remitted in these cases I mention, or else the land will pass out of cultivation.
§ *(11.19.) SIR J. SWINBURNE
I hope the Government will re-consider this point. Of course there would be reason for the Amendment if it were confined to cases of collusion between landlord and tenant, though I think there is very little possibility of such a conspiracy arising. Indeed, it is casting a most undeserved slur upon the agricultural classes to introduce a penal clause like this. I can speak as a landowner and a tithe owner, and I am bound to say that I have heard from no member of either class any approval of this clause, and I am at a loss to understand why the other House inserted the clause, and why Her Majesty's Government accepted it.
§ (11.22.) The House divided:—Ayes 107; Noes 172.—(Div. List, No. 96.)
§ (11.36.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I beg to move to insert at the end of the clause the following words:— 1505Provided also that this section shall not apply to cases where the contract of tenancy was entered into before the passing of this Act.I move this for the purpose of confining the operation of the clause to tenancies created exclusively after the passing of the Act, and I think the Amendment is obviously such a fair one that the Government will accede to it. It cannot be said that existing contracts were made in view of a law of this kind; but in the future, whenever new tenancies come into existence, the contracting parties will have the clause in view. When an owner lets his land to an occupier the first thing he will have regard to will be the fact that the occupier may at some time or other be held liable to pay the tithe rent-charge. The occupiers in such cases could not complain to the same extent as occupiers who have entered into contracts before the passing of the Act. Parties who enter into contracts after the passing of the Act will be presumed to be aware of this clause, which cannot be the case in regard to tenancies entered into before the passing of the Act. We hear a great deal about respect that is due to contract. Well, I cannot conceive how contracts can be respected by Welsh tenant farmers or Irish tenant farmers when such an example is set them of disrespect for contracts by Her Majesty's Government. Existing contracts are set aside by the clause. I am anxious, as one who believes that tithe is national property, that nothing should be done to fritter it away, or to enter into agreements whereby the payment of it should be avoided. Therefore it was that an hon. Friend and I first proposed this clause. If it is confined to tenancies created after the passing of the Act the hardship will not be great.
Amendment proposed, after the words last added, to add the words—
Provided also that this section shall not apply to cases where the contract of tenancy was entered into before the passing of this Act."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ *(11.40.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I cannot understand the arguments in favour of this proposition. I can see no reason in justice why any difference should be made between the two classes 1506 of tenancies, and the Government certainly could not accept the Amendment.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The real reason why the Amendment is proposed is that there is a general feeling against retrospective legislation. Before the passing of the Act the occupying tenant at a rack-rent and the occupying tenant on a beneficial lease were not in the same situation. Now, for the first time, you are proposing to make the occupying tenant under a beneficial lease responsible in the way the occupying tenant at a rack-rent is made responsible. What I contend is that if the Government choose to make legislation of this kind, which I protest against, at all events, they should not make it retrospective in regard to antecedent contracts. What we are trying to do is to mitigate the clause. With one exception the Government have refused all mitigations we have proposed, and that is why we have been obliged to continue so far in opposition to this clause. It is quite plain that if you are to embark on new legislation of this kind you ought to give the tithe-rent owner his remedy direct against the landowner, instead of getting at the owner through the occupier. I will tell you why you did not. It was because the clause comes to you from a House in the interest of the landowners. If all you desire is to secure the tithe to the tithe owner, do you not in the clause go direct against the man who admittedly ought to pay? It is because the House of Lords will not allow you to do it. [" Oh, oh!" from the Ministerial Benches.] Yes, and you prefer, in order to secure the tithe, to go against the tenant-farmer, and, having got the money out of the tenant's pocket, to leave that unhappy person to fight it out with the landowner. That is an unjust proceeding—unjust to the tenants of the future, and still more unjust to the tenants of the past, who might not have entered into their present contracts if they had known it would expose them to this liability. We shall protest to the last against this clause, and if we cannot succeed in mitigating its injustice, at all events we shall have done our part.
§ (11.45.) MR. S. T. EVANS
We need not apologise for getting up over and over again and trying to mitigate this clause, which is admitted to be a most 1507 severe one. The Government say the clause is the best they can propose, but there is, apparently, a feeling on both sides of the House that if it could be possible to get another clause to work instead of the one we are dealing with now it would be better. Of all the Amendments to this part of the Bill which have come down from the House of Lords this seems to me the least reasonable. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade does not understand how there can be any argument in favour of the Amendment, but if he will only consult the Crown Officers he will soon learn the reason for it. On the last Amendment on which we divided the Attorney General said there was no hardship in applying this Amendment to collusive cases as well as others, because the occupier has entered into his arrangement with the landowner with his eyes open. I hope he will convince the President of the Board of Trade, who has a mind more open to conviction than any right hon. Gentleman on the Front Ministerial Bench. Why are you going to impose this obligation on men who did not enter into the contract with their eyes open? There is a general argument against retrospective legislation. You never make it retrospective, or interfere with existing contracts, unless there is a strong case for it. But now you are doing both these things; therefore, on this argument, and on the argument that you ought not to oppress the occupier on account of the default of a landlord, I say you should not listen to the recommendations that come from the House of Lords.
§ *(11.50.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
This clause is so mischievous that I welcome any Amendment that will mitigate it. The right hon. Gentleman said that under the law as it stood the tenant was liable for these payments. No doubt that is so, but under the Bill we are making a new departure. The Bill transfers the burden from the shoulders of the tenant to those of the landlord, and at the same time this clause imposes a distinction which has never existed before. The Amendment proceeds on an intelligible basis—one recognised over and over again in the House—namely, that there is a distinction between prospective and retrospective legislation.
§ (11.52.) MR. H. GARDNER
I think that the argument that a tenant should not be called upon to undertake a contract by which he will be under an obligation he by no means foresaw is one which requires some reply from the Government. I understood that this is a measure, the primary intention of which is to make the owner responsible, and not the occupier, and that in no contemplated case is the occupier to be in any way responsible for the payment of tithe rent-charge. This unhappy clause does place on the occupier a liability which has never been contemplated by the Bill, and I trust that my hon. Friend will press his very reasonable Amendment.
§ (11.54.) The House divided:—Ayes 106; Noes 167.—(Div. List, No. 97.)
§ Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
§ It being after midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow at Two of the clock.