HC Deb 20 March 1891 vol 351 cc1540-68

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [19th March], "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the Amendment, as amended," and which Amendment was— Clause B.—(Lands occupied rent free, &c. (B.) Where a receiver appointed under this Act of the rents and profits of any lands satisfies the county court that the lands are let on such terms as not to reserve a rent sufficient to enable the receiver to recover from the owner thereof the sum ordered to be recovered, the court, after such service on the owner and occupier of the lands as may be prescribed, and after hearing such owner and occupier if they appear and desire to be heard, may direct that the order for such recovery shall be executed as if the occupier were the owner of the lands: Provided that any such occupier shall be entitled in addition to any other remedy, unless he would have been liable to pay the tithe rent-charge under any contract made before the passing of this Act, to deduct from any sums at anytime becoming due from him to the landlord under whom he holds, any amount which shall have been recovered from him under this section in respect of tithe rent-charge or costs, with interest thereon at the rate of four per centum per annum: 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.

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

*(3.55.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)

Amendments were moved in Clause B to confine the operation of the clause to cases of collusion, and to limit the operation of the clause to contracts which might be entered into after the passing of the Act. The Government declined to accept those Amendments, and the question is, whether we are to agree to the novel principle introduced by the House of Lords. Considering the manner in which the clause was incorporated, and the short time allowed for discussing it, I think it would be well for the Government to give a further explanation as to the course they intend to pursue. There was a general consensus of opinion last night that the clause is objectionable; and I want to know whether the Government intend to adhere to it, or to take, in regard to it, the same attitude of compromise which they have taken in regard to other Amendments? We have always been of opinion that the cardinal principle of the Bill was that the tithe should be paid by the owner. By this new clause the principle is evaded. It introduces quite a novel principle into the Bill by throwing the responsibility of the tithe back upon the occupier. In certain cases, where land is let at a very low rent, or at no rent, the receiver appointed by the County Court will, under this clause, be able to recover from the occupier, thus placing the occupier in the position of one who has backed the landlord's bill. If there is collusion, the landlord ought to be alone responsible; and if there is no collusion, the effect of the Amendment will be to interfere with the relations between landlord and tenant, and to largely impede the application of capital to industry. Under these circumstances, before proceeding further with the clause, I think we are entitled to have a clear explanation from the Government as to the course they intend to pursue.

(3.0.) MR. C. W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)

I beg to move that the House do disagree with the clause as amended.


The hon. Member cannot do that. He must vote against the clause.


I hope the House will not agree with the clause. My reasons are these. We have always understood that the cardinal principle of the Bill was that the tithe rent-charge should be recoverable from the landlord, and the landlord only. In accepting this clause from the House of Lords we should be departing from that principle. I admit that the point raised in the clause is a fair one to raise. I think that the interests of the tithowner ought in some way to be protected; no one wishes to defraud him of his legal right. But this clause reverts to a principle which all have condemned, namely, the power of distraint on the tenant-farmer's property. That principle is objectionable, and I hope the House will refuse to listen to any proposal of that sort whatever. I know that there is a difficulty in the matter, but it has not arisen from any fault on the part of those who take an interest in the tithe payers' position. The difficulty has arisen from the drafting of the Bill as it is proposed to amend it by those who take a special interest in the tithe-owner. There may be collusion between a landlord and tenant to so reduce the rent as to escape the tithe; and there may be a perfectly genuine and business arrangement for the payment of a merely nominal rent in consideration of money spent by the tenant on buildings and improvements. Certainly it is not fair in either case that the titheowner should be deprived of his tithe. As the landlords will object to be rendered personally liable for the insufficiency of the rent to pay the tithe, the only way out of the difficulty is to send the Amendment back to the House of Lords to be re-drawn. I would suggest that in the cases provided for under the clause—and there will not be very many of them—the titheowner should allow the tithe which has been sanctioned by the County Court to remain as a debt owing from the landlord until such time as the rent should be sufficient to meet the debt. I would not object if this debt were allowed to carry with it interest, so as to recompense the tithe owner for the delay in receiving his money. Under these circumstances, I do not believe that any landlord would long allow the debt to be outstanding. The only way to settle such a vexed question is in a spirit of compromise—a spirit which, I regret to say, has not yet been shown by the representatives of the Church party. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners have an opportunity. They possess immense wealth. [Viscount CRANBORNE (Darwen) dissented]. My noble Friend shakes his head. He knows more about the property in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners than I do, but I have always understood that it is very large, and that it is likely to become more and more valuable as the ground rents fall in. I am sure it is quite large enough to cover the point I wish to raise, namely, that if any case of extreme hardship were occasioned by the non-payment of the tithe at the moment they might advance the money which was outstanding, accepting the legal debt as security. I hope the Government will consider favourably this suggestion, as they must be convinced that the Amendment as it comes from the Lords is most unsatisfactory. Practically every speech which has been delivered has been in opposition to the Amendment. Under no circumstances would I consent to again throwing the responsibility of the tithe upon the tenant farmer. I believe that a business arrangement may be entered into by which the tithe owner will obtain his tithe without the tenant farmer having to pay it.

(3.10.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)

I rise to support the appeal of the hon. Member There is one point which I am sure has not been fully appreciated, and which, indeed, has only just been brought to my cognisance. The clause as it stands does very much more than the Government ever intended to do. The Prime Minister has argued that the clause was intended to cover cases of collusion, and it was afterwards declared that it must also embrace those cases where small rents were paid in consideration of sums of money paid down. But, as a matter of fact, the clause affects every case of rack-rent where the tithe is larger than the rent. Suppose land to be let at a rack-rent of £45 a year without any sum paid or any collusion; and suppose the tithe on that land to be £50. In such a case it is perfectly obvious that under this clause the tenant would have to pay the £50.




It is perfectly obvious that that is the condition of things which fulfils the wording of this section. Therefore there would be hundreds of tenant-farmers compelled to advance the tithe which ought to be paid by the landlord. No lawyer in this House can controvert this interpretation of the clause; and such an effect is certainly discordant with the declared intentions of the Government. Another consideration is how this clause would operate on Clause 5. The Bill, under that clause, makes provision for reducing the tithe when it exceeds two-thirds of the annual value of the land; but this clause will conflict with and practically overrule that provision, for by it we should come on the tenant and compel him to pay in advance. The Bill professes to relieve the tenant-farmers of England; that has been urged as its great recommendation; but it will have the effect, with monstrous injustice, of making the tenant advance the money which the landlord ought to pay. It has been said that the clause is to apply to beneficial leases, but nine-tenths of those leases are made by ecclesiastical persons or corporations—by the landowners themselves—who would thus throw on the tenants the burdens they themselves ought to bear. A more gross, unfair, I will almost say wicked, injustice can hardly be conceived. Up to a short time since it has been the persistent policy of landowners to shift upon others the burdens they themselves ought to bear. By this Bill the House thought they had got rid of that policy in regard to tithe at least; but now, at the very last moment, the House of Lords makes again an attempt to throw upon the impoverished tenant-farmers of England a burden which the landowners clearly ought to bear. It is impossible to accede to such a proposal. Besides, we have decided that the man who ought to pay the tithe rent-charge is the landowner; then, having done that, why should not the landowner be made to pay directly? Why should we call upon the poor tenant-farmer to advance the money for him, and leave him simply the remedy of recovering by personal action? I am certain the Government will do well to very seriously re-consider this matter; if they do not, the clause will become the "fly in their pot of ointment." It will show the tenant-farmers that the old taint still prevails on the part of the richer classes, of endeavouring to throw burdens which properly belong to them upon the shoulders of other people less able to bear them than themselves. It is plain that the clause is not merely intended to cover cases of collusion, as has been urged. I do not say it would not cover such cases, but it would apply to other cases, such as those of rack-rent and beneficial leases, which are vastly more numerous; and I hardly think the House of Lords when they passed it had any idea that it would have so wide and unjust an application. If the clause was originally meant to apply to only a few particular cases, let it be sent back, though at the last moment, in order that the words may be altered. That, I contend, would be a wise and prudent course for the Government to pursue. The responsibility for the clause, if it remains part of the Bill, will rest with the majority who support it, and I believe the farmers of the country will be likely to call them to account for doing so. I 'trust the Government will not consent to pass a measure with such a blot upon it. There is no security under this clause that the landlord ever will pay, especially if he be an insolvent landlord; the result will be that the tenant may go on year after year paying sums in excess of his rent with no possible means of recovering the money from the landlord. I would commend that to the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. He is perfectly aware that there are a great many on this side of the House who feel this injustice very strongly. If the clause is to be carried in its present shape it will be the Representatives of the tenant farmers of England who will be held responsible, and properly held responsible. It is not the persons who sit here and listen to the arguments, who will be held responsible, but the responsibility will rest upon those who, forming the majority, come in and vote without even having listened to the arguments as to what will be the operation of the clause. I protest against it with all the earnestness I can. I feel there is nothing in the past history of tithe, there has been nothing proposed in this Bill, more unjust in its operation than this clause will prove. It will place the onus upon the man who ought not to bear it. It will place the onus upon the man who at the present time is essentially poor. It will make him advance money for the interest of the richer man, his landlord, and it will be in itself a grievance and injustice which will leave behind it a sense of ill-treatment.


I entirely demur to the view of the right hon. Gentleman as to the object of this clause. It is not the object of the clause to impose liabilities, which ought to rest upon the landlord, upon another person. As has been stated over and over again, it is to prevent the landlord from practically contracting himself out of the liability by agreeing with his tenants on such terms for the occupation of the land as that it shall be impossible for the law to obtain the tithe rent-charge from the rent due to the landlord. As to the effect of the clause, the right hon. Gentleman has discovered what, with all respect to him, I must describe as a mare's nest. He thinks that this clause can be brought into operation in cases where a rack-rent is charged for the land. I demur to that doctrine altogether. The sum ordered to be recovered under the 5th clause of this Bill can never exceed two-thirds of the annual value of the land as assessed to Schedule B of the Income Tax; it therefore never can exceed two-thirds of the rack-rent. So I think it is clear that the clause could not possibly have the operation which the right hon. Gentleman predicts. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and the Member for Glamorganshire appear to imagine that the clause will prevent those agreements between the landlord and tenant which are often very useful to agriculture, and under which the landlord lets his land either at no rent or a low rent for a certain period at the commencement of the tenancy. This clause would in no way prevent such agreements. What will be the future position of the landlord? Precisely what it is now when he undertakes to pay the tithe rent-charge. Landlords who undertake to pay the tithe rent-charge often enter into such agreements now, and will be just as able to do so in future. But supposing the landlord is so dishonest as not to perform his duty of paying the tithe rent-charge, then how can the liability be enforced except by some such clause as this? My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon suggests a plan which would be infinitely more unfair to the tithe owner than the proposal which the House rejected last night. Last night it was suggested that the tithe owner should have a charge upon the interest of the landlord in the land, which charge might be enforced by sale by the tithe owner after the expiration of 12 months. Such a proposal would not meet the case, because it would be difficult to sell such a charge at all, so that the tithe owner would be kept out of his money; and it would be impossible to sell such a charge where the landlord had shirked his liability to pay tithe on more than one occasion, as he might year after year. But my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon now suggests that the tithe-owner should have a charge upon the landlord's interest in the land, which never would be paid, because he provides no machinery whatever for enforcing the payment of that charge. I venture to submit that a more impracticable or impossible proposal for securing tithe to the person who ought to have it, namely, the tithe owner, has hardly ever been suggested to this House. Is any farmer injured by the provisions of this clause? He has, with his eyes open, made an agreement with the landlord, with regard to which he knows that the landlord has not reserved sufficient rent to meet the tithe rent-charge. This clause proposes that the tenant, who has by such an agreement obtained the beneficial interest in the land which the landlord usually reserves to himself, shall be treated as being in possession of the land to the extent of the sum ordered to be recovered for tithe rent-charge, and that recovery shall in the first place be from him. The clause says he shall be recouped for such payment either by keeping back, with interest, money subsequently due from him to the landlord, or, if the latter refuse to pay, by suing him. It is a personal liability on the part of the landlord, not to the tithe owner, but to the tenant. It is by way of fine on the landlord for not performing the covenant which he ought to have performed. The right hon. Gentleman asks why we do not make the landlord directly liable to the tithe owner. I can assure him he is wrong in believing there is any desire on the part of the House of Lords to sustain the rights of the landlords against the rights of the tenant-farmers. I have said over and over again, in public and in private, that we would not impose any personal liability on the tithepayer to the tithe owner, either for tithe rent-charge or for costs. I could not assent, in accordance with what I have already said, to a proposal which would depart from this, and impose upon the landlord personal liability to the tithe owner for tithe rent-charge. The landlord's personal liability is to the tenant, and it is by way of fine upon the landlord for putting the tenant to inconvenience by not performing a duty which he ought to have performed. I believe the effect of this clause will really be to prevent the evil which is contemplated. I believe that if Parliament accepts this clause the result will be that landlords, in cases where the tenants have this exceptional kind of beneficial interest in the land, will perform their duty by paying the tithe, and that, therefore, the hardship upon the tenant, of which the right hon. Gentleman thinks so much, will practically never arise.

(3.44.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

Sir, I think the right hon. Gentleman has met my Friend very fairly. It is very important his argument should be met, because I think it really touches a very important part in this clause. We are not dealing with questions of lands which are let, but with the larger and broader question of depressed agriculture, which I am afraid, after the temporary revival, will be still more depressed. Every one knows that in many cases land, on which the tithe has reached as much as 7s. per acre, has gone out of cultivation, and the wise landlord is anxious to get his land into cultivation, even if he has to take a very small rent indeed—frequently below the amount of the tithe rent-charge. Parliament should endeavour to encourage rather than discourage the efforts of those who wish to put the land into cultivation. The right hon. Gentleman thought he had an answer to my right hon. Friend's reference to Clause 5, under which, when the tithe rent-charge exceeds two-thirds of the annual value, it may be diminished. But he failed to meet the argument of my right hon. Friend that before application can be made to reduce the tithe rent-charge the tithe owner comes upon the tenant and takes the full tithe rent-charge from him.


He cannot do that; there must first of all be an order.


But that order is made before the application.




The main objection, however, is a more serious one. Clause 5 enacts that where the annual value of the land is ascertained to be under the tithe rent-charge, remission shall be made. I maintain that the value of the tithe under Schedule B of the Income Tax is, in many cases, above the rack-rent, and this point, if established, must seriously invalidate the argument of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I know a case in which land which used to let some eight or ten years ago for £1,020 is now rented at £699; and yet the value under Schedule B has never been reduced, in spite of annual applications.


It ought to have been.


Yes; it ought to have been, but it has not. On what ground has it not been reduced? I can understand their saying to the landlord, "You are willing to let your land to a good farmer for so much below the full value; but we think the value is over what the tenant pays, and we shall go on taxing the land at its full value."


Has there been no appeal?


There has been no appeal, and, as in many other cases, it was on the ground of the expense that no appeal was made. We know that in other cases appeals have been made again and again, and have failed because the Assessment Authorities would not admit that the land in their district was worth next to nothing. They, therefore, insist on keeping the value at a figure which may represent its future or its past value, but certainly not its present value, or what it will be for a good while to come. Consequently, though the farmers admit that the Bill gives them some relief, they do not admit that that represents the real facts of the case. The right hon. Gentleman says that it is a very simple matter, and that if it is impossible for the tithe owner to recover the tithe from the landowner he must recover it from some quarter. But how is he to get it? We say he ought to get it from the person to whom the tenant pays the rent. "But," says the right hon. Gentleman, "we cannot under this Bill impose personal liability on the landowner." We reply that that is a mere question of words, and that you do by the words you have already accepted, impose personal liability, but you impose that liability on the tenant, whereas it ought to be imposed on the landowner. The landowner ought to bear all the risk and all that is disagreeable; for I put it to the House, how disagreeable must it be for a farmer, cultivating a miserable piece of land, to have to bring an action against his landlord in order to obtain, not for his own benefit, but for that of the tithe owner the amount of tithe rent-charge the landowner is not willing or is possibly unable to pay. The right hon. Gentleman, says "Are the tenant farmers injured by the clause?" I reply that they are, because the Bill makes them responsible for other people's debts. There is no more reason that they should be made responsible for the tithe rent-charge of the landlord, than that they should be made responsible for any of his other debts. The course the Government might have taken is quite plain. They might have accepted the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman below the Gangway which put upon the tithe owners the duty, and gave them the power, of exacting the tithe rent-charge if it were not paid by the landlord. But not having accepted that, I can imagine no better course for them than to allow the House to disagree with the Amendment, and refer it back to the House of Lords in order that they may introduce words that will really carry out the spirit of the Bill, and do justice to the three parties affected by it.

(3.52.) MR. H. T. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)

It is my intention to vote with the Government on this question, and for this reason: I think that the operation of this clause 'will be very small, and that it has been very much misrepresented—though not intentionally—and very much exaggerated by speakers on the other side of the House. I also think that the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Gray) and his friends have not been quite fair in the description they have given of the Bill. The hon. Member for Maldon has said he looks on the Bill as one founded on compromise, and give and take.


I said I hoped so.


Well, the hon. Gentleman said he hoped so, and he also said the Church Party would not gain anything by this measure. I wish to call attention to the primary operation of the first portion of the Bill, which shifts the onus of the tithe from the occupier to the landowner. That is undoubtedly a gift on the part of the landlords' Party, and justifies me in declining to agree with my hon. Friend in saying that it does not contain a fair measure of compromise. It seems to me that the Opposition are not quite fair in the way in which they regard the property of the tithe owners. They seem to look upon the property in tithe as they would not look on any other kind of property. Why, I should like to ask, is the tithe owner to be placed in a worse position than the owner of any other description of property? These are some of the reasons why it appears to me to be absolutely impossible not to adopt some clause of this kind, whereby the tithe owner is placed in a position enabling him to recover what is his due. At the same time, while saying this, I must also say that I do not regard the clause as, on the whole, a very satisfactory one. I cannot help thinking the Government would suffer no great disadvantage if they adopted the suggestion thrown out by my hon. Friend, and gave the House of Lords the opportunity of further considering this clause, together with the other clause with which we have disagreed. I cannot say that I regard the position of the other House in connection with this matter as being altogether very happy. If the clause should be sent back to them, they may be able to devise some really practical settlement of this question which might present itself to them as offering the means of facilitating the passage of the Bill. I shall support the Government if the Question is pressed to a Division, but, at the same time, I hope they will have-regard to a request which comes from all parts of the House, and be able to see their way to referring the clause back to the House of Lords.

*(3.58.) MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has based his argument against the clause mainly on the provision of Clause 5, whereby a remission is made where the amount of tithe exceeds two-thirds of the value of the land. The right hon. Gentleman doubted whether the rack-rent always represented the value of the land. What I wish to point out is, that it may very often happen that although a remission ought to be granted, the tenant would be unable to obtain the benefit of it in consequence of some default on the part of the landlord. Suppose we take the case of an absentee landlord, against whom tithe is claimed in Court. Judgment in that case would go by default for the entire amount of the tithe, and the tenant on whom it is now sought to impose responsibility would have no opportunity of obtaining the remission allowed under Clause 5. The landlord having neglected to appear, there is no provision that service should be made upon the tenant. In a case of a contract of tenancy made before the passing of the Act, service is compulsory upon the tenant, the tenant may appear, and he may be able to get a remission; but it will be different with contracts entered into after the passing of this Act. I will put a concrete case. Assume a farm on which the tithe amounts to £60 a year; assume that that farm cannot be let at a rack-rent of more than £40; suppose that the landlord is abroad, that proceedings have been taken against him, and he does not appear. What occurs? The tenant is not aware that a possession order has been made, and that the sum of £60 is to be recovered under Section 5; he has no opportunity of appearing before the Court to show that the £60 is more than two-thirds of the value under Schedule B; and, consequently, the full amount of the £60 will be recovered for him. The right hon. Gentleman says the Court, in that case, would not make such an order, but I hold that here the word "may" means "must." Take Clause 2, which changes the mode of recovering the tithe. There simply the word "may" is used—the Court may order the tithe to be recovered for the owner of the land; and, clearly, that means the Court must so order. The Court will be bound to see that the money is paid in full by the tenant, notwithstanding that the amount is in excess of the proper sum. I venture to say, therefore, that unless some further alteration is made in this clause cases may occur in which, owing to some oversight or default on the part of the landlord, the tenant will be obliged to pay more than ought legally to be demanded from him.

(4.5.) CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)

I am inclined to agree with the Government that as the Church party have already given up something, as those who represent the landlord say, they cannot consent that a personal liability shall be thrown upon him, and as those who represent the tenant avow that, under no conditions, will they make him primarily responsible for the tithe, the present proposal is the best solution of the difficulty. In the case which we are now discussing, the Church has already given way to some extent, and I do not think any further concession can fairly be expected. I therefore hope the Government will abide by this clause.

*(4.8.) MR. STUART RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)

After the hon. and gallant Member has made such a candid confession I think we are justified in the position we have from the first taken up, and to insist that it is the duty of the Government, and not of the occupiers, to find a satisfactory solution of this difficulty. The President of the Board of Trade has already been obliged, by these Amendments of the Lords, to extensively change the methods of his Bill, and now he proposes that any person who wishes to follow the honourable occupation of cultivating the soil shall not be entitled to relief——


I never said anything of the kind. What I did say was that persons who entered into contracts should take care what bargains they made.


At any rate it seems to me to be an unusual extension of the common legal maxim caveat emptor. The leading principle of this Bill is to make the landowner responsible for the tithe, and that is the solitary title it has to our assent. Yet this clause will violate this principle, and shift the responsibility on the occupier's shoulders in certain circumstances, and although he may have in advance paid his rent, either in cash or by erecting buildings, you will, in the default of the landlord, make that tenant liable also for the tithe which has thus already been paid by him as rent. For I challenge contradiction to the assertion that the rent will, in all these cases, cover the tithe. Thus you are making the occupier responsible for tithe exactly in that particular case where it is a necessity of the case that he has already paid it; and you are exempting the landlord from the liability to tithe, which is the cardinal feature of the Bill, exactly in the very case when it is clear that he has already in his pocket the tithe paid as rent by the tenant. I say that this clause is a naked, bare, and monstrous injustice to be inflicted on the occupier in contravention of the whole principle of the Bill. I hope, therefore, the House will refuse to accept this clause, and send it back to the other place to be drafted in a more satisfactory shape.

(4.14.) MR. ABEL SMITH (Herts, E.)

I consider that Clause 5 gives all the protection to the tenant farmer which is necessary. I have for many years served upon an Assessment Committee, and in almost all cases we have fixed the assessment at the rent. Such a case as that quoted by the hon. Member opposite is not likely often to arise. I feel it my duty, therefore, to support this proposal.

*(4.15.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)

It might have been all right if the Bill had not been made retrospective. I always thought that this clause was the worst clause in the Bill, and every speech I listen to confirms that opinion. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby pointed out that the clause would not apply merely to eases of collusion or beneficial leases. Take a farm, the tithe on which is £30, and the rent of which is only £20. It is quite possible that the Assessment Committee might fix the rateable value at £30. The right hon. Gentleman forgets that in this clause the liability is fixed not upon the rent but upon the value as ascertained under the 5th section of the Act. Cases may occur with which, through the mistake or absence of the landlord, the tenant would not be able to get relief under the 5th clause. In that case, no matter what the annual value might be, the excess of tithe would fall on the tenant, and how will he be able to get it back? You are not only imposing a personal liability, which you said you would not do, but you are casting an unmerited slur on landlords and tenants by suggesting that they may be guilty of collusion. Really, this clause, to judge from the Debate which has taken place, has no friend whatever, with the exception of the hon. Member for Shropshire and the noble Lord the Member for Darwen. Of course, if the Government are determined to press it, we must be content with making our protest; but I hope that the tenant farmers of England will, at the next election, remember who it was that introduced this clause, and know, therefrom, what favour they may expect from those who in the past have passed as the "farmer's friends."

(4.21.) MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)

It is not necessary for me to say much, as all the arguments which can be used against this proposal have already been advanced. By that I do not mean to suggest that those arguments are in themselves weak. The fact is, we have bad no arguments put forward in its favour. I do not wish to infuse any heat into this Debate, although the manifest injustice of the clause would warrant me in doing so. I am satisfied that if those who intend to vote for the clause would listen to the arguments against it, the Government would be defeated. This is not a case where the tithe owner comes in. It is admitted on all sides that the tithe owner must have his tithe. The question is, how is he to get it; in what manner is he to recover it? The question is one simply between the landlord and the tenant. What was the origin of this clause? It comes to us from the House of Lords, and any proposal from that House on a question arising between landlord and tenant ought to be examined with considerable minuteness if we wish to profit from the experience of the past. The President of the Board of Trade, following the example of the Attorney General, said that in making a bargain with his landlord the tenant must take care of himself. But in the making of any such bargain who has the upper hand? If anyone suggests it is the tenant I shall be very much astonished, because we know that the landlord—as we have seen in the case of Ireland—is able to put the screw on the tenant. Now, we want to make that impossible in this case. Let us bear in mind that hereafter the liability for the payment of the tithe is to rest upon the landlord. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in explaining the object of this Amendment, said it was to prevent the landlord contracting himself out of the liability, and to prevent him entering into an arrangement with the tenant so as to avoid the payment of the tithe. But what is it proposed to do by way of preventing a contract of that kind being entered into? You penalise the tenant. Let me remind the House of the origin of the various Tithes Bills we have had to discuss. The object has been to get rid of the irritation caused by distraining upon the tenant for a debt which is not his. We have protested against this clause on the ground of its injustice. But it may also be opposed on the ground of its futility, and of the danger which may attend its enactment. In 1887 the Prime Minister declared that the weak point in the arrangement of 1836 was the introduction of the occupier into the matter at all, for the debt was the debt of the owner in respect of the produce of the land. In that one sentence the noble Lord showed the fundamental vice of the whole system. And in the particular case with which you are now dealing, you are going to perpetuate that fundamental vice. The effect of doing so has been clearly anticipated by hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, who feel an interest in the tenant farmers. They foresee that you will increase the irritation which already exists, to someextent, in England, and create fresh difficulties between landlord and tenant. In Wales you will perpetuate the state of things which at present exists. The clause, therefore, is not only unjust, but it is also highly dangerous. We are asked to provide some remedy. It is clear there is need for a remedy which shall not penalise the tenant. But it is the duty of the Government to find a remedy. I may, however, point out that the proposal I made last night would satisfactorily meet the difficulty, and that is, that where the landlord does not fulfil his obligations, a charge shall be created on his interest in the land, the charge to be realised by an order for the sale of the land. Let me put this dilemma to the House. Let me point out what the effect of the possibility of the order of sale will be. I propose that the charge shall not be realised for a reasonable term. I am not tied to a year. I will make it, if you like, two years. But the effect will be this: The landlord will take very great care before he allows the prospect to arise of the possibility of the loss of his property, and he will do something to wipe away the charge on the land. Although it is not for me to propose a remedy, I think this of mine is far better than that proposed by the Government. What does the Government proposal do? It has, at last, landed them in the quagmire in which they find themselves by attaching a personal liability to the landlord. I am not sure that that may not be a way out of the difficulty; but supposing this done, supposing we admit the principle of fixing the personal liability on the landlord—and that is what the Government have done in accepting the Amendment I proposed last night, instead of doing that in the first instance—the Government place the occupier or the tenant in the position of a buffer between the landlord and the tithe owner. Is it not better and easier to say that if there is to be this personal liability at all it shall be direct from the landlord to the tithe owner, instead of making it obligatory for the tithe owner to distrain upon the tenant and then allowing the tenant to sue his landlord? Is that a good thing? Do you view with equanimity the prospect? Does it augur well for the relations between landlord and tenant that you enable the tenant, after he has suffered the irritation of a distraint, to put his landlord in the County Court? We have warned the Government again and again. So far as we are concerned, if we wanted an election cry we could not have a better one than will be supplied if this Amendment is adopted. But, of course, that is not the spirit in which we ought to legislate. It is not a question what is best for us, but what is just and fair towards the interests with which we are dealing. But I warn the Government that not only is their proposal unjust towards the occupier, but they are perpetuating a state of things which will provoke increasing irritation, and Session after Session Tithe Bills will be introduced until we have a much fairer proposal.

(4.35.) MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)

I agree with the hon. Member that this proposal will give rise to great irritation. It may be that land is let on an improving lease at a nominal rent, on condition that it is brought into cultivation; and it seems to me, when the tithe owner comes for his tithe, it will be an easy thing for him to prove that the rent of the land is insufficient to pay it. A very low rent may be taken for a few years, say a nominal rent of £5 for a farm of 100 acres; and the farmer may contract to bring the farm into a proper state of cultivation. Under the clause it seems to me the landlord will get free, but the tithe owner will come on the land and distrain.


The owner will pay the tithe.


But how will he be made to do this?


As I have endeavoured to explain, there are, under the law as it now stands, a considerable number of cases in which the owners take upon themselves to pay the tithe rent-charge where they have let the farm on precisely the terms the hon. Member speaks of, and this will be the case in future.


If that is the case, that does away with the objection to a great extent; but it will not be always understood in that way, and many will have a very different view of the intention of the clause, and it ought to be made a great deal clearer than it is at present. Then, again, suppose there should be collusion between the landlord and tenant. In that case, although they will both be equally to blame—I hope and believe such a case will never occur—yet if it should occur, then the one to be punished will be the tenant, and that, I confess, seems to me very unfair. I do not, I say, think that such collusion will ever occur; but if it should, then it is unfair that the landlord should get off scot-free, and the tenant be punished. One matter I should like to mention. It was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir G. Trevelyan). He spoke of the rack-rent being above the assessment; but, in such a case, I think the Assessment Committee in his county must be greatly to blame. Although, no doubt, the assessment is frequently above the nominal rent, yet it never should be above the rack-rent, and in all cases of which I have cognisance, the Committee, on appeal, have taken the view of what is the fair rack-rent in the locality. The clause is drawn in rather a vague manner, and, in attempts to interpret it, there seems to be so much difference of opinion that I think it should be sent back to the House of Lords and made more plain.

(4.39.) MR. HERBERT GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)

I congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken upon the course he is about to pursue, for I hope he will be true to his political record, and vote for putting the responsibility for tithe upon the landlord. We have had some interesting speeches from the other side of the House. Whether they have been interesting to right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench I do not know. There has been very little support to the clause in those speeches. There was a speech from the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. Smith), who declared, as a Representative of tenant farmers, that they would be content with their position under Clause 5; but I observed he did not give the reasons why they should be content; he simply gave it as his ipse dixit that with Clause 5 in it tenant farmers would be satisfied with the Bill. But I doubt if he would go down to his constituents and evoke much assent to that expression of his opinion. Then we had a speech from the hon. and gallant Member for the Holderness Division, to whom we are always glad to listen. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Bethell) said very truly that this clause represented an impossible dilemma, a difficulty that could not be solved unless one of the three parties gave way—the Church, the landowners, or the occupiers—and then he proceeded to suggest that the sacrifice should be made by the occupiers only, and this is the solution the Government bring forward.


The occupiers do not pay the tithe rent-charge. The occupiers will pay in the first instance, but ultimately payment falls upon the landowner.


With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I can out of his own lips show that the clause is unjustified, because in defending the Bill he has taken the ground that its object is to do away with the responsibility of occupier under the Act of 1836. I do not think that it is sufficient explanation to say that a tenant must enter into his contract with his eyes open. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite said the problem was almost impossible of solution, and in that contention he takes the view of the Prime Minister, who said, with this Amendment of Lord Selborne before him, that the question was so surrounded with difficulties on every side that no proposal could be entirely satisfactory, and then the noble Lord went on to say that the proposal in the Amendment was somewhat clumsy. So it comes to this: that this unhappy clause which we have rightly been debating so long, this clause which is the result of the wisdom of the House of Lords, led by the acumen of that infallible lawyer, Lord Selborne, has been 'denounced by the Prime Minister as "clumsy." Then we have had a speech from the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen), and in that speech we may read the expression of the general opinion outside this House. My hon. Friend spoke with two voices: he spoke against the clause, but then he proceeded to say he should vote with the Government as a faithful follower of his Party. Well, if the Government have still any doubt as to the opinion of tenant-farmers, they will have that doubt set at rest at the next election, when tenant-farmers will not have forgotten this clause. The meaning of the clause is really this: that you lay it down as a principle that every landlord shall be bound to find sufficient rent to meet the claim upon him, and the landlords do not so much object to to that; but then you go further, and lay it down that every tenant, on taking a farm, shall be bound to see that he pays sufficient rent to his landlord to meet the claim of the tithe rent-charge. By this Bill you intended that the responsibility should be upon the landlord, but by this clause you do not carry out that intention. If by this clause you really wish to make the landlord responsible you do not do so. Why not bring forward some proposal imposing upon the landlord the direct responsibility? The President of the Board of Trade says the tenant will not pay, and that the payment ultimately falls on the landlord; but why not make the landlord directly responsible? He has been made personally responsible by the acceptance of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glamorgan. The right hon. Gentlemen contends that this is not a similar case; but with all due respect I must say he is splitting hairs, I might almost say tithes of hairs. It is quite obvious this clause has been introduced in the interest of the tithe owners. Let the Government accept the advice of my hon. Colleague in the representation of Essex (Mr. Gray), and refer back this Amendment to the wisdom of the House of Lords, from which it emanated.

(4.45.) MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)

I hope the Government will have the courage to cut the knot by withdrawing the clause altogether. From my own experience, I am bound to say I think the clause is most reactionary and retrograde in its tendency, and that it neutralises the best portions of the Bill. My hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Bethell), in defending the clause, put the query, "Where is the money to come from?" I reply, there is no money to come, with land going out of cultivation, and corn at its low price. I do not think the Government will gain much credit from the Church Party by adhering to this proposal, and I would urge them to accept the suggestion tendered by my hon. friend the Member for Maldon Division.

*(4.46.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

As a Representative of an agricultural constituency, I oppose the clause, and support the appeal made by several supporters of the Government to withdraw the clause, and thus end our discussion. I feel bound to offer one or two objections to the clause, which I hope may add somewhat to the force of the reasons urged why the President of the Board of Trade should re-consider the position he has adopted. The clause obviously undoes the main merit of the Bill, which is that it relieves the occupier from the burden of the tithe, but my objection goes further. This clause, in the most effectual way, sets up a Land Court for the tithe owner and for the benefit of the clergy. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire says, on behalf of tenant farmers, that they are contented with Clause 5; but I say they want something beyond that. In the Daily News, a day or two ago, there was an important intimation from the hon. Member for Dorsetshire. The hon. Member was examined by the Royal Commission on Redemption of Tithe, and in a very lucid and forcible letter he pointed out that any evidence with regard to revision of the value of the tithe—the burden of tithe—was absolutely excluded from the scope of that Commission. We are, then, in this position: Clause 5 is an inadequate solution of the difficulty agriculture is under, the Commission is not instructed to suggest any remedy in the future for the unfair incidence of tithe, and, now, at the instance of Lord Selborne, the Clerical Party have inserted this provision, which will have the effect of forcing up rents and of imposing a fine upon just those arrangements between landlord and tenant which in the permanent interest of agriculture are essential, and which those who have the interest of agriculture at heart wish to see encouraged to the utmost. In the course of the Debates on the Act of 1836, Sir Robert Peel laid the greatest stress on this point, and urged with force that the Act would put an end to uncertainty in agriculture, and would in the highest degree encourage improvements in the land both by landlords and tenants. Now it has been pointed out that the rateable value is often above the rent, and I should like to point out that, to a very large extent, the rent is still vastly above the economical value of the land. Sir James Caird, in giving evidence before the Depression of Trade Commission some years ago, referred to one point which bears directly on the point at issue. Whereas, he said, the changes in rent when the land passed into the hands of the landlord and was let again were often to the extent of a re-letting at 50 or 60 per cent. reduction on the previous rental, when the occupying tenant remained, he, rather than leave the land, often accepted a remission of only 10 to 20 per cent. The tenant farmers, then, are in many cases in this position: that the better farmers they are the more they fear to lose the value of the improvements they have made in the land, and because they are reluctant to face the cost of removal from their holdings and do not wish to forfeit the goodwill of the business connections they have formed, these reasons so weigh with them that they pay a rent higher than the economic value of the land. I put these facts before the President of the Board of Trade because I know, although he looks at these things from a different point of view to myself, his sympathies are with the agricultural interest. The effect of the clause will be that there will not be that relief to agriculture which was originally contemplated, while you have tenant farmers in the position in which they are practically compelled by the very fact of their having done their duty by the land to pay a rent above the value, you have the House of Lords in the interest of the Church insisting upon the insertion of a clause which not only upsets the main merit of the Bill, which is the relief of the occupier from the burden which has been thrust upon him, you have this additional evil, that a Court is set up to adjudicate matters and practically turned into an engine to work up rents in favour of the Church and the tithe owner. I hope from the many considerations urged from both sides of the House the Government will see the expediency of performing the happy dispatch on this unhappy clause, and then they will pass a Bill which, though it is not what we want, will not further hamper the industry we wish to encourage.

(4.55.) VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N.E., Darwen)

I am reluctant to rise, but it is assumed that we all join in the objections because we do not rise to reply in defence of the clause. There is a strong feeling among hon. Members on this side that we ought to persist in agreeing with the Lords' Amendment. I am quite conscious how important the matter is; but the real fact is, hon. Members opposite rise so often and prolong their observations to such inordinate length that we get little chance to intervene. The right hon. Gentleman told us that any lawyer would say he is right in his conception of the clause. I do not pretend to be a lawyer, but I have read the clause and the Bill, which I do not know that he has; and as I read it it seems perfectly evident that the rack-rent never could be less than the tithe; for, under the 5th clause, the tithe will never be allowed to be more than two-thirds of the rack rent. The difficulty we have to deal with was first pointed out by the hon. Member for Glamorgan on a former occasion, and he made a proposal which the Government did not see fit to accept, and I think he himself admitted it would scarcely work. Then the Bill went to another place, and we have the conclusion arrived at there for meeting the difficulty. Now my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, not satisfied with the proposal, has gone the length of proposing a remedy of his own.


Let me explain. I did not make a proposal with any idea of it being accepted; I only suggested that something in that way might be done.


But nothing in the way my hon. Friend suggests could be done. This is the point I want to place effectually before the House. My hon. Friend proposes that the debt should remain a charge against the landowner. Now let me take an extreme case to show how impossible it is that his Amendment could meet the difficulty. Suppose a landlord let land to a relative at a nominal rent, a penny a year it may be, and suppose the landowner refuses to pay the tithe rent-charge, under the provisions of this. Bill a receiver would be put in and receive the rents and profits of the land but the receiver might sit there till the crack of doom and never get the interest upon the debt, which would mount higher and higher, and would become irrecoverable.


Proceedings may be taken within two years.


I am not sure of that. I have good legal authority for saying there is much doubt on the point whether in law he could recover. Another hon. Member said it is a very common practice in England to let land at a nominal rent for one or two years, and maintained that in such cases this clause will act very hardly. Who pays the tithe now? I know the case of property with which I am intimately connected where precisely the same thing was done. The land had got into bad order. The late tenant was bankrupt, and allowed the land to get into a poor condition. The land was let to a new tenant at a nominal rent for the first year, for a little more the second year, and it was not until the fourth year that the full rent was charged. Of course, under the provisions of this Bill, the tithe owner has a remedy against the landlord in the first instance, and if it is shown that the occupier receives benefit from the particular method of letting, which the landowner and the tenant have agreed upon for their own purposes, then the tithe owner loses his money. Surely hon. Members will not say that when the land really produces sufficient to pay the tithe rent-charge the tithe owner should lose his right to tithe simply because of some special arrangement between the landlord and tenant. This matter has been very carefully considered, and of all the proposals made this is found to be the only one which is at all feasible. It is admitted that there is a difficulty to be grappled with, and therefore I earnestly hope the Government will adhere to the clause.

*(5.3.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

Notwithstanding his speech, I think the noble Lord must see that the general opinion on both sides of the House is that this clause ought not to be passed. I cannot conceive why, under the circumstances, the Government stick to the clause unless they think the Church will derive some benefit. The noble Lord appears to represent both the House of Lords and the Church in this matter, and I trust he will see very shortly, if not at once, the wisdom of allowing the President of the Board of Trade to withdraw the clause. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir M. Hicks Beach) stated just now that there are at present cases in which no rent is paid, but in which the landlord pays the tithe himself. If the landlords will pay, why have a clause which will only cause annoyance to the tenants? It appears that neither the Church nor the House of Lords have any faith whatever in the Tory landlords. One would think the landlord had so much love for the Church that he would pay tithe without even being asked for it, but I gather, the Church does not think so. The right hon. Gentleman also told us that the policy of the Government throughout has been that the tithe should not be a personal liability on the landlord. If that is so why does he want to make it a personal liability on the tenant? Furthermore, we have been told that the Church has already given up something. I cannot see what it has given up. I understood this Bill was introduced for the purpose of benefiting the Church, and the Church alone. It will not benefit the tenant and it will not benefit the Tory Party, except so far that they may get a little more support from the Church. But the Church is boasting that it is getting a great deal out of the Bill already, and it would seem to be true since the market price of tithe has risen. My great objection to the clause is that it is opposed to the public policy of the country. The real effect of the clause will not be to get tithe, but to drive land out of cultivation, and no one will say it is to the interest of anybody that land should be driven out of cultivation. Another fact which affects me is, that you are giving to the Church a power that you do not give to any other person. There may be other charges on land. Are you going to give to all the persons who may have charges on land the means of collecting their interest or principal from people who are not concerned in the matter? Suppose an hon. Member opposite owed me money. What would the President of the Board of Trade say if I had the power to recover the money from himself? He would call it robbery. I trust that even at this, the eleventh hour, the Government will withdraw the clause.


I have no right to speak again, and I only rise to make an appeal to the House. I hope that as we have now discussed the clause for six hours we may be permitted to come to a conclusion. The rest of the Amendments will not raise any serious matter of controversy, and in that case we should be able to finish the consideration of the Amendments to-day, which, I think, would be felt to be for the general convenience of hon. Members.

(5.13.) MR. ROBY (Lancashire, S.E., Eccles)

In the interest of the tithe owner, I should like to point out a flaw in the clause. The tithe owner has to wait for three years before there are arrears. Then he goes to the Court, which has the owner before it. It may be discovered that the owner is not the occupier, whereupon the Court may appoint a receiver. The receiver may come to the Court and inform it that there is not sufficient to satisfy the tithe. Then the Court makes an order that the occupier shall be treated as owner. Why, when the owner is before the Court, cannot the Court ascertain whether there is any collusive arrangement? Why put the poor tithe owner to all this trouble? Surely the wisest course would be for the Government to withdraw the clause and see if they cannot simplify the procedure.

*(5.15.) SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

I venture to ask the House to consider what were the leading principles of the Bill when it was discussed in Committee. The first principle was to take the liability to pay tithe off the occupier and lay it on the landowner; and the second was that the landowner should not be personally liable for the tithe. When the Bill got to the House of Lords, Lord Selborne said that as the personal liability of the landlord had been withdrawn, he could not see his way to ask the House to take off the 5 per cent. reduction, which had been proposed by Her Majesty's Government more than once in previous Bills during this Parliament. The whole spirit of the former Bills was to put a personal liability on the landowner, and, in consideration of that, 5 per cent. was to be taken off the amount of the tithe as commuted. What has happened? The Government have agreed to put a personal liability upon the occupier in the first instance, and eventually on the landowner. The President of the Board of Trade denies that technically, but the distinction is so microscopic that I am unable to see it. To all intents and purposes, the first charge in some instances, is upon the occupier. I think we are entitled to insist that the Bill should be sent back to the House of Lords for more careful consideration. I am a tithe owner, and there are many others in the House. Have we heard any argument from tithe owners, who are mouth-pieces for the Church, in support of this clause? No; all the arguments in favour of the clause have been advanced by the Church Party.

(5.20.) The House divided:—Ayes 174; Noes 117.—(Div. List, No. 99.)

Several Amendments agreed to.

Several Amendments disagreed to.

Several Amendments amended, and agreed to. [Special Entry.] Committee appointed, "to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to several of the said Amendments."—Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Mr. Attorney General, Mr. Ritchie, Mr. Mowbray, Mr. Jackson, Mr. William Lowther, and Viscount Cranborne:—To withdraw immediately.

Ordered, That Throe be the quorum.