§ MR. J. ROUND (Essex, Harwich)
called; attention to the taxation of clerical incomes, and moved:—That, in view of the distressed condition of many of the clergy whose remuneration is principally derived from tithe rent-charge, this House is of opinion that the burdens of local taxation borne by them are inequitable and excessive, and that the grievance is one that calls for substantial relief.1195 He said the subject was interesting and important to the clergy, and he hoped that every Member of Parliament who desired to see all classes of ratepayers contributing equitably to local burdens would also take an interest in his Motion. He bad heard the income of the Church of England from tithe variously estimated at from four to six millions, but he wished to point out that the income from tithe rent-charge of the parochial clergy of the Established Church amounted to about two and a quarter millions at the time of the commutation, but now only to £1,725,000. No doubt if they took the income of the parochial clergy from all sources they would reach a total of some £3,165,000, but if that were divided among the incumbents each incumbent would receive only some £238. He believed that there were about 14,000 parishes in England and Wales, and that in more than half of them the income of the incumbent was less than £130 a year. In the year 1836 the payment of the clergy by tithe was commuted and the present tithe rent-charge substituted, which was based upon their average receipts from tithe during the seven previous years, and was caluculated at the then existing price of corn—wheat, 56s.; barley, 31s.; and oats, 22s. per quarter. He need not point out to the House the enormous fall that had taken place since that time in the value of cereals, and as a consequence the loss of income to the clergy by the depreciation of tithe rent-charge was very great indeed. He believed he was correct in saying that for the past seven years the income of the clergy from tithe rent-charge had only been 75 per cent. of what it was at the time of the commutation. In his own diocese of St. Albans, comprising Essex and Hertfordshire, the value of the tithe, when the tithe was commuted, was £201,543, while the present value of the tithe rent-charge was only £146,000. The gross income of the clergy of that diocese was £212,000, but the net income was only £148,000, or less than £230 a year for each incumbent. If he took eleven large livings in Essex in one Rural Deanery, each incumbent at the time of commutation would receive £586, whereas now his tithe, according to present averages, would be 1196 £436, and, subject to necessary outgoings, would only be £363. These figures showed that the income of the clergy at the present day was small, and was still diminishing. In the assessment of the tithe rent-charge to local burdens the clergy were allowed certain deductions before the rateable value was arrived at. They were allowed to deduct the actual amount of rates paid, any necessary ecclesiastical fees, the amount of repairs to the chancel, and 5 per cent. for the cost of collecting the tithe rent-charge; but they were obliged to pay rates upon the remainder of the tithe rent-charge. He wished to impress upon the House that they felt it a great grievance that they were not included in the benefits given to local ratepayers by the Agricultural Rates Act of last year. ["Hear, hear!"] There were a great many outgoings from the clergyman's pocket—moneys which never came to him as income—on which he was obliged to pay local rates. These were—repayments to Queen Anne's Bounty for money borrowed by a previous incumbent to provide the parish with a residence; the land tax, which was allowed to be deducted in the case of the income tax; and stipends of curates. He knew one living in his own county the gross income of which was £1,207, but the outgoings, which amounted to £613, brought it down to £585. In the case of another large living in Sussex the value of the tithe at the time of the commutation was £960; the present gross income was only £750; the outgoings amounted to £335 8s. 9d.; and therefore the net value of the living was only about £420. These outgoings were—income tax, £27 19s.; land tax, £31; rates, £109; repayments to Queen Anne's Bounty, £86; ecclesiastical fees, £1 17s.; and a curate's stipend, £78. Local taxes were therefore levied upon money which, never came into the clergyman's hands, and he ventured to say that the clergyman was the only man in this country who was rated upon the whole of his professional income. That was the substance of the grievance which he had to bring before the House; and he hoped he should obtain the support of the House in the object he had in view. He had made mention of the few larger livings, as they showed distinctly the large amounts of burdens in rates and 1197 taxes, but the grievance was felt much more in the innumerable smaller livings. He would mention one or two more cases in his own county. There was one living where the tithe rent-charge was £455 a year; the average for the present year £338; the gross income, from all sources £363, and the net income £250. The incumbent in this case complained that he was unable to deduct the land tax payable on the tithe, and that many rates had been added since the tithe commutation took place—such as the highway rate and the school rate. In one parish in the West of England this rate was 7s. 6d. in the pound. Then, in consequence of the great fall in the value of agricultural land, the assessment on land in some Unions had fallen 30, 40, or even more per cent; the tithe rent-charge was, of course, assessed at the full rateable value, and the consequence was that the rates were perhaps raised from 1s. 6d. or 2s. to 2s. or 2s. 6d. Consequently, the owner of the tithe rent-charge in those Unions had to pay a larger amount of rates, and had less income wherewith to pay it. Another case in his own district was that of an incumbent, who now paid £6 a year more in rates than he did ten years ago, while the tithe rent-charge was £127 less. In another case, the tithe rent-charge was £796, according to the commuted value; the average for last year's was £560; the incumbent paid income tax, £15; land tax, £42; rates, £73; Queen Anne's Bounty, £14; clergy fees, £2 10s.; total, £145. He also paid rates and taxes on his house to the extent of £45, leaving as net income £370. This left little, even in the big livings, for education and all the claims of a large parish. The clergy, too, had to contribute largely to the schools. It was impossible to say too much of the way in which the parochial clergy had devoted themselves to the management of their schools. [Cheers.] A letter was placed in his hands from a collector of tithes, who said:—The distress among the clergy without private incomes is simply heartrending. There are many houses where the furniture and books have, by degrees, been sold to obtain the necessaries of life, simply through the living being eaten up by outgoings on rates and taxes.1198 At the Church Congress of 1895, Chancellor Blofield read an excellent paper on the position of the clergy in the Diocese of Norwich. He pointed out that of the 415 livings in the Diocese, the average income was only £125. He continued by saying thatthisres angusti domi,, with all its cares and anxieties, must often hinder the incumbent in his spiritual work, and take the heart out of him.He had shown how overburdened the clergy were in regard to local taxation, and what he would suggest was this—that they should be allowed further legal deductions from the tithe rent-charge before it was assessed for its rateable value; that payment of Queen Anne's Bounty should not be takeu into account in the ratealde value; and that payments of the land tax and payments for curates should be deducted. Further, as the clergy were the only class rated on their professional incomes, he asked that legal deductions should be made from the local assessment in that respect. Chancellor Blofield also said:£We forbid the clergyman by law to eke out his income by secular pursuits; we compel him by law to perform certain duties; yet he is not rated equally, although equality is said to be the basis of the law of rating.The Chancellor went on to suggest that in rating the tithe the incumbent should be allowed to deduct for all necessary expenses, and for his own services, say, at the lowest rate at which the Bishop would fix the stipend of a curate, in case of a non-resident incumbent. This was the suggestion he wished to bring especially before the Government. He hoped he had shown that the parochial clergy were not treated fairly in the matter of rating; and he hoped that he should receive some sympathy from hon. Gentlemen opposite as well as from Her Majesty's Government. [Cheers.] The Members of the Government must know better than any private Member of the House the real position of the clergy throughout the country. He begged to move his Resolution, and, while he thanked the House for their attention, he trusted that the claim of the clergy for just relief of local burdens would not be put before Parliament in vain.
§ MR. LAURENCE HARDY (Kent, Ashford)
seconded the Motion. He said that it was only a limited one, and not so wide as he could have wished. Last week hon. Gentlemen opposite vied with each other in extolling the sacrifices of the rural clergy for education. It was for these men that he and his hon. Friend pleaded. Next week the House would be engaged in considering the question of the overtaxation of a portion of this United Kingdom. He would guarantee that the rural clergy as a class would easily prove that they were the most overtaxed entity in the land. Two causes called special; attention to this matter now—the Rating Act and the Relief of the Land Tax, both Measures of relief to agriculture. He had not last year pleaded for the inclusion of the tithe in the Rating Act, which was an occupier's, not an owner's Act; but he did claim that, when others had been helped, there was no more deserving class than the clergy to help next; and that there was an apparent inequality created by the exclusion of tithe front the relief given to the soil. Then as to the land tax. Through the unfortunate action of the local Committees, in many parishes where a reassessment had been made the clergy, from having a large house and tithe rent-charge, which had not depreciated in rateable value as fast as agricultural land; had as a result been obliged to bear a larger proportion of the quota of land tax than on the old assessment—and this at a moment when they could ill afford any extra charge. On these grounds there was some special call for inquiry. Then what was the grievance? In the particular district he was best acquainted with in Kent the re-assessments had fallen very heavily on the clergy. Assessments in the rural parishes and farms had fallen very low, and the result had been that the actual proportion of the rates now paid by the clergy was very much larger than it used to be. Therefore it was that recent Measures intended for the relief of the agricultural districts had, perhaps unwittingly, operated to the prejudice of the clergy. The great ground upon which they must press their claim was, that the clergy were at present the only class in the country rated upon their professional income, that income being only a life interest for services rendered to the community. The 1200 whole tendency of recent legislation had been to fix what had been called a living wage, to relieve the mere means of livelihood from taxation; yet with the clergy they were heavily rated upon incomes far below the limit accepted for exemption from the income tax. He believed the average tithe rent-charge amounted to little more than £100 in each parish, and yet often the taxation for local purposes came to 30 per cent. of this amount. What should they hear if there was a large class in the manufacturing towns of hard-working people who had an income of £2 or £2 10s. a week, and had to pay an income to the State at the rate of one-third of that income? Essex was the county, in all England where the matter had been felt most cruelly; but in Kent the tithe per acre was the heaviest of any county in England. It averaged nearly 5s. an acre. In that county the clergy were entirely, or to a large extent, dependent on the tithe rent-charge. In the diocese of Canterbury there was an average payment in stipends to curates of over £12,000, and on that sum the clergy had all to pay rates, although they never received a penny of the amount; and there was a further grievance which also pressed heavily on what were large livings in old days, but which were now very much reduced—namely, where grants had been fixed from a mother parish to a daughter parish. There was a case where a clergyman was bound to pay, out of an income reaching to £700 a year, £125 to a district church and £140 to a curate, and on the whole £265 he was rated to his own parish, so that he was actually paying in rates and taxes, although he did not receive the £265, £150 a year. Another vicar had a tithe which, in 1878, was reckoned at £450, and he then paid £60 in rates, or 2s. 9d. in the £. Owing to agricultural depression and the changes which had taken place in assessment, the rates had gone up enormously, and although now he was only receiving £290 instead of £450, he had now to pay £87, or at the rate of 6s. in the £. There were other cases no less striking, showing that in many of the smaller incomes the actual outgoings taken from the vicar amounted to 35 or 40 per cent. Many new rates had been imposed since commutation, such as the school rate, the new parish rate, and the sanitary rate, which, while 1201 it fell on agricultural land at the rate of one-fourth, had to be paid on the full gross value. What he would wish would be to see an absolute redemption of tithe by the assistance of the State, so that the poor rural clergy should obtain the same settled payments as had been obtained by the bishops and chapters in most cases; but, as this was beyond the region of practical politics, they might at least ask that a professional income should no longer be taxed away altogether, and that a minimum increase should be left to the clergy, which should be free from the ever-increasing demands and rapacity of the tax-collector. Further deductions from gross value might be allowed; perhaps the oil precedent of land tax revived, and, in some other ways, their burdens lightened. To the Government they appealed, with a case of cruel hardship, for a class of men who, least of all, should be the most taxed of the community; and, trusting in their sense of justice, he was glad to second this Resolution.
§ MR. CHARLES HARRISON (Plymouth)
said that the grievance about which the hon. Member had spoken was not confined to the clergy. A grievance of a similar nature existed in a very much greater degree among the urban ratepayers and dwellers in towns. The clergy did not depend on rent-charge alone for their income. Most of the poorer livings were fed from Queen Anne's Bounty Fund and the revenues of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the Receivers-General of the Church income, and the Church and the clergy stood in an exceptionally favourable position with regard to both Imperial and local taxation. Since commutation of tithes had taken place, Imperial taxation had immensely changed, and on all classes of real property there had been imposed, for the purposes of taxation, first the succession duty, afterwards converted into the Death Duties. But on the vast aggregation of realty belonging to the Church, not one penny of this Imperial taxation was contributed by it to the Exchequer. 1n ground rents alone the Church was deriving an income of £317,000 a year on a property which at the lowest valuation was equal to £9,000,000. The Church was deriving from beneficial rents in London-property in possession, including a considerable number of public 1202 houses—a rental of £112,000 a year. The account of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners also showed that the Church was drawing in mining rents and royalties £346,000 a year, and from tithes no less than £254,000 a year. Not only did the Church possess that property vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, but in addition, there were glebes of 658,000 acres, producing a net rental of £908,000 a year. Many of these glebes had, by special Private Acts of Parliament, been authorised to be built upon, and in the north of England had been converted into building estates. All that vast property had not paid one penny to the Imperial Exchequer in respect of succession, which, had it belonged to a private individual or corporation other than the Church, would have paid that Imperial duty. In substitution for the Succession Duties, there was imposed the Corporation Duty, and the City Guilds and other Corporate bodies had now to pay a tax of five per cent. per annum upon their income, which was taken as being an equivalent substitute for the Succession Duty. In addition to these large sums there were something like 300,000 acres of agricultural land vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, spread over every part of England, and in respect of which not a penny was paid for Imperial taxation other than in respect of Property Tax and the local taxation where the tenants did not pay it. In the parish of Paddington there were 612 acres, with a rack rent of £900,000, and a ground rent of £150,000, owned by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and a third of the ground rents were now being received by them. The ground leases had the usual covenant that the tenant should pay all rates and taxes; so that in respect of that vast property, the rateable value of which must come to £300,000 or £400,000 a year, nothing but Property Tax was paid by the Church. When they found this vast aggregation of property exempt from all classes of contribution, whether urban or agricultural, deriving an immense income and paying nothing to the imperial Exchequer, except corporation or Imperial duty as a substitute for Death Duty, he said that the Church occupied an extremely favourable position in respect of contributions to Imperial taxation. He turned next 1203 to the system of local taxation. There he found that a great area of property in the country already received Imperial grants in aid, contributed chiefly by the dwellers in towns, and that those who were lowest rated in respect of local taxation in the country received the highest amount per cent. of Imperial grant. The result was to convince him that country and local taxation in that area was the least taxed, and taxed at the expense of the towns—["oh, oh!"]—while receiving the largest amount of grant in aid from the Imperial Exchequer to the reduction of local rates. The tithe rent-charge obtained the benefit from this system in the amount for which they were rated. Take the case of Bedfordshire. From the local taxation there, the rate was 14.04 per cent. of the rateable value. How was it contributed? Twenty-five and a-half per cent. came from the Imperial Exchequer, and there was raised by local rates 74½ per cent. In other country places the same ratio prevailed. In Hunts the rate was 10.64 per cent.; the Exchequer contributed 28.67 per cent., and there was raised by rate 71.33 per cent. Now as to towns. Wolverhampton raised in local rates 33 per cent. on the rateable value; the Imperial Exchequer gave 15 per cent., and the balance of 84 per cent. fell on the town. The whole question was now being investigated upstairs before a Royal Commission; and when they came to local taxation it was found that the exemptions in favour of the Church had been marked throughout the whole history of that branch of the subject. Take the case of poor livings from 1806 to 1822. There existed a series of statutes which exempted poor livings up to £150 from the payment of Land Tax. Under those Acts, 2,140 livings were exempted, saving £7,343 a year of Land Tax. In 1836, when the Commutation of Tithes Act was passed, there was taken into account the rates that were then charged on property paying tithes. In the commuted sum and rent charge arrived at, there was added to the net amount of rent a sum which then represented the amount of tax imposed on the property; so that the rent charge represented at this day, not only the rent which was then paid, but also the amount of the rates. 1204 When the Act of 1836 was passed commuting for tithes in kind a fixed annual sum, to be ascertained on the prices of the day, according to the directions in that Act, the Commissioners, in fixing the original sum, ascertained the average net value of the tithes in kind for the six years preceding the Act, and added to that sum an amount to cover rates and taxes. ["No, no!"] Hon. Members seemed to doubt this, but he could cite numerous instances in Essex where the tithes were the highest. In Fairstead the money value of the tithes was ascertained to be £413, and the then taxes £77. The rent-charge fixed under the Act was £479. In Staple Tawney the money value of the tithe was £291, the taxes £66. The rent-charge was fixed at £350. In Fordham the money value was £567, the taxes £188; the rent-charge was fixed at £750. To give a further exemption now would be to give the relief twice over. On the theory that tithes are land, they had been placed in the exceptional position of land. With regard to its exceptions from special local rates, in that respect it was only assessed at one-third, and in towns at only one-fourth. The Church had had, in consequence, the advantages of tithes being treated as land, and from the year 1836 the tithe rent-charge was fixed on a certain basis, with the result that up till 1875 the £100 tithe rose and rose until, in 1875, it reached £112 15s. 6d., and between the year 1837 down to 1892, if they took this number of years by the average receipts, the tithe had yielded above par-£100 13s. 2d. So that in point of fact, by treating tithes as land, they had had the benefit of the exemptions which had been accorded to land. He thought he had made out a case that the Church was exceptionally favoured with regard not only to Imperial taxation, but also with regard to local taxation, and there seemed no reason why the particular class of property of the tithe rent-charger should receive any more especial favour than that which land and rental values had received. While sympathising with the shrinkage of the incomes of any particular class, and while he sympathised with the great and heavy burdens which were put, and oppressively put, on any particular class, he did venture to think that in this instance at all events the Church had been exceptionally 1205 favoured as compared with other classes, and particularly the urban ratepayer. If this subject was investigated before the Royal Commission the urban ratepayer would have the opportunity of urging these propositions in answer to the present Motion. He therefore opposed the Motion.
§ MR. T. USBORNE (Essex, Chelmsford)
asked the House to have patience with him for a few minutes, while he stated why the grievance of the tithe owners had cropped up just now, what that grievance was not, what it was; were they a class to whose petition for redress of their grievance, if it existed, this House ought to turn a deaf ear; and if they were to redress the grievance, what it would cost. First of all, it had cropped up just now because of the Agricultural Rating Bill of last year. As soon as the tithe owners perceived the immediate relief of the land occupiers, and the eventual relief of the landowners, from which they were excluded, they felt, as they put it, that they had been treated most unjustly, and in his diocese of St. Albans a Committee of the clergy were appointed at the Diocesan Conference to meet the Members of the two counties forming the diocese—namely, Essex and Heitz—to discuss with them what was best to be done to secure to them the advantages conferred on the other classes connected with the land. They met once or twice last Session, and he believed that the Members of this House present at those Meetings thought that the tithe owner had been hardly dealt with—certainly he did. But after the receipt of numerous letters from clergymen, and after several discussions with Members or his own Party in this House, he came to the conclusion that they had not been unjustly treated by chat Bill, and at their last meeting, held during this present Session, he told them so. He believed he persuaded them that they had net been unjustly treated, or, at all events, he persuaded them that it was useless heir trying to persuade the majority of this House that they had been. Among the arguments he used was one to the effect that they must not compare their position with that of the land occupiers, but of the land owners, and then gave it as his opinion that the Bill of last year was admittedly a landlord's relief Bill, and inn a tenant's. [Opposition cheers.] That 1206 statement of his, taken out and away front his speech, had been much quoted in opposition papers and on opposition platforms, of which he did not complain. He was not now going to discuss last year's Bill, and he was not going in for a personal explanation, because he did not consider any statement made by him of sufficient importance to justify his wasting the time of the House in any such way; but he might be allowed to say that he hoped that he was not the only Member of thus House, who, in the heat of an argument, and owing to a desire to convince those he was addressing, had, on occasions, used words in excess of what he intended or ought to have used. Such Words in this case were "and not a tenant's." He hoped he had explained to the house why this grievance had now cropped up, and what it was not—namely, omission from relief in last year's Bill. But what was it; for it certainly existed? Well, the tithe owner paid rates on the whole of the income derived front the tithe, although he received the income on condition of doing certain work and performing certain duties. That was to say, he was rated not only on that portion of the tithe which might be considered income from the property, but also on that portion which Must be considered remuneration for work done; whereas, of the total income of land, shops, etc., only that portion was rated which represented rent, and not that portion which is, or at all events used to be, earned be the farmer as remuneration for has labour. The present grievance was therefore really this, that the clergy of the Church of England—he cared only for the very poor ones—were the only class rated on their pay or earnings. Now could they disregard this grievance? Could this class of men continue under present distressing circumstances—he alluded to the reduction in the value of the tithe and the increase in the rates they had to pay, owing to the greatly lowered assessment of the land—to pay in rates and taxes a larger percentage of their incomes than any class in a similar position? He did not think that any Member of this House would wish to turn a deaf ear to their complaint; certainly not those who knew, as he knew, of the several families in agricultural districts who at the present moment had not enough to eat, and had not for some few years bad a domestic 1207 servant in their house. He now came to the last question; what would be the cost? This mainly depended upon what they valued the amount of work, etc., that they did. He would be very modest on their behalf, and would ask the House to put it at £2 a week all round; in other words, he would ask the Government to relieve them of the rates on the first £104 of their tithe. He did not ask for a percentage of relief to every tithe owner. He asked that every man, whatever his receipt be, should be relieved to the same extent. This course would, for the money that had to be found, relieve the small tithe owners to a far greater extent than a percentage of relief would do. But it might fairly be asked, "what will be the total cost of your modest demand?" It was not easy to arrive off-hand at an exact amount, but the figure that he considered the most likely was £110,000 a year. The lower the figure at which the relief was fixed, the more would it cost the country per pound of relief absolutely given, because there were so many small tithe owners who would not participate in the whole relief, even up to £104 a year, and there would be fewer still if a higher figure were fixed upon. He would conclude by urging the Government to listen to their appeal, and to grant to these necessitous and highly-educated men liberally, but above all, speedily, such relief as in their judgment the necessity of the case required.
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH (Anglesey)
said they had now had an appeal made to them on the ground of the necessitous and highly-educated character of the clergy—in fact, both institutions which had been so much in fashion of late with hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to be in a very necessitous state. It was very curious that the clergy of the richest Church in Christendom should come to the House of Commons, and ask for a dole. Let him call attention to the wording the Motion:—In view of the distressed condition of many of the clergy, whose remuneration is principally derived from tithe rent-charge, this House is of opinion that the burdens of local taxation 1208 borne by them are inequitable and excessive, and that the grievance is one that calls for substantial relief.He assumed it was not intended that the benefit contemplated should be given to the clergy as a whole, but only to those whose incomes were derived mainly from tithe rent-charge, and only to those so deriving their incomes who were in a distressed condition. That would set up a very curious and a new principle in taxation. Who was to be the judge of distressed condition? Reference had been made to a net income of £360. What a princely income £360 would be considered by many Nonconformist ministers, who did their work as honestly and efficiently as any clergyman of the Church of England. Yet they did not come to Parliament and ask for relief. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are not taxed as high."] However highly taxed the Church of England clergymen might be, they got a net income of £360, and, therefore, they were not a class to be viewed with special favour in a matter of this kind. It was right to examine how the commutation was fixed in the first instance. Originally the commutation included not only the tithe rent-charge, but the rates and taxes. [Cries of "No!"] In The Times of the 26th of May there was a letter giving three instances in Essex in which the commutation included the rates and taxes. He did not know whether those were exceptional cases or not, but by the inclusion of the rates and taxes a material difference was introduced into the argument. Don't let them forget that, whether rates and taxes were included or not, up to 1892-from 1836 to 1892-the average was above par. Was it to be said that because in the last five years the shoe had pinched, clergymen were entitled to come to the House of Commons and ask for substantial sympathy? Reference had been made to the Act of 1891. It was rather hard on the Conservative Government that they should be told that that Act was a bad one.
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH
thought that the circumstances were much more favourable to the clergyman, as it Was not the poor farmer but the landowner who was responsible for the payment of tithe. Since the passing of the Act of 1891 there had been very few bad debts in respect of tithe rent, for there was absolute security for its being paid. The assessment, too, had been higher, because the cost of collection had been lighter. Hon. Members would agree with him that the real question they had to consider was, Did clergymen pay a greater share of the taxation of the country than they ought to do? ["Hear, hear!"] The Motion only referred to local burdens, but it was necessary to pay heed to Imperial taxation. Of the latter there were three items the income tax, indirect taxation, and the succession duty. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the land tax."] As to the income tax, the clergyman was no worse off than anybody else, and as to indirect taxation he had only himself to blame if he contributed too much. He imagined that spirits and tobacco were commodities not consumed in very large quantities by the clerical party. [A laugh.] Succession duty was paid clergymen as individuals; the income of the rectory did not contribute it. Land tax he put under the bead of local taxation, and front it clergymen were exempted from 1806 to 1820. Since 1820 they had paid it like all other owners of land, and if they had the security of land for their incomes they must pay the penalty. He admitted that for the purposes of the poor rate the clergy were assessed at the full value of the tithe rent-charge, and the reason was that they had such a splendid security for their property. As to other rates, tithe rent-charge was on the same footing as land; it was assessed at one-third its value. Under the Public Health Act, 1875, it was on a very favourable footing, as it 1210 was exempted front three-fourths of its full value. As to a remedy, he ventured to submit one which he regarded as based on the best and closest precedent. The real remedy for the present state of affairs was a compulsory association of poor clergy—[Laughter]—no, not of poor clergymen, but of all clergymen, including the Archbishops and Bishops. They should all form this compulsory association, of course quite voluntarily. [Renewed laughter.] Having funned compulsory associations in the manner he had indicated, they would grow in that spontaneous way which the Vice President of the Council had said would happen in respect to another matter, and once they had grown spontaneously by the will of the clergy just as other associations were to grow by the will of the people, these things would adjust themselves, and the necessitous clergyman would have his income increased. What more Christian than that the richer clergymen should aid their poorer brethren?
§ CAPTAIN PRETYMAN (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
said he thought it would be accepted as a sound principle that men should contribute in taxation in proportion to their ability to pay, and if he could show that, as a whole, the clergy were taxed, both in regard to local and Imperial taxation, in a larger proportion than the rest of the community, he thought he would have made out a case to go before the House. They did not come to the housein formâ pau peris; they did not ask for a dole because they were distressed. If they took up that ground, they would be told that, although they were distressed, there were many classes who were even snore distressed than they. What he and others asked was that the clergy should not bear more taxation than their fair share. The hon. Member who Seconded the Motion had brought forward several eases of exceptional hardship, and it would have been noticed that on the whole the clergy paid at the rate of 5s. in the pound. Take a 1211 case which was present to his mind of a living which was in two parishes, the income of which was £320 a year. Out of that a curate had to be paid, and £80 went in taxation. This was a typical case, and it was just 5s. in the pound, which, generally speaking, would be rather below than above the mark. On the basis of ability to pay as measured by the income tax, the amount would be 1s. 10½d. in the pound. This showed that the clergy were bearing an undue proportion. The suggestion of the hon. Member who had just spoken was that the clergy, those who were well off and those who were not, should all compulsorily combine into voluntary associations. He feared that remedy would not commend itself to the clergy. [ironical cheers.] He might draw a parallel from the payment of Members. It would just be as reasonable for the hon. Member to propose, as many hon. Members were in favour of that scheme, that they should pool their interests. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought that was not an unfair parallel. What he wished to impress on the House was that the burden of taxation fell on the clergy with absolutely exceptional severity. With regard to the remedies, a Commission was now sitting dealing with the whole question of local taxation, and it would be difficult to deal with this question until that Commission had reported. They pointed out the grievance, and they left it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, than whom no one was better able to grapple with it, to do the best he could. He thought the House might pass the Resolution, which dealt with no party question. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts,) Mansfield
said he approached this question not only with sympathy but pain at the thought that the clergy of the august Church of England should be the only ministers of religion to conic to that House in formâ pau peris. [Cries of Hear, hear!" and "No, no!"] They had the Agricultural Rating Bill last 1212 Session, and there was nothing more natural than that the clergy, who also derived their income from the land, should make an appeal in their turn. There was no doubt that many of the clergy, who were hard working, devoted men, were miserably ill-paid, but what about the remedy for that state of things? If the suggested remissions were granted, there would be a deficit which would have to be supplied; so that they would have increased taxation in one direction, while it would be made lighter in another direction. It would also be an addition to what the Church would receive from the Education Bill. Was it likely that the laity would respond liberally to the appeals now being made to them on behalf of the clergy, if the House granted additional endowments to them in the form, suggested by the Motion? The clergy in the towns who depended on pew rents and offertories had not suffered from agricultural depression, and he did not suppose that the bishops, or the higher ranks of the clergy, had suffered in any degree. Why were the clergy in their present strait? It was because they had relied on State-endowments for support, instead of on the willing offerings of those to whom they ministered. Those endowments were now shrinking, and there was no adequate substitute. Many Churchmen had now become conscious of the disastrous effects of these endowments. One Churchman had said that "the close-fisted parsimony of the present is excused by the openhanded generosity of the past." Another, that "the want of willingness on the part of the laity to give liberally for Church work is because they have so much provided for them." A third acknowledged that" Churchmen, in doing spiritual work, have made the mistake of relying upon the dead hand of the past; and are pauperised by the endowments bequeathed by their ancestors. "The ill work of the past in that respect had to be undone; and the clergy would find that the true remedy for their pre- 1213 sent necessities was to be found in reliance upon the affection and liberality of their flocks, and on the power of the great Gospel which it was the business of their lives to preach. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ COLONEL MILWARD (Warwick, Stratford-on-Avon)
said the hon. Member opposite had said that the clergy were suing that nightin formâ pau peris,and the hon. Member for Anglesey said that they were asking for a dole. He denied each of those propositions. Those who supported the Motion came forward on a question of right. They based the Motion upon the rate on tithe, and they felt there they had a very strong case. The rate on tithe stood in a very different position from any other rate. Rent was generally the basis on which rates were levied, but in the case of tithe the rate was levied on production. Bent bore to production the proportion of one-third or one-fifth. Therefore, when a rate was levied on production, it was three or five times as much as a rate levied on rent. ["Hear, hear!"] They desired also to emphasise very strongly the point that it was a rate on a professional income, and there was no other instance in which a rate was levied on a professional income. He would take an instance from each of the counties of Warwick, Worcester, Leicester, and Hereford. In Warwickshire he, found a case in which the gross income of the living was £155 12s. 1d., and the actual taxation £30 6s. 4d. In Worcestershire there was a case in which the gross income was £690 7s. 5d., and the actual taxation £148 17s. 1d. In Leicestershire, on a, gross income of £339 5s. 4d., £71 11s. 2d. had to be paid in taxation; while in Herefordshire, on a gross income of £530 14s., £58 13s. 8d. had to be paid in taxation. And all these livings were subject to many other reductions, such as the payment of curates, pensions, and so on. Thus, in the Worcestershire case, though the gross income was £690 7s. 5d., the net income was only £301 5s. 4d. In the Leicestershire case, with a gross income of £339 5s. 4d., the 1214 net income was £246 8s. 8d.; and in the Herefordshire case the gross income of £530 14s. was reduced to a net income of £148 2s. 0d. The proportion of income paid in taxation was in the. Warwickshire case 19 per cent., in the Worcestershire case 20 per cent., in the Leicestershire case 21 per cent., and in the Herefordshire case 11 per cent. Another strong point was that the clergy were not represented in that House. There was no other class of Her Majesty's subjects that could not have direct representation in Parliament. It was true that they were represented in the other House by the bishops in many ways, but on any question of taxation or hardship they must come to the House of Commons. Therefore, he ventured to ask the House to deal tenderly and gently with persons so situated, and to ask for them the sympathetic attention of the Government. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. AUGUSTINE BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
thought it was rather a shame that hon. Gentlemen opposite should have made their speeches in the House rather than by way of deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because it was clear that they did not really propose to do more than to put the case of the poor clergy before the right hon. Gentleman, and did not seriously expect him to make any promise binding himself or his successors. He only rose for the purpose of making one observation. The strong case of the Church—a case which rendered it most invulnerable in the eyes of the people—was that it was an institution in the possession of its own property, and in no way deriving its revenue from the State. That was an honest and a formidable argument. But if clergymen thought that they ought to pay less in taxation, and came to that House asking that they might be put on a different footing from the rest of the community—[Ministerial cries of "No," and "Hear, hear!"]—very many other people who thought that they were in the same plight would at once ask that 1215 the law should be altered in their favour also, so that they, too, should be exempted from the payment of certain taxes. He sympathised as much as any man could with the distressed clergy, and miserable indeed must be the mental condition of the man who did not recognise that the lives of the clergy were almost without exception devoted to what they believed to be the public good. When they found clergymen who were dependent on charity for the clothing, and sometimes for the food, of their children, of course, pity was excited in their breasts, and possibly also amazement and indignation that such things should be. But other people besides clergymen were poor. There were poor solicitors in the country—[cries of "No," and laughter)—and poor doctors, and poor Nonconformist ministers, and all these people doubtless held that they had equally good claims to exceptional treatment. By asking that the claims of the clergy to relief should be given priority over the claims of other classes, the Church party would depart from the strong position which they at present occupied in connection with this matter. Their opponents would be able to say that in that House the clergy were treated on a different footing front other taxpayers. [Ministerial cries of "No!"] It would be a bad thing for the Church of England if the idea should get abroad that that House was ready to remove burdens from the shoulders of the clergy in order to transfer them to the shoulders of their parishioners, many of whom might not even belong to the Church of England.
§ MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS (Hants,) Basingstoke
suggested that a process of redemption would be a good way of relieving the clergy of the rates and burdens on the tithe rent-charge. The hon. and learned Member who had just sat down had pointed out that if the clergy were relieved their burdens would have to be borne by others. That was, no doubt, true; but if tithe redemption were to take place any extra rates thrown 1216 upon parishes would have to be met by the landowners. It was not many years ago that the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced a Bill dealing with this very subject, but it was not proceeded with for want of time. Why could not a Bill for the redemption of tithe be re-introduced now, when money could be borrowed so cheaply? The Royal Commission on agricultural distress had reported unanimously that if this tithe rent-charge could be got rid of, not only would all existing occupiers of land be benefited, but future occupiers also.
SIR JOHN LEND (Dundee)
wished to say a few words, as one of the representatives of a country which he had not even heard named in the course of discussion. Most speakers had spoken as if England were the whole of the United kingdom, and as if the clergy of the Church of England constituted the whole of the clergy in this country. He begged to remind hon. Members that there was one important country roped Scotland. The hon. Member who had just spoken had pointed to one method of dealing with the question which had been brought before them. He would draw attention to the example which had been set by the Established Church of Scotland. There were many poor livings in that Church and many poor clergymen, but the members of the Church of Scotland did not come to that House with an appeal to have the stipends of the poorer clergy supplemented, but established a Clergy Augmentation Fund. Although the northern division of the Kingdom was by no means as wealthy as the southern, although the members of the Church of Scotland were not, as a rule, as wealthy as the members of the Church of England, and although the Church of Scotland had no highly-paid dignitaries like the bishops of the Church of England, that fund was established, and under it every minister in a parish church in Scotland received an income of £200 a year. If appeals were to be made for exemptions in favour of the Church of 1217 England clergy a very strong case for similar exemptions could be made out on behalf of the clergy of the Church of Scotland. It would not do for the Finance Minister of this country to consider local appeals merely, especially when that Minister was a member of a Unionist Government. In dealing with matters of this kind the Chancellor of the Exchequer must regard the whole of the United Kingdom, and act upon such broad and general principles as were applicable to each division of that Kingdom. He had referred to Scotland as setting an example worthy of imitation, and he would now refer to it by way of warning to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Although the clergy of the Scotch Church had now the benefit of the Augmentation Fund, they enjoyed, under "use and wont," an exemption from the payment of poor rates, and at every election candidates were questioned as to why this special exemption was given exclusively to the clergy of the Established Church and not extended to Nonconformists. If the right hon. Gentleman were to do what he was asked to do for the clergy of the Church of England, ministers of Nonconformist Churches would suffer under another serious grievance. There were many conscientious, devoted, zealous and pious men ministering in the Nonconformist Churches of England, and why should they be excluded from the benefaction which it was desired to bestow on the clergy of the Church of England? He could not believe that the right hon. Gentleman would consent to create another grievance as between the one class and the other. Gentlemen sitting, on the Benches opposite were already believed to have been legislating for the classes rather than for the masses. [Ministerial laughter and "Hear, hear!"] A day of reckoning was coining for hon. Gentlemen opposite. Every step they took in the direction suggested was a step which would lead them further astray. He hoped they would not have any more 1218 of this class legislation. Many on the Opposition side of the House were not strong partisans. [Ministerial laughter and cries of "Oh!"] They wished for legislation on fair and equitable principles, and were prepared to support any Government which would legislate in that direction, as they were also prepared to oppose to the utmost of their ability any Government which was addicted to legislation of the character he had described.
§ MR. JEBB (Cambridge University)
reminded the hon. Member for West Fife that the clergy did not claim any exceptional treatment. He wished to emphatically contradict that assertion. What was peculiar to the case of the clergy was the nature of their grievance. What they asked was that, suffering under burdens which were "excessive and inequitable," they should receive the same kind of equitable consideration given to any other overtaxed class. Why was their grievance a special one? Because so much of their income was derived from the source of tithe. And the special points in their case were these. They were a professional class who were rated on their professional income; they were taxed on money which they never received; their income from tithes had diminished while their burdens had increased. The tithe was assessed in Queen Elizabeth's time to the poor rate only. Now it was assessed to ever so many rates. Clerical incomes far below the level for exemption from income tax were heavily taxed, and it was an unfortunate thing that recent Measures for the relief of agricultural land, instead of lightening their burdens, tended to increase them. Under the Act of 1896, a good authority said it is probable that the rating of buildings and other hereditaments would have to be increased—[cheers]—and in some purely agricultural parishes where there are few buildings a considerable addition to the rate is thus likely to be thrown on the tithe rent-charge. Let the House remember that the heavy burdens on the clergy—crushing burdens as 1219 they were on those who held small livings—did not affect the clergy alone, but also the poor to whom the clergy ministered; and hon. Members opposite who talked about class legislation should remember that if they opposed relief of the heavy burdens of the poorer clergy they were inflicting a grievous injury on the poor. The late Lord Selborne, who knew the subject well and the lot of the clergy, and was careful of his words and never exaggerated, said, in his "Defence of the Church" (1886):—The parochial clergy of the Church of England, without legal constraint—and although their endowments are too often insufficient for the decent maintenance of themselves and their families, unless supplemented by private means—are throughout the country the main dispensers of most of the charities of life; ministering generously and liberally, not so much of their abundance as of their poverty, to the temporal as well as spiritual necessities of their poor. Where others can and will help, they bear their full share; and in many places, if the good were not done by them, it would be left to the poor law.He, therefore, supported the Motion, not only in the interests of the grievously overtaxed poorer clergy, but also in the interests of the poor, to whatever denomination they belonged, throughout the country. [Cheers.]
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir MICHAEL HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
The hon. Member for West Fife rather complained that this matter had not been ventilated by a deputation to myself in place of being discussed in this House. I can only say that for myself I do, not share that regret. [Laughter.] If the Debate is memorable for nothing else, I think we shall not forget the perfectly candid and frank manner in which the hon. Member admitted the formidable nature of the argument that the Church's property belonged to herself. [Cheers.] I do not recollect that the hon. Member was quite so strong upon that point in the course of the last Parliament.
§ MR. BIRRELL
I recognise that the Church's property belongs to the Church and no one else, in the same way as the property of any public charity belongs 1220 to that charity and nobody else. But unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to say that the Charity Commissioners have no right from time to time to divert from one object to another charitable funds, I am at a loss to see why he need think I am guilty of any inconsistency when I say that Church property, although it belongs to the Church, may very well by the House, on proper considerations, be diverted from its original purposes to others of a more important character. [Ministerial laughter.]
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I am content with the admissions that the hon. Member has made, all the more so because I was going to observe on the somewhat discursive nature of the Debate. I do not intend to say a word more on that subject, neither will I follow the hon. Member for Dundee in his assertion of the claims of Scotland, which I think betrayed ignorance of the system of rating tithe rent-charge in England. The hon. Member for Plymouth told us a good deal about Imperial taxation upon the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and about the enormous value of the land which is under the control of that body, and generally of the great resources at their command. This Motion does not relate to Imperial taxation; it does not, relate to land or tithe rent-charge under the control of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and therefore I fail to see how the hon. Member's observations were appropriate to the occasion. I am glad myself that we have not to discuss the whole subject of tithe rent-charge and rating. I have had something to do in this House with both these subjects. I had the somewhat unpleasant task of passing an Act, through this House with regard to tithe rent-charge in 1891, and I am afraid it is 30 years ago since I sat on a Select-Committee on the Valuation of Property Bill, which dealt also with the rating of tithe rent-charge; and I can only say that if there be two dry technical subjects in this world I think the two I have named 1221 are the driest. United they were simply terrible as a matter of discussion. [Laughter.] I am glad, therefore, that what we have to deal with to-day is not the subject as a whole. If it were, think I could show some reason for the view I hold that tithe rent-charge, not belonging to the incumbent of the parish, has little or nothing to complain of in the matter of rating. It has certain deductions allowed to it in calculating the rateable value Erma the gross estimated rental. I believe those deductions are fair. I see no reason why they should be increased. I am glad to recognise the fact that my two hon. Friends who Moved and Seconded this Motion admitted in their speeches, as I think has been generally admitted by those who have spoken in favour of the Motion, that the rating of tithe rent-charge could not properly have been dealt with in the Bating Act of last Session, but that it stands on a different footing from land, and must, if dealt with at all, be dealt with in a different way. I confess I have always felt that, although in my belief, and in the belief of the great majority of this House, there was great reason for the relief which was given by the Act of last Session to agricultural land in the matter of rating, yet., tithe rent-charge being the first charge on agricultural and other land a charge which has to be paid, whatever amount the owner of the land might have to expend in repairs and cultivation of the land out of which the tithe rent-charge has to be paid—is on a totally different footing, and could not claim the kind and amount of relief given last year. The point before us is, whether tithe rent-charge which belongs to the incumbent of the parish is, ill regard to rating, on a different footing from other tithe rent-charge. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, who proposed the Motion, and gave us some most interesting and painful statistics as to the sufferings of the parochial clergy in this matter, suggested that further deductions should be made in such cases in calcu- 1222 lating the rateable value of the tithe rent-charge from the gross estimated rental. He suggested that payments to Queen Anne's Bounty and land tax, and payments to curates, and payments which the incumbent was obliged to make to daughter parishes, should be allowed for in calculating the rateable value. With regard to the first of these I am bound to say I think my hon. Friend would find it difficult to draw a distinction between payments to Queen Anne's Bounty for loans borrowed by the incumbent for the improvement of the living or house, and payments by an ordinary owner of land for money borrowed by hint from a land improvement company, or some other source, for the improvement of his property. I do not see how you could allow one deduction without allowing the other. Again, with regard to the land tax. How could you allow a deduction to the incumbent for land tax in calculating the rateable value of tithe without also allowing a deduction to the landowner for land tax in calculating the rateable value of the land? Then, again, I come to the further suggestions which the hon. Member made. They were based on what I feel is a strong argument—that the incumbent of the parish being rated on his tithe rent-charge is the only mail who is rated on his professional income. [Cheers.] He is rated as the occupier of tithe rent-charge. But he occupies that because he has to render certain services, either by himself or by curates whom he has to employ, and if he ceased to render those services he will, of course, under the law very soon cease to occupy tithe rent-charge. That is a matter in which I feel with my hon. Friend that the incumbent of a parish paid by tithe rent-charge is in an entirely different position from any other person assessed to the rates. I, therefore, am bound to say that I feel a very strong sympathy with the suggestion which has been made, that this is a matter which constitutes a grievance and requires a remedy. 1223 [Cheers.] But then I come to the point how that remedy is to be applied, and there I have to admit that there is a great force in what has been said on the other side of the House, and admitted on this, that the rating of tithe rent-charge paid to incumbents is, after all, only a part, and not a very large part, of the great question of local taxation. Well, Sir, we dealt with a part of that question last Session, and in dealing with it we were obliged by a general consensus of opinion, not by any means confined to one side of the House, to refer the whole subject to a Royal Commission, which is now sitting and investigating it. How can I, how can Her Majesty's Government, take out from the investigation of this Commission one part of the question of local taxation, and attempt to deal with it by way of relief, while neglecting all the rest? It is perfectly true, is hon. Members on this side have said, that there are other ratepayers who have had, and who have, legitimate cause of complaint. It is perfectly true that in our great towns you may find shopkeepers, or occupiers of the poorer class of houses, law may have great cause of complaint in regard to the amount of the rates. All these matters are now being investigated by the Royal Commission. I would suggest to my hon. Friends, and to those whom they represent here, that, if they have not done so already, they should lose no time in bringing this special matter of the rating of clerical tithe rent-charge under the early notice of that Royal Commission ["Hear, hear!"] If it should seem well to that, commission to make Report to Parliament on that or any other subject, then the time would arise when Her Majesty's Government might fairly and properly consider whether they should deal with it, and, if so, how it should be dealt with. For the moment, I can only, on behalf of the Government, express my feeling that there is a grievance in this matter which requires to be remedied, and that it will have to be dealt with as part of the great subject 1224 of local taxation, and in that way I hope some fair relief may be given to those whose case has been so eloquently advocated. [Cheers.]
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 178; Noes, 97.—(Division List, No. 143.)