§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ * MR. SPEAKER
called on Mr. Lambert who had an Amendment: "To read the Bill this day three months."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
On a point of order, I have an Amendment on the Paper to recommit the Bill in respect of Clause 1. Can I move that Amendment?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
There is no rule to that effect, otherwise any hon. Member might, by putting down such a notice, obtain precedence over other hon. Members.
§ MR. D. A. THOMAS (Merthyr Tydvil)
May I ask you, Sir, whether the Bill has complied with Standing Order No. 45, and what is the general practice of the blouse in cases where attention has been drawn to non-compliance with the Standing Orders?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I think it is enough for me to say that the objection, whatever it is worth, should have been taken before the Second Reading. No objection can be taken now.
§ MR. LAMBERT (Devonshire, South Molton)
In rising to move the rejection of this Bill, I wish to point out that it is a measure which proposes to add a fresh endowment to the Church of England. A good deal has happened since it was introduced, and I should imagine that the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has at last been disabused of the idea that it is a non-contentious Bill. We have had an opportunity, also, of testing the feeling of the country upon this matter in several constituencies. Three constituencies which formerly returned Members who were supporters of the Government have transferred their affections, and their representatives are now to be found among the followers of the Leader of the Opposition. In every case in which there has been an election the Liberal majority has gone up, and the Tory majority has correspondingly decreased. I do not quite understand why there has been such a great hurry in endeavouring to smuggle this Bill through the House. Undoubtedly there has been a great desire on the part of the Government to shirk debate on the subject. We have had the closure 1393 applied in a manner which has deprived hon. Members of their rights and privileges, and the Bill has been forced through Committee without a single word of amendment. I can only remember one precedent for that course, and that was a somewhat similar Bill to this, the Voluntary Schools which was another measure for the relief of the clergy. It was brought in to relieve them of the necessity of subscribing towards the support of voluntary Schools, and now you are relieving them of the duty of paying half their rates. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that, in regard to clerical matters, the Government has some sort of divine inspiration in bringing a perfect measure before the House. I certainly do not look on this Bill as so perfect, for I think it could well have been altered in the interests of our constituents. I believe the right hon. Gentleman feared, and with good reason, that if he allowed a single amendment to be introduced tile Whole edifice of the Bill would have been entirely shattered. Certainly during the course of the debates the case for this Bill has been completely smashed, and there is not a single reason, or vestige of reason, why the Bill should pass into law. At first sight, when one looks at the fact that the clergyman is rated upon his income, it would seem that he deserves some consideration at the hands of the House. But it has been proved over and over again, especially by my right hon. friend the Member for West Monmouth, that the maintenance of the poor is as sacred and as strongly attached to the payment of tithe as the title to receive it. It is an extraordinary thing that, although this payment towards the Poor Rate has been constantly dwindling, the share of the clergyman has constantly increased. It has not been controverted that the rates are levied, not upon the clergy in respect of tithe, but on the tithe itself, and therefore it is impossible to contend that this is a personal grievance. No one will deny that a perfectly fair arrangement was come to when the Tithe Commutation Act was passed; for it has been proved that in the great majority of cases the rates were added to the tithe at the time of the commutation. The Secretary to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, than whom there could be no higher authority on this subject, has stated that the rates 1394 at the time of the commutation amounted to 5s. in the £; that is to say, the receiver of £100 commuted tithe paid £25 in the form of rates in those days, whereas now he does not pay more than £7 10s. This works out that if the rate on the commuted value of tithe now stood at the same level as at the time of commutation, the annual payment would be something like £600,000 a year, whereas at the present moment the whole of the rates paid by the clergy, according to the estimate of the right hon. Gentleman, come to only £175,000. It is an undoubted fact that the clergy have gained enormously by the commutation, because the rateable value has gone down considerably. No doubt, the incomes of the clergy have also gone down, but the same remark applies to everybody else, for whereas on investments it was possible thirty years ago to secure a return of 5 per cent., only 3 per cent. is now obtain. able. There was one subject that did not receive attention in Committee, because of the manner in which the, right hon. Gentleman thought proper to conduct the Bill. I refer to the ease of heavily-tithed land. There is a considerable amount of land in this country on which the tithe is extraordinarily heavy. In some places it reaches 10s. per acre, and it was shown before the Commission on Agriculture that in counties where rent, had been reduced to a merely nominal sum the existence of a heavy tithe rent charge had become an almost intolerable burden, which placed difficulties in the way of the continuance or revival of cultivation. Further than that, the landlord had no sufficient security justify him in undertaking the requisite outlay for the improvement of the farm, and in one case it transpired that the tithe owner had to take possession because nobody could be found to pay the tithe and other outgoings upon the holding. The Report from which I am quoting was signed by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture himself. He is responsible for this Report as other members of the Commission; and I will ask him whether he thinks it is going to conduce to the best interests of the Church to call upon the lay ratepayers of a district not only to pay heavy tithes, I but also to provide the funds to relieve the tithe receivers of one half of their rates. Let us take the case of a distressed district such as is to be found in the 1395 county of Essex. Hon. Members who support the Government were very eloquent in regard to Essex when they were in opposition, although it seems that now their concern has somewhat died away. Look at the case of the labourers and shop-keepers who live in some of the Essex villages. They see the land going out of cultivation because of the very heavy tithe imposed upon it, and, suffering as they already are from a very heavy burden, they are to have an addition made to that burden by this Bill, simply to relieve the tithe receiver of one half of his rates. In 1891 an Act was passed, the intention of which was to relieve many districts of the excessive burden of tithe, but unfortunately, as is the case with too much of the legislation initiated by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, they have taken away with one hand what they gave with the other, and I believe there has been hardly a single case of reduction of tithe. We are told that this measure is based upon justice, but what justice is there in relieving of their rates tithe-owners who are in receipt of a tithe which is so heavy that it is driving the land out of cultivation? I do not want to excite prejudice; indeed, one cannot do that by stating sound facts. But I wish to show how inconveniently this relief is to be distributed. Take the case of Hatfield, the seat of the Prime Minister. There the tithes were commuted at £1,876. At present they are rated on about £1,000, and the rates would be £125. But at the time of commutation £300 was added on for the payment of rates, and therefore the tithe-owner has been receiving £300 a year for rates since 1836, although he is now only paying £125 a year. And what is the relief he will receive? £62 10s. a year—this gentleman in receipt of £1,000 a year. This is not an isolated case, because there are 127 cases of tithe held by clergy who have over £1,000 a year, and they will receive from £50 to £60 a year in relief of rates, while the clergyman with an income of £100 will receive only £6 5s. Is there any semblance of justice in this? (Cries of "Yes.") Well, if hon. Gentlemen like to go to their constituents and announce that they desire to give more money to the rich and less to the poor, they are quite welcome to that part of their political programme. This is a measure of justice which we are told is only to 1396 last two years. Will the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for it tell me whether it is really intended to drop it at the end of two years? It is not quite honest towards the House to endeavour to shirk discussion on these matters or to smuggle Bills through on the pretext that they are to be temporary, when it it is probably intended that they shall be permanent.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. LONG,) Liverpool, West Derby
The Agricultural Rating Act was made temporary at the request of the hon. Members on both sides of the House, and it was thought right that this Bill should be put on the same footing.
§ MR. LAMBERT
I do not think that it was done in deference to appeals from this side of the House. I rather fancy that the limitation of the duration of the Agricultural Rating Act to five years was due to the action of the hon. Member for Stockport. I am afraid the right hon. gentleman does not consult our wishes to the extent which he suggests. With regard to this plea of justice, the right hon. Gentleman has himself broken it down by refusing to admit all tithe-owners to the benefits of the measure. Surely if the proposal is just the relief should be extended all round; if it is unjust, then no single class should take advantage of it. It has been said that the clergy are entitled to relief from their rates because they have in some cases to employ skilled labour, just as skilled agricultural labour has to be employed by the landowners. Is not this degrading the sacred calling of the clergyman to reduce him to the position of a skilled labourer? Are we going to reduce the curate in charge of a cure of souls to the same position as a man who loads manure into a cart? I do not wonder that Convocation did not like the Bill, and that it was only with great difficulty that it could be got to assent to it. Indeed, I feel pretty certain that a good many rich clergymen and wealthy laymen belonging to the Church of England disapprove of it, for when they were appealed to to provide a sum of £340 to cover the cost of laying certain evidence before the Local Taxation Commission, only £140 was obtained. The hon. Member for Tunbridge, who is a kind of Parliamentary parson, sent round circulars to the clergy asking them 1397 to send him in a statement of their grievances. And he got but comparatively few answers. But why did he not send to the wealthy clergy and laity and ask them to subscribe to relieve the necessities of the poorer clergy? Why did he so sully Christian teaching as to make it degenerate into a squabble over rates? I contend it is absolutely pitiable to see such a proposal as this in connection with a rich church, which enjoys an income of over seven millions a year. Why should it come down to this House and ask for a fresh endowment which, if capitalised, would represent a sum of three millions sterling? We have been told over and over again by the Colonial Secretary that during the existence of the late Liberal Government no single working man was a penny the better for the legislation it introduced. I think I could find out a great many working men who are a good many pounds the worse for the legislation of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Why do not the wealthy members of the Church of England put their hands into their own pockets for the relief of their poorer clergy? I am reminded of some writings by the Rev. Sydney Smith upon bishops' incomes, in which he pointed out how the incomes of future bishops might fairly be reduced in order to provide for the improvements of small livings. He suggested that the Archbishops could surely do with less than £15,000 a year and two palaces, whilst a future Bishop of London might not require a palace at Fulham, a house in St. James's Square, and £10,000 a year. Now, this was the opinion, not of a Dissenter, but of a Church of England clergyman, and I commend it to the consideration of hon. Members opposite. The writer of a book dedicated to the Bishop of London declared it to be a sin on the part of Churchmen to assist Dissenters in any Way by attending their chapels or by giving them money. Is it not an equal sin to call upon Dissenters all over the country to pay increased rates in order to give a fresh endowment to the Church of England? Lord Halifax, who has 4,000 clergymen at his back, recently complained of the action of the hon. Member for Flintshire, and suggested that, as he was a Nonconformist, he had no right to interfere with the doctrines of the Church of England. But is it right that a Church which is infinitely more wealthy than 1398 any Nonconformist body should be unable to support its own ministers without calling in the assistance of those who do not belong to it? This is bound to go on in the country. A Cornish farmer writes:—There are a large number of the clergy who, teach that they can turn the bread into the body of Christ and wine into His blood. If they can do that we might expect them to be able to put up the price of wheat to 15s. the bushel.That is the view of a Cornish farmer who has a right to express his opinion on this subject. I contend that this injustice will sink deeply into the mind of the electorate of this country, and it is a measure which will increase hostility to the Church in the country districts. I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time this day three months.
§ * MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
I beg leave to second this motion, and I join with my hon. friend in hoping that the House will reject the Third Reading of this Bill. The measure has a bad history. It was introduced under the ten-minutes' rule, and the Second Reading was so curtailed that hon. Members were prevented from expressing their opinion, and the Committee stage of the Bill was so pressed forward by the closure and other means that no adequate expression of opinion has taken place upon the merits of this measure. These are some of the reasons why I have joined with my hon. friend who has moved the rejection of this measure. I agree that it will be a long remembered Bill for the Conservative party, and I believe that they will probably wish, before many years are over, that they had never put their hands to this undertaking. The right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill has again reminded us that the operation of the Bill is limited for two years. When he has time to attend to the Debate, I should like to ask him in the course of his reply whether he will assure the House that at the end of two years the Bill will drop and will no longer be in operation. If he can give us that assurance, it will be some relief to our mind in that respect. I oppose this measure on two distinct grounds. In the first place, it is a distinct re-enactment of the Church rates under another form and by another name. It is the direct taxation of the free churches in 1399 order to maintain the State Church, and on those grounds I oppose it. And, further, I oppose this measure because it is a Bill to minister to the wants of the pampered law breakers in the Church of England. At the present moment the country is shocked by the procedure of a large body of the Church of England clergymen who are breaking every law which they have sworn to obey, and are outraging the feelings of the large masses of the Protestant citizens of this country, both Churchmen and Dissenters. I think this is the most ill-judged time that could have been chosen to re-endow the Church of England at the expense of the community. It is well known that many of the clergy in the country are, perhaps, the most unpopular persons in the villages. We know that in many parts of the country the clergyman is the least popular of any person of position in his parish for many reasons. This Bill will add to those reasons, and instead of the mistrust which at present exists hatred will be begotten when it is known that the poor labourers of the village will have to make contributions towards the relief of the clergymen whom they already mistrust.
§ MR. BROADHURST
But this £87,000 comes from public funds, and every person who consumes taxable articles makes a contribution to that £87,000. Therefore the Free Church population of this country will pay in equal proportion towards this sum with the Church members of this country. Now this is a distinct wrong and injustice, for we have to maintain our own Churches. The Free Church community maintain their own clergy and their own Church; they pay the rates chargeable on the manses in which the ministers live, and out of their hard earned wages they maintain every charge that is made upon their places of worship. But, in addition to that, they will now be called upon to pay rates for the clergy of another denomination. I was going to explain to the Committee the other day that if the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had come for advice to this side of the House we could have shown him a much more constitutional way of relieving the clergy 1400 than the one which he has adopted. We would have shown him how, when our ministers want more money, we put our hands into our own pockets and not into the pockets of members of other denominations. During the month of January this year I attended a large number of meetings in many parts of the country to endeavour to assist my hon. friend the Member for Louth in raising, by voluntary contributions, a million of guineas for the Wesleyan body. Labourers earning only 12s. a week have promised to pay a guinea during the year to this fund out of their very small wages. Surely if the farm labourers, the mechanics, and the small shopkeepers of this country can support their own Church, the members of the Church of England should be ashamed to come to the public funds for money for their clergy, which they ought to pay themselves out of their own pockets. I have in my mind at this moment a particular district which is dotted all over with residential millionaires, bankers, brewers, and money-lenders, all of them members of the Church of England. Why any one of these families could perfectly well find at least half the sum that you are now going to wring from the unwilling and oppressed taxpayers of this country. These wealthy people might have provided this small sum out of their private income without being any the worse for it at the end of the year. Surely this is a humiliation which ought to be felt, and which if I were a member of the Church of England I should feel most keenly, and I am sure there are many Churchmen and Church women in this country—and some of the Church clergy themselves—who, to their honour, will feel humiliated at being classed among the paupers of this country by this system of outdoor relief which the right hon. Gentleman is providing for the clergy under this Bill. I do not know of anything that could do more harm to the Church than this measure. I am sure that nothing can help forward Disestablishment more than measures of the kind which we are discussing this evening, and if it is the design of the Government to promote Disestablishment then I congratulate them upon having taken a policy which certainly will have that effect to a considerable degree. I do not suppose any protest that we can make here, no matter how justifiable or how strong our case may be, or however true 1401 our allegations against the system of robbery of the poor in order to further enrich those who are not in want, will change a single vote on the opposite side. I am afraid that loyalty to their leaders will induce hon. Members opposite to vote for a Bill which they know in their heart of hearts to be unjust, and based upon unjust principles which they know is enforcing from the poorest people in the country contributions in order to further bolster up and maintain a Church which is being ministered by a large number of lawless clergymen whose actions are condemned by thousands of Churchmen themselves. We shall, however, have the satisfaction of endeavouring to do our duty to our constituencies and to the country by voting against this measure, for I do not believe that any amount of argument will induce a single vote from the other side to come over to this side, which their commonsense and sense of right and justice would lead them to do were they not bound under such strict discipline by party management. I had an opportunity last night at a large representative gathering of county people, which included many shopkeepers and tradesmen, of ascertaining their opinion upon this Bill, and I may say that it was universally condemned and repudiated by the Churchmen who were present. I am sure the Government will find that to be so to a larger extent than they imagine. This wrong, added to the other wrongs of this Government, will go a long way indeed to make our task easier in bringing about a change of Government in the near approaching future, which we on this side of the House are looking forward to with confidence, while you on the opposite side of the House are staving off the evil day to the longest possible period. I beg to second this motion for the rejection of this Bill, which is an unjust and wicked imposition upon the poor taxpayers of this country.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the question to add the words 'upon this day three months.'"—(Mr. Lambert.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."1402
§ * MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)
If the arguments which have been advanced by the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the rejection of this Bill be all that can be said against it I think I can congratulate my right hon. friend on the case for it being unanswerable. I do not propose to deal at length with the speeches of the hon. Gentleman, but one matter has been mentioned on which I desire to say a few words. One of the arguments used in support of the rejection of this measure was that a great number of people were going to suffer a great wrong in order to benefit a comparatively rich class of ratepayers. I should like the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken to ask himself in calmer moments what number of his constituents will, when this Bill is passed into law, find themselves a penny the poorer. If the hon. Gentleman will pause for a moment in his career of somewhat heated denunciation of the Church of England to which he does not belong—
§ * MR. J. G. TALBOT
If the hon. Gentleman will pause and ask himself the true facts of the case, I think he will find that the relief which this Bill proposes to confer comes out of a fund which really does not in any way oppress the persons whom he represents. The contribution of tine ordinary ratepayer to this fund is almost infinitesimal and the county authorities will not be a penny the worse as a result of this Bill except in so far as they may be deemed to be worse by not having received the increment to which they may have looked forward. The hon. Member asked why did not the richer members of the Church of England relieve the clerical tithe owners. As a matter of fact, a very large amount is paid at the present moment in voluntary subscriptions by the members of the Church of England towards the relief of the poorer clergy. The Queen Victoria Clergy Fund and several other funds are supported entirely by members of the Church of England for the relief of the necessitous clergy. This Bill is not a matter of charity, but of justice. It is asked for in order to redress what we believe to be an unjust mode of assessing the rate. I know hon. Gentlemen opposite do not admit that it is an 1403 unjust mode, but that is the contention of the Government and of men who have studied the question. I would remind hon. Members how soon political memory fails. Not many years ago the great statesman who led the Liberal Party, and who was considered to be a great authority on financial matters, Mr. Gladstone, said that an absolute case had been made out for the relief of the clergy in this matter. I cannot subscribe to the doctrine that because a grievance has gone on for many years it ought not to be redressed. It has been said to be characteristic of the party to which I belong that when a thing had lasted for many years, it was allowed to continue unless a very strong case was made out against it. But the chief boast of the hon. Gentlemen opposite is: "Point out an injustice however long standing, and we will remove it." It is no answer to our arguments to say that as this grievance has been borne for years it can continue to be borne. That is not a fair way of stating the case. But I did not rise so much for the purpose of answering the arguments of the hon. Gentlemen opposite—if they can be called arguments—as to express, on behalf of the great number of clergymen through out the country whom I have the honour to represent in this House, my extreme obligation to the Government. (Opposition cheers.) Hon. Gentlemen may indulge in ironical cheers, but I am not ashamed to thank the Government for this measure of justice, and for removing a grievance which has pressed hardly on the clergy for many years. We were urged to represent this matter to the Government; we did so to the best of our ability, and the Government, having carefully considered it, came to the conclusion that it was a case of justice and not of charity. I support this Bill because I believe it to be a sound measure for the relief of an established grievance which presses on a class of the community unique in this respect, that it has no direct representation in this House. The clergy of the Church of England, with the exception of the clergy of the Church of Rome, are the only class of the community prevented by statute from entering this House, and therefore it rests with us to represent their interests, and to advocate their just claims. We have advocated them, and the result is that Her Majesty's Government have introduced this Bill. I am quite aware this is not a popular measure, and on that 1404 very account I am even more obliged to the Government. It is very easy to pass measures that are popular, and to create a furore in the country in their favour. That does not require much effort. But when Ministers redress a grievance from conscientious motives, although they expose themselves to political obloquy, I think they are entitled to special gratitude. I think also there is another class of the community who ought to thank Her Majesty's Government, and that is Her Majesty's Opposition. They have been provided with a cry for which they have been longing. They have now got something with which to endeavour to agitate the country. They will find, however, that the country on grounds of logic and argument, as well as of justice and consideration, will be with the Government. When the electors look at this matter calmly and deliberately, and apart from the heated atmosphere of the House of Commons, they will conclude that this Bill is not an act of charity, but of justice. It has been passed on behalf of a class which does not exercise any large political influence in the country. ("Oh, oh!") Well, the hon. Gentleman opposite said that the parson was the most unpopular man in the parish, and it is impossible to be unpopular and to exercise great political influence. The clergy of the Church of England do not deserve the odium cast upon them by the hon. Member in his speech. Taking all things into consideration, they are a class, I will venture to say, in spite of what the hon. Member has said, who are more moderately remunerated than any other class of educated Englishmen, and who are doing noble, praiseworthy, and self-denying work. Not on the ground of charity, but on the ground of justice, I therefore heartily support this measure.
§ * MR. C. WENTWORTH BEAUMONT (Northumberland, Hexham)
In supporting the motion of my hon. friend I ask for the indulgence of the House, because I have never yet ventured to address it, either with you, Sir, in the Chair, or in Committee. I do so because I agree generally with the reasons expressed by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and partly because if even the principle of the Bill is accepted it is too wide in its operation. In my view the provisions of this Bill should not extend to clergymen 1405 presented to benefices after the passing of the Act. That point has been very little discussed, partly because some hon. Gentlemen who had put down Amendments in that direction did so in the wrong place, and partly owing to the constant application of the closure. If one thing came out more clearly than another in the course of the Second Reading Debate, and it has not been seriously denied by hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is that in estimating the value of the Tithe by the Commissioners in 1836 no deduction was to be "made for Parliamentary, parochial,….and other rates," and that "whenever said tithes should have been compounded for on the principal of rent or composition being paid free for all such rates, the Commissioners shall have regard to the circumstance, and shall make such addition on account thereof as may be equivalent." Those acquainted with the matter will know that what I have quoted is taken from Clause 37 in the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 which dealt with that part of the subject. This is, indeed, not seriously contested by the hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it has rather been ignored by the Government and by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Passing over that paint, therefore, what is the ostensible ground for the Bill? It is that owing to the fall in value of the Tithe Rent-charge, clergymen who accepted a living on the understanding that they would have a certain income find that that income is very much reduced, and that they suffer thereby. That is not denied; but why should it be called an injustice? It is said that this Bill has been brought in to remedy this injustice. We admit that there is some hardship, but I do not think that the word "injustice," which has been so largely used by hon. Gentlemen opposite, should be applied to all. But, admitting, for the sake of argument, that there is an injustice, how has it arisen? It has been created by the Agricultural Rates Act of 1896, which excluded the clergymen from the so-called benefits of that Act. This injustice would not have been discovered at all had it not been for the omission of the clergy in passing the Act in 1896. There was not a thought of injustice by the Government in 1896. At all events the Chancellor of the Exchequer is credited with having expressed the opinion that the clergy had no claim for relief on that score. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is suspected to be not very fond of the clergy, and I think if the 1406 language used by that right hon. Gentleman had come from this side, it would I have been said that it arose from hostility to the Church of England. Now, the Government have tried to find a remedy for this "injustice" by making another; because we on this side of the House hold that it is an injustice that any particular class of persons should receive relief out of the public purse. It was on that ground that we contested the Agricultural Rating Act, and on the same ground, however great the hardships some of the clergy may have to endure, we contest this Bill. The Government seem to have thought that they could remedy one injustice by creating another, on some sort of idea, I suppose, that two blacks make a white. However, admitting that there is some hardship on those who were presented to benefices under different financial conditions, I want to know why the relief provisions of the Bill should be extended to those to be hereafter appointed. They will accept their appointments to livings knowing what income to expect from them, and they can have no ground of complaint afterwards. It has never been contended (so far as I am aware) that there is any difficulty in obtaining clergymen to accept benefices when there is a vacancy, in spite of this grievance. On the contrary, the supply of these gentlemen is far greater than the demand. The unfortunate patron knows that whenever he has a living vacant he is inundated with applications from men, good, bad, and indifferent. I think it was the late Lord Melbourne who said when he had Episcopal patronage to give away through the death of a bishop, "I believe these bishops die to spite me." I feel sure that most patrons of livings must have feelings very similar to that when they have patronage to bestow. By rejecting this Bill the House would not prevent a single man going into the Church, or a single clergyman from applying for a living; and this grievance would right itself automatically in the end. It is a great pity, to my mind, that the members of the Government do not have more opportunities of mixing with their supporters in the House in order to learn their real views. They confine themselves too much to their rooms. If they had been on the terrace or in the smoking-rooms they would have heard recently very strong language in regard to this Bill—language which, if expressed in this House, you, Sir, would not have held to be un-Parliamentary. The only amusing 1407 incident of this dull session is the abuse lavished on the present Government by their supporters, who, with a few exceptions—notably the hon. Member for Stockport—have blindly followed them into the division lobbies. I thank the House very much for the patience with which I have been listened to, and I shall have no hesitation in voting against the third reading of this Bill.
§ * COLONEL V. MILWARD (Warwick)
I cannot agree with very much that the hon. Member for South Molton Division has said, and I regret especially the reading of the letter which he has thought fit to read to the House. But there is one point upon which I do agree with him, and that is that it does place the House and the country in a difficult position when it is necessary to bring forward a Bill at this time of the year of a contentious character, and when, in order to pass the Bill through the Committee stage, it is necessary that the speeches should be extremely short, and the discussion confined to one side of the House. It is evident that the result must be that the country must have a distorted view of the Bill itself. When Members get up one after another to attack the Bill, and when the conduct of the Bill is thus one-sided, it is quite evident that the country at large must form an erroneous idea of the Bill and of the defence of it. In the course of the Committee stage there were 54 Government and 203 speeches from the Opposition. But if they excepted from the Government speeches those of the right hon. Gentlemen the Minister for Agriculture, the Solicitor-General, and the First Lord of the Treasury, there remained on the Government side twenty speeches against 203 from the Opposition. I think it is a notable fact that of those 203 speeches no fewer than 91 were delivered by Welsh Members, who have so great a feeling and so small an interest in this matter. I admit that nobody could have conducted the case with greater ability than the Minister for Agriculture, nor could the case have been placed more fairly before the House than by the three Ministers who have been concerned in the progress of the Bill; but when Member after Member rises and takes a false view of the position taken up by the Government I confess I can see no chance of remedying this state of things, unless we adopt the suggestion of the hon. 1408 Member for South-East Essex, to limit the speeches, let us say Committee speeches, to ten minutes, so that the speaking may be fairly divided between the two sides of the house. There is another constitutional question in reference to the Bill that I wish to raise. The clergy themselves have been astounded at the reception which their case has met with in the House of Commons. Here is a set of men who, as ratepayers and taxpayers, in common with other members of the community, have a right to address themselves to the House of Commons for the redress of any grievance they have. It is acknowledged that the relief from taxation or rating is an interest which should be dealt with by the Crown or the House of Commons. These gentlemen have addressed themselves in a perfectly constitutional manner to the House. They have, through their Members, urged their views upon the country; but when their case was brought forward in the House it was flouted and sneered at, and was met by the perfervid—almost impassioned—eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire and the hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and by raillery on the part of the hon. Member for Mid-Glamorganshire, and this culminated in the studied travesty of a preamble, which it was proposed to attach to the Bill, and which said that "the clergy were poor and unable to pay their rates,' and that "the Church failed, out of its vast possessions, to make provision for them or their families." I deny both these charges. I deny that it is because of their poverty that they have a right to have their wrongs redressed here. I maintain that, whether poor or rich, they have a right to come to the State and ask that their wrongs should be redressed. I deny also very strongly that the Church has failed out of its riches to redress the poverty of the clergy. Let me state to the House what the Church has done during the last few years. In the year of the last Jubilee of the Queen a fund was raised called the Queen Victoria Jubilee Fund. In the first year it amounted to £100,000, and in 1898 to £45,000. These sums are specially applied for the purpose of raising the smaller incomes of the clergy. But in addition there is another fund called the Queen Anne's Bounty Fund. In 1897 there was contributed voluntarily to this fund 1409 £106,613 for the permanent augmentation of the livings of the clergy, and in 1898 £116,932. Altogether, therefore, the sums contributed by these two funds for the augmentation of the livings of the clergy during the years 1897 and 1898 amounted to £206,613 and £161,932 respectively. Now, I do not desire to diminish for one moment what is being done by the Wesleyan or any other body, but it is unfair and I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite will feel it is unfair—to say that we are doing nothing for the augmentation of the livings of the clergy when we contribute as much as £200,000 a year for that purpose. In the diocese of Liverpool, moreover, there is the fact that every living has been raised to £200 a year. In addressing myself for a few moments to the objections which have been raised to this Bill, they appear to me to range themselves under three heads. The first objection is that the poor are being made to pay for the rich. Sometimes we hear the clergy called the rich and sometimes the poor, but I suppose that depends upon the line of debate taken by hon. Members. At all events the hon. Member for Market Harborough (Mr. Logan) raised very strongly the fact that the poor labourers were being made to contribute the sum of £87,000 for the benefit of the rich clergy, and he observed that it was disgraceful that in a certain county (Dorset) the labourer should be paid only 9s. or 10s. a week. I do not, however, see how the House of Commons is going to interfere with the price of the labourers' wages. But this I do say—that no poor person under any circumstances will contribute one penny to the relief which is being given to the clergy under this Bill. Hon. Members who make the contrary assertion either have not studied the Bill or are not acquainted with the facts. The whole of the relief is given from a portion of the annual sum which is given in relief of local taxation, viz., that portion which comes from the probate duty. It will not, I suppose, be contended that poor people who get 9s. or 10s. a week contribute anything to the probate duty. The relief given by Exchequer contributions to Local Rating is given from two sources, the Probate Grant and the Licenses. Now the Licenses are levied almost entirely from the rich; they are for armorial bearings, carriages, servants, &c.; but there is one 1410 license which may be subscribed to by the poor, and that is the dog license. It is quite possible that here and there a few shillings may be contributed for a dog license by the poor, but that source is entirely exempted under this Bill. The relief which is to be given under this Bill is entirely from the Probate Duty, and not a single farthing can under any circumstances come from the poor. In point of fact, however, the particular sum which is given under this Bill does not come from the Probate Duty; it comes from the increment of the Probate Duty, so that not only is it money that never has come from the poor, but it is money that never has gone to the poor because it is money that has never yet been received or expended by the County or Borough Authorities. I wish to refer to the argument that the amount of the rates was added to the tithe in 1836. That is true in one sense, but it is not true in another. The case is precisely the same as that of a landlord who lets two houses side by side. One house he lets at £10 a year and pays the rates; while the other he lets at £8 a year, and the tenant pays the rates. Suppose there came a law that in every case the landlord should pay the rates, it is quite evident that he would charge £10 a year for each house. That is exactly what happened in 1836 with regard to the rates being added to the tithe. In some cases the clergyman had paid the rates, in some cases the farmer, but after 1836 the clergyman was by law required to pay them, and for this reason they were added to the tithe. We have never denied that the tithe was rateable. We have never denied that it should fairly pay the rate. We furthermore say that personal property should pay the rate also, and did pay it under the Act of Elizabeth. But we say that the rates have become an intolerable burden. There is not a single person in this House who will deny that for years past rates have been going up, but even if they were higher in 1836 what does it matter to us? The clergy who lived then are no longer alive, and to present incumbents there is only one experience, and that is that, owing to the fall in the value of tithe and the continual increase of rates, the burden has become so intolerable that the clergy have come to this House, and have been perfectly right in coming to this House, in order to get relief. There 1411 is only one other objection to which I shall refer for a few moments, and that is the question between town and country. That question was raised particularly by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, who I am sorry to see is not in his place. The hon. Member wished that London should be exempted from the operation of the Bill, and a number of hon. Members on the opposite side supported him because they knew the adoption of his suggestion meant the destruction of the Bill. It is obvious, however, that to be effective, relief of this kind must have application to the whole country. Let me cite the case of two millionaires who died in my neighbourhood during the last three or four years. I suppose they must have paid at least £200,000 to the country under the Death Duties, and their share of the Probate Duty was very large. It would be perfectly fair according to the arguments on the other side of the House that the Probate Duty should go to the identical villages from which it was paid. The effect of that would be that these villagers would pay no more rates for the rest of their lives. But that is not the only question. Do you think villages contribute nothing to the towns? My opinion is exactly the contrary. Ever since the enormous increase of the road rate there has been an immense contribution of the villages towards the towns. My opinion is that the country contributes more to the towns than the towns to the country. What is the case of London? Do we in the country contribute anything towards London? I submit that we do. We pay for the parks, and a portion of the Metropolitan Police; £58,000 towards the parks, £54,968 towards the police, against the £19,000 which it is claimed that London contributes towards their relief of the clergy. Does the country clergyman share in the enjoyment of the London parks? Once, in a blue moon, he may bring his wife to to London, but he amply contributes his share towards the cost of the parks and police through his hotel bill. It is perfectly clear that in a matter of this kind you should spread the whole of the cost over the whole of England. What is the cost? Of the amount of aid proposed by the Bill London contributes only one-seventh of a penny in the £ on the rates, as the London assessment now reaches the enormous value of £40,000,000 1412 a year. I believe the London rates are about seven shillings in the £, and surely one-seventh of a penny out of eighty-four pence is not excessive as a contribution towards the act of justice which we are trying to effect. I wish just to say one or two words with reference to what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Sir Henry Fowler), and to quote a very pregnant sentence from the speech of the right hon. gentleman on the Second Reading of this Bill. He was speaking on the urban rates and the Royal Commission, and he said:I say their first duty is to deal with the task entrusted to them, which is to suggest a remedy for the grievances under winch all property holders labour with respect to local taxation.These are very pregnant words, and I hope that in future the great Party opposite will live up to the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Wolverhampton, and endeavour to so decide matters that property and rent will no longer be considered to be the measure of a man's capacity to pay rates, but that rates will be spread not upon householders only, but upon personal property holders, and that thus there would be a great shifting of the burden. I have never dared to hope for it, myself; I think it almost past bearing that all the local taxation of the country should fall upon house and landed property, and I long to see the time when the right hon. Gentlemen opposite will bring their intelligence to bear on the subject, so that property in dividends and shares shall be made to bear a portion of the local burdens. I support most heartily the Third Reading of the Bill. I believe it to be a measure of justice which will not be attended by any appreciable amount of injustice; I am sure that the cause of the clergy will benefit by the Bill now being enacted; and I hope that heated feeling which has passed over the House lately will soon be forgotten and that we shall all feel that we have tried to do something which will bring justice to a distressed class of our population.
§ MR. BIRRELL (Fifeshire, W.)
The right hon. Member for Oxford University has made one of the most "sporting" offers to the hon. Member for Leicester I have ever heard. He offered to write his speeches for him. Whether he was 1413 also willing to deliver them I did not quite understand. But the hon. Member for Leicester, being I suppose anxious to retain his seat, did not accept the offer. But I, being of a milder mould, and the weather being hot, would be only too happy to accept his offer to make, write, and deliver the speech which it is necessary for me to make on this occasion. There can be no pleasure in taking part in Debates of this kind. The inevitable consequence of an unusually large Parliamentary majority is that it robs all the steps Parliamentary instincts require to be taken before a Bill becomes law, of their reality, sincerity, and significance, and the time-honoured forms of this House Seem to become mere vehicles of obstruction. But we were bound to remember that the Opposition has its duties—although it may be questionable whether nowadays it possesses any rights—and one of them is the duty of maintaining the forms and traditions of the House, waiting for better times, which this Bill may do something to accelerate, when the Government majority may not be so great as it is now and Gentlemen opposite may be glad the Opposition maintained for them the ceremonies which they look upon now with abhorrence and dislike. I opposed this Bill on the Third Reading on the same ground as I would oppose it on the Thirtieth Reading, because it is an essentially unjust and ill-omened Bill. There was a time when there might be found, scattered up and down this pleasant country, rate-paying and taxpaying persons who took no active part in political contentions, even during the turmoil of general elections, not greatly caring for the success of the "ins" or the "outs"; and most of us in our hours of langour, when the wheels of life run slow, have felt a sneaking sympathy with those gentle spirits who, if accused of unpatriotic indifference, were able to allege, and allege truthfully, that in the past, at all events, whichever Party succeeded in clutching the golden keys, there was one key on the bunch which would never be basely turned to party purposes—the key of the National Exchequer. They could always rely that whichever Party occupied the Treasury bench it would supply a Chancellor of the Exchequer who would regard himself as the trusted guardian of public funds, and would never consent to allow himself to become the mere party paymaster of greedy and mercenary forces. If ever there was a Bill which required to be defended in principle and 1414 details by the Chancellor of the Exchequer it is this Bill, which, in the opinion of a large number of people, diverts public funds into very private uses indeed, and pays off half the rates of the clergy of a particular Church out of the probate duty. It is a Bill which might be right or which might be wrong, but it ought to be defended. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken no part whatever in the discussions. Rumour, always rife in the lobbies of this House, alleges that he did not like the Bill. Rumour is a lying jade. I am not prepared to believe the rumour, and I will assume that the Chancellor of the Exchequer approves of the Bill and likes it because, although his tongue may be silent, his is the responsibility for it, for his is the hand that turns the tap that fills the clerical pail. We have had some useful discussions during the progress of the Bill, and one thing became clear during the course of those discussions which was not quite clear when we began. All persons are agreed that tithe rent-charge is rateable property. The hon. and learned Member for Stroud, the apostle of rating and the high priest of assessment committees, took a large part in the Debates until my hon. friend the Member for Mid Glamorgan discovered that he had written a book on the subject, which was in the library, and then my hon. and learned friend, if he will allow the quotation in all kindliness, "Curled up on the floor, And our subsequent proceedings seemed to interest him no more." Tithe rent-charge is rateable property, and directly that is admitted away goes the argument of the clergy that they are rated on professional incomes. It is admitted that professional incomes are not rateable property, and there is no proposal to make professional incomes rateable property. Therefore tithe rent-charge is rateable property, whether in the hands of a lay impropriator or in the hands of a clerical holder of a living. I am quite able to appreciate the difference between tithe rent-charge in the hands of a lay impropriator and the net rent-charge which remains in the hands of the clergyman compelled to discharge the duties of the parish to which he is attached and to see that public worship and the rites of the Church are properly performed there. But that is not a question of rating, but of the mode of assessment, and the mode of assessment depends on the circumstances, not of the 1415 clergy as a body, but on the circumstances of each particular case, and demands and requires that each particular case shall be considered on its own merits. Therefore there was no general injustice in rating the clergy in the way they are rated now. The very highest way it is possible to put it is that in particular cases, after particular inquiry it might be that good sense and good judgment would suggest that certain deductions should be allowed. Putting myself in the position of hon. Gentlemen opposite seeking to support this Bill as they best can, I would ask them whether they can really put the case of the clergy higher than this: that at the most some of the clergy ought to be permitted, under a proper equitable mode of assessment, to make certain deductions from their tithe rent-charge. But this Bill does not pretend to do anything of the kind. It does not alter the law of rating or the mode of assessment, or permit a single clergyman to make legitimate deductions. It simply dips its hand into the purse of the National Exchequer and takes £87,000 out and gives it to the clergy, totally irrespective of whether any of them are entitled to make a just claim on which the whole case for the Bill rests. The Bill is doubly unjust—it is unjust to the clergy, because it divides the money among them independently of their moral claim to make deductions. It is also grossly unfair to the country, because it will not be pretended that this £87,000 is not a larger sum than would be required to make up anything the rates may lose if the deductions of which I have spoken are made. Therefore I will ask whether this mode of dealing with the question is not one of gross injustice both to the clergy, whose interests the Government seeks to serve, and the interests of the country, which they are bound to protect? I cannot myself agree that these deductions are right and proper to be made, because I cannot forget that for sixty years the courts of law and justice have decided that they cannot be permitted. The difficulty of making these deductions in particular cases is very great, and there is not a single gentleman alive who has not accepted his living on the condition that these deductions were not likely to be allowed. However that may be, I submit they have not made out a single case to justify the appropriation of this sum of money to 1416 alleviate the distress, or rather the injustice which they insist upon. However, I suppose we must soon part with this Bill, and it will go and seek its fortunes elsewhere. I must say that to anyone who loves irony and delights in an ironical situation more than justice, there is something peculiarly charming in the spectacle of a council of lay impropriators—of men holding the greatest tithes which once, at all events, were devoted to religious and charitable purposes—meeting in solemn conclave to consider—what? How best to relieve the necessities of the holders of the small tithes which are still devoted to religious purposes—at the expense of the public exchequer. There is where the weak point comes in. At the expense of the public exchequer! How many times during the last twenty years have I not read in the truth-loving columns of the Guardian newspaper—an organ of opinion for which I have the profoundest and most sincere respect—the complaint that if only the lay impropriators would tax themselves voluntarily at one half the amount at which the poor clerical holders of the small tithes do for church purposes, it would not be necessary for the Church of England to make these annual raids upon the public exchequer, but she would be able both to pay her own clergy and to maintain her own schools. I venture to make these remarks here, because I doubt very much whether they will be made elsewhere. The point I am really desirous of making is that I do think it is a public scandal and a constitutional wrong that a measure of this sort should be sent from beginning to end through Parliament sub silentio by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helens)
It has been suggested on the other side of the House that we on this side have entered into a conspiracy of silence because we cannot justify our support of this Bill. Under those circumstances I do not feel inclined to give a silent vote. I have voted for this Bill all through with a light heart and a clear conscience. I most cordially support the measure, and in doing so I have not discovered the slightest strain on my allegiance to Her Majesty's Government or to the party to which I belong. My chief objection to the Bill is that it does not go far enough. On the ground of 1417 justice we ought to relieve the clerical tithe-owner not only of half his rates, but of the whole. I support this Bill, to put it shortly, on two grounds. In the first place, on its merits; and, secondly, because it seems to me that it is a Bill to which the present Government and the Unionist Party are committed by their previous acts, statements, and measures which have been passed. They are committed to it by the Report of the Royal Commission on Rating (which they themselves appointed), and they are committed to it by the precedent of the Agricultural Rating Act of 1896. This Bill is a simple and necessary act of justice. I have listened to nearly the whole of these Debates, and I am bound to say that most of the speeches and criticisms directed against the measure have been very largely animated by party feeling; they have contained a maximum of party feeling with a minimum of solid argument. Hon. Members have argued from all sorts of premisses; it is difficult to criticise any two arguments together. What is it that this Bill proposes to do? It proposes to relieve the tithe-rent charge attached to benefice of half its rates. What is the simple reason for that? That there is other property rated in the same way; and therefore it is unfair to rate this in that way. It is not a question of the gross or net income; it is not a question of rating the incomes at all. What is the fact? The clerical tithe-owner is taxed on his income like everybody else, whether it is a tithe rent-charge income or an income from other sources; he is rated on his dwelling like everybody else, but he is also rated On his tithe rent-charge like nobody else. On that ground, when it is established—and I venture to say it is estahlished—logically the whole of that unfair burden ought to be removed. Have any hon. Members opposite brought forward a single analogous case in which incomes are rated in the same way? The hon. Member for Carnarvon delivered an eloquent but violent party speech on the Second Reading, and made the only attempt I have heard to cite some analogous cases. The instances he cited were the income of a colliery proprietor and the income received by a house proprietor from small houses which he owned, and the hon. Member said they were analogous cases in which the holders were rated on their incomes. I submit that there is absolutely no analogy at all. For this simple reason; in the case of the 1418 colliery proprietor or the owner of house-rent, the amount of the rent is a question of private bargaining between the lessor and lessee, in which the rates are taken into account. In the case of tithe, the rates cannot possibly be taken into account, because it is not a question of private contract.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon District)
I do not think I said they were rated on their income. I said they were very often rated on more than their income.
§ MR. SETON-KARR
I do not quite follow the interruption. I think the hon. Member said the owners of house property and collieries were rated on their incomes.
§ MR. SETON-KARR
On more than their income. Of course, they are rated on the assessment of their property. The clerical tithe owner is also rated on his dwelling, quite apart from the tithe. The point I am endeavouring to make is that in the one case it is a question of private contract, and in the other it is not. Here is where the shoe pinches. Rates are in the habit of going up. In the one case the rent may go up, but in the other case the net income of the clerical tithe-owner goes down. Let me state my reasons why, as a borough Member and a supporter of Her Majesty's Government, I am entirely in favour of this Bill. Whence does the opposition to this Bill come? In the first place, there is the opposition of my right hon. friend the Member for Bodmin. I listened to his speech on the Second Reading with very great interest. But we ordinary Members cannot but be influenced by the thought that my right hon. friend is the "candid friend" of the Unionist Government, and his standard of legislative excellence is so high that it is almost impossible to conceive any measure which would receive the stamp of his approval. I shall, therefore, criticise with the utmost diffidence one argument which my right hon. friend pressed upon the House. I think the argument that he pressed with the greatest force may be summarised in three words—priority of title. I think I am putting the case in its outline when I say that the argument was that the tithe rent-charge is prior to the ownership of the land, and therefore under no circumstances can it be interfered with—in other words, that what 1419 has been going on for three centuries cannot be altered now. The consideration at once occurred to me that the rates are not a fixed quantity. If the rates were the same now as they were three centuries ago, I could see some force in the argument, but rates are constantly going up. The owner of tithe who had a certain income many years ago has not the same income now—for one reason, because the rates are constantly going up to meet the advance of civilisation.
§ MR. SETON-KARR
I contend that rates generally go up. At all events, they vary, they are not a fixed quantity. My argument is that if the rates were a fixed quantity there would be some ground for the argument of antiquity or priority of title. But the rates vary; they may go up, and they have gone up; in some cases possibly they have gone down. What was fair and right three centuries ago is not, necessarily, right now. We want to see the incidence and burden of rating so equally distributed that they are shared as well by personal property as by real property, and I submit that this Bill is founded on that great principle. I desire to allude to the position of my hon. friend the Member for Stockport. He opposed this Bill in a somewhat violent speech, in which he said that it was unfair to the boroughs and the urban districts. He went even further, and used stronger language, saying that this Bill betrayed the interests of the towns of the country. In passing, let me deal with a side argument on this point. My hon. friend did not give any figures, but I propose very shortly to quote some figures to the House. In the first place, he said that the interests of the boroughs had been sacrificed to the interests of the counties. Under this Bill we are taking £87,000 out of the Local Taxation Fund to relieve the clerical tithe owner. That means to the clerical tithe owner about £8 per head. Under the ingenious and wise provision of the Bill, what does it mean to the general body of ratepayers? I admit at once that it means, in the first place, that £87,000 is taken away from the Local Taxation Grant, which would otherwise go to the relief of the rates of the ratepayers of England and 1420 Wales. But the rateable capacity of England and Wales is quoted at £172,000,000. £87,000 spread over that means 1/10d. in the £. I ask the House in all seriousness, Do those figures justify the heroic language of the Member for Stockport? Take a £25 householder. In that case he has to pay towards the relief given by this Bill the large sum of 3d. a year. The burden is inappreciable. So strongly do I feel that this Bill is a just Bill, that even though the burden were appreciable, I still would heartily vote for it; but as the burden is inappreciable, it does not in any way justify the language which has been used. The hon. Member went further, and said that the borough supporters of Her Majesty's Government were not prepared to go down and justify this Bill in the face of their constituents. I do not know by what right my hon. friend arrogated to himself the right to speak for the boroughs of the country. He represents but half a borough; I represent a whole one, but I do not propose to speak of anyone other than myself. I voted for the Agricultural Rates Bill. I have supported this Bill in all its stages, and intend to vote for the Third Reading. I have not received from a single constituent a single line of remonstrance of any sort or kind. I can only say that I am quite ready to go down to my constituents and justify my vote on any occasion and on any platform. The position of hon. Members opposite in opposing this Bill has been already dealt with. They are all agreed that this Bill is a godsend to them. There are many Members opposite whose fixed and determined policy is to disestablish and disendow, if they can, our national Church. It is only natural that those Members should oppose the Bill; it recognises the vested interests of our national clergy in the funds of our national Church. Language has been carried so far as to describe this Bill as a piece of class legislation, a dole to the clergy; or, as one hon. Member said, the squire and parson have combined to rob the poor ratepayer. We can liberally discount that language; we know exactly what it is worth. But why do not hon. Members opposite go and use the same words in the constituencies? I am glad to think there is at least one consistent Member of the Opposition who is opposing this Bill, and that is the hon. Member for Northampton. 1421 During the last forty-eight hours he has been to his constituents and told them that the Unionist Government takes every opportunity of utilising the funds of the Exchequer in order to bribe and corrupt its supporters. That is only consistent with what the hon. Member said in this House. But during the last eighteen months three elections have taken place—there may have been more—in which the supporters of the Liberal candidates have issued pamphlets and leaflets soliciting votes on the ground that this Bill is a good Bill, and required by the clergy.
§ MR. SETON-KARR
No; something more than this Bill. Voters were asked to support the Liberal candidate on the ground that the clergy could not trust the Unionist Government. The Leader of the House quoted one of those leaflets on the Second Reading of the Bill, and if the statement therein contained is not a suggestion that if the clergy wanted the rates on their tithes reduced they must vote for the Liberal candidate, I do not know what it is. One thing is said in this House, but another thing in the constituencies. We have all heard of the advice of the unscrupulous City man to his son, "Get money, honestly if you can, but get it." I should like to paraphrase that, and say that hon. Members opposite seem to go on the principle, "Get votes, honestly if you can, but get them." I am glad for another reason that Her Majesty's Government have brought in this Bill. I am glad that they are doing something for some of their friends and supporters. The Unionist Government have promoted legislation in the past which has had a chastening effect upon some of their supporters. There are Irish landlords and English employers of labour on this side of the House who can bear testimony to that fact. Chastisement and contradiction is, indeed, good for us all; but the old Adam will sometimes prevail, and I do most heartily congratulate Her Majesty's Government on bringing in a Bill which I look upon as a simple act of justice, and which also will do something to help some of their supporters.
§ * MR. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)
I think we probably have the real reason 1422 for the support of this Bill at the conclusion of my hon. friend's speech. We listened not an hour ago to the somewhat plaintive thanks which were tendered by the hon. Member for Oxford University on behalf of his clerical friends for this small contribution towards their relief, and he went on to point out that the Government are worthy of praise because they have introduced a measure which he stated was most unpopular in the country. While it is perfectly true that twenty speeches have been delivered from the opposite benches in support of this measure, very few of those speeches have been by a Member for a large democratic urban constituency. Substantially it is true that the support of this measure has come from the rural and not from the urban districts. I admit at once that the Church of England is at the present moment devoting large sums of money, raised by voluntary contribution, towards the purposes of the National Church. Our only complaint is that she will not carry that process just a little further, and provide by voluntary contributions this comparatively small sum for which she proposes to dip her hands into the public purse. The Church of England has about 1,950,000 communicants connected with the Establishment, out of a population in England of 29,000,000. If on the next occasion when those communicants attend church they could be persuaded to give 1s. each towards the necessities of their clergy, it would be wholly unnecessary for the Government to trouble Parliament to provide this miserable dole. May I point out to the House that the only plea which has been put with any force before the country in support of this measure is the destitute condition of a number of worthy clergymen?
§ * MR. PERKS
I say, put with force. I know some Members take a different view in this House, but that is not the ground on which the Bill is defended in the country. I read the clerical journals and the speeches of hon. Members who venture to defend the Bill in the country—and they are very few—and those speeches have been based on the fact that the clergy are miserably off, that their rates have risen, that their tithes have fallen, and therefore, it is alleged, they 1423 are entitled to this relief. What I want to point out is that there are vast masses of the clergy, and probably the most deserving, who do not come within the purview of this Bill at all. There are in this country about 13,000 incumbents in the various livings, large and small, but there are upwards of 6,000 clergy who are completely out of occupation, who have no livings or clerical charges whatever. That vast body of men, who certainly are not the least necessitous, are not brought within the confines of this Bill at all, and receive no relief whatever. Pass to the great number of curates in this country. Does anybody imagine that one of the effects of the Bill will be to add to the salary or to improve the condition of curates, or lead to the employment of more curates? He must be a very sanguine man indeed who thinks so. Take again the clergy in the towns—probably the most hard-working of the clergy, the men with the largest congregations, who do the most effective social and moral work. How are those men supported? They are supported not by tithes, but mainly by the contributions of their Congregation, the offertories and pew-rents. These men will derive no benefit, or very little in very exceptional cases, from this Bill. The main relief will go to the clergy in the rural districts and in the small towns of the country; it will be given to the rich and poor alike. The man who is receiving £1,000 a year will get it equally with the man who is receiving only £200 a year, simply because the House refused to adopt the sliding scale which was proposed. It would be a great convenience if the Government, when introducing a Bill which it is intended shall not be altered, world state so in plain language; that would be a far more honest course than for us to be invited to put upon the Notice-Paper Amendments when the Government from the outset have decided that they will not allow a single alteration in the Bill. I cannot help thinking that one of the effects of this Bill on the Anglican Church will be the same as was produced by the gift to voluntary schools. The subscriptions to voluntary schools have fallen away. That is the complaint made in all directions by the diocesan authorities and by the administrators of the funds of the Anglican Church in reference to voluntary schools. Is it likely if £87,000 a year is 1424 voted by Parliament out of the public purse for the assistance of the clergy that the voluntary contributions of the Anglican Church will be maintained at the present level? No such result can be expected. The Church of England will probably lose much more in the falling away of her voluntary contributions than she will derive from this small but most offensive grant from the State. Since this Bill was in Committee I have had the Opportunity of seeing a number of my constituents in Lincolnshire on one of those festive occasions, a great agricultural show, and I was surrounded by robust representatives of agricultural depression—farmers of Lincolnshire, who wanted to know how this Bill would affect them. I told them they ought to be thankful, being supporters of Her Majesty's Government, to be permitted in some small degree to contribute still more to the maintenance of the clergy of their various parishes. But, said one farmer to me, "the clergyman in our parish will get very small relief. He is spending much more than he will get in keeping candles lighted all day long in the parish church of our parish, and I do not think that that is the sort of man I should be disposed to assist out of public funds." I agreed with him, and I trust that this Bill may have some effect upon his vote at the next election. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, that the Church of England clergy are not an influential class in the country. I rather agree with the late Mr. Bright, who said they were the registration agents of the Tory Party, and the most powerful electioneering supporters of that party. Looking at the question from that point of view, I am not at all surprised that the Member for St. Helens stated plainly, frankly—rather brutally, I thought—that he thanks the Government because they are looking after their friends. That was not quite an original remark, because it was made a few months ago by a noble Lord who took occasion to sever himself from the Tory Party, speaking to a very large Tory constituency in the West End of London, where he plainly stated that he thought it was the duty of the Tory Party when in office to look after their friends. The clergy have made their bargain; they took these livings knowing precisely the conditions under which they took them 1425 and it is totally unjust that they should now be assisted in the manner proposed in this Bill. What should we think if we were told that the Legislatures of either the German Empire or the French Republic were engaged in subsidising the clerical parties of those great countries? Yet that is precisely the work in which we, in this country, at this period of the century, have been engaged for the last few weeks. I was reading the other day a very powerful speech by the Archbishop of Dublin, Lord Plunkett, in which, speaking of the Disestablishment Of the Irish Church and the wonderful effect it had upon the evangelistic power and religions force in the country, he congratulated himself that they were not dependent at the time he was speaking upon tithes in Ireland and upon charges arising from the land. He said that if the Irish Church had had to be disestablished at a later epoch in its history it would have met with far more opposition and obloquy, and would have been compelled to endure the most cruel straits, from which they were relieved by having severed the connection with the State. I cannot but feel that this measure will increase enormously the unpopularity of the clergy in the rural districts. I do not profess to belong to the Church of England—I belong to a voluntary church; I have not the smallest antipathy to the Church of England a religious institution. At the same time I feel that the influence of the clergy, who can have it thrown in their teeth by their parishioners that by availing them selves of this Act they have come upon the rates, will be materially reduced. I trust there are in the Church of England to-day many clergy, honourable, godly, intelligent men, who are anxious to increase their influence, who, notwithstanding the offer which is here made to them by Her Majesty's Government, will courage the courage and the manliness to refuse to become pensioners of the State through the medium of this Bill.
§ * MR. WANKLYN (Bradford, Central)
I accept at once the challenge of the hon. Member that the Representative of a great democratic constituency should rise and state his reasons for supporting the Bill. Before giving those reasons I should like to say a word with regard to the point that the clergymen in receipt of the largest incomes would receive the 1426 greatest benefit. The hon. Member for South Molton cited the case of Hatfield. It is common knowledge that the rector of Hatfield, the son of the Prime Minister, has working with him five, if not six, curates, and he expends about double the annual value of his living on his parish. That is no isolated case. It might he stated as a general proposition that where there is a large stipend the duties and the calls are large in proportion. The hon. Member opposite has cited a friendly agriculturist who was opposed to this Bill. I can pit against his agriculturist a friend of mine, who received a letter a few days ago in which the argument was thus summed up by a small fanner:I be a Congregationalist myself, but f don't hold with this raking up of bitter feeling. You has a grievance; why shouldn't we help you out of it?I think we shall find that feeling Very general amongst Congregationalists, certainly in the North of England where they love justice and fairplay. As to my reasons as a North of England borough Member for supporting this Bill, I can say that I enter upon this Debate without prejudice. I am not only a Member for an industrial community, I am also a Liberal Unionist Member. I am not a member of the Church Party, as I do not believe in government by groups, and I am no blind partisan of any Ministry. I have ventured, more than once to vote against my own Government, and upon one occasion I positively went so far as to issue a whip against them. I can therefore speak without prejudice. Why are we supporting this Bill? Because it is a measure of obvious justice. I confess for myself I knew little about the question Of title rent-charge before the introduction of this measure, but I felt it my duty to study the Report of the Royal Commissioners—a body of experts. I have read and studied that Report carefully, and have come to the same conclusion, as an unprejudiced person, that the unprejudiced persons on the Commission came to. Sir John Hibbert, Sir Edward Hamilton, Sir G. H. Murray, the Town Clerk of Liverpool, and the Town Clerk of Birmingham are certainly unprejudiced persons, and what do they say? That the burden of local taxation on the rural clergy is unduly onerous. I submit to the unpreju- 1427 diced persons of this country that they will do well to be advised by such experts as these. The objection is raised that the measure has been rushed through the House. Particular objection is taken to its introduction under the Ten-minutes' rule. I understand that only non-controversial measures are introduced under that rule. I claim, in all honesty, that this is a non-controversial Bill. At the close of the Second Reading Debate on this Bill the First Lord of the Treasury read to the House a circular officially issued by the Radical Party at the time of the East Herts bye-election last year. A facsimile of the circular had also been issued at the East Berks election, and a similar circular had been issued by the very much-respected Member for Mid-Norfolk at the time of the South Norfolk election. I have inquired into the origin of these circulars, and I find that the cases which I have mentioned are not isolated, but that similar circulars have been issued from an office not very far from this House to Radical agents in the rural districts throughout the country. I maintain that these circulars were part of a settled policy. Hon. Gentlemen opposite denounced us last year for neglecting this grievance. How can they come forward this year and denounce us for remedying it? With those circulars within their knowledge the Government were entitled to consider that this would be a non-party question. When such distinguished lawyers as my hon. and learned friend below me and the hon. and learned Member for West Fife differ on the subject it is not for me to enter into the very abstruse question of rating. But the plain man in the country will be bewildered when he reads these circulars. He will say, "Here is Her Majesty's Opposition one year setting out that this is a very real grievance, and describing its remedy as an obvious measure of justice, and now they obstruct the remedy." I can suggest to the plain man that Her Majesty's Opposition think they see an opportunity of dealing a blow at the Church, which at the moment is suffering in popular esteem by the extravagance of a few foolish persons. In no other way can the large attendance of Members during these debates, or the all-night sitting, be accounted for. The question before us has not been the remedy of this grievance, which is admitted by both sides. The real issue 1428 is the disendowment and disestablishment of the Church of England as a plank in the platform of the party opposite for the next general election. We thank them for the warning they have given us, and we will very gladly join issue with them on the subject. Before I sit down I must express as a humble Member of the Liberal Unionist Party my regret that the right hon. Gentlemen, the Member for Bodmin, of whom all of us must speak with respect, threw in his lot with the party of disendowment and disestablishment. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the period previous to 1886. Was disendowment and disestablishment a plank of the Liberal party then? I have the honour to represent the constituency of the late Mr. W. E. Forster, and to his dying day he stated publicly and privately that he would never be a party to any measure of attack on the Church of England, direct or indirect. I refer, of course, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin with all respect, but I do ask what right has he to speak for the Liberal Unionist Party? Who set him up as a ruler over us? I have attended many Liberal Unionist meetings since I had the honour of being enrolled in this party, and I never met the right hon. Gentleman at any one of them. So far as I know he has no official connection with the party and no official right to speak for it. As I understand matters it was not, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, on the question of the union between England and Ireland only that the Liberal Unionist Party was formed. There were many of us who foresaw the attack on the Church, which is being commenced now. We came together, most of us I believe, not only on the question of the union between England and Ireland, but also on the question of the union between Church and State, the union between Great Britain and her Colonies, and on that greatest question of all the union between class and class. The right hon. Gentleman may, I think, be described with all respect as a one-man party. I suppose there is not room on this side of the House for two one-man parties, and therefore another hon. Gentleman who objected to this Bill took himself elsewhere. I can only describe the hon. Gentlemen for Stockport as a man with one idea, because the whole burden of his speech on the Second Reading was that this party came into 1429 office on the question of the social alleviation of the poor. At this moment we have under discussion the Food and Drugs Bill and the Small Houses Bill. Do they not mean anything to Stockport?
§ * MR. WANKLYN
I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I will only say that I fail to understand the hon. Gentleman's own argument, because at this moment these two other measures are being carried through. He has taken himself to the other side, and as an advocate of child labour I hope he will be welcome. On the Third Reading of this Bill Members on this as well as on the other side of the House are at the bar of public opinion. If hon. Members take this Blue Book back to their constituents and will expound it to them, they will find that all plain and unprejudiced persons will be inclined to support the views of the town clerks of Liverpool and Birmingham. Englishmen love justice and fair play, and will support us in any action we take in this matter. If hon. Gentlemen opposite take down to their constituents the three circulars to which I have referred they will find it exceedingly difficult to explain why last year this very proposal was a measure of obvious justice, while this year it is denounced in every term within the Parliamentary dictionary, and is obstructed to the end. I think hon. Gentlemen will find it very difficult to explain their position, and their constituents will conclude that if they are not to be trusted to take a straight forward course in such a small matter as the removal of this grievance they cannot be trusted with larger measures affecting the welfare of the Empire and the great institutions of this country.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
The hon. Member who has just sat down has deprecated what he called government by groups in this country, but most of his speech was taken up with frequent declarations that he was a member of the Liberal Unionist Party, and he proceeded to expound, until stopped by you, Sir, the principles of that Party. Among those principles was the union of class and class, but it is a peculiar kind of 1430 union which robs one class for the benefit of another. The hon. Gentleman, who repudiated the lead of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin, and preferred to follow the lead of the town clerks of Birmingham and Liverpool, has got some exceedingly peculiar views. One of them is that this measure is non-controversial. Here is a measure opposed by the whole Opposition led by their official leader, and yet the hon. Gentleman persists in calling it non-controversial, and he bases that inference on the ground that the agents of two or three Liberal candidates here and there issued some circulars in the course of bye-elections which stated that the clergy had a grievance in the matter of local assessment which ought to be redressed. In the first place, I would point out that this is not the measure recommended in those circulars at all. This is simply a dole to the clergy. In any event, I would point out that the views of one or two candidates cannot commit any party. In the course of the last election there were some Unionist candidates who advocated a shilling duty on corn. Surely that does not commit the whole of the Unionist party to that policy. In Wales the Conservative candidate in a lead mining constituency recommended a duty on foreign lead. Surely the Unionist party were not committed by such silly circulars, and it is quite as absurd to say that the whole Opposition is committed to a policy of clergy doles because a few circulars were issued, probably without the knowledge of the candidate at all. In the course of these Debates one most important argument in favour of this Bill has been absolutely abandoned. As has already been pointed out, it is the only argument which would recommend the Bill to the country, and that is the argument of distress among the rural clergy. That is now repudiated most emphatically. I may point out that the measure was advocated in this House in the first instance, not on the ground of rating reform, but purely on grounds of relief for the distressed clergy. A resolution was moved by the hon. Member for Harwich on behalf of the Church Party, of which he is a distinguished member, on the 23rd March, 1897, which stated that in view of the distressed condition of many of the clergy whose remuneration was principally derived from tithe rent- 1431 charge the House was of opinion that the burden of local taxation was inequitable and excessive, and called for substantial relief. The ground for relief was based entirely on the distressed condition of many of the clergy, and nothing was said about rating reform. I would also point out that the hon. Member who is secretary of the Church Party in this House sent a number of circulars to the clergy stating that special pains were taken to include all those whose incomes were returnable at £160 per annum and under. It was, therefore, altogether a matter of relief for the distressed clergy. What did the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill say in Committee? An Amendment was moved which would have the effect of confining the operation of the Bill to clergymen with small incomes, and to that extent would relieve clergymen who were in a really distressed condition, but the right hon. Gentleman said that the Amendment was directed against the whole principle of the Bill, and that this measure had nothing whatever to do with the relief of distress. Yet the motion adopted in the House of Commons was based entirely on the distressed condition of the clergy. I am very glad, however, we have now got rid of the question of distress. As a matter of fact this Bill will not relieve distressed clergy; the relief goes to the clergy who are least in need of it. I will cite two cases given by the Church Party in the appendix to this Report. One is the case of a clergyman in receipt of £1,400 a year. Out of that there are several deductions, with the result that his net income is £684, and his total poor rate £148. Under this Bill he would receive £74. The other case is that of a clergyman with £116, but he with that small income would only receive under the Bill £2 16s.; and this is a Bill for the relief of the distressed clergy! At any rate that was the object for which it was originally brought in. It is really a dole to the clergy, and it has all the characteristics of a dole. There is no principle of rating underlying it. I defy any hon. Gentleman to point out a single underlying principle. If there were a question of rating or deductions, then there might be some principle involved, but the only result of this measure in the form in which it stands is, that gentlemen who pay large sums of money for curates will get very little. Here is a case in point. 1432 A clergyman in receipt of £257 a year keeps two curates, and his net income is £51. He would receive only £13 3s. under the Bill. Take a similar case as far as income is concerned. A clergyman is in receipt of a net income of £244; he has not got to pay curates, there are no deductions, but he gets £23 under the Bill. If there were any principle of rating or any proper deductions to be made in respect of services or the employment of curates, the first man would get four times as much as the second. But of course there is no principle of rating involved. The Bill is simply a dole given to a number of clergymen. There is really no ground on which this Bill can be defended except on the ground of emergency. It is said that the clergy are suffering very considerably in the matter of rating, but so are other classes, and the whole question is: why should clergymen have their grievances remedied now, instead of waiting for the Report of the Royal Commission, like any other section of the community who are suffering exactly the same grievances? Why should not the grievances of the urban tradesman and manufacturer be redressed? No case of emergency has been made out. The only case of emergency would be the case of distress, but that has been abandoned. The real emergency exists in the case of the urban tradesman and manufacturer. What is the state of the case? Before the Tithe Commutation Act, land in this country bore two-thirds of the whole burden of local taxation, and houses, factories, mills, and mines only bore a third. What is the case at the present moment? Owing to the energy and industry of the people, rateable property has been created throughout the country, and the rates upon land have gone down from an average of about 4s. in the £1 to something like 2s., and so far from land bearing two-thirds of the burden it now only pays an eighth of the whole taxation. Something has been said about the new rates which advancing civilisation has cast upon the land, but they amount to only 4d. in the £1 in the case of land, though they are 3s. 8d. in the £1 on dwelling-houses and factories.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
The Report of the Local Taxation Commission, issued in 1893 by the House of Commons. The owner of property whose burden has been lightened from two-thirds to one-eighth now comes to the owner of property whose burden has been increased from one-third to seven-eighths, and says, "You must relieve me again to the extent of one-half." It is said that the tithe-owner is rated upon his income, but the urban tradesman is very often rated on more than his income. Take the ease of the tradesman who paid £600 a year rent, £160 a year in taxes, and it was stated in evidence that he barely made a living. Yet he is rated on his income. The case of the urban ratepayer is much worse. The case of the parson is that of a gentleman who has got his income assured. That income is a first charge upon the whole land of the parish. His work is not too hard; he lives in very healthy surroundings, and under very pleasant conditions. But the tradesman works from eight o'clock in the morning till eight, ten, and twelve o'clock at night, the whole of his family assisting him. He is troubled with bad seasons and bad debts, and he sometimes does not make any income at all, and yet he is rated twice as much, or even more, than the rural clergyman. Anyone who scans the bankruptcy returns can see what a difference there is between the urban ratepayer and tradesman and the parson. Last year there were just sixteen clergymen against whom receiving orders were made, while there were 3,500 receiving orders against tradesmen. What does that mean? It means that in many cases the urban tradesman pays rates not only upon the whole of his income, but pays rates when he makes no income at all, and yet he is called upon to bear half the burden of these clergymen, whose average income is £450 throughout the kingdom. I do not think any case has been made out for this Bill. Quite the reverse. It is one of the worst Bills ever introduced into this House. It is a clear case of class legislation. It is what is known in bankruptcy as a "fraudulent preference," a preference of one class of creditor against another, and I submit, Mr. Speaker, that the House of Commons, even at this last moment, ought to reconsider their decision and throw out the Bill.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
I must congratulate the Government upon having reached this stage of the Bill, but I am bound to say that neither my constituents nor myself have any enthusiastic admiration for the tactics which have chosen the present time for the introduction of the measure. I have the honour to hold a rather precarious seat for my Party, and I fail to understand why the Government should have introduced this Bill within what has been called "the zone of a general election." I am surprised that the Government did not deal with the question three years ago when the Agricultural Rating Bill was before the House. As they let that opportunity pass, I cannot understand why the Government should not have waited until the full Report of the Royal Commission had been presented. Right hon. Gentlemen the Members of the Government know their own business best, I suppose; but I doubt whether the game is worth the candle or whether the result will be equal to the expenditure. But as things are, from my knowledge of public feeling with regard to the Bill, I would say that if an election were contested on the subject in my part of the country, a good many of my friends and myself would be "food for powder." I have often heard of throwing a sprat to catch a whale, but I do not think that a committee of experts would ever have recommended the throwing of a whale to catch a sprat. Probably the Government know best. I do not set myself down as an expert in political meteorology. I am only an agricultural Member, whose ideas are not supposed to soar above prices of wheat or the statistics of swine fever, and therefore I hope the Government may be right and that I may be wrong. All I can do is to say that as far as I am concerned I have done my duty. I have followed them loyally into the Lobby in nearly every Division, because I believe in the principle of the measure, whatever I may think of its timeliness. I congratulate them on their courage, and I have only to hope that upon this point the Government will prove to be right and meet with the reward they deserve.
§ SIR. H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I imagine it will be the general wish of the House, assisted by the state of the thermometer, that the Debate should not be continued to 1435 any unreasonable length. I am conscious of the fact that I have already more than once had the opportunity of speaking to the House on this subject. But there are a few words I may say still. We have now arrived at the last stage in the career of this Bill. My hon. and gallant friend who has just sat down has given it what I suppose he would consider his parting blessing. I rise for a similar purpose. I do not know that there will be very much difference in the end, in the effect of my blessing and that of my hon. and gallant friend. But the first thing I feel compelled to do by the impression that has been made upon me by the discussions on this Bill is to acknowledge the great ability, dexterity, and adroitness with which the Minister for Agriculture has conducted the proceedings in regard to the measure. He has had a difficult task to perform. The case for the Bill was not an altogether easy one to sustain, and the right hon. Gentleman was, to our great surprise, left almost alone in the execution of his task. Until the Leader of the House came in just now he was sitting between the Solicitor-General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, like Aaron and Hur in the case of Moses, should have been always ready to uphold his hands. But, although the Solicitor-General, than whom there is no one better qualified for making a doubtful case appear a good one, and whose name is on the back of this Bill, has sat a good deal in the House during our discussions, yet on no principal occasion, and only on some subordinate points, has he offered any assistance to the Minister for Agriculture. And this is a Bill which, the House will bear in mind, deals with taxation, with finance, and with money, and where was the Chancellor of the Exchequer until this evening during the whole of these proceedings? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not always been so reticent on the subject of this Bill, or, at any rate, on the proposal which the Bill embodies. He has spoken with great clearness and emphasis upon it on more than one occasion, and he was put forward on those occasions as the fit and proper mouthpiece of the Government. But the entire conduct of this Bill has been left to the Minister for Agriculture, and I am bound to say he has done all that any man could do single-handed to justify the position in which he found himself. The most obvious and, in fact, 1436 the only serious reason for this measure. is, of course, the hardship which has come upon certain of the clergy owing to the great fall in the value of the tithe and to the consequent comparative pressure of the local rates upon them. In the dawn of this Parliament the first thing that Her Majesty's Government made the House to do was to attempt to mitigate a genuine hardship of precisely the same character and arising from precisely the same cause, which was bearing upon the occupiers of agricultural land. On that occasion the remedy was found in relieving them of half the local rates, and this relief was given blindly, without any distinction, without any recognition of local circumstances, or of those great varieties which we know exist in what is known as agricultural distress. I will not inquire whether the relief went to the farmer or to the landlord. I am afraid we shall always differ on that point. But that was not a point of much importance in the eyes of the Government, because they are accustomed to regard both those classes as equally their acknowledged and. constant friends, and now they have been anxious, apparently before the shades of the Parliamentary evening fall upon us, to confer a corresponding boon upon another equally active and equally important class of their supporters—namely, the country clergymen. Accordingly, their rates are also to be relieved by one-half, equally at the cost of the public taxpayer. That is a plain statement of what has occurred. That is the policy. It is not a casual or accidental policy. It is a policy which is deliberate and of set purpose; a policy, namely, of giving pecuniary relief to certain favoured classes politically useful to the party in power, who receive the subsidy and are expected to be grateful for it, while the funds to enable this to be done are provided in such a manner as to ensure that those out of whose pockets they come should be as little as possible conscious of the contribution they are making. But that fact does not make the contribution in the least degree less real or substantial. Now, that is the policy; and I must say of it that within our recollection we have never seen it adopted by any Administration in this country until the present Government came into office. If we dive into remote history, perhaps, we should find cases of it, but few, if any, in which it has been done in so unblushing a 1437 manner as here; and the worst of it is we have no security that the chapter is yet closed. The special friends of the Government are not yet exhausted. There may be more to come. They have no more solid supporters than the licensed vendors of intoxicating liquor. Well, these gentlemen also could make a terrible case against the rates they have to pay. They are, most of them, in towns where nothing has been done to modify or to relieve the burden of rates in any degree. And then, before you come to the rates, they groan under the necessity of paying for licences, which of itself ought to appeal for sympathy to so soft-hearted a Government as this. But, leaving these speculations as to the future, let us consider what has happened with regard to these two cases which I have named. I leave out of consideration the question of the Church Schools Act, which gave a subvention to the denominational schools, because that was mixed up with other matters and is not precisely similar. But I note this fact, that when the farmers' grievance was in question, when the farmer was the principal person on the stage, with the landlord executing a sort of shadow dance behind him, in those days there was no attempt to blink the fact that the appeal was made to us on the pure ground of the distressful nature of his condition, owing to the fall in prices, to bad seasons, and keen competition, and it was On those grounds that he received relief. But alien we come to the clergy, although the ground of the claim is, as I have said, precisely similar, and arises from precisely the same cause, yet I do not think anybody can seriously deny that the appeal to our kindlier feelings is altogether repudiated, and what is put forward is the grievance, the injustice, of the present law of rating. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill could hardly contain his indignation when we implied that mercy was the keynote of his measure. He went on stern and simple justice alone. But the truth is that the right hon. Gentleman saw, what has been pointed out by more than one speaker to-day, how unworthy and humiliating a thing it would be for a great and rich and wealthy church like the Church of England to come to this House of Parliament or to the taxpayer in formâ pauperis. And, accordingly, this question of injustice was put forward. But where is the injustice? It 1438 has been proved over and over again that all the parson is entitled to by law, by prescription, by theory, by immemorial usage and practice is that which remains of the tithe after the claim of the poor has been satisfied, and the rates are not charged, as is alleged, upon his income, but are charged upon the tithes before they have assumed the character of income. And as to the rates, the figures quoted by my hon. friend the Member for Carnarvon show conclusively that since the settlement of 1836, at which time the rates were amply allowed for, there has been no increase in the rates, but, on the contrary, an almost universal and considerable decrease. It is not the rates that have increased; it is the tithes that have decreased, and that is the foundation of the whole grievance. That is the real hardship, but it is a hardship which is shared by the landowner equally with the tithe-owner. It is shared by all men who have realised property, by the fund holder, and even, in a large number of cases, by members of the community engaged in business. The Government, however, hold that the law of rating is unjust. Holding that opinion, do they amend the law? No, Sir, they do not amend the law; they leave the law as it stands. And why? For this very simple reason. If they were to proceed to amend the law, the alteration in the law of rating must be made to apply to all tithes whether in clerical, collegiate, or in lay hands. The Government have no desire to confer a benefit upon the lay tithe-owner. He has done nothing for them. There has been and there will be no value received, and, therefore, they confine themselves to the simple bestowal of a gift upon their friends the clergy—a gift of half their rates, which is recouped out of the money of the general taxpayer. I was amazed to hear the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stratford-on-Avon maintain at considerable length and with great force awl evident conviction the extraordinary doctrine, with which we have been so troubled of late, that because a certain source of revenue is ear-marked for certain purposes, therefore all the people in this country who do not contribute to that revenue contribute nothing to that particular purpose. The hon. Member said it was nonsense to talk of small householders having anything to pay on this account, because it came out of the death duties. But, obviously, you cannot follow up 1439 money that has come from the estate duty and confine it to that particular origin. All taxes are paid into a general fund, and if this money which comes from the estate duty is diverted to the relief of the clergy, then, you may depend upon it, other money coming from other sources will be required in order to take the place of the money that is so diverted. Well, Sir, here is the triumph of these friends of the Church, the apostles of justice who sit on the Treasury Bench. The poor vicar or curate labouring, with altogether insufficient means, with unquenchable zeal and self sacrifice, and with very little praise given, in the slums of our great cities, gets nothing. We hear so much nowadays of the great strides that have been made by the Church of England, of the spirit she has shown, of the extension she has given to her good work. She has taken up a place far beyond that which she occupied forty or fifty years ago, and to her eternal credit it will be remembered of her. But where has that been? It has been in the large cities, in the centres of population, and in these crowded places. And the clergymen who labour there, and to whose zeal she owes her new position in the country receive, nothing. The poor country parson, hardly able to maintain his social position, and if he has a wife and children perhaps barely able to keep body and soul together, receives a miserable mouthful. But the rich donation and the full relief is reserved for the wealthy country clergyman, and it so happens that the wealthy country clergyman is also the most important in his political influence. I confess that a more disheartening endeavour—disheartening, I mean, to those who wish to see the tone of public life maintained in this country—to do kind things at other people's expense, to those who are the political supporters of the Government, I have never seen. I do not wish to repeat the detailed arguments that we have listened to in the course of this Debate; I content myself with this general survey. But we on this side of the House may reflect with satisfaction that we warned the Government against this Bill, that we raised our voices against it on its first introduction, that we have exposed again and again its inconsistencies, its inequalities, its meannesses, in Committee and at other stages, and we have protested by our vote against it. But now it will pass. Let it go. Let 1440 it pass. We can but denounce the measure as one of gross injustice, injustice as between class and class in the community; injustice as between man and man among the clergy themselves, and I would add that I make bold to say that it will deal—nay, it has already dealt—a heavy blow to the dignity, the interests, and the spiritual influence of the great Church in whose name it has been promoted.
THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, (Manchester, E.)
I agree with one observation, and, so far as I am aware, with but one observation, of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and that is that the period has perhaps now arrived when the Debates on this Bill may fitly be brought to a termination. And I can assure the House that I, at all events, shall not separate it long from the final stage of this Bill. Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman, as might have been expected from his previous utterances and the previous utterances of others upon his side of the House, regards this Bill as one of immense electoral advantage to his party. They are never tired of explaining what an excellent effect it has already had upon bye-elections in the past and what an excellent effect it may be expected to have upon general elections to come. But, Sir, a Bill which is thus advertised as a Bill of great electoral efficiency, I have observed, usually means a Bill which can be very easily and satisfactorily misrepresented upon public platforms by those who desire to turn it to political account. Certainly, if the speech which we have just listened to is a specimen of the speeches which are to be delivered in the future, upon occasions to which the right hon. Gentleman looks forward with so much satisfaction, misrepresentation, I imagine, can hardly reach a higher level. The whole point of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks may be summed up in a few words. It is that this is a Bill nominally and professedly brought forward in the interests of justice, but really and truly and according to the inward verity of the situation brought forward as a bribe to certain persons who are in the habit of giving political support to Her Majesty's Government. That is his statement. It was not merely a single statement, it was the thread of the argument, or rather, I should say, the thread of the insinuation 1441 which ran through every phase and every sentence of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He gave us a plain statement of what he called the set policy of the Government when he described this proposal as a simple political bonus given in return for favours received and in the hope of favours to come from the clergy. Now, Sir, I think that that is not only a very unjust view, but I think it is a view which has so little foundation that a person in the right hon. Gentleman's high position and with his high character ought not to have indulged in it even in the heat of the controversy which this Bill has aroused. He must know perfectly well that men have set their hand and seal to the doctrine which we maintain—namely, that this is an injustice which ought to be relieved—men who are wholly outside and beyond the degrading suspicion which the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to throw against every man on this side. I do not quote again the honoured names of persons who do not agree with me in politics, who certainly have no favours to receive in the future from the country clergymen as they have received none in the past, and who have set their names to the Report on which this Bill is founded. And if we go back to names still further in the past, are we to be told that a doctrine which has been advocated by such men as Mr. Gladstone and Sir George Cornewall Lewis, cannot be advocated by gentlemen on this side of the House without throwing those gentlemen open to the suspicion that they are occupied in some great scheme of public and Parliamentary corruption? The right hon. Gentleman repudiates the doctrine we have put forward, when we say that this Bill is not founded upon the amount of tithe rent-charge, but is founded upon the inherent injustice of the whole system of rating of the tithe rent-charge, whether tithe rent-charge be high or whether it be low. He says we should never have heard of this grievance if tithe rent-charge had remained high. When Mr. Gladstone dealt with this matter, in words that have already been quoted, tithe rent-charge was not at 60 or 70, as it is now; it was at 103, and the arguments which satisfied him that this was a case of injustice when the tithe rent-charge was at 103 surely do not lose their weight now that tithe rent-charge has fallen to 60 or 70. The right hon. Gentleman, pursuing his line of 1442 attack, told us that in dealing with the clergy we had committed, as it were, a double crime—that we had, in the first place, selected the country clergy who do not require assistance, or at all events who do not carry on the great work of the Church, instead of the town clergy, and that among the country clergy we had chiefly chosen as the subjects of our ill-timed and almost corrupt benevolence, not the poor, but the rich. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman forgot that about 11,000 clergy will receive relief under this Bill, and of those 11,000 clergy 8,000 have less than £160 a year. And when he talked of rich clergy who are to be benefited by it, I would remind him that 255 persons, and 255 persons alone, among the clergy who are to be relieved under this Bill have a gross income exceeding £500 a year. Yet the right hon. Gentleman has the courage to tell us that it is in order to bribe these 255 clergy who have more than £500 a year—that it is because we are so impressed by their electoral capacity and their electoral influence—that it is to please them alone, this handful of 255 individuals in the whole length and breadth of England, that we are bringing in this Bill. That contention is so preposterous that that mere statement of figures is enough to dispose of it. As to the town clergy, I associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman in all that he has said with regard to the inadequate means on which many of the town clergy are carrying on their great work in the centres of population, and I wish, not only that the stipends of those clergy could be increased, but that their number could be augmented. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I wish that more funds could be devoted to that great object, though I do not suggest that a Church which has raised for such purposes seven or eight million pounds in the course of one year is a Church which deserves to be stigmatised as lacking in public spirit or niggardly in action. But we grant that, much as the clergy in the towns demand our sympathy and our assistance, it is to the members of the Church of England and not to the House of Commons, or the taxpayer or the ratepayer, that they must appeal, and I doubt not the Church will respond to that appeal. If we come to the House of Commons, it is 1443 not to relieve the poverty of the clergy of the Church, it is not to give them increased means of subsistence, however desirable those increased means of subsistence may be; we come to the House of Commons, and we come to Parliament because they, and they alone, are the people who have it in their power to remedy a great injustice which they have consciously or unconsciously done, and I rejoice to think that in spite of the attacks
§ made upon this Bill this House at all events, I believe with the support of the country behind it, has not shown itself unequal to the task which justice has imposed on it.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 182; Noes, 117. (Division List, No. 285.)1445
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Dorington, Sir John Edward||Leighton, Stanley|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Doughty, George||Llewellyn, Evan H. (Somerset)|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn- (Sw'ns'a|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V.||Lockwood, Lieut.-Col. A. R.|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir William H.||Long, Col. Chas. W. (Evesham)|
|Baillie, James E. B. (Inverness)||Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph D.||Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverpool)|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Fardell, Sir T. George||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller|
|Balcarres, Lord||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward||Lowther, Rt. Hon. J. (Kent)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r)||Fergusson, Rt. Hn Sir J (Manc'r)||Lucas-Shadwell, William|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. G. W. (Leeds)||Finch, George H.||Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Macartney, W. G. Ellison|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Fisher, William Hayes||Macdona, John Cumming|
|Bartley, George C. T.||FitzGerald, Sir R. Penrose-||MacIver, David (Liverpool)|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||FitzWygram, General Sir F.||Maclure, Sir John William|
|Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benj.||Gibbons, J. Lloyd||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol||Gibbs, Hon A G H (City of Lond.)||Malcolm, Ian|
|Beach, W. W. B. (Hants.)||Giles, Charles Tyrrell||Melville, Beresford Valentine|
|Bethell, Commander||Gilliat, John Saunders||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Godson, Sir Augustus Fredk.||More, Robt. Jasper (Shropsh.)|
|Biddulph, Michael||Goldsworthy, Major-General||Morgan, Hn. F. (Monm'thsh.)|
|Bigwood, James||Gordon, Hon. John Edward||Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)|
|Bill, Charles||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon||Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute)|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Goschen, George J. (Sussex)||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Bonsor, Henry Cosmo Orme||Greene, H. D. (Shrewsbury)||Northcote, Hon. Sir H. S.|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith-||Gretton, John||Penn, John|
|Bousfield, William Robert||Gull, Sir Cameron||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Bowles, Capt. H. F. (Middlesex)||Gunter, Colonel||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Brassey, Albert||Halsey, Thomas Frederick||Purvis, Robert|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robt. W.||Quilter, Sir Cuthbert|
|Brookfield, A. Montagu||Hanson, Sir Reginald||Rankin, Sir James|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Hardy, Laurence||Rasch, Major Frederic Carne|
|Butcher, John George||Hare, Thomas Leigh||Rentoul, James Alexander|
|Carlile, William Walter||Henderson, Alexander||Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W.|
|Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.)||Hill, Arthur (Down, West)||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. C. Thomson|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East)||Hill, Sir Edward Stock (Bristol)||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Hoare, Edw. Brodie (Hampstd.)||Royds, Clement Molyneux|
|Chaloner, Capt. R. G. W.||Hoare, Samuel (Norwich)||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.)||Hobhouse, Henry||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r)||Hornby, Sir William Henry||Sandys, Lieut.-Col. Thomas M.|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Howard, Joseph||Savory, Sir Joseph|
|Charrington, Spencer||Howell, William Tudor||Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard|
|Clare, Octavius Leigh||Howorth, Sir Henry Hoyle||Seton-Karr, Henry|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Hozier, Hn. James Henry Cecil||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Hudson, George Bickersteth||Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrw|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Jackson, Rt. Hon. Wm. Lawies||Sidebottom, William (Derbys.)|
|Colomb, Sir John Charles R.||Jebb, Richard Claverhouse||Smith, James P. (Lanarks.)|
|Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Cornwallis, Fiennes S. W.||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Stanley, Edward J. (Somerset)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)|
|Cripps, Charles Alfred||Kenyon-Slaney, Col. William||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Cross, Herbert S. (Bolton)||Keswick, William||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Cubitt, Hon. Henry||King, Sir Henry Seymour||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J G (Oxf'd Univ.)|
|Curzon, Viscount||Knowles, Lees||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Laurie, Lieut.-General||Tomlinson, Wm. E. Murray|
|Davies, Sir H. D. (Chatham)||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)||Usborne, Thomas|
|Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead)||Wanklyn, James Leslie|
|Warde, Lieut.-Col. C. E. (Kent)||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath||Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy|
|Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E.||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. S.-|
|Whitmore, Charles Algernon||Wylie, Alexander||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Williams, Jos. Powell- (Birm.||Wyndham, George||Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks.)||Wyndham-Quin, Major W. H.|
|Abraham, W. (Cork, N. E.)||Evershed, Sydney||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Fenwick, Charles||Paulton, James Mellor|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)||Pearson, Sir Weetman D.|
|Asher, Alexander||Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||Pease Herbert Pike (Darlington|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. H. Henry||Flynn, James Christopher||Perks, Robert William|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. J. B. (Clackm.)||Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Pickard, Benjamin|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Goddard, Daniel Ford||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Billson, Alfred||Griffith, Ellis J.||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Birrell, Augustine||Gurdon, Sir Wm. Brampton||Priestley, Briggs (Yorks.)|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Haldane, Richard Burdon||Randell, David|
|Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Sir Wm.||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Harwood, George||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)|
|Burns, John||Hazell, Walter||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Burt, Thomas||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Chas. H.||Smith, Samuel (Flint)|
|Buxton, Sydney Charles||Holland, Wm. H. (York, W. R.)||Souttar, Robinson|
|Caldwell, James||Horniman, Frederick John||Spicer, Albert|
|Cameron, Sir Charles (Glasgow)||Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C.||Stanhope, Hon. Philip J.|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez Edw.||Steadman, William Charles|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)||Strachey, Edward|
|Cawley, Frederick||Kay-Shuttleworth, Rt Hn Sir U||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Kilbride, Denis||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)|
|Clough, Walter Owen||Labouchere, Henry||Thomas, David Alfd. (Merthyr)|
|Colville, John||Lambert, George||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cumb'land||Wallace, Robert|
|Courtney, Rt. Hon. Leonard H.||Leuty, Thomas Richmond||Walton, John L. (Leeds, S)|
|Crilly, Daniel||Lloyd-George, David||Wedderburn, Sir William|
|Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||Lough, Thomas||Weir, James Galloway|
|Dalziel, James Henry||Macaleese, Daniel||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardig'n||MacDonnell, Dr M A (Queen's C)||Williams, John Carvell (Notts.)|
|Davitt, Michael||M'Dermott, Patrick||Wilson, H. J. (York, W. R.)|
|Dewar, Arthur||M'Ewan, William||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||M'Ghee, Richard||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Dillon, John||M'Leod, John||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestersh. N.)|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Maddison, Fred.||Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbrough.)|
|Doogan, P. C.||Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand||Woods, Samuel|
|Duckworth, James||Montagu, Sir S. (Whitechapel)||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Dunn, Sir William||Morley, Rt. Hon. J. (Montrose)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Edwards, Owen Morgan||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Mr. Herbert Gladstone and Mr. M'Arthur.|
|Evans, Sir F. H. (South'ton)||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)|
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.—Bill read the third time, and passed.