§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ * MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
I rise for the purpose of moving the rejection of this Bill, which is presented this afternoon for the consideration of the House of Commons under conditions which I believe to be without a parallel in the longest Parliamentary memory. It is a measure as to which I am sanguine enough to hope that before I sit down I shall satisfy hon. Members on both sides 783 that it is of a highly contentious character. It was introduced last week, very near the end of the month of June, under the shelter of a Standing Order which curtails our accustomed liberty of discussion upon the implied understanding, hitherto scrupulously observed by both parties in the State, that it shall not be taken advantage of to smuggle into Parliamentary existence projects of controversial legislation. Four days, and only four days have elapsed, and, before the country has had time or opportunity to study or appreciate the provisions of the Bill, we are hurried into a Second Reading discussion of what everybody who is familiar even with the alphabet of the matter knows to be a most intricate and complicated subject. What is the measure in the interests of which Her Majesty's Government have felt themselves entitled to resort to this startling reversal of the established conventions and traditions of the House of Commons? Some of us have felt it to be our duty of late to invite the attention of the House and the country to a certain tardiness on the part of members of the present Administration in redeeming the legislative pledges on the strength of which they appealed to the electorate in 1895. That I am bound to say is not a reproach which can he fairly levelled against them in respect of this Bill. So tar as I am aware neither by the machinery of election cards, nor by proposals on public platforms in the year 1895, was it brought home to the minds of the electorate of Manchester and Birmingham and other great urban communities that they were to give a mandate to the Unionist majority to appropriate a portion of the general tax revenue of the country to abolishing or reducing the rates paid by the clergy of the Established Church. Since then (that was in 1895) we have had no less than five Queen's Speeches—copious catalogues, most of them, of pious intentions, or, at least, of pious expectations; but I cannot recall that ill any one of them this measure, or any measure of the kind, found a place. In 1896, when the Agricultural Rating Bill was under discussion, the clergy were deliberately and of set purpose, in so far as their incomes were derived from tithe rent-charge, excluded from the operation of that measure, and as lately as 1898 the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the course of the Budget Debate used language which, 784 if it had any meaning at all, was certainly opposed to the principle, if principle it can be called, on which this measure is based. I ask, and I think I am entitled to ask, why at a time when a prudent Minister is beginning to consider the winding-up of the business of the session, in the very last week of June, this Bill has been suddenly sprung on the House of Commons? To that, as I venture to think very pertinent inquiry, only one answer has been or can he vouchsafed. A Royal Commission has made an interim Report. There is a good deal of obscurity al out the origin of that Report. Its birth is shrouded in impenetrable, Or at any rate in hitherto unpenetrated, mystery. Who was its true begetter? At whose suggestion and under what inspiration was it produced? These are points on which I hope we shall have a little light in the course of the present Debate. That Commission, as we all remember, was appointed—I think I may fairly say—in deference to complaints and arguments used upon this side of the House at the time of the Agricultural Rating Bill of 1896—that Commission was appointed with a mandate "to report whether all kinds of real and personal property contribute equitably to taxation raised for local purposes." It is a rather startling paradox that the first-fruits of a Commission appointed for that purpose, before it can have ever heard or considered the grievances put forward by the various classes of ratepayers in this country, should have been to bring in an interim Report which selects another special class of ratepayers for privileged and preferential treatment. I have read, as I suppose most hon. Members have, with care and attention this interim Report. I must say in passing that it is a Report which gives no countenance whatever to the present proposals of the Government. Some 13 Commissioners, I believe, have signed a document in which they declare that the case of the clergy is one that requires special treatment, but only three have ventured to propose a specific remedy—namely, that the clergy should be allowed in respect of rent-charge a larger measure of deduction from rateable value than the present law permits, and that is a suggestion which the Government, I do not doubt for excellent reasons, have completely set aside. But what is this Report? I must say, speaking with all 785 possible deference of the owners of the owners of the very eminent names appended to it—some of whom, I shrewdly suspect, can have had very little to do with the composition of the text, and still less with the verification of the references—that it is one of the most superficial and, in important respects, one of the most misleading exclusions into the domain of legal history which I have ever come across. Something like thirty-seven paragraphs out of little mere than 100, or more than a third of this report, are taken up with an attempt, I will not say to prove, but to give probability to, a thesis which, as all lawyers know, is opposed to the uniform current of judicial decision in this country—namely, that until very recent times the clergy, in their character of recipients of tithes, were exempt from local burdens. I have rarely seen such a medley of crude and misplaced erudition. You have mutilated extracts from Magna Charta, citations from the unsuccessful arguments of counsel in cases in which the decision has gone against them, a long string of juristic fallacies and historical fancies which have been trenchantly exposed in the dissentient memorandum of the hon. Member for East Donegal. And all this farrago is pressed into the service as an authority to give some kind of archæological basis, if I may use the expression, for the proposal to relieve the clergy at the expense of the general taxpayer. I am not going to follow the Commissioners into a technical discussion of the antiquities of tithe, but there are one or two brad historical facts which have an intimate and direct bearing upon the question the House is invited to consider, and which are so far removed from the domain of controversy, or even of suspicion, that even these Commissioners have not been able to ignore them. Tithes in their origin were a voluntary, and after-wards became a compulsory, contribution. They were appropriated in part, it is true, to the maintenance of the fabric of the church and to provide the stipends of the clergy, but in part, also, to the relief of poverty and suffering. That is the initial and fundamental fact with which we start in the history of tithe. It is quite true that, as time went on, the proportion which was appropriated by the clergy grew, while the proportion which Was devoted to the relief of poverty and suffering dwindled, 786 and in some cases entirely disappeared. Down to the time of the Reformation, as the Commissioners themselves say in their Report, "the relief of the poor had been a legal charge, but undefined in amount, on the revenues of the secular clergy, aided by the money of the charitable foundations and the regular alms of the monasteries and religious houses." That was the state of the law when Henry VIII. suppressed the monasteries, and the suppression of the monasteries diverted from the relief of the poor that large supplementary fund. Does not every student of history know that the sudden cessation of the relief produced such a strained economic condition that for something like half a century, from the end of the reign of Henry VIII. to the end of that of Elizabeth, Parliament was perpetually trying to readjust the new state of things created by the suppression of the monasteries to the necessities and needs of the poorer inhabitants of the country? The ultimate result of that legislation was the two Acts of 1597 and 1601, which form the basis of our modern Poor Law system, under which every inhabitant and every occupier of the parish was rendered liable to be rated to the relief of the poor, that rate being made a compulsory contribution, and under which I venture to say that, until this Report, was produced, no competent student of history or of law entertained a moment's doubt that the parochial clergy, in respect of tithes which are attached to a benefice as well as the lay owners in respect of tithes appropriated by the lay impropriators, were liable to pay rates, and have paid rates practically without any breach of continuity. There never has been any doubt on that point, which was decided by the unanimous resolution of the Judges of England as far back as 1598. I mention these facts because they have an important bearing on what was done in 1836, when the uncertain payment was transformed into the committed rent-charge which we know at the present day. So far as one is able to ascertain, although there was undoubtedly considerable variation in practice between different portions of the country, yet over a large part of the kingdom, some authorities say two-thirds and others three-fourths, prior to the passing of the Act of 1836 tithes had been compounded for by way of money payments, and the normal practice was that the tithe-payers, 787 the farmers of the parish, themselves paid the rates which were assessed in respect of the tithes, and handed over the balance of the agreed composition to the parson, who held it for his own use. The Act of 1836, the legislation which had to deal with that state of things, made two provisions. In the first place, it provided that where there had been a composition of this kind, where, in other words, the parson had received the net tithe, free from rates, for the purpose of the commuted tithe rent-charge, the average rates should be added to the composition and the combined sum should represent the tithe charge. And in the second place it provided, in the 69th section, acting in strict conformity with the unvarying practice and traditions of English law ever since we know of it in relation to this matter, that tithe rent-charge created by that Act shall be subject to rates and taxes, and when they said that they meant not merely the rates then in existence, but rates or taxes of any amount whatsoever which might here after by lawful authority be imposed. The result is that in the vast majority of cases the tithe rent-charge represents the composition plus the rates, and I think it is therefore obvious that, so far as rating is concerned, the tithe-owner, the recipient of the rent-charge, can only have suffered if the rates now payable are in excess of the average rates of the seven years prior to the date of commutation. Even if that were so, and if it could be shown that the rates now imposed exceed in amount the rates which then existed, no substantial injustice could, in my opinion, have been done, because every clergyman in this country who now holds a benefice has taken that benefice with a knowledge of the law, with his eyes open to the facts, and with a perfect understanding that the revenue he received from the tithe rent-charge, from the day of his induction, was a revenue which was liable to be diminished either if the rent-charge fell or the rates rose during the period of his incumbency. But it is not necessary to dwell upon that, because there is the best reason to believe that the rates now charged on the tithe rent-charge are, upon the average, in our rural districts considerably less than they were at the date of commutation. If you take the rural rates which existed in 1836 you will find that they were the poor, rate, the county rate, and the highway 788 rate. There was also the Church rate, which has now disappeared. Those rates, as we know, in the poorer parishes of the country often ran up to 9s. and 10s. in the pound; but if you take the average of the whole country for the nearest year of which we have accurate particulars—namely, 1827—they amounted to 3s. 8d. in the pound. What are the rates in the present day? You have the old rates, and you have added to them the police rate, and you have, of course, in many cases a rural sanitary rate and also a school board rate. And yet the total of these old and new rates added together in the rural parishes of the country cannot at this moment be said to exceed 2s. 4d. in the pound. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said, in reply to a question to-day, that the Government had placed them at 2s. 6d. for this purpose, but I do not know where they get the extra twopence from. I think I am right in saying that under the Agricultural Rating Act the contribution of the State has not, in fact, been at a higher rate than 2s. or 2s. 1d. in the pound. One may fairly say that, taking the lowest estimate at 2s., and the highest estimate at 2s. 6d., you are still at least 1s. 2d. short of the average in 1836. I think what I have said establishes three propositions. In the first place that tithe, both before and since it was commuted into the rent-charge, has always been subject to local rates; in the second place, that at the transformation which took place in 1836 the liability was expressly preserved and provided for; and thirdly, that so far as a comparison of the rates is concerned, the position is substantially better to-day—certainly it is not worse—than it was at the date of commutation. I am the last person to deny the existence on a lamentable scale of what is called clerical distress. It is impossible to read the evidence given both before the Royal Commission on Agriculture and before this Commission on Local Taxation, even if we could ignore our own observation and experience, without being satisfied that there is among the rural clergy of the Church of England at the present day an enormous amount of what I would describe, not only as deplorable, but scandalous poverty. It is a reproach to the Church of England. It is a serious prejudice, I will add, to the best moral and spiritual interests of the communities among which these clergy 789 men work. To men who ought to be, in view of the nature of their office and calling, not only men of education and refinement, but men set free from the sordid and distracting anxieties of making material provision for their families, it cannot but be prejudicial that the present state of things should so long continue to exist. But relief of rating will do little or nothing as a remedy. What are you going to do by this Bill? You are going to distribute £87,000 among 11,000 clergy—an average of something like £8 a head; and let me remark, in passing, that that average is extremely hypothetical, for who will get the bulk of the money? The clergy who pay the highest rates. In other words, the clergymen whose rent-charges stand at the highest figure. Therefore I do not hesitate to say that as regards the poor clergymen, whose distress and necessity for relief I admit, I do not think the net effect of this Bill will be to give them more than £3 or £4 or £5 apiece. Is it not idle, then, to talk of this as a substantial contribution to their relief? The explanation, of course, is very simple. The distress of the clergy, wide, deep, and deplorable as it is, is due not to excessive rating. It is due in the first place and mainly to the fall in value of agricultural produce. The clergy, as owners of the tithe rent-charge, did very well in the good times of agriculture; but now that agriculture has been unprosperous for some years they are doing badly. But what is the moral? To my mind the moral is that it is extremely undesirable that the income of the parish clergyman should depend upon such a speculative and fluctuating security. Although at the time the State and Church thought that they were making an excellent bargain—
§ MR. ASQUITH
The noble Lord says, "a secure bargain." You could not in point of fact have a security less well adapted for the steady, annual, permanent remuneration of the rural clergyman than the fluctuating values of agricultural produce. But this Bill does not attempt to touch that difficulty. There is another cause for the existing condition of things which I freely admit, and that is, not the over-assessment of the tithe rent-charge, but the under-assessment of 790 other forms of agricultural property. As has been stated from the beginning, the parson is at a disadvantage in this way, for tithe rent-charge is a visible and tangible thing, whereas the annual value of a farm is a thing on which it is possible to have a hundred different opinions. The assessment committees, as a rule, have consisted of farmers, and while they have assessed the parson at the full visible value of his tithe rent-charge, they have under - assessed what we in Scotland should call the agricultural subjects of the parish. But this Bill provides no remedy f or that. I should be entirely disposed to support a Bill, such as I hope will soon be introduced, to render our system of assessment throughout the country uniform, and to base it on fixed principles which will do complete justice to all the different forms of property. I need not say that every great authority on this subject, and Sir George Cornewall Lewis in particular, pointed to this as the only real and solid grievance of the clerical tithe-owners. These being the real facts of the case, let me discuss the remedy, or the suggested remedy, of this Bill. In the first place, as I have already said, among the recipients of this sum of £87,000 will be many persons who have no real claim to relief, and to many of-those who have a claim the relief will not be in proportion to the necessity of the person to whom it is given. But there is a much more serious matter. Whence is to come this £87,000? The President of the Board of Agriculture, in introducing the Bill, said, and said truly, that it was a most interesting question; and the right hon. Gentleman's treatment of the subject was certainly not less interesting than the question itself. He told us that in 1896, when the Government brought in the Agricultural Rating Bill, they found themselves compelled to have recourse to the Imperial Exchequer. "But," says the right hon. Gentleman, "we are in a more fortunate position now. We need not go to the Exchequer at all. We have lying ready a sum of money unused—almost, as it were, inviting its own appropriation." Where is it? It is the balance, the surplus unforeseeable, or at least uncalculated, of the contribution from the Exchequer to the Local Taxation Account. When that contribution increases one year as compared with another there is a surplus, and, as the right hon. Gentleman almost 791 pathetically said, if we do not seize it and snatch it for ourselves it will go in improvident expenditure by the local authorities. So, the right hon. Gentleman says, we can kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, we can protect the precarious virtue of the local authorities from the dangerous temptation to extravagance presented by the existence of this unexpected balance; and, on the other hand, we can relieve the poor clergy of half their rates without any expense to the Imperial Exchequer. I really do not know for what class of hearers or readers these ingenuous sophistries were intended. What is the Local Taxation Account? It is a device, a creation—some of us think an ill-starred creation—of the misplaced ingenuity of Conservative financiers But there it is; and it may be fairly described as a sort of intercepting reservoir which collects and retains certain streams of taxation which otherwise would fall into the common basin of the general Exchequer. It is supplied from the same sources, it is contributed to by the same persons, as the Exchequer at large. Nothing gets into the Local Taxation Account by accident, and nothing remains there unappropriated or at large. It is the creature of statute, both as to the funds which get there and as to the manner of their application. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of this balance as if it were some happy-go-lucky godsend, which, by strange caprice of Providence, had fallen there for the first grabber to seize. The local authorities have a statutory title to every penny that comes into this account. It is a title given by Act of Parliament. They watch the growth of that part of the Revenue which is assigned to their purposes week by week and month by month with the same vigilance as the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, and when they are framing their budgets and making their financial arrangements for the coming year, they appropriate—most legitimately as long as this vicious system of finance continues—the growing increment of one year as compared with the year before for their own local purposes, and estimate the rate to be struck in reference to the amount which they expect to receive from the Exchequer. What the right hon. Gentleman is really doing is to take away a vested and statutory interest which these local authorities have in 792 the Local Taxation Account and apply it for the benefit of the clergy. Every penny of this £87,000 is drawn from the pockets of the taxpayers; and every penny is withdrawn from a fund which would otherwise have gone in relief of local taxation. In other words, to put it shortly, the taxpayer pays the dole and the ratepayer loses it. I have little more to say. I think. I have shown to the House—first, that the clergy have, from time immemorial, been subject to the burden of the local rates; next, that the present most deplorable condition of clerical distress can, in no real or effective sense, be really said to be due to excessive rating; and, thirdly, that the money proposed to be given is money which the taxpayer will pay and of which the ratepayer will be deprived. In fact, this Bill, stripped of its masks and disguises, is in reality a proposal to relieve the pockets of a section of the clergy of the National Church at the expense of the general body of the ratepaying and taxpaying community. It would be precisely the same thing in substance, and, in my opinion, much more logical and defensible in form, if, instead of calling this a contribution in aid of rates, it were called a contribution to make up for the falling-off in recent years of the annual value of the tithe rent-charge. There is no distinction in substance between the two things. It is therefore, in fact, as it was described by the Leader of the Opposition, a proposal pro tanto to re-endow the Church of England out of the taxpayers' pockets. Those who are concerned to defend the principle and policy of Establishment—and I am not one of them—may and should consider with themselves how far such a scheme, when its true meaning is grasped and realised by the nation at large, is likely to promote the cause which they have at heart. To all, whether believers in the principle of Establishment or not, who are interested in the fortunes of the Church of England, clerical poverty must appear to be one of the Church's most formidable hindrances as a spiritual organisation; and the removal and mitigation of that poverty must appear one of the most sacred and urgent of their own obligations. But the more deeply they ponder the matter, the more will they shrink from such expedients as are contained in this Bill. It is a Bill which seeks to remedy suffering at the 793 cost of justice. It gives, at once inadequately and without discrimination, to one man more than he wants, to another man less than he needs. It provides relief for the suffering clergy of the richest communion in the civilised world—not at the expense of the members of that Church, not even at the expense of those who, whether members of the Church or not, have resources available to respond to the appeals of compassion and charity; it provides for it by a draft to be levied, without regard either to creed or to means, upon the whole body of the taxpayers of the nation. It is not by such means in the long run that either the clergy or the Church will benefit. It is as much in their interest, I fully believe, as it is in the name of justice and sound policy that I ask the House to reject this measure.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at tile end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three montlis.'"—(Mr. Asquith.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Liverpool, West Derby
On the occasion of the introduction of this Bill the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition regretted that the charge of the Bill had not fallen into the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I cordially agree, and I desire to express how strongly I feel that the cause on whose behalf this Bill is produced suffers still more on this occasion when it becomes my lot to follow one of the most brilliant debaters this House contains. The personal disabilities under which I suffer would be overwhelming if it were not that I can with confidence rely upon the absolute excellence of my case. I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech with disappointment. I thought that, as the opposition to this question was to be dealt with by the House of Commons upon the initiative of the right hon. Gentleman, we should, at all events, have had some comparatively new examination of tins subject, and some new presentment of the opposition to the case we have put before the House. But we have only had reproduced arguments which we have 794 heard for a very long time, in regard to the existence and the application of tithe. Putting aside the question of the position of the tithe-owner as a ratepayer now and his position when the Act of 1836 was passed, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman would have been equally applicable to a motion for the application of tithes for some other purpose than that to which they have now for many years been devoted. It is true the right hon. Gentleman reminded us that this Bill had never been mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but that is no reason why we should not legislate. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have also, I believe, brought in measures to which they attached importance without their having been mentioned in the Queen's Speech. We are also told that it was not included in the Agricultural Rates Act. But the procedure adopted in that ease was not one that could be applied to tithe. In dealing with the agricultural rates we separated buildings from land, and anybody who knows anything Of the history of the tithe rent-charge knows it would have been practically impossible to have applied precisely the same procedure to the tithe rent-charge rates. A serious attack was then made upon the Commission and its interim Report. That Commission, which it is not my business to defend, contains amongst its members many gentlemen of great distinction, and one of those who signed the Report was a late colleague of the right hon. Gentleman himself. I am confident that Sir John Hibbert would not have put his name to the Report unless he agreed in full with its contents, and believed the recommendations were just and wise, and such as ought to have been made. A further objection was taken that tithes have always been rated, and therefore should not be relieved. I am always rather puzzled when I hear this "hereditary burden" argument. It seems to come to this: "These tithes are like agricultural land—they have always been rated, they have always been liable to this particular burden, and you have no right to relieve them." If we are satisfied—and this Commission was satisfied—that the present incidence of rates upon tithe rent-charge is unjust, and that therefore some steps should be taken to relieve the owners from this burden, is it an answer to our contention to say that because they have been rated from time immemorial we have no right whatever to relieve them now, 795 even though we believe the present incidence to be unjust? Is it not possible that the incidence may have altered in a way which would justify a different treatment now from that which was accorded in past years? The right hon. Gentleman threw great ridicule upon the historical portion of the Report; but if Members will look at the language of the Acts of Elizabeth in regard to rates and follow it up, they will see that the clerical tithe-owners have a great deal of justification for their contention that they are unfairly treated when they, as incumbents, are rated as residents and also rated as owners of tithe rent-charge. If the cases which are quoted in the Report are taken it will be found that subsequently relief was sought for these clergy, which relief has been from time to time swept away. While I admit that it is idle to contend now that they are entitled to complete relief, or to contend that originally their property was not intended to be rated and therefore they ought to be relieved, on the other hand, it seems to me that they are entitled to put their case before us, and we are hound to admit that there is a great deal to be said for their contention that if the spirit of the original Act had been adhered to the clerical owner of tithe rent-charge would have escaped this particular burden. The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the case of the imposition of an additional sum for rates, but he did not fall into the error which many people outside have fallen into with regard to this particular question. It has been alleged that when the composition of 1836 was arrived at sums representing rates were added to the tithe; that consequently the clerical owner of tithe rent-charge was given a sum to represent the rates, and that now to relieve him of a portion of the rates is to give him money twice over. That argument has been adopted by many people, and I shall be only doing my duty if I point out that it is a complete fallacy for which there is not the slightest foundation. Hon. Members of this House have asked me where that allegation can be maintained. It will be clear to anybody who will examine the Act of 1836 that in respect of rates no addition whatever was made for tithe as tithe, but only to the balance of the tithe. If evidence as to the fallacy of that statement were needed, it is to be found in the simplest form in one of the appendices handed into the 796 Local Taxation Commissioners. There are two cases given there which I will quote. The first is the parish of Hedon in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where the tithe composition is £45 16s. 8d.; rates on two-thirds of same, paid by occupiers, £6; land tax, 16s.; add one-fifth, £10 7s. 4d.; making a total of £63. The next case is that of the parish of Newchurch, Radnor, where the tithe composition is £138 7s. It expressly states that the rates and taxes had been paid by the occupiers for the first six years and by the rector for the seventh year, the average amount being to be £12; six-sevenths of £12 equals, £10 5s. 8d., total £148 12s. 8d.—showing clearly that in the case where the rates had been paid for six years by the occupier and one year only by the rector, six-sevenths only are allowed to count, the seventh year being excluded because of their having been paid by the tithe-owner himself. I hope that removes the misapprehension which appears to exist upon that point, and I apologise to the House for having taken up so much time in dealing with it, but I have done so because that view has. found general acceptance outside the House of Commons, and it is contrary to the facts of the case. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with some considerable force with the question of charitable relief, which he says this Bill professes to give. Now this Bill professes to give no charitable relief whatever, and it is not submitted to the consideration of this House upon those grounds. The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House identified himself with the language used by the Leader of the Opposition when he addressed the House upon the subject of this Bill. [Opposition cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer that remark, but I confess that I could not help hoping that when the Leader of the Opposition—whose reputation for fairness and Consideration is known to all men—came to reflect upon what he had said upon that occasion he would feel that he had gone further than he ought to have done, and further certainly than the facts justified him in going. The suggestion is thrown at the head of the Church of England that she is coming for relief to the State, and that she ought to help her poor clergy out of the pockets of the rich members of her own faith, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the 797 Opposition said they did in Scotland. I am inclined to think that the Church of England is trying to do it, and we are trying to do for her what Parliament has done for the Church of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman says we ought to put our hands into our own pockets and find the money for the requirements of our own Church, but do the members of the Church of England not do that? I have before me the amounts of voluntary contributions (inclusive of the voluntary sums paid through the Ecclesiastical Commissioners) for the fourteen years between 1884 and 1897, and I find that during that period the total in endowments was £2,007,292, and in parsonage houses £1,337,523. This is the amount of money which has passed through the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and is quite independent of private contributions from other sources through other channels. This is evidence of what private members of the Church of England do for their Church; but when we come to propose to relieve the ministers' stipends of rates we are told to follow the example of Scotland. Now what is the example of Scotland? I am informed that ministers' stipends were made liable in 1845 for the poor rate for the first time. I am rather chary in describing how ministers' salaries arose in Scotland, but I think I am right in saying that the teinds are held by the landowner with the obligation of providing a stipend for the clergy, and in the case of the clergy no rates are paid upon the stipends which arise out of the tiends. In 1845 they were expressly made liable in those cases where poor rate was levied according to means and substance. Generally speaking, that is an accurate statement. In 1861 means and substance rating was abolished by Act of Parliament, and consequently stipends are not now liable for poor rate. Mr. Baxter carried that Bill through, I believe, with the approval of the Liberal Government. Therefore, this relief of ministers' stipends from their liability from rating was secured for Scotch ministers in the same way as we are now securing it by coming to Parliament for legislation. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman dealt with another argument. He took the present position of the tithe-owner in regard to the rates, and his position at the time of the passing of the Act of 1836, and he told the House perfectly truly that there had been in that 798 time a fall in the rates, and he stated the fall as accurately as it could be stated. But his statement was very different from statements which have been made outside the House. We are told that in 1836 the rates were 10s. in the pound.
§ MR. LONG
It is argued that as the rates have now fallen to 2s. 6d. the tithe-owner's position is very much improved. No doubt in some parishes the rates are 10s. in the pound, but in very few. At that time the cost of maintaining the poor was a parish charge and the clerical tithe-owner only got the same advantage from the decrease of the rates that every other ratepayer in the country got. To argue that the decrease in these rates, notwithstanding the fact that fresh rates have been created since, is a reason why we should not give rate relief to these clerical tithe-owners, is to beg the question altogether. It is not a question of whether the rates have risen or fallen; it is a question of whether the clerical tithe-owner, as the occupier of a rateable hereditament, pays a fair proportion of local taxation or whether he does not. If he pays a fair proportion as compared with other ratepayers, then there is no case for this Bill, but if the owner of clerical tithe rent-charge—paying as he does one-twentieth of his net income in rates and taxes—pays in a degree altogether out of proportion to his means and ability, and out of proportion to the burden imposed on other ratepayers, then the fact that the rates have fallen is no reason why we should not legislate in order to effect in a reasonable manner this suggested reform. We are told that if it is necessary to give relief to these greatly oppressed clergy, why do it in this way? The right hon. Gentleman was extremely eloquent over our iniquities in taking this money out of the Local Taxation Fund but this is not the first time that Parliament has made a demand upon that fund in order to meet certain local requirements, and I am sure there is nothing in this case which makes it a high crime and misdemeanour when we make a similar demand for other purposes. I understand that it is the argument of the right hon. Gentleman that we ought not to take it out of the Local Taxation Fund; but by relieving the clergy of one part of the rates and distribut- 799 ing that burden through the means of the Local Taxation Fund you so break up that burden that the weight of it becomes scarcely appreciable. I am quite aware that if it is an unjust burden it ought not to be imposed, even though it amounted to no more than sixpence or ninepence a year; but it does not rest with you to throw it in our teeth that we have taken this out of the Local Taxation Fund. What did you do years ago? In 1893 the Government took over the administration of the Cattle Diseases Act, and Parliament was not only asked to take over the administration of the Act, but also the cost of it, and in a manner almost contemptuous you threw the balance of the cost on the Local Taxation Account.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
If that was the case, then it should have been paid out of the Imperial taxes. Why did you not make the whole community pay if the community gets the advantage, and is there any other way of doing that besides paying it out of the Imperial Exchequer? But whether you were right or wrong in 1893, I submit that you cannot charge us now with being guilty of a high crime, because in order to meet this deficiency we propose to cast this burden upon the Local Taxation Account, when you yourselves did the same thing in 1893 when you required money for a similar purpose. But it must be remembered that this relief of the rates upon the property of the tithe-owner applies only to England. It does not exist in Scotland or Ireland. If we had taken the money from any other source we would have been making Scotland and Ireland pay in respect to a grievance which applies to England only. In this case, in falling back on the Local Taxation Account, which is allocated to England alone, we were, I submit, doing that which provided the simplest method and the one most likely to give the least trouble to those concerned. I am not aware that there has been any other opposition offered to our proposal. I understand that the view of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is that there is not any case for reform. They argue, in the first place, that the clergy are not entitled to relief from the payment of rates, and 800 if so, that that ought to be done in some other way. They say that the position of the clergy is better than it was in 1836, and that they enjoy many advantages; but no attempt has been made to produce a case of a person rated at the present time, whose burden can be compared with that of the tithe-owners. Now, I made a quotation the other day from a speech made by Mr. Gladstone in 1852. May I make one further quotation from Mr. Gladstone? He was speaking upon the Commutation Rent-charge Bill, in 1856, and he said:He would respectfully press upon the House that, after the universal admission which had been made as to the existence of the grievance which was the subject of the Bill under consideration, it would not be altogether creditable to allow small difficulties of detail and small differences of opinion to prevent the application of a remedy to that grievance. They ought not to fold their arms and say, 'Although the grievance is plain, palpable, and even scandalous, we cannot, on account of difficulties of detail, attempt to provide a remedy.' It would be far better to apply a remedy which was open to some abstract objections than any longer to neglect the subject.I ask the House to bear in mind these words of Mt. Gladstone. No attempt has been made to deny the existence of this injustice; no attempt has been made to show that the clerical tithe-owner is not unfairly rated, and that the incidence of the rates is not one that constitutes a great injustice. In the absence of any evidence of that kind, I ask the House whether we ought to refuse to remove this grievance. We do not put this Bill before the House as an act of charity; we do not ask you to give charitable relief to men who are trying to discharge in an efficient way the duties of their difficult position, though undoubtedly they are in too many cases very poor men. We ask it as a measure of common and too long delayed justice, because we believe that the clerical tithe-owner is rated in a manner winch imposes on him a great injustice, and because we believe that you call give him relief by a method which is fair and reasonable, and which will give the greatest relief in the most direct manner, while casting the burden of filling up the vacuum over the widest possible area. The right hon. Gentleman made much of the argument that we do not propose to give relief to the most necessitous of the clergy, but to rich and poor alike. I accept his description. We 801 do not pretend to relieve the clergy according to their sufferings or their poverty, and I hope that we have heard the last of the charitable dole argument. What we are doing is to relieve a burden which we consider to be unjust, and it is because we propose to relieve an injustice by a fair and reasonable method that I ask the House to pass the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ MR. BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman has apologised for the disadvantage in which he was placed in having to follow the most brilliant debater in the House; but I am quite sure that he is perfectly competent to deal with any question which belongs to his Department, and he has made—I will not say a strong defence, but the best possible defence that he could have made of the measure, the Second Reading of which he asked the House to grant. The right hon. Gentleman has found some subtle connection between clerical poverty and the cattle disease, and perhaps that was rather appropriate, coining from the President of the Board of Agriculture. The great point made by the right hon. Gentleman was to disabuse the public mind of the notion that in the commutation of tithe in 1836 a sum was added in respect of rates. Now, as the late Home Secretary pointed out, before the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 was passed, over the greater part of the parishes of the country—some say in two-thirds, but certainly in more than a half of them—an arrangement of a peculiar character was come to as to the payment of tithes; and in respect of all these parishes where the parson had his modus this allotment in respect of rates was made. Consequently, if the fact is true, not for all the country, but at all events for two - thirds of it, if you make an argument which is two-thirds true, there is not much chance of anybody ceasing to repeat it. The right hon. Gentleman repudiated with some warmth—and I do not wonder at it—the notion that he was here charitably pleading the case of the poor clergy, and he said we must hear no more of that. I am afraid he will. I confess, so far as I am concerned, that the natural pleasure which I would otherwise have in opposing a Bill like this, inopportune in the hour of its birth, most unconstitutional in its mode of delivery, and most un- 802 fair and partial in the scope of its operation, is almost destroyed by the knowledge I have that a very Considerable number—how many it is difficult to state—of the class for whose exclusive benefit the Bill, as I understand, is intended, are at the present moment in circumstances of great straits and necessitous. The distressing poverty—one might say the abject poverty—of a considerable number of the beneficed clergy of the Church of England is indisputable. Societies, charitable societies, already exist and have been called into existence to supply them with money and with clothing for their families and those dependent upon them. The whirligig of time brings about its strange revenges. It is no longer the poor Dissenting ministers—long the derision and the scorn of their tithe-paid contemporaries—who are the object of men's compassion and the recipient of their charity. The poor Dissenting minister, to whatever denomination he belongs, has his augmentation fund to fall back upon, and our compassion is excited to-day by the circumstances of the priests who serve the altars of the Church which is not only the richest Church in Christendom, but the Church which still contains on its roll-call of members the great noblemen and the rich landlords who are still in possession of what was once, at any rate, the Church's property, whose annual revenues are swollen as lay impropriators by the large tithe which surely, no less than the small tithe, was at one time devoted to the twofold purpose of the worship of God and the maintenance of the poor. We are hardly likely, that being so, to overlook that fact, and should we regard this House as a branch committee of the Charity Organisation Society? I cannot imagine anyone could be stony-hearted enough to refuse grants out of the funds contributed by the faithful to the relief, on account of their poverty, of the priests of the Church which enjoys the unique distinction of having been despoiled by her own children. Well, we know well enough that is not the way in which the case is presented to the House by the supporters of the Bill. They say the poverty of the clergy is much to be regretted, and that they are doing something to relieve it. I am glad to hear it, and have no doubt that it is so. But they say that their case is based upon justice. Quite so. And they say 803 that if the poverty-stricken beneficed clergy were as rich as South African millionaires the case would still he one of justice which this House ought, at once, to proceed to relieve. You cannot have it both ways. You surely are not going to tell us on this side of the House that rich men are not entitled to justice irrespective of their pecuniary means. Consequently it is said that as this Bill is based on the fact that the tithe rent-charge is unjustly rated, that only proves, what is so often said in the House, that justice in this country is a very slow-footed animal, and that it has taken a long time to develop the opinion that this injustice should be relieved. You seem to say that for all those years the tithe rent - charge has been unjustly rated, and if it is asked why, the only reason that I have ever heard assigned is that the clergyman is the only professional man rated in respect of his income. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Scotch case, and spoke of the stipend which the clergy of the Church of Scotland received from the heritors. Well, the question is, Is it true now to say that a beneficed clergyman of the Church of England is, in respect to the tithe rent charge, in the position of a professional man in receipt of a professional income, paid for professional services, like a country doctor or country lawyer is paid, and for which he is rated. That is the point. In fact, the whole point of this case seems to rest on the principle that no man ought to be rated in respect of his professional income. I must own that it is just a little irritating to anybody who has any acquaintance with the history of the Church of England, particularly in relation to Nonconformity, to notice how the supporters and adherents of the Church, like the chameleon, change their colour just to suit the surrounding circumstances. I should like to know what would have happened fifty or sixty or seventy years ago, when the tithe rent-charge stood at 120, or before the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, if some Baptist blacksmith, speaking on the village green, told his rustic audience that the rector of the parish was in receipt of a professional income, just like the doctor of the locality, or the village attorney, or the village apothecary, and that he received from the parishioners money in respect of the work he did. He would have stood a very good 804 chance—that village blacksmith—of finding himself in the stocks. And yet we hear this language now from the front, bench, and we hear from the advocates of the Church that the clergy are professional men in receipt of a professional income, and that they ought to be exempted from the rates because they are so. Well now, consider that only for a single moment. The Nonconformists used to be told, until we were sick of hearing it, that the great advantage and the great merit of the parochial system, as opposed to the system of the Free Church, was that it sent a gentleman into every parish. It is not always a gentleman, having regard to some of the statements made by the Rector of Flint. But at all events there was force in the argument that you sent a gentleman into every parish who not a dependent, and who did not receive his professional income as did his poor miserable Nonconformist brother—if, indeed, I may even call him a "brother" at all—from the support of shopkeepers and of farmers. No; he was there as a gentleman and as a landowner; he was there holding a benefice as a freehold office; he was in possession of his glebe, and he was there receiving his revenues from the tithe rent - charge, which is the first charge upon every rood of land in his parish, and which is wholly independent of all the expenses of maintaining the estate and of repairs. We could not hear enough of the great merits which belong to this method of payment. It is a payment wholly irrespective of work done. It does not depend upon the extent or size of the parish; it does not depend upon the labours which the parson has to perform. And so there he was. His parishioners did not choose him, his parishioners cannot dismiss him. They take him, like the weather, as a great and mysterious force. If he is dull and dreary he must be put up with. How, therefore, can you possibly compare in any single way whatever a clergyman's position with that of a struggling professional man who is open to competition? A parson is not open to ally competition whatever. Possibly a Nonconformist may steal his congregation, but he cannot touch his tithe. There he is in possession. I am not going to deny that it is a position which has its advantages. But you cannot approbate and reprobate, you cannot blow hot and blow cold, you cannot 805 enjoy the position which you do enjoy, and have enjoyed for many years past, as holding a beneficed freehold, deriving an income from the land, and yet be as if you were holding a professional occupation in open competition with your fellow-men I therefore cannot understand how this argument that you must not he rated on your professional income can possibly be applied to the beneficed clergy of the Church of England. I should like hon. Members who have used that argument again and again to say what they mean when they assert that a beneficed clergymen of the Church of England is in possession of a professional income. Take the case of the Church of Scotland. There a clergymen has his stipend, which is paid him by the heritors, and he takes all the teinds. Very well; he may get that stipend increased if his parish increases, if his work increases, if his duties increase. He gets not only his stipend, but he is paid for value received and work done; and therefore, to some extent, he, at all events, may be said to be a professional man in receipt of a professional income. But that cannot, in my judgment, be said of a clergyman of the Church of England. The English clergy have had the advantage of the tithe in times when the land, in matters of taxation, enjoyed great privileges, and, notwithstanding the Finance Act of my right hon. friend, it still enjoys very considerable advantages. At all events, the land of the Church of England—or, rather, of the innumerable corporations which go to make up what we conventionally call the Church of England—is still the property of large owners, and I believe I am right in saying that this land was free from succession duty until Mr. Gladstone's legislation in 1883; even at the present time the land of the Church of England goes from generation to gene ration without paying anything to the State in the nature of succession duty. It is too late for the clergy, simply because of the pressure of agricultural prices at the present moment, to come and say, "We want the whole thing changed; we want half of our rates paid because these ancestral duties, although not so heavy now as they were, are heavier than they ought to be." I maintain that the arguments in favour of this Bill can only be supported—if they can be supported at all—on account of the poverty of some of the clergy. It is too late to come and ask 806 for any readjustment of the rates upon land which has borne that burden from time immemorial, and should continue to bear it until the whole question can be treated in one broad and statesmanlike measure. There is one argument which has not been used to-day, but which may be used in the course of the Debate, from which I should like to dissociate myself, and that is the Protestant argument. I do not think you should refuse justice to the clergy because you think they may entertain opinions which you do not share yourselves. Nobody is more fully alive than I am to the dangerous consequences that must ultimately flow, in my opinion, from the ever-widening gulf of opinion between the clergy of the Anglican Church and the great body of laity, but I do not think the poverty of the clergy in any way interferes with their Protestantism. In fact, if I may venture so to say, I think the better half of the clergy are not likely to indulge in those opinions which excite disagreement in some quarters of the House. We all know that the great bulwark against the spread of Romanism amongst the ranks of the clergy is the freedom which they at present enjoy to get married, and that freedom, I am sorry to say, in many instances, they cannot avail themselves of owing to the extreme poverty of their livings. Therefore, anything which goes to make the clergy better off is, in my judgment, rather likely to create a sound Protestant conviction. I merely make that remark for the purpose of showing that I am not, in opposing this Bill, animated by any hostility to the religious convictions of any body of the clergy. I can only express my absolute amazement, as one who has been, for some time at all events, connected with what is called the Disestablishment movement, at the folly of Her Majesty's Ministers in introducing this at the present time. It is just like a handful of silver scattered at random amongst the 10,000 or 12,000 or 13,000 beneficed clergy. Up to the present time the Church of England, in my judgment—I know some of my friends will disagree with me upon this point—has always occupied the position of being able to say to all its opponents, "At all events we cost you nothing; not a farthing of your money comes into our pockets; you may dispute our authority if you like; you may question the truth of our creed if you feel compelled so to 807 do; you may question the utility of our work amongst the poor if you are sufficiently ill-advised—these things are matters of controversy. But it is not a matter of controversy that our property is our own, subject, of course, like all other property, to the law of the land." But now there is not a district in the country that will not be able to say in pounds shillings and pence how much money would have come to them, to be devoted either to the reduction of their rates or to swell their county council balances, but for this Bill; and they will be able to point to the parson and say, "And yours is the pocket into which it has gone!" And just for this beggarly dole of £87,000 you are departing from a position which, I believe, you will be very anxious—if you can—to replace yourselves back into. For my part I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman, by repudiating altogether, as I suppose he was bound to do, the case of charity and of compassion, and putting his case for this Bill upon the ground of absolute justice, has entirely failed to produce a single argument in support of his proposition that the old and time-honoured method of rating the land should be put by itself, and not as part of a statesman like scheme dealing with the whole situation.
§ * MR. CRIPPS (Gloucester, Stroud)
I am bound to confess that, so far as I can see, a great portion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down was irrelevant to the matter before the House. The matter before the House is whether at the present time, under the present condition of the law, the rate on the tithe rent-charge is just or whether it is unjust, and before I go into the argument of the right hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of this Bill let me state the argument in favour of this Bill. It has been pointed out that in this country rates are never made on gross revenue except in the case of the tithe rent-charge. That cannot be gainsaid, and I put my case upon this simple ground that you find in the case of the clergy that gross revenue is rated, and that there is no other property of any sort or kind in this country that is rated in the same way or suffers under the same burden. Now, may I on this point draw the attention of the House to an adden- 808 dam to the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Taxation, which was signed by Sir John Hibberd, Sir George Murray and myself. We were all agreed upon this point, and I do not think that it can be controverted by anybody who looks into the case. What do we say? We say:We desire to add that, in our opinion, the inequality which exists to the detriment of the owners of tithe rent-charge not severed from the benefice is due to the fact that, in ascertaining the rateable value of such tithe rent-charge, sufficient deductions from the gross value have not been allowed; and that it is necessary, in order to place the owners of such tithe rent-charge on a footing of equality with the owners or occupiers of other rateable property, to provide by legislation for the allowance of further deductions from the gross value, and in such deductions to recognise the liabilty which is imposed on the owners of such tithe rent-charge to render certain, services as a condition of enjoying their emoluments.But the right hon. Gentleman opposite, when he moved the rejection of the Bill, never dealt with this argument at all.
§ * MR. CRIPPS
The right hon. Gentleman says that that is not the proposal. The proposal is this, that whereas you do not put into operation what we suggest in our addendum you do the same thing in another way when you say that the tithe rent-charge is only to be rated at half its; present value. Now I challenge the right hon. Gentleman on this point, and I undertake to show, before I sit down, that, so far as money and results are concerned, this Bill attains substantially the same result that we point to in our addendum. Now I want to challenge the hon. Member opposite, when he speaks again, to deal with this question. Can anybody say that the rates on tithe rent-charges are not charged on gross revenue? Can anybody say they are charged on net annual value? The tithe rent-charge is the commutation of the old tithes and is not a portion of rent at all. The clergy never had one-tenth of the rents of this country, they had one-tenth of the produce; and so far as the produce was concerned it did not become tithe until it had been separated That is a distinct point. Now, is there ally other property or produce which is rated on the same principle as tithe rent-charges at the present moment? 809 An hon. Member nods his head. I challenge him to show me one case where any property is rated on the same basis as this. This is the very essence of injustice, which is pointed out in a large number of cases. If it were not a case of injustice no such Bill as this ought to be proposed at all. I do not believe in the charitable argument; and as regards the doles argument, nothing has or could be more wholly repudiated than that has been by all the true friends of the Church. What is it that is asked? If a man is unjustly treated, he is entitled to have that injustice pat right. This is not asking for an endowment or a dole, but for simple justice and nothing more. Let me deal for a moment with what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said the other day. He told hon. Gentlemen in this House the other day that the laity of the Church of England were not sufficiently generous in providing funds. The answer is that they last year provided £7,500,000 for Church purposes. Are we to be taunted that we did not contribute fairly? But let me go beyond that. What are contributions of this kind to do with it when it is a case of legal justice? I may give a man thousands of pounds, but that is no remedy if he is suffering under legal injustice which ought to be remedied. I trust this injustice will be remedied by the present Bill. Having stated as near as I can what I may call the main position which has been taken up by all members of the Royal Commission, let me just say a word or two with regard to the arguments of the right hon. Member for East Fife. I was fairly startled at his speech, both by the attacks which he made on the Royal Commission and by his own inaccuracies. I have never heard less careful statements, having regard to the subject matter, and to what he said as regards the Report of the Royal Commission. The right hon. Member said the Report was superficial and misleading. He said it was full of historic fallacies. I listened to his speech with great anxiety and interest; and having listened to him, I say that he made a statement of that kind without supporting it by a single detail in any part of his speech. There is no more crucial point on this question than what took place in 1836 What did the right hon. Gentlemen say as regards Section 69 of the Act of 1836 I noted it. He 810 says that Section 69 of the Act of 1836 placed all rates in the tithe rent-charge. It did nothing of the sort. What it did do was to make the tithe rent-charge liable in the same manner as the commuted tithes. The point that has always been discussed is what were the rates on the commuted tithe, and whether the method of assessment since the Act of 1836 has not been unfairly made That is the whole issue, and yet the right hon. Gentleman, who accuses the Report of the Royal Commission of being superficial and misleading, when he comes to the facts themselves, makes the very statement that shows a very superficial knowledge of this great subject. The question is, whether the rates on this tithe rent-charge are fairly adjusted or not. In 1836 they were only to be the same as on the commuted tithe charge, and the issue between those who support this Bill and those on the other side of the House must to a great extent, so far as the historical retrospect is concerned, depend upon that point, because if this Bill is passed the rates on the tithe rent-charge will conform to the rates on the commuted tithe in 1836. The question is not whether this is a rateable property or not, bat rather how it should be rated; and when you come to that point, the so-called additions have nothing to do with the matter. It has been suggested that this is a very crucial point in this discussion, and that because certain changes and additions have been made in order to turn the tithe rent-charge into a rateable property it is unfair to make the proposed alteration. But the answer to that is that these additions were only made in order that all rates should be paid on the same basis. Where rates had not been paid by the tithe-owner it was necessary to make the addition in order to make the matter fair all around, and that is not the question here. It is not a question whether the rates are to be paid or not. The question is whether the assessment of those rates is right; and in order to show that it is right hon. Members opposite say that there are other cases where grievances exist as well as this one. So far as the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite is concerned, it is a question merely of doles and endowments. I do not agree with that. The right hon. Gentlemen did not grapple with the original premisses, he did not give one 811 word of argument to show that the rate on tithes was properly and fairly assessed. If he believed the present method of rating tithes was just and fair, why did he not deduce sonic argument in support of it? It is all very well to talk about the Nonconformists and prejudice, and say that it is not right to remedy injustice because the class that suffers is small. But that is the question that you must decide, that is the true problem which the country will decide. Are you not more likely in the long run to get your assessments fair by remedying the injustices as they are brought to your knowledge than by leaving them alone? With regard to the history of the matter which has been said to be so misleading—the first statute that we had was one of the year 1601, but except for the purposes of historical research it is not necessary to go back to that date. If you go back to that statute you will find that a person is to be rated either as an occupier or upon his ability. If you rated everybody upon that principle nothing could be fairer, but that is impossible. It has been tried from time to time, and was finally abolished in 1840. From 1840, and for many years previous to that, there has been this continuing injustice. The political cry has always been, "Let us put it off to a snore convenient season, and not face the possible odium from the cry that it is giving charitable doles." If anybody who thinks that this is an injustice is led away by an argument of that kind I hope he does not sit on this side of the House. It ought to be pointed out that in 1836, when the Act was passed fixing the liability of the tithe rent-charge, there was in existence a decision in a court of law which did in effect what we want to do by this Bill. That is the reason for the introduction of those words that the tithe rent charge shall be subject to rates in the same manner as the commuted tithes. In order that the point may be appreciated, I may state that in the same year there was also passed a Parochial Assessments Act, and in that Act words preserving the relative liability of different kinds of property were introduced. They were introduced in order to preserve to the clergy the benefit they had got under the decision of the Court of Queen's Bench. Since then this decision has been reversed, and in subsequent cases the Judges have always conceived that they were bound by the later decision, 812 whatever their own views might be. The point I make is that we have now arrived at a time when to do justice in this matter we must have legislation, and in that legislation there must be one great principle which we must all bear in mind. It is that you must have equality of burden, and that without it there must be an unjust incidence of taxation. The view of the Royal Commission upon this matter is that there is no equality of taxation, and that the clergy are bearing more than their share at this moment. If hon. Gentlemen opposite assent that you must have equality of burden, let them show that such equality exists if they can; but if they cannot do that, let them admit that our argument is sound.
§ * MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid.)
The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down started on premisses which we do not admit. If his argument is sound at all, it is not only sound with regard to those tithes which are still attached to the benefices, but is also sound as regards those which have been severed from the benefices. If this is not a question of dole, why do you not deal with the whole of the tithes? Why limit it to those which are still attached to the benefices? The only thing that can be drawn from the learned Gentleman's argument is that you ought to deal differentially with the clergy. Since the year 1836 the clergy of this country have had no right to complain at all because they think they have made a bad bargain. I am willing to assume, although I have not seen much of it myself, that the clergy suffer from a degree of poverty in these days. But I will venture to put the disgrace of that poverty on the shoulders that ought to bear it—on the adherents of the Church of England whose ministers these people are. In 1836 the clergy desired to convert a property which was very difficult of realisation into a first charge on the land. This was done by agreements for the most part, and when those agreements were not come to it was done by awards of Commissioners, and as much as two millions of the tithes of the country was dealt with by agreement. Let us see whether the bargain which was made in 1836 was not an exceedingly favourable one at that time. By agreements alone the tithe rent-charges were fixed at £2,482,570 7s. 9d. The remaining £1,525,000 were fixed by com- 813 pulsory awards. In some cases the rates were paid by the tithe-owners. Where this was the case the rates were added to the tithe rent-charge, but in addition to this there was an increase in the tithe rent-charge, fixed by agreements alone, of £58,000 upon the £2,482,000, that is to say that, whereas such tithes up to that time were only calculated at £2,424,000, the tithe rent-charge given to the clergy in respect to those tithes was in excess of that by some £58,000, and in many eases the amounts paid to the clergymen were much higher than before. There is one case in Hertfordshire where the tithes were valued at £300. In that case the rates were paid by the landowner, and they amounted to £108, and when they were commuted for tithe rent-charge that amount came out at £408, but the tithe rent-charge itself was allowed at £520, which is an increase of £110. That is atypical instance of what occurred (and one is sufficient) in entering into the bargain of 1836. The clergy were told that, being made a first charge on the land, the tithe rent-charge would be subject to the rate which tithes had paid before. It was perfectly clear that in 1836 all rates were to be put on the tithe rent-charge, and the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests now that it on4ht to be exempted to the extent of half the rates. Since 1836 the tithe rent-charge has been treated in a very favourable way to the owners of the tithe rent-charge. Most of the impositions that have been placed upon the Bate Book since 1836 have been placed upon it by the Public Health Act of 1875. And in that Act the tithes were to be assessed on a quarter their value. And because they were treated too favourably in 1875 we now have a further complaint, and hon. Gentlemen opposite desire to see all the rates diminished by one-half in favour of the tithe-owners. We, on this side of the House, hold that the clergy have not made any case out for relief from public funds. It may be that they are suffering severely from the failure of agricultural prices, but have you a right on that account to help them out of the public funds?—[Cry of "No, no."]—The hon. Member says "No," but that is what you are doing in this case; this £87,000 is to conic from the Probate Duty. It first of all comes into the Exchequer, and then it would cone into the Local Taxation Account. The illustrations which the right 814 hon. Gentleman gave to enforce his argument were most extraodinary; he referred to the Cattle Diseases Act, a public Act of Parliament administered in various counties. The expenses of that Act rightly come out of the public fund. But it is quite a different thing to say you can relieve a class who have made out no claim to be relieved out of the public fund. Then, again, with regard to the equalisation of burden, that is a most extraordinary argument, because you now seek to put an additional burden on everybody else in order to relieve these clergy. There is not a cottage that will not have to pay an additional burden, and we object on the ground of that very principle of equality to workmen's cottages being rated more highly than they are at present, in order to increase the comforts or amenities of the parsonage or the rectory, Assuming there is a degree of clerical poverty owing to the decline in agricultural prices, in what way does the Government propose to deal with it. They make no distinction between poverty and wealth, but give back half the tithes to the clerical tithe-owners, whatever may be the value of their livings. They are adopting the principle of "To them who have much, much shall be given; to them that have little, even that little shall be taken away." What are you doing for the poor curate?
§ * MR. SAMUEL EVANS
But he suffers in poverty. The reason you want to relieve the owner of the benefice is because he suffers from poverty.
§ * MR. SAMUEL EVANS
Hon. Members who say that is not the reason will not persuade the House or the country of that fact. We have heard the wailing year after year, and it is solely on the ground that these poor clergy are said not to have reasonable and sufficient means of subsistence. When hon. Members go to meetings in the country they do not argue that the man who gets a thousand a year for doing no work at all in his parish is entitled to have his rates given back to him, but they refer to the man with a small living and a large family and great responsibilities, and they say, "Is it not 815 fair that this man, who has perhaps only £120 a year to live upon, should be relieved to some extent of the rates which he is paying?" I say the curates who work in the slums ought to be assisted, if anybody. But these curates love their work, and it is not from them you hear complaints. It is because of the complaints of the holders of benefices, who have organisations which spread literature broadcast throughout the country, that this Bill has been introduced. By no kind of argument can the recent statement of the Leader of the Opposition be disproved—that this is an additional endowment of the Church of England. It is said that it is only £87,000 per annum. But this sum, which is to be given to the incumbents of the Church, because the Church people themselves will not contribute to their support, is very nearly equal to the income of the 22 ordinary bishoprics in the province of Canterbury, and is three times as much as the income of the eight ordinary bishoprics in the province of York. If you were to try to establish and endow anew those 30 bishoprics, could anybody say that it was not an additional endowment of the Church of England? There is no difference in principle at all. You are going to the public funds to relieve these clergy who are ministering to the religion of the Church of England. In this matter the adherents of this wealthy Church might well take their example from what is done by the Nonconformists of this country. Nonconformist ministers are often not paid as much as they ought to be, and as we should like them to be, but you do not see them going up and down the country saying they are not paid sufficiently for what they do. If they have any complaints they are immediately remedied by their followers to whom they administer religion. The truth of the matter is that the Church has been in the habit of looking to the State to assist it. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill had the courage to refer to the voluntary contributions of the Church of England, and it appears that during the last 14 years this wealthy Church, to which the nobility and the wealthy belong, has given £2,000,000 to—
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, F.
816 That was one particular form of contribution.
§ * MR. SAMUEL EVANS
I assume the right hon. Gentleman chose the particular form of donation which suited his case best.
§ * MR. SAMUEL EVANS
The particular purpose we are dealing with now is the question of increasing the incomes of the clergy, and I have not heard that the Church of England have provided funds for that purpose. Is it not fair, when the Nonconformists of the country maintain their own religion, and maintain in a respectable manner their own ministers, to ask that this rich Church should have recourse to its own funds? This Government have been forced by their clerical supporters to come to the House, and they are hold enough to take out of the public funds moneys for the support of their own religion which they ought to contribute themselves. They are unjust to the rest of the community, and the adherents of the Church are unworthy in their willingness to receive such a grant.
§ * SIR FREDERICK MILNER (Nottinghamshire, Bassetlaw)
I rise to offer my warmest and most hearty support to the Government in their endeavour to do a somewhat tardy act of justice to the tithe-owning clergy by the introduction of this Bill. The only fault I could find would be that they have too long delayed the redressing of a grievous injustice. For my own part, I have always thought that it was a pity that the question of the rating of the tithe-owning clergy was not taken in hand at the same time as the rating of agricultural land; it would have, been better if the Government had made only one bite at the cherry instead of two. It is reasonable that we should expect this Bill to meet with the vehement opposition of the Radical party. Any attempt to do justice to the clergy of the Church of England has the same effect 817 upon them as the waving of a red cloth before the eyes of an infuriated bull. It has been said that it is a scandalous act on the part of the Government to introduce this Bill at a comparatively late period of the session. There would have been some considerable force in that argument if the Bill were of a complicated character, with a number of contentions clauses, requiring a long time for discussion, such as the London Government Bill, the Education Bill, or the original Agricultural Rating Bill. Certainly it would have been both wrong mid foolish for the Government to have attempted to bring in a Bill of that nature, but the contentious part of this Bill consists practically of one line, and I contend that every legitimate argument that could be produced by the most zealous advocate for or against the Bill could be repeated at least 20 times in the space of one week. It is therefore, most childish and absurd to bring forward this accusation against the Government, and the mere fact that such a plea has been brought forward proves that our opponents have a very weak case. The Leader of the Opposition, on a previous occasion, insinuated that the reason for suddenly urging this measure forward was because the Government were afraid of losing the votes of the clergy. I think it is a matter of regret that ever since the right hon. Gentleman was chosen as the temporary chief of the Radical Party he should have thought it necessary in almost every speech he has made to allege against his opponents the basest and most sordid motives for their actions. It is an evil example to set to a Party, and it is one which I am proud to think will never be followed by the Leader of the present Government in the House. In the present case such an accusation is as absurd as it is unjust. It is true that certain of the clergy have written very foolish letters to the Press; but I would fearlessly assert, knowing something of the clergy, that as a body they are far too noble - minded men to allow, for one moment, their own personal interests to interfere with their duty in promoting what they conceive to be the best interests of the Church they so loyally serve. As a matter of fact, nobody knows better than the Government that the introduction of this Bill is far more likely to lose than to win votes, if for no other reason than that it affords a magnificent opportunity to the Radical 818 Party, of which they have not been slow to avail themselves, of exercising the wonderful powers of misrepresentation with which Providence has so liberally widowed them. It has been clearly shown that this Bill has been brought in simply because the Government has felt that it is a measure of justice which they are bound, if possible, to pass. I have sufficient confidence in my fellow-country, men to believe that when the measure has been properly and truthfully explained to them they will recognise the justice of it and approve the action of the Government in introducing the Bill. It has also been asserted that the real reason for the introduction of the measure is to compensate the clergy for the losses they have sustained through the serious reduction in the value of their tithe rent-charge, and that this loss should be made good by the members of their own Church, and not by the State. It is perfectly true that the tithe-owning clergy have suffered severely in that respect, and that in only too many cases their incomes have been reduced to less than a living wage. It is also perfectly true that it is the duty of Churchmen to put their hands into their pockets to relieve the terrible distress brought about by the decrease in the value of the tithe rent-charge. Churchmen in the past have contributed magnificently for their churches and schools; they educated the children of the country long before the State ever thought it its duty to interest itself in a question of such vital importance. Large sums have already been contributed to increase the incomes of the clergy, and I have no doubt that when Churchmen realise the absolute insufficiency of the incomes of many of the clergy the necessary amount to enable our clergy to live in decent comfort will be forthcoming. But this Bill has nothing whatever to do with the impoverished condition of the clergy. It is simply brought in to relieve the clergy of an injustice which is admitted by every fair-minded man who has taken the trouble to master the facts of the case. The case of the tithe-owning clergy is a peculiarly hard one. They are called upon to pay rates which fall on no other professional man and on no other citizen in the country, and their expenses have been added to considerably by the passing of the Agricultural Rating Act, in the benefits of which they should have had a reasonable and fair share. 819 Further than that, for the purposes of taxation, tithe-rent charge is regarded as agricultural land, but for rating purposes it is a hereditament not being agricultural land, and is so charged the full rate, which is manifestly unfair. In the evidence given before the Royal Commissioners it seems to be very doubtful whether tithe was ever intended to pay rates at all, but unfortunately the expense involved is so great that no clergyman has ever yet ventured to test the legality of rating tithe. Certain it is that no professional man and no other minister of religion is rated on his income. But the clergy do not at present even ask that their income should not be rated, and this Bill does not contemplate relieving them of paying the rates on their income. They simply ask that as their income derived from the tithe-rent charge is regarded and charged as agricultural land, the same relief which was given to the tenants of agricultural land should be accorded to them. Surely that is a very simple and reasonable request, and one which this House ought to grant without delay. A great many of those who are opposing this Bill do not really understand the simple nature of it. It is simply carrying out the almost unanimous Report of the Royal Commissioners, and the mere fact that that Commission thought it right and just that this relief should be given ought to have very considerable weight in the House. The great point which has been made against granting this small concession is the assertion that at the time of the commutation of the tithe an addition was made to the commutation to represent the rates. It is asserted that at the time of the commutation of tithes a sum equal to the amount of the rates then paid upon the tithe was specially added to the estimated average value of the tithe, in order to enable the owner of the new tithe rent-charge to pay the rates for the future, and that the total of the average tithe, plus the sum thus added, was fixed upon the lands in each parish as the commuted tithe rent-charge. That statement, which is absolutely unfounded, has been answered over and over again. I cannot put it better than has been done by the Secretary of the Tithe Rent-charge Owners' Union:The Commissioners appointed under the Act of 1836 had instructions how to proceed in various cases. These may be classified as three: (l) Tithe, owner collected tithe in kind. 820 Here deduction for cost of marketing, etc., was directed. (2) Composition with owner or occupier, who paid fixed annual sum in lieu of tithe. Commissioners were directed to take such sum as the clear annual value. In both these cases the tithe-owner remained liable to pay rates, and Commissioners directed not to make any deductions from such rates. (3) Composition with landowner or occupier, as I and 2, for fixed annual sum, but to be free of all rates, which were to be paid by the landowner or occupier, the composition being so much less. Commissioners directed to make such addition to annual value as would represent rates, thus merely replacing what had been before subtracted.To give an instance of the way this was carried out, I will quote the case of two livings. One of them is Burston, in Norfolk. The net amount of tithes or composition was £470; the aggregate amount of tithes or composition and rates, £470; rent-charge, £470.Here the Tithe Commissioners found that the net value of the tithe received by the rector during the seven years preceding Christmas, 1835, after deducting cost of marketing, etc., averaged £470 per annum. They also found that the rector himself paid the rates whatever the sum received by him.But in the case of Halstead, in Essex, we have the net amount of tithes or composition, £892; rates, when paid by landowners, £537; aggregate amount of tithes or composition and rates, £1,430; and the rent-charge £1,350.Here the Tithe Commissioners found that the rector had entered into an arrangement with the tithe-payers that they should pay the rates, and should pay him a lesser sum as a composition for the tithe than they otherwise would have done. As a consequence of this arrangement, in the seven years preceding Christmas, 1835, the tithe-payers paid on behalf of the rector rates averaging £537 is. 7½., and also paid to the rector in respect of the composition an average sum of £892 18s. 4½d. The Tithe Commissioners, in order to arrive at the actual value of the tithes of Halstead, therefore added together the sums in columns I and 2, and inserted the total amount to £1,430 in col. 3. They then fixed the commuted rent-charge of the parish at £1,350, or £0 less than they had found the average value of the tithes to be. It is perfectly clear that in no case was any additional sum added to the tithe to enable the tithe-owner to pay the rates.That is a very clear explanation of the charge that a considerable sum was added to the value of the tithe rent-charge. As far as my constituency is concerned, I have gone into the question of a very large number of livings, and I find that in no case was a single penny 821 added. Here are men with incomes averaging from £180 to £220 a year, who are actually being charged no less than 5s. in the £ on their miserable income, and nobody can say that it is a right or fair thing that such a man, who works hard for his living, should have to pay so very much more than any other citizen in the United Kingdom has to pay upon the income which he receives. I have read that the Government will find that many of their supporters are not in love with this measure, and that it is by no means certain that they will receive the support they expect. I think that will be found to be a fancy, and that the vast majority of those behind the Government will give a loyal and hearty support to this Bill. I trust the Leader of the House will make up his mind that this measure shall be placed upon the Statute Book this session. He has always allowed free and ample discussion on measures before the House, and I hope that if that free and ample discussion is exceeded, and obstructive tactics are adopted, he will use every power the House allows him to insist that this Bill shall be got through this session.
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY (Stockport)
At the outset, I desire the House to make allowance for and to pity the sorrows of the poor distressed borough politician, and I may be pardoned if I commit an act of Parliamentary bad taste by making a personal reflection. In the year 1895, when this House was elected, and when this Government occupied their present position, I had reached a presumably respectable middle-age. In the midst of a busy populace, where politics are matters of every-day concern, I occupied the best part of my years in endeavouring to combat with all the energy, vigour, and vehemence of which I was capable, in season and out of season, the assertion so frequently made on Liberal platforms, that the Conservative Party had never been, and never could be, the Party of the working classes, but that they were essentially and entirely the Party of the landlord, the squire, and the parson. I have no doubt that many hon. Members who have spoken on this side erred in the same manner. I did not fight the recent election from any platform of heroic measures, but from a platform of domestic working-class measures of progress and 822 reform, all tending to ameliorate the lot of those who live in the populous centres of our country. Upon that programme we were elected, and may I ask the House to consider and to bear with me a few moments while I enumerate the measures which we have passed in this. Parliament, and while I show how we have failed to make our pledges good. The first session opened in 896,and the ball was set a-rolling with the Cattle Diseases Bill, which was nothing else beta protective measure for the meat producers of this country, for it prohibited the importation of live cattle beyond the seaports of this country. The other Bill of that session was, to my thinking, a Bill which was the most unjust and unfair measure that was ever engrossed upon the Statute Book of this country—I allude to the Agricultural Rating Act, which gave two millions a year to the landlords. That money was given to the landed interest of this country, and that was, therefore, a landlord or a squire session. I am aware that there are disputes as to whose pockets this money has gone into. I am aware that hon. Members on this side say that the tenants have got the benefit of that money, but I am prepared to show that the landlords either have got the benefit or are ultimately bound to get it. Rates are a charge upon the property and are indivisible from it, and whatever you do to reduce the rates you, pro tanto, do as much to increase the selling or letting value. The second session was that of the year 1897, when we immediately proceeded in a most generous manner to busy ourselves by voting £600,000 to the Voluntary schools, which went chiefly to the parsons, and that smacks of a parson's session. There was, however, one Bill for the working classes, and that was the Compensation for Injury Bill; and here, again, I claim that that Bill shows the characteristic inability of those on this side of the House and of this Government to deal fairly and equitably between the interests of town and country; because by that Bill, while compensation for injury was thought to be a good enough principle for the towns, where it would fall upon manufacturers, the landlords in the country would riot touch it with the end of a 40-foot pole. In the third session we had the Irish Local Government Bill, where we again voted £750,000 to the Irish landlords.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member cannot enter into a general discussion upon all the measures passed during the present Parliament. The reference to the Agricultural Rating Bill was in order, but this prolonged general discussion upon the measures passed luring recent sessions by this Parliament is not in order, and does not conic within the scope of the Bill now before the House.
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY
I was only endeavouring to show that the funds which have been given to these various interests during previous sessions might have been better employed making good our pledges to the electors, and forming a nucleus for an old age pension scheme, rather than employing it in the manner in which it has been spent. I will come now to the present Bill. This Bill seems to me to present all the worst features of the Agricultural Rating Bill, because, in addition to giving a dole to a special class, it arouses religious animosities and inflames and excites sectarian jealousies in a manner in which they have not been excited for generations past. Are these measures which I have enumerated sound English politics? Are they not rather an importation of the very worst form of American politics, and a system which smacks of "the spoils for the victor." We got into office upon certain specific pledges, and we have spent all our money in subsidising certain classes of our own particular supporters. I ask, Where does the working man come in? Where does the borough elector and the taxpayer come in, and where is he going to come in? He seems to have been allotted the important function only of finding practically the whole of the money. I ask if in prosecuting these measures in the House of Commons the Government are dealing fairly with the borough representatives in this House? Are they playing the game as between borough interests and the agricultural and clerical interest? I do not know whether it has ever struck hon. Members to inquire as to where the present Government obtained its majority from. I think if you divide up the Members of this House according to whether they sit for borough or county constituencies, you will find that those in opposition and those in favour of the Government are almost equal amongst the country 824 members; whereas the majority for the Government comes almost entirely from the boroughs. Is this Government, which represents those parties and which ought to be impartial, by this Bill evenly holding the balance between the different sections which go to make up this majority? Is the Government not rather in every act and deed surrendering the interests of the borough taxpayer to those two allied kindred interests, the landlords and the clergymen? I ask hon. Members on this side of the House to put themselves in the place of borough Members who won the suffrages of their constituencies upon this social and working-class programme. How are we to go out and fight your battle in the boroughs when you have treated the boroughs in this manner? What shall we have to say? We shall have to say, "We did make a vast number of promises, but we found when we got into office that the money would not run to it, and, naturally, we had to look after the interests of ourselves first, and possibly you may have been neglected; but put us in again and we may redeem our promises." I ask, Is that a proper position to put borough Members in at the present time, when they can only go on the platform to receive the buffetings of their opponents? I want to ask this House, does it think for a moment that in passing this measure it will be doing any good permanently to the Church of England? Let us place ourselves for a moment in the position of a Nonconformist and a Dissenter, who sees the money to which he is called upon to contribute being taken away from him and employed in paying the rates of the clergy of a very different Church to his own. Do you think for a moment that any Nonconformist in this House will be content to accept, either permanently or temporarily, such a situation and such a position? you are imposing an intolerable grievance upon the Nonconformists of this country by this measure. Don't you think that when the Liberal Party come back to office—an event which you are hastening by this legislation—composed of 75 per cent. of Dissenters, they will take immediate steps to reverse such a colossal injustice as this measure will be? But you are doing more than this, for you are, in a sense, pauperising the Church of England. How many times has it been our proud boast upon platforms, in support of Church defence, 825 to claim that never in the history of the Church has the Church of England had one penny from the State; that the Church was antecedent to the State, and that it was even more true to say that the Church had established the State. But you can never make that boast again after this proposal, for you are now dragging your Church through the mire, and you are doing this in order to secure a paltry, petty sum of £87,000 a year for three years. I say for three years, because you may be sure of this, that no other Parliament not possessing such a vast majority will ever re-enact or continue such an injustice as this. Were ever such fatuous tactics pursued before by any Party? Why, you are practically giving your Church away with a pound of tea, if I may be allowed to use the expression. It has been said that the clergy are rated upon the whole of the income which they receive. That, however, is not so, and no one knows it better than my hon. friend who has just spoken from this side of the House, because there are certain deductions to be made before the rateable value is assessed. May I point out that the clergy of the Church of England never had any right when presented to their livings to exact anything but the net amount of the tithe. Perhaps I may be allowed here to read a few sentences from a letter which I received from a gentleman who was a fellow of one of the colleges of Oxford for a period of 14 years, and his opinion is put as succinctly as any opinion could possibly be. First of all he speaks of this tithe measure as increasing the value of advowsons. He says:It rests on a misapprehension of the whole position of the tithe-owner, whether incumbent or not; that part of the tithe rent-charge which goes to local taxation is no more the property of the tithe-owner than the rent-charge itself is the property of the landowner. An incumbent who has interest with a patron, is presented to a benefice on certain conditions, viz., that if he performs certain duties he shall receive the net value of so much tithe rent-charge, and also the other emoluments of the benefice surplice fees, Easter dues, the value of a parsonage and grounds, and glebe farms in general forming parts of such emoluments). On what possible grounds can he claim the gross value of the tithe as his professional income? If he does the Income Tax Acts prove that he is wrong, for the Act of 1853 provides that before assessing to income tax sums received for tithe rent-charge all amounts paid for local taxation shall be deducted. The assertion in this morning's Standard that tithe rent-charge is assessed for local taxation at its 826 nominal value, and not at its actual value, is absolutely untrue.In a postscript the same writer says:I was for 14 years a fellow of New College, Oxford, and my fellowship would have been £50 a year more but for the fact that the College had to pay rates on its tithe, but I did not then, and do not now contend that I paid that £50 a year.In the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman upon introducing this measure, he said that in some cases the clergy paid 20 per cent. of their incomes in rates. But even if that were true, I can show you plenty of cases in towns where property has depreciated in value to a much larger extent. There are plenty of cases in every town where a poor man has invested his money in a few cottages, where that property has depreciated in value and the rates have gone up, and when the expenses of the maintenance of that property have been met he does not receive very often either 25 or 50 per cent., or even anything at all, on the gross rental. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Stroud that we ought to have equality in all these ratings, but what I contend is that you ought not to take one or two particular interests, and apply this money to reducing the rates upon these particular interests, without treating the other ratepayers of the country upon the same footing. I am as sorry as anybody else to hear that the clergy are suffering, but the remedy for that is undoubtedly what has been already laid down, and that is that it is the business of the richest Church in the world to subscribe its millions or tens of millions, if necessary, for this purpose, when we see Nonconformists doing this on behalf of their own church; for it should be the business of the Church of England to pay for its own religion and pay its own way. The Rating Bill was a bad Bill, and this measure carries on the principle of the Rating Bill. We could, however, have made a fight against the Rating Bill if the Government had remained quiet, for the average elector has a short memory; but by this measure you are now raking the whole thing up again, and you are making it infinitely worse by taking this money from the ratepayer instead of from the taxpayer, for you are levying this burden upon a body who are infinitely worse off than the imperial tax 827 payer. If you had left things alone we might have been able to gloss matters over by talking about the foreign policy of the Government, and we might have had a chance in the boroughs. But the present Bill has revealed the true state of things to all the world, and all for a sum of £87,000 for three years a sum which I will be bound to say, if the right hon. Gentleman had appealed to his own Party in Parliament, there are ten Members on this side of the House who would have found the money for him rather than have had a Bill like this presented to the House. I am afraid that in these matters I am somewhat of an idealist, and my great ideal in times past of the Conservative and Unionist Party has been that it should maintain and preserve all the great institutions of this country, that it should be Imperialist in foreign politics, and that it should defend the rights of private property by a wise and judicious alliance with the democracy of this country—an alliance which should be cemented and maintained by the Unionist Party showing that they are as ready to give every measure of reasonable social democratic reform as their opponents are. But that ideal has been shattered and taken from me. I will not pretend that I am disconsolate in consequence, but there is one crowning act of folly which I have not yet been guilty of. I will not cry "Peace, peace!" when to me, politically speaking, there is no peace; and I will not pretend before this House and the country that all is for the best in the best of possible worlds, when I see my Party and the Government, which I have supported the whole of my life, introducing measures similar to this measure under discussion—measures which to my mind are mischievous and wrong in their nature and character, and which must inevitably bring disaster and ruin in their consequence and in their after effect. Sir, I say that this is a bad Bill, and it is a bad Bill because it is an unfair and an unjust Bill. It is a bad Bill because it takes the money of the community and applies it to special purposes, and to paying the debts of a particular class of gentlemen. The measure is wrong and unjust from beginning to end, and so sick and sorry do I feel with this one continual stream of the surrender and betrayal of the interests of the ratepayers and the taxpayers, and the interests of the whole 828 community to benefit particular classes in this country; and so weary am I of always being at loggerheads with my Party upon these perennial questions of doles that come up every year, that there is no course left open to, me but to resign the position I hold here, and to resign that position after pointing-out the great demerits of the legislation of the Government in these respects. In the case of this particular measure, I may say that I never more proudly gave a vote in this House than I shall against the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ CAPTAIN PRETYMAN (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has complained that when he faced his constituency he was severely buffeted. I can only hope that the buffeting which he received from his opponents was not more severe than that which he has just administered to his friends on this side of the House. We all know that the hon. Member has the courage of his opinions, and if he really believes that this measure is a dole to any particular class of persons whatsoever out of the State money at the expense of the other members of the community, the action which he has taken will be amply justified. But I maintain that no such question arises upon this Bill at all. There is no question whatever arises of money being voted from one part of the community to give a dole to another part. There is only one form of dole which is legally recognised in this country, and that is the dole which is obtained through the medium of the Poor Law. What we have to do in considering this Bill is to, separate first of all the cause for which this grant is to be given, and secondly the reason for voting this money now. The first point has already been dealt with very ably by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, and also by the hon. Member for the Stroud Division of Gloucester, whose arguments have shown that this Bill is simply a matter of relieving a burden which is unfairly borne by a certain section of the community. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have stated that there is no particular hardship in this case, but not one single instance has been adduced where any class or any single person in the community is rated upon his property or income in the same manner as the clergy of the Church of England are rated at this moment. I will quote one instance. 829 and ask hon. Gentlemen if they can contradict it. I think it may be shown that a clergyman pays rates upon the same class of property. Take the case of the parsonage grants under Queen Anne's bounty. This property is rated to the full value, and no deduction whatever is allowed for those repayments. Therefore I maintain that the clergyman is paying rates first of all upon the property itself, and secondly upon the money as he pays off the debt. Can right hon. Gentlemen opposite quote one single case where any other member of the community pays rates twice upon the same property? I am perfectly certain that they cannot. In this Bill we are simply claiming that there is a sum of money now being paid in the form of rates which was never intended to be paid upon property of that description. We go back to the year 1601, when rating was first imposed, and when there was a great principle enunciated, from which we have never yet departed, and that was that people should pay rates according to their ability to pay. I think if you compare the ability of clergymen to pay with other sections of the community, it can be proved that the clergy are paying four times as much towards the rates as other people who are in receipt of similar incomes. Therefore, I do not see how it can be claimed that the burden of the clergy in regard to local taxation is at all proportionate to the rest of the community. In this respect I do not think the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife was germane to the question. The right hon. Gentleman said that this is a dole, and that this money should be contributed by the wealthy members of the Church. That argument appears very much like a case in which you are able to prove definitely that a certain tradesman has overcharged you, and when you ask him to return the money he says to you, "Oh, no; I cannot return you this money. You are pretty well off yourself, and you have got some rich relations, and you had better go to them and ask for the return of this money which I have overcharged you." This is not a Church question at all, but it is a question of taxation between citizen and citizen. If you owe a man money you have to pay him, and you will not succeed in any court of justice by saying that the man to whom you owe the debt is very 830 well off and can do without it, and therefore the argument of my right hon. friend in this respect falls to the ground. This is a question of returning money which has been illegally levied, and the question of the poverty of the clergy does not enter into the matter at all. This is a debt due from the community, and the argument that the taxpayer will find the money and the ratepayer will lose it does not apply. This is the principle of the measure itself, because in this case the taxpayers have stolen the money and the ratepayers have received it. One is the stealer and the other is the receiver, and by this Bill you are simply making restitution of the money which has been improperly taken. If this money had been and was being illegally taken from persons who could afford to wait, then perhaps we should be justified in yielding to the argument of the Member for East Fife—that it would be unjust to deal with this question in part, and that these particular individuals ought to wait until the whole question was dealt with. But if you are able to show that a very large number of these persons are paying a very unjust sum, which the taxpayer is taking from them without any moral right whatever, and which has never been explicitly sanctioned by this House, and which the judges only exact on purely technical grounds, I say that you are justified in dealing with the case of these clergymen immediately. We ought to remember that this money is being extracted from people whose incomes are no greater, and in hundreds of cases are less, than the incomes of those mechanics working in the boroughs to which the hon. Member for Stockport has referred. I think it is to the credit of the Government that they have decided to go forward with this measure, even if they risk losing the support of the hon. Member for Stockport and his friends, even if they lose popularity. This Act is purely one to do an act of justice and right, and that will be to the credit and honour of the Government; for it is better to do right for its own sake, even if you have to suffer for it, than to seek a cheap popularity in order that you may not lose a by-election here and there. In the diocese of Norwich the bishop stated that there were 73 beneficed clergymen in that diocese whose incomes were less than £100. Now I think my hon. friend will agree with me that a large majority of the 831 mechanics in the division which he represents are in receipt of incomes of over £100 a year. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have stated that they want to strip off this Bill its clerical vestments. I want also to strip off the clerical vestments of the Church, but this has nothing to do with the Church at all. It is simply a question of doing an act of justice to Citizen A, who is paying an undue proportion of the taxes as compared with B. Whether that citizen is a clergyman, or whatever he is, makes no difference, for he has a right to be relieved of that burden. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may think this is an opportune time to attack this question, because it is the only subject which they have been able to unite upon for a long time. They appear to have forgotten that it was only in the year 1897, upon the motion of the Member for one of the divisions of Essex, that this House unanimously, without a Division, passed a Resolution that these clergymen were overtaxed and ought to be relieved. May I ask the hon. Member for Stockport if he allowed that Vote to pass without challenging it, and did he support that Resolution?
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY
I have no recollection of that Resolution, but if I had supported it I should have coupled with it a condition that it should apply to all ratepayers, for I claim that all real property should be dealt with at one time.
§ CAPTAIN PRETYMAN
The hon. Member says that real property is overtaxed, but there are enormous incomes in this country which escape the tax collector altogether, and many of them also escape the rate collector. I quite agree that it would have been much preferable to have dealt with this question as a whole instead of this particular aspect of it. This, however, is a recognised grievance upon which a unanimous vote of this House has been given. I noticed that while some parts of the hon. Member for Stockport's speech were loudly cheered by Members on the opposite side of the House, his statement that a future Liberal Government would reverse this measure was not cheered so vociferously. My own opinion is that neither my hon. friend nor his friends on the other side of the House will ever dare to repeal this measure until a more com- 832 prehensive Bill on this question is brought in. This measure professes to say, "Here is a growing injustice which has been acknowledged by this House. This is not an absolute remedy, but it is within the mark of what is fair and just between these particular ratepayers and the other ratepayers of the country." I think that the ratepayers and taxpayers generally will look upon this proposal as a fair one It has been argued that the clergy accepted their duties subject to this burden, but it is not much consolation to tell a man with £70 a year that his predecessor got £130. At this very moment tins burden is being imposed upon the clergy, and they have been protesting against it in season and out of season for a great number of years. What is more, they have carried case after case into the courts of law to show that this burden was being improperly borne by them. Ever since 1836 they have protested that this was an unjust burden. I will not deal with the argument that a part of the rates was added to the tithes, but I will use one illustration which strikes me as rather germane to the question—namely, that each benefice got by that means simply the gross amount of tithe actually liable for rates, alai what was added in certain cases was merely the replacing of what, as a matter of convenience, had been subtracted from the total which was liable for rates. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth, and many other hon. Members on the other side of the House, have claimed that the income tax payer is entitled to relief at the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and they claimed in attacking the Budget proposals that it was unfair and unjust that a professional man should be paying so large a sum as 8d. in the £ on incomes of over £700 a year. Now, I maintain that you cannot separate rating from taxation. In this case the Government show that a certain class of ratepayers are paying, not 8d. in the £ on incomes over £700, but 3s., 4s., 5s., and even 6s. in the £ upon incomes of less than £100 a year. And the very same hon. Gentlemen who advocate relief to the income tax payer, absolutely deny any form of relief to these clergymen, and they deny that there is any injustice in the case of a ratepayer who is paying a tax which is six or seven times as hard as the income tax. Upon this matter the Government have approached the question simply with a desire to do 833 justice to one particular class of the community, simply because they are paying an unjust and unfair burden of taxation. It is simply a question of taxation where one man is paying more and another less than his share. It is simply a question of remedying an injustice; but in this the hon Members opposite see an opportunity for making a little political capital in the country, and so they have decided to oppose this Bill tooth and nail. Personally, I am content to leave the issue to the country, and I am confident that, though hon. Gentlemen opposite may derive some small temporary political advantage from this measure, when this question comes to be judged on its merits history will say, and the country will say, that we have done right, and that hon. Gentlemen opposite have not improved the reputation of their Party by this partisan opposition.
§ MR. BILLSON (Halifax)
The hon. Member for Stroud, in his energetic and eloquent speech, raised the question as to why we should complain of the matter being brought forward piecemeal, and he took credit to the Government for being prepared to deal with injustices as they arose. He said we must begin somewhere, and why should we not begin with the clergy. Since the last election we have heard a great deal of talk in the country about the way in which it was won. On this side we have endeavoured to point out that the election was won by the unholy alliance of two or three privileged interests, and we predicted that the Government would reward those interests if they were returned to power. We did not think that our suspicions would be verified so soon, but they have been verified by doles to the landlords and the Voluntary schools, and now there is a dole to the clergy in this Bill. I should have thought that if any benefit was to be given to the clergy as a class, it would have been far wiser and more simple if the rates and taxes upon the vicarages and parsonages had been remitted. But if that had been done it would have immediately raised the question whether other bodies ought not to have the advantage of some reduction also. Even among their own supporters, during the last few months, there have been most serious complaints as to the attitude of the Government. There was a letter from a clergyman, in which he said that 834 the would withdraw from the Conservative Association, because he considered that the Government had not done what they could on this very question. The Liberal victories winch have been achieved lately were contributed to by this dissatisfaction. It is ill-omened that two great classes in the country—the brewers and the clergy of the Established Church—, make their private interests their politics; and insist that when a Government comes into office it should be to benefit the people who put them there. We hear enough of the taxes put upon property by the Liberal Government; but the only sort of tax which the Tory party seem to consider of importance is the tax on the masses of the people for the benefit of the privileged classes. I noticed that immediately after the East Edinburgh election the defeated candidate rather scoffed at the electorate, because, he said, they had been led away by cupidity and by the promises of the successful candidate. Now, these promises were nothing but, suggestions of a general rearrangement of taxation, so that the burden might fall fairly on all classes of the community. I am one of those who think that no Christian church flourishes on endowments. Wherever yon come across a Nonconformist church that has a small endowment, there you will generally find that the spiritual life is dead. The spiritual life of a congregation depends upon how people throw themselves into the affairs of the church, and if there is a debt to be paid off or new work to do you get the people bound together by an amount of energy and spiritual fervour which is never found wherever the income is provided by others. It is a matter of surprise to us that the Church of England does not realise this. It should have the courage of its opinions in these matters. I remember Mr. Gladstone, when addressing a meeting for obtaining funds for a Missionary Bishop, pointed out the enormous amount of reserve which the Church of England had at its back, and said that if the Church could really rise to a due sense of its duty there would be no poverty amongst the clergy, and plenty of money for all other purposes. For some of these reasons I strongly oppose this Bill. I suppose it will be passed by the Government with their great majority; but it will redound to the discredit of the Government and the humiliation of the Church.
§ * MR. LOYD (Berks, Abingdon)
I intend to support this Bill, not because I am a member of the Church to which the clergy belong, some of whom will be benefited by it, but in spite of that fact, and because the whole of the arguments seem to me to be in favour of the relief to be given, whereas only topics of prejudice seem to be on the other side. The speech in which the right hon. Gentleman moved the rejection of this Bill was marked by his usual ability and acuteness, but it seemed to me that that ingenuity and acuteness were nowhere more cleverly displayed than in the manner in which he carefully kept in the background what is really the groundwork of this Bill. The very able lead which he gave to his followers has been adopted by them, and from first to last, in all the speeches which I have heard directed against this Bill, I have not heard one single attempt to meet this question, "Are the clergy of the Church of England assessed upon a wrong and unjust basis for their rates?" The whole assumption on the other side has been that the complaint is merely as to the amount of the rates that they justly have to pay; that their poverty has been brought in as a make-weight in support of their claim for relief from a burden which, though just, is irksome to them; and that the other members of the Church to which they belong, who ought to help them, are hanging hack and endeavouring to give them assistance in supporting themselves and their families by putting their hands I into the pockets of the ratepayers and taxpayers of the country. Now, from first to last, there is no suggestion in ail these speeches that the real complaint is as to the method upon which the clergy are assessed. Yet that is the real question, and the mere amount is immaterial except as an index of the unjust method by which such startling results are arrived at. If the method is found upon examination to be unjust, then I take it there could be no justification whatever for a party, however opposed it may be to the Church, to bring their ingenuity to bear in order to prevent the clergy from getting the injustice remedied. Another feature in the presentation of this case by the opponents of the Bill is that it is represented as a sudden trick, sprung upon the country by the Unionist Party, with a view of remunerating their political supporters at the last election. Well 836 would anybody dream from that statement that this is a complaint which has been outstanding in its present form for sixty years, that it was acknowledged by the Poor Law Commissioners long before the Unionist Party was ever heard of, that it was endorsed by Sir George Cornewall Lewis, that it has the high sanction of Mr. Gladstone himself, and that the clergy themselves, for all those years, have been perpetually pointing to the fact that they were being assessed upon an erroneous or, at all events, upon an unjust basis? These few facts alone seem to me to demolish and pulverise the insinuations by which it has been sought on the other side of the House to obscure the reason of the country upon this question. This is not a question merely of the poverty of the clergy. It is not a bare question of the amount that they pay in their rates. It is non a new matter invented by the present Government for election purposes. It is a matter which has been open to the inspection of all who have taken the trouble to look into it for the last sixty years. But it has the misfortune to be a singularly dry subject, and therefore it repels close inquiry, and affords a much more ready opportunity for creating prejudice and stirring up hatred and malice amongst the creeds into which this country is unhappily divided. If we on this side of the House, therefore, have to face all that obloquy and all those unjust insinuations, it becomes necessary, in self-defence, that I should trouble the House for a few minutes by attempting to show what in my judgment is the injustice from which the clergy suffer, and how that injustice has arisen. So far from concealing our intention, we have tried over and over again to bring the matter before the House, but on each occasion, either the history of rating has been ruled by you, Sir, to be irrelevant, or when efforts have been made in the form of questions to Ministers to ventilate this grievance, it has been impossible within the limits of a question and answer that any complete estimate of the subject should be given. Therefore I must ask the indulgence of the House while I endeavour to point out that in the original rating Act of Elizabeth, beyond which it is unnecessary to go, wherever tithes were employed as the stipend of the clergy, the nature of those tithes was recognised to be distinct in kind from the nature of all other 837 tithes. And the reason is not far to seek. The tithes which were used to remunerate the clergy for their services and to provide for their support were not land in any sense of the term. Many of them were in no way connected with the land, but consisted of the produce of animals or the result of industry, and even where they were derived from the land they were, before becoming tithes, severed from the land. So far they resembled other tithes. But unlike other tithes they were a stipend, to be earned. Moreover, these tithes so severed from the land or treated as produce were personalty, and the right to receive them not being the subject of devise nor inheritance, as was the case with impropriate tithes, they were so recognised in the Statute Book, and were treated, not as hereditaments, which could be occupied, but as mere personalty, the profits received by the parson as an inhabitant of the parish. The Statute of Elizabeth, if it covers clerical tithes at all, recognises this distinction, as will be seen from its first section, which provides:That the overseers are to raise 'by taxation of every inhabitant, parson, vicar, and other, and of every occupier of land, houses, tithes impropriate, propriations of tithes, coal mines, or saleable underwoods in the said parish,' a stock of flax and other necessary stuff to set the poor on work, and also competent sums of money for the relief of the lame." and so forth.Now that clearly marks out for taxation two classes—first, the inhabitant, whether he be parson, vicar, or other; and, secondly, every occupier of land, houses, and tithes other than tithes annexed to a Benefice. It was under the former head, that of "inhabitants," that personal property was made liable, and remained liable till exempted by the Statute of 1840. It was under the latter head that real property was rendered liable, and still remains liable, to be rated. But although the parson or vicar was thus clearly placed in the former category, as an inhabitant—so that his tithe and his ability to bear taxation in respect thereof should be tested, just as other profits were to be tested, after deducting what it cost him to earn the profits—yet a confusion gradually arose as to the nature of the parson's liability, and, as occupiers of tithes impropriate were mentioned in the latter part of the clause, it seems to have become vaguely supposed that the parson 838 was liable as the "occupier" of his tithe. With whom this blunder originated is not known, but we know that so high an authority as Dalton's "County Justice," in an edition published some 150 years after the Statute of Elizabeth, is found laying down the doctrine that the parson is rateable on tithe as an occupier. These are the words:Every clergyman is to be rated for his glebe and tithes according to their yearly value, so long as they are in his own occupation, because the Statute charges every occupier of tithes.Now, that, as I shall show very shortly, if the House will allow me to do so, is an entire misapprehension of the Statute. A clergyman's glebe was, of course, realty, and if he was the occupier of the glebe he remained liable under the second head of the Statute of Elizabeth as the occupier of his glebe. But with regard to his tithe, he was rateable under that Statute, if at all, simply and solely as an "inhabitant," and in respect of profits received by him within the parish. The doctrine, so laid down in Dalton, probably in a slovenly moment, has led to incalculable in justice to the clergy of the country, and probably put even lawyers off their inquiry as to the true basis on which tithes were rateable in the parson's hands. And so the matter remained in confusion till a decision of the Court of Appeal in 1885. Certain it is that during all the litigation and legislation which ensued, and which has proved so difficult to harmonise and construe, this misconception of the nature of clerical tithe as a rateable subject matter continued. We find counsel and judges recognising the difficulty which was put upon the parson by treating not only his house and glebe, but also his tithes as ordinary real property. Provisos are introduced into Statutes for his protection as the different commutation and assessment reforms are carried. But such provisos are held to be too vague to carry out the purpose for which they were inserted. The courts apparently are unable to escape from the confusion, and we find the parson getting the worst of it at every encounter. It was not till long after the Commutation Act and the Parochial Assessment Act of 1836 and the Inhabitants Exemption Act, 1840, that we find the blunder in Dalton exposed in a decision to which I will call attention shortly. In the meantime we 839 have lost sight of the valuable principle of the Statute of Elizabeth, that in estimating the parson's ability to pay rates on his tithes they are to be regarded as profits, and, as profits, only to be ascertained after allowing for what it costs the parson to earn those tithes. I am anxious not to detain the House a moment longer than necessary with Statutes and decisions which have been already referred to, but in order to complete this part of my observations I will pass on to the time when personalty was exempted from rateability. That arose in 1840, in consequence of the decision in the case of the Queen v. Lumsdaine, in which it was held by the Court that any rate which did not include the personalty was an invalid rate. There had arisen a practice of the overseers to leave out personalty in their rate because of the great difficulty of ascertaining the gross receipts and deducting the outgoings so as to arrive at the balance of profit, and the practice of leaving out personalty very largely prevailed; but some bold person took the case to the court, and obtained a decision that there had been no release of personalty from liability to be rated under the Statute of Elizabeth, and that every rate which did not include the personalty was an invalid rate. Upon that the manufacturers of the country became alarmed, and their spokesman, Sir Robert Peel, called the attention of the Government of the day to the serious consequences which would ensue if this decision were not at once met by legislation. In calling attention to the matter in this House, in May, 1840, Sir Robert Peel referred to a circular of the Poor Law Commissioners which had been issued a few months previously, in which the Commissioners gave notice that since the Queen v. Lumsdaine, there remained no longer any doubt as to the liability of stock in trade to be rated, and that every rate might be successfully appealed against if any inhabitant having productive stock-in-trade were not rated for it. The circular proceeded to deal with the result of the decisions as to what method should be adopted in rating stock-in-trade, and pointed out—and this is one of the difficulties which led to stock-in-trade not being rated—that it was not all the productive stock-in-trade which an inhabitant possessed which was liable to be rated. It was only the clear liqui- 840 dated surplus after payment of all the owner's debts that was liable, and that it was decided, in the Queen v. White, that personal property must not be rated at random, and that the overseers must be able to prove its exact amount. Moreover, Lord Mansfield, in another case, laid it down that personal property, for rating purposes, was onlythe surplus after paying the owner's debts and a proper sum for the maintenance of his family, and also other necessary expenses,and if a parish officer made a rate not properly apportioning the sum after ascertaining these particulars, that rate was liable to be appealed against just as much as if the property had not been included at all. Such, said Sir Robort Peel, was the present state of the law with respect to art annual impost amounting to £7,000,000, and he thought that by this simple statement he had clearly established the absolute necessity of preventing the confusion that must arise by a distinct declaration of the law. Now, Sir, I have troubled the House with that short account from Hansard will be found in the fifty-third volume, column 1,368, because it seems to me to show what deductions the parson's tithe income was entitled to as personalty, if only the true nature of the rateability had been understood. Well, in consequence of the difficulty in which naturally the whole of the rating authorities of the country were placed by their being called upon to find out the precise amount, and to levy the rates at their peril, an urgent appeal was made to get the "inhabitants" under the first branch of the Statute of Elizabeth released from rating altogether. Thereupon Mr. Goulburn, who was an Ecclesiastical Commissioner, and others, including some of the Bishops, made a protest on behalf of the tithe-owning clergy against the release of personalty (or rather all other personalty except that of the parson) from rating, without making some provision for protecting the parsons and the occupiers of realty from undue pressure in consequence. Upon the parsons the exemption of all "inhabitants" except themselves, produced this double hardship. First, there was the hardship suffered by realty generally. This grievance the parson shared in respect of his house and glebe, but there was also the hardship of being himself retained as "an inhabitant" by specia 841 proviso, for it was under this category alone that he was rateable for his tithe. Of course, the passing of the Commutation Act, and the Assessments Acts in 1836, had tended to obliterate the view that his tithe, for rating purposes, was to be dealt with as profits accruing to an "inhabitant" under the Statute of Elizabeth. But I am trying to show how the interests of the clergy in this respect have suffered from forgetting what would have kept up his title to the deductions to which personalty was entitled, viz., "the owner's debts, a proper sum for the maintenance of his family awl other necessary expenses." Mr. Goulburn's protests were made. But such was the urgency of that matter, no valid rates being possible throughout the country, that a Bill was rapidly passed through this House exempting all "inhabitants," except the parson, from rateability in respect of the profits of personalty, and that Act, chiefly in consequence of the protests I have mentioned, was made an annual Act, and has remained annual up to the present day, though constant appeals have been made to successive Governments to remedy the inequality it produced. In 1885, the Queen versus Christopherson was decided in the Court of Appeal by the late Lord Esher, Lord Justice Lindley, and Lord Justice Cotton. Now these judges had before them the question of the grounds on which the tithe was rateable under the statute of Elizabeth, and they were at first very much puzzled by the passage I have quoted from Dalton, and Lord Justice Lindley, the present Master of the Rolls, after careful examination of the matter historically and legally, pointed out that that passage was a misreading of the Statute of Elizabeth, and probably that blunder was responsible for the greater part of the confusion that had arisen throughout the country. The Court of Appeal, so constituted, pointed out that the parson's liability to rating in respect of his tithe was, after all, as "an inhabitant" under the first branch of the Statute of Elizabeth. If clerical tithe, therefore, was only rateable originally as profits in the hands of the parson, as one of those very "inhabitants" who were released altogether by the Art of 1840, how can it be said that the parson has no grievance when he has been manœuvred out of all those deductions which the Statute of Elizabeth allowed 842 him, when those very deductions were insisted on by his fellow "inhabitants" to the point of obtaining release altogether from liability, and when the parson alone was, by special proviso, denied the release which the other "inhabitants" obtained, while he was also denied the deductions to which all others in the same category were entitled. It may be said the commutation of his tithe for a rent-charge had in the meantime altered the grounds of his rateability; but if so it all took place by inference and implication, and as I have shown during the period when the erroneous reading of the Statute of Elizabeth in Dalton remained unexposed, and neither counsel nor judges nor legislators took any account of the right which the parson's position as an "inhabitant" under that Act gave him, to have the proper deductions made in the rating of his tithe. But even taking the tithe rent-charge as real property, the Commission finds that it is not allowed fair play upon the present system of assessment. In other rateable property, not the whole gross annual value, but an aliquot part of the whole gross annual value, is taken as the gross estimated rental to start with, and from that certain deductions are allowed. Whereas the whole gross annual value of the tithe is taken as the gross estimated rental to start with, and then, simply because the deductions specified in the Acts as allowable for arriving at the net rateable value do not apply with verbal accuracy to tithe rent-charge, a very meagre list of deductions is allowed off the gross tithe rent-charge to arrive at the rateable value. Moreover, since tithe, by the commutation in 1836, became a fixed quantity so far as improvability by any outlay is concerned, numerous rates have been imposed upon it from which it has derived no increase at all. Whatever the cause, whatever the history of the process, the House has before it a distinct finding of the Royal Commission that the present system is productive of severe inequality to the disadvantage of the parson, and to the advantage of the other ratepayers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife framed some more eloquent periods than I could frame to describe the evil results caused by an anxious struggle for the support of a family to the discharge by the clergy of their duties in what is a high and a sacred calling. But his language, every word of 843 which I adopt, was applied to poverty which was the result of mere misfortune. We, on this side of the House at least, are satisfied, as the Poor Law Commissioners, and Sir George Cornewall Lewis and Mr. Gladstone were long ago satisfied that there is, in the case of the tithe-owning clergy, a grave injustice in the basis upon which the tithe rent-charge is assessed as compared with the basis adopted for other rateable property. We are confirmed in that belief by the very strong report to that effect made by the Royal Commission now sitting on Local Taxation. We, therefore, feel convinced that in addition to the impediments to the discharge of their duties, which were so powerfully described by the late Home Secretary, the clergy are suffering under an acute sense of injustice. And if to a hard struggle to discharge their duties and meet the incessant calls upon their dwindling incomes, you superadd a sense of injustice in their share of the public burdens; and if that injustice is continued year after year, and their patient waiting is never to be crowned with any measure of relief, then we believe it is not merely a question of impediments and difficulties, but that an attack is made upon their moral qualities and powers of resistance for bearing their misfortunes as they would wish; and that, being only human after all, the moral and mental fibre so requisite for their high calling may be broken down. We resent the charges of unworthy motives imputed to us in giving this relief from an injustice so long acknowledged by such eminent authorities to exist; but we should be weak indeed if we refused to do a plain act of justice for fear of slanderous tongues. The method to be chosen for this must have presented a difficult problem to the Government. Personally, I should have been very glad if any method could have been devised for re-modelling the present system of assessment so as to re-adjust the burthen more fairly among the different parties liable. But one has only to consider for a moment, to see the impossibility of granting any speedy relief upon such a basis as that. On the whole, I see no other way in which it could be so well done. Prejudice was appealed to just now by one of the speakers, who said the share of the local taxation fund, which would go to the relief of this inequality, would be money contributed 844 by persons of various creeds other than that of the clergy of the Church of England. Yes, but the persons whose rates have been less on account of the over-assessment of the clergy have also been persons of different persuasions. They are not now asked to refund any of the monies which the Royal Commission finds that the clergy have been paying for them, but the rate-collector is requested to take less in future from the clergy in respect of tithe. The balance, is to be provided out of funds which were on their way to the local authorities in relief of rates already. But inasmuch as the local taxation account has increased beyond all expectation the sum diverted for this purpose will be, hardly a perceptible reduction compared with recent receipts of local authorities-on local taxation account. Moreover, the Act is only temporary, for a couple of-years or so, and will not prevent the Royal Commissioners on local taxation from reporting fully upon the incidence of local burthens when they make their final report. I congratulate the Government upon the skill with which they have performed a difficult, but most necessary duty towards a body of men who are prevented by their calling from looking after their own worldly interests so keenly as laymen can do, and who have, in this matter of rating, been pressed to the wall. I shall never give a vote with more satisfaction than in support of the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ MR. STUART (Shoreditch)
I cannot admit the attitude taken up by hon. Gentlemen that our opposition to this Bill involves any attack on the Church of England. It is those who bring in this Bill who are attacking the Church of England. Almost the whole of the arguments on the Government side of the House have been based on the fallacy that the incumbent has the right to the gross amount of the commutation of the tithe, or of the rent-charge to which it has been commuted. I deny that position, and hold that what the clergyman has a right to under the existing law is the tithe diminished by the rates upon it. Let that position be answered. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has spoken as though there had been some legal right; and another hon. Gentleman—I think the hon. Member for Woodbridge—said that the legal position taken towards 845 the clergy brought about the extreme amount of rates they had to pay. Whatever may be my views on that point, that is the legal position, which has been maintained for 300 years, and if this is to be altered it must be altered by legislation. Now, what is the justice of the case? I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud, and I sat with him on the Royal Commission day after day and month after month, and I am aware what his position is. His position does not go to the support of this Bill—that is shown by the Memorandum he signed in the Commission, which shows not that the rating of tithes is unjust or unfair, but that the assessment of taxes is unjust and unfair. Those are very different things. If you alter the assessment of tithes, the result is that you throw on the other ratepayers of the district all that you save the tithe-owners. If you alter the rating, that is a thing which requires legislation and distinct instruction from this House. The net result of the proposal of the hon. Member for Stroud is that the clergy are entitled to the net amount of the tithes and that the assessments should be altered; but how would the hon. Gentleman meet his local ratepayers if they had to bear the burden? The members of the Royal Commission who favoured his proposal found themselves in this dilemma—that if they altered the assessment they would throw the burden on the local ratepayers. If they altered the amount of the rate imposed on these people, there was no evidence to show that the clergy have a right to be relieved out of the parochial rates. Now why has this been done? There has been throughout all the speeches made on the Government side of the House a repudiation of the Bill being based on the poverty of the clergy.
§ MR. STUART
I accept all the repudiation and will assume that it is based on the principle that it is just and proper and necessary that there should be some alteration in the rates, but, unfortunately, that is not the case put by the clergy themselves. How can the Government repudiate it or say anything else than that something must be done to relieve the poverty of the clergy? The Member 846 for Stroud put the issue very clearly. He said the clergy paid too much rates on their tithes, and the rates ought to be reduced. That is the real issue, the poverty of the clergy. It may be right or wrong to relieve that poverty, but there is no doubt in my mind that this, Bill is for that purpose. It has been said that the injustice has been growing. I do not know what is meant by that, but I have looked with great care through the Returns that have been made, and I find that no less than one-sixth of the whole number of cases were dealt with, under the Commutation Act, all over England, and the amount commuted for rates was 3s. 6d. in the £ on the amount of rates commuted, and I find that the amount of rate per £ which the clergy has to pay is not only not increasing, but is diminishing. Instead of the injustice growing, the proportion of the gross income of the clergy generally throughout England that goes for rates is a decreasing proportion, whereas in big towns the proportion of the income of an ordinary man that goes for rates is increasing, Let me say a word with regard to the relative positions of the Church of England and the Dissenting bodies in this matter. If I wanted to improve the position of the Church of England I would not add pro rata to the incomes of the clergy, as this Bill does, but I would endeavour to level up the insufficient incomes. The scandal of the Church of England is not that a man who, got £1,000 a year some years ago now only gets £750, but that the man who got £100 or £200 now only gets about two-thirds of that sum. The Nonconformists aim at levelling up the incomes, and only the other day one of the very poorest Dissenting communities, the Primitive Methodists, passed a resolution, which they will carry out, that they would raise the incomes of their ministers to at least £100 a year. Why do not the clergy of the Church of England appeal to the laity of the Church of England to raise the smaller incomes to a proper level?
§ MR. STUART
Then why is not the response given? What we have to contend with in respect of the Church of England, and are trying to deal with in, this Bill, is not any raising of rates or 847 any undue effect of the rates upon these per sons, but the fall in the source of their in come. That is the origin of this Bill. You say that the evil is due to the unequal way in which rates are charged to the beneficed owners of tithes. That is an inequality which has existed for 300 years, and certainly and distinctly since the tithe commutation. It has been established and upheld repeatedly, and every clergyman has accepted his income subject to that understanding. Let us trace home that inequality of rating. What Sir George Cornewall Lewis brought forward as the real difficulty was not the over assessment of the clergy, but the under assessment of other people. If that be so, the Government should have taken into consideration not one of the interim Reports of the Royal Commission, but both of them. The Report upon which this Bill is based is the second interim Report. The first was issued with the object of obtaining an adequate and equal assessment of all property, and was absolutely unanimous. Why was not that acted upon? It worked out a complete scheme whereby the thing could be dealt with—very different from the hazy manner in which this tithe question was treated. If that Report had been taken, it would have corrected a large amount of these evils, and also a great many other evils at the same time. It will not do to speak of the clergy as if they were the only case of over assess merit. There are innumerable other cases, such as the owners of machinery, and the London ratepayer, who took his house many years ago and has to submit to large taxation for improvements which will be exhausted before his lease is out. The hardship in the eases I have cited is an individual hardship, while that of the clergy is a corporate hardship pertaining to the Church as a corporate body. The individual clergyman has accepted his salary subject to these conditions, so that the claim of the Church of England is a corporate claim to be exempted from the operation of rates upon the tithe. The pathetic speech of the hon. Member for Stockport, which will ring in the ears and minds of many Members of this House for a very long time, expresses the feeling which is very widely spread amongst the Liberals and Conservatives, persons of all grades and character of opinion throughout the country. It is undoubted that there are doles given to 848 certain specified favoured classes by the present Government, and in principle, though not in amount, this present dole is the most objectionable the House has given. It is an endowment of the Church of England by the State. It is raising a religious warfare which was slumbering; it adopts a method which is absolutely iniquitous as between the various persons to whom the grant is distributed. The man with an income of £100, paying about £20 in rates, so that his proper income is £80, is to get £10, while the man with £1,000 a year is to get £100. As in the case of the Agricultural Rating Act, you are giving it at the wrong end. I was a member of the Royal Commission, and have sat through the whole of their inquiry. What was the origin of that Commission? It originated from the Agricultural Rating Act. What was the object of the Commission? It was to see whether, the Agricultural Rating Act having passed the House, we could take the necessary steps to relieve the general body of ratepayers. It is an extraordinary step that, having appointed the Commission, the Government should proceed to deal, not with the case of the ordinary ratepayer, but with that of one particular and selected class. The method of Royal Commissions is becoming little less than a scandal. We get Royal Commissions which investigate for years, which report after great consideration, and whose Reports are worthy of consideration, but nothing more is ever heard of them. We get other Commissions, which are practically invited by the Government which has proposed them to make special Reports upon special points, with a view to the Government dealing with those particular points. Such a state of things is not creditable to the House. I venture to express the view that this Bill will be very unacceptable, not only to Members on this side of the House, but also to Members on the other side, and it is a piece of legislation which is wholly retrograde, because one of the very things the Royal Commission had to consider was the question of the propriety of grants in aid.
§ MR. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tunbridge)
The hon. Member who has just sat down, instead of dealing with this Bill, has spent the whole of his time in denouncing the system of what he 849 calls "doles" in the case of a Bill which is not a dole at all. He has raked up religious controversies, and devoted his arguments, not to the Bill, but to trying to demolish a certain circular issued by a certain clergyman, who does not represent in the least those who are to be relieved by this Bill. This is a subject I have considered very carefully, having been invited by certain colleagues of mine in this House to give evidence before the Royal Commission, where I had the opportunity of giving the conclusions I had drawn from a large amount of evidence which I had collected from many sources. The question is really a very simple one. It is not a question of rating, but merely one of assessment, the whole point being that the parson is assessed at a higher rate than anybody else. The hon. Member contended that, because it is a question of assessment, therefore instead of supplying the deficiency which would be caused by lowering the assessment you ought to throw the burden upon the other ratepayers. That is precisely what this Bill does, because the money comes out of the Local Taxation Account, which the Imperial taxpayer has to pay in any case. It is only a question of how the Local Taxation Account is to be applied, and if a certain amount is to be applied in making good the deficiency which is caused by the clergyman paying only half his rates, in the future it follows that there is less for other local purposes to which the fund would otherwise be applied. Then, Sir, the tithe-owner is assessed on a higher basis than other ratepayers; he pays upon his whole receipts, whereas, to take this case, an occupier of an agricultural farm does not pay on the whole produce of his soil; he pays on that portion which he hands over to his landlord in the shape of rent, after he has first of all deducted the cost of production and his own tenants' profits. That is the difference between the way in which the clergy and other ratepayers are assessed. So far from this Bill giving a dole to the clergy, it is merely a very tardy act of justice which ought to have been done years ago. I cannot imagine a more senseless proceeding than for the friends of the Church to ask for a dole of this kind. It would be the most senseless and foolish proceeding we could possibly indulge in. The dole is so small that, apart from the point of view of meting out 850 justice to the clergy, it is really almost a pity to take it.
§ MR. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
Yes, as a dole. But as an act of justice it ought to have been done years ago. You say we are indulging in class legislation. Nothing of the kind. You are merely doing justice to the clergy just as you ought to do to any other class of the community. So far from our being subject to any class prejudice, and asking for special favour for those whore we support, it is hon. Members opposite who have a sort of animosity against clergymen, and would deny them the barest act of justice. I said that the question is one of assessment, and that the parson is assessed too high. But there is a further grievance which ought to be dealt with, and which is only partly dealt with by this Bill. Not only is the parson assessed upon too high a basis, but he is not allowed the deductions from his assessments which are absolutely necessary. The Parochial Assessment Act of 1836 laid down certain deductions which had to be made in order to arrive at the rateable value. Parliament then consisted of persons who were principally landlords. I say nothing against that, but they understood only the deductions which were applicable to land, and they put in the Bill that certain things such as repairs, insurance, and other things should be deducted in order to find out the rateable value. These were put in as applicable to land and buildings, but they were not made applicable to tithe rent-charge, and those things cannot be deducted in arriving at the rateable value. In places where the tithe-owner is legally bound to keep a curate, or make a payment to a district church, he is not, even in such a case, allowed to make any deductions. Therefore, not only is he paying on too high a basis, but he is also paying, in a great many instances, on a large amount of money which does not come into his pocket at all, and that constitutes a grievance which it is high time the House ought to remove. I appeared before the Royal Commission upon this question, and I was able to collect a great many instances in which clergymen suffer at present. Here is the case of the parish of Hailsham, in Sussex. The tithe charge is £423, and the income from other sources £66 19s., which makes the total 851 value of the living £490. The parson has to pay out of that £300 a year to curates, who are absolutely necessary, and yet he has to pay rates upon practically the whole of his tithe rent-charge, amounting to some £87 a year. He pays for other outgoings £39, and his net income instead of being £490 is only £63 17s. 9d. I ask is it fair that a clergyman should pay rates upon £300 a year, which does not go into his pocket at all. In another case at Burlesdon (Hampshire), the tithe produces £74 a year, and the revenue from other sources of £63 brings the living to £137; the parson pays £130 fur a curate, and he pays rates upon the whole tithe rent-charge to the amount of £10 a year, and other necessary outgoings £6. Therefore his income is £137 and his outgoings are £145, and this man is actually out of pocket as the result of his work, but still he has to contribute £10 a year to the rates. I will give just one other instance of the unfairness where a man is paying rates on what he does not receive. At Lindsell, in Essex, there was a case where the tithe rent-charge was £142, and the income from other sources £5 15s. The rates paid by the clergyman amount to £39, and for other necessary outgoings he pays £7, making the total outgoings £46. Therefore the rates on the income amount to about one-fourth of the gross total, and between one-half and one-third of the net total. There are a good many more similar instances, but I will not weary the House with them. I venture to say that the clergy are, without exception, the most severely rated people in the country. That is the case which we have to present in favour of the Bill. I deny altogether that this is a got-up agitation. Let me collie now to the question of the Royal Commission which sat upon this question. It contained the names of many men of eminence on both sides of politics. It contained men like Sir John Hibbert and Sir George Murray, who could not be considered as advocates of any narrow, bigoted ecclesiastical policy. There was also the hon. Member for East Donegal, who made a separate Report, advocating something rather different to what the Royal Commission recommended, although he agreed that a grievance had been fully made out. He said in the minority Report:I am, therefore, of opinion that the case of hardship which has been admittedly made out 852 would be naturally, sufficiently, and prudently met by the extension to the tithe rent-charge of the provisions of the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896.The hon. Member for East Donegal is not a member of the Church party, and he speaks from a purely independent point of view, and even he admits the grievance as fully as anybody else. I will now take a Member of the rank and file of the Party opposite, the hon. Member for Mid. Norfolk. There was an election in South Norfolk a year ago, and it did not result altogether satisfactorily to the Party to which I belong, and I suppose this question had something to do with that result. Now the hon. Member for Mid. Norfolk, in support of the hon. Member for South Norfolk, issued the following circular:When the Agricultural Rating Relief Bill came before Parliament I put an Amendment on the Paper, the object of which was to include the clergy in the relief granted to other people whose incomes were affected by the fall in the price of corn. When this Amendment was nearly reached it was closured out by the Government, and all discussion of it thereby prevented. Since then, though a Liberal, I have voted for a Resolution in favour of the relief of the clergy from the rating of their entire income, but again the Government stepped in and defeated the proposal. I am glad to say Mr. Soames has promised, if returned, to join with me in endeavouring to enforce this measure of obvious justice.I shall be glad to hear what the hon. Members for Norfolk intend to do with regard to this measure. I contend that this grievance has been fully made out; it has existed for a good many years, and ought to be dealt with by the Government. It is true that when the clergy accepted their livings they knew that they would have to pay these taxes, but for the last sixty years they have protested against them. The condition of clergyman has been made worse and worse for a great many years, for under the Statute of Elizabeth he was not rated at all as an occupier, but as an inhabitant to pay according to his ability. The Statute is one of the year 1601, and by it the overseers are enabled:To raise weekly or otherwise by taxation of every parson, vicar, and other, and of every occupier of lands, houses, tithes, impropriates or propriations of tithes, coal mines or saleable underwoods in the said parish in such competent sum or sums of money as they shall think fit.The Government by their present proposal are merely reverting to the original 853 plan. Up to the time of the Parochial Assessments Act of 1836 the clergyman did not pay on the whole amount of his tithe, but only on a certain proportion; but when the Act was passed he was rated on the full amount. The parson's case is a very hard one, which has been made harder by contrary decisions of the Courts, and this measure is only a very tardy act of justice. I am surprised, knowing the intelligence of hon. Members opposite, that they should make so much of this absolute mare's nest. I apologise to the House for having occupied the time at such length, but I do feel that this is a matter upon which we ought, to the best of our ability, to do this act of justice. We do not ask for assistance to help the struggling clergy, but whether they be rich or poor they have a claim to be rated fairly.
§ MR. ALFRED THOMAS (Glamorganshire, E.)
The hon. Member who last addressed the House has quoted several eases of hardship. There is, however, one prominent characteristic of the Conservative Party, and it is that when they are in office they never forget their friends. In this respect I do not think that even the author of the phrase "to the victors belong the spoil" could give them any points. This characteristic has never before been developed to such an extent as it has been during the present Administration, for it has now become an epidemic. We have had some eloquent speeches with regard to the injustice of granting bounties which allow foreign manufacturers to enter into competition with us under unfair conditions, but why do they want to follow the example in this case? What is the justification for this measure? The right hon. Gentleman did not say that it was brought in because of the poverty of the clergy, but because they were overrated. If these clergymen are underpaid, who ought to pay them their proper stipends? Is it not the community to which they belong who ought to pay them? When we find that our Nonconformist ministers are underpaid we subscribe for them, but immediately these clergymen find themselves in difficulties they come to Parliament and dip their hands into the public purse of this country. But even these underpaid clergymen will not be benefited by this Bill. The President of the Board of Agriculture said, and we agree with 854 him, that a number of the clergy of the Church of England are underpaid. But whose fault is that? Surely those to whom they minister. It is unjust to ask those outside of the Establishment to make up for the deficiencies caused by a want of appreciation of the obligations of the members of that community. The members of the Church of England are, in a word, the wealthy classes of the country, but when it is necessary to meet any difficulty, such as that now before the House, their only remedy is to dip their hands into the public purse. The clergy who are the most deserving of consideration—namely, those who labour in the large towns—will not receive any advantage from the present measure. The worst enemy of the Party opposite could not have devised a more damaging measure for their reputation. If it does not fill up the cup I shall be much mistaken, for I cannot conceive any piece of legislation more calculated to rouse the indignation of Dissenters than this attempt to further endow the Church of England. It seems that no fund is sacred in the eyes of hon. Gentlemen opposite—not even the Sinking Fund. I am very sorry for the President of the Board of Agriculture that it should fall to his lot to bring in so unhappy a measure.
§ * LORD E. FITZMAURICE (Wiltshire, Cricklade)
My right hon. friend the Member for East Fife, who commenced the Debate this evening, complained of the difficult position in which the House had been placed by the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in regard to the way in which the various stages of the Bill had been taken. He pointed out that the rules of the House had been abused to bring in this Bill in a hurried fashion, and that, notwithstanding that fact, a very brief interval had been allowed to elapse between the introduction of the Bill and its Second Reading. But not only has this House a right to complain in regard to the manner in which the Bill has been hurried here, but we also have a right to complain on behalf of the county and local authorities of the country, that they have not had sufficient time given them to consider a Bill which affects every one of them in a vital manner, and as to which they might fairly have been given some opportunity of expressing an opinion. My right hon. friend, in introducing this Bill, used an expression that 855 there was a "balance" at his disposal, and no doubt that assertion left the impression on the minds of many hon. Members who heard it that there was sonic unappropriated balance lodged somewhere which was or was not, according as the Government might determine, at the disposal of the local authority. Now the whole of the Local Taxation Fund, out of which this £87,000 is to be paid, is at this moment, by Statute, the property of the county and local authorities, and the only duty of the Government is to distribute it amongst them. I think, however, it is now clearly understood that all this machinery of recouping a parochial account out of another account—namely, the county account—is simply an elaborate process of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it was correctly described by the happy phrase which I heard fall from my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn at question time when he said:It is nothing but an interception of an interception.The Local Taxation Fund is itself an interception from the Exchequer of moneys on their way there, and the proposal to intercept money before it is paid over by the Surveyor of Taxes to the Local Taxation Fund is a new and very objectionable departure in finance. I can only express astonishment that a purist Finance Minister should have ever consented to such a condition of affairs being introduced. Having said so much on that aspect of the question, I would ask the permission of the House to say a few words upon some of the points which have been raised in the course of this long and intricate Debate. What struck me in connection with the speeches of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite was that they all varied their defence of the Bill. Hardly two of them adopted the same course of argument, and what I would suggest is, whether they could not make up their minds to justify this attack upon the ratepayers and taxpayers of the country either upon eleemosynary grounds—though that was repudiated by the President of the Board of Agriculture; or on the ground that the clergyman is the only person who is rated upon his full income and not on his holding. It is said that the Bill is justified by the interim Report of the Royal Commission, just as the first Report of the Royal Commission was said to justify the Agricultural Rating Bill of 856 1896. I think, however, the Government will find some difficulty in justifying this particular Bill by the recommendations of the Royal Commission. It is, indeed, true that in their opinion the alleged grievances of the owner of tithe rent-charge should be met by some special measure of relief, but what that measure of relief should be they prudently abstained from saying. The Royal Commission sums up the case for a change by saying that the burden of local taxation on such owners is unduly onerous, and it is suggested that sufficient allowance is not made for the fact that persons, entitled to the tithe rent-charge are under legal obligation to render services and perform duties in return for it. In an earlier part of the Report they suggest that certain deductions should be made from the gross rent-charge before the annual rateable value is arrived at, though they nowhere expressly recommend it. But that is not the proposal of the Bill, though it is an old idea on the part of the Conservative Party. In all the Bills which were brought into this House by Mr. Sclater-Booth, and which were successfully resisted on this side of the House, the gross value of tithe rent-charge was to be entitled to the deductions of the salaries of curates whose appointment had been approved by the Bishop of the Diocese, and the value of the tithe rent-charge was only to be arrived at after these deductions had been made. If the Government had proposed that, they would at least have been able to say that they were treading in the footsteps of their predecessors and carrying out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. But that is an absolutely different proposal from what is to be found in the Bill. Then we come to the next recommendation of the Royal Commission. It practically comes to this, that the owners of tithe rent-charge are in a very much less favourable position than the other occupiers of rateable property, and the Commission points to the assessment of other classes of property in a more fair and legitimate manlier, so that it will not be in the power of Boards of Guardians to put up the rates on tithe rent-charge to an exceedingly high point, in order to reduce the others in a proportionate degree. I am bound to say, from my own experience, boards of guardians have, under the influences I have described, often laid their heads together to force on the un- 857 fortunate clergyman the very maximum of the rating burden of the parish. But it is a very different thing to remedy that evil where it exists, and to give the clergyman the right to take one-half of their rates out of the local taxation account, which is what the Bill proposes. The Royal Commission also pointed out that there is an acute feeling of dissatisfaction in regard to the manner of arriving at rateable value in the case of tithe. We all know that the average ratepayer always thinks that his rates are going up, and that deductions are too small from gross value; but that is no justification for bringing forward new and untried legislation. We have had arguments of a recondite nature brought forward by the hon. Member for the Stroud Division and the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Berkshire. The legal argument of the hon. and learned Member for Stroud begs the whole question, because he attempts to go behind the legislation of 1836. The hon. and learned Member mentioned the case of "The King v. Jodrell," but I think the House has some right to complain of the manner in which he introduced that case, because nobody knows better than the hon. and learned Gentleman that that case had a sequel, and he passed over that sequel—" The Queen v. Capel "—very lightly, though it left very little of the former case standing. The case of the "King v. Jodrell" was decided before the Commutation Act of 1836, and therefore it cannot be cited in the interpretation of that Act. It is remarkable that the Report of the Royal Commission disposes of the decision in the case of the "Queen v. Capel," and that that Report is signed by, amongst others, the hon. and learned Member himself. In connection with this point I may remind the House that the President of the Board of Agriculture, in an early part of his speech, went out of his way to give a warning about some little pitfall that we on this side of the House were likely to fall into. I know that there was a very general expectation, for it was conveyed to me from more than one quarter, that we were the victims of a horrible delusion. All the Liberal newspapers that morning, it was declared, had published articles showing the grossest ignorance of this question, and we had all come down primed with these gross blunders, and were about to bestow them upon the House. I think it was a great dis- 858 appointment to hon. Gentlemen opposite to find that instead of falling into this alleged pitfall, my right hon. friend the Member for East Fife made a very clear and unanswerable statement as to what happened in 1836 in regard to the addition of a sum to the rates. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have not replied to that clear statement, but have gone out of their way to reply to supposed inaccurate arguments in the daily papers. In the course of the Debate I have looked at two of these journals. You do not expect in newspapers the use of strict, legal, technical words like the judgment of the High Court; but, taking words in their ordinary meaning, I am unable to see in the statements published anything that can be called a substantial inaccuracy. The statement amounted to this, that in those cases where, before 1836, a composition existed, under which the tithe-owner was relieved from all rates, the Commission were directed to make so much addition to the annual value as would represent the rates which in future were to be paid by the clergyman, thus replacing what had been paid. That is so, is it not? The hon. Members for Stroud and Berkshire went out of their way to say that the tithe-owner was the only person who was rated upon the gross value. The tithe-owner is not rated on the gross value; he is rated, like everybody else, on the net value. But what is perfectly true is that there are some deductions which apply to other properties which have no existence in regard to tithe. Instead of having to fight with a number of tenants for so many sheaves of corn, or wheat, or barley, the clergyman, since the Act of 1836, is allowed to receive a money commutation free from all this anxiety. If you take one side of the account, you must in common justice take the other also. We should not have regard to all the disadvantages of the clergyman, and entirely disregard the advantages he has. By more recent legislation also his remedies at law have been still further improved. Therefore I venture to say that, when you come to examine the position of the tithe-owner in the matter of income, you may fairly say that although it is perfectly true that he is rated more nearly to his gross receipts than many other persons, it is only because these gross receipts are, in his ease, more nearly the whole of the real income he receives 859 than they are in the case of the ordinary owner of a hereditament, who is entitled to make deductions which the owner of tithe is not entitled to make simply because he is not under the disadvantages which justify the deductions. I think these points are worthy of the consideration of the House; but there are other larger and broader considerations connected with this Bill. We are told we are not justified in charging the President of the Board of Agriculture with having dealt with this question on an eleemosynary basis; but I venture to ask, if we are not dealing with this question on an eleemosynary basis, on what basis are we dealing with it? I have shown that if you depart from the eleemosynary basis, all the arguments on the other side are inconsistent. If this Bill is not eleemosynary, why do you not extend your favours to the lay impropriators? As a matter of fact, this Bill has grown out of the difficulties which have arisen in connection with the Agricultural Rating Act. A year ago I had experience of a contested election, and can say that one clergyman after another came to me and asked me why it was that the owners of the tithe rent-charge had been omitted from the Agricultural Rating Act, and they expatiated upon the gross injustice of their omission. And at every single meeting during the contest extreme pressure was brought to bear on the candidates, and complaints were made that the poor tithe rent-charge owners did not receive the same advantages as the wealthy holders and owners of land. The fact is, that this is a measure for the relief of the clergy; and is it not something of a public scandal that this demand should be brought forward on behalf of a Church which contains within its ranks nearly all the wealth and social prestige of this country? If you are told in the country districts, as sometimes you are, that there is an unfortunate clergyman who is suffering from agricultural depression, and that the value of the tithe rent-charge has fallen and the rates have gone on increasing, is it not something of a scandal, when you look round, that there is no man of position and rank in the neighbourhood who belongs to the Church of England to provide a remedy. Would it not be better if the Church of England were to spend less of its vast revenues on church restoration, and a little more to increase the incomes of the suffering clergy—for I am 860 the first person to admit that the clergy do suffer, and that they often endure hardships in the country districts sometimes of a most heartrending description. This Bill will do nothing to relieve these clergy. I would ask whether the Archbishops and Bishops could not give up their war against Dissent, and withdraw some of the funds now devoted to the desperate and failing fight to keep out school boards and to prevent the establishment of school boards, and to maintain the waning life of the voluntary system, in order to devote them to the assistance of the suffering clergy. Would that not be a far nobler task than to come to Parliament and ask that Parliament should devote out of the funds contributed by all creeds and parties a sum of nearly £100,000 to relieve the necessities of the clergy of the greatest and wealthiest religious body in Europe?
§ LORD EDWARD MANNERS (Leicestershire, Melton)
I make no claim to any extraordinary knowledge on the subject, but I trust the House will excuse me if I follow the noble Lord, with whom, unfortunately, I do not find myself in agreement. I wish to seize the present opportunity of thanking Her Majesty's Government for having brought in this Bill for the relief of the clergy. I would only say that we have given hon. Members opposite a handle whereby they can make it extremely unpleasant for us; but it would have been very much more to our advantage if the tithe-owning clergy had been included in the Agricultural Rating Act. I can only suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unable at the time to put his hand deep enough into his pocket to provide the necessary funds. But I can assure hon. Gentleman opposite that we are prepared to face our constituencies on this Bill and to accept the responsibility. I was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition say that because this injustice had gone on since the time of Queen Elizabeth it should go on for ever.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I did not say that. It was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I was merely quoting from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ LORD EDWARD MANNERS
Even if the wrong has gone on from time im- 861 memorial I do not see why it should not be now redressed. My only regret is that the Bill is not retrospective in its action, and that the clergy are not to be put on the same footing as they would have been if they had been included in the Agricultural Rating Act. What was the programme of the Gentlemen opposite in 1895, compared with this legislation? The only difference is that their legislation was not for the benefit of their fellow-countrymen, but for their destruction. The Ordinary Englishman, according to the old story, gets up in the morning, and, looking out, said "It's going to be fine to-day; let us go and kill something." The ordinary Radical gets up in the morning—he does not even look to see whether it is going to be a fine day, but says "Let us go and destroy some English institution." I was surprised to hear some reference to the Scotch Church; but that has absolutely nothing to do with the justice of the proposals of the Bill. I know many cases in which the landlord of a large estate who happens to be the patron of a living has, with the assistance of ecclesiastical societies, raised the income of the rural incumbent to the minimum amount; and I have no doubt that many cases of the same kind are within the cognizance of hon. Members. I only wish to say, in conclusion, that I was surprised to hear that the Church of England was supposed to be the richest Church of any denomination in this country. I have not inquired into the relative funds available to the various Churches, but I have always been given to understand that the Wesleyans were extremely well endowed. It was only a few months ago that a whip was sent round to raise a sum of a million. The next religious body to be attacked will be the Wesleyans. Whatever opposition or obstruction may be offered to this Bill, I trust the Government will go on with it and pass it into law this session.
§ * MR. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)
The noble Lord who has just sat down began his speech by saying that although the Bill would expose the Government to much odium, still it was founded on an act of justice, and he trusted that the Government will hold to it and pass it. I can assure the noble Lord that if many of us who sit on this side of the House 862 thought that the Bill was founded on an act of justice, we would refrain from giving it our uncompromising opposition, and would support it. But it is because we entertain very different notions as to those considerations of justice that we differ profoundly from the conclusions at which he has arrived. Now, I do not mean to traverse the whole field, or anything like it, of the Debate. But there have been two speeches made to-night—one by the hon. Member for Stroud and the other by the hon. Member for one of the divisions of Kent, which have thrown down distinctly a challenge upon what they alleged was the real question at the root of the Bill. They disclaim altogether any idea of asking Parliament to come to the relief of the clergy; or that this Bill is founded on any idea of charity. They allege that they are prepared to have the Bill tested and tried by the question whether the present mode of assessing the tithe rent-charge is a just mode or not; and they go on to say that in no other case are rates charged on gross revenue and that there is no analogy to the mode of assessing any subjects comparable to the case of the tithe rent-charge. Now, I join issue altogether with the right hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Stroud began by saying that the Members for East Fife and West Fife had both walked round the Bill instead of coming to close quarters with it, and that they had not touched the real point, which is whether the tithe rent-charge was justly rated or not; and then he went on to what he said was his version of the true state of the argument. The hon. Member asked what were the deductions which ought to be made from the rent-charge before it could be said to be assessable on a proper footing.
§ MR. CRIPPS
I refer the hon. and learned Member to the Report of the Royal Commission which was signed by Sir John Hibbert and others.
§ * MR. HALDANE
I have referred to the Report and have found some deductions which the hon. and learned Member did not give us. First of all it appears that the deductions were to include the expense of collecting the charge; then a deduction in respect of the profit of the 863 tenant, where a proper case can be made out; and further the usual deductions of rates and taxes—which have been always allowed. Then the hon. Member for Kent puts forward a claim of deductions of the wages or stipend to be paid to the parson or vicar, the payments to curates, the chargeability of the parson for repairs of the church, the payment of pensions to retired incumbents and the sums paid to the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty in repayment of loans, etc. I think it can be shown that there is not one of these deductions which ought to be listened to for a moment. Suppose an ordinary owner of land, which he occupies himself, has inherited the land with a mortgage on it, is he entitled to go to the Assessment Committee and say, "Oh, here is this mortgage and I am entitled to deduct the amount of it in order to get at my true rateable value"? That is exactly what the owners of clerical tithe rent-charge say. I do not wonder that the Government did not face and specify these deductions; because if they had they would have run counter to what the Courts had ruled out as totally inadmissible. They content themselves with taking the whole thing in a lump and say "we will pay half the rates of the owners of the tithe rent-charge." Hon. Members opposite complain of the hardship on the clergy because they have to render services in respect of the income they receive, while in many cases they have to make payments to others. The whole law on which this matter rests was explained by the House of Lords thirty or forty years ago in the Mersey Dock case. The Commissioners of the Mersey Docks received an income from the docks and under their Acts of Parliament they were bound to apply the dues they received to various public purposes; and they said:Is it not monstrous that we should be rated in respect of income which we are bound to pay away at once—as soon as we get it?They had a far stronger case than the clergy; but what did the House of Lords lay down as the interpretation of the Statute? They said:What you have got to look at is the income that is received from the property, and the rates are levied on that income, and therefore you cannot go into considerations of how people are bound to spend that income, any more than you can take into account the money paid to a mortgagee.864 I challenge the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that that was not the effect of the decision of the House of Lords.
§ * MR. HALDANE
I maintain that what the House of Lords laid down distinctly was that what had to be taken into consideration was the income, and that how that income was disposed of was wholly irrelavent. What you rate is not what the incumbent puts in his pocket, but the annual value of the property. Blackstone explains how the clergy came to be rated on the tithes they receive. [...]es [...]sist of the greater and the lesser tithes; but he points out that both these kinds of tithes have this great feature in common—that they were given, not merely for the maintenance of the clergy, but for the relief of the poor; and as a consequence of that the Parliament which passed the statute of 1601 thought it just that the clergy should be rated to the poor rate. That, according to Blackstone, was how the clergy, came to be liable for this rate Right through the decisions of the Courts that theory has been maintained, and right down to a recent case, in 1886, when the full Court of Appeal considered the matter most deliberately, it has been held that it is not the income of the clergy—not a question of what he puts in his pocket as net income, but the total income of the tithe rent-charge which is the subject of rating. How can you take off pensions to retired incumbents, or payments to curates? Do you think it would be possible for the Courts to say that an absentee incumbent of a city church, who never goes near his church but pays a curate to do his work, was entitled to deduct that sum which he paid his curate? What was at the bottom of the Jodrell case was that for a long time before the Act of 1836 it was the custom to deduct the costs which had to be borne by the occupier of land before he earned the fruits; but in the case of the tithe rent-charge there is no exertion on the part of the incumbent to produce the fruits, and therefore the Courts ultimately drew the distinction between the tithe rent-charge, which required no 865 expenditure to produce the fruits, and the case where expenditure had to be incurred in order to produce the fruits of the farm. Again, I say the tithe rent-charge is not an outcome of the profit that goes into the pockets of the incumbent after spending certain money. It is the subject of property that has to be rated according to the ordinary principles of rating. The whole of the deductions put forward by the hon. Member for Kent, and recognised by the hon. Member for Stroud and his colleagues, must therefore be disallowed. If that be so, it seems to me that the case which the Government make out in support of this Bill, so far as it is based upon moral injustice—or indeed, for that matter, so far as it is based on some economic and legal injustice—not only rests upon a flimsy footing but upon no footing at all. It is contral[...] to sound business principles, to the dec[...]ns of the courts, and to the law of the land as it has existed for some time, and that we should be asked to assent to the Bill on the ground that it is an act of justice is nothing less than astounding. It may be that the clergy are suffering from very hard circumstances. I can well believe it. It may be that it is time to give them relief and assistance. That I can believe also. But what is to be done for them has been one by other churches themselves. It has been done by the churches of the country to which I belong. It has been done by other churches in England, and I would therefore ask that we should be informed how it is that the Government can come to this House and, without specifying these deductions, without justifying them, make a claim upon us that we should assent to a measure which seeks to devote the public moneys to the benefit of the clergy.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
One thing which the hon. and learned Gentleman said deserves attention, and that was that he had every sympathy with the parsons, and that he is at one with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. But I do not think that the sympathy of the hon. and learned Gentleman or the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman opposite is likely to do the unfortunate parsons very much good. As far as I am concerned, my mind, like that of my hon. friend the Member for Stockport, is a perfectly open one on this ques- 866 tion, and I approach the subject from the humble standpoint of a simple agricultural Member. I have no prejudices whatever in the matter, because, since the passing of the Rating Act, the clergy of the division which I have the honour to represent have almost unanimously told me that they have not the slightest intention of voting for me at the next general election. I have a shrewd suspicion, Mr. Speaker, that even before the Rating Act was placed on the Statute Book it would have been pretty much the same. As far as I am concerned, the Bill will most certainly politically do me considerably more harm than good, and I very much regret that the Government have not been able to accept the suggestion of my hon. friend the Member for Basingstoke, that they should deal with the whole question of the redemption of tithe. I do not think hon. Members know the miserable condition of the rural clergy in the Eastern counties. A man has to occupy what is called the position of a gentleman and bring up his family on a stipend which would not be looked at by a self-respecting artisan. When a man accepts a living worth £300 or £400 a year, and the land from which the tithe is derived goes derelict and out of cultivation, the incumbent has absolutely nothing to live upon. He might just as well put his money into one of Jabez Balfour's properties. But that is not my reason for rising. I have risen to support the Second Reading of this Bill not because I have any intention of being charitable out of the rates or of being charitable out of other people's pockets. My sole reason in supporting this Bill is because, in my humble opinion, it is a matter of justice. The parson is rated on his professional income, and is taxed on money which absolutely does not go into his pocket at all. It is unnecessary for me to labour these points, or to trouble the House with many words upon this question; but before I sit down I should like to express my respectful surprise that the Government have chosen this psychological moment for bringing in this Bill. I, a humble occupant of the back benches, have ever believed in the consummate wisdom of the right hon. Gentlemen in front of me. We consider that it represents the combined wisdom of the serpent with the intelligence of the dove. Ender these circumstances, and that being allowed, I cannot understand 867 why the Government have introduced this Bill at the present time.
§ * MR. MCKENNA (Monmouth, N.)
The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, although he started in the discussion, as he told us, with a perfectly open mind, seems to have convinced himself during the debate in favour of the Bill. The only argument which he puts forward, and the only argument which has been put forward in defence of the measure, is that it is an act of justice to the clergy of this country because they are rated on the whole of their income, and in a way in which no other person is rated. That statement is neither true nor relevant. It is not true, because the clergy are by no means the only persons who are rated on the whole of their income or on the produce of the land, as the hon. Member for Stroud says. Let me remind the House of the system of rating which exists at the present moment with regard to collieries in this country. As the total output of the coal of the country is something like 200 million tons, it will be readily perceived that the amount of rates levied in respect of coal is very considerable, and consequently the analogy of the coal trade must be considered as important in this matter. The system of the rating of coal which exists in South Wales and Monmouthshire, and, I believe, in other parts of the country, is as follows:—Every ton of coal which is raised from the ground is valued for the purpose of rating at 8d. The actual profit made by the colliery owner on the average is not as much as 8d. but the average rateable value is assessed at 8d. It consequently appears that every colliery owner in this country is rated upon a total sum of money which on the average is in excess of his total profits. He is not rated according to his ability to pay; he is rated exactly as the clergyman is rated, upon the total value of his output. That is a system which applies to him exactly as to the clergy. But it is also true of the small shopkeeper. A shopkeeper is rated not only upon the rooms over his shop, but in respect of his business premises. I cite the case of the small shopkeeper, because it is notorious that he is very frequently rated on a sum fully equal to the whole of his profits. The small shopkeeper, making a net profit of £1 a week out of his shop, is frequently rated at an annual rental value of £50, 868 and every penny in the pound on that shopkeeper's rates is equivalent to a penny in income-tax. I think I have shown, without going into details—and I could give many more—that it is not true that the clergyman is the only person who is rated in respect of his income. Neither does that statement appear to be relevant to this particular argument. It has been admitted in the only argument which has been made in defence of this Bill that the tithe is properly rateable, and once that is admitted it cannot be relevant to the question of principle what the actual amount of the rate may be. Now, what is the case which has been made out by the Report of the Royal Commissioners? In all the cases which have been quoted in support of the view that there ought to be greater deductions from the tithe than are now made for the purpose of assessment, there is only one which favours the view of the Royal Commissioners, and that is the case of The King versus Jodrell. That case, as far as it goes, I grant, is in their favour, but there are dozens of other cases in which the question was decided in a different way. But I will assume, for the sake of argument, that the case put forward by the hon. Member for Stroud is correct, and that a proviso in the Parochial Assessment Act of 1836 was designed to give the tithe-owners a right of exemption which they do not now enjoy. If that is the case, if the right was taken away from them, owing to a technical construction of the proviso of the Act, what is the remedy? The remedy is not to pass this Bill, but to amend the proviso of the Parochial Assessment Act of 1836, putting the tithe-owners in exactly the same legal position as that in which you think they ought to have been in 1836. Let the question be decided by the Courts once more. I for one should be quite content to leave the issue to be so determined there. But have right hon. Gentlemen opposite realised what they are doing when they are going back over a period of 60 years, in order to reopen a question which has been settled? There are many of us on this side of the House who hold quite as strong opinions on the land question, but in a different sense, as hon. Gentlemen opposite. There are many of us who think that the 4s. in the £ land tax ought to be imposed on land in this country today exactly as it was imposed in 1692. 869 If we are again going to open a settled question in order that relief may be given to a certain class, we are just as much entitled to ask that relief shall be given to others also. It is said that we on this side of the House are afflicted with the predatory instincts of robbers. If that were true, I could claim that element of virtue which attached to the robberies of Robin Hood. We do not rob for ourselves or for our personal friends and connections. If we rob, it is for the benefit of the poor. I do not admit that we do rob, but if the version of hon. Gentlemen is correct, it is not for the advantage of our own pockets that we ask for certain amendments of the law. In the legislation proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, we find that when money is taken out of the pockets of the taxpayers for the benefit of any class it is invariably for the classes who are already well off—it is to gild affluence with luxury. If you reopen a settled question for the sake of the landlords and for the sake of the parsons, if you are content to go back to what you claim to be the primordial rights which existed in the time of Queen Elizabeth, we shall be entitled to do the same thing, and, I think, with far greater propriety, because our claim is for the poor. I shall vote against the Bill; but I shall remember that if this Bill be carried every Member in the future who thinks the same as I do on this question will feel authorised to respect no statute of limitations in reopening any question of taxation.
§ Debate arising.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.