HC Deb 22 February 1900 vol 79 cc829-37

The Bill which I ask leave to introduce is identical with that introduced last session by the Chief Secretary, under the same rule as that under which it is now brought in. It has been printed and circulated, and is now in the hands of hon. Members. Most of it relates to the machinery for its operation, and its aim and scope can be explained in a few minutes. By the legislation which culminated in the Tithe Rent-charge Act of 1838 the interest of the estate out of which tithes of all kinds were payable was charged with a rent charge equal in amount to 75½ per cent. of the annual amount of the tithe compositions. But having regard to the fact that tithes represent a proportion of the produce of the land, the money value of which may vary from year to year, this rent-charge is not fixed and invariable. The contrary provisions are introduced by which the rent-charge is subject to revision every seven years, that revision being based upon certain weekly average prices of corn published in the Dahlia Gazette. This was a cumbrous and costly process, and according to a decision pronounced, as I believe, in 1898, and has broken down owing to the fact, amongst others, that the average prices of corn contemplated by the statute has not been kept or published in the manner required. It therefore becomes necessary to provide another system of revision. This the Bill proposes to do. It is considered by the Government that the proper and more reliable system would be to make the tithes rent-charge variable according to the variations in the rents of the lands out of which rent-charges issued as fixed under the Land Act. Accordingly, the Bill provides that on the 22nd August all tithe rent-charge payable during the fifteen years succeeding the passing of the Act shall be varied from the figure at which they stood on the 22nd August, 1884 (the last occasion on which proper corn averages were published), according to the average percentage of variation of rents for a first statutory term in that country, and so on during each succeeding period of fifteen years. This will result in an immediate reduction of rent charges, as the judicial rent in each county has been in the average reduced. Originally, all tithe rent-charges, whether ecclesiastical or lay, were alike subject to revision. That was the law at the time of the passing of the Act of 1869 disestablishing the Irish Church, and continued to be the law down to the year 1872. Owing, however, apparently to the difficulty in estimating the capitalised value of a variable rent-charge and of carrying out the financial arrangement with reference to the property of the Church, an Act was passed in that year excluding ecclesiastical rent-charge from the operation of the revision system. It is quite certain that at the time that Act was passed the fall in the price of agricultural products and the reduction of rents which have since taken place was not and could not have been in the contemplation of the legislature, and it accordingly appears to the Government that it is only equitable that rent charges which represent a proportion of the produce of the land should be reduced in the same proportion as the rents received by the owners who have to pay the rent charges. The Government propose, therefore, to repeal that portion of the Act of 1872 which protects ecclesiastical rent-charges from revision, and to put them on the same basis as lay tithe rent-charges, making all tithe rent-charges subject to revision as they were under the old system anterior to 1872. In addition to the provision I have mentioned, the statutes of 1869 and 1872 contained other provisions enabling the persons liable to pay ecclesiastical tithes to redeem them in two ways. First by the payment in cash of a sum equal to twenty-two and a half years purchase of the tithe rent-charge after deducting poor rate, and secondly by the payment of an annuity for fifty-two years at the rate of £4 9s. per cent. on the purchase money so ascertained or at a higher rate for such less number of years as might be agreed upon. Under this arrangement £3 16s. 3d. per cent. is in effect charged for interest, and the balance, 12s. 9d. per cent., goes towards payment of the principal. This the Government considers an extravagant charge for interest. Mr. Gladstone, in introducing the Church Act of 1869, distinctly stated that the rate of interest to be charged in the calculation of these terminable annuities should be 3, per cent. On that supposition principal and all interest would be repaid in forty-five years, and not in fifty-two years, by the payment of £4 9s. per cent. per annum, so that the owners who had been redeemed have been overcharged by seven years. It is proposed by the Bill to remedy that injustice in all cases by reducing the period from fifty-two to forty-five years. It has already been remedied by the Land Act of 1896 in the case of lands sold to tenants under the Land Purchase Acts, redemption being allowed on the basis proposed in the Bill, namely, the forty-five years system. The total amount of tithe rent-charge vested in the Land Commission under the Church Act is slightly over £400,000 per annum. Of this about £235,000 per annum has been sold, and £165,000 remains payable. Those changes will, no doubt, involve some loss to the Church Fund. We propose to counteract that loss to a certain extent by repealing the provision with regard to redemption. It will no longer be possible to redeem, save where the lands liable to the rent-charge are sold under the Land Purchase Acts. The result will be that the Land Commission will have a settled income, and considerable benefit will accrue to the fund. In addition we have introduced a clause with reference to poor rate. Under the 76th section of the Poor Relief Act, 1838, the tithe payer was able to deduct all the poor rate from the tithe. We consider that is an inequitable system where the tithe-payer is only liable for half the poor rate, and accordingly we have provided that only half the standard rate shall be deducted from tithe payable out of hereditaments in rural districts. In urban districts the tithe-payer will be able to deduct the whole of the standard rate. By that change we will obtain several thousands a year; perhaps about £6,000. It has not been possible to give the exact figures, or to balance the account as between the gain from the repeal of the provision for redemption and the poor rate and the, loss from the revision of the ecclesiastical tithes. According, however, to the most careful examination both by the Land Commissioners and the Government actuaries, it appears clear to us that the fund is solvent, and that an ample margin will remain to meet all its liabilities.


Could the right hon. Gentleman give the net loss to the fund?


f have said it is impossible to estimate the net loss, but I should say at a rough guess it would be about £50,000 a year, certainly not more. I do not like to pledge myself to the exact figures; but at all events, according to the calculations which have been made, it is considered that there will be ample in the fund to meet all its obligations.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to Tithe Rent-charge in Ireland."—(Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.)


I think if the House was in any doubt as to the justice of my protest against the introduction of this Bill under the Ton Minutes Rule, the wretched, lame, and hopeless attempt which has been made by the Attorney General to explain the extent and scope of this complicated measure would be ample proof. It is a most complicated measure, and I venture to say that no Minister, no matter how capable, could give an adequate explanation of this Bill and its effect in less than three-quarters of an hour. This is a Bill which is monstrous in its dishonesty; it is a Bill which raises great principles, besides being most complicated in its details. We were told by the Attorney General before he sat down that he proposed to take away, without a shred of justification, the remains of this fund, which were consecrated to the public good in Ireland, and which is a first charge upon the land of Ireland. He proposes to take away a sum which all the resources of the Government cannot make a rough estimate of. He said no one could tell what the amount would be. Why, this Bill is intended to raid the Irish Church Fluid, to mop up all that remains of it, in order to distribute it as political largesse among the supporters of the Government. I say without any fear of contradiction that a more dishonest and a more indecent Hill was never introduced into the House of Commons. We had a reference in the Attorney General's halting speech to the settlement of 1872. That settlement was passed through this House without any notice of protest from any Irish landlord, although at the time they held the representation of Ireland entirely in their own hands. If it was a settlement unfavourable to the landlords why did they not object. The Attorney General knows right well that the settlement of 1870 and 1872 was denounced by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and by Mr. Disraeli as scandalously favourable to the landlords; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Disraeli got up and denounced the Irish landlords for having sold their church for a mess of pottage, and now, after thirty years, the right hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh and his colleagues come forward, and although they called it a sacrilege to disestablish the Irish Church, they think it no sacrilege to divide among themselves in the most barefaced and outrageous manner what they call the remnants of the plunder. We are told by the Attorney General that it was impossible for the 'Government actually to decide what was the loss to the fund. I am perfectly sure that they will make certain to suck up every penny of the fund, but I extracted at last from the Attorney General that what he gives as a very rough estimate of the amount that this Bill proposes to take is, roughly, £50,000 a year, or nearly two millions of money. This Bill proposes to take that sum without a shred of justification, and divide it as a bribe between the political supporters of the Government in Ireland. We have been asking for years in vain for an endowment of higher education in Ireland. Here is a fund which would be quite sufficient for that purpose without appealing to the taxpayers of this country. But, no, the Irish landlords are on the track of the Government. One landlord wrote to the papers the other day to know whether the landlords ought to join the Boer party in Ireland or join in another Jameson raid before they got their share of the Irish Church Fund. The Government have come down, like the famous coon in the story, without waiting to be fired upon by the landlords, or without waiting for them to organise a Jameson raid, and they perpetrate this job. A greater outrage or a greater breach of public trust was never perpetrated on the people of Ireland. This fund was set apart for purposes of public utility. It has been used since the disestablishment for purposes of charity or education, or for general purposes connected with the public good, and now the Government propose to turn it to this abominable my hon. friend suggests the expression use, which it is impossible to describe within the rides of order in this House. In 1894, when the right hon. (Gentleman the Member for the Montrose Burghs introduced a Bill proposing a charge of £100,000 on the Irish Church Fund for the reinstatement of the evicted tenants, what did the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury say? He said*— I now come to the amount to be taken from the Irish Church surplus in order to meet the necessities of the Bill. I have two observations to make on that point. When I was in office and had official means of information on these points, I was assured that the Irish Church surplus was mortgaged up to the hilt. The number of charges upon it were such that, after we had taken the £.1,500,000 required for the Congested Districts Hoard, practically nothing would be left behind. That was the opinion of the First Lord of the Treasury in 1894, when we wanted £250,000 to reinstate the evicted tenants; and now it is proposed to seize two millions of that fund for which he can find no better use than to bribe the Irish landlords. This Bill is an infamous Bill, and it is the only Bill given to Ireland this session, it is a contentious Bill—it is difficult to imagine a more contentious but not only that, it is a Bill raising great principles, because it proposes to reduce by legislation what has been, by successive Acts of Parliament, made a first charge on the land of Ireland for public purposes. If that principle is not to stand but to be broken, where are you to stop? The landlords insist that mortgages should be reduced. And why not? These mortgages are charges on the land coming after the first or tithe charge. If you reduce the charge in which the public are interested and hand over a great portion of it to the landlords, what resistance can you make to the claim of the same landlords to reduce the mortgages on their land, which are the second charge? This is a Bill involving great principles, as I have said, and of enormous detail, as will be made abundantly clear in the course of its progress through the House; and therefore I say that this is a Bill which ought not to have been introduced at all on its merits, but which, at any rate, ought not to have been introduced by a back door under the Ten Minutes Rule, which was distinctly passed for a totally different purpose. Mr. Speaker has ruled that it is not in his discretion to decide which Bills should be introduced under that rule, but that it is in the discretion of the Government. I hope if this course is to be enforced that it will be taken notice of by the Opposition, and that at some future time, when hon. Members now on the Government benches are sitting on the opposite side of the House, they will be deprived of two or three nights discussion on important Bills in which they take great interest. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I move, submitting to your

ruling, Mr. Speaker, that the debate be now adjourned.


The hon. Member cannot move the adjournment. He can ask me to put the question of adjournment, but that I decline to do, and I therefore put the question that leave be given to bring in the Bill.

The House divided:—Ayes, 209; Noes, 132. (Division List, No. 32.)

Round, James Smith, Hn. W. F. D. (Strand) Welby, Sir Chas. G. E. (Notts)
Russell, Gen. F. S. (Cheltenham) Spencer, Ernest Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon
Russell, T. W. (Tyrone) Stanley, Edward J. (Somerset) Whitmore, Charles Algernon
Rutherford, John Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart Williams, J. Powell- (Birm.)
Samuel, H. S. (Limehouse) Stone, Sir Benjamin Willox, Sir John Archibald
Sassoon, Sir Edward Albert Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath)
Savory, Sir Joseph Talbot, Rt Hn J. G. (OxfdUniv.) Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart
Seely, Charles Hilton Thorburn, Sir Walter Wyndham, George
Sharpe, William Edward T. Thornton, Percy M. Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arey
Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrew) Tomlinson, Wm. E. Murray
Simeon, Sir Barrington Tritton, Charles Ernest TELLERS FOR THE AYES—SIR William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.
Sinclair, Louis (Romford) Ward, Hon. Robert A. (Crewe)
Smith, Abel H. (Christehurch) Webster, Sir Richard E.
Smith, J. Parker (Lanarks.) Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E.
Aird, John Doughty, George Lawrence, Sir E. Durning- (Corn)
Allsopp, Hon. George Douglas, Rt Hon. A. Akers- Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)
Archdale, Edward Mervyn Doxford, Sir Wm, Theodore Lecky, Rt. Hn. Wm. Edw. H.
Arnold-Forster, Hugh O. Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V. Leighton, Stanley
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn- (Swans'a)
Bailey, James (Walworth) Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas Lockwood, Lieut.-Col. A. R.
Baird, John George Alexander Faber, George Denison Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine
Baldwin, Alfred Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edw. Long, Col. Charles W. (Evesham)
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Man.) Fergusson, Rt Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r) Lonsdale, John Brownlee
Banbury, Frederick George Finch, George H. Lowles, John
Barnes, Frederic Gorell Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne Loyd, Archie Kirkman
Barry. Rt. Hon. A. H. S. (Hunts) Fisher, William Hayes Macartney, W. G. Ellison
Barry, Sir F. T. (Windsor) Fison, Frederick William Macdona, John Cumming
Bartley, George C. T. Flannery. Sir Fortescue Maclver, David (Liverpool)
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol) Foster, Colonel (Lancaster) Maclure, Sir John William
Bemrose, Sir Henry Howe Fry, Lewis M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)
Bethell, Commander Galloway, W. Johnson M'Iver, Sir Lewis (Edinburgh W)
Bhownaggree, Sir M. M. Gedge, Sydney M'Killop, James
Biddulph, Michael Gibbons, J. Lloyd Malcolm, Ian
Bill, Charles Giles, Charles Tyrrell Maple, Sir John Blundell
Blundell, Colonel Henry Gilliat, John Saunders Melville, Beresford V.
Boulnois, Edmund Godson, Sir Augustus Fred. Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.
Bowles, Capt. H. F. (Middlesex) Goldsworthy, Major-General Middlemore, J. Throgmorton
Bowles, T. Gibson (King'sLynn) Gordon, Hon. John Edward Milbank, Sir Powlett Chas John
Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Gorst, Rt. Hn. Sir J. Eldon Milner, Sir Frederick George
Brown, Alexander H. Goulding, Edward Alfred Milward, Colonel Victor
Bullard, Sir Harry Gourley, Sir Edw. Temperley Monckton, Edward Philip
Butcher, John George Graham, Henry Robert Monk, Charles James
Carlile, William Walter Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Montagu, Hon. J. Scott (Hants.)
Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.) Gull, Sir Cameron Moon, Edward Robert Pacy
Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, E.) Halsey, Thomas Frederick More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire)
Cecil, Lord Hug, (Greenwich) Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord George Morgan, Hn. Fred. (Monm'thsh)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. (Birm.) Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robt. W. Morrell. George Herbert
Chamberlain, J. A (Wore'r) Hanson, Sir Regmald Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)
Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Hare, Thomas Leigh Mount, William George
Charrington, Spencer Heath, James Muntz, Philip A.
Chelsea, Viscount Heaton, John Henniker Murray, Rt. Hon. A. G. (Bute)
Coddington, Sir William Helder, Augustus Murray, Charles J. Coventry
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Hickman, Sir Alfred Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Hoare, E. Brodie (Hampstead) Myers, Wm. Henry
Colomb, Sir John Charles, R. Hoare, Sir Samuel (Norwich) Nicol, Donald Niman
Cooke, C. W. Radcliffe (Heref'd) Hobhouse, Henry O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens
Corbett, A Cameron (Glasgow) Howard, Joseph Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay
Cox, Irwin Edward Bainbridge Howell, William Tudor Parkes, Ebenezer
Cripps, Charles Alfred Hozier, Hon. James H. Cecil Phillpotts, Captain Arthur
Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton) Hubbard, Hon. Evelyn Plunkett, Rt. Hn. H. Curzom
Cubitt, Hon. Henry Jackson, Rt. Hn. Wm. Lawies Pollock, Harry Frederick
Currie, Sir Donald Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Curzon, Viscount Jenkins, Sir John Jones Pretyman, Ernest George
Dalbiac, Colonel Philip H. Jessel, Captain Herbert M. Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward
Dalkeith, Earl of Johnston, William (Belfast) Purvis, Robert
Dalrymple, Sir Charles Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex) Pym, C. Guy
Davies, Sir H. D. (Chatham) Kennaway, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. Rasch, Major Frederic Carne
Denny, Colonel Kimber, Henry Richardson, Sir T. (Hartle'pl)
Dickinson, Robert Edmond King, Sir Henry Seymour Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir Matthew W
Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. Dixon Knowles, Lees Ritchie, Rt. Hon. C. Thomson
Dorington, Sir John Edward Lafone, Alfred Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye
Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.) Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.) O'Malley, William
Allan, William (Gateshead) Fox, Dr. Joseph Francis Pease, Joseph A. (Northum.)
Allison, Robert Andrew Goddard, Daniel Ford Power, Patrick Joseph
Ambrose, Robert Gold, Charles Price, Robert John
Ashton, Thomas Gair Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick) Priestley, Briggs (Yorks.)
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert H. Hammond, John (Carlaw) Reckitt, Harold James
Austin, M. (Limerick, W.) Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Sir William Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Bainbridge, Emerson Harwood, George Redmond, William (Clare)
Barlow, John Emmott Hayden, John Patrick Reid, Sir Robert Threshie
Barry, E. (Cork, S.) Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale Robson, William Snowdon
Beaumont, Wentworth C. B. Hedderwick, Thomas Charles, H. Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarsh.)
Billson, Alfred Hemphill, Rt. Hn. Charles H. Smith, Samuel (Flint)
Birrell, Augustine Holland, William Henry Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Broadhurst, Henry Horniman, Frederick John Souttar, Robinson
Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C. Steadman, William Charles
Bryce, Rt. Hon. James Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez Ed. Stevenson, Francis S.
Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Joicey, Sir James Strachey, Edward
Burns, John Jones, D. Brynmor (Swansea) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Burt, Thomas Kay-Shuttleworth. Rt Hn SirU' Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal, W.)
Buxton, Sydney Charles Kearley, Hudson E. Tennant, Harold John
Caldwell, James Kilbride, Denis Thomas, Abel (Carmthn., E.)
Cameron, Sir Chas. (Glasgow) Labouchere, Henry Thomas, Alfred (Glam., E.)
Cameron, Robert (Durham) Lawson, Sir W. (Cumberland) Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr)
Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H. Leng, Sir John Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Carew, James Laurence Lewis, John Herbert Tully, Jasper
Causton, Richard Knight Lloyd-George, David Walton, J L. (Leeds, S.)
Cawley, Frederick Lough, Thomas Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.
Channing, Francis Allston Lyell, Sir Leonard Weir, James Galloway
Crilly, Daniel Macaleese, Daniel Whiteley, George (Stockport)
Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal) MacNeill, John Gordon Swift Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Davies, M. Vaughan Cardigan M'Arthur, W. (Cornwall) Williams, JohnCarvell (Notts.)
Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles M'Ewan, William Wilson, Charles Henry (Hull)
Dillon, John M'Ghee, Richard Wilson, F. W. (Norfolk)
Doogan, P. C. M'Kenna, Reginald Wilson, H. J. (York, W. R.)
Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark) Maddison, Fred. Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)
Duckworth, James Mellor, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Yorks.) Wilson, John (Govan)
Emmott, Alfred Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand Wood house, Sir J. T. (H'fl'd.)
Engledew, Charles John Molloy, Bernard Charles Woods, Samuel
Evans, SirFrancis H. (South' ton Montagu, Sir S. (Whitechapel) Young, Samuel (Cavan, East)
Farquharson, Dr. Robert Norton, Capt. Cecil William Yoxall, James Henry
Farrell, James P. (Cavan. W.) Nussey, Thomas Willans TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Captain Donelan and Mr. Patrick O'Brien.
Farrell, Thomas J. (Kerry, S.) O Brien, James F. X. (Cork)
Fenwick, Charles O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)
Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith) O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.)
Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)

Bill ordered to he brought in by Mr. Attorney General for Ireland and Mr. Gerald Balfour.