HC Deb 06 March 1900 vol 80 cc185-9
*MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Nottinghamshire, Mansfield)

It is it the request of the Nonconformists of the burgh of Lancaster and of other inhabitants that I move, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Clauses 90 and 91(Provisions as to tithe in the town of Lancaster)." I may be told that in doing so I am acting contrary to the wishes of a large portion of the inhabitants of Lancaster; but while I admit that the people of Lancaster are in favour of the Bill as a whole, there is yet a strong body of opposition to the clauses to which I wish to call the attention of the House. It is true that a town's meeting held in January last expressed approval of the Bill, but that meeting was held at a time of the day when few of the inhabitants could attend. It was also very imperfectly advertised; the result being that very few were present—not above thirty. At the opening of the meeting the mayor made a statement that the resolution to be submitted in favour of the Bill must be either accepted or rejected as a whole, and that he could accept no amendment. The result was that those who were opposed to these two clauses could not object to them without rejecting the measure as a whole. An opinion was expressed on that occasion that the meeting should be adjourned to the evening, but that was defeated, and the Bill was sanctioned by twenty-one against eight inhabitants. That is the extent to which the clauses are approved of. It may be further objected that the inhabitants might have petitioned against the clauses, but the answer to that is that the inhabitants apart from the corporation have no locus standi. The House will bear in mind that the clergy of this country who receive their incomes from tithe rent-charge do so under the general law of 1836—the Tithe Commutation Act. The House also knows that the amount of the tithe rent-charge received by the clergy is dependent upon the seven years average of the price of corn—with this result, that £100 of tithe rent-charge is now only worth £66 15s. 9¼d. If the vicar of Lancaster were remunerated on the same terms he would be receiving less than a third of the sum which he actually receives. But the vicar of Lancaster is not subject to such vicissitudes as his brother clergy. He has the benefit of an Act of Parliament all to himself—an Act passed in the reign of George IV.—in the days of close and corrupt corporations, before the passing of the Reform Act of 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1843, when it was possible to perpetrate any job, either in Church or State, with the utmost facility. At that time the tithes were paid in kind almost everywhere, and the Act recites that disputes had arisen in regard to the amounts which were payable. It also contains this curious statement: that several of the townships of the parish of Lancaster are at a considerable distance from the parsonage of Lancaster, and that the collection of the tithes and of the Easter offerings is thereby rendered difficult and made expensive; and so for the convenience of the vicar and the benefit of the occupiers, the tithes and Easter dues were abolished, and a substitute was found for them. It was then enacted that a corn rent of £1,358 should be raised from certain townships in Lancaster, and a special provision was made that the borough of Lancaster should pay £42 10s. a year out of the poor rate, and £167 10s. in a corn rent. The House will be astonished to hear what was the basis of calculation on which the amount of corn rent of £1,358 was fixed in the Act. It was upon the basis that wheat would never be lower than 97s. 6d. per quarter, and it was expressly provided that, however low the price of wheat might be, the corn rent should never be below £1,358. Now wheat in the year 1823,the year before the Act was passed, was sold at the rate of only 53s. 4d. per quarter, and at the present time it is sold at the rate of 26s. 10d. per quarter. I think the House will agree with me that that was a most exorbitant provision at that time; but it has become scandalously exorbitant now. Since the Act was passed a complete change has taken place in the parish of Lancaster. What were then the rural parts of the townships have now been divided into district parishes, with their own churches, their own clergy, and their own parochial machinery, and the inhabitants of most of these townships receive no guidance, no spiritual instruction, no help from the vicar of Lancaster. The clergy of these district parishes are paid out of pew-rents; subscriptions, and a few small endowments; but in addition to the money voluntarily paid for this purpose, the inhabitants of the townships have to pay their share of the £1,358 received by the non-resident vicar of Lancaster. The only point of connection between the vicar and these particular townships is what may be termed a cash nexus. Then, strange to say, the vicar retains the patronage of some of the churches in these townships. All this has been going on for three quarters of a century, and this Bill proposes that, except in a very fragmentary way, it should go on still. There is another point; instead of the vicar collecting the tithe himself, each township must appoint two, three, or four collectors to collect its quota of the amount of £1,358 due. Whatever may have been the case when the Act was passed, the office of collector at the present time has become most disagreeable. Because it was opposed by the Nonconformists, some of them have been compelled by the force of law to undertake what is to them an odious duty; and in the last few weeks, the parish having neglected to appoint collectors, a mandamus has been issued to compel them to do so. Objection is taken not only to the mode of collection, but also to the exaction. If the Lancaster Corporation had made bold attempt to remove this grievance it would have been far better; but instead of doing that they have dealt with the matter in a fragmentary, narrow, and pettifogging manner, the result being to leave untouched the real grievance, which will remain as it is in all the townships not affected by this Bill. It does not even remove the grievance in the district in which it is to operate. In my opinion the House will do a service, not only to the town of Lancaster, but to the Church also, by rejecting these clauses, and thereby compelling the corporation to deal with this subject, not in the spirit of the times of the Georges, but in accordance with the better sentiments of these times.

MR. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)

formally seconded the motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Lancaster Corporation Bill to leave out Clauses 90 and 91 (Provisions as to tithe in the township of Lancaster)."—(Mr. Carvell Williams.)

*MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)

The hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat anticipated that I should have something to say in this matter, and the sooner I say it the sooner the debate will reach a conclusion. The House is becoming somewhat impatient of instructions to the Committee to do things which the committee can do without Instructions, and I look on all such Instructions with suspicion. I look on mandatory Instructions with grave suspicion, but when those mandatory Instructions are to give powers to the Police and Sanitary Committee, I look upon them with the gravest suspicion. If these two clauses are removed, the effect will be to retain for the Vicar a sum of £76 a year which he is ready to sacrifice. I cannot say if what is proposed is a fair bargain or not, because I have no means of testing the evidence. Under the circumstances, what I shall ask the House to do is not to pursue this question, but to send the matter before a Committee, who, having all the evidence before them, and having heard all sides, will arrive at a conclusion. If they consider the Bill is a fair one they will accept the clauses, if they come to any other conclusion they will reject it.

Question put, and negatived.