HC Deb 15 October 1918 vol 110 cc36-64

I beg to move, "That the Bill now be read a second time."

This Bill was read a first time on 24th July, and, in asking the House to read it a second time, perhaps some further explanation is needed. The proposals, as I explained when introducing the Bill, are mainly these: On the one hand, to impose a temporary limit to the value of the tithe rent-charge; and, on the other hand, to increase the facilities for its redemption. Both proposals, I am afraid, are difficult to follow, unless we know how tithe rent-charges are at the present time annually adjusted. The value of tithe in produce in 1835 was ascertained in its money equivalent, but in order to preserve the real value of those payments and to maintain its purchasing power the sum payable in each year varies with the fluctuating prices of fixed quantities of grain. In the seven years preceding 1836 and ending at Christmas, 1835, the prices of a bushel of wheat, of a bushel of barley, and of a bushel of oats, respectively, were 7s. 0¼d., 3s. 11½d and 2s. 9d. The next step was to ascertain how many bushels at those prices the money equivalents would purchase. Dividing £100 of tithe rent-charge into three equal parts, it was found that one-third would buy 95 bushels of wheat, another third 168 bushels of barley, and the remaining third 242 bushels of oats. Those three figures, 95, 168, and 242, are the fixed figures by which in each year the septennial average prices of wheat, barley, and oats, respectively, are multiplied. The aggregate is the tithe rent-charge for the year. Let me illustrate it. Assume that the average prices for the seven years ending Christmas, 1925, are 72s. per quarter for wheat, 64s. per quarter for barley, and 48s. per quarter for oats, then a bushel of wheat is worth 9s., of barley 8s., and of oats 6s. Multiplying those three figures by the fixed numbers, you get the following results: 95 bushels of wheat at 9s. are worth £42 15s., 168 bushels of barley at 8s. are worth £67 4s., and 242 bushels of oats at 6s. are worth £72 12s. Adding those figures together, you get the value of £100 of tithe rent-charge in 1926 as £182 11s. That is an illustration of how the average is worked. Of course, that illustration is only an imaginary one. The increase may be greater or it may be less. In any case its magnitude, and still more its uncertainty is somewhat disturbing. On the other hand, it must be remembered that when the tithe rent-charge rises, even if it rises to £182 11s., the tithe owner only gets that which the Tithe Computation Act intended him to get. The real value of the charge is preserved, its purchasing power is maintained, and the tithe owner only receives that which the Act was designed to give him.

4.0 P.M.

On the oilier hand, I do not think it will be contended that the Act of 1836 ever contemplated the present war conditions. Nothing is normal; everything is artificial—the State controls not only the prices of agricultural produce, but to a great extent also the cost of agricultural production. And the difficulty is increased in another way. So long as the burden fell upon the occupier he derived some corresponding benefit from the rise in the prices of produce upon which the increase of tithe rent-charge was based. But the Tithe Act of 1891 transferred the burden of the charge from the occupation to the ownership of land, and the result is that the owner, if he is not himself the occupier, derives no benefit from the rise in the value of the produce, while at the same time he has to bear the burden of the increased tithe rent-charge unless he can raise his rents. Apart from the fact that many landowners are unwilling to raise the rents of their tenants, there are many cases to-day where the farmers could not stand a rise in the rent. In these circumstances I believe there is a pretty general opinion that some reasonable adjustment of the burden of tithe rent-charge would be acceptable, not only to tithe owners but to tithe payers, and, at all events, I claim for this Bill that it is an honest attempt to be fair to the interests of both sides. Of course, there is a great deal to be said from the point of view of the tithe payer as well as from the point of view of the tithe owner, and in the discussions in Committee many points may be raised. I am sure that the Government will receive all suggestions sympathetically and will desire to make the Bill, if possible, fairer and more acceptable.

The first Clause in the Bill deals with this abnormal and artificial rise. It fixes the tithe rent-charge for seven years at £109 3s. 11d., which is its figure to-day. For the next seven years it will neither rise nor fall; it will stand where it is. Many tithe owners have expressed their willingness to accept some such temporary limitation as that, but that willingness has been coupled with the suggestion that if they give up their prospective rise they ought to be in some way protected against an undue fall. I should like to say at once that if that suggestion is presented in the concrete form of an amendment it will receive our very careful consideration. The second change made by the Bill is with regard to compulsory redemption. The tithe payer may compel the owner to redeem under this Bill, but the tithe owner cannot compel the tithe payer. Universal redemption is what we should like to have, but the position of the two parties interested is so different that it is very difficult to apply it. I imagine very few tithe owners would be reluctant to exchange their present tithe rent-charge for the same net income payable with punctuality, free from cost of collection and independent of the prosperity of agriculture or the burden of the rates. But, on the other hand, tithe payers have got to consider, even if they are willing to redeem, whether it is wise to risk more of their capital by buying up further interests in the land in which they may already have too much. Many of them may be afraid to put all their eggs in one single basket, and therefore, on the whole, a one-sided form of compulsion seems to be fair. It is always easier to compel men to receive cash than it is to compel them to pay it. That seems to me to be the governing principle here.

The next change made is the consideration to be paid for redemption. As the law now stands, when the tithe is over the value of 20s. it can only be redeemed at a sum which is not less than twenty-five times the original commuted figure—that is to say, where tithe stands at 66, as it did in 1901, or at 92, as it did in 1917, if you want to redeem it you have to pay £2,500. That is a figure at which the tithe payer cannot afford to redeem, and so from the very moment that that redemption Clause was passed it practically became a dead letter. The proof of that lies in this, that though the Act has been in existence for eighty-two years, only £73,000 worth of tithe has been redeemed. That is a warning against putting in any fixed figure. What is fair compensation depends upon three figures which you cannot calculate beforehand; one is the rate at which the Government can borrow; the second is the average price of corn, and the third the burden of rates. If you once ascertain these three figures the calculation of what is fair compensation is easy, and by that I mean the net income derived from the sum invested in good Government securities, which is equivalent to the net income the tithe owner would have received. That is a simple actuarial calculation if once you get these three figures. Without them it is mere guesswork. We have been pressed a good deal to put in some fixed figure. I must say that experience of the Act of 1836 made me feel quite strongly that that would be inadvisable.

Section 3, Sub-section (2), deals with the consents that are required. As the law stands a clerical tithe rent-charge exceeding 20s. can only be redeemed with the con-sent of the bishop and of the patron of the benefice or cure. Both of them have to consent. That consent is somewhat difficult to obtain, sometimes expensive, and sometimes it is a rather long proceeding. There have been oases where bishops have refused redemption unless thirty years' purchase was given for the tithe. In this case we propose to do away with the consent of the bishop or patron in the case of clerical tithe and substitute the consent of Queen Anne's Bounty, which is the official custodian and trustee of all redemption moneys paid over for the redemption of clerical tithe rent-charge. I think we have omitted in this Bill the Welsh Church Commissioners, but we propose to associate their consent with that of Queen Anne's Bounty where it relates to tithe in Wales. Section 4 deals with facilitating the landlord raising money to redeem tithe rent-charge. Section 5 deals with the very rare cases where the landowner, having agreed to redeem at a certain figure, neglects to pay the money. Section 5 provides means by which the redemption money is no longer treated as tithe but as a charge on the land. Section 6 refers to corn rents, which are not included in Section 1. I am sure the House will not wish me to embark on a technical description of the difference between corn rents and tithe rent-charge Practically the difference lies in this, that instead of being annually adjusted they are adjusted at different intervals according to the local Act under which they were created—whether seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years. We propose under this Bill to facilitate their conversion into tithe rent-charge and in that way to facilitate their redemption. I do not think there are any other Clauses which I need explain, but I would like, in conclusion, to say that Tithe Bills, I am told, have always been somewhat bitterly discussed in this House. I hope that this Bill at all events will be regarded as an honest attempt to solve the difficulties created by war conditions, and that as it leaves the House it will have the approval not only of those who pay but of those who receive tithe rent-charge.

I do not wish for one moment to delay the passage of this Bill through the House, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on its introduction. It is a most necessary measure. There are, however, one or two points on which I should like his attention, in order that when we come to the Committee stage those points may be cleared up. In the first instance, I should like to ask him why the year 1926 has been taken as the period after which the present system may continue, as I understand it, and the tithe rent-charge continue to increase in amount and in value? Whatever may be said for the proposal from the point of view of the clergy, who for many years past, I should think for forty years past—up to four or five years ago—have seen the tithe diminishing in value, and their incomes growing less rather than greater, there is nothing whatever to be said for the tithe owners, who have rendered no service to the community, but who take away from the landowning and land-cultivating classes an increased income at a time when every other class has been under the necessity of facing a diminished income and an increased expenditure. I hope that if the right hon. Gentleman is not able to extend this year 1926, as against the clergy of the Established Church, he, at all events, may be willing to accept an Amendment which will put an end for ever to increased tithe being paid to the owners of what are commonly called tithes, who have rendered no service to the people from whom they extract a considerable portion of the income of the locality. So much for that point. There is one other point in connection with Clause 1 to which I would ask the right hon. Gentlemen's attention. Why does he fix The yearly sum which, on or before the first day of January. I gather that in the great majority of parishes in this country the day on which tithes are demanded is either the 25th March or 29th September, Lady-Pay or Michaelmas, while in a number of parishes the 1st January is the statutory day. In the far greater number of cases it is either Lady-Day or Michaelmas. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us why the 1st January is fixed, which is rarer than the almost universal days to which I have drawn his attention? Let me draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one point in Clause 2, which is one of importance. It is the use of the word "may." There is always a Parliamentary wrangle over the words "may" and "shall." I do not wish to embark upon a contention of that sort now. Is it the fact that under Clause 2 the power of redemption is an optional power, which is only to be granted if the Board of Agriculture so think fit, or will there be an inherent right in the owner of land to go to the Board of Agriculture and say, "I demand redemption of tithe; I am in a position to pay the lump sum required; you must fix the amount at which that redemption is to take place"? The use of the word "may" there causes a certain amount of ambiguity which, personally, I should be very sorry to see introduced into this matter. The right hon. gentleman said something about an alteration in Clause 3 from a fixed number of years to an indefinite period, and therefore an indeterminate amount for which the tithe should be redeemed. He spoke of the period as one of twenty-five years, but I think that he will remember that twenty-four years is also a statutory period during which tithe may be redeemed. Under the Tithe Act, 1846, Section 5, if the total amount does not exceed 20s.—

I did deal with the matter.

Where it does not exceed 20s. the number of years is twenty-four?

Yes.

I suppose that, too, may be varied like 125. in connection with this the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he wished the redemption of tithe was universally compulsory. For many reasons I should like to see that too, but it all depends on the basis on which the tithe is redeemed whether it is a desirable redemption or not. I should like to know, now that the tithe is being fixed for seven years, whether the Board of Agriculture's view is that the period of twenty-four or twenty-five years is to be increased up to thirty, as apparently some people desire, or whether it should be reduced to something like nineteen or twenty, which is the figure which the payer of tithe thinks is very much more fair. Perhaps, when we come to the Clause in Committee, my right hon. Friend may think it worth while to make some explanation of that matter. The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the alteration as to the payment into Queen Anne's Bounty. Will he tell me why, in the future, a person who redeems the tithe is not required, as he has been in the past, to make the reduction of one-twentieth of the capital sum which has been paid and charged upon the land in order to reduce and eventually to extinguish the charges upon the land?

Clause 4 says: So much of Section 11 of the Tithe Act, 1846…. as fixes the rate of interest on the charge or requires an annual reduction of the charge shall cease to have effect. What is the idea of that? The idea was that a person who raises a sum of money on a property in order to redeem the tithe rent-charge, and having raised that money and not burdened the future owner of the land with a fixed annual sum arising from the interest on the money so borrowed, instead of the fluctuating charge dependent upon the value of the tithe rent-charge, therefore the sum so raised was to be reduced by one-twentieth every year. That provision is abolished. I have no doubt there may be excellent reasons for that, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind that some of us are rather curious to know what those reasons are. I should also like him to tell us how under Section 5, when he has to get a lump sum which a recalcitrant owner fails to find, he intends to proceed? I do not quite understand how he is going to make a charge on the property or satisfy Queen Anne's Bounty with the other recipients. On Clause 6 I do not think my right hon. Friend pointed out that the governing words in that Clause are in the third line The powers of the Board of Agriculture to convert corn rents into tithe rent-charges may be exercised at any time. Those words "at any time" are really the cause of the variation. All the powers which are in Clause 6 are at present enjoyed by the Board of Agriculture, but they may exercise them only at certain statutory times, when the value of the corn rent is varied or altered. Now I understand they take power to do it at any time. That is the alteration the Board makes. I think it is a very good power to take. I have only one further question. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether in Clause 6, Sub-section (2), there will be redemption for the tithe rent-charge which is to be awarded, as there is exemption at this time for many corn rents and rent-charges? My right hon. Friend will, no doubt, in due course give us an answer to these questions. They are points which are interesting and of importance. Finally, I ask him, with regard to what he has just said, is it the case that he will entertain an Amendment which, instead of allowing some determinate period to be substituted for the twenty-four or twenty-five years, an Amendment fixing an arrangement under which the Board of Agriculture would name a sum as the tithe value which will tell us from year to year at what rate during that twelve months the tithe may be redeemed which the landowner or the tithe owner desires to redeem? I hope that my right hon. Friend will find occasion in Committee to answer the points I have put to him.

We shall all feel glad that the right hon. Gentleman has brought in a Bill dealing with this really very urgent matter. I do not wish to say anything to stop the easy passage of the Bill. Of course it is a Bill, like all other Bills at this time, brought in in a spirit of compromise. I was a little disappointed, when the right hon. Gentleman was making his speech, that he did not refer to many matters which require consideration before we arrive at the Committee stage. In the first place, I am extremely glad he acquitted the clergy of the accusation brought against them in some quarters that they have been profiteering in this matter. That, of course, is a perfectly groundless charge. The amount they have received has been in strict accordance with the amount the Act allowed them, and at the present time they are perfectly entitled to receive any increased tithe which may come in under ordinary circumstances. Anyone who has studied the Report of the Lower House of Convocation will see that they do desire that this matter should be taken in hand. It is quite as much in the interest of the tithe owners as of the tithe payers that there should be some terms found, and, if possible, the old debatable question of tithe removed from political controversy. Therefore I fully welcome this Bill as it is framed, although I think it may be improved. I do not think there is any doubt about the second Clause, but with my right hon. Friend below me (Sir C. Hobhouse) I feel a little doubtful with regard to the words "may be directed." If it had been "may be redeemed" I could understand it, but to give some authority to someone to exercise an option in the matter I do not think ought to be done, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman intends it should be done. He is very wise in making it compulsory on one interest. Much as we should like to get rid of tithe altogether, it is practically impossible, owing to the enormous charge on the tithe payer involved in the abolition of tithe interests. As to Clause 3, I do not quite follow the suggestion of the President that the Board of Agriculture may fix some sum each year. He mentioned three instances, mainly rates and the price of corn. Of course, if he is willing to introduce something of that sort, it might take away some of the objections I have to this Clause. At present the power is indefinite. It will involve some to the tithe owners, the tithe payers, and the Board of Agriculture, which might be avoided very largely if you adopted some definite number of years. The clergy, through Convocation, had suggested twenty, the House of Laymen have suggested twenty, and other authorities have suggested twenty years. It is a very simple sum by which we see that the present rate—twenty years—means that the tithe owner practically gets his par value back.

I rather hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would explain his position with regard to rates, because the rate question is a serious one from the agricultural point of view. When we are dealing with tithe we come upon several conditions of things in connection with rates. Where the tithe is attached to a benefice, owing to an Act passed not long ago, the tithe owner is relieved of half the rates, and he is in a great deal better position than the ordinary occupier, because under the Agricultural Rating Act the relief is based on rates which were fixed a very long time ago, amounting to a sum which is very much less than half the present rate. The clerical owner has the advantage of geting half the rates at the present time, and so he is benefiting considerably more than the other. Is that ever going to be transferred to the occupier, when he comes to arrange his terms subject to the assent of the Board of Agriculture? The other two descriptions of tithe are in a different position. The tithe belonging to cathedrals or capitular bodies and the tithe in the hands of the laity is not given any advantage in connection with the reduction of rates. Is the Board going to take that into consideration when lay tithe or cathedral tithe is being dealt with, and allow a better bargain to be made in those cases than in the other? It ought to be made quite clear how these different matters are going to be dealt with, and under the Bill it is certainly left in such a very vague and indefinite position that I think it will create difficulty throughout the country. No doubt the right. hon. Gentleman has thought the matter out, and I shall be very grateful if he will explain it a little more clearly. Knowing the very heavy incidence of tithe at present, it is almost inevitable that if you really wish the redemption scheme to work, you must have some means of enabling this to be dealt with, not only by one payment but by payment over a series of years. It will be impossible for the tithe payer in many instances to find the money. He may be unwilling to put at once such a very large sum into land at a moment when it is extremely difficult to borrow except at a very high rate of interest, and there should be in connection with this redemption, if you really wish it to work, some scheme for securing that it may be dealt with by either of two ways, either by payment down or by payment over a series of years, and that should have the authority of the Board of Agriculture.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon his motives in introducing this Bill, but I am disappointed with the method by which he proposes to carry out his own and, I think, all our desires. He said just now "universal redemption is what we should like." That is a phrase with which everyone who is concerned with tithe will agree. I am certain both tithe owners and tithe payers would echo that. The ecclesiastical bodies, in different phraseology, express the same idea. Surely if we are all agreed in desiring that, the method of the Bill is the very last to bring it about! The principal motive which would have produced universal redemption is the comparative certainty that for the next two or three years the annual value of tithes is going to rise enormously. The right hon. Gentleman is doing away with the incentive towards redemption by saying it shall not rise any higher. For many years past redemption on a large scale has been impossible, because while the annual value of tithe was standing somewhere in the 'sixties—it did not rise to £70 until nine or ten years ago—the minimum figure of redemption was twenty-five years' purchase at par value. I am ignoring subsidiary cases, where the erection of churches and chapels is required, and things like that. I am dealing with the ordinary case of a tithe over 20s. attaching to land, and in those cases redemption was impossible, because while the tithe was between £60 and £70 a minimum of £2,500 was necessary for the redemption of £100 nominal tithe, and on the top of that were the not inconsiderable expenses of the Board of Agriculture in dealing with the matter. But now a unique opportunity has arisen. Tithe this year is at £100 odd and that figure, taken in conjunction with the rate of interest at which the Government can borrow money, makes it possible for redemption to take place, roughly speaking, on the basis of the tithe payer paying £2,000 for every £100 nominal, while the tithe owner would receive an income on the par value of his tithe in Government securities, and with the prospect of tithe approaching £140 next year and £150 or £160 in the following year, it is almost certain that every tithe payer who could conceivably find means to do it would redeem his tithe this autumn and winter. If a different method was adopted in the Bill there would be almost universal redemption of tithe during the next three or four months, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman, before the Bill gets into Committee, to consider very seriously whether he would take that view. The whole thing was very carefully worked out originally by a great authority on these matters. It was adopted, first of all, by the Committee of the Central Land Association, and it was submitted by them to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to Queen Anne's Bounty, to the Archbishops and to many other interested bodies, and approved by them all. It was submitted to the right hon. Gentleman himself, and received by him with considerable approbation. Why should not a scheme of that kind, which would enable tithe, on the one hand, to be redeemed for payment in cash or in War Bonds at £2,000 per £100 nominal value, or, on the other hand, to be redeemed over a period of fifty years by an annual payment secured by a rent charge of £113 2s. per annum, which would still provide the tithe owner with £100, his par value, from Government securities, be rejected and this Bill be introduced, which, I think, will be a deterrent to tithe redemption?

In case I am challenged on that statement, that it would be a deterrent, let me put the point of view of a tithe payer. I take my own case merely as an illustration, and not because I have any complaint to make. I am one of many rural land owners who at present find their financial position crippled by the rise in tithe. I am one of many who were making arrangements, in anticipation of some steps being taken to facilitate redemption this autumn and winter, to redeem. Do you think I shall redeem under this Bill? Not a bit of it. I can do much better with my money. I know that for the next few years, the years I was afraid of as a tithe payer, tithe will not rise above £109, the present figure. At the end of eight years it may fall, in which case I shall score by not having redeemed. If, on the other hand, it rises, I can redeem then. I am certainly not going to redeem now, as I should have done. I can do better than about four and five-eighths per cent. interest on my money, which is what it would mean after paying expenses. On the other hand, if there is a prospect of tithe rising to £140, £150 or £l60 in the next few years and we could do it at twenty years' purchase of something like par value, we should certainly redeem.

There is another reason, which is important from the point of view not only of the tithe payer, but of the tithe owner, particularly the ecclesiastical tithe owner, and still more the Board of Agriculture, why redemption should be made as nearly as possible universal at present. One of the principal motives that Parliament had when it passed the Tithe Acts which are now in force was the removal of the growing friction between the rural community and the ecclesiastical authorities and the other tithe owners. That friction was removed by putting the burden of tithe upon the owner instead of upon the occupier. But now the position is this: The annual value of tithe has risen so enormously since the period when many of the current rents were fixed that the owners find themselves under the necessary obligation of raising their rents against the increase of tithe or else running their rural estates at a loss. You cannot raise your rent year by year against the tithe. The owner of a rural estate whose farms are let on a Michaelmas tenancy finds himself, at the beginning of the year, faced with a tithe of £109. The step he can take to raise his rents in order to recover that tithe from the farmers upon the basis of their receipts when the value of the tithe is fixed is this: He gives notice before Michaelmas of his intention to terminate his existing tenancies at the existing rents at Michaelmas next year, and it will be Michaelmas two years hence before he receives the increased rout to cover the increase in tithe. Therefore he has to put his rent up, not to meet the tithe of this year, but the estimated tithe of two or three years hence. That mere fact, which is quite a common fact in these days, is reintrodueing friction between the rural community and the tithe owner, which it was the whole purpose of the Tithe Acts to remove. There is a great opportunity of securing almost if not quite universal redemption of tithe now without the reintroduction of friction, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will seriously consider whether he cannot alter his Bill altogether in Committee, and whether he could not give the right to the tithe payer to redeem his tithe at a fixed number of years' purchase, so that if he does it now there will be a par value to the tithe owner, while if he waits a year hence he will have to pay 20 per cent. more, and two years hence, or whatever it may be, he will have to pay 40 per cent. more, and so on. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to do that, so that the real incentive towards universal redemption may be introduced rather than abolished by this Bill.

It is far from my intention to rekindle the embers of old controversies in this House, but I feel constrained to move on the Second Reading of this Bill that it shall not apply to Wales and Monmouthshire.

It would not be in order for the hon. Member to move that now. That would mean moving the rejection of the Bill. He can move an Amendment in Committee to strike out any reference to Wales or Monmouthshire, or to limit the Bill to other parts of the Kingdom.

If I am out of order in moving that Amendment, I shall reserve it for the Committee stage. I wish to draw attention at the first possible moment to the great grievance which Wales will suffer if this Bill becomes law without some such limitation as I have suggested. It is perfectly obvious to anyone who reads this Bill, or indeed, to anyone who has heard the eminently reasonable speech of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, and the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, that it never was in the contemplation of the framers of this Bill that the case of Wales was different to that of England in the matter of tithes. You have only to look at Section 3, Sub-section (2), in order to see that the case of Wales was never present to the right hon. Gentleman's mind when he was framing this Bill. It was only in the course of his speech to-day that he said that after the words "with the consent of Queen Anne's Bounty," in line 9, he proposes to add the words "the Welsh Church Commissioners." Why has he to put in "the Welsh Church Commissioners"? Because he had forgotten entirely there was such a thing as the Welsh Church Act on the Statute Book, and that the Welsh tithe will have to be redeemed by the Welsh county councils when the Welsh Church Act comes into operation after the conclusion of the War. If the tithe had been redeemed before it could only be with the consent of the Welsh Church Commissioners. I appeal to the sense of fairness in this case, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the position of Wales. As I have said, I am not going to revive old controversies. I take it for granted that the Welsh Church Act, which is on the Statute Book, is to be put into operation at the conclusion of the War. The Welsh Church authorities themselves have long ago accepted that position. They have framed their constitution, they have taken steps to elect a representative body, and they have already said that they will accept commutation. Everything is in readiness for Disestablishment and Disendowment at the conclusion of the War, and yet this Bill has been introduced as if the position in Wales was entirely the same as the position in England.

The right hon. Gentleman said in his speech, with reference to Section 2, that it was one thing to compel people to accept money, but quite another thing to compel people to pay money. On that I pass no opinion. Section 2 gives the tithe payer the option of compelling a tithe owner to redeem, but it does not give the tithe owner the option of compelling the tithe payer to redeem. The hon. Member who spoke last, and who spoke as a rural landowner, said there was no inducement held out to him in this Bill to redeem, because, he said, he would have to pay 109, or nine over par for the redemption of the tithe, and he was cut off entirely from any possibility of recouping himself by an increase in the value of the tithe rent-charge or seven years, which, he said, might rise to 140 next year or 160 the year after that. The right hon. Gentleman also said that in 1926 it might be—

I gave it only as an illustration.

I will use it as an illustration. The right hon. Gentleman said it might be possible that in 1926 the value of the tithe would be £182 10s. If that be the position of the rural landowner in England, it is a very unfair position if he wants to redeem, because, as the hon. Gentleman said, no one will redeem at 109 unless he can see some prospect of recouping himself by an increase in the value of the tithe rent-charge. What about the Welsh county councils? What are you going to do with them? The commutation proposals in the Welsh Church Act compel the Welsh county councils at the conclusion of the War to buy up the life interests of the clergy in these tithes at the figure which the Bill now proposes to fix; that is, at 109. They will not get the benefit from the inevitable increase in the value of tithe during the next seven years, and when the normal operations come into being again in 1926 it may well be, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, that the value of the tithe will have sunk, not to 109, but perhaps to 100 or 95. May I ask the House, which is a very fair assembly, to view this matter fairly as a pure business proposition? May I ask hon. Members to consider what would be said in England if instead of Clause 2 in this Bill there was a Clause introduced compelling every tithe payer to redeem tithe next year at 109 and that this Bill should remain exactly the same in other respects? The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down was a controversialist in the old days and did yeoman service to his party. What would he say as a fair man if this Bill compelled him next year to redeem his tithe at 109 and took away from him the prospect for seven years of any increase in the value of tithe, but left him with the prospect, if not the certainty, that six or seven years after the War the value of the tithe would decrease, as it always has decreased six or seven years after every war, below par again. Would he not say it was a crying injustice? Would he divide the House on every possible occasion against it? He shakes his head. I am perfectly certain, after his speech, that if the same measure was meted out to him as it will be meted out to the Welsh county councils under this Bill, he would be a very vehement opponent.

The hon. Member asks me a question. One of the complaints I make against the right hon. Gentleman is that he has removed from the Bill the incentive which would, in fact, have compelled me or forced me to redeem this year at 109, for fear of having to pay 140 or 160.

That is the point I am making. Here you compel Welsh county councils to redeem at 109. Do you take away from them the inducement? They have no option. They are compelled to redeem under the Welsh Church Acts. They are not in the same happy position as the hon. Gentleman, who can do as he likes. He need not redeem unless he likes. If he thinks this Bill gives him a bad bargain he need not redeem, and he will not redeem because he has told us so. The Welsh county councils are not in that happy condition. Poor creatures, they are placed in the unhappy position of having to redeem. They were in a very unhappy position before. Through the operations of the War the value of tithe, which was only 77 in 1915, when the commutation proposals were passed, have risen now to 109. It is bad enough prospect that they are to pay 9 over par in order to buy up the life interests of the clergy, and now this Bill adds another injury to the accidental injury caused by the War, namely, that it takes away from them the chance of recouping themselves for the losses they have already suffered, by having to redeem at 109, and it does it by taking away from them any prospect of increase in the value of the tithe in future.

5.0 P.M.

I do not wish in any way to revive the old controversy. It would be easy for me and my Welsh colleague to speak of the inequity under which we are suffering. The Welsh Church Act was put on the Statute Book in September, 1914, and but for the accident of the War breaking out in August it would have been in operation at least in March, 1915. We should then have been able to commute the life interests of the clergy at the then price of tithe, but because of the accident of the War breaking out in August and not in October, 1914, when the Welsh Church Act would have been in operation—that is, if the Welsh Church Act could have been got on the Statute Book before the War broke out—we should have redeemed the tithe at something like 77. Now the Welsh county councils will have to buy out the life interests of the clergy at 109 at least. We could easily make that a grievance. It means adding at least £400,000 to the coffers of the Church. I make no complaint about that. I have never complained, and I do not complain now, that through that accident the Church has benefited to that extent, but I do say that you have no right in justice or in equity to compel the Welsh county councils, or any other public body, to buy at a fixed figure which will mean, and must mean, inevitable loss to them. I put this question, quite apart from the old controversy of Disestablishment and Disendowment, and I put it as a business proposition. We were told that commutation only meant an actuarial calculation as to what the real value of the life interest of the clergy was, and that when an actuary had found out what a fair figure was on an actuarial basis, then that sum should be paid to the clergy or the representative body without their benefiting a penny or the Welsh county councils losing a penny by the transaction. You are intervening now and say, "You shall buy next year, when we all hope the War will be over. You have no option. You must buy the life interest of the clergy next year, and must give 109 for it, because that is the value of the tithe on 1st January next year." My right hon. Friend here asked, Why fix 1st January? Why not fix 25th March this year? I will tell you why, because the value of tithe on 25th March this year was only 92, and the value of tithe, I have no doubt, on 1st January will be 109; so you compel the Welsh county councils to buy at 109 and you give them no guarantee whatever, so far as this Bill is concerned, that they will not make a ruinous bargain.

You say that for seven years they shall receive no more than 109, and at the end of seven years tithe will be assessed under the old Act, and so on, and it may very well be that tithe will be then below par. The value of tithe went up during the Napoleonic Wars, and continued to rise steadily for some years after until 1821 or 1822, when it was something like 121 or 122, that is to say, it continued to rise for more than six years after the Battle of Waterloo. The same thing happened in the case of the Crimean War. Tithe rose during the War and went up for some years afterwards, but in normal times the abnormal conditions created by the War disappeared, and the value of tithe came to be fixed by the ordinary rules again, and there was consequently a depreciation. The same thing occurred in the case of the Franco-German War in 1871. The value of tithe went up, and then it went down gradually to 62 or 63, and in 1915, when the Welsh Church Act was passed, the value was only 77, so we may expect that in all probability the same sort of thing will happen after this War. It is true that the increase during this War has been abnormal. For instance, in March this year, the value was 92, and the right hon. Gentleman has told us that the value of tithe on 1st January next year will be 109.

It is 109 now.

In March this year it was 92. If I am wrong I can be corrected. At all events it is perfectly certain that in 1915 the value was 77 and the value to-day, we are told, is 109, and therefore you have an increase in the course of three years of 32. That is an abnormal increase which has never been known in the history of tithe before, and it is because this War is a war without precedent; and if the hon. Gentleman who spoke last is correct, and that next year the value will be 140 and the year after it will be 160, and that in 1926 it will be 182, then the increase will be very abnormal, but as the increase has been abnormal so the decrease, I believe, will be abnormal too, and it is very probable that by 1926–7 the value may have decreased under par again and there will be a dead loss to the Welsh county councils. No one in this House can defend that position. If you want to abolish the Welsh Church Act do so honestly. We shall fight you. We shall do our best to prevent you. But at all events be honest and straightforward in the matter. The Welsh Church Act was passed in three Sessions of Parliament, and was placed on the Statute Book, and it compels the Welsh county councils to buy tithe at the current rate without seeing that they are safeguarded and that they are not to make a ruinous bargain, as they will if this Bill passes. Do one of two things. Either exclude Wales from the Bill altogether, because of the abnormal conditions of things—I do not think that the clergy will suffer. They will get the full value of the tithe, and I do not grudge it. That is the fortune of war. I do not want to reopen old controversies. I am quite willing to forget the past and to live in amity with our Church friends, but I wish to have fair play for the Welsh county councils, and if you exclude Wales from the Bill we will take our chance of recouping ourselves by the increase in value during the next six or seven years; or we say that since you compel the Welsh county councils to buy tithe next year, when the Welsh Church Act comes into operation, let them redeem it at par. It is not as if you were asking them to pay so much per year, taking their chance whether it is 109 this year or 99 the following year, or 89 the following year, but you are asking them to buy, to redeem, tithe. Therefore why should they be asked to pay more than the par value?

That is a perfectly fair proposition. I would urge it on my hon. Friends the Members for Wales who are in the Ministry—I think that there are five or six of them—men who fought hard in the past for Welsh Disestablishment and Disendowment. I would appeal to my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint (Mr. Herbert Lewis). No one has done greater service in the matter of Disestablishment and Disendowment than he. Will he stand by and see the Welsh county councils being led into a ruinous position 8 The hon. Member for East Carmarthen (Mr. Towyn Jones) is one of the junior Whips of the Treasury. He was sent here specially in the old days in order to keep Welsh Members up to the mark on Disestablishment, and he was the most against any concession given by the then Home Secretary. Indeed, I believe that he has even denounced me, who am supposed to be rather extreme, because I was not half extreme enough for my hon. Friend. Here is a Bill which torpedoes the Welsh Church Act, which makes it impossible to bring it into operation with any chance of success, which not only allows the county councils to give at least another £400,000 to the Church, but makes it impossible for them to make it a good bargain. This is the Bill which is introduced by the Government, at the head of which is a Welsh Member who won his spurs by being an exponent of Welsh Disestablishment and Disendowment, and four or five of whose colleagues are equally committed on the Welsh Church Act. I have sufficient confidence in the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill to feel that he will see to it that the Welsh county councils shall have fair play in this matter. The character of the Bill, the fact that it never mentioned Wales, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman show that he has erred in this matter, so far as Wales is concerned, simply because he has never considered it, and I appeal to him, as a man of fairness, who loves justice, to see to it that this blot on his Bill shall be removed. The question of English tithe is a domestic question. I leave him to settle with his English supporters the character of the Bill so far as England is concerned, but I do ask him, in all earnestness and sincerity, to consider the special case of Wales and to do all in his power to meet it.

I do not desire to deal with any particular part of the United Kingdom nor to discuss to-day any details in connection with this matter, but I would like to say a word or two upon the principle of it. I think that the whole House of Commons, in touching this very-difficult question of tithe, does desire to avoid doing any injustice either to Wales or the Welsh county councils, or the clergy, or cathedrals, or the lay people who happen to own certain of the tithes. I was rather hoping, when the Government took up the question of tithe in this Bill, that they were going to give facilities for universal redemption in order to get rid of tithe altogether, so far as it affects portions of land. There are five or six different kinds of tithe; and in some cases lands are subject to two or three of those. Everyone who has got anything to do with the ownership of land knows that these sometimes small and sometimes large impositions are very annoying, and cause an amount of trouble and inconvenience quite out of all proportion to the matter involved. The whole tendency to-day is to simplify the ownership and occupation of land and to get rid of impediments and obstacles which practically are nothing but a nuisance. We were told by the right hon. Gentleman that Clause 5, I think, contains a provision that where a landowner has given notice of redemption but does not go on with it there is machinery there to carry it out. I am one of those who could have wished that the whole of this Bill was an enlarged Clause 5 with machinery to carry out redemption over the whole country in respect of this matter.

There is one simple way in which, without very much difficulty and without any comparative hardship, tithes could be got rid of. I understand that if an addition were made to the annual amount of tithe of about 11 per cent. of the amount that in a period of years, which I believe would not exceed forty, the tithe would automatically disappear, because that small addition would enable a sinking fund to be set up which would wipe it out. I do not say that that is an altogether desirable method of doing it, because one does not like to add 10 or 11 per cent. to a charge which in itself is a, nuisance. But if you have a number of cases in which landowners find it difficult to raise the amount of capital to enable them to get rid of the tithe at once, surely they might be willing to agree to some small addition if that had the effect of completely wiping out the tithe in a given number of years. It is quite true that forty years is a long period, but still it is a period that comes to an end. If it is desirable to get rid of a thing, then surely even forty years is better than never. I do not believe, of course, in extending anything to forty years if there is any quicker or more reasonable way of doing it. I think it would be a good thing if this Bill contained provisions under which landowners could go to the Treasury and get the necessary amount on the same terms as, say, local loans which would automatically free them from these tithe charges. I think, too, it would be an excellent idea if there was a system under which, with a Small edition, say, of one-fifth, they could get rid of the charge in fifteen or sixteen years. In the case where the tithe was, say, £10, an addition would make it £11 4s., and which would enable the landowner in a number of years to get rid of it, would, I am sure, not be objected to. I think it is a pity that the Bill does not provide machinery to enable the man who wanted accommodation for this purpose to get it. I am sorry to see that the Bill as a matter of form and as a matter of essential expenditure does not seem to me to initiate any idea of enabling these tithes to be more advantageously got rid of and wiped out. At the present moment the burden is a particularly serious one, because, with the great rise in the price of grain, you have got a great rise in the annual amount payable as tithe. I can see that in the next few years there will be an outcry with regard to the amount of tithes to be paid. Under this Bill that amount is going to be restricted, and is not to be increased after a certain date, but there, again, it may be said that you are depriving the owners of tithes of the right to be paid at some future date on the same basis as regards price as the system now provides. I regret very much that this Bill fails in my judgment hopelessly to provide machinery to give facilities for wiping out and getting rid of one of the incidents to land tenure in this country which for many years has been a source of annoyance and of grievous wrong to a large number of people.

The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen District (Mr. L. Williams), when dealing with this question, endeavoured to introduce into it a number of old controversies. I will not follow his example, nor will I take up the time of the House in showing the numerous inaccuracies in his speech, but I would like to draw attention to the principal inaccuracy which he mentioned, and not for the first time. The hon. Member stated that the effect of this Bill was to hand over a large sum to the Church in Wales. In that statement he is absolutely inaccurate. The mere fact of whether the tithe rises or whether the value of the tithe increases or decreases does not in any way affect the Church in Wales if the Welsh Church Act comes into force at the end of the War. That is so for this reason, that the present incumbents take a life interest in the tithe, and if the Church receives a larger sum in commutation because the value of the tithe is increased then exactly in the same proportion have they to pay a larger sum every year to the incumbents to pay off their life interest which is secured to them under the Act. Therefore for the hon. Member to say that this Bill hands over £400,000 to the Church of Wales is, I contend, absolutely inaccurate and it was simply in order to correct that statement that I rose.

The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken. I never said that this Bill did anything of the kind. What I did say was that by the operation of the War and the fortune of the War the Church had got in effect £400,000 more than we thought she would have got when the Welsh Church Act was passed. I never said a word about this Bill giving 1d. to the Church, and I repudiate the suggestion.

I have listened to the explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman and I still understand that he informs the House that the fact that the tithe has risen from the value of 77 in 1913 to 109, mentioned in this Bill, is giving £400,000 more to the Church in Wales. That, I contend, is absolutely inaccurate, and for this reason: The matter is a business proposition and one about which I think I know something. Under the Act, if the tithe is commuted at, say, at 109 as against 77, there will certainly be a larger sum of commutation, but the receivers of the benefit who have the life interest in the tithe—that is the incumbents—take every penny and get a larger sum in exactly the same proportion for their life interest. Therefore I think I am quite correct in my contention that the Church in Wales does not benefit by the rise in price.

Some reference has been made to the amounts of tithe rent-charges in preceding years, and as to what may be possible in future years. I will venture, if I may, to call the attention of the House to what has been the rise in tithe rent-charge in more recent years. The value of £100 tithe rent-charge readied its lowest figure of slightly under £66 11s. in 1901; next year it was slightly over £67, and from 1903 to 1909 it was between £69 and £70. Then it rose very steadily even before the War, and reached £75 16s. 4d. for 1914. That was the last year on which it was calculated on the pre-war prices. Then for 1015—when war prices first began to tell—the value of £100 tithe rent was over £77, for 1916 it was over £83, for 1917 was over £92, and for the present year it is over £109, while there is every possibility it will continue to increase rapidly in value. This increase is a very serious thing for agriculture and for those who put money into the land. It must be remembered that while the landowner may put capital into the land and the tenant his labour, the tithe owner does nothing whatever towards increased production. I draw no distinction whatever between the clerical and the Jay tithe owner in this respect; the tithe owner, as tithe owner, in no way contributes towards production; he, in fact, takes a toll on the production of other people, and it is very important that the House should take care that this toll is not too heavy or too crushing. In considering this tithe question, I would point out that the tithe owner has always been the spoiled child of legislation. We all know what was done. As in the Agricultural Bates Act, the Tithe Rent-Charge (Rates) Act of 1899 similarly provided that half the rates on tithe rent-charge attached to benefices were to be paid by the taxpayer, and the remarkable circumstance is that as tithe increases in value so the amount the taxpayer has to pay in respect of rates on tithe also increases. The value of the tithe rent-charge when the Act was passed was very low, but it has steadily increased, and last year the amount paid under that Act for rates on tithe rent-charge attached to benefices was £193,000, more than had been paid in any other preceding year.

I think it would have been well, in view of that enormous rise of tithe rent-charge, by which all tithe-owners benefited, that in respect of this subvention from the heavily burdened taxpayer this Bill should have been of rather wider scope, and that the Tithe Rents-Charge (Rates) Act ought to have been repealed, and prevented from operating when this new measure comes into operation. I think that should have been dealt with, and I would remind the House that it would be very difficult to deal with it in the ordinary way, because, though it is annually renewed under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, it does not appear in that Act, but in the renewal of the Agricultural Rates Act, which automatically operates the renewal of the Tithe Rent-Charge (Rates) Act, because of the very ingenious provision which was put into the latter measure. I submit that when this Bill was brought before this House, it would have been a very good thing, in view of the enormous rise in tithe rent-charge, if the subvention from the taxpayer had been stopped. I hope that my right hon. Friend, if the Bill becomes law, will see that very careful statistics are obtained as to the amount of tithe in the various counties, and to whom that tithe belongs, I have received information as to the total amount, but there seems to be a want of exact statistical information, which certainly ought to exist, not only as to the numbers but also as to the subventions from the taxpayers in payment of the tithe rent-charge rates. The suggestion has been made that as the tithe rent-charge will not be raised above £109 during the next seven years, so there should similarly be some provision against its fall in the future. I submit that in view of the tithe owner's position who does nothing towards production, such a provision would certainly give a guarantee as to the minimum. If anything is done along these lines, it should be, as now, a matter simply and solely between the tithe owner and the tithe payer, and the taxpayer should not be brought directly or indirectly into the transaction.

I venture to make a suggestion on another point which has been raised. It has been said with some justice that in the redemption provision it is rather a pity that the right hon. Gentleman has provided only for redemption by capital payments, and has not provided an alternative form of redemption of payment by instalments, but whatever facilities may be given for redemption, I am sure that the House feels that at a time like this the redemption should be carried out as between the interests concerned alone, and that the taxpayer should not be brought in any way to finance, still less to endow the transaction.

Some suggestion of that sort has been made by an hon. Friend of mine behind me, and I venture to put to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture, that whatever arrangements may be made for redemption, and however much it will expand, he will leave the matter to be arranged simply and solely between the tithe owner and the tithe payer, because if the taxpayer is brought at all into these arrangements, the Bill will become controversial, and there will be grave danger of its being lost. I say frankly, and I believe I speak for other Members better qualified to judge than I am, that many will be strongly adverse to bringing the taxpayer into these matters at all. Whatever arrangements may be made for commutation or redemption, they ought to be made directly between the parties concerned. It is a pity, I think, that this Bill has been delayed until the tithe rent has gone up to over £109, and I submit that it is a matter for consideration whether, for the seven years, the amount ought not to be fixed at par instead of £109. The whole question is one of very great importance. I see from what some of my hon. Friends have said that there may be difficulties about the redemption provision, I hope, however, that it may be satisfactorily arranged, and, in any case, whether the redemption provisions are carried or not, I think the House will recognise the need of some measure of this kind which is designed, at least, to prevent tithe rent-charge going higher than the high figure it has reached, and to prevent the tithe owner, who does nothing towards production, from getting still more than he has already obtained from the conditions arising out of the War.

I differ very much from the hon. Member who has just sat down. I hope very much that the Bill will be looked at from the point of view of the tithe owner before the Committee stage on the question. I trust also that Members will carefully read the admirable speech which was made by the right hon. Gentleman. I never heard a clearer exposition of this most difficult problem of the tithe rent-charge. It should be remembered that the tithe owner is giving up a very great deal. He is giving up practically a certain rise of tithe during the next four or five years, and he is willing to take the sum that has been fixed on what it was last January. He is not getting very much back in redemption if he is liable to be bought out by the tithe payer. While he cannot insist upon being bought out the tithe payer can insist, and the terms are to be such as the Board of Agriculture decides. That is not satisfactory from the point of view of the tithe owner. I say that in no spirit of hostility to the Bill. It does not seem to me to be a very satisfactory proposition, and I do not think the matter ought to be left to the absolute determination of the Board of Agriculture. The last speaker said that the tithe owner is the spoilt child of the Legislature, and suggested that he was getting too much under this Bill, but in contrast to that the hon. Member for Carmarthen Boroughs put forward the grievance that under the Welsh Church Bill the county councils in Wales will become tithe owners, because they have to buy out existing tithe owners. It is in that way only that this Bill will affect them, because until they become tithe owners they are not touched at all. He certainly spoke with a strength and vehemence on the point that did not lead us to suppose that he thought the tithe owner, under this Bill, was the spoilt child of the Legislature, because he said it was the most monstrous injustice. I submit that the tithe owner should look carefully into this Bill before the Committee stage, and, as far as I can judge, looking at it perfectly impartially, being neither a tithe owner nor a tithe payer, I think he is not getting quite the same advantage that the tithe payer is, and that compensation ought rather to be given him when we come to the Committee stage.

I do not intend to answer in detail the questions that have been raised, because, I think, on the whole, they are best dealt with in Committee, but there was a question which I was asked by the right hon. Gentleman opposite as to the reason why the rent-charge is fixed on the 1st January, 1026. Under Section 20 of the Tithe Act of 1840 the tithe for every year is announced on the 1st of January, and begins to take effect at the first half-yearly payment on the 1st of April in the same year. That is the explanation of the form in which the first Clause is drawn. It looks as if we were fixing it for eight years, but if you remember that the first tithe, when it comes into effect, is on the payment on the 1st of April, the mystery is explained. As to the question of redemption, what I would say about that is shortly this. We have always considered that the net income which would have been obtained by the tithe owner is the amount that ought to be securable, and when I say net income, of course I mean the net income subject to the deduction of the rates, and in certain cases Land Tax, where the tithe owner is subject to that, and that the remaining net income we have to secure him is such a sum of money as will maintain that income if invested in Government securities. That, as a matter of fact, at the present moment amounts to about twenty years' purchase, and that is the amount at which clerical Lithe now will be able to be redeemed under this Bill. Therefore, when the hon. and gallant Member behind me said he had no inducement whatever now to redeem the tithe, I hope he will think better of it, and remember that in all probability if he does not redeem it until 1926 he may have to redeem the tithe which then may be at something between 160 and 170, and he may not benefit by having waited so long. I beg to move the Second Beading of the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the Committee stage will be likely to come on?

I really do not know what the business of the House is going to be. As long as we get the Bill through this Session it will do.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us adequate notice of the time when he proposes to take the Bill again?

I will take care that that is done.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Prothero.]