§ The yearly sum which on or before the first day of January nineteen hundred and twenty-six becomes payable under the Tithe Acts, 1836 to 1891, in respect of any tithe rent-charge, shall be the sum payable in respect of that rent-charge as ascertained by the septennial average prices published under the Corn Returns Act, 1882, in the month of January, nineteen hundred and eighteen.
The first Amendment standing on the Paper in the name of four hon. Members is not in order as it proposes to postpone the main operative Clause of the Bill.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Major COURTHOPE
May I ask you, Sir, to reconsider your decision on this ground? There are two Amendments on the Paper with regard to the redemption of tithe rent-charge, one in the name of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture and one in the name of some hon. Friends and myself, and I submit most humbly it is desirable that the Committee should defer consideration of the first Clause that proposes to stabilise tithe until they have considered which of either of the two schemes for encouraging the redemption of tithes is to be inserted in the Bill. Both schemes are materially different from the proposals in the Bill as originally drafted, but I submit that they have a bearing in common, and that hon. Members should have an opportunity of forming their own opinion as to which of the schemes it is desirable to adopt before they agree to pass this Clause. I ask you, therefore, to reconsider your decision, and to allow this Amendment to be moved.
§ Sir FORTESCUE FLANNERY
May I point out that this is a Motion not for the obliteration of the Clause, but for the postponement of the discussion upon it. There is much in common among the Amendments which have been given notice of, although they differ somewhat in detail among themselves, and it might probably have the effect of shortening the whole Debate in Committee on the Bill if in a general discussion on the postponement hon. Members were permitted to deal with the various Motions of which notice has been given I respectfully urge upon you it would be within the Rules of Order to allow this to be done, and that it would tend to the general convenience, and probably shorten the proceedings.
I gave my ruling after very careful consideration of the matter. Proposals to postpone Clauses have come up time and again, as hon. Members will recollect. With regard to the point made by the hon. Member (Sir F. Flannery) as to a general discussion arising on the Motion, the discussion, if permitted, would be limited solely to the reasons for postponing the consideration of the Clause, and it could not touch the merits of the matter. There is a way open, of course, in Committee which would provide for the discussion of the alternative scheme, and that would be to negative Clause 1. I understand that the 1505 hon. and gallant Member and the President of the Board of Agriculture have alternative schemes, and if Clause 1 were negatived, then those alternative schemes could be dealt with as they arose. I do not wish to be pedantic, but I am sorry I am afraid I cannot alter the decision which I have arrived at.
The Committee must first consider the Amendments to Clause 1, but on the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," it will be open to the hon. Member to move its deletion.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Prothero)
I beg to move, to leave out the word "yearly" ["the yearly sum which"]. This is a purely drafting Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
I beg to move, after the word "January" ["the first day of January"], to insert the words "and the first day of April where the parish commutation, award has fixed that day."
I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman opposite when the Bill was up for Second Beading, and the answer he gave me was this, that his reason for fixing the first day of January was because under Section 20 of the Tithe Act, 1840, that was the day on which the tithe was announced, and it began to take effect for the first half-yearly payment on the 1st April in the same year. But under the Tithe Act of 1836, which provides that the tithe rent-charge shall be payable on two days, the 1st January and the 1st July, the rent-charge which commences on the 1st day of January next following the apportionment of tithe, and would become payable on the 1st day of July. Under the Tithe Act of 1837 and under the Act of 1840, it is indicated that the Parish Commutation Award or supplemental agreement may fix a day other than the 1st January or the 1st July; and under the Tithe Act, 1840, it is necessary for the Commissioners to assign different dates when such a tithe 1506 commutation award has been made. I am informed that as a result of these two Acts the tithe rent-charge in some parishes accrues due on the 1st January and the 1st July; but in the bulk of the parishes in England it becomes due on the 1st day of April and the 1st day of October. If that is so—and I can quote a well-known authority for it—then if the words stand as they are without the insertion of the words which I propose to insert, the tithe which has been fixed to be payable on the 1st April and the 1st July, 1926, will not become operative in those parishes until the 1st day of January, 1927. There may be some error which is not clear to me, and perhaps my right hon. Friend can explain it; but otherwise I am afraid that will be the position if the Bill is allowed to stand as now. My right hon. Friend has assumed that the first day of January is the day on which tithe rent-charge becomes due, whereas I am informed it is fixed by the Tithe Commutation Award, and if he will accept my Amendment I believe it will get over the practical difficulty.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Prothero)
I think the right hon. Gentleman is labouring under a delusion in this matter. The Corn Returns Act, 1882, orders that the septennial averages for the year, founded on the averages up to the Christmas next preceding, shall be announced in January in the New Year. Payment follows in the ordinary course, and where the award has fixed payment for 1st of April and the 1st of October, these payments will be continued to be made at those dates; while where the award fixes the payment for the 1st July and the 1st January following, the payments will be made at those dates. Therefore there is no reason for the Amendment, which would really be quite ineffectual, and which would result in this, that the tithe rent-charge would be payable on the very day on which it becomes actually due; and that, I do not think, is what the right hon. Baronet is aiming at. I, therefore, cannot accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
I beg to move to leave out the words, "twenty-six" ["nineteen hundred and twenty-six"], and to insert instead thereof the words "twenty-three."
1507 The effect of Clause 1, if it continues to stand as originally introduced, would be to continue for a period of seven years the rent-charge at £109 as the standing rate of payment. That period of seven years, in the opinion of many people, is much too long, having regard to the other Clauses and conditions embodied in the Bill; and I think, in a Notice of Amendment which my right hon. Friend himself has given, he recognises that fact. I am proposing a change, a reduction from 1926 to 1923, which would reduce the seven years to a period of four years. Perhaps, in the general opinion of the Committee, that may or may not be suitable. I myself would not greatly object if a year more were taken off the period; but this would seem, at all events, to be a suggestion which might elicit the general opinion of the House. Anyhow, seven years is too long in the interests both of the clergy and of agriculturists, having regard to the other provisions. It is very unfortunate, I venture to think, that in the Corn Production Act so recently passed no provision whatever was made for restraining the enormous rise in the value of the tithes. Rents were not to be raised. Such was specially forbidden in consequence of the increased prices of corn. Tithes, it was known, must follow, but no mention even of restraint of that increase of tithes was made. Yet we know that we are seeking to do all we can to encourage agriculture and to increase the growth of food in this country. The original idea of this variation in the value of tithes, be it for a number of years long or short, was, as my right hon. Friend himself has frequently explained, that the income of the clergy should follow up and down the variation in the cost of living.
There is no doubt that in 1836, eighty-two years ago, when the enactment was made, the cost of living did follow very closely the variation in the price of corn. To-day the cost of living does not, with anything like the same closeness, follow the variation in the prices of corn. So in the interests of the clergy, as well in the interests of agriculture, this system must be changed, and radically changed. It is a very great hardship that the clergy not so many years ago had to accept as little as £67 in the £100 as their stipend. It is equally as great an injustice to agriculturists that the rate of payment for tithes should increase, as it will increase, 1508 unless there is imposed this restriction to £150, or even £160, in the very near future. These tithes, although paid in the first instance by the landlord, must sooner or later reach everyone else connected with agriculture—the farmer, the agricultural labourer, will have to suffer if some restraint, some equalisation, is not insisted upon. There are some hon. Members whom I know are opposed to the idea of relief to landlords. I would call the attention of such to the fact that you have 500,000 tithe-payers and 270,000 occupying owners who are tithe-payers. A very large proportion of these occupying owners are small men who themselves till the land which they own, and it is in their interests, as well as in the interests of the great landlords—in the interests, I say, of the humble agricultural labourer—that this change must be made. I do not want at the present moment to refer to the proposals of my right hon. Friend, but I think I am justified in saying this: My right hon. Friend proposes in his Amendment to remove a great blot from the Bill. One of the blots of the Bill was that the Board of Agriculture had absolute power to do what they chose in regard to fixing the redemption. Under the proposals now before the Committee that blot will be removed, that is to say, the Board of Agriculture will be limited to a period of purchase to twenty years, and upon the basis of £100 instead of £109. The Board of Agriculture will not have the amount of discretion they would have had if the change had not taken place. What will be the result? The result will be that agriculturists and clergy will both know where they are. That is the great advantage of this Bill, and of this Clause in the Bill. There will not only be fixity of tenure but fixity of rates, a fixed income for the clergy, and fixed payments, or almost so, by the owners and agriculturists—by the farmer and the labourer. This 5 per cent. on the twenty years' purchase is, I venture to think, a fair rate.
The Amendment of the hon. Baronet is confined to the point of reducing the term from 1926 to 1923. He now seems to be dealing with the general principles of the Bill, and, in particular, with an Amendment which we have not yet reached. I have allowed him latitude so far, so that I could find out what he really meant. I must now ask him to come down to the Amendment on the Paper.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
Very well, Sir, if I have enlarged too much I apologise. I am sure you will appreciate the fact that one is tempted to go a little far, perhaps, when dealing with a matter of this sort. I will, however, confine myself entirely to supporting what I believe to be a right principle, namely, that this should not last for seven years, but should last for a very much shorter term, or for four years, and having generally explained the basis upon which I have tried to reason that out I will confine myself to moving the Amendment which stands in my name.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I want very heartily to support the Amendment that has been moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. It is highly desirable that this period of seven years should be shortened to four years. In fact, I should like to see it shortened as much as possible, because it seems to me to be a very unjust as well as a very inexpedient thing to fix the present price of tithe for so long a period as seven years. I would like for a moment to ask the House to consider the position in which the clergy are placed in this matter. I would remind the House of the words that fell from Sir Robert Peel when he introduced the Tithe Commutation Act in 1836. Sir Robert Peel on that occasion said:Considering that the parties interested are the clergy who have no direct representation amongst us, it is required by a proper regard for the protection of the rights and privileges of these clergy that we should not appear to sanction any principle which we are not satisfied is consistent with justice.I should like the House to remember that we are dealing here with what is in fact a bargain—one which has been maintained for eighty years. It is a bargain between two sets of people, one set of whom is very largely composed of the clergy who are statutorily debarred from silting in this House. Therefore this House, if anything, ought to err on the side of consideration towards the clerical tithe owners. I say nothing about the lay tithe owners, because they can sit here and look after themselves. The clerical tithe owners cannot. I do, therefore, ask the President of the Board of Agriculture and the House to consider with the utmost consideration the position in which they are placed. What does this Clause propose to do? It proposes to fix the present price of tithes at seven years. That is to say, we are asked to interfere with a bar- 1510 gain that was struck in 1836, and to arrest the process which is now going on of a rise in the price of tithes—to arrest that process for seven years. I very much want to know why the term of seven years has been selected. Surely the Government do not think that the War is going on for another seven years! I do not believe that they even think that the abnormal conditions introduced by the War are going to affect the cost of food for another seven years! If the Government do think that, I hope the President will be kind enough to explain to the House the reasons that he has for holding that opinion.
In regard to the special conditions brought about by the War. I should like to put this point of view to the House: The bargain which was struck in 1836 was, no doubt, a rough-and-ready bargain. On the whole it has worked well-that is to say, that when the cost of living was low the tithe was low, and when the cost of living was high the tithe was high. The right hon. Gentleman comes down to the House and says, in effect, that the very abnormal conditions brought about by the War makes it necessary for us to interfere with the automatic rise in the value of the tithes for a period of seven years. Is he going to do anything to reduce the cost of living to the clergy for seven years 2 Is he going to do anything to meet the expenses of living of the clergy, seeing that the tithe is fixed in relation to the cost of living? I would remind the House that throughout the lean years, when wheat was at 22s. per quarter, and tithe was something like 66s., this House did nothing to step in and interfere with the automatic working of the Tithe Commutation Act. Therefore very strong arguments indeed are needed to justify any intervention at the present time. What we, in fact, are doing is, we are upsetting a bargain which, as long as it worked against the interests of a party which is absent from this House, we did not interfere with; but when it begins to play favourably for that party, we are called upon to hang it up for seven years! I do think we ought to be very careful how we proceed about such a business. It is for that reason that I welcome the Amendment, and because I think the term my hon. Friend has fixed in his Amendment is ample. I quite see the force of the contention that tithe next year, or the year after, perhaps, or the year after that, 1511 if not dealt with in any way, will reach such abnormal limits as very seriously to disturb the relations betwen landlords and tenants, and to introduce a number of complications and difficulties into the whole of the agricultural population. I admit that fully; but you cannot get away from the fact that you are breaking the bargain, and you are inflicting an injustice on men who did not complain when the bargain told against them, and who only ask to be left alone at the present moment. To hold this automatic rise up for seven years is unjust to the clergy. The President of the Board of Agriculture, in introducing the Bill, explained that he sincerely hoped the result of this Bill would be that universal redemption of tithe would follow. He said:Universal redemption is what we should like to have.With all respect to my right hon. Friend, I say that, unless this Amendment is accepted, and unless other drastic changes are made in this Bill, there will be practically no redemption as a result of it. The tithe payer will see that all he has to do is to sit tight for seven years, and seven years hence food will either be cheaper and tithe will go down or else he thinks he can come to this House, which is always well disposed towards him, and takes less account of the other charge in the transaction, and try to obtain another extension of relief. I think the maximum we should follow is a term which just covers the abnormal situation brought about by the War, and by demobilisation afterwards. I think 1923 will see us through demobilisation, and it will see the tonnage of the world released to bring food supplies to this country and other countries in Europe. We shall be back again to the normal play of the law of supply and demand; and why the tithe bargain should be interfered with in 1923 I am at a loss to understand, unless, indeed, the Government can prove to the House that they really think they can abolish the whole tithe system by this Bill. I do not think they can show that, and, therefore, I shall support my hon. Friend's Amendment on the ground that 1923 is an amply sufficient period to cover the abnormal conditions brought about by the War.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I will deal with the Amendment itself. It proposes that the septennial average for the 1512 seven years preceding Christmas, 1922, should be calculated on the septennial averages, and the restrictions placed upon the rise of tithe should be at an end. That is the suggestion. The House knows that the value of the tithe in each year is made up by its value in the seven single years preceding. That is to say, the Amendment proposes to go back to 1916. It takes 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, and 1922, and the tithe-rent charge on the 1st of January, 1923, shall be the result of those figures. What happens?
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
Surely that would not be the effect. The effect of this Amendment would simply be, if the other parts of the Bill remain unchanged, to limit the effect of the Clause to four years instead of seven years, and it would not go back mixing up the calculations in the way suggested by the right hon. gentleman.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
The hon. Baronet altogether misunderstands how septennial averages are arrived at. What I have stated is the process by which the septennial averages are arrived at. The seven years' septennial average to Christmas, 1922, is proposed, and the hon. Baronet has taken seven years, which in all probability will show prices of corn without record in our previous history under the Corn Returns Act. Take 1916, which was one of the years which the hon. Baronet has to bring into his septennial average. In that year tithe rose to £141 for the single year. The highest previous record had been £131, and to get that you had to go back to 1847. Therefore, in 1916 the value for the single year rose £10 above any previous record. In 1917 it rose to £188; that is to say, £57 more than any previous record. In 1918 and 1919 it will be about the same figure. What will happen in 1920, 1921, and 1922 I do not know; but, even assuming that you have a considerable fall in prices between 1923 and 1924, you might have a tithe rent-charge of something like £170, which is the very thing this Bill proposes to prevent. The hon. Baronet, who represents a county in which the burden of tithe rent-charge is very acutely felt, is not going to make himself popular with his constituency if I accept the proposal he has made, which is that, instead of paying £109, they should pay something like £170.
1513 As regards what the hon. Member for the Newton Division (Viscount Wolmer) said about the bargain, he is perfectly justified in placing the case of the tithe-owner before the House; but I do not think he can have done me the justice of reading the speech I made in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I said then the tithe-owners' interest would have to be considered, and that it was my hope that this Bill would be made fair and equitable on all sides, and that the Government would receive suggestions sympathetically in order to make the Bill if possible fair. Therefore, I am willing to accept suggestions which will make the Bill fairer to the tithe owner, but not in the way that the hon. Baronet suggests. If the hon. Baronet had had the choice of a number of years which were worst for the purpose of his argument, he could not have chosen two worse than 1923 and 1924, which is the moment at which the tithe rent-charge, owing to the abnormal and exceptional causes arising out of the War, reaches its absolute maximum. Therefore, I cannot think that any useful purpose, either to the tithe payers or tithe owners generally, or even to the hon. Baronet himself, can be served if I were to accept his Amendment, and I regret I cannot accept it.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Perhaps it is my fault, but I do not understand the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend or the speech made by my Noble Friend in seconding it to mean what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. I understood that the real effect of this Clause was to say that all the years between now and 1926 the tithe payer should pay tithe at a fixed price of £109 instead of whatever the price might be if reckoned in the ordinary way.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Now I understand my hon. Friend to say we are quite willing that the tithe payer should only pay £109, but he should pay it, not for seven years, but for four years, and, having got that, the tithe payer should revert to the old system under which he paid tithe. Am I right in that assumption?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Then I think the right hon. Gentleman contradicts his 1514 speech, which did not deal with the object of the Amendment. It may be that the Amendment has been badly drawn, and the effect may be that it would have the result which the President of the Board of Agriculture states. But if that is so, surely the intention of the Amendment is right, and the right hon. Gentleman might introduce words to give effect to that intention. I am rather inclined to think, and I hope I shall not press this beyond the Rules of Order in touching upon a question of redemption, it is a little hard to say that for seven years the clergy are not to receive the amount which they would have received under the bargain made, but that they are to receive a fixed amount. The answer to that in defence of the Bill is that there are two parties to the bargain and they both agreed to an alteration. I understand the clergy have agreed to an alteration to the bargain and therefore it is fair that it should be altered. The bargain which I understand the clergy agreed to is one that applies to the redemption of the tithe. They want to do away with all uncertainty and have the tithe redeemed. I am inclined to think there is something in the argument that if you are going to give the option to the tithe payer for seven years to pay on a fixed sum he might say "It will be to my interest to wait seven years before I redeem, because my idea at the end of the seven years is that we shall go back to our previous arrangement." It is quite possible something of that kind might result, and therefore I think there is something in the argument that if the object of the Bill is to redeem tithe surely the time in which the tithe payer can do this should be fixed, and he is more likely to redeem if he knows at the end of four years the fixed rate may come to an end. I do not know whether I have made the point clear, but I think it is an important point, and I would like to ask why the President of the Board of Agriculture did not deal with it?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Would it be possible for my hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment and for the Government to assist him in drawing up one which will carry out his desire? I do not know whether it does or does not carry it out, but I think some such Amendment ought to be introduced, and I venture to 1515 throw out the suggestion in the interests of getting the Bill through without undue delay.
§ Major COURTHOPE
I hope the hon. Baronet who moved this Amendment (Sir Fortescue Flannery) will not press it. If the desire is to use the annual rise of tithe which may take place if no statutory interference occurs as an inducement, or almost as a compulsion at the present time, surely the proper method is to knock out Clause 1 and not to deal with it by an Amendment of this kind. I understand that my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment merely desires to limit the period of stability, which is seven years, to four years. He does not wish to use the probability or the certainty of a very high annual figure of the tithe rent-charge in 1923 as a means of compulsion towards redemption. I should like to point out that by taking only four years you are doing a very dangerous thing. The tithe payable on and after 1st January, 1923, would be assessed under the present system of septennial averages, and it would almost certainly be the seven highest years there have ever been. It would not surprise me if it brought the figure up to £180 or £190. It would certainly not be less than £160 or £170. I do not think that is the intention of the hon. Member. If the situation is really to be met fairly from the point of view of stabilising tithe it is questionable whether the period ought not to be longer rather than shorter than seven years. By making it shorter you are ensuring that the first year of stabilisation will see an enormous figure as the annual tithe rent-charge, and that, I am sure, is not the intention.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
The complaint of the Mover and of the Noble Lord opposite (Captain Viscount Wolmer) is that if you fix tithe for seven years at £109 you prevent the clergy geting a higher sum in cases of redemption, though it is probable that the value of the tithe will be greater than £109 for redemption purposes.
§ Viscount WOLMER
No; my right hon. Friend has misunderstood both our speeches. We were not complaining about the redemption Clause, but that the payment of tithe should be fixed for seven years.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
The whole of this Bill is for the purpose of redeeming tithe. 1516 What has been the experience of the past when you have attempted to fix that redemption sum at something which was not really the price of tithe? Hitherto the payer of tithe has only been able to redeem at par value. The real value being £67, £68, or £69, or whatever it was, you could not get rid of the tithe, because the price of redemption was too high. If you are going to fix the redemption value at over £109, people will stand out to see whether the tithe rent charge value does not come down. My right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) thinks that corn will come back to 30s. Then the redeemer of tithe rent-charge will wait for that chance. You want to get rid of the friction that exists if the tithe rent-charge goes up in value much beyond the point at which it is now. I think it is wise to give the opportunity of redeeming on terms which are exceedingly favourable to the clergy, having regard to the fact that they will get a sum which will represent the value of the tithe rent charge at the time when it was instituted in place of the payment of the actual tithe itself. That is the sum total of this Bill. I confess that I would much rather that the period was extended than shortened. I would much rather that it was made seventeen years than seven years. You would, I believe, get a fairer average if you extended the period rather than shortened it. I hope, therefore, that the Government will not depart from the period laid down in the Bill.
§ Mr. HOLT
I would rather like to support the Amendment, and I must say that I think the President of the Board of Agriculture used an argument which was rather unworthy of himself when he taunted the hon. Member (Sir Fortescue Flannery) for making an unpopular proposal. I do not think members who bring forward proposals ought to have that cast into their teeth. However unpopular, the hon. Baronet was quite right in putting his proposal before the Committee. I was very much impressed by the speech of the Noble Lord, but, of course, it was really a speech against the Bill altogether, and I agree with him.
§ Mr. HOLT
The right hon. Gentleman really misrepresented the effect of the Amendment. The effect of it is simply to limit the duration of the Bill to a period of four years instead of seven years. The right hon. Gentleman has forgotten that there is nothing whatever to prevent a 1517 new Bill being introduced to deal with the period 1923–26 if circumstances between now and then make it appear desirable to do so, The effect of this Amendment is not to make a fixed condition of affairs between 1923 and 1926. All the Amendment says is that we will not now at this time alter the law during those three years, but it leaves it open to the House of Commons to pass legislation to deal with the period between 1923 and 1926 if it thinks fit to do so. I think it is hard luck on the clergy. I am a small tithe payer, but I think it is hard, when everybody else is having his wages raised because of the increased cost of living, that the clergy should not have the same advantage. I should have thought that it would be very difficult to conceive a more just proposal than that a man's income should be strictly relevant to the cost of living, which is what tithe means. I cannot see the real reason for this measure at all. If you are really going to stabilise tithe, surely you ought to do it for as short a period as possible in order that you may wait till the cost of living is stabilised also. How do we know that the cost of living will have gone down in the years between 1923 and 1926 to the pre-war standard? We have no guarantee, and I doubt very much whether the Government in their reconstruction proposals seriously expect that the wages of anybody except clergymen are going back to the old pre-war level. That being so, this does seem to me to be an unfair proposal, and I hope the Government will yet see their way to accept the Amendment, and let this Bill be for a strictly limited period in order that the position of the unfortunate clergy, who are an underpaid section of the community, may receive fair consideration at a date more near to the actual circumstances than we are at the present time.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I realy think that the President of the Board of Agriculture has not been quite fair with us. The object of our Amendment is not such as a casual following of his speech might lead anyone to believe. You cannot consider the matter apart from the question of redemption. The whole object of the Bill is redemption.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I beg your pardon. The primary object of the Bill is to limit the rise in the value of the tithe.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Viscount WOLMER
One of the most important objects in the Bill is redemp- 1518 tion. I read the right hon. Gentleman's speech very carefully, and he said that the Bill would lead to much redemption. The supporters of this Amendment feel that you will not get much redemption as long as the tithe payer can go on gambling on a fall in the price of tithe at the end of seven years. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that in 1923 the price of tithe might be £180. The answer to the whole of his speech is to be found in his own Amendment which he has put down, and in the provision in the Bill for redemption. If the tithe payer does not want to pay £180, let him redeem. Four years afford amply sufficient time to enable him to do so. Personally, I do not like the price of tithe fixed at all, but the tithe payer can have no grievance against this Amendment. In the first place, he ought not to have any great grievance against the bargain, but he cannot possibly have any grievance against this Amendment as long as he is allowed to redeem on equitable terms. The right hon. Gentleman answered himself when he pointed out that we did not know what the price of tithe was going to be in 1923, 1924, 1925, and 1926, or what temptations or allurements there might be to tithe payers to hang on and not to redeem. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to get tithe payers to redeem, then by all means, if he likes, give them a reasonable time to do so. But why say that they can eat their cake and have it? Why say that they can refuse to redeem and yet continue to enjoy the special immunity, the special privilege, and the special interference with the old bargain? That surely is not reasonable. Either a man ought to redeem on such terms as will give the clergy security of income and safeguard them against another disastrous fall such as they had in years past, or else the tithe payer ought to abide by the bargain. The Bill does allow the tithe payer to escape. It is heads he wins and tails the tithe owner loses. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to do anything unjust. He is the last person in the world to be reproached with any such desire at all. But he has not answered my hon. Friend, who was not desirous of raising the price of tithe in the year 1923, but merely of fixing a reasonable limit during which he thinks, and I think, that the tithe payer ought to find ample time to redeem under the provisions of the Bill.
§ Mr. D. MASON
My hon. Friend (Mr. Holt) stated that the right hon. Gentleman entirely misrepresented the Amendment. I am very sorry to find myself in disagreement with my hon. Friend, but I did not so read the right hon. Gentleman's speech. My hon. Friend said the House might pass some other Bill, but it is always open to us to pass any Bill. On the arguments of the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Flannery) himself we are justified in supporting the Government, which certainly has done a great deal for agriculturists. I hope, therefore, the Committee will support the Government in sticking to the Clause as drafted. While none of us can tell what the cost of living will be, the tendency will surely be to fall, and therefore if we were to accept the Amendment and bring in another Bill at the end of four years to alter the situation again, which is very unlikely, we must assume that if the Amendment were carried the septennial basis would come into play after 1923, which would be at a period when tithe was at its maximum, and it would unduly add to the advantages which accrue both to the clergy and the agriculturists. I hope, therefore, the Government will adhere to the original Clause.
§ Mr. HOHLER
I have listened with considerable interest to the speech of my Noble Friend, in which he constantly repeated that the bargain made with the clergy ought to be adhered to. In my view that bargain has very long since been broken, at the instance of the clergy. My recollection of the law is that under the Act of 1836 tithe was a charge as against the occupier or the tenant of the land. That continued until 1891, in which year, owing to the extreme harshness and the unjust operation of the extraordinary tithe for the benefit of the clergy, there were agitations throughout the country. The tenants would not pay the extraordinary tithe which became chargeable, and the result was that the clergy had to distrain and there were riotous scenes, and the bargain was altered. Instead of the tenant now being the tithe payer it is the owner. The owner, becoming liable for the tithe, could only ask a greater rent from his tenant if tithe went up if there was a provision in the existing lease that the tenant paid the tithe. After the Act of 1891, the owners of land, in the great majority of eases, entered into arrangements whereby merely a fixed rent is payable, and under the law the owner pays the tithe. It is not the owner who 1520 is getting the benefit of the increased price of corn at all as long as leases are running, and even if they were, leases are not or ought not to be broken for this purpose, and it is a great mistake to say that this is a breach of any bargain. We have now got an absolutely abnormal state of things which no one anticipated. No bargain of this character would have been entered into if it had been considered that this complaint would be made of breaking a bargain. I think this is beneficial to the clergy. Their tithe will be fixed at 108, and those clergy who have during the past been receiving tithe at far less have largely disappeared. Every new incumbent who has come in is getting this enormous benefit, and it is not the old man who has endured the loss in the past who is reaping anything. I have a case in my own parish where the clergyman is just dead. He has suffered this smallness of tithe, and the new man coming in will get this advantage. We have to consider this thing from a broad standpoint. Further than that, it is a very great advantage, and I am surprised that my Noble Friend does not realise it. He should not forget that the clergy are assessed to the rates on every halfpenny of tithe they get. Consequently, if you induce the landowner to redeem the tithe, he gets his money invested in Government securities and gets his average 3, 4, or 5per cent., or whatever it may be, and he is no longer called upon to pay those rates, and the difference has to be made up by an increased rate on every occupier in the parish. Consequently, it seems to me, there has been no breach of the bargain. Parliament apparently has never hesitated, where the bargain led to scandals or was unfair in its operation, to deal with it in the past. How anyone can complain that tithe, which was commuted at 100 per cent. and is now to be fixed for a period of seven years at 108, is unfair I am at a loss to understand. You are inducing people to find large sums of money to come in and redeem, in order to relieve the clergy from the rates and to raise the rates in every parish throughout the country. I think the Amendment ought not to succeed, and I shall certainly vote against it.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
The right hon. Gentleman's arguments have not convinced me of the logical rectitude of his position, but, as the main object I had in view, of facilitating the redemption of tithe, and making sure that it would be 1521 upon the terms of 5 per cent. and twenty-one years' purchase, are set forth in another Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, if he will give me the assurance that he will press for the passage of his Amendment, and not consent to it being substantially altered, I will ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. L. WILLIAMS
I beg to move to leave out the words "twenty-six" ["nineteen hundred and twenty-six"], and to insert instead thereof the word "thirty-three."
The effect of my Amendment will be that tithe will be fixed at 109 for fourteen years instead of the period mentioned in the Bill. The reason which I have in moving this is not that which actuated hon. Members representing English constituencies in opposing the last Amendment. It is one of a series of suggestions which I make to the Board of Agriculture, in order that the Welsh county councils, which will be compelled next year to buy tithe of the Church in Wales, shall not make a ruinous bargain through the imposition of this obligation upon them by Parliament. I have no doubt a case can be made out for the point of view of the English and Welsh tithe payer in favour of the extension of the period, but I want to explain the parlous condition in which the Welsh county councils will find themselves next year. According to the Welsh Church Act, which got on the Statute Book in September, 1914, the Welsh county councils, immediately on the conclusion of the War, will be compelled, if the representative body of the Church in Wales requires it to commute the tithe. I pass by for the moment the question of the price at which they will have to commute, because I have other Amendments later on, but I am assuming for purposes of argument for the moment that this Bill fixes the price of commutation at 109. The Welsh county councils will have no option but to buy tithe at that figure. That is the first unfairness in the Bill. This Bill gives the right to the tithe buyer to refuse to redeem if he likes. He is allowed to wait and see whether tithe will come down or go up, but the Welsh county councils are ordered to buy next year by the Welsh Church Act. They have no option in the matter at all. It is not a question of the 1522 Welsh tithe payer having to pay 109 for every year that this Bill will be current, but the Welsh county councils, who have to buy tithe at that figure, will have to do so by the Welsh Church Act. What will their position be then? Take £100 worth of tithe which is fixed by this Bill at £109. Assume as we have always assumed in the other Debates, the county councils should commute on a basis of thirteen years' purchase, £109 multiplied by thirteen gives a figure of £1,417—that is to say, for every £100 of tithe commuted, the Welsh county councils will have to borrow £1,417. They have to borrow that money at 4 per cent. or 5 per cent.; that will mean that they will go on paying that for thirteen years in addition to the capital sum they will have to pay of £1,417. At the end of the thirteen years, their position ought to be that they do not lose, and do not gain.
We were assured when the Welsh Church Bill was before this House—my Noble Friend I think (Lord Wolmer) was one who addressed us on several occasions, I am not sure, but I remember a great number of speeches were delivered at that time—we were told constantly that commutation simply means a business transaction carried on upon an actuarial basis. One party is not going to gain by it, and the other party is not going to lose by it; it is a pure business transaction. Find out what the real value of the life interest of the clergy is, and it is all simple. What would then be the position at the end of the thirteen years? The Welsh county councils ought to be in a position to say, "Well we have just cleared ourselves in this matter." But according to this Bill as it stands they will receive £109 for seven years—that is, £763. For the next six years the county councils, who will be then the tithe owners, will be left to the mercy of a septennial average. Whether the septennial average reduces or increases the value of tithe, no one, of course, can tell. I suppose the reason why seven years has been fixed in the Bill is that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board and his advisers have come to the conclusion that after seven years the abnormal state of things created by the War will have passed away and the ordinary rule for fixing tithes will be restored. The inevitable result must be, I submit, that after seven years, tithe must come down even to par, or something under par; I assume it comes down to par. For the next six years the Welsh county councils will be receiving £100 a 1523 year for £100 nominal value of tithe. In six years they will receive £600. They receive in the seven years currency of this Bill £763. They will receive altogether a total of £1,363, making a dead loss on what we were told was to be a pure business transaction. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider how this Bill affects the county councils. But for this Bill I agree that Welsh Members and Welsh county councils would have no right to complain. The fact that tithe has gone up since 1915 from £77 to £109 this year could be made no ground of complaint in my judgment if the price of tithe were not arbitrarily interfered with by the action of the Government. Scores of Welsh county councils would have to pay £153 next year for the tithe. As long as they have a chance of recouping themselves by increases in the value of tithe in three or four or six or seven years I should be quite willing to take my chance.
But this Bill does this: It says to the Welsh county councils—the only people I am concerned with—"Though you pay so much for your tithe you shall not receive more than £109 for seven years. If after the seven years are over the price of tithe is found to have fallen to par or under par we are not going to help you. Parliament is not going to help you, although Parliament has arbitrarily interfered with the price of tithe during the period of increase." The object, therefore, of this Amendment is to try and safeguard as far as possible the position of these unfortunate county councils. If you say you will fix the value of tithe for fourteen years, as I suggest in this Amendment, that will give some assurance to the county councils that at all events they will get the money back they will have borrowed next year to buy out the tithes. It does not meet the whole grievance, because they will have to pay interest on the borrowed funds and pay the sinking fund as well. That has not been provided for, of course. That is why, in my opinion, you cannot deal satisfactorily with the case of the Welsh county councils in this Bill at all, but I am trying to relieve the position as much as possible by the suggestion in this Amendment. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accept it as an act of common justice to these people. They have not asked to be allowed to buy the Welsh tithes; that was an Act of State of this Parliament, carried through this House in three successive 1524 Sessions of Parliament. The obligation is placed on these public bodies to become responsible for buying up Welsh tithes next year. It is surely not too much to ask Parliament to say that these public bodies in carrying out the behest of Parliament should not be brought into the bankruptcy court, because that may very possibly happen if nothing else is done. The first suggestion I make is contained in this Amendment, namely, that the price of tithes should be stabilised by this Bill, not for seven years, but for fourteen years, to give some additional safeguard to the county councils in the carrying out of their work.
§ Mr. L. HARDY
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers in connection with this Amendment, I should like to say a few words from the point of view of an Amendment that I have a little lower in the Paper, in order that he may consider the two questions together. I do not wish to enter into the Welsh question in any sense, but I wish to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I think there is a great deal to be said for altering in some measure the present system which prevails in regard to the length of time he stabilises tithes. I think the right hon. Gentleman, in his Second Reading speech, did contemplate some Amendment in the nature of the one I have on the Paper, because he said:Tithe owners have expressed a willingness to accept a limitation, and that willingness has been coupled with a suggestion that if they gave up a prospective rise, they shall be protected against an undue fall. I should like to say that if that suggestion is presented in a concrete form in an Amendment it will receive our careful consideration.That did, I think, contemplate something in the nature of my Amendment. The tithe owner is giving up a great protection, and he should be protected from a too rapid fall at the end of the seven years contemplated by this Bill. It may be extremely rapid. He may lose all his good years and come in only for a bad time again, and I think it is only natural that he should be protected in some sense, and the easiest way to protect him, it seems to me, is to alter the septennial period to a longer average of fifteen years, and to make the changes very much more gradual to meet the circumstances. That is a very much better way. When cases came before the agricultural courts it was a complaint on the part of the tithe payer that the septennial average did not give 1525 him enough commission, that it was too slow in action. From all that side there were always complaints, but now it falls upon the owner there is very much more reason for a long time than when it fell on the occupier. The owner might alter his rent at any moment. Tenancies come-to an end and are renewed, and in other ways rents are greatly altered, and the value cannot be altered to meet sudden changes, as we have noted now and as we noted thirty years ago in the other direction. I think it will be a great advantage to the tithe owner that the change should come gradually, as it would with a longer time. It would certainly be an advantage to the tithe owner to have a longer period to get in under the lapse of this first Clause. From every point of view there seems to me good ground for suggesting a change of this sort, and therefore I would ask, without going fully into my Amendment at this point, whether the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether my Amendment will not meet the points raised by the Mover of this Amendment, and he might be willing to accept this particular way of giving more even conditions altogether to the raising and diminution of tithes.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I recognise that there is a substantial difficulty revealed in the hon. Member's speech about the position of the potential tithe owner. I think that while we are entitled to ask for these potential tithe owners the same sacrifice, if it is a sacrifice, that we ask from the existing tithe owners of some portion of the abnormal and exceptional rise of tithes, we ought not in this Bill to render the financing of the Church Act any more difficult than we can possibly avoid. I feel that if this Bill indirectly made the financing of that Bill impossible, we should be doing wrong to what is an Act passed by this House. Therefore, I am anxious to make such concessions to tithe owners as will satisfy them that the bargain that we strike with them is fair and equitable. I am bound to say that when I moved the Second Beading of this Bill I put the bargain from the tithe payer's point of view; but as the right hon. Member for the Ashford Division (Mr. Lawrence Hardy) has reminded me, I said that in doing so, I understood that the tithe owner had accepted the bargain, but with the proviso, or, at all events, the suggestion that some quid pro quo should be added in the form of securing him against too great and too rapid 1526 a fall in the value of tithe rent. It is quite true that in my Bill as it stands, 109 is to be the price for certain years—that is to say, it is not to rise above that price or to fall below. There are other arguments that I could bring to bear upon the point, but I can see no other conclusion than this, that this is a nominal advantage and not a real one to the tithe owner, as there is very little likelihood of the tithe falling below that sum during a period of seven years. If that is so the advantage offered in this Bill to tithe owners in compensation for the sacrifice they are making is not sufficient. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. L. Williams) prolongs this period for seven years. The right hon. Member for the Ashford Division tries to arrive at the same thing by a quindecennial average. His Amendment cannot be discussed now, but the effect of it would be that in starting his quindecennial average with the 1st January, 1926, he would take in the low-priced years which preceded the present rise. I take it he would begin at 1911 and make his fifteen years' average through that period. Therefore he would have these abnormally high values counteracted and counterbalanced by the low averages of the previous years, and that when these earlier low prices drop out their place would be taken not by the present abnormally exceptional prices but by prices which would represent peace-time agriculture. I think there is a great deal to be said in favour of that proposal. I prefer it to the proposal of the hon. Member for Carmarthen. In that deferred form, spread over an extended period, it does give to the tithe owner some of the advantages that he would be entitled to if we had not brought in this Bill. To that extent it would materially improve the financial position of the county councils in Wales in financing their statutory obligations. That is not the main reason why I regard the proposal favourably; it is on the broad ground of general justice to the tithe owner. With one small alteration, "Provided that in no case the tithe rises above 109," I should be disposed to accept that Amendment, and I can assure the hon. Member for Carmarthen that in accepting that in preference to his own, I believe he would not be in any substantially worse position, and that he would find that the council was obtaining for himself as a potential tithe owner, but obtaining in a deferred form, those higher prices which 1527 will prevail during the war period and would materially assist in financing the obligations under the Welsh Church Act. If he would be willing, therefore, to accept the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Ashford in lieu of his own, I shall be glad to accept it.
Mr. L. WILLIAMS
In these days one has to be thankful for small mercies, and if the right hon. Gentleman makes this offer I shall not refuse it. The only comment I make upon his speech is that the county councils in Wales are in a different position from the payer of tithe in England. With the county councils it is a forced bargain next year. If you accept my Amendment you will be telling the county councils that you will see to it that they get 109 every year for the tithe for fourteen years. Therefore, the county councils would know exactly where they stood. By accepting the other Amendment it may be that the same result will be forthcoming, but no one can go to the county councils and say that after the seven years the quindecennial average will mean that they will get somewhere about 109 for the next six or seven years. It will be problematical and will depend upon all sorts of circumstances over which this House has no control at all. If the right hon. Gentleman had accepted my Amendment it would have been better from the Welsh point of view because it would have been certain, but having regard to what has been said, I am prepared to accept the Amendment and to accept the right hon. Gentleman's commitments on it. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I beg to ask whether the next Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member is in order? The effect of it, as I understand it, would be to alter the tithe rent-charge in the Welsh Church Act of 1914, which is to be commuted according to Schedule of that Act at the value of the septennial average. The effect of this Amendment would be to bring within the scope of this Bill the tithe rent-charge fixed in the Welsh Church Act 1914, with the result that that tithe rent-charge dealt with in the Welsh Church Act could not be commuted according to the septennial averages laid down in Schedule 5, but would be commuted at 109, the price fixed by this Bill. In other words, the effect of this Amendment would be not only to amend 1528 this Bill but to amend the Welsh Church Act of 1914. I submit that this Bill is, according to its short title, a Bill to amend the tithe Acts 1886 and 1891, and that therefore any Amendment which has-the effect of amending the Welsh Church Act or any other Act except the Tithe Acts is out of order.
The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. J. W. Wilson)
That question has been carefully considered, and it is the opinion at the Table that Clause 15 of the Welsh Church Act where it alludes to the septennial average alludes to it as the ordinary value of the tithe, and it is, therefore, quite competent in an Act like this, which alters the value for the time being of the tithe, to interfere, if the House-thought fit, with the value laid down in the Welsh Church Act. Whether the House accepts it in this particular form or on an average of fifteen years, or seven years or five years, it is perfectly competent for the House to decide this point on this Bill. The question whether it is included in the tithe is a minor one because it is competent for the House to alter the title of a Bill.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Will it be in order for other hon. Members to introduce Amendments altering other provisions in the Welsh Church Act?
Mr. L. WILLIAMS
I beg to move, after the word "rent-charge," to insert the words(including the tithe rent-charge dealt with in the Welsh Church Act, 1914).I beg leave to move this Amendment in order to draw attention to this question as soon as possible. The Amendment is really identical in its object with the last Amendment which stands in my name on Clause 1—to add the wordsAnd such sum shall be deemed to be the amount of the tithe rent-charge according to the septennial average in force at the date of Disestablishment of the Welsh Church within the meanings of the Fourth and Fifth Schedules of the Welsh Church Act, 1914, if the said Act comes into operation before the first day of January, nineteen hundred and twenty-six.I should like to ask some guidance. I do not wish to make a speech twice over; therefore I propose to deal with the two Amendments which are identical in object now, in order that I may formally move my Amendment at the end of the Clause later on.
The position created with regard to the Welsh Church Act is a very peculiar one. I said in the course of the Second Reading Debate that I had no intention in any way of reviving the old controversies, which I hope will never occur again, between us and what used to be called the Established Church in Wales. I am perfectly willing to accept the position as it stands. Great though the changes have been, and different as is the position from that which Parliament intended it to be when it passed the Welsh Church Act finally in 1914, no one could have foreseen, and no one did foresee, the enormous rise in the price of tithes. But since that has occurred I do not cavil in the slightest degree, and I am perfectly willing that the Church in Wales should get the benefit of it. All that I am concerned with is that the Welsh county councils should have fair play, and I am certain that my right hon. Friend will do his utmost, if I can make out a case, to meet our grievance. The Noble Lord has already pointed out that the commutation of Welsh tithe is provided by Schedules 4 and 5 of the Welsh Church Act, 1914. Schedule 4 provides that the price to be paid for the tithe shall be ascertained on the septennial average in force at the date of Disestablishment. This Bill, on the other hand, fixes the price for the next seven years at 109. The question that will have to be answered next year when the Welsh Church is Disestablished and when the Representative Body, as I have no doubt it will, will ask the county councils to commute the tithe is, "What is the price of tithe? Is the price of tithe to be ascertained by Schedule 4 of the Welsh Church Act or by the Tithe Bill passed last year?"
If the Welsh Church Act will determine the price of the tithe next year—that is to say, on the septennial average—it is certain that the price of tithe will rise. Therefore the House will be in this position: it will be forcing the Welsh county councils, who have no option in the matter, to buy up tithe in Wales at 153, whereas English landowners will only be called on to pay 109. It may be, and it has been, argued by a great many that this Bill will fix the price of tithe for next year. I think that that is an arguable proposition, but at all events we cannot afford to allow an arguable proposition to determine our attitude 1530 on this Bill. We want to know where we stand. If this Bill does not make it perfectly clear what will happen next year will be this. Immediately the Representative Body and the county councils come together this question will arise, and nobody except a Court of law will be able to settle it. I have no objection to people going to a Court of law, but I do object, in a matter of this importance, to leaving it in doubt until a Court of law, next year or the year after, determines what the price is to be, and I wish to have it made perfectly clear that what Parliament meant to do by passing this Bill was to say the price of tithe next year for commutation shall be the price of tithe fixed by the Act for the next seven years—that is to say, 109. The Amendment is only designed to have this effect, to make perfectly clear what I believe is the intention of the framers of the Bill, so that the Welsh county councils may not be uneasy in the matter. It does not amend the Welsh Church Act, except in so far as this Bill amends the whole question of the price of tithe. If this Bill had not been introduced this question would never have arisen, but now that the Bill has been introduced, I think it only right and fair to appeal to the general sense and fairness of the Committee as to whether I am asking too much in asking that this Bill should declare in clear terms that the price of tithe fixed by this Bill, 109, should also be the price at which commutation will take place next year?
Sir HERBERT ROBERTS
I would like in a few words to explain my own attitude to this Amendment, and the attitude of those with whom I am associated in this House. I desire to support this Amendment as clearly and as strongly as possible. When the Bill was introduced it became evident that it was bound to affect the financial condition of the Welsh county councils, and the commutation Clause of the Welsh Church Act, Whatever financial advantages have accrued to the Church in Wales through the developments of the War, I am one of those who do not complain. The Church in Wales is fully entitled to those advantages, and we must accept the situation. It is literally the fortune of war, and I have not the slightest objection to any benefit, financial or otherwise, accruing to the Church in Wales from these causes. But, as my hon. and learned Friend has already explained, a new situation is created by the introduction of this Bill. Under this Bill the value 1531 of the tithe will be fixed for seven years, at the present septennial value. But doubt has undoubtedly arisen with reference to the meaning of the words in the Welsh Church Act which defines the sum at which commutation shall take place under that Act. The Welsh county councils to-day are face to face at all events with the possibility that while on the one hand they will, during the next seven years, receive tithe only at 109 they may have to commute at 123 or a higher figure than that if commutation is for any reason delayed. I hope that the Committee will not think that I am unduly pressing this point. It seems to me that I can, with some little confidence, appeal to the sense of fair play of this House in considering the matter. The President of the Board of Agriculture has, I know, given the point very careful consideration, and I believe that he recognises that there is a financial hardship involved through this Bill upon the Welsh county councils. In these circumstances I make a very strong appeal to him, if it is in any way possible, to meet this difficulty and provide a solution which will place the Welsh county-councils, in regard to their obligations under the Welsh Church Act, in precisely the same position as if this Bill had not been introduced. I only desire to add that I also am most anxious to avoid in every possible way the recurrence of the old bitter controversy upon the question of the Welsh Church. I think that I may say honestly that during the last four years I have striven to prevent the recurrence of all controversy on these points. Personally, I am deeply interested in the present grave situation and the immense issues that are involved, and I have no more earnest hope than that all the differences which now divide and embitter religious forces in Wales, should be removed so that we may face the future unitedly and endeavour to solve the great problems which lie ahead of us. In conclusion, I appeal once more to the President of the Board of Agriculture to give this matter his most careful and sympathetic consideration. I would not press him at present unless I knew that the hardship which is threatened is of so serious a character to the Welsh county councils. I hope that he will be able to say something by way of an acceptance of this Amendment.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. L. 1532 Williams) and the hon. Member for West Denbigh (Sir Herbert Roberts) for the way in which they have brought this very important question before the Committee. I should like to state my own position. While I hold my own views, I am prepared, if any new and cogent arguments are addressed to me, to reconsider my position. The position which I now take up is this. The real hardship of which the county councils complain is this: They have, owing to the postponement of the date of Disestablishment made under the Welsh Church Act, an extremely bad bargain. They are, under that Act, bound to commute the life interest of the clergy at the septennial average figure for the time being in force. If the date of Disestablishment, therefore, comes about in 1919, the figure of commutation will be 123; if the date for Disestablishment is postponed to 1920, the figure will be 133. Both these figures are, as a matter of fact, largely in excess of the real value of the tithe rent-charge. It is, as has been observed, the fortune of war, and if that were the only difficulty that has been created by the prolongation of the Disestablishment period I should say at once that I had great hopes that the representative bodies would meet the county councils and arrange fair terms at which the commutation should take place. I very much hope that these two bodies may meet, and that before the Report stage of this Bill they may be able to announce some scheme. But we have heard, if I may say so, only one side of the consequences which have arisen from the postponement of the Welsh Church Act. There are losses of the Church. You have to set off the losses of one side against the losses on the other, and before you can arrive at any fair estimate of what the loss is you have to go into the most careful calculations. One point immediately arises. On this very question of commutation the Church has lost the interest of the lives of certain of the clergy. It does not seem to me reasonable that on a side issue such as this a decision should be taken for amending the Welsh Church Act; for that is what this proposition amounts to. While I have some feeling of sympathy, I am bound to say that I think it is hard on the representative bodies that their position in all future discussions should be prejudiced by advantage being taken of this Bill—which is quite different in its form and quite different in its objects 1533 from the Welsh Church Act—to prejudice their position for a future settlement of the case.
When this subject first came up for discussion in my office I was firm in that opinion, and I should have thought that the right thing was to introduce a Bill dealing with the whole question of the difficulties and disturbance of the financial scheme caused by the postponement of the Welsh Church Act. I should have thought that was a reasonable thing to do. As I understand from the Commissioners of Church Temporalities, this is inevitable, and the sooner we all recognise that fact the better it will be. Difficulties have arisen on both sides of the account. They must be readjusted. You cannot readjust by an Amendment of this Bill. It is not quite accurate to say that this Bill in any way affects the Welsh Church Act. It does not do so. The particular point at issue is the figure of commutation stated in the Welsh Church Act. I promised the hon. Member for Carmarthen that we should endeavour to remedy the matter if the difficulty becomes more serious. I have already said that we mean to meet hon. Members on that point, but this proposal is a direct amendment of the Welsh Church Act. I would remind the House that this Bill deals with the relations of tithe owners and tithe payers. The Welsh Church Act does not deal with the relations between tithe owners and tithe payers; it deals with certain provisions regarding new owners of secularised properties, and other relations of quite a different class—namely, the clerical owners of vested interests admitted in the Welsh Church Act.
The two measures are entirely on different lines, therefore to amend the Welsh Church Act because this Bill deals with other questions seems to me not reasonable. We are quite willing to except all Monmouth and Wales from the operation of this Bill. That is another alternative. But allow me to point out this, that if you do that it would be a cruel hardship on tithe payers in Wales, many of whom are small occupying owners. While I say that I am perfectly willing to do it, I cannot imagine that the representatives of Wales will really press me to do that. I do not imagine that they would for one moment. It follows, then, that, as I feel at present, I am bound to resist this Amendment, because I do not think it is fair or reasonable to prejudice the case of the other side, which has a great deal 1534 to be said for it. As for the point raised by the Noble Lord the Member for the Newton Division (Viscount Wolmer), about this question being beyond the scope of the Bill, I must say that I had considerable doubts about it myself, but I took the best possible advice upon the point, for I think that no Government and no Minister ever gains anything by insisting upon a technical point of this sort, and I at once told the hon. Member for West Denbigh that this Amendment would be in order, and it was placed on the Amendment Paper in consequence. At the same time, I feel bound to state that, at the present moment, unless there are new and cogent arguments that can be addressed to me, I think it is necessary to resist this Amendment.
§ Sir ELLIS GRIFFITH
The right hon. Gentleman has addressed a peculiar speech to the House. As I understand his position, it is that this Bill does not affect the position of Wales and the Disestablishment Act. If that be so, I do not quite know why he is so anxious that the representative bodies and the county councils should come to terms, or why they should seek to make some arrangement in the future. But, as a matter of fact, whether we are content with the Disestablishment Act or not, this Bill has made the position different compared with the position which existed before it was introduced. The county councils claim upon a basis of 123 in order to receive on a basis of 123. On the other hand, if the county council receives on a basis of 109, they ought to pay on a basis of 109. Is not that really irresistible? It seems to me so obvious and elementary that I hesitate to address it to the right hon. Gentleman. But does not the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that it must be so, that whatever basis affects the county councils in receipts affects them in payments, and whatever affects the basis of payments affects the basis of receipts. There is no way out of that dilemma. The right hon. Gentleman said we have made a bad bargain. This Bill is not our Bill, it is your Bill, and when you introduce the Bill which takes from the county councils thousands of pounds, you do not talk about bad-bargains, but talk about what you yourselves receive under the Bill. It is not a question of a bad bargain. It is bad legislation we have to deal with. Why should the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman be given to us? The real reason is that 1535 he knows perfectly well the injustice under this Bill. He may give us his sympathy, but I think it shows that the right hon. Gentleman has not been long enough in the Government, and that the real reason of his sympathy is that he has not entirely freed himself, while in this House, from the existence of a conscience, which, while dormant, yet speaketh.
Without raising any of the old controversies I submit that this is really a very important matter. If we are dealing with the year 1920 just think what it means; it will mean that the county council will pay 136 for £109. The right hon. Gentleman talked about losses, and said there were losses on both sides. May I remind him that he apparently responded more readily to the losses on one side than to the losses on the other side. I am sure it was an oversight that he forgot to mention the fact that the money market makes an immense difference. Does he remember the percentage under the Disestablishment Act? Does he remember what money will fetch now, and, if he has balanced losses on both sides, has he made any calculations or has he the figures as to the difference in the commutation between 1919 as compared with the commutation which took place in 1914? I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman will see that this is a most important matter. I will not quote the old word of spoliation, but this is the right hon. Gentleman's spoliation. I do not say he can help himself. The right hon. Gentleman has been very successful in bringing tithe payers and owners to a bargain. I congratulate him, and I deplore the fact that the Church has been deprived of so much property by means of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has asked for new reasons why he should change his mind. I do not say I have supplied them, but I do say that this is a really substantial hardship. We are not talking sentiment and we are not reviving old controversies. The right hon. Gentleman said he was going to do something for us. I suppose that means that he was going to lend money to the county councils. I cannot think of anything else. I have never heard of this being done before. You take money from a person and you lend him money to make up the loss. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that really the case of Wales must be taken into account in this matter. He said we could exclude Wales from the Bill altogether. That was technical and ingenious. 1536 For my own part I have an open mind on this point, and I think the matter is worthy of consideration, but I do not think he ought to put us in a difficult position of that kind. He is a statesman. He is at the head of a great Department, and somehow he is responsible for this Tithe Bill. I tell him it is his duty and his business to find a remedy for this hardship, and I hope he will give us some more satisfactory answer.
§ Sir ERNEST POLLOCK
I think we are getting into wrong lines in this Debate, and that there is some misunderstanding as to the real position. The hon. Member for the Carmarthen District (Mr. L. Williams) and the hon. Member for West Denbighshire (Sir H. Roberts) put their case quite fairly and reasonably from their point of view. They were not unmindful of the old controversies we had on the Welsh Church Bill, but from the attitude and tone of their speeches they desired to keep those controversies out of the question. I desire to do the same. It was said by them that the result of this Bill as it stands would be to create a great hardship upon Wales. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that this forms one of the terms in what was a bargain, or what we will call a system that was adopted for the purpose of the commutation of the interests of those who were the owners of the tithes. We know quite well that at the time that that commutation scheme was before the House it was very carefully considered in all its bearings and adopted as a fair, if not too generous scheme. Now it is suggested that under this Bill you can, by an Amendment, make an alteration in that scheme in order to remove what is at present called an injustice. I do not think it is possible for this Committee brick by brick to take that system in the Welsh Church Act to pieces. There are many articles in that system, and it would be quite unfair to deal with one and not with the others. I think the right hon. Gentleman was quite right when he said that there was a good deal to be said for the other side. If I do not refer to particular matters which could be put by the other side, it is because I do not want, even in appearance, to be in controversy with the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen District. I know he takes a very different view of the working out of the commutation scheme from what I do. I should challenge his figures, and, unless we were both to sit down and spend a great many hours 1537 on the question, we could not arrive at what was a true solution. At all events, it is better to leave it there by saying that I do not accept his figures, and he does not accept mine.
How far does this Bill make an inroad on the Welsh Church Act? By that Act the tithes are handed over to the county councils, subject to this, that the county councils have got to pay the existing interests of persons who have got an interest which still survives the Welsh Church Act to those persons. They are the real individual owners. They are not the Welsh Church as a whole, and it is not to the representative body, but to the persons who have got the interest which survives the passage of the Welsh Church Act that the money is to be paid. It is a matter as between the county councils and the owners of those existing interests. The point is now whether or not we shall allow the facilities which are granted by this Bill for redemption at a certain price to prevail in Wales so that the county councils can redeem the tithes. If the county councils desire to commute or redeem the tithe at once in order to deal with the matter they could do so if they had the money. As I understand, the right hon. Gentleman says he would make it easy for the county councils to deal with the position under the Act and to redeem at once at a price of 109 by loans of money. If that facility is granted, then all difficulties are really taken away.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I appreciate that, but I think the right hon. Gentleman intended to give facilities so as to make it easy for the county councils to make use of the facilities which are given by this Bill. I am quite certain that before the Debate is over he will gladly clear the matter up. But if it is so, and if the county councils get the power to take advantage of the scheme of this Bill then really very little harm is done. It is not a right thing to say that you will take out one of the bricks out of the structure or system which forms the scheme under which the Welsh Church was to receive or to lose certain property, because this matter does not concern money which is to be paid over to the Welsh Church or the Representative Body; it concerns only the question of the commutation of existing interests and as to whether or not the county councils are to have the opportunity of redeeming those liabilities which 1538 they have undertaken at a certain price or not. One alternative is presented to us, namely, leaving Wales and Monmouthshire out of the Bill altogether. I do not think that is in the nature of a dilemma, but it seems to me it would be a very unfair thing to remove from the Bill all persons who have to pay tithes in Wales and Monmouthshire and deprive them of the opportunity of redemption at the price stated in the Bill, because a certain number of county councils are under liability to pay to existing interests for certain tithes. I should be very sorry to lay, I will not call it an injustice, but to place Wales or Monmouthshire under that disability. There must be a great number of tithes there and a number of small people concerned who would be very glad to have the opportunity of availing of this Bill. Hon. Members from Wales must be able to tell us what that position is. If they prefer to cut Wales out of the Bill it can be done, but the present proposal is quite different from that. It is pleaded that some sort of injustice to the county councils is introduced, and that the advantage lies in favour of the Welsh Church. It is not so. It is only a question of the liability of the county councils to individual persons, and it would be quite unfair, having regard to the relationship of tithe owner and tithe payer to say that in this case you are going, by a Clause in this Bill, to take to pieces a part of a system adopted after much thought. I hope, under those circumstances, that the right hon. Gentleman will adhere to the position he has taken up. He has suggested that an arrangement could be made before the Report stage between those interested, namely, the county councils and those existing interests. I think those who are putting forward the claim on the ground that an advantage has arisen to the Welsh Church are really putting that claim too high. It is not so. It is only the tithe owner who could by any possibility have any advantage, and that advantage could be settled, if not entirely removed, if the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to give the facilities I have mentioned.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
I should not have intervened in this Debate as I have no interest in the Welsh Church question, but it seems to me that this Bill has been introduced on the same principle as that which applied to the price of necessaries of life. Tithes, like the necessaries 1539 of life, have gone up enormously in consequence of the War, and it has been found necessary by the Government to fix the price. According to the Welsh Church Act there was a bargain that the tithes should be bought at their price next year. The price of tithe was defined in the Bill as the price of tithe has always been defined, namely, according to the Septennial Act which meant the ordinary current value. If we are going to alter the ordinary current value all over the country, surely we have got no business to say because there has been an agreement to sell at the ordinary current value under a certain Act of Parliament that though we alter the current value all over for purchaser and seller that we will not alter it in this case because there has been an agreement made some time ago. That agreement was not made with any view to this Bill or with any view to the War. Take the case of a dealer in meat who had undertaken to buy a certain number of hundredweights. You would not say he was not to pay the price that was fixed by the Government and that the price was to be that which prevailed in the market quite independent of the Government and Government regulations. I say that that would not be fair. You are making regulations now as to the price of tithe. If that is the case, surely it does not matter whether you have agreed to buy it before. As long as you agreed to buy it at the current price I do not think it will be fair to the Welsh county councils or to anybody else to say that they were to pay a price different from the rest of the purchasers.
§ Viscount WOLMER
We have had a demand from the Welsh Members for a vital and fundamental Amendment of the Welsh Church Act. I listened to two very able and interesting speeches introducing this Amendment, and what was the reason that they advanced for trying to reintroduce the question of the Welsh Church Act into a Bill which is to amend the Tithe Acts? Their arguments, as I understood them, were that this Bill would bring about an entirely new and not contemplated situation and that unless their wishes are acceded to the net result of the Welsh Church Act will be very different from what its promoters intended or from what Parliament intended when the Act was passed into law. This Bill is not the cause of the trouble. The 1540 cause of the trouble is the phenomenal situation which has arisen by reason of the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If the War has nothing to do with it hon. Members have a very simple remedy. They can move to cut Wales and Monmouthshire out of this Bill, and that is a proposition which we will discuss on its merits. If the Welsh party really desire that this Bill should not apply to Wales and Monmouthshire they have only got to say so, but although I believe there was an Amendment to that effect some days ago it has now disappeared. Therefore the fact is that hon. Members put down that Amendment and then withdrew it.
§ Viscount WOLMER
After the hon. Member had had the benefit of consulting them he saw fit to withdraw it, and that shows very clearly that he recognises that the War has created a situation in Wales which none of us contemplated a few years ago and a situation which demands legislation to deal with it. I think the hon. Member has admitted that by his actions. Therefore it is not this Bill which has introduced the new situation, but the War, and, that being so, the hon. Member and his friends come to the House and ask us to make a vital alteration in the Welsh Church Act because the new conditions that were not foreseen have brought about a situation that was not contemplated when the Act was passed. If that be the argument of the hon. Members opposite, I am very much disposed to agree with them. A new situation has arisen which none of us contemplated when the Welsh Church Act was under discussion, and circumstances are now very different from what were ever contemplated even in September, 1914. But I absolutely refuse to agree to a partial, one-sided Amendment of the Welsh Church Act introduced into a Bill like this, without consultation with the Representative Body of the Church in Wales, and simply in order to put right one of the particular difficulties that have arisen through the War situation. I quite agree with what the hon. Member for Carmarthen Boroughs said when he said that the present situation in regard to the Welsh Church Act is intolerable. I entirely agree, and I think the whole question will have to be reconsidered, but it would be a most unfair thing to reconsider it in a Bill like this.
1541 There are a great many other things that the War has done in regard to the Welsh Church Act which require revision in the light of our experiences during the last four years. What about the lapsed livings that have fallen vacant during that time? What about the acute financial drainage of the whole country? I listened very often to hon. Members opposite, who told us time and again that what they were doing by the Welsh Church Act was for the benefit of the Welsh Church, because it would prompt Churchmen to give their thousands and their tens of thousands to replace the endowments taken from the Church. Do hon. Members opposite think that that argument has not been affected by the War? Do they think it is as easy to raise money now as it was in 1914? Do they think they can pick out one particular part of the Welsh Church Act and say, "This has not quite panned out as we expected, and therefore we hope that the House of Commons will alter it in a Tithe Bill, but we refuse to admit that those circumstances have affected the Welsh Church Act in any other way"? No, Sir; it won't wash. If the Welsh Church Act has proved to be unsuitable and unfitted to the conditions brought about by the War, then by all means let it be reconsidered, but do not try to make the Welsh Church Act more harsh and more unjust than it was by a side-wind Amendment of this sort. What is the practical effect of this Amendment? As the Welsh Church Act stands at the present moment, the clergy, whose life interests are to be compensated, are to receive their compensation at the rate of the septennial average. The hon. Member for the Carmarthen Boroughs wants to cut it down to 109. That, as far as those vested interests are concerned, would be the effect of his Amendment. That is to say, he wants to deprive those men who have already been very hardly dealt with by the Welsh Church Act—it is quite a mistake to suppose that their interests are adequately protected by that Act, because they are not—he wants to cut down the settlement which seemed just to the Liberal party in 1914, and I think, if I may say so, that that would be a very mean and a very unworthy act on the part of this House.
There is another side of the question. As I understand the scheme underlying this Bill, the justification for fixing the price of tithe, for interfering with the automatic rise in tithe, is that in future 1542 years the tithe owner shall be guaranteed by the redemption Clauses of this Bill against tithe ever falling to an abnormally low level, and therefore those two parts of the Bill are inter-related, and must balance each other. It is not just to fix the price of the tithe unless you are also going to guarantee to the tithe owner some security of income in the future, and the same applies not only to the tithe owner but to the Church as a whole. But what hon. Members opposite want to do is to lower the price that the Welsh Church Act fixes to be paid to the vested interests in Wales, without giving a single farthing of compensation or any other balancing advantage to make good that great loss of money. Therefore, I do not say that this is an Intentional attempt to queer the pitch, but the effect of it would be most unjust and most harsh. You would be picking out a particular section of the Welsh Church Act which was not quite working out as you wanted it to, you would be trimming that according to your fancy, you would be taking away money from poor clergy in Wales guaranteed to them by an Act of Parliament which you yourselves placed on the Statute Book, and you would be giving them no other compensation at all. I noticed that some hon. Members opposite stated that war conditions would bring more money into the Church in Wales. That, if I may say so, is an entire mistake. The rise in the price of tithe will not benefit the Church in Wales by a single farthing. It benefits the life interests, of course, but inasmuch as the Representative Body of the Church in Wales is only trustee for the money belonging to the vested interests and has got to pay back to them their full interest in their livings, the price of the tithe does not affect the Church in Wales as a whole. But it does affect several hundred poor clergymen who have had a settlement forced on them by the Welsh Church Act, and to interfere with the money guaranteed them by that Act would be a piece of one-sided and very grave injustice.
§ Mr. ROCH
I do not wish to follow the Noble Lord in the very interesting speech which he has just made, which, I think, is rather outside the scope of the Bill and somewhat outside the scope of the Amendment. I have only risen to ask the right hon. Gentleman just one question. I heard the speech he made in reply to this Amendment, and I do not quite understand what exactly he proposes to do for the county councils. I understand he does admit the 1543 grievance and the difficult position in which the county councils have been placed. The interpretation which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Leamington (Sir E. Pollock) put on his speech was that the right hon. Gentleman would assist the county councils now to purchase and redeem these tithes at 109. Speaking for myself only, I think that is a very fair proposal, and it is one which I should be disposed to fall in with at once. I have risen, therefore, to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that is the right interpretation of what he said, and if he can indicate precisely what proposal he does mean to make to the county councils and what assistance he does mean to give them. If his view is as interpreted by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Leamington, it seems to me that that is a fair proposal which will be satisfactory to all parties concerned.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
So far as those vested interests are to be commuted under Schedule 4 I cannot agree, but in all the other details they will have the advantage of the Bill.
Mr. C. REES
The War may have created the situation, but the Bill which is introduced has created this difficulty. The War has sent up the tithe value, but the Bill has made it a difficulty, for this reason. This is a Bill dealing with the country generally. There is on the Statute Book a Welsh Church Act dealing with Wales—a particular part of the United Kingdom. It would appear as if that Act had not been considered when this Bill was drafted, and the result is that the county councils have to buy out at 123, and therefore there is a net loss of fourteen. I think that is the dilemma. How is the dilemma to be got over? It is quite clear that we in this House ought not to say "You are to buy at 123, and as soon as you get it you must sell at 109." It is not good for the county council to lose fourteen. On the other hand, the supporters of the Church say "We are entitled to get 123; why should we take 109?" The answer is that "Having regard to all the circumstances, if 109 is fair in England, it is fair also in Wales, and if we can ask the people in England to take 109 freely, why not the same in Wales?" To that it is said "We have got an Act, and it ought to be 123." The only way out is this. If they ought not to bear the burden and if the county councils 1544 certainly ought not, then the nation ought to bear the burden. It must be done somehow.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
Now I realise that neither of the hon. Members was present when we were discussing the previous Amendment. What I said was that the councils would be assisted by my accepting an Amendment which stands in the name of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Hardy), which, over a long period of time, substantially gives the tithe owners, though in a deferred form, some of the advantages which they now derive from high prices.
§ Mr. HINDS
I have heard the whole Debate. The Committee can see clearly that we Welsh Members are put in a dilemma. On the one hand, we would not touch this Bill. We only plead at the present time for a county council that which is already given to an individual. If you think the clergy should have the benefit of this bargain, as it is called, the Treasury ought not to ask the county council to pay all the money. We are only asking for justice. We never wanted to open this question. I dare say there will be some calculation to go into with regard to the Church Act. There are pros and cons. The four years have altered the position in many ways, but to ask them to buy tithes at 123 and 126 when they are only getting 109 for them is unfair to the county councils, and it is unfair to ask the smallholder to pay 123 when his neighbour in England is only giving 109. We do not want to open this Welsh question at all. We want to go in peace at the present time. I want to do the fair thing, but I do not think the Board of Agriculture by this Bill is doing the fair thing to the county councils or to the smallholders if it does not come to our rescue.
§ Sir EDGAR JONES
I still hope that hon. Members opposite will come to see there is no reason why they should oppose the proposals which we have put forward. They have a right to complain of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, as we have. As a rule, when Departments bring Bills into this House they are supposed to 1545 have looked up all other measures with which their Bill might conflict. They did not do it in this case. They forgot the Welsh Church Act altogether when this Bill was drafted, and that is the root of all the trouble. This bother has not arisen owing to our action, and we did not raise the issue, which I am very sorry has been raised. The position is perfectly clear. You have in England and Wales at the present time clergymen who are owners of tithe, and tenants—some of them very small tenants—who are payers of tithe. The small tenants would be paying their clergymen regularly during the next twelve months in England and Wales, if this Bill were not introduced, at the current prices. The Noble Lord spoke of depriving the poor clerymen of what is due to them. We are not doing that. This Bill is doing that. The right hon. Gentleman has brought in a Bill, and hon. Gentlemen opposite are supporting it. By this Bill you are arranging that the small tithe payer shall not continue to pay to his clergyman the high price the War has created, and you are fixing an artificial price, which is, roughly, this figure of 109 It is all very well for hon. Members to say, cut Wales out of this Bill. Then you have got a grievance at once. If the sad thing happened that the War went on for another four or five years, you would be in this peculiar position, that you would have made an arrangement for small tenants in England to pay clergymen 109, while leaving small tenants in Wales to go on paying their clergymen under the circumstances of the War. That is an impossible arrangement. The difficulty that we have does not seem to have been grasped. This is nothing to do with the Welsh Members and the Welsh Church. The position is this: The county councils have to pay the Welsh Church at a certain figure. Under the Bill it is the septennial average. If you had left it at that they would have been in a position to deal with payers of tithe on the same figure, but you compel them to pay over to the Church a high figure. Now you bring in a Bill and say you cannot redeem it to the smallholders except at 109. It is up to the right hon. Gentleman to find a way out of this dilemma. He has no right to put county councils in a position of that kind, and he should find some way or other of arranging his Bill so that the difficulty could be avoided.
Mr. L. WILLIAMS
I confess I have been very disappointed indeed at the 1546 reception which this very reasonable and business-like Amendment has received at the hands of the President of the Board of Agriculture and hon. Members opposite I really thought that it was so eminently reasonable, and the proposals embodied in it were so moderate, that it would commend itself to the common sense and sense of justice of everyone. The Noble Lord taunted me with having withdrawn an Amendment to exclude Wales. The reason I suggested the exclusion of Wales was that I was under the impression—and I am still under that impression—that you cannot remove all the Welsh grievances created by this Bill in the Bill itself, and that the proper way to deal with a peculiar situation such as this would be by introducing a special and separate measure. But I had no idea that such a proposal would be made by the Government, and therefore I thought that, though I cannot have all that I want, I will at all events try to see whether we can safeguard the county councils from financial loss through the operation of this Bill. We did not ask for this Bill. I do not think a single Welsh Member thought anything of the Bill until the Second Reading. It was when the Bill came on for Second Reading that we saw the character of it for the first time, and put in an immediate protest against it. What the Bill does is this: It interferes in one way with the tithe in order to give a benefit, and it interferes in another way in order to injure Welsh county councils. In other words, it tells the tithe payers in England that they need pay only 109. It knows that it may be that the Welsh county councils will pay 123 next year, although I do not think that is certain, I think it is very doubtful. The question would have to be argued in the Courts of law. I do not think we are taking anything away from the Welsh Church by this Amendment.
It may very well be that the Courts of law will say that the words in the Welsh Church Act, "Septennial average in force at the date of Disestablishment," means that the septennial averages in force when the Bill we are passing to-day will be in force next year. In order to avoid any difficulty of that sort, I suggested these other words, so as to make it perfectly clear to county councils that they were safeguarded in this way. Then we were met with all this opposition. While the county councils will have to pay 123, the 1547 tithe payer will be paying them 109—a dead loss of 14 per cent. for twenty-seven years. Is that fair? Can anyone say it is a just thing for Parliament to do? I venture to say "No." But the injustice will not end there. This Bill, as the Noble Lord has remarked, is a redemption Bill. One of its chief objects is to enable the redemption of tithe rent-charge, but the county councils will have to pay for that tithe rent-charge at 123, while this Bill, if it becomes law, says that the tithe payer shall be able to redeem at 109. Is that fair, or just, or good business? The Noble Lord has suggested that we are complaining of the bad bargain which we made in connection with the Welsh Church Act. But we have done nothing of the kind, and have been careful to guard ourselves from doing so. I said, and my Leader repeated the statement, that we were perfectly willing that the Church in Wales should benefit by the extraordinary abnormal conditions that have arisen since the War. We have never complained of that, but we do complain that Parliament should be passing a Bill of this sort, interfering with the operation of the Welsh Church Act in a way that is prejudicial to the Welsh county councils, and at the same time not seeking even by lifting a little finger to help the county councils in meeting the difficulties which will be created by this Bill. I say it is a monstrous shame and injustice, and I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will support me in the Lobby. I appeal with every confidence to their sense of fair play. Whatever their views may be about the Welsh Church Act, let them be fair and straightforward in this matter. If they object to the Act, let them bring forward a Motion to repeal it, but, at all events, as long as the Welsh Church Act is on the Statute Book and as long as the Welsh county councils are forced under its operation, let those public authorities be protected from the injustice which will be perpetrated by this Bill.
§ Mr. HAYDN JONES
Repeated references have been made in this Debate tonight to a suggested desire on the part of my colleagues and myself to alter the Welsh Church Act. We want nothing of the kind; all we want to do is to maintain the status quo and to prevent an injustice being done to the county councils. As the hon. Member for Carmarthen 1548 Boroughs has stated, you are fixing in this Bill the price that people will have to pay for tithe in the next seven years. They are to be able to redeem it at £109. On the other hand, when the county council commutes the interest of the clergy—it does not matter whether it is the interest of the individual clergymen or of the Church itself—you cast the burden on the ratepayer of making up the difference between 109 and 123. Is there any Member of this House who will say that it is fair and just to any public body to tell them that they shall not receive more than 109, but must redeem at 123 or some higher figure? The hon. and learned Member for Leamington (Sir E. Pollock) told us that the President of the Board of Agriculture was prepared to meet the Welsh county councils in this matter. As I understood it, he is prepared to give time to enable the county councils to redeem the tithe at 109. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain what his real intention is? In any case I venture to say that the action of the Government in introducing a Bill which will penalise the local authorities in Wales to this substantial extent, will be resented by all public authorities in the Principality. We do not want to reopen these questions. There are, no doubt, injustices done by the Welsh Church Act, but there are also distinct advantages conferred, and the advantage derived from postponing the operation of the Act far outbalances any disadvantage the Church may suffer. I do not want to go into particulars, but I have always reckoned that the Church will be better off by three-quarters of a million sterling by the postponement of the operation of the Act. But here you are perpetrating in a new Act a monstrous injustice, and I appeal to the House not to support any such action. We ask no favour, we simply want justice.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
The great difficulty in conducting a discussion of this kind is that hon. Members are not all present throughout the Debate, and the result is that one has to repeat many things which he had hoped had been said once for all. The object of this Bill is to save the tithe payer from the excessive payments which the abnormal exceptional circumstances of the War will throw upon him. That is the prime object of the Bill, and that object can only be obtained by restricting those payments. It means sacrifices for all tithe owners, whether actual or 1549 potential. It means the sacrifice of a certain amount by the tithe owner who will be the owner at the date of Disestablishment, namely, the county council. We have tried by the Amendment which I have already explained to maintain the financial position, so far as the present county councils are concerned, and that is to help them to pay it. I admit you are going to lose money on the transaction, but that loss of money results not from the operation of this Bill, but from the operation of the Welsh Church Act, This Act said in effect that these vested interests are to be commuted by the county councils at existing prices. That raises a legal question which has not yet been decided. If the law decides that the septennial averages in force are the fixed payments created by the passing of this Bill, then you are great gainers by the Bill, because instead of buying the tithe at 123 you get it at 109. I must say looking at it as a whole, and with every wish to be fair to both sides, I do think that the proper remedy of any grievance—and I admit there is a grievance—felt by the county council, is to bring in a Bill definitely to settle that grievance whether it be felt on the one side by the county councils, or on the other side by the Church, and it is not fair to introduce it
§ into a Bill to amend another particular grievance. Under the circumstances I must resist the Amendment.
§ Mr. KEATING
I have listened to the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sorry to say I do not think it carries with it anything in the nature of conviction. It is entirely unfair to ignore the complaints of Members from Wales on this point, and if the Amendment is pressed to a Division I shall support it in the Division Lobby. The right hon. Gentleman has said that all tithe owners must make sacrifices, both present tithe owners and potential tithe owners. He went on to say that the Welsh Church has benefited by the situation created by the War, but while he converts the county councils into tithe owners he calls upon them to make these sacrifices. Why should they have to do so? What is the use of passing an Act here which will cast the necessity on the Welsh county councils either of fighting the case out in the Law Courts or coming to this House with another Bill? It seems to me both unfair and unreasonable, and I am opposed to any such proceeding.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 81; Noes, 127.1551
|Division No. 87.]||AYES.||[7.15 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Haslam, Lewis||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Arnold, Sydney||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Durham)||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvon, Arfon)|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry||Hickman, Brig.-Gen, Thomas E.||Roberts, Sir Herbert (Denbighs)|
|Bliss, Joseph||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles, E. H.||Robertson, Rt. Hon. J. M.|
|Boland, John Plus||Holmes, D. T.||Robinson, Sidney|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Holt, Richard Durning||Roch, Walter F.|
|Brunner, John F. L.||John, Edward Thomas||Rowlands, James|
|Bryce, John Annan||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Clough, William||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter (D'sbury)|
|Cotton, H. E. A.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Rushcliffe)||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Crumley, Patrick||Jowett, Frederick William||Sheehy, David|
|Davies, Timothy (Louth)||Keating, Matthew||Smallwood, Edward|
|Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan)||King, Joseph||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Dillon, John||Lambert, Richard (Cricklade)||Sutton, John E.|
|Donnelly, Patrick||Layland-Barratt, Sir F.||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Doris, William||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Meagher, Michael||White, James Dundas (Tradeston)|
|Esmonde, Capt. J. (Tipperary, N.)||Molloy, Michael||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Essex, Sir Richard Walter||Morrell, Philip||Whitty, Patrick Joseph|
|Field, William||Nolan, Joseph||Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool, Scot'd.)||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Gilbert, James Daniel||O'Dowd, John||Williams, John (Glamorgan)|
|Glanville, Harold James||O'Leary, Daniel||Williams, Thomas J. (Swansea)|
|Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Outhwaite, R. L.||Wright, Henry Fitzherbert|
|Griffith, Rt. Hon. Sir Ellis Jones||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Hackett, John||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Harbison, T. J. S.||Rattan, Peter Wilson||Llewelyn Williams and Mr. Hinds.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Barlow, Sir Montague (Salford, South)||Beck, Arthur Cecil|
|Anderson, G. K. (Canterbury)||Barnett, Capt. Richard W.||Beckett, Hon. Gervase|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc., E.)||Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Beale, Sir William Phipson||Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)|
|Bigland, Alfred||Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray|
|Bird, Alfred||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Pratt, John W.|
|Blair, Reginald||Hermon-Hodge, Sir Robert T.||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Prothero, Rt. Hon. Roland Edmund.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. Fortescue||Hoare, Sir Samuel John Gurney||Pulley, C. T.|
|Boyton, Sir James||Hohier, Gerald Fitzroy||Randies, Sir John|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hope, James Fltzalan (Sheffield)||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)||Rees, Sir J. D.|
|Butcher, Sir J. G.||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Rendall, Athelstan|
|Cator, John||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Jackson, Lt.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend)|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Jodrell, Neville, P.||Royds, Major Edmund|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Rutherford, Col. Sir J. (Darwen)|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Kellaway, Frederick George||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry (N'wood)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart (Wimbledon)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Samuels, Arthur W. (Dub. U.)|
|Collins, Sir William (Derby)||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.||Starkey, John Ralph|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Larmor, Sir Joseph||Stewart, Gershom|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Lindsay, William Arthur||Stirling, Lt.-Col. Archibald|
|Courthope, Maj. George Loyd||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Stoker, R. B.|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.)||Lowther, Maj.-Gen. Sir H. C. (Appleby)||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, W.)|
|Currie, G. W.||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Swift, Rigby|
|Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.||MacCaw, Wm. J. MacGeagh||Terrell, George (Wilts, N. W.)|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Macmaster, Donald||Terrell, Henry (Gloucester)|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||McNeill, R. (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Tryon, Capt. George Clement|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. William Hayes||Magnus, Sir Philip||Walker, Col. W. H.|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Mason, James F. (Windsor)||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Fletcher, John S.||Mason, Robert (Wansbeck)||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Foxcroft, Capt. Charles Talbot||Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir J. N. (Hanover Sq.)||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Ganzoni, Francis J. C.||Mount, William Arthur||White, Col. G. D. (Lancs., Southport)|
|Gardner, Ernest||Neville, Reginald J. N.||Whiteley, Sir H. J. (Droltwich)|
|Gastrell, Lt.-Col. Sir W. H.||Newman, Sir Robert (Exeter)||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Nicholson, Wm. G. (Petersfield)||Wilson-Fox, Henry (Tamworth)|
|Greer, Harry||Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.||Winfrey, Sir R.|
|Gretton, John||Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight)||Parker, James (Halifax)||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord C. J.||Parkes, Sir Edward|
|Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence (Ashford)||Pease, Rt. Hon. H. P. (Darlington)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Captain|
|Harmood-Banner, Sir J. S.||Perkins, Walter Frank||F. Guest and Colonel Sanders.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. L. HARDY
I beg to move, at the end, to add the wordsThe Board of Agriculture and Fisheries shall, after the twenty-fifth day of December in the year nineteen hundred and twenty-five, and in each succeeding year, compute in the same manner as the septennial average is directed to be computed under the Corn Returns Act, 1882, and shall publish in the 'London Gazette' in the month of January following the average price of each sort of British corn for the preceding fifteen years, and the sum payable under the Tithes Acts, 1836 to 1891, in respect of any tithe rent-charge payable after the first day of January, nineteen hundred and twenty-six, shall be ascertained by the average prices so computed for the preceding fifteen years in substitution for the septennial average referred to in the Corn Returns Act, 1882.I beg formally to move this Amendment—which I have already explained. In view of the fact that the right hon. it, there is really no need to add any more Gentleman opposite is willing to accept words. I am bound to say, however, that I think the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman suggested is rather a larger matter than I understood when I first heard his words. If he desires to fix for ever the highest limit of tithe at 109 I think it should not be done unless a minimum also is fixed. The tithe owner would feel it hard if at the first time the tithe had risen it should be fixed for ever 1552 at a sum at which we had arrived, whilst there was no provision made for that tithe falling back to low limits of the days from which he has already suffered. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he does not accept my Amendment now, to reconsider the matter before Report, so that this thing can be dealt with in a consistent way, rather than by fixing the maximum and the minimum—if he thinks that is the best way to deal with it.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I have already said that I will accept this Amendment subject to the addition of words like this: "but so that the sum payable in any year shall not exceed £109 3s. 11d." I think there is a great deal, too, to be said for a corresponding limitation of the extent to which it shall fall. If I may, I will accept the Amendment subject to some slight alteration in the two senses which I have now indicated.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
Does that mean, I am very sorry, but I did not know this 1553 addition was going to be made, that at no time the sum payable in respect of tithe rent-charge exceeds 109?
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
It seems to me that this should have a little more consideration. I quite appreciate the object of extending the average, after the termination of the fixed period, for a fifteen years period instead of a seven years period. But one of the effects of that will obviously be that high prices of these years during the War, and perhaps a year or two after the War, will tell in tithe rent-charge for eight years longer than they otherwise would tell. That seems to me to be a very serious matter indeed. Under this septennial average high war prices, of course, would tell in the computation of the tithe rent-charge for seven years, but by extending it to fifteen years the tithe prices will tell for eight years longer than otherwise they would. I quite appreciate the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. I have no doubt he had this difficulty in view when he suggested the additional words, but I am sorry that he has accepted the Amendment. If he accepts it, may I venture to suggest that these words should be moved in now? There would really be no difficulty in adding them to the Amendment now, and we should know where we are standing before we come to the Report stage.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
There are considerations which I should like an opportunity of going into both as to the fall and the rise, and certain other circumstances, and I welcome the opportunity for a little delay.
Is one of the circumstances the question of adopting the fifteen year period, or are we to take that as finally accepted by him?
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.