HC Deb 30 October 1918 vol 110 cc1554-7

A tithe rent-charge, notwithstanding that it exceeds twenty shillings, may, on the application of the owner of the land charged therewith, and without the consent of the owner of the rent-charge, be directed to be redeemed under and in accordance with the Tithe Acts, 1836 to 1891, as amended by this Act.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "may," and to insert instead thereof the words, "shall unless reason be shown to the contrary."

This is an Amendment to clear up a point which occurred to my right hon. Friend (Mr. L. Hardy) and myself. I do not contend that those are the best possible words, but they indicate my purpose. The purpose of the Clause is that tithe rent-charge, if it exceeds 20s., may, on the application of the owner of the land, be redeemed. We understand the purpose of the Bill to be to further the redemption of tithe rent-charge; but if that redemption depends upon the discretion of some official of the Board of Agriculture, it may be exercised in a manner hostile to the redemption of tithe. I should like the redemption of tithe rent-charge to be facilitated in every possible way. As the words stand at present, it looks as if the onus of proof that the rent-charge should be redeemed lies upon the owner. I understand that is not the desire of the President. There is always a Parliamentary difference about the meaning of the word "may" and "shall"; but I do want a clear expression from the President of his intention as to the future policy of the Board and the exceptions to these words that Parliamentary sanction should be given to the compulsory redemption of tithes save where there are exceptionally good reasons to do so.


I am prepared to accept the words "shall except in exceptional circumstances."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: Leave out the word "may," and insert instead thereof the words "except in exceptional circumstances."—[Sir G. Hobhouse.]


I beg to move, at the end, to add the words Provided that where the tithe rent-charge for the redemption of which application is so made exceeds forty shillings it shall not be directed to be redeemed without the consent of the owner of the rent-charge unless the owner of the land redeems at the same time all or any other tithe rent-charges on his land in the same parish payable to the same owner of the rent-charge which the owner of the rent-charge may require to be so redeemed. This is a case which has been put before me by a good many of those interested in this matter on the part of the tithe owner, and they think that where the complsion lies entirely on one side, that is to say, the tithe payer has the right to redemption, while the tithe owner has no say in the matter, it ought to be provided that the tithe payer should redeem the whole of the tithes that are particularly affected. It is well known that there are means in legislation whereby a tithe payer may get relief from the payment of tithes in connection with certain lands if the return is not at a certain rate. It might be that he would choose to only redeem the lands he was sure he would have to pay tithe upon, while he would leave the others untouched. I have made an exception where a tithe is less than 40s., because it is often desirable that a small amount should be redeemed for special purposes. I think some provision is wanted to protect the tithe owner from what might be the unfair user of the compulsory Clause of this Bill.


I hope this Amendment will not be accepted. Tithe is charged upon a given area of land, and let us see what this proposal means. Supposing, for instance, I ask to redeem land on a certain estate, I may have entered into a bargain to sell it tithe free for the purpose of erecting a house upon it, or I may wish to erect a house myself or sell it for building purposes, and I may desire to redeem the tithe. If this Amendment is introduced, the tithe owner can say, "You can do no such thing unless you are willing to redeem the tithes on the adjoining land." The truth is that in that particular security it is charged upon a particular piece of land. Further than that it is not a personal liability that a tithe payer has to pay, for it depends entirely upon whether the particular land produces. It may be that I might require a small piece of land, and I should be stopped by this provision, which says you cannot redeem unless you redeem the whole of the tithe on all the land you own in that parish. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not accept any such Amendment.


I cannot accept the Amendment in the form in which it is put down on the Paper. It seems to me that any landowner might be willing to redeem tithe rent-charge by instalments, and they might not be rich enough to redeem the charges on all their land at once; they might want to do £50 in one year and £50 five years hence. This proposal would compel them to redeem the whole at once. At the same time, I should have no objection to considering an Amendment on the Report Stage to the effect that the Board might withhold redemption on the lines indicated where in their opinion redemption otherwise would cause the tithe owner serious hardship. I can conceive certain cases where it might be a hardship to the tithe owner that the whole of the land should not be redeemed at once. In that case, I think, we should have the power to alter it, but the power should be sparingly used and reserved for that class of case.


I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.


Before leave is given to withdraw this Amendment I would like to emphasise the objection which has been raised to this proposal. It seems to me that if this change is made it will have to be limited more strictly than my right hon. Friend has indicated. It would be a very great hardship to an owner of land, because he desired to redeem a small portion of his estate as regards the tithe for some building reason or some purely local reason, that he should be compelled to find, perhaps, thousands of pounds to meet the charges by direct borrowing to redeem the whole of the tithes upon his estate in that parish. That would be a hardship which, I am sure, would restrict the development of building, and would restrict lettings and sales of portions of his estates. My right hon. Friend knows it has been an important public policy that tenants should be encouraged to buy their houses. I hope my right hon. Friend will bear that in mind as regards building and tenants buying land in considering what portion of this Amendment he will bring forward on the Report stage. I hope it will be very strictly limited to safeguarding the owners in these two respects.


I doubt whether the President has really appreciated my point. If you are going to say to an owner that he cannot redeem the tithe rent-charge on one portion of his estate without redeeming it on the whole, that is going to be a great injustice. It does not only rest there. I pointed out that this is not a personal obligation to pay tithe. It is true that by the Act of 1891 the owner of land for the first time could be taken to the county court for the tithe if the tenant did not pay, but even then it is not a personal obligation; it is an obligation which arises because you are in receipt of profits from the land, and, if there are no profits, there are no means of making you pay. Supposing I am both owner and occupier and the land is derelict, they cannot make me pay, and the steps which can be taken to force me to let my property if a tenant can be got are very cumbrous. If you go outside the land on Blackacre on which tithe is charged and say to the tithe payer: "You are also to redeem Whiteacre," you are going to make it a personal liability, and you have no right to do that. I trust the President of the Board will do no such thing. It is quite fair in regard to the piece of land on which the tithe is charged to say that the whole of it may be redeemed, because the security of the tithe owner may be impaired, but if you go beyond that and say that the other land must also be redeemed it is wrong, and I trust that the President will do no such thing.

Amendment negatived.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.