HC Deb 12 August 1919 vol 119 cc1259-66

(3) The annual income derived from property mentioned in paragraph (4) of the Fourth Schedule to the Welsh Church Act, 1914, shall, as respects tithe rent-charge, be taken to be the amount of the tithe rent-charge according to the septennial average computed at the date of Disestablishment as if the Tithe Act, 1918, had not passed, after making the deductions specified in the said paragraph.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (3), to leave out the words, "according to the septennial average computed at the date of Disestablishment as if the Tithe Act, 1918, had not passed, after making the deductions specified in the said paragraph," and to insert instead thereof the words computed in accordance with the septennial average in force on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and eighteen, after deducting two and a-half per cent. on account of the cost of collection and the average amount paid in rates during the three years preceding the passing of the Act on account of Rates and Land Tax. I think this Amendment is of such importance that, although it was rejected by the Government last night, I feel I am only doing right in again bringing it under the notice of the House. Its object is to endeavour to place the financial status of the Bill on a proper foundation and to pre- vent a dole being given out of public funds for the purpose of re-endowing the Church in Wales. The party to which I belong have always maintained that it is wrong to endow out of public funds any one religious denomination, and in the Bill as it stands there is no doubt at all that the intention is to provide money from the Treasury for the re-endowment of the Church, because, owing to the conditions created by the War, the Church has gained very considerably and has placed the county councils in the position that they cannot meet their payments unless this dole is made from the public funds. My hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth put an Amendment on the Paper which was very much the same as this, and if it had been adopted, together with the Amendment following it regarding the interest to be calculated on the principal sum, there would have been no reason at all for recourse to the Treasury for £1,000,000, which is said to be required to make this Bill financially watertight. This Amendment seems to me to bring into operation the Enactment of the Tithe Rent-Charge Bill, 1918. Under that Bill, the redemption of the tithe rent-charge was fixed at 109. But we are told by the Government that this enactment does not apply either to the Welsh Church or to the Welsh county councils, and that the latter will have to redeem the tithe rent-charge, not at 109 but at 136. I do not quite follow why the Welsh county councils should be placed on a different footing from all other persons who want to redeem tithe. More over, I understand that the sop received as the result of the commutation is not to go to the clergy, but is to go to a special fund, which is to be held by the Representative Body of the Church in Wales. That sum, we are told, amounts to £600,000, and with what the Church will get from the difference between the 3½ per cent. and 5 per cent., which will amount to £400,000, you have provided the £1,000,000 which it is now proposed to take from the Treasury. I do not apologise for moving this Amendment, because this House is anxious for retrenchment and economy, and I cannot understand why it is necessary that this dole should be made in order to allow the Church to profiteer, to make a profit, for that is what it comes to, out of the conditions which have I been created the War. Those who voted for the Act of 1914 are in honour bound, pledged to see that neither aide in this controversy is either worse off or better off as the result of the conditions which have been created by the War. Therefore, it would be only doing justice on the part of the Government to hold the scales evenly in this matter and to see that while the Church in Wales loses nothing through conditions created by the War, to see also that full justice is meted out to the Welsh people and to those Members who allowed the Act to be postponed very soon after the War broke out. It is quite true that the Welsh Members are only a very small fraction of this House and come from a small country, but I do think that churchmen in Wales would scorn the idea of being asked to endeavour to make some sort of profit out of the conditions which have arisen during the last five years. We all want to see this question settled fairly, and in a way that will bring peace and harmony where peace and harmony ought to be. I hope the House will consider whether it is right and just that the State should be called upon to provide this money


I beg to second the Amendment.

12.0. M

I wish to emphasise what has been said by my hon. Friend who has moved. If the financial proposals of the Act of 1914 have become obsolete I fail to see why its provisions should not be reconsidered instead of drawing upon the Treasury for the payment of the sum of £1,000,000. It is hardly fair. when we are short of money, to meet our obligations, that we should throw away a dole of £1,000,000 rather than readjust the financial provisions of an Act which was passed in 1914. You maintain the rate of interest at 3½ per cent.; you penalise the county councils by saying they must redeem their tithe at 136, not with a view to paying the holders of the ecclesiastical offices at the same rate, because you state in the Bill that the holders of these offices are only to be paid at the rate of 109. The result of that is that with the difference you are creating an Endowment for the Church in Wales from public funds, which is a departure from anything which has ever occurred there before. You are starting to endow a religious body for the first time in the history of our country, and that at a time when it cannot afford to pay a single penny on such an object. If I were the only man in the House I should protest against this, and I appeal to the sense of fair play which has always existed in this House to deal justly by Wales.


I am quite sure the House will not expect me to go into the details of the arguments which were before the Committee last night. I explained then exactly what the position would be if the Government's proposals were not accepted, how parlous would be the position of the Church, and how parlous would be the position of the county councils. The Government have tried to do what my hon. Friend opposite asks, namely, to keep as even and as equal a hand as possible between the Church on the one side and the Welsh county councils on the other, and we believe we have succeeded in that. I do not, as I say, wish to repeat all the arguments which I used last night, but I would ask the House not to accept this Amendment, because it would simply destroy the whole of the arrangement that has been come to and which has been accepted by all those best qualified to speak for the Welsh Church and for the Welsh people.


In the absence of anybody qualified to speak for the Welsh Church, I, as one who was formerly in their counsels, am very glad the Government are not accepting this Amendment, and I only rise to take note of the very remarkable statement of the hon. Member for Merionethshire (Mr. Haydn Jones), when he said that this Bill was for the first time going to endow a religious body in Wales—that is to say, that all the talk we have hitherto heard about the ancient endowments of the Welsh Church being State endowments is so much bunkum, and that this is the first time a State endowment is being given to a religious body in Wales. I take note of that statement for future occasions.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, at the end, to insert the words

(6) In determining the value of the annuity mentioned in paragraphs (1) and (2) of the Fourth Schedule of the Welsh Church Act, 1914, interest shall be calculated at the rate of five per centum per annum. When the Act of 1914 was passed the interest was to be reckoned at 3½ per cent., and since then we know that owing to the conditions which have arisen this rate of interest has jumped up to 5 per cent. and that it is quite possible that the county councils, who will have to borrow this sum in order to provide the commutation sum, will have to borrow at 5 per cent., and I understand that the Church will make a big profit out of it. That being so, I ask the Government whether they think this is a fair and reasonable proposal, and whether it is necessary to have recourse to the Treasury, which appears to be the means of settling all the various measures which come up and which the Government endeavour to get over by having recourse to plundering the taxpayer. Having regard to the proper desire of this House to control expenditure at this moment, I think my Amendment should receive the support of all quarters of the House.

Amendment not seconded.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I think it is only right before we give the Bill the Third Reading that some explanation should be given by the Home Secretary in regard to the churchyards. An Amendment was put on the Paper yesterday, which I understood to be practically accepted by the Government, allowing the churchyards to be transferred to the Representative Body of the Church in Wales. It is a matter about which Church people feel very deeply, and I understood that it was practically agreed upon between the Welsh Church and the Welsh representatives in this House, and I am extremely surprised to find nothing said about it. It is too late now, I suppose, to move any Amendment, but I think some explanation ought to be given by the Government as to why what we understood was an agreed Amendment has been withdrawn and nothing said about it. In regard to these churchyards, under the Act at present the modern portion of the churchyards—that is to say, that portion which has been added since 1662—is left to the Representative Body, and the only part that is taken away and handed over to the burial authority or the parish council is the ancient churchyard, surrounding the church right up to the church door, and a matter of the greatest interest and sentiment to all Churchmen in the parish. I am bound to say that, feeling as we do that very little has been given to the Church as a result of this Bill, I am very much surprised that this con-cession has not been made to the Church. I certainly understood from what happened last night at a very late hour that this Amendment had been agreed upon, and that this very small concession was going to be made to the Church. Hon. Members opposite speak as if the Church was losing nothing as a result of the lapse of time, but I think it is only right to point out, as it is pointed out in the Report of the Welsh Commissioners, whom no one can say are be assed either one way or the other, that great changes have taken place as a result of the lapse of time. In the first place, everybody knows that the Church, will have to appeal to its supporters throughout Wales in order to make up the loss which they suffer as a result of the Disendowment of the Church. No one can deny that the position of those who would naturally subscribe to the Church is infinitely worse now than it was before the War. However anxious and desirous the supporters of the Church may be to give largely to make up the loss of £48,000 a year—that is what it now amounts to—in endowments, no one can say that they are in as equally good position as they were before the War to bear the enormous, burdens placed upon their shoulders. In the second place, during the five years which have elapsed since the War began, the Church has lost certain amounts which it has always received from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Mr. McKenna, in his Welsh Church Budget, put that down roughly at £28,000 a year. For five years the Welsh Church has lost that £28,000 a year, so that £140,000 has been lost to the Church as a result of the lapse of time. I admit that email sums amounting to £4,000 have been given by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners during that time, but the Church has had an actual loss of £136,000 as a result of the lapse of time. Therefore, it is not fair to say that the Church is in a better position than or as good a position as her position before the War. The Church is in a worse position, and I am extremely surprised that the Amendment which I understood had practically been agreed upon, and which was practically promised to us last night, has not materialised. It is too late to take steps to deal with it in this House now. We ought to have an explanation from the Home Secretary.


I put a manuscript Amendment in about half an hour ago, and I was under the impression that it could be debated.


May we have an answer from the Home Secretary?


As it was I who made reference to the Amendment, which I had hoped would be agreed upon, perhaps it would be better if I said a few words. I did understand last night that the question had been settled in principle between the two parties interested mainly in this controversy. But I find that although they were very anxious to come to an agreement, and although they thought they had agreed, when it came to the question of actual wording they found that they could not agree upon it. I have tried to-day, and the Prime Minister has also tried, to bring about an agreement, but we have not succeeded. An Amendment was proposed, and it was considered by the representatives of the Church, but after careful consideration they came to the conclusion that they would rather allow things to remain as they are than accept the Amendment. I have seen representatives of the Church, including my hon. Friend opposite, and he told me the hon. Member will confirm me in this—that while he deeply regretted that a settlement had not been come to, he did not regard what had happened as anything that should cause a feeling of bitterness on the part of the Church in connection with the settlement.

I hope the House will accept from me a few words on the Third Beading of the Bill. No one pretends that the Welsh Church is a gainer of this arrangement or that it is in all respects satisfactory. That is not the case. The Church, of course, has lost—it has lost £50,000. There is no question about that. On the other hand, it is deeply to be regretted that what has happened with regard to Tithe Rent Commutation has imposed an additional burden on the local authorities. If the Act had been carried into effect immediately after it was passed that would not have occurred. Everyone knows that the fortune of war has improved the position of the Church in respect of tithe. It would, too, have been far easier to have raised the sum required but for the War. But I say, without hesitation, that there is now an entirely different spirit on both sides of this controversy, and I for one firmly believe that the arrangement we have come to is good not only for Wales but for England because it gets rid of a burning question. I believe the future of the Church in Wales will be far better than it would have been had we not made the arrangement, and I therefore hope that the House will now give us the Third Reading of the Bill.

Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.