§ Order for Second Reading read.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of AGRICULTURE (Sir Arthur Boscawen)
I beg to move,That the Bill be now read a Second time.This is a temporary measure which the Government are introducing to deal with the rating of tithe rent-charge attached to ecclesiastical benefices and also tithe-rent charge which is in the possession of ecclesiastical chapters. In the year 1918 an Act was passed by this House which limited the rise of tithe. As everybody knows, the tithe rent-charge is based upon a septennial average, and owing to the greatly increased prices of cereals the tithe-rent charge was rising very rapidly. It had stood some years before the War somewhere below 70. It rose rapidly, owing to the high prices of cereals during the War, to 109 in 1918, and if an Act had not been passed it would have risen a great deal further; in fact, it would have approximated something like 140 in the present year. Since that happened there has been a very great 496 increase in the rates that are paid, as we know, all over the country, and whereas that is very hard upon ratepayers generally, it is particularly hard upon those who pay rates and whose income is derived from tithe, because the idea of the tithe-rent-charge being based upon a septennial average of prices was that as costs of living went up, so incomes should go up, but when once we fixed the income and prevented the further rise of tithe, it left clergy in the position that their incomes were fixed, the natural rise was stopped, but at the same time there occurred an enormous rise in the rates they had to pay. We propose, as a matter of justice, following on the Act of 1918, that as we have stopped for a period of seven years the rise in the value of tithe, so for the same period we should stereotype the rates at the poundage at which they stood in 1918. That is to say, that in the case of tithe rent-charge which is attached to a benefice, or which is in the hands of a cathedral chapter or other ecclesiastical corporation, the poundage at which the rate shall be charged and levied on the tithe rent-charge shall be the same poundage as it was in the year 1918.
As I say, this is a temporary Bill. It deals, I think, in a very logical way with the difficulty which has been created by limiting tithe rent-charge in 1918, and it does not touch the much bigger question, which is, whether tithe rent-charge attached to a benefice, and which is only enjoyed because certain services are rendered, ought to be chargeable to rates or not at all? I agree that that is a very open question, and I have always myself held the view that in this matter the clergy have been very unfairly treated. They have to pay upon the whole amount of what is really a professional income, because no clergyman can enjoy the use of an income derived from tithe rent-charge without at the same time rendering some important service, and, therefore, he is in this position: Whereas the ordinary professional man pays Income Tax on his professional income at the professional income rate, and pays rates on his residence or any land he may happen to occupy, a clergyman is also paying rates in addition to Income Tax on the whole of his professional income. I quite agree a very strong case can be made out for the total exemption of tithe rent-charge attached to a benefice from rating, and that is a question which certainly will 497 have to be considered before long. But I do not think it would be wise to raise that question as a separate or individual question to-day. The whole question of rating, the whole question of whether rating is to be paid upon real as distinct from personal property, the grievances and injustice felt by other ratepayers, as, for example, tenant farmers and others, will have to be considered, and I think it would be most inadvisable to deal here and now with the question of clergymen's grievances and difficulties apart from the general question of rating as a whole. Nor, again, do I think we can deal with the question of assessment, but inasmuch as the position of the ecclesiastical tithe-owner was made infinitely worse by checking the rise in his tithe in 1918, I think there is very good reason for adopting the proposals made by this Bill, which would stereotype the poundage of the rates as from the same date as the value of the tithe was stereotyped.
I am quite aware that this Bill does not go nearly so far as some of my ecclesiastical friends would wish. I am quite aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) has a Bill which would go very much further, but I would urge the House, at all events, to accept the Bill, which is, I say, a temporary measure, and does not in any way prejudice the full reconsideration of the whole question on broader lines. It does not prejudice it at all, but it does remove at once a very pressing grievance. I venture to point out to some hon Members who do not think we are going far enough that there is very considerable relief contained in this Bill. I find that the poor rate alone paid by the owners of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge amounted, in 1918, to £229,000; in 1919, to £320,000, and in this year it will probably be £370,000 or thereabouts, but it is only an estimate. The result will be that the relief given in the present year is probably in the neighbourhood of £150,000, and, as rates are rising, as unfortunately we are all very well aware, the relief in future years will probably be considerably larger than the figure I have already given. I venture to think, therefore, that there is a considerable amount of relief contained in this Bill, and the figures I have given only relate to the poor rate. You have got to add other rates, and to remember that for the 498 first time we are bringing into the purview of this Bill, and into its benefits, tithes which are attached to ecclesiastical corporations, who, although they do not, perhaps, quite so directly, in virtue of the holding of tithes, individually perform certain services, yet the whole of their stipends is devoted to certain public service, without the performance of which the tithe would not be paid. As the House knows, half the rates payable in respect of ecclesiastical tithes were remitted by the Act of 1899, but that Act did not apply to tithe attached to ecclesiastical corporations, but only to the tithe attached to individual incumbents and benefices. We do not propose to extend the benefits of the Act of 1899 to ecclesiastical corporations, but we do in their case also propose to limit the poundage to the figure at which it stood in 1918, and for the first time, therefore, bring them some relief.
The Bill may be objected to from another point of view, namely, that the extra burden falls upon other ratepayers, and is not made up in any way by an Exchequer grant. In these days of rigid economy, I should find it very difficult to extract, I am sure, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a special grant to make up this deficiency, and if we were to follow the precedent of the Act of 1899, the money would be taken out of the Local Taxation Account. The whole of that goes, as hon. Members know, to the relief of local taxation for various purposes already, and local authorities and ratepayers would be no better off if we imposed this extra charge on the Local Taxation Account. There would only be so much loss to go round for other purposes. But I would appeal to landowners and occupiers of land that this really is a very small burden passed on to them, especially having regard to the fact that if we had not limited the tithe to 109 in 1918, they would now be paying something like 140, and probably in the next year or two in the neighbourhood of 150 for every £100 worth of tithe. Having regard to the fact that they obtain this very large benefit from the point of view of the limitation of tithe, it is not asking them too much to bear this very small additional burden. I have said that in the present year, probably, the relief to the clergy will be in the neighbourhood of £150,000. Last year, in 499 rural parishes, no less than £16,000,000 was collected for poor rate, and I venture to say that an extra sum of £150,000 is the merest bagatelle, and, from the point of view of what is paid in local rates, it will be represented in some parishes by a mere fraction of a penny. I cannot conceive, therefore, especially having regard to the advantages which the owners and occupiers of land obtain by the Act of 1918, that they will be unwilling to shoulder this very small burden.
I earnestly wish that it were possible for me in this matter to go a little bit further. I realise that the case of many of the poorer clergy is an exceedingly hard one. I realise that, owing to the rise in rates, and the increased cost of living, their case is very hard, and I have never myself failed to see the injustice of paying what is really a second Income Tax upon their professional incomes. But, as I have said before, I do not think we can deal with the general question of the incidence of local taxation in a fragmentary manner, and we are really proposing now a temporary remedy until the whole matter is thoroughly investigated. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea, who has brought in a far more drastic Bill, has indicated to me that he would like to move certain amendments which would give a rather more full measure of relief in certain cases. He has specially mentioned a particular Sub-section of this Bill which deals with the cost of redemption. We propose in this Bill that, though we give this extra relief to the ecclesiastical tithe-owner, we should not vary the terms of redemption, which are: We take tithe at its par value, and deduct from it the amount spent in the cost of collection and rates, then we multiply the net amount by 21; thus we secure to the clergyman something like the same income as he is getting at the present time. But, of course, if you reduce the amount paid in rates, you thereby increase the net annual value, and you make it more costly to redeem. If we did that, the result would be, first of all, that the landowner may be less willing to redeem—and that, I think, would be a disaster—and, secondly, it must be remembered that it is not altogether fair to make it more expensive for the landowner to redeem when he is called upon to bear 500 extra burdens such as are caused by this Bill. However, I have quite an open mind upon this question, and if it is made quite clear in the Committee stage of the Bill, especially having regard to the fact that redemption is compulsory, that the terms of redemption, unless some alteration is made in the Bill, will be onerous on the clergy, I shall be quite willing to reconsider the matter.
It has also been indicated to me privately by my hon. Friend that he might wish to move Amendments giving further relief to the very poorest class of the clergy, I mean those who have very small incomes, so small as to entitle them to total or partial exemption of Income Tax, just as persons who have such incomes and are entitled to exemption from Income Tax can now get relief in respect of Land Tax. He has indicated to me that it might be a fair proposition that similarly the clergy might be exempted entirely or partially from the payment of rates on their tithes in these cases. I am considering these proposals. The House will realise that I am acting for the Government, and that I have to take advice from other people. I can assure my hon. Friend and those associated with him that any proposals of that kind to improve the Bill and, generally, to relieve the poorest class of the clergy, who are the people most in need, will receive sympathetic consideration. In the circumstances, I do earnestly hope that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill, which, even if it does not go so far as hon. Members desire, will give substantial relief to a most hard-working and deserving class, a relief which will grow larger and larger as rates increase, and this, I am afraid, they are bound to do in the near future.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. H0ARE
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he has introduced this Bill. He always, if I may say so, states his case with great clearness, and we are particularly grateful to him this evening, because the case with which he has been dealing is a very complicated one. It is all the more agreeable, therefore, to the House that he has put with such clearness the points of the Bill. I should also like to thank him for the sympathetic reference he has made to certain Amendments that I intend to propose when the Bill gets into Committee. Speaking for myself, I can quite frankly 501 say that if he can accept Amendments on the lines he has just suggested, it will remove from my mind any hesitation in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill. This is a question which seems to me to have three salient points.
In the first place, unlike any other class, the clergy, under the Act of 1918, have had their incomes stereotyped by the Government and for the convenience of other sections of the community. This House agreed to that Act. It agreed to apply to the clergy a policy that applied to no other class, inasmuch as the 1918 Act actually prevents their salaries rising with the increase in the cost of living. That was a responsibility undertaken by this House, as it believed, for the good of the community generally. I would point out that by passing an Act of that kind this House is put under a direct obligation to meet, so far as we can, the other grievances that the clergy have at the present time.
Secondly, clerical incomes are, as the right hon. Gentleman has just shown, in a very peculiarly hard position. The clergyman, whose income is mainly dependent upon tithe rent-charge, is paying a rate of tax upon what is really his earned income at a figure far higher than any other class in the community—so high indeed that there are many of the clergy to-day with incomes of only£200 or £300 a year—an income that would be scoffed at by many skilled workmen—who with the Income Tax at 2s. 5d. and the rates of 5s. in the £ are actually paying upon what is a few hundreds a year of tax of 40 per cent., which apart from the case of the clergy, is only paid by persons enjoying incomes of £5,000 a year. That shows a very special grievance which by force of circumstances the clergy, one of the most deserving of the professional classes, are suffering at the present moment.
Thirdly, there is the other aspect of this question, the aspect to which the right hon. Gentleman has just alluded—that tithe rent-charge is really not a fit subject for rating at all. If hon. Members will enquire into the history of this question, they will find that the rating of tithe rent-charge has grown up in a very haphazard fashion as the result of a great deal of confused case-made law, and only in the early years of the 19th century did the greater part of the tithe become subject to rating at all This would not be a 502 suitable moment to go into a historical disquisition upon this subject, but I must say that I am quite confident that if an unbiassed inquiry were held into the subject of the rating of tithe, it would be found that there was little, if any, historical basis for continuing it at all. Those are the three grievances from which the clergy are suffering at the present time. The Bill we are considering only deals with one of them.
The effect of the 1918 Act under which tithe is stereotyped at £109 per cent. for a period of seven years. In that connection, I should like to make one remark. Under the 1918 Act this House decided, for reasons that seemed good at the time, that tithe should be stereotyped at £109 per cent. If tithe had been allowed to take its normal course in relation to the price of cereals during those seven years, it would have risen to £6,000,000 over and above the limit placed upon it in 1918. That means that the action of Parliament during those seven years deprived the clergy of a sum to which they would otherwise have been entitled of £6,638,000. The Government Bill is an attempt to make some redress, but in my view it is very inadequate. The redress it will make this year will amount to about £150,000, and taking the period of the seven years, I think, roughly speaking, it would be correct to say that the Government Bill will remit rates to the amount of between £750,000 and £1,000,000. That means that even if the Government Bill passes, the clergy at the end of this period of seven years will be about £5,500,000 worse off than they would have been if no action had been taken in 1918.
I am strongly of opinion that the proper course for the Government to have taken would have been to have boldly introduced a Bill for the total exemption of tithe rentcharge from rates altogether. I very much regret that they have not taken that course. I myself have introduced a Bill which would have that effect, and which would totally exempt tithe rentcharge altogether, and that measure comes up for a Second Reading on the 7th May. I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading, As the right hon. Gentleman has said, the two Bills do not hang together, and the fact that we give a Second Reading to this measure in no way prejudices the passage of my Bill. Although I feel very strongly that the Government should have exempted tithe 503 rentcharge altogether, I am not prepared in any way to oppose this measure this evening. I accept it as a necessary Amendment to the 1918 Act, and a Bill that in no way prejudices the consideration of the whole question of the exemption of tithe rentcharge on some future occasion.
I say that with a greater readiness this evening after the very sympathetic speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just made. He has suggested that he would be prepared to consider with an open mind an Amendment that would make the terms of the redemption fairer to the parochial clergy than I believe they are under the Bill as it stands. I shall put down an Amendment to that effect, and I hope it will be carried. More important still, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that, so far as he and his Department are concerned, he will consider favourably an Amendment that would make the remission the Bill is giving to the clergy more extensive as far as it affects the very poor clergy. I shall certainly put down an Amendment to that effect, and if he will give it his favourable consideration, and if the Committee will consider it with an unbiassed mind, I do not think for a moment that they would refuse to give further relief to these very poor men with incomes of £200 and £300 a year, who are finding it almost impossible to live, with the cost of living going up as it is. In conclusion, I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having gone as far as he has done this evening. I wish to make it quite clear that while I do not regard this Bill as a remedy of the full grievance, at the same time I thank him for his promise to meet me in the very important direction he has just suggested.
§ Mr. TURTON
I hope what I am going to say with regard to this Bill will not be construed in any way as being antagonistic to the principle that anyone can have the smallest doubt that there is no more deserving class to be exempted from the rates than the clergy at the present time. I regret extremely that even this temporary measure should have been brought in because it is only tinkering with the subject. It will give a totally inadequate relief, and produce a feeling in the rural districts of indignation amongst the ratepayers. I should infinitely have preferred, although I do 504 not propose to discuss it, the Bill that we are promised on the 7th May. I think my hon. Friend would have been far better advised if he had followed the advice given in the "Times," and also the precedent of 1899, when half the rates were supposed to be paid by a Treasury grant, and going from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent. As I took the opportunity of pointing out in a letter to the "Times" on that very point, we ought even at the present time to have a bonâ fide Treasury grant in respect of that moiety of the tithe, although it at the present time is to reduce the amount of the Exchequer contribution grant that is given to the county in relief of rates. But that is no good at all. What we have a right to expect when we get a Treasury grant promised in a Bill is that we should, in fact, actually receive the amount that has been deducted for tithe. I think it is a very unfortunate circumstance that the poundage is to be as in 1918, and any excess over 1918 is to be written off by the overseers as irrecoverable. I cannot think it can be considered otherwise than as a great stigma on the clergy that they should have a certain amount of rates written off in the overseer's book, as when the overseers bring the books to the guardians the whole question will be discussed amongst them of the rates written off as irrecoverable. I suggest that my right hon. Friend should find some better machinery than putting the amount down simply as irrecoverable. I am sorry the Government have not seen their way to tackle this admitted injustice in a bold and frank manner. They might have brought in a Bill which would have given greater relief to people who thoroughly deserve it, and though I will not utter one single word to prevent this Bill passing, I must say that on the whole I think it is unfortunate that it was not framed in a much bolder spirit.
§ Mr. E. WOOD
I find myself in very much the same position as the hon. Member who last spoke. I think with him that the object of this Bill is one which hardly anybody would challenge, because we all recognise that it is an attempt to discharge a debt that is immediately due as a result of the 1918 Act. I agree with my hon. Friend that from the point of view of those who represent agricultural constituencies the method adopted to discharge this debt is open to some challenge. 505 It has been a common plea on behalf of all agricultural members for years past that they were entitled, and more than entitled, to claim redress of old grievances in regard to local taxation; yet, in spite of the fact that the redress of those grievances is more than overdue, this measure is one which, if only to a small extent, does add further to the burden of rates borne by those to whom I refer. But speaking for a great majority of agricultural Members, I think I may say that, strongly as we feel that this relief should be granted out of the national exchequer rather than out of the pockets of the surviving ratepayers, on the ground of general principles we feel even more strongly the grievances of the poorer clergy, and are not prepared, on account of our own grievances, to adopt a dog-in-the-manger policy and to block this Bill. I wish to make that point clear.
I want also to make one or two observations on what fell from the hon. Member who spoke second in this Debate (Sir S. Hoare) in regard to a Bill on this subject with which I have the honour to be associated. I think it should be made quite clear to everyone, that while those of us interested in this measure are not prepared to take the responsibility of in any way making difficult the passage of the Government Bill, we do not regard it as more than a partial remedy for the immediate grievance. In no sense at all can it be thought even to approach treatment of the whole general principle which is involved in this matter. Therefore I hope very much if the. House takes that view, as I believe it will, when my hon. and gallant Friend's Bill comes up hon. Members will be prepared to give it a Second Reading, and will without prejudice consider the claim in its broadest aspect. But that need not deter us from passing the Bill of the Government, and I would only add my emphasis to what my hon. Friend said, that while we regard it as inadequate yet we cannot help being grateful for the further concessions which have been outlined by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, and I would most earnestly beg him to use all his influence with his other colleagues to make these concessions as substantial as I believe the justice of the case demands.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SUGDEN
I rise to support the Bill which has been introduced this evening by the right hon. Gentleman, 506 and I do so with many of the qualifications and reservations that have been mentioned by previous speakers. I support it, however, also from the point of view of another section of the Christian Church, and that is, I suggest, the highest and most necessary support for it to have. We who belong to the great Nonconformist bodies of the Church feel that much injustice has been done to the Anglican section of the Church in respect of the question of the rating on tithe rent, and many of us feel that it is an injustice which cannot be remedied except by a complete elimination of this rating, for we feel that it is a second Income Tax upon that which is an essential necessity if the clergy are to perform their duties and to take their part also in the semi-national work which is peculiarly concerned with the clergy of the Anglican Church. We feel that whilst this Bill is doing something to remedy what is wrong, it is by no means clearing off the evil which is attendant on the present taxation. Many of us feel that at the present time what is necessary could have been better obtained had the whole of the tithe rent accruing to them been permitted to accrue, namely, £800,000 this year, instead of being given the mere sop of £147,000 or one-fifth. We also feel that that is neither equitable nor right. When one considers also the differentiation between the cathedral chapters—I mean as to further hardship even still—and when one considers how the incumbents are compelled to accept taxation on the high level of the double rating of their rectories, I suggest that there is neither sufficient equity nor right in what is proposed. I wish the right hon. Gentleman had taken his courage in both hands and brought forward a great scheme for the alteration of rating, with all its anomalies, all over the country. That would have been the best course, but I suggest that we can go even further than he has done in this temporary measure, and I welcome this Bill with the accompanying sympathetic suggestion that there shall be opportunity for Amendments which will make it wider and more sympathetic and more applicable to the subject with which it deals. I want to pay my tribute, also, to the splendid patriotism of the clergy in using their influence as they did, on the 1918 Bill, in voluntarily limiting 507 the increment that might have come to them. I have given careful consideration to this matter, and I find that they did use their influence to limit their own incomes, with the patriotic thought that money was required to support the country in the War and in the financial strain which was placed upon it. I am not quite sure whether the right hon. Gentleman will obtain all the support and sympathy from the great Nonconformist section of the Church in the meagre result which he has given us here to-night; but still I welcome his suggestion that he is prepared to accept certain Amendments.
What really does this matter stand for, when we consider the incomes of like professional classes? Let us take the case of a doctor, earning, say, £1,000 a year, and, presumably, living in a similar type of house to that occupied by the rector. The rector, we will say, receives £300 a year from his tithe rents. Presuming that the ratio of rate is £8 to £23, we find, on the increase of rating which obtains to-day, that it will go from £24 to £69. It is most inequitable. When we examine the statistics of the rate of pay which the clergy are obtaining, we find that there are 8,000 incumbents of the Church of England who are on the poverty line at the present time. I appeal to my friends on the Labour Benches to support me when I call for "a right day's pay for a right day's work" on behalf of these clergymen, and I feel that it is the duty of every section of the community to see that a right and equitable procedure obtains in respect of these men, who serve so faithfully and well. We Nonconformists also have a pride in great cathedrals and Church houses of this land. Whilst we feel that they are specially the Church houses of one section of the Christian Church, we claim that they belong to the country and to the Empire, and we feel that, owing to the penury which exists in one-half of the great cathedral chapters of this country, these great sacred fabrics are in much danger of not being kept in that beautiful condition in which we desire to keep them. Therefore I want to urge the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill further to consider how and in what way he can assist us so that it may become possible to accept many, if not the major portion, of the Clauses which are proposed to be in- 508 troduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). I again thank the right hon. Gentleman for his Bill, and I assure him that he will receive very great support from many sections of the Christian Church in the work he has undertaken. I hope he will give that permissibility of opportunity in regard to the sacred work that the Anglican section of the Christian Church deal with, as also in the great civic and national work in which they have a part, so that this section of the underpaid workers of the country may have that right and opportunity which all should and must have.
§ Mr. MOUNT
I am sure the House will welcome the speech to which we have just listened, coming, as it does, from a member of a denomination that is not affected by this Bill. I think that, if my right hon. Friend who introduced this Bill realised the strength of the opinion on this subject, he would, as my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Sugden) has said, have taken his courage in both hands and have gone in for a somewhat larger measure. I heard with great interest and pleasure the two statements which my right hon. Friend made in introducing this Bill. He said that the grievance of the clergy with regard to rating was a very serious grievance, and that it was one which brooked no delay; and I hope it may not be long before an opportunity is given of dealing with it. I welcome this Bill, although, like almost everyone else who has spoken, I do not think it goes nearly far enough. I welcome it as removing some, at any rate, of the ill effects which, no doubt without proper thought, were caused to the clergy by the Tithe Act of 1918. I am not going into that question now, because I think that, from all the speeches which we have heard from both sides of the House, it is clear that this Bill, on its Second Reading at any rate, is going to have a very smooth passage. I only rise to endorse one or two of the arguments used with regard to some of the Amendments which we think should be brought into this Bill. I particularly welcome that section of the Bill which deals with the capitular bodies. For the first time it places them, with regard to tithe, upon the same footing as clerical owners of tithe. The cathedral bodies in the past have been rather unfairly treated. Perhaps people thought that the incomes of cathedral bodies were entirely 509 spent upon canons and others who, perhaps, were supposed not to have too much to do. As my hon. Friend opposite has mentioned, however, they have to look after the upkeep of the cathedrals, and the choirs, organists, vergers, and a large body of workmen who are engaged upon work in these buildings, which are really national buildings.
I should particularly like to support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) with regard to the poorer clergy. No one who has had any experience of life in our country districts can have helped being shocked at the awful stress under which many of our poorer rural clergy are living at the present time. This increased burden of rates, the growth of which has been phenomenal during the past three, years, is bringing them to a condition of which one shudders to think. If any Amendment which can be made to this Bill can do something to relieve the appalling condition of these men, who are doing most admirable work in the country districts, I think the House and the country will be extremely pleased. The right hon. Gentleman attempted, I thought in rather a halfhearted manner, to defend the Section with regard to the redemption of tithe, which perpetuates for all time the grievance which this Bill is endeavouring temporarily to remedy. It proposes to say that tithe shall be redeemed on the present basis, while in the earlier part of the Bill it says that that basis is unfair for the clerical incumbents who yearly take the tithe which is to be redeemed. He said that the landowners would object, and, consequently, that the redemption of tithe would be delayed. I would point out, however, that the landowners have benefited at the expense of the clergy by the Tithe Act, 1918, and it is only right, if there be any loss, that they should pay something back for the benefit that they have received. It would be extremely unfair that you should prevent the tithe owner, in the redemption of tithe, from getting the benefit of the increased value which he would have had if the Tithe Act, 1918, had never been passed, and that you should at the same time, while depriving him of that benefit, impose upon him the handicap of having to pay the rates, which you say by the first part of this Bill it is not fair for 510 him to pay. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider his present opinion with regard to the redemption of tithe, and, when we get upstairs, that he will look with more consideration upon any Amendments which may be moved. While I willingly and gladly accept this Bill as some palliation of a grievance which has been inflicted by Parliament upon a most deserving class of people, I do not look upon it, and I do not think the clergy will look upon it, in any way as a final settlement of a grievance which they feel they have with regard to the rating of tithe.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I welcome this Bill, and the Amendments which I hope will be introduced, chiefly because of the relief which it will give to those poorer clergy of whom we have heard so much in the Debate to-night. It is almost inconceivable, in view of the Debate which has taken place in this House— every single speaker has condemned this system of rating of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge, and the spokesman for the Government has spoken of the clergy as being very unfairly treated—that this century-old grievance should have gone on year after year and should never have been remedied by any Government. I believe it is the case that in Scotland it was pronounced illegal long ago. At any rate, it is not the Scottish system; it is only the English system. The relief which the Government are making, and for which I thank my right hon. Friend, is a relief, as far as I can make out, amounting to nearly 40 per cent. If I am right, the contribution of the clergy under the rating of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge is about £380,000—my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong —and the Government are giving £150,000, but in view of the sympathetic way in which my right hon. Friend spoke of the Amendments which belong to the Bill of my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir S. Hoare), I hope that a still greater contribution will be made; in fact, I would like to see the whole of the grievance swept away.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
May I add one word to the general chorus of approval with which this Bill has met. It is a Bill introduced to remedy a grave injustice caused by the Tithe Act, 1918. I had the privilege of speaking against that Act on the ground that it was a 511 great injustice, but I was told by Lord Ernie that it was an agreed Bill. It was a Bill to which insufficient consideration was given by both sides, and I welcome very heartily the effort which this Bill makes to remedy the injustice done in 1918. I sincerely trust that the good action of the Government will not stop at the Bill in its present form. I hope from the speeches made to-night that we shall be able before the end of this Session to get a really substantial contribution towards remedying the admitted grievance under which the clergy have suffered for so many years. If I had any doubt about that, I should only need to refer to those eloquent speeches, which the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill made in 1899 and about that time and to which I used to listen and which I used to read with great contentment. I know that the Bill is in good hands, and I hope, not only that this Bill, but a Bill going further in the same direction, will be carried.
§ Major COURTHOPE
I should like to add one word in welcome of this Bill, because, although it is true that it goes some little way to meet an admitted grievance, it is nothing more than the rectification of a very serious omission from the Act of 1918. I cannot think that it was due to a deliberate act on the part of the promoters of that Act that this state of things should have been allowed to arise, but, having found out their mistake, they are bringing in this Bill to rectify it. Several references have been made to the possible attitude of rural landowners. I should like to say at once that the rural landowners will not only refrain from opposing the Bill, but they would actually welcome a very much more drastic attempt to remedy the grievance of the clergy. A great deal has been said about the very poor clergy, and too much cannot be said about them, because their lot at the present time is pitiable. I would not limit it to the very poor clergy. The thing is inequitable and anomalous in more ways than one, and it is time it was swept away. I believe that the support of all the rural landowners, and of the rural classes generally, would be given to a proposal to relieve the tithe rent-charge from assessment for rating altogether. I need not repeat what has been 512 said about it being the only form of income of this kind which is rated. I would like to suggest, in order to avoid this and other anomalies which are inevitably mixed up with and attached to the present system of tithe, that we should consider whether a scheme for the compulsory redemption of tithe, which many of us recommended in 1918, should not be brought in to sweep away all these differences once and for all. I do not believe that the rural community will object in the least to the additional burden of rates which they will have to bear owing to the removal of this grievance.
It requires some little courage to get up and say anything which introduces the slightest element of discord into so generally harmonious a feeling, but I think there is something to be said against this Bill, and I propose to put such points as I think are to be made against it. I am somewhat helped in doing that by the fact that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Rawlinson) had the courage, when the Bill of 1918 was brought in, to stand up alone and oppose it. This Bill is brought in to remedy certain hardships under which the parish clergy at present labour, and I daresay it will be said of me that I have no sympathy with their position and do not realise their hardships, or, if I do, that I am unmoved by them. That is not the case. I have some knowledge of the conditions under which the clergy work. I spend as much time as I can get away from this House and other occupations in a little village, where I see the work that is carried on there by the parish priest, and I realise that in very many parts of this country a great many of the clergy are carrying on very arduous duties in a very excellent spirit, and with remuneration that is not at all adequate to the position which they fill. If this matter could be dissociated from the action of the House last year in passing the Tithe Rent Act, and if it was brought forward as part of a larger scheme for dealing with the anomalies of rating, I should approach it with a great deal of sympathy; but the position in which the clergy find themselves has been very largely aggravated by the action of those to whom they might have looked as their natural protectors.
513 The income of the clergy is drawn from tithe, which has been commuted into tithe rentcharge, which forms part of the rent paid to the landowners and which by recent legislation must now be paid by the landowner to the titheowner. The effect of the 1918 Act was to stereotype tithe fixed at a certain point when it was rising. A good deal can be said as to the unfortunate position, from my point of view, in which the parish clergy are, in that their incomes should depend upon a rise in the price of some of the most necessary commodities of life, but on the other hand it may be said that such a fact helps them to meet themselves the hardships which they must suffer when those commodities rise. When prices go up tithe goes up; when prices go down tithe goes down. Tithe has a long history. I was looking at some fluctuations which have taken place, and within the last half century tithe went down as low as 66, and when it went down the brunt of that decline was borne by the clergy, and they must have experienced a very great deal of hardship, indeed, when tithe fell so low. But I do not remember in the history of this country or of this House that any action was taken by the party to which so many hon. Members belong who have spoken in favour of a Bill to stereotype the rate of tithe when it was falling. In 1918 tithe had reached the point of 109 and was still on the increase. I believe next year it will be 136. When tithe was on the upward move a Bill was brought in which fixed it at 109, and I understand the result has been that the clergy have lost something like £400,000 during the last year. Where has that money gone? It has passed from the pocket of the tithe-owner to the pocket of the tithe-payer. It has passed from the pocket of the priest to the pocket of the landowner. The parson has lost it and the squire has got it. That is not disputed. It is set forth in the circulars which have been issued by the Central Finance Board of the Church of England. We are told this Bill is brought in to remedy the injustice inflicted upon the clergy of the country by the Tithe Act of 1918, but a much simpler and more appropriate way of meeting that injustice would have been to bring in a Bill to repeal the Tithe Act of 1918.
I do not know whether that is a good debating point, but it does not appear to me to be a point of any substance. Any Bill brought in on that subject from this side of the House would not have the slightest chance of being passed, but if there was any real desire to remedy the injustice created by the Tithe Act of 1918 it would be a quite easy matter for the Government, or for hon. Members who support this Bill, to bring in such a Bill as that and get it passed. We are entitled to ask, in the interests of the public generally and of the ratepayers, why that step is not being taken. The effect of this Bill is certainly to relieve the clergy, and in so far as it is a relief to the clergy I am glad they should get it, but it is at the expense of the ratepayer. The effect of the Bill will be that the deficiency in the rates of the parish caused by the passing of the Bill will have to be made up by the general ratepayer. I do not know whether it is submitted that it is an act of justice that a deficiency which has been caused by the action of one class of ratepayers in the community should be made up by exposing another class of ratepayers to hardship. What has taken place has been this, that the landowner, under some pressure or other, has taken a portion of what was due to the clergy. A hardship has been experienced, and instead of saying to the clergyman, "Let me restore what I have taken from you. Let me undo, as far as I can, the harm I have done." He says, "Let us together do harm to another set of persons." The squire has robbed the church, and now that the church complains, the squire says, "Let us rob the village to make it up." That is the position. The incumbent of the parish is suffering in his pocket because the squire of the parish has enriched himself at his expense, and now he is asked to accept a remedy the cost of which is going to fall upon the shoulders of the remaining ratepayers in the village. That is not fair. However harmoniously this Bill may be received in this House, and however much it may commend itself to the judgment of the hon. Members who have supported it, the Bill will not commend itself to the judgment of people outside the House. I was present the other day at a meeting of an assessment committee, and the vicar of the parish came to ask for a reduction in his rating. He spoke on the rating of his tithe, and so far as the case of hardship 515 was concerned hi case was made out, but the feeling of the assessment committee was that no relief could be given to him at the expense of the rest of the ratepayers, and that if he had a hardship or a grievance it was against the State. They said to him, "You are a State servant." I do not think that view would be accepted by hon. Members opposite. They do not regard the clergyman as a State servant, and they do not regard the emoluments which he receives as coming from. State sources; but that was the view expressed by the committee. The proposal that a hardship which has been brought upon the clergy by the passage of the Tithe Rent Act, 1918, should be relieved at the expense of the general ratepayers, is not a proposal that will meet with any acceptance from the general ratepayers of the country.
Is there no alternative to this Bill? I ask hon. Members who support this Bill to consider whether there is an alternative. Probably my position will be regarded as the position of a bigoted Nonconformist. The Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) looks upon that as being a correct expression.
Whatever the view of the Noble Lord may be, he is at the moment a great authority in this House, and has a considerable amount of support behind him. The fact remains that this Bill is to endow the Church at the expense of the Nonconformists of this country. It is practically, in substance, to re-enact the church rate. The deficiency of rates caused in any parish by the passage of this Bill will have to be made up by the ratepayers in the parish, whatever may he their faith, whether they are Nonconformists or not. They will have to put their hands in their pockets and pay out a large sum in rates in order to make up the deficiency. That is to re-enact the church rate, and it is a proposal which, in the present state of feeling on this matter, is unfair. The effect of the Bill is to give relief to the extent of £150,000 to about 7,000 people in this country. Hon. Members opposite do not regard tithe as being a payment by the State. They do not regard the tithe fund as being a State fund. I understand that their position 516 is that tithes exist to-day because of the generosity of supporters of the Church in the past; that the Church to-day possesses these endowments not because they were State grants, but because there were rich, religious men who were supporters of the Church of England in the past, and who gave these moneys to the church for the purpose of maintaining the priest-hood. If that is the position, and if priests to-day are suffering, as many of them are, from inadequate remuneration, why is the same tradition of liberality and generosity not pursued? Why should the general community be called upon to add anything to the emoluments of the priests of this particular church?
I had a letter the other day from a Wesleyan minister stating that owing to the present rise in prices he was not in a position to carry on his work. The position of the Church of England clergy is not peculiar. This is being felt by the clergy and ministers of all denominations. This Wesleyan minister who wrote to me suggested that it would be necessary for him to take up some other kind of occupation, as he could not carry on his work. There is no proposal, there could be no proposal, to enhance the income of a minister of any other denomination than the Church of England at the expense of the community. It would be impossible to bring forward such a proposal and impossible to carry it. The present proposal is a charge upon the rest of the community for the benefit of the clergy of this particular Church, and it would be impossible to make a similar charge for the benefit of the clergy or ministers of any other denomination. What is really taking place is this, that an injustice which has been inflicted upon the clergy of the Church of England by one very small section of the community is being remedied at the expense of another section, and a measure is being passed here which is peculiar in character, which is granting relief to clergy of one Church and thus opening up and recommencing a controversy which one would have thought was closed. On these grounds I record my opposition to the Bill.
§ Lord R. CECIL
The hon. and gallant Member has described himself as a bigoted Nonconformist. He is not that. He is merely an extreme reactionary. He is still unable to get out of the pre-War state of mind. He still believes that there 517 is bitter hostility between various sections of the Christian Church in this country, whereas, in my opinion, that hostility has very largely ceased, and is rapidly dying away, and that is why I venture to say that it is unfair to Nonconformists to describe himself as representing them in any respect. I was not here when the Act of 1918 was passed, but I have inquired, and I believe that his version of the origin of that Act is entirely inaccurate. Landowners had nothing whatever to do with it. I cannot speak for them. I am not a landowner, but I know a great many of them, and I venture to say that they would welcome a repeal of the Act of 1918. I do not know what the origin of the Act was, but I was under the impression that it had something to do with the obscure incident connected with the passing of the Welsh Church measure, though exactly what it had to do with it I do not know.
It is said by the hon. Member that in this measure we are robbing the ratepayers of the country in order to give something to the clergy. Of course it is possible to put it in that way. To my mind this Bill is only a very small instalment of a debt which has long been overdue. The clergy do not think that the rate of tithe is defensible on any theory that prevails in the rating law. There are no cases that can possibly be pointed out where a section of the community is rated on their professional income. The hon. Member has said that the case of the Nonconformist clergy in the matter of suffering is the same as that of the Church of England clergy. I regret the grave hardship that has fallen on all ministers of religion owing to the rise of prices. They suffer in common with all people with fixed incomes, and any measure brought forward designed to improve their lot would have my hearty support. But that is not the only case which the clergy of the Church of England have to meet. They have to meet in addition the fact that rates, which have gone up by leaps and bounds all over the country, are charged on the professional income, so that it is not only by the rise in prices, but it is also by the rise in rates which are imposed on their professional income that they are at a great disadvantage as compared with the clergy of any other denomination. Therefore my complaint with regard to this measure is that it does not go 518 far enough. I appeal to the Government to consider whether they cannot go further in the matter. I understand that the Secretary to the Board of Agriculture did hold out some hope that something might be done to meet the case of the more poorly paid clergy. Their case is exceedingly hard, and I think that this House should do something to relieve them from the almost intolerable position in which they are placed. So far as this Bill goes, I trust it will be read a Second time.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.