HC Deb 15 April 1921 vol 140 cc1467-74

Order for Second Reading read.


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

This Bill, I hope, is quite non-contentious. It merely provides certain machinery which was omitted when the Tithes Redemption Act was passed in 1918. Under that Act tithe could be redeemed by an annuity on the initiative of the tithe payer with the assent of the Minister of Agriculture. A great deal of tithe has been redeemed in that way, and in place of tithe an annuity terminable in 50 years has been charged on the land. That annuity is charged upon certain portions of land which, I believe, are known as tithe fields, and of which may be of very considerable extent. Whenever it happens that a tithe field requires to be divided up on account of the sale or transfer of any portion of it, there is no means of apportioning the annual charge upon the whole. The consequence is that the whole of that annuity is chargeable upon all or any part of the divided land, and therefore it remains a blot upon the title in every case. This should have been foreseen when the Act was passed, because it is a holding-up of, and an interference with, the sale of small quantities of land for building purposes and for all kinds of purposes. Nobody has offered any objection to the proposal contained in this Bill, and I therefore venture to commend it to the House, in the hope that it will receive a Second Reading. If there are any objections in detail, I think they can be settled in Committee. The procedure is really to amend the existing Act, and I think I need not go into particulars on it. There is a provision in the second part of Clause 1 that where an apportioned part of the tithe annuity is less than £2 it can be compulsorily redeemed in order that these very small charges which give a great deal of trouble may not remain upon the land. There is also in Clause 2 a small provision allowing trustees of settled land to expend capital money in the redemption of annuities of this character. I hope the House will be good enough to send this matter to Committee in the interests of facilitating the sale and transfer of land, in regard to which so many Bills have recently been passed.


As far as the Government is concerned, we shall not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. We think there are certain advantages in it. As my right hon. Friend has said, the present law is defective. The tithe rentcharge can be redeemed by an annuity, but if that is so the annuity is chargeable upon the whole of the land, and if an estate is divided up and the land sold in separate blocks, then it can be recoverable from any one of those blocks, with the result that the purchaser is accepting a liability the extent of which he cannot possibly gauge. It would be a great advantage if there were some means whereby the tithe could be separately apportioned and that is the object of this Bill. It gives the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries power to apportion this annuity on the application of any person interested in the land. That is a perfectly proper proceeding. It may be that in Committee we shall have to consider one or two points. Under the old law where such apportionments take place on any specific part of the land, there must be a margin, that is to say the part of the estate charged must be not less than six times the annual value of the sum charged on it. By this Bill that particular provision of the existing law is repealed. Although I agree that six times is a large amount, still it might be necessary, and I shall have to have a free hand to consider whether some sort of margin should not be provided. There is the further point that after apportionment the cost of the collection of the annuity may be greater than it is now. Remember that in fixing the amount the annual cost of collection is deducted. I know that point is to some extent met by the provision to which my right hon. and gallant Friend has alluded, that where the apportioned part is less than £2 per year it shall be compulsorily redeemed. I should like, however, to have time to consider whether or not this is sufficient protection. The persons principally interested are Queen Anne's Bounty, who own most of the tithe redeemable by annuities, and I should like further to consult them, but on the general question of the Second Reading I shall certainly support that, while reserving a certain amount of freedom to reconsider detailed points in Committee.


As one whose name is on the back of the Bill, I quite recognise that what the right hon. Gentleman has said is perfectly reasonable, but I do not think there is anything in it really, because the method of apportionment followed in this Bill is just the same as that under the Enclosure Acts, under which power was given to the Commissioners, which is now being exercised by the Ministry of Agriculture, to apportion a rent charge.


This is a Bill that deals with a very serious aspect of the land question, and I do not think it should be passed in such a thin House as we have now. It is a doctrine that we have been taught over and over again by the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), that it is a big mistake in the interests of the public that legislation of this character, interfering wih very ancient rights and privileges and practices in the relations of the Church to the land, should be passed with so little consideration as can be given to it on a Friday afternoon, and especially on this Friday afternoon, when the mind of almost every Member of the House is absorbed in a grave national question. It may be my own stupidity, but I listened with the greatest care to the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, and I cannot say yet that I understand it. It may be due to the fact that I devoted most of my educational life to mastering the weights and measures in school, and therefore one's intelligence is a bit cribbed and cramped, but I must say that I have been unable, from the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman, even with the extended commentary of the Minister of Agriculture, to understand the real meaning of the Bill. Some ten years ago the present Prime Minister, to whose words I listened even then—some people think that the Prime Minister only got wise two or three years ago, but he was the same man ten years ago as he is to-day—warned the country over and over again that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill was entirely wrong on any question connected with the land, and although I was not in this House, I read the Debates, the titanic fights between the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman on this land question. The right hon. Gentleman opposite failed then, but he has won the battle since. The Prime Minister has succumbed to him since then, and it seems to me that the reason for this Bill being introduced to-day is the fact that the right hon. Gentleman, after his success in defeating the Prime Minister's legislation after ten years, has politically a swollen head and thinks he can introduce and pass any land legislation now with the subservient acquiescence of the Prime Minister. It would be a very grave mistake on the part of the House to agree to the principle of this Bill without further consideration. There are references here to enclosures, and even the word "enclosure" suggests a tremendous amount of difficulty. Legislation in connection with it has been passed from time to time, and it is a matter in which the rights of the community have been invaded on many occasions, both with and without legislation. For these and other reasons, I think the House should divide against this Bill unless we have some further explanation as to its real meaning so as to make it understanded of the common people.

Captain ELLIOT

I wish to reinforce the speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down. In the past few days we have been in the throes of a national crisis, and all sorts of legislation has been coming up that the House has not been able to focus its attention upon. It seems, when there are three or four Bills on the Order Paper to-day, and at this moment there is an emergency such as we have not previously been faced with in this country, a little harsh to expect that these things should be taken one after the other without any real explanation of their principles. The Leader of the House himself said he thought it would be better if the House could be counted out and adjourned until 4 o'clock, when it would be possible for a statement by the Prime Minister to be made on the present crisis, and on that ground I beg to ask at least that this should not be allowed to pass without a little explanation of the principles involved.

Lieut.-Colonel ROYDS

It is a little strange that the two hon. Members who have made their protests should have pro- tested, being Scottish Members, against a Bill which does not apply to Scotland.

Captain ELLIOT

It is quite true that this Bill does not apply to Scotland, but we have found time and again that the only possible way of discussing Scottish matters is by indirect fire in relation to English measures. I do not think we can claim that Scottish" matters take up too much time on the floor of this House. It is only by discussing the principles of an English Bill—


The hon. and gallant Gentleman had resumed his seat, and completed his speech.


I listened with great interest to the speech of my hon. Friend (Dr. Murray), and while I am in general agreement with him on questions of land legislation, I do not wholly subscribe to the thesis that necessarily any measure dealing with any feature of land legislation emanating from the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill is necessarily to be opposed. With regard to the matters referred to, I should be as strongly in conflict with him as any Member of this House, but I have always felt that, so far as knowledge of the present state of the law is concerned, he is probably unequalled in this House, and, so far as I have been able to seize myself of the objects of this Bill, it does not appear at all to deal with those questions on which we have been at controversy in the past, but it is rather an attempt to disentangle some grievances which are felt, and which can be remedied without raising principles of that kind. But I do join with my two hon. Friends who have last spoken in suggesting that it is desirable there should be a little further explanation to the House of the principles of the Bill. The Bill does seem to me a bad example of legislation by reference. As a matter of fact, I am sure even those who are promoting the Bill will agree that it is impossible for anyone to understand its provisions without examination and study of many Acts of Parliament. The Bill commences by referring to the Tithe Act of l918. It then goes on to refer to Sections 10 to 14 of the Inclosure Act, 1854. Then it proceeds to make reference to the provision of the Inclosure Acts, 1854 to 1882. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture may have felt it part of his duty to study the whole of those Acts from 1854 to 1882, but I should doubt if, with the exception of himself, and probably the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, there is any other Member of the House familiar with that long series of Acts. In Clause 2 we come to further references to Acts. It is evident the Bill is, if I may say so with respect, a somewhat bad example of legislation by reference. It is not possible for Members of this House, by reading the Bill, to seize themselves clearly of its provisions, and all that it purports to effect. I should not, however, for a moment go into the Lobby against the Bill merely because the right hon. Gentleman has introduced it. I think that would be going to a very undue length indeed, but I do think Members of the House are entitled to a somewhat fuller explanation of the provisions than has been given. It was hardly expected that the Bill would be reached so early, and I do not think Members could be expected to go through this long series of Acts to which reference is made. I am quite sure there would be no desire to divide against the iBll if we had some clear explanation of its provisions, and what useful purpose it is designed to serve.


I think the hon. Member (Dr. Murray) was not here when the Mover of this Bill gave a very full explanation of it, and his remarks must be regarded in the nature of obstruction.


Is it in order for an hon. Member to allege obstruction against another hon. Member?


I withdraw that, but I may say the hon. Member does not appear to be very accurate, because when he addressed the House on the first Bill, in the absence of the right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), he made a charge against him which is entirely inaccurate. He said it was the rôle of the right hon. Gentleman to obstruct private legislation on Friday afternoons.


I did not use the word "obstruct."


That he blocked the Bills. There have been only two Fridays so far this Session on which Private Members' Bills have been taken. On the first Friday the right hon. Gentleman's name was on the back of the Bill, and on the second he is introducing a Bill himself, so that it is a very inaccurate statement. This Bill is almost a drafting Amendment of the Tithe Act of last year, and it is simply to make a little easier the sale of land, especially for small holdings and allotments, in which, I know, the hon. Gentleman is interested. The Bill, therefore, is really to carry out objects which, I am sure, both hon. Members who spoke against the Bill have very much at heart. Therefore, I hope they will not persist in their opposition to this Bill.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.