HC Deb 23 July 1922 vol 155 cc1569-74

This Act shall not apply to benefices united by Order in Council for ecclesiastical purposes only.—[Mr. Rawlinson.

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

This Bill, as doubtless the House knows, has been introduced to deal with the question of the rating of ecclesiastical tithes, which may be to some hon. Members somewhat uninteresting question, but what happened was this In 1918 an arrangement was entered into by which a large number of the incumbents of benefices received very much less tithe than they would otherwise have done. I ventured at that time to protest against that, but that, of course, has gone by. That being the case, in 1920 there was introduced a Bill dealing with the matter, which reduced temporarily the rates payable in respect of certain ecclesiastical tithe rentcharges. Those who represented the views of the clergy had rather the worst of the discussion that took place, because the only concession they could get was that in cases where the holder of a benefice had a total income not exceeding £300, he got certain relief, and if it did not exceed £500 he got another form of modified relief. It was a very small concession to what was really a considerable injustice at that time. There are certain benefices which have been joined together for the sake of economy in the Church. It has been done in rural districts, so that in certain cases there are two benefices joined, one worth £160 and the other, we will say, worth £150, the total coming to just over the £300. The matter came before the Courts of Law, and it was held that they were two separate benefices and were entitled to the small exemption which the law gave them at that time. This Bill was introduced, and I do not suppose the promoters would suggest it is not a very typical Bill, coming from the landowners, dealing with these men. They say, "If there are two of you, and the parish is united in any way, you must come within this Bill, and you have got to total up the two benefices, and if it comes to £310 you are not to have the benefit of the concessions given."

I think it is a pretty hard thing, and of course the whole Bill is, but this new Clause deals only with this particular case, and limits the hardship as far as it goes. There are certain benefices which are not united altogether. Some benefices are united altogether, and for all purposes have become one benefice, being called, for instance, Stoke-cum-Poges, or some name like that; but there are a certain number of benefices which have not been joined for all purposes—not for rating or civil purposes, but merely for ecclesiastical purposes. My new Clause provides that when these benefices have been joined merely for ecclesiastical purposes, then this Bill shall not apply.


What does my hon. and learned Friend mean by "ecclesiastical purposes?


All I can say is that there are a very large number of parishes which unite for civil purposes, as well as ecclesiastical purposes. There are a certain number which are only joined for ecclesiastical purposes, and not for civil purposes as well. Perhaps some hon. Member who understands this will tell why it is. As to why the difference is made I cannot say. Quite frankly, I object to the Bill altogether, but this new Clause, at all events, limits the Bill.


I can quite understand the point of view put by my hon. and learned Friend, but I am afraid I cannot accept this Clause, which would really stultify the whole purpose of this Bill. The object of this Bill is simply to remedy an error of drafting in the Act of 1920. Under the Act of 1918, the rate of tithe was reduced, and that had the effect of reducing some of the income of the clergy. I do not want to go into the justification for that. We must go back to the Act of 1891, which places the whole burden of paying the tithe on the landowner, and the Church owes its position to-day very largely to the sacrifice which the landowners then accepted. That is the reason why it became impossible for the landowner in 1918, when he got no benefit from the increased price of corn in increased rent, to pay an enormously increased rate of tithe, which was due to the rise in the price of corn, which did not go into his pocket at all. The origin of the Act of 1918 was due to the initiative of the clergy in a part of England which is very heavily tithed, who knew it would be impossible for the landowners to pay that tithe out of the old rents they were receiving, and to their honour and credit—and I desire to acknowledge it—they put forward the suggestion, which was the actual suggestion adopted by the Government, that the rate of tithe then in force, namely, 109, should be perpetuated for a number of years in order to adjust the burden between the tithe-owner and tithe-payer.

The Act of 1918 was passed on that ground. It then appeared that it did inflict some hardship upon the poorer clergy, whose incomes were small, and, in recognition of that, Parliament, in 1920, passed the Act which this Bill seeks to amend, first of all enacting that no clergyman should pay a higher rate on his tithe than the rate which existed in 1918 at the time the Act was passed. That applied to all clergy and that is not affected by this Bill. Further, it enacted —and this was to help the very poor clergy—that where an incumbent had a total income from his living under £300, he was exempt from rate on tithe. When his income was under £500, the rate on his tithe was half. That was purely personal, and the intention of Parliament clearly was that those figures should be the actual income of the incumbent who got the relief. After the Act was passed, it was found that, owing to an error in drafting, and contrary to the intention of Parliament, where an incumbent held a united benefice, he was able to claim a separate calculation on each of the two component parts of his united benefice, and, therefore, though he might have a total income of £700 or £800 a year, if the two separate component parts of the united benefice were each under £500, although he might be far better off than any other individual ratepayer in the parish, he would get off half the rates on his whole income because it was treated in two separate portions. Similarly, if he had an income from a united benefice of £500 a year, composed of two separate component parts of the united benefice, each under £300, he would get off his rates altogether.

1.0 P.M.

All that this Bill does is to amend the Act of 1920 in that particular, so that the actual figure shall be the actual income of the incumbent, as Parliament intended, and the effect upon the ratepayers is one which the House certainly did not anticipate at the time the Act was passed. The effect on the poor rural parishes is that, in a large number of cases, the rate has been increased on other ratepayers in some cases as much as 2s. ld., 2s. 0¾, 1s. 8d. and Is. 6d. I have got here, not selected parishes, but the parishes of a whole union, which I could read to show that the poor rural ratepayers, not entirely owing to this Clause, but to the present working of the Act, have had imposed upon them very heavy burdens. I am sure my hon. and learned Friend will agree that the landowners are not putting this matter forward. It is not they, but the occupiers, who pay the rates, and the National Farmers' Union and farmers generally have put, forward this matter. All that I am asking the House to do, and all that the agricultural community is asking the House to do, is to remedy the error in drafting in the Act of 1920, and to say that the relief intended, namely, that clergymen with an actual income of not more, than £300 and not more than £500 shall get the relief, and not those who have much larger incomes, simply because they are derived from a united benefice. There is no distinction of merit as between the benefices ecclesiastically united and civilly united. The question simply is, what is the income of the incumbent? The question as to whether benefices are ecclesiastically or civilly united has really nothing to do with the question before the House. Therefore, I cannot possibly accept the Clause, which would really wreck the whole purpose of the Bill and make the differentiation between clergy-men worse than it is at present. I hope, therefore, the House will not accept this new Clause.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.


The second new Clause (Application of Agriculture Rates Act, 1896, a. 3), proposed to be moved by the hon. Member for the Aldershot Division (Viscount Wolmer), is not in order, being outside the scope of the Bill.