HC Deb 26 March 1930 vol 237 cc425-7

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the remission of tithe rent-charge and for purposes connected therewith. At the present moment much of the agricultural land of the country is suffering from very heavy and excessive tithe rent-charge. While the Bill that I seek to introduce does not deal with the principle of tithe, it deals with the question of giving remissions on land that is too heavily burdened. When the tithe was introduced in 1836 the conditions were very different from those which obtain to-day. The price then of wheat was 56s. a quarter, barley 36s., and oats 22s., and when the commutation was made no doubt much of the land which was then growing corn could bear the burden which was placed upon it. Times have changed, and much of the land that was arable has since gone down to grass and is still called upon to pay a very heavy tithe rent-charge—so heavy that in many cases it is quite impossible for it to issue out of the land. You have the strange result that many people have struggled to pay this tithe, have been unable to do so and have been distrained upon, and because the authorities have pressed the distraint to the utmost possible limits, the land has been going out of cultivation and many people who were employed on the land have ceased to be so employed. The land has become derelict.

There is provision in the Act of 1891 to give tithe payers the right to appeal against excessive tithe, that is tithe if it exceeds two-thirds of the annual value of the land. The Bill would give to the tithe payer the right to appeal against his tithe where it exceeded 3s. in the pound of the annual value of the land. We take it that 3s. in the pound is really limiting tithe to what it was supposed to represent, namely, one-tenth of the annual increase, one-tenth of the produce of the land. At the present moment you have land, grass land, bearing a tithe rent-charge of 10s. or 12s. an acre, with a rental value of approximately the same. I have here details of a case that I would like to give to the House, as it puts in a nutshell the grievance that. the Bill seeks to remedy. On 23rd February of this year in a certain county a man was sued for tithe rent-charge and he stated his case in these terms: He bought the farm in 1906. Tithe was then £39 per year upon it. At that period he sold his barley at 37s. 6d. a quarter, his wheat at 34s., and his oats at from 27s. to 30s. a quarter. Defendant's head workman received £1 a week with the usual farm workers' allowances, and other wages were about 18s. per week. In 1930 he was faced with tithes amounting to £62 18s. a year, against £39. His barley was almost unsaleable at 26s., and wheat was round about 36s. a quarter. Best oats were from 17s. to 18s. for extra good samples. The wages were £2 2s. 6d. for head men and a fixed wage of 32s. 6d. for other farm workers. His Honour said he was very sorry, but he could only administer the law. Here was a man faced with a tithe rent-charge practically double what it had been when he purchased the farm. His wages were up. the price of his commodities down, and he is saddled with a tax which cannot possibly issue out of the land and which he cannot possibly meet. The tithe owner is in the position of having to issue a summons for payment of this excessive charge, and, as one said to me the other day, he was very reluctant to do it. But Queen Anne's Bounty, now almost without soul, just comes down and issues distraint upon the land, and creates a very bad feeling in the villages. People who have been distrained upon for excessive tithe do not feel like going to church. I think that at any rate the time has come when this matter must be reviewed. In 1925 this House fixed tithe rent charge at 105 for every £100 worth of value, with £4 10s. for redemption. To-day, with the present price of corn, the value of it is about £68. Something will have to be done, because we are going to be faced with the position that a number of people cannot possibly pay, and the countryside is going to be devastated by a tax that cannot issue out of the land. I ask the House to look at the matter carefully and to give this Bill a First Reading, so that there may be the right to appeal against excessive tithe and so that the Court may order relief where the burden is really excessive.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Kedward, Viscount Elmley, Mr. Granville, Mr. Richard Russell, Mr. Haydn Jones, Mr. Pybus, Mr. Gray, Mr. Blindell, Mr. de Rothschild, and Mr. Dallas.


"to provide for the remission of tithe rent-charge and for purposes connected therewith," presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Wednesday next, and to be printed. [Bill 147.]