§ 12.19 p.m.
I beg to move, in page 17, line 37, at the end, to insert:Provided that no judgment for the payment of a debt due to His Majesty under 2142 this section shall be executed and no action under sub-section (5) of this section shall be taken when—I move this Amendment because of a somewhat similar Amendment which was moved in Standing Committee by the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise). I was very anxious at that time by reason of the reply which the Minister gave in refusing to accept the Amendment. The Amendment in Committee was in these terms:
- (a) the sum due on account of an instalment of an annuity is in arrear for less than three months; and
- (b) the person from whom the said sum is due shows, to the satisfaction of the court or, in the case of action under subsection (5) of this section, to the Board, that by reason only of matters connected with good husbandry he has not, at that time, funds from which to pay the sum due."Provided that no action for recovery shall be taken where any sum due on account of an instalment of an annuity is in arrear for less than three months.It will be seen that my Amendment gives to the tithe-payer less in the way of rights and hampers the Treasury far less than the Amendment that was moved in Standing Committee. Some Amendment of this kind is necessary by reason of words which the Minister used in replying to the Amendment that was moved in Standing Committee. The Minister then said:My only difficulty is that I have to be very careful of the finance of the scheme. Any loss here, of course, falls upon the scheme, and, therefore, upon all the tithe-payers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee D); 16th June, 1936; col. 132.]That suggests to my mind that in the view of the Minister the successful finance of the scheme depends upon the prompt and immediate payment of these annuities on the date when they become due. It may be asked, why should they not be paid on the date when they are due? One answer is that they are not so paid at present. At the present time it is almost universal for three months' grace to be given. I have no objection whatever to a man being asked to pay promptly if he has the means to pay promptly, and the Minister is right in saying that if he does not pay it is an injury to other tithe-payers. But I have deep sympathy, and I am sure that all tithe-payers have sympathy with the man who is not in a position to pay on 2143 1st April or 1st October, but who, in the natural course of good husbandry, would be in a position to pay by 1st June or 1st January.
If the Minister will look at my Amendment he will see how very little it is that I am asking for. I do not say that the Commission shall not bring proceedings in the court. They can do that and they can get their judgment, and there need be no delay in that respect. But I ask that they should not execute judgment. I ask that Income Tax collectors should not take action under Sub-section (5) in two circumstances; first of all they should not take action before the end of three months, and in order that they shall be restrained from taking action the tithe-payer must be in a position to show that he is not in funds at that moment only because of something connected with good husbandry. If he is in funds from any source he would have to pay, and if he was in a position which was fundamentally unsound, if he was on the verge of bankruptcy, he would not be able under my Amendment to extort some kind of delay from the Commission, because he would have to prove that it was only because of some matter connected with good husbandry that he was not in funds. He could not do that unless he could show that he would be in funds in a few months. He would have to say in October, "I have grain harvested but unthreshed and unsold. By the 1st January I shall have it threshed and sold and will have funds to meet the claim." Or if he was a landlord and not a farmer he would have to say, "Rent is owing to me which I cannot collect, but I shall get it in the next two months and then I can pay." In April the same arguments would apply to beasts as applied to corn in October.
What is really going to happen under this Amendment? One sees visions of any number of applications to the court and attempts to prove this and that, but what will happen is simply this: The Commissioners or the Board when they know the case of a farmer who is farming his land in the ordinary way and expecting money to come in towards the end of May or middle of June, or late in December or January, will not press him for payment until they know that he is in funds. I am asking for this Amendment very largely because the Minister 2144 indicated that the scheme is going to depend upon immediate and prompt payment. I am anxious that prompt payment should not be exacted from men who have not funds to make the payment at the moment when it, has become due but who in the ordinary course of business will have funds in two or three months' time.
§ 12.25 p. m.
§ Mr. PRICE
I beg to second the Amendment.
There is a great deal in what the hon. Member has said. I know a good many cases where smallholders have tithe payments due on their holdings twice a year, but they are in considerable difficulty because most of the income from their holdings comes in at certain times. I have in mind particularly holders who have fruit orchards which are harvested only once a year. I hope that the Minister will consider the desirability of making collection as elastic as possible so as to suit the conveniences of the tithe payer which are not entirely in his hands.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I would ask the House to reject the Amendment because it will impose an unnecessary hardship on the tithepayer. He has already three months' grace under this Bill as long as he is under the Commission. What the hon. Member seeks to do is to place upon him a restraint which he has not at the present time. Clause 16 (3) provides, among other things, that the provisions of Section 2 of the Tithe Act, 1891, shall apply. Sub-section (1) of that Section says:Where any sum is duo on account of tithe rentcharge issuing out of any lands in arrear for not less than three months, the person entitled to such sum may apply ….Clearly the Amendment would take away that right and would put upon the tithe-payer the necessity of going before the county court and proving that the delay in payment was due in some way to what the hon. Member called good husbandry. It seems to me that it was rather bad husbandry than good husbandry that he had in mind. If he were a landlord he would have to prove that he had not got in his rents, and if he had beasts to sell that he had not fattened them at the right time. The court would have to go 2145 to the farm and ascertain whether or not the beasts were appropriately fat or the grain in the stacks should have been threshed or not. That would be a serious thing and it would be unreasonable to insert this Amendment.
There is a further Amendment suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise), who makes the more general contention that in all cases both under the Commissioners and under the Board no proceedings shall be taken unless the application has been three months in arrears. That Amendment cannot apply to the time when the Tithe Commission is in charge of these affairs, because the Commission is bound by the present procedure to take no action until the three months are up. It is true that when matters come within the purview of the Inland Revenue the procedure applicable to the Commission will not apply. The Tithe Commission may for seven years and even longer be in charge of this matter, and we may leave any contingency that may arise afterwards to be determined by Parliament if and when it arises. At present the right of the tithe-payer to three months' grace is preserved under the Commission as it was before.
§ Mr. BELLENGER
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the 1891 Act, and stated that the payer had the option to apply. To whom will he have the option to apply? To the Commission?
§ Mr. BELLENGER
The right hon. Gentleman said that he had, under the 1891 Act, the option to apply, thereby throwing the onus on the payer.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
If I said that I misled the House, but I do not think I did say it. The tithe-payer has to pay within a certain period laid down in the 1891 Act, which I have quoted. The period is three months. The rights of the payer under the 1891 Act are, as far as the Tithe Commission is concerned, preserved in this Bill.
§ 12.31 p.m.
§ Sir E. RUGGLES-BRISE
My right hon. Friend has referred to my Amendment later on the paper, in page 18, line 41, at the end, to insert: 2146Provided always that no action for recovery shall be taken where any sum due on account of an instalment of an annuity is in arrear for less than three months.The position is that us long as the Commission remains in being the old procedure of the Act of 1891 will persist, but if and when the Commission comes to an end and the collection of the redemption annuities falls into the hands of the Inland Revenue, this three months' concession will disappear. I do not think that the fact that in two years' time—no one knows how long—there will be a change in the method of collection is any good reason why by that time the necessity for this three months' grace will have passed. Why should it have passed? One can well conceive another agricultural depression, which unhappily recurs with considerable frequency, at the time when the Inland Revenue are in charge of the collection of the redemption annuities, and it may be just as difficult for the tithe-payers to meet their payments then as it is now. I therefore regret that my right hon. Friend cannot see his way to accept my Amendment. I would remind him that when the obligation for the payment of tithe was shifted from the shoulders of the occupier to that of the landowner by the Act of 1891, Parliament went fully into this matter and decided that this three months' grace should be afforded. I can see no good reason, nor do I think my right hon. Friend has advanced one, why, if it be necessary to give three months' grace now, it will be any less necessary when the Inland Revenue has taken over the collection, and the more so as the charge, which has hitherto been attached to the land, will become attached to the person.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Mr. SPENS
I have said in Committee and on the Floor of the House that the factors which are making the Bill most unacceptable in the heavily-tithed areas are those contained in this Clause. It is true that the procedure for collection divides itself into two stages. During the first stage the Commission is the body to collect and the Commission has to apply the old procedure. It is true that they cannot get any order to recover out of the land until a period of three months has expired. Equally, they cannot get an order for the personal 2147 liability until they get an order for execution personally. When they get the order they can levy distress on the land. At a later stage, when the Board of Inland Revenue take it over, they, with all the powers they have for collecting taxes, can get a personal order the day after the money becomes due. I must support the attempt to get that procedure modified and made as little burdensome as possible on tithe-payers, particularly during the period when the Commission is collecting these new annuities. The fact that the three months arrear period is preserved during the time when the Commission is in operation is something, but the moment that three months period is up if the Commission go to the court the court is bound to make an order for execution personally against the tithe-payer. Whatever the circumstances may be, the Court will have no option.
I think that the Clause should be modified in such a way as to give the court some discretion in the matter of issuing a personal order if its issue would cause great personal distress. I know that suggestions to this effect which I made in Committee were rejected, but I do beg the Minister to reconsider the position and see whether the procedure cannot be modified so that there shall be no opportunity for personal execution in cases where there ought not to be personal execution. There is the time ahead when the Board of Inland Revenue will be able to exercise all their powers of sending in a collector and selling up a home straight away, at once, and we ought to take advantage of the opportunity, when the Bill is still before us, to modify that procedure by insisting that there shall be still three months delay before any such action is taken.
§ 12.38. p.m.
§ Mr. BELLENGER
After the powerful advocacy of the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) I do hope that the Minister will give this matter further consideration, even if he thinks it is unwise to accept the Amendment in the form in which it has been moved by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland). I would draw attention to the opening words of the first Sub-section to this Clause 16, where it says that an instalment of an annuity payable on any 2148 due date shall be "a debt due to His Majesty." This Clause is going to alter the procedure of collection by handing it over in the future to the Board of Inland Revenue, with all the immense powers they have. Perhaps hon. Members may have had some experience of the immense powers which the Board of Inland Revenue wield, and can realise how they will be able to come down on individuals who have been very badly hit during periods of agricultural depression. The report of the Royal Commission on Tithe Rentcharge refers, on page 24, to the unpopularity of tithes and the position of the incumbent. The incumbent used to collect the tithe rentcharge, but in the majority of cases it has been transferred to Queen Anne's Bounty. The Commission say:On the one hand the incumbent may have been in an invidious position in claiming money from parishioners who often were not members of his Church; on the other hand he may often have been able to judge better and more sympathetically the character of his tithe-payers and the value to be attached to the claims of inability to pay.I must say of Queen Anne's Bounty that they are not so rigorous in their methods of collection, but if this Bill becomes an Act it will be the Inland Revenue authorities who at some date in the future will collect these tithes. The Minister must be well aware of the feeling in some of the heavily-tithed areas, where agricultural depression has been very great, against having to pay tithes, and when at some later date payment of them is to be enforced by the Inland Revenue authorities the hardship will be increased. As I understand the hon. Member's Amendment all he is asking for is that some sympathetic consideration shall be given to the tithe-payer, that he shall be in a position to go to a county court or some other authority and make out his case. I should have thought the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Barnstaple would have appealed to the Minister of Agriculture. If the tithe-payer has some reasonable chance of paying at some time after 1st April or 1st October the Inland Revenue authorities ought not to have power to take action at once. I appeal to the Minister to give further consideration to the point raised by the hon. Member for Barnstaple.
§ 12.42 p. m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
Although I very much prefer the wording of the Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) and myself, I very much regret that the Minister should find himself unable to accept this Amendment or to give the matter further reconsideration. It seems to me that the reason or the excuse advanced for not accepting it is a very poor one. All the Minister has said is that it will not matter because the present system will continue for seven years. He seems to forget that these tithes will go on for 60 years, and the argument that nothing can happen for seven years appears to have nothing to do with the case. This is a matter which affects both the man who owns and occupies his land and the man who owns land and lets it. The case of the man who owns and occupies his land has been clearly and forcibly put, but the case of the man who lets his land has not been presented, and I should like to put that before the House. A landowner never gets his rent until some three months after Lady Day or Michaelmas. Customs differ in various parts of the country, and in some places the delay is longer than that and in many cases runs to six months. That means that the landowner will not have the money in the bank with which to pay his tithe at the due date. He cannot alter the date on which he gets his rents, because to do that would upset his tenants. He can do nothing to protect himself, he has no money in the bank, and, therefore, the old practice of not allowing proceedings to be instituted until three months after the tithe becomes due ought to continue. I hope the Minister will give much closer consideration to this matter. If Queen Anne's Bounty can wait three months for the tithe why on earth cannot the Treasury wait?
§ 12.44 p.m.
I hope we may have an assurance from the Minister that if this Amendment is withdrawn he will accept the Amendment which is on the Paper in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. RugglesBrise). We on this side of the House are anxious nothing should be done to worsen conditions from the point of view of the tithe-payers. The Minister referred to the provisions of the Act of 2150 1891, but I would remind him that this Clause adds the words "with the necessary modification." I think the Minister ought to adopt the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon. If he would do that it would make it plain that the three months' grace is maintained, and that would meet the anxieties which many Members feel on this point.
§ 12.45 p.m.
I. would try to make my position clear, in particular to the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise). I have always preferred his Amendment to mine, and I was ready to vote for his Amendment in the Committee. I put down a slightly different Amendment, because I hoped that mine would meet the reasons which the Minister advanced in Committee for rejecting the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member. To-day the Minister has taken us by surprise by calling out attention to Sub-section (3) of Clause 16. I must apologise to the House for not having noticed the full effect of that Sub-section when putting down my Amendment, but I am afraid that my apology is not very deep or humble, because the Minister certainly did not appreciate the position of the Sub-section a week ago. The Minister did not know what the provisions of his own Bill would do, because if he had known he would have done what was his duty to the Committee; he would have made his point there, so as to give us time to consider the matter between the Committee stage and the Report stage.
It is very embarrassing to have this very complicated Measure referring to another Act of Parliament, with the necessary modifications, and to try to think that out upon the benches of the House. We are now at the last stage. I am willing to withdraw my Amendment, but I suggest that the Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon should be accepted. If that is considered likely to produce any embarrassment to the Minister because of the danger that wealthy tithe-payers would delay payment and thereby wreck the finances of the scheme, there is another place where the Minister can make Amendments to deal with that situation. I particularly ask for acceptance of the Amendment of the hon. and 2151 gallant Member for Maldon because there does not seem any other chance of safeguarding the tithe-payers once the Board of Inland Revenue have taken control. The Minister must be well aware that, in the state of business in this House, it is difficult to find opportunities, and I believe that this will be the last chance that the House will have of safeguarding these tithe-payers.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
May I ask you, Mr. Speaker whether it is your intention, if this Amendment is withdrawn, to call the Amendment in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise). It is not the same as the one we are now discussing. It might simplify the proceedings if we knew what is to happen.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the Amendment which is now before the House were withdrawn, I would call the Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise).
§ 12.49 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
If the House desires to take the whole of the Debate upon this Amendment I shall be perfectly willing to do so, but if the other Amendment is called at a later stage, the Debate clearly will be much more limited on that account, the general Debate having taken place. It is simply for the convenience of the House; if the House desires a reply and the general Debate now, I shall be perfectly ready to fall in with the arrangement. If, on the other hand, the House desires to discuss the other Amendment, it is reasonable that I should not make the same remarks twice, and that I should defer my remarks upon this Amendment.
They need not be remarks. The right hon. Gentleman need just indicate his acceptance of the Amendment.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I think the right hon. Gentleman, when he was on this side, was not usually in the habit of throwing out undertakings like that.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. I understood that the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) had asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.
I did. I got up, but another Member was speaking. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, on account of the assurance that the later Amendment will be called.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendments made: In page 17, line 38, leave out "The amount specified in," and insert "A payment required by."
§ In line 39, leave out "in," and insert "by."
§ In line 41, leave out "therein specified," and insert "on which the payment is thereby required."—[Mr. Elliot]
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Sir E. RUGGLES-BRISE
I beg to move, in page 18, line 41, at the end, to insert:Provided always that no action for recovery shall be taken where any sum due on account of an instalment of an annuity is in arrear for less than three months.I will not repeat the arguments which have already been placed before the House. Probably hon. Members will wish to hear just the reply from the Minister. I would say to him that I think he will appreciate the great strength of feeling which exists in every quarter of the House on this subject, and that this matter is in certain cases of value to tithe-payers. It was given to them deliberately by Parliament some 40 years ago, and no good reason has yet been advanced in this Debate why the concession should be taken away. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find himself in a position to give the House an assurance that if he cannot accept this Amendment straight away, as I trust he will, he will be able to give a definite pledge that the matter will be sympathetically considered by him by the time this Bill appears in another place, and that he will use every endeavour to see that this concession is preserved.
§ Sir J. LAMB
It has for a long time been not only the custom but the right of the agriculturist that rent charges—and tithe is a rent charge—should be given this latitude. The Bill proposes to make it a personal charge and not really an agricultural charge, and it is an injustice that the privilege should be taken away from the agriculturist.
§ 12.54 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
We have come down to the simple point of the permanent extension of the three months' grace, or rather, of a permanent statutory bar to proceedings being taken within the period of three months. It is agreed that no change whatever will take place for seven years to come, and that the procedure of recovery that now exists will exist for many years. Hon. Members ask for some concession on the lines of the Amendment. They say—and I can see their point—that the Bill covers a long term, and they are anxious to safeguard the position in the future as it has been in the past. I would point out that the position in the future will not be precisely as it has been in the past, because there will be a unified collection. The Inland Revenue will be by that time covering the collection both of tithe rent-charge and of the various taxes, and it will be in a very much better position to appreciate the position of an individual taxpayer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It has been one of the great complaints against tithe that the unhappy tithe-payer was harried by two separate bodies, the Bounty on the one side and the Inland Revenue on the other, and I am sure that hon. Members in all quarters of the House will agree that that is a complaint of real substance. But that will have passed, and the responsibility for the management of all these financial affairs will be in the hands of one body.
I do not think any agriculturist would claim that the Inland Revenue has been unsympathetic towards agriculture, or that it has unduly pursued or harassed agriculturists. I think there would be great danger in putting in a specific period, because it would tend to produce a rigidity from which we want to escape. No one suggests that even in the future, seven, 10 or 15 years hence, the Inland Revenue is going to distrain upon people forthwith, immediately after payment has become due. That is not the practice 2154 of the Inland Revenue to-day, and I see no reason to suppose that it will be in the future, more especially since, if it succeeds in harassing the individual and extracting one sum from him, it will make it impossible to extract the other sum which it also desires to get, namely, the ordinary taxes of the country. I would ask the House to consider that point very carefully.
I must repeat that I am under the great necessity of standing surety to the general taxpayers of the country for the great sums which are being advanced under this Bill. Nobody would wish to jeopardise the £70,000,000 of public money which is being advanced here, and on these annuities the Inland Revenue will need to rely for interest and sinking fund in respect of this great sum. The administration must be sympathetic, or the revenue will not be obtained. Unreasonable or harsh distraint must not be applied, because it would create in the countryside for the sake of a £5 note difficulties which £500 would not suffice to allay. I think the House would be well advised not to place this bar upon any proceedings for recovery at the specific period of three months, but at the same time my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise), who has been deeply immersed in these matters for many years and occupies a position of peculiar responsibility in this House in relation to agricultural affairs, has requested me to look very carefully into the matter with my colleagues. I am willing to give that assurance, but I am unable to accept the Amendment now, and hope that the House will not force it to a Division.
§ 12.59 p.m.
We now know where we are. The Minister in his reply to the first Amendment pointed to the governing words in Sub-section (3) which he said adopted the provisions of Section 2 of the Act of 1891, and from that point of view I was anxious not to do anything in this Bill that would worsen the position of the tithe-payer. But it is obvious now, from the right. hon. Gentleman's speech, that he is unwilling that the Inland Revenue authorities, when they come to be the actual collectors, should be debarred from proceeding within the three months laid down in Section 2 of the Act of 1891. I do not think 2155 there is any need to debate the matter further; the only thing that we can do is to divide.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BELLENGER
I think that what the Minister has said rather strengthens the position in favour of the Amendment. He said that the Inland Revenue will not only be collecting Income Tax, but will also be collecting tithe rentcharge, and that therefore they will know the conditions of the individual on whom they are claiming. That is true; they will be in a good position to understand; but what we want to insist upon is that the right which they have under the present Income Tax laws of the country should be withdrawn by some Clause in this Bill. I must say that, observing the Minister's demeanour, it reminded me very much of Scrooge.
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
I trust that the House, if it divides on this Amendment, will not be led away into giving the Amendment undue importance. Though I have great sympathy with its purpose, I do not believe that in actual practice the passage or non-passage of the Amendment will make the faintest difference to anyone. As the Minister has said, it has not been the practice of the Inland Revenue unduly to harass people, anyhow as far as tithe is concerned. It has always been most reasonable in giving time before starting to take action, and there is no reason—unless, perhaps, hon. Members opposite should unfortunately come into power and speed things up—to suppose that the Inland Revenue would depart from that practice. What we really have before us is the choice whether something which we want to see done, and which we believe will be done, shall be a matter of administrative practice or of statutory obligation. As a matter of principle I prefer the statutory obligation, and for that reason I should have liked to see the Amendment accepted, because I believe that on the whole it is better that these matters should be decided by the House than by Ministerial Departments. If however, the Minister cannot see his way to accept the Amendment, I hope that hon. Members will not be led into accepting the impression given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 2156 Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) that this was some inroad into the defence of the tithe-payer. It is nothing of the sort; it is a matter of administrative machinery, and is relatively unimportant; and when the right hon. Gentleman, the representative of one of those great wealthy organisations which has proved the farmers worst enemy in this country—
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
The right hon. Gentleman has told me that the statement I made was a lie. I ask your protection, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The statement is true; I am prepared to substantiate it; but whether it is true or not I wish to know whether the expression used by the right hon. Gentleman is a Parliamentary expression, whether I am to accept it, and whether it is in Order.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I made the statement that the organisation represented by the right hon. Gentleman was one of the worst enemies of the farmers—
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I believe it to be true. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was an absolute lie. I wish to know whether that is a Parliamentary expression or not. I am perfectly willing to accept your Ruling on that subject, but, if the right hon. Gentleman does not withdraw, I shall remember next time when he makes one of his numerous mistakes.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member is perfectly in order in expressing his opinions. Whether they are right or not it is not for me to say. At the same time it is not in Order for any hon. or right hon. Gentleman to accuse another hon. Member of making a deliberate and conscious false statement.
The statement has often been made by other people to the same effect, which is absolutely untrue. I said the statement made was a lie. If the hon. Member is repeating a statement that he has heard from other people, and has no evidence in support 2157 of it, I am perfectly entitled to repeat my statement that any such expression is a lie.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The word "lie" is not used in this House. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly in Order in saying that the statement is incorrect or unfounded, but the word "lie" is not used between Members in this House.
I am always willing, in response to the Chair, to substitute words which are considered a Parliamentary expression, and I substitute that.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
After the right hon. Gentleman's delicate and gracious withdrawal, I shall repeat the statement that I made, which is true and which I make on my own knowledge. That point having been settled, I return to the argument that I was developing. I hope very much that, particularly after the display the right hon. Gentleman has just given, Members will not be led away by his crocodile tears over the poor tithe-payer. We know perfectly well that this Amendment, which is merely a question or machinery, is moved purely for the purpose of making party capital.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I am sorry that I did not make myself clear. I am not in the least suggesting that my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment is an attack on the Government. If that is what I said, I regret that I expressed myself wrongly. There is a good deal of humbug on part of the front Bench opposite in trying to make party capital out of it.
§ Mr. BELLENGER
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for an hon. Member to refer to another hon. Member as being a humbug?
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I am always ready on your ruling, Sir, to withdraw an expression and substitute a suitable one. I now do so.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Mr. TURTON
I do not agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member 2158 for Aylesbury (Mr. Beaumont) has said so far as it affects the Amendment. It is a very vital Amendment. It is true that it does not affect the matter for seven or 15 years' time, but afterwards it does affect it in a very serious way. We have always had the custom of keeping rents back for three months. If we do not put this Amendment in, some landlords, I fear, will have to take away that three months' grace. It is not that they will be, but that they may be prosecuted. For that reason I ask the Minister to insert the Amendment either here or in another place.
§ 1.10 p.m.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Beaumont), who apparently has not studied the Bill, has lectured us and has succeeded in insulting not only the Opposition but also the 31 over of the Amendment. It is not good enough for the Government to say they will look into this. I am certain that the other place will press this point. I shall not hesitate to vote against the Government if they do not give us a better assurance than they have done. The Minister is adamant, as he was in Committee. His whole argument was that there was protection for the next seven years and why bother about what was to happen afterwards? If he admits that that protection is needed for seven years, why it is not needed for the rest of the 60 years? That is where the argument is completely false from beginning to end. I shall certainly vote against the Government if they do not give us a better assurance that the matter will be altered in the interest of the tithe-payer, notwithstanding the advice of the hon. Member for Aylesbury.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Major J. HERBERT
I think it would be a very great mistake to allow the Bill to go away without having some idea of what will happen in the future. Why cannot we decide the thing now once and for all? The farmer has to decide soon what he is going to grow seven years ahead, because in seven years he will have to have a crop which he can sell quickly in order to pay his tithe. From long-established custom, and for the good of the land, landlords give tenants from three to six months in which to pay their rent. They do this as a practical 2159 measure, and for the good of the land—so as to keep that money in the land and not deplete the soil. I see no reason why we should allow the Bill to leave the House without a definite assurance that what is going on for the next seven years will go on for the whole life of the Bill.
§ Mr. BOSSOM
What I have heard just now forces upon one's mind the fact that this is a practical question of collecting money. If the farmer has not the money, how is he to pay? I hope that the Minister will give consideration to the matter, because I have been pressed by practically all the farmers in my division on this particular point.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Lieut. - Commander AGNEW
If I thought that the non-acceptance by the House of this Amendment would lay it down in black and white for all time that a rigorous collection of these annuities would be made on the very day laid down in the Bill, I should have no other course open to me but to go into the Lobby in support of the Amendment. But we have to bear in mind that, in the case of other sums of moneys due to His Majesty by his subjects, there is, although no statutory period of remission is laid down, a provision, nevertheless, in the actual administration by which the Commissioners and collectors, as the case may be, can, in fact, have due regard to any hard cases. There must be very few hon. Members in this House who know of cases where there is a rigorous prosecution for non-payment of Income Tax. Why should not tithe redemption annuities be on the same par with Income Tax? I could not enter into an argument about that on this Amendment, but it is certain that we are making a personal liability of the moneys which form these redemption annuities to the Crown, and I feel that those persons in authority who will be charged with the collection of these annuities will exercise, as they do in the case of Income Tax, a due and proper regard for all that is reasonable in making proper allowances for the time when these annuities should be paid. Therefore, I must support the Government in resisting the Amendment.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Sir W. WAYLAND
There is a distinct difference between agricultural and ordinary business. The fanner may find himself in a fair position in July, and he may be nearly bankrupt in December owing to the effects of the weather. I as a farmer have no complaint against the Inland Revenue authorities. I have tried their patience very much on more than one occasion, and they have always been very tolerant, but what we want to do here is to carry on the tradition that this three months' credit should be given, and not leave it to the individual surveyor to decide.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
As I have said, I have considered the matter very carefully. My hon. and gallant Friend the member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) has put up a good case in support of the Amendment, and I have undertaken to look into it between now and the time when the Bill goes to another place. It would be impossible for me to go further than that this afternoon. We are dealing with a matter which will not arise for many years, and it is one for the Departments to consider. While it is very desirable that the question should be carefully looked into, it would be wrong for me to accept the Amendment now. I therefore ask the House not to accept the Amendment, and I say, with the full responsibility of the Government, that I am giving the matter my attention, and that already the attention I have given to it has had the result, as everybody will agree, of removing the state of immediate danger. As to the future, I do not think that it is reasonable to ask me to go further than the pledge which I have given to the House. I would remind the House, and hon. Members who were in Committee, that I always do my best to fulfil the pledge when I say that I will look carefully into a matter, and, if necessary, submit Amendments. It is not possible for me to go further than that, and I ask the House whether they will not now agree to come to a decision.
§ 1.21 p.m.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the words he used on the Amendment in Committee. 2161I am anxious in all these matters to carry the Committee with me as far as possible, and I will undertake to go into the matter before Report. … I could not do more than give the matter consideration, but I say that seriously. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend, on that undertaking, will leave the matter over till Report, when he can raise it again if he is not satisfied with the result of our consideration.—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee D), 16th June, 1936; col. 132.]What is the result of the Minister's consideration? It is that he is going to consider it again before the matter goes to another place.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Surely the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) is doing me much less than justice. We all agree now, that the whole matter is protected for many years to come by the section of the Act I have quoted. The assurance I gave to the hon. Member of further consideration was fully borne out, as hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree.
I do not entirely agree with the Minister in that. He gave the matter more consideration, and discovered something which he did not know was contained, or provided for, in the Bill, and he thought that that would be good enough to resist my Amendment and the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise). It would be in accordance with the will of the House expressed on all sides that this Amendment should be accepted now, and that then, if the Minister wishes to consider the matter again before the Bill is finally law, he should have the opportunity of considering making alterations in another place. In view of what has been said, we should like to make sure that the consideration will be more effective than it has been at the present time.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Sir J. LAMB
I do not wish in any way to snake the position more difficult for my right hon. Friend, but if we allow the Bill to go to another place as he suggested, this House will lose its power in the matter. If it goes to another place and if Amendments are made, we can either accept or refuse them, but we cannot put in any Amendments. If the Minister does not see fit to have an alteration made in another place, the Bill will come back to us and we shall not 2162 have the power to insist that such an Amendment be put in.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Mr. C. WILLIAMS
I have always noticed that whenever the Government lay it down that there shall not be an appeal or proceedings taken before the expiration of three months, such as is done in this Amendment, a number of people, particularly lawyers, get up and say that the Government are being arbitrary because in laying down the period of three months they enable the Treasury officials to proceed at the end of those three months. That is an argument which is constantly used. The Minister has promised to do several things. He has promised that there shall riot be any arbitrary proceedings under the Act, and the House will welcome that promise. He has made concession after concession on this particular point. It is clear that the real point of the Minister's argument was that he intended to look into the matter. I gathered that he had made concessions on a large number of points which had been raised on the Bill. He has obviously done his best to meet hon. Members, and it would not be advisable for the House to accept an Amendment of this kind which might have a limiting effect and might make it more difficult for the Minister and the Treasury to exercise that reasonableness which the Minister has proclaimed to-day. I join with many hon. Members in the desire that there should be nothing arbitrary, but I would ask the mover and supporters of the Amendment whether they are certain that they are not doing something which is the reverse of that which they wish to do.
It is always a bad thing to carry an Amendment of this kind when it is supported by the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) and other hon. Members, who are not usually very tender in their outlook towards agricultural interests, and are always ready to put the screw on when they can. I should be very reluctant to adopt the Amendment unless I could be assured by the Minister that it will not make the Bill more arbitrary than before. I know what our opponents are likely to do. They are prepared to accept this Amendment, but I am prepared to accept the Minister's declaration that he will go into the matter carefully, to see whether it is possible to do anything further to 2163 meet the position and to make it clear that this provision is not to be used arbitrarily, and that if there is any need for safeguard, such safeguard will be given. I would ask the majority of the House and all who are anxious to help
|Division No. 254.]||AYES.||[1.30 p.m.|
|Acland, R. T, D. (Barnstaple)||Grenfell, D. R.||Paling, W.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Groves, T. E.||Parker, J.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Potts, J.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hardle, G. D.||Price, M. P.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Ritson, J.|
|Batey, J.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)|
|Bellenger, F.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Rowson, G.|
|Benson, G.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Short, A.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Holmes, J. S.||Silkin, L.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hurd, Sir P. A.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Broad, F. A.||Jagger, J.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Spens, W. P.|
|Chater, D.||John, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Kelly, W. T.||Thorne, W.|
|Cove, W. G.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Daggar, G.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Turton, R. H.|
|Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd)||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.||Viant, S. P.|
|Davies. R. J. (Westhoughton)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Day, H.||Leslie, J. R.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Dobbie, W.||Loftus, P. C.||Whiteley, W.|
|Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Ede, J. C.||McEntee, V. La T.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||MacLaren, A.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Foot, D. M.||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Ganzonl, Sir J.||Maitland, A.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Marklew, E.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Mathers, G.|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Maxwell, S. A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Messer, F.||Sir E. Ruggles-Brise and Mr. Acland|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Troyte.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Assheton, R.||Ellis, Sir G.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Errington, E.||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Findlay, Sir E.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Moreing, A. C.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Munro, P.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Gluckstein, L. H.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Penny, Sir G.|
|Blindell, Sir J.||Grimston, R. V.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Hamilton, Sir G. C.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Bull, B. B.||Hanbury, Sir C.||Pilkington, R.|
|Butler, R. A.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Cary, R. A.||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Channon, H.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Ross Taylor. W. (Woodbridge)|
|Chorlton, A. E. L.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)|
|Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir G. P.||Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Jackson, Sir H.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||James, Wing-Commander, A. W.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Courthope, Col. Sir G. L.||Joel, D. J. B.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Crooke, J. S.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Kimball, L.||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.||Lloyd, G. W.||Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Spender-Clay, Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||MacDonald, Rt. Hn. J. R. (Scot. U.)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Dugdale, Major T. L.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Duggan, H. J.||McKle, J. H.||Tate, Mavis C.|
§ forward the Bill, not to support the Amendment.
§ Question put, "that those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 100; Noes, 103.
|Wakefield, W. W.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)||Withers, Sir J. J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Ward, Irene (Wallsend)||Womersley, Sir W. J.||Lieut.-Colonel Llewellin and Mr.|
|Waterhouse, Captain C.||Cross.|
§ 1.38 p.m.
I beg to move, in page 19, line 31, at the end, to insert:(8) No sum to the recovery of which this section relates shall be recoverable if—I have to apologise to the hon. and gallant Member for Tiverton (Lieut.-Colonel Acland Troyte) because this Amendment is based upon one which the hon. and gallant Member moved in Committee. I have altered it slightly in order to meet the objections which the Minister raised to it in the form in which it came before the Committee. At the present time tithe rentcharge is not recoverable if action has not been taken for its recovery within two years of the date at which it becomes due. The Amendment simply continues that state of affairs, as did also the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member during the Committee stage. The objection taken then to the Amendment by the Minister Was—
- (a) proceedings for such recovery have not been commenced before the expiration of two years from the date on which the sum became payable;
- (b) the person by whom the sum was payable proves that the delay in taking proceedings was not caused or contributed to by some act or omission, wilful or otherwise of himself, his servant or agent, or predecessor or predecessors in title."I am afraid that I cannot accept the Amendment. It is really, as my hon. and gallant Friend has just said, holding out an inducement to somebody to withhold maps, or to conceal documents, or not to be very expeditious with his procedure because if he could succeed in playing hide and seek with the Commissioners for over two years, then he would not be liable for the money."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee D), 16th June, 1936; col. 142.]That objection of the Minister seems to me to be perfectly sound, although perhaps it only covers a relatively small number of cases. Therefore I have drawn the Amendment to meet the objections of the right hon. Gentleman. The Amendment says:No sum to the recovery of which this section relates shall be recoverable if proceedings for such recovery have not been commenced before the expiration of two years from the date on which the sum became payable;2166 Up to that point it is the same as the Amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member in Committee; but I have added paragraph (b)—the person by whom the sum was payable proves that the delay in taking proceedings was not caused or contributed to by some act or omission, wilful or otherwise of himself, his servant or agent, or predecessor or predecessors in title.I submit that the addition completely meets the point which the Minister made in resisting the Amendment in Committee. It is clear that the onus of proof rests on the tithe-payer. He has to prove that no proceedings were taken within two years, that nothing which he has done has contributed to or caused the delay. I can imagine in the normal case a man saying that he has done nothing to cause the delay, he has not concealed anything, or kept anything back. But the Commissioners have only to show anything in the way of withholding maps, concealing documents or not being expeditious with his procedure, and immediately the sum will be recoverable in spite of the fact that two years have elapsed. I have taken great pains to meet the objection of the Minister, and I hope he will be able to accept the Amendment in this form.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
I beg to second the Amendment.
It is exactly in line with the Amendment I moved in Committee and refused by the Minister because he thought it might lead to people withholding maps. The Amendment meets the objection which was raised. There is no reason why the rule about two years, which is the law now, should not be carried on and I hope the Minister will grant this small concession.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
It is true that we discussed this proposal upstairs and that I said I would look at the matter before the Report stage, although I did not hold out any hopes at all of the Amendment being accepted. I am sure hon. Members will not consider that there has been any breach of faith if I find myself unable to accept the Amendment now. The fact that the hon. Member has gone 2167 so carefully into this question shows the great complexity of the subject. He has put it forward as a concession which would be acceptable to the tithe-payer. I beg the House to consider whether, in fact, the tithe-payer would find it a concession at all in practice. He would have to prove that the delay in taking proceedings:was not caused or contributed to by some act or omission wilful or otherwise of himself, his servant or agent, or predecessor or predecessors in title.Consider the debate we have just had. Consider my position if I had to argue with the Prime Minister or the Chief Whip that any delay had not been caused or contributed to by myself or my agents. I should be in a position of considerable difficulty. It is a difficult matter to prove the negative in such cases. It would lead to an interminable amount of legal proceedings which would bring no advantage to the mass of tithe-payers as a whole. I hope that the hon. Member in these circumstances will not find it necessary to press the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.