HC Deb 26 June 1936 vol 313 cc2127-31

11.30 a.m.


I beg to move, in page 6, line 36, at the end, to insert: (5) The Commission and the Board shall so far as practicable make use of the services of such person or persons as may have been employed in the collection of tithe rentcharge. This Amendment is designed to assist those who have been involved in the collection of tithe under the Act of 1925, many of whom have been put to much labour and expense in setting up an efficient machinery of collection, This effort and expenditure were incurred and justified in the expectation that once the spadework had been accomplished there would be a long term of years of comparatively straightforward collection which would recoup them for the expenditure. Now Parliament is altering the whole machinery of collection of tithe, and therefore the expectation of the collectors under the Act of 1925 has been falsified. The Amendment is purely permissive and involves no obligation upon anyone. I hope my right hon. Friend will see his way to accept it.

11.31 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE

I beg to second the Amendment. A large number of people have been employed in collecting tithe, and it is very hard that they should be thrown out of work in consequence of action taken by this House, over which they have no control. They probably have no other work to which they can turn. They are a highly skilled and very deserving class. I hope the Minister will accept the Amendment, especially as there is no way in which these men can be compensated. In many cases where people lose their work owing to the action of this House they receive compensation, but in this case there is no personal compensation.


I support the Amendment. I know of a number of people past middle age who will be thrown out of employment, with very little chance of being able to be employed again. It is a real hardship. I hope that means will be found for keeping them in employment.

11.33 a.m.


I support the principle of the Amendment. The Minister will remember that in Committee I supported a somewhat similar Amendment which was moved by the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens). The Amendment is consistent with the principles we hold on this side of the House, which we have enunciated on several occasions, that where Acts of Parliament are passed which deprive individuals of their living, compensation ought to be made to them. When the collection of the annuities is taken over it will be taken over by the Inland Revenue authorities. The Inland Revenue authorities are not so conversant with the collection of tithe rentcharge as the agents who have been collecting it for many years. Hon. Members know that this is a specialised job, and I should think that the Inland Revenue authorities would be glad of some assistance from those who have been dealing with this work for many years. Apart from that, there is the principle. The professional associations, the Surveyors' Institution, the Auctioneers' Institute and others have pressed that these firms or individuals, not only the principals but those employed in the offices, should be taken over by the Inland Revenue authorities. If that were done, it would assist the Inland Revenue authorities considerably in the prompt and effective collection of the annuities. The Minister told us in Committee that it was not possible to embody such a, prevision in the Bill itself, but if it is possible for this Amendment to be accepted I hope he will accept it. It is a principle for which we have stood for many years. The number of firms and individuals who would be taken over is not large, and I hope the Government will accept the Amendment.


I rise only to put forward one point. It may be that the phrase "persons as may have been employed" in the collection of tithe rentcharge is too wide. Would it include persons employed by everybody in connection with the collection of tithe?

11.36 a.m.


Most of us would like to see people who have been employed in this work going on with it, but there is another side to the question. In many cases they may have been only on half-time work and, further, I think we should have an assurance that if the Amendment is accepted it will not be used in such a way as to add to the cost of collection. While we can agree to the principle of this proposal I do not think it should mean adding vast numbers of people to the collection of tithe when it may be possible to amalgamate the collection in many cases.


I should like to support the Amendment. The Minister in this matter has done something which I do not quite understand. He has said, in effect, that the Amendment covers exactly the things which the Government intend to do in the course of good administration and that, therefore, the Amendment is not necessary. It seems to me that the more reasonable course is for the Minister to say that as the Amendment covers exactly what the administration will in fact do, he will accept it. The Amendment does not embarrass the Minister at all and it will give encouragement to a number of people who are extremely anxious as to their fate.

Lieut.-Commander AGNEW

I have great sympathy with the principle of the proposal, but I question whether the actual drafting would achieve the purpose. The words "may have been employed" are very wide indeed, and might cover a whole range of people who have long since ceased to be employed by anybody undertaking tithe collection. If these words could be redrafted so as to cover those people we want to retain and not all these other people, I would support it.

11.38 a.m.


I hope the Minister will not accept the Amendment. In Committee he gave us an assurance that in good administration and efficiency he would have recourse to the services at his hand. One can have sympathy with those who may find themselves at a disservice in their employment, but there is the guarantee given by the Minister that he will use whatever services are at his hand subject, of course, to their being efficient. The danger of the words "persons who may have been employed'" has already been pointed out. If efficiency is to be the test, then these words might become very dangerous. The Minister might be over-ruled in his decision as regards efficiency if we have the words in the Clause, "persons who may have been employed." Efficiency might become a secondary consideration. After what the Minister has said in Committee, that he will have consideration for these services but that his first consideration must be efficiency, I hope he will not accept the Amendment.

11.40 a.m.


It is quite natural for hon. Members to feel sympathy with any persons who because of an Act of Parliament may have their living prejudiced; and I quite appreciate that consideration. The Government have given great consideration to this matter. I think the House will agree that it is impossible to lay down rules which would impose on the Government the duty of providing either employment or compensation for any body of men who were affected in their employment by our action in this matter. I do not think it is possible to lay down rules of such wide application. I repeat the assurance I gave in Committee, that it is the intention of the Government to utilise as fully as possible the services of the firms and their employés who have for many years been engaged in this undertaking and who have acquired valuable experience. It would be foolish for the Government to do otherwise. It would complicate our task immensely if we attempted to do it without the services of these highly experienced persons. We have procured the setting up of an informal technical body to consult with us at the Ministry as to the best way of operating and carrying out the complicated provisions of this Measure. I will give the House the names of the bodies concerned—the Chartered Surveyors Institution, the Auctioneers, and Estate Agents' Institute, the Land Agents' Society, and the Incorporated Society of Auctioneers and Landed Property Agents.

An hon. Member has said that the Inland Revenue will be able to replace these agents by their own servants in a comparatively short time. I can assure him that there is no such prospect. The Commission is bound to last for a considerable time. There is a great deal of work to be done, and the Commission will have to take full advantage of the experience and knowledge of persons who have been engaged in this work for so long. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) put his finger on another point. Undoubtedly if the Amendment were accepted it would involve additional cost which would have to be met by the tithepayer. The Amendment is much too wide, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), and would involve compensation to a large number of persons who really do not in any sense of the word deserve it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) said that the Amendment is of a permissive nature, but I would point out that it contains the word "shall," and when I read the words "so far as practicable," I can foresee very great difficulties in carrying it into operation. Those are minor points which I do not stress, but I would urge that hon. Members should be satisfied with the assurance which has been given and not accept the Amendment.


In view of what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.