HC Deb 29 June 1936 vol 314 cc49-113

Order for Third Reading read.—(King's Consent signified.)




On a point of Order. Is it not rather unusual for a Parliamentary Secretary to move the Third Reading of a Bill?


There is nothing unusual.


Will it be in order to ask why a deputation from the tithe-payers demonstration was not received by the Prime Minister?


Not at this moment.

3.49 p.m.


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

We have now reached the final stage in this House of a very complicated and difficult Measure, and we have reached it after the expenditure of a comparatively small amount of Parliamentary time, considering the portentous size and length of this Measure and the forbidding and contentious nature of its contents. I believe that this expedition has been due to two main causes. One is the spirit of tolerance, good humour, and co-operation exhibited by Members of the Committee upstairs drawn from all parties. I would particularly like to pay this tribute to the party opposite, with special reference to the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). The second reason is the industry and patience exhibited at all times by my right hon. Friend, who consulted, before the Bill was introduced, every interest that might be affected by it and acquainted himself with all the grievances which were likely to arise during our discussions. I am told that the late Lord Rosebery once spoke of the blameless and insipid occupation of receiving deputations. No one, however, who was present at the deputations received by my right hon. Friend could possibly have called them insipid, because in my recollection members of them generally gave full, frank and forcible expression to their opinions. The result of my right hon. Friend's action has been the complete removal of some grievances, the mitigation of others and the ventilation of all.

There are three main interests affected by this Measure; the tithe-owners, particularly the Church and the Colleges of Oxford and Cambridge; the tithe-payers, namely, the landowners and the farmers; and the general taxpayers represented by the Treasury. The House will realise that those are not easy interests to reconcile, for in many respects their views were entirely divergent and contradictory. Hon. Members will no doubt recollect the memorable voyage of Ulysses. But he had only two obstacles to negotiate, Scylla and Charybdis. In so doing he lost all his crew and had to take exceptional measures to save himself. My right hon. Friend has had three obstacles to negotiate, the three interests I have enumerated, and so far he has successfully steered between the tithe-owner and the tithe-payer without even having his Parliamentary Secretary washed overboard—at least, not yet—and he has so far escaped from foundering upon the formidable rock of the Treasury. In fact, some may say that he has taken a leaf from the story of Ulysses and tied himself to the mast by the red tape of a Financial Resolution. At any rate, my right hon. Friend will go down to history as a great navigator, and he may justly apply to himself the epithet ascribed by Homer to his hero, a man of many wiles and great endurance. I will deal first with the tithe-owner, and particularly with the interests of the Church. Our main problem here was to preserve the life interests of the existing incumbents. In a White Paper issued last February it was made apparent that a sum of about £2,000,000 was to be found out of the scheme in order, as far as possible, to mitigate the hardships of the individual clergy without, at the same time, involving any additional charge on the general taxpayer. That sum provided only enough to safeguard the life interests of the poorer clergy, that is, those incumbents in receipt of under £500 per annum. As the Noble Lord the Senior Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) rightly pointed out, "poor" is a relative term. We all know that incumbents with over £500 per annum have in many cases involved themselves in heavy commitments, such as those of an educational character, and cannot immediately divest themselves of those commitments, into which they must have entered on the basis of a certain anticipated income. Human beings are easily adaptable to almost any change, provided they have time. In this case they had no time. Moreover, that figure of £2,000,000 was not enough to safeguard the Clergy Pensions Fund, nor was it enough to meet the cost of maintaining the fabric of our great cathedrals.

Here the resourcefulness of my right hon. Friend came again into play. He realised that there was not the same case for relieving the urban tithe-payer as there was for relieving the agricultural tithe-payer, and by separating these two he secured a sum estimated to amount to about £26,000 per annum, which was adequate to safeguard and preserve the Clergy Pensions Fund and the fabric of the cathedrals. But the life interests of the less poor incumbents were still in jeopardy. My right hon. Friend succeeded in solving that problem by inserting upstairs a provision in the Bill enabling Queen Anne's Bounty to devote part of the compensation received under this Measure to the interests of those incumbents at the expense of a small loss to the reversioners. The consequence is that under this Measure as it now comes before the House no life interest whatever is endangered, and the Church has been given time to re-arrange, re-marshal and improve her finances. The Noble Lord the Senior Member for Oxford University, if I rightly recollect, likened my right hon. Friend to a political gangster introducing the methods of the American underworld to politics. I would point out that there are degrees of gangsterism and that there is all the difference between Al Capone and Claude Duval or Robin Hood. If there is any truth in what the Noble Lord said, my right hon. Friend might resemble the latter.

Let me give an illustration. I will take the case of a traveller proceeding along a road carrying on his back most of his worldly wealth in the cumbrous, inconvenient and unmarketable form of gold nuggets and bars, jewelry and title deeds. He is met by a gangster who politely relieves him of his burden, giving him in exchange the precise equivalent in cash and Government securities, which are a far more portable and less precarious security, minus a certain percentage and commission for the cost of collection and for the more convenient security. That traveller will congratulate himself when he learns that further down the road there are lying in wait to ambush him two sinister desperadoes, a big one and a little one, with the avowed intent, if they should meet him, of leaving him only so much as will suffice for his subsistence, and despoiling him of all he has stored up for his children and descendants. About three months ago an answer was given in the House stating that the Church would suffer loss to the amount of about £10,000,000, but my right hon. Friend is handing back to the Church a sum of at least £60,000,000, whereas, the policy of the Socialist and the Liberal parties would hand back to the Church only £22,000,000. In other words, their policy is to leave the Church with its life interest and to abstract the remainder. If that were so the traveller would have been lucky to have met Claude Duval, before encountering Al Capone and Jack Diamond.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), who moved the rejection of the Bill on Second Reading, considers all tithes to be iniquitous and noxious. In support of that he endeavoured to floor us with the ponderous weight of Dr. Paley's "Moral Philosophy." I could, had I been so minded, have stunned him with the stupendous authority of Cripps on the "Law relating to Church and Clergy," which takes precisely the opposite view; but I do not think that this is the occasion for recriminations of that character. I only want to point out that Socialist policy appears to have undergone a very remarkable change in this matter in the last ten years. For in the debates on the 1925 Bill, we found their law officer delivering a most impassioned defence of church property. To-day we hear the Socialist party seeking the plaudits of the dukes and earning the maledictions of the deans.

I will now return to the Odyssey. The second danger that my right hon. Friend has had to steer past is the tithe-payer. In that same answer to which I referred just now it was stated that the estimated benefit accruing to the tithe-payer under this scheme is a sum of £25,000,000. If ever seamen were saved by pouring oil on troubled waters, my right hon. Friend should escape. But there are still grumbles; we can still hear the noise of breakers upon the rocks. It is said, for instance, that the reduction from £105 to £91 11s. 2d. is not enough. What would be enough? What figure can we mention? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nothing!"] Hon. Members say "Nothing." That is probably a figure that would satisfy a certain section. Suppose that the figure were reduced to £70 or £60. What should we hear from the tithe-owner at whose expense that reduction must be made? After all, the Royal Commission examined this matter meticulously and heard the evidence of all sides. The Commission was composed of men of great intelligence and industry. They were entirely impartial and they recommended the figure which we have inserted in the Bill. Can any fair-minded person really expect, in face of that recommendation and those facts, that the Government would depart from the recommendation of the Royal Commission?

Secondly, it is said that the remission made in hard cases is inadequate. The House knows that provision is made by which the excess of the annuities over one-third of the Schedule B value is remitted. It is said to be insufficient. It is said that the figure should be one-sixth, or indeed one-seventh. After all, the figure of one-third of Schedule B was the figure asked for at the hearing before the Royal Commission by the National Farmers' Union. It is rather difficult for a fair-minded man to blame the Com mission for recommending that figure, or the Government for accepting it. Let me recall an instance that my right hon. Friend gave during the Second Reading. He showed that, apart from that point, this provision represented a very substantial concession. On a farm of 200 acres where the Schedule B value is £150 and tithe 7s. 6d. an acre, the relief is £32; when the tithe is 10s. an acre the relief is £50. Those are really very substantial concessions indeed. In the Bill the amount which might be set off against Income Tax in respect of the annuity was two-thirds. That figure was in effect arithmetically correct, but for reasons which are equally correct and were explained on the report stage, my right hon. Friend altered the proportions to five-sixths and one-sixth.

Then we come to the question of personal liability. Here my right hon. Friend's ship nears the third main obstacle—the rugged cliffs of the Treasury inhabited by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his officials. I would remind the House that the general taxpayer under this Bill is in the last resort responsible for interest and sinking fund on this sum of £70,000,000. The general taxpayer is also responsible for interest and sinking fund on all Government obligations, and he discharges that responsibility by his payment of Income Tax and Sur-tax. If the power of the Inland Revenue to collect the sums due were curtailed, the credit of the Government would be impaired; the value of Government securities would be gravely diminished. I do not think that any Government in those circumstances has ever yet consented or has been asked to consent on behalf of the general taxpayer to diminish the power of the Inland Revenue to collect sums for interest and sinking fund on £70,000,000 or any other sum for which the general taxpayer is ultimately responsible. Nor indeed is it reasonable to impose upon the general taxpayer any further burden in addition to those already imposed upon him. There are 300,000 to 400,000 tithe-payers, and there are several millions of taxpayers. It is difficult indeed to see why this very large majority should be called upon to make further contributions for a small minority.

There is another point. There are many taxpayers in Scotland and North Ireland. They are general taxpayers, but they have, so far as I know, no interest, direct or indirect, in the tithe problem as it affects England and Wales. It would indeed be very difficult to find an excuse for placing further burdens on them. For that reason my right hon. Friend has been most careful, and has had to be most careful, to avoid alterations in this Bill which would charge the taxpayer with any obligations additional to those he has already incurred. The same consideration applies to the ratepayer. If the 40 years period recommended by the Royal Commission had been accepted, in default of any contribution from the taxpayer, the burden on the rates would have increased, in many areas to some extent and in some areas to a very large extent; for instance in the area of West Suffolk the burden on the rates, as a result of maintaining the 40 years proposal, would have amounted to nearly an additional 3s. in the £. Neither this Government nor any Government would contemplate imposing such an additional burden on the local authorities. The only way of escaping from that position was to change the period of redemption from 40 to 60 years, and that has been done.

The balancing of these three great interests has inevitably led to a compromise. I believe that all hon. Members are agreed that tithe should be extinguished, that the Church should be separated from the tithe-payer, for obvious social and religious reasons, that the Church should be compensated, that the tithe-payer should be relieved, as far as possible without doing injustice to the tithe-owner, that provision should be made for hard cases, and that the general taxpayer should be protected. In arriving at a scheme or solution calculated to meet all those objects, it was not to be expected that we would get a solution definitely acceptable to all sides. A man who is losing money objects to the loss no matter what its amount. A man who is receiving money in relief of hardship seldom thinks that he is receiving enough. I defy a Government of archangels to fix a figure calculated to satisfy all parties. We have put this compromise before the House. It is the fairest compromise that we can devise, and it is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.

4.10 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."

The House must congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the skill he has shown in negotiating a really very difficult passage. As he said, his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has been very much in the position of Ulysses negotiating Scylla and Charybdis. I imagine he has found it very much more difficult to negotiate the differences that lie between public opinion and the satisfying of tithe-owners, which seems to be the principal concern that animates the Government in this Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary's introduction and the likeness of his right hon. Friend to a good-natured gangster, are rather in harmony with the whole proceedings on this Bill. One has to have regard also to the fact that it does very much depend upon whether the person from whom the money is taken had any right originally to the money. That is the position raised by the Bill.

In the Third Beading of this Bill the House is witnessing the last act of one of the biggest farces ever played on the stage. Here we have a Bill so drafted that Parliament has been denied the privilege of moving Amendments on anything of a fundamental character. So, when we found ourselves in Committee, as the Minister said, the whole proceedings were harmonious and expeditious and the Bill went through in record time, not altogether owing to the geniality and good will of the Minister himself, but because hon. Members, irrespective of the side of the House on which they sat, felt that it was a sheer pretence and waste of time to try to effect any important improvement in the Measure. Those who were Members of the Standing Committee will recall that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Wayland) said at one stage of the proceedings that it was simply useless to sit there and try to do anything worth while. Upon my congratulating him on arriving at that decision, which some of us voiced on the Second Reading of the Bill, I was met with a chorus from the other side, which showed that they also felt the same way. Was there ever a more farcical proceeding than that to which the House has been asked to consent in dealing with this Bill?

It is an amazing Bill, also, from other points of view. It is a Bill which is not wanted in any quarter of the House. The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) might be an exception, though I doubt whether he is; he is making the best of a bad job. From all sides of the House there has been a chorus of protest against the Bill, particularly because hon. Members have found themselves so "cabin'd, cribb'd and confined" in discussing it. The financial provisions of it are so drastic as to be an invasion of the rights of the Commons to control finance. It is worth while recalling that on the Second Reading the Noble Lord the Senior Member for Oxford University expressed the opinion that the Committee would be able to alter the Bill. That opinion was soon shattered when the Financial Resolution came under discussion, both by the Rulings from the Chair and the opinion given to the House by the Home Secretary. Those decisions had to be observed, and were observed, when the Bill went to Committee, but it will be remembered that a good deal of indignation was expressed by the House at finding itself in such a position. It is not the first time that such a situation has been created, and I say respectfully to the Government that it is very dangerous at times such as these to do anything which is likely to lower the character or prestige of Parliament or make Parliamentary proceedings appear to be farcical, as has been the case with this Bill. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) expressed a view to which, I think, the whole House assented when he said, in commenting on criticisms on the form in which the Bill had been presented: The gravamen of the charge is the way in which financial resolutions are now framed, which makes it impossible for the House to exercise its authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1936; col. 1121, Vol. 312.] This is the last opportunity the House will have of exercising its authority over this Bill, and in asking the House to reject it I do so not so much on the provisions of the Bill itself, though I shall endeavour to show that they leave very much to be desired, as on account of the need for preserving the prestige and the authority of the House, because if this sort of thing continues Parliament might just as well dissolve and leave the whole thing to the executive. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), commenting on the utterance, which I have just quoted, of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham, expressed what amounted to a hope that his statement was not correct. Unfortunately it proved to be only too true. The position in which the House found itself was described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) when he said: There is no real possibility of our side improving the position of the tithe-payer, except by rejecting the Bill on Third Reading."—{OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1936; col. 1127, Vol. 312.] That is what I invite the House to do to-day. I see the hon. and gallant Member for Tiverton (Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte) in his place. He will recall that he said that his attitude towards the Third Reading would depend on what happened in Committee. He will agree that precious little did happen in Committee, and that he is in pretty much the same position as he was on the Second Reading, because the Bill comes back to us exactly as it left the House in the important particulars of its financial provisions, not because the Committee were not desirous of amending it but because they were unable to do so. The Bill had been so drafted that everywhere we found ourselves up against the Ruling of the Chair that it was impossible for us to do anything, having regard to the King's recommendation and the narrowness with which the Bill had been drawn.

The Bill depends wholly upon its financial provisions. Surely it is a little too much to expect even this House—perhaps I ought to qualify that, because I admit that this House has expressed some measure of independence on one or two occasions—to be willing to sit down under conditions like those. If they do they are forfeiting everything for which Parliament has stood in days gone by and over which there has been many a bitter contest. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University expressed the opinion on Second Reading that Parliament had no right to interfere, that the Bill represented the politics of the American underworld and that the Minister for Agriculture stood in the position of an American racketeer. I will leave the right hon. Gentleman to discuss that point with the Noble Lord himself, but I pause to say that I strongly dissent from the view that Parliament has no right to discuss or to amend or even, if it thinks fit, utterly to wipe away tithe. Parliament has maintained its freedom in this respect almost from time immemorial. In looking up the history of tithe I noticed that so long ago as the reign of Henry IV it was laid down that tithes were designed for the relief of the poor, and an Act of that reign confirmed an earlier Act of Richard II which laid it down that on the appropriation of any parish church money was: to be paid yearly of the fruits and profits of the said church to the poor parishioners.


Can we have the number of the Act?


15 Richard II, Chapter 6. A century ago, when tithe was changed to tithe rentcharge, no less an authority than Lord Melbourne laid it down that Parliament had the right to amend, change and, if it so thought fit, utterly abolish the whole system of tithe. No fewer than 15 other Acts have been passed since that Act of 1836 modifying the provisions of the law relating to tithe—a clear indication that Parliament has asserted its right to interfere in this matter. Parliament must take note of public opinion, and this is a mere surviving anachronism and oppressive in its burden on the particular industry of agriculture. Our history is not without warnings to Parliament of the dangers of refusing to take notice of public opinion. There is very little difference between this case and the case of ship money, which gave rise to a very big conflagration and involved the whole country in very serious trouble. Yet after Parliament had asserted its rights through all these centuries, we are now presented by this Government with a Bill under which Parliament will be deprived of the right of any further consideration—because that is what it amounts to. Under this Bill we are not even in the position in which they were in the fourteenth century, when they could discuss proposals brought forward for amending the law. At any rate, if we are able to discuss them it is only within such very narrow boundaries that we are not able to improve the proposals in any way. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University said of the Bill: This is a cruel Measure, inflicting undeserved hardship on poor people and I cannot vote for it, and I hope that before it leaves this House it will be amended into a juster, fairer and more humane Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1936; col. 439, Vol. 312.] Probably the Noble Lord and I are not thinking of the same persons as affected by the Bill, but the fact is that the Bill is not amended, nor can it be amended.


It has been amended.


Not in its financial provisions, which are the important, the vital part, the whole part, of the Bill.


Does the hon. Gentleman deny that the very point to which the Noble Lord drew attention was amended in Committee, and that that grievance has been entirely removed?


There has been no fundamental alteration in the Bill—the Noble Lord was probably thinking of a different set of persons from those of whom I am thinking—and in essence the position is precisely the same now as before.


Not as regards the grievance referred to by the Noble Lord.


I am concerned with the grievance I am presenting, and which other Members on both sides of the House share. The position now is that tithe has been created, practically, into what one might call a gilt-edged security. What has formerly been regarded as a very contentious right of the Church is now to be safeguarded. It has been put beyond the purview of Parliament, and the Treasury are to act as collectors. The Parliamentary Secretary said that it was a good thing to separate the Church from the tithe-payer. It is going to take 60 years to do it, and in that time the Treasury is to act as the collector of a sum of money gathered in the interest of the Church, regardless of who pays it, regardless of the other sections of the community, whatever their religious views. It is true that Parliament can pass rescinding legislation, but I venture to say that it will be a very much more difficult thing to do so when £70,000,000 of public money is concerned and the State is acting as collector. There is also the added power of distraint for indebtedness, an entirely new factor in connection with tithe.

Of the merits of the case as between tithe-owner and tithe-payer other Members, particularly those on the Government side, will be able to speak with knowledge. I should like to point out that the present position arises out of, or came to a head as a result of, the War years. There is no reason to think that either side was unduly concerned with the public weal when the Corn Production Act was passed. Agricultural prices rose, and many tenants were forced to buy their farms at increased prices. Many people went into farming in order to secure the expected profits. The War ended too soon, the repeal of the Corn Production Act followed, prices fell and with them the value of land. Then we had the gross stupidity of the Act of 1925, which fixed the tithe at 105. In 1913 it had been round about 76, and I imagine that that would have been a much more equitable figure at which to fix it now than the £91 odd which is in this Bill.

The Parliamentary Secretary accused those on this side of the House of being friends of dukes. Is he not aware of the great demonstration in Hyde Park last week? I took occasion to go along the Thames Embankment to watch the demonstrators, and they were altogether different from my conception of dukes—even the dukes whom I have seen in another place—and, also, there were too many of them. They were people earning their living by the sweat of their brow who thought they had been put under a very great grievance. One of their grievances is that the commuted value of the tithe seems based on no intelligent price in being fixed at £91 11s. 2d. for upwards of 60 years—for the simple reason, as far as one can see, that that was the average amount paid 80 to 100 years ago. The suggestion is absurd. One can hardly expect hon. Members to regard it with any favour, either here or in Committee, where there was a general consensus of opinion that the whole matter was farcical and put Parliament in the ludicrous position of being unable to amend the Bill.

The Bill takes no account of the great changes that have affected agriculture, or of the rise of Nonconformity or of changes within the Established Church. In that connection I have had a leaflet sent to me, as have no doubt other hon. Members, issued by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Tithe-payers' Association. They say: We cannot understand why the Bill compels us to make a further gift to the poorer clergy of £2,000,000. The tithepayer has never been obliged to provide the clergy with an adequate, or what may be thought to be an adequate, income. His only obligation has been to hand over one-tenth of his titheable produce, or what the Act of 1836 considered to represent a tenth of his titheable produce, in money. If the just amount of this now is £91 11s. 2d. per £100 (as the commission said, but which we think far too high) why should we be called upon to make a further payment of £2,000,000 because some of the clergy are underpaid? Many of us do not belong to the Church of England and, apart from what may be just and right in the matter of tithe, we do not think that farmers alone should be called upon for such a special payment. A good many livings in this district have in recent years been pooled and one incumbent appointed where formerly two were kept, the vacant rectories let or sold and the money thus saved has probably been used to provide new churches and clergy in densely populated districts not associated with agriculture. There has been a considerable change in the position. I have quoted from earlier Statutes which were made when the money was held in trust merely for the Church and for the relief of the necessities of the poor. Our great public schools have been taken over and used for vested interests. I have in my hand a copy of the interim report of the Social and Industrial Commission on the Coal Industry issued by the Church Assembly. Attention is called in it to a letter written by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the "Times" on 11th January, 1936, when His Grace said, a propos of the responsibility of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as owners of mining properties: The commissioners have always accepted the moral duty resting upon all owners of property to have regard to the conditions of the industry from which revenues are derived. Such a duty exists irrespective of the nature of the property and ought to have priority over whatever object the revenues may be used for—even a charitable trust. The Commission say: Natural resources. … should be devoted to the general service of the communty as a whole with such obvious equity as not to create the social strife and disunion, which now and for many years have been associated with the mining industry. Change the word "mining" to "agricultural" and you have a comment which fits eactly the present situation.

An hon. Member has handed to me a letter which he received from one of his constituents. Its comments upon the Bill probably represent a good many other comments. It says: In 1908, I bought 76 acres of land, knowing the tithe was 3s. an acre. It was then let at 18s. an acre. During the War it was put up to 4s. 8d. an acre, where it still remains, and this land is no wlet to the best man I could get at 5s. an acre. The parson told me when I bought it that I could rest assured that tithe would always be fixed by the price of corn. I might say I was 25 years churchwarden in the little parish where the land is, and we did not average six people at the church service on the Sunday, neither did we average one funeral, one wedding or one christening a year; neither do they now. Yet every acre of land in the parish has to pay 4s. 8d. an acre. The rectory is now closed and is in a desolate condition. I might say that during the last 50 years I have paid over £3,000 in tithes and have been summoned on three occasions for not paying tithe, and have had to pay. That letter represents the very strong feeling throughout the country among the agriculture community, where the pressure of these conditions is being felt. There is no remedy for them in the Bill.

Another point is that the Bill introduces a new and objectionable feature, because Clause 16 (4) and (5) makes a new departure in the recovery of debt for agriculture. Hitherto, debts were only recovered on the farm, but now the whole property can be distrained upon, and the farmer reduced to bankruptcy. This is an entirely new procedure. Public money is being raised and the Treasury are to act in the position of tax collectors in order to maintain and perpetuate something which was introduce for an entirely different purpose. The whole matter is being taken out of the purview of Parliament for the next 60 years, so that there will be no possibility of it being discussed and considered. The Bill is like almost everything else that the Government have done; it shows no bold and efficient grappling with the problem. Vested interest are the Government's first consideration. When we were considering the Air Navigation Bill, the Coal Bill and the Shipping Subsidy Bill, the Government missed tremendous opportunities of bringing in great, far-reaching ameliorative legislation, which might have done great good to the community. There is more unfairness in the present Measure, for one reason because it deals with land and for another because the Church never had inalienable rights to tithe. It has always been for Parliament to say whether and when they should be ended or mended. For those reasons, and particularly for the reason that the House of Commons will lose all authority and the Bill is an invasion of our right of control over finance, I move the Amendment.

4.39 p.m.


It is not my intention to argue with the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). This is a very deep question which will take us a considerable way. The Financial Resolution was very rigidly worded. Of course the House has control, and can always upset the Government. It therefore cannot be said that the House of Commons has not control. When I heard the witty, persuasive speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, I thought that all was well, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that all is not well outside. There is a growing body of opinion which is, I will not say antagonistic to, but very suspicious of this Measure. I know that my right hon. Friend has had very great difficulties. He has never shown his Parliamentary adroitness with greater skill than he has in conducting this Bill, but he has always been tied to the Church on the one hand and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the other.

The fundamental fallacy which seems to apply to the whole of the Bill is that the Act of 1925 is sacrosanct and is like the laws of the Medes and Persians. It is well for us to remember that tithe-payers on agricultural land have a reduction of 16.8 per cent., but that is based on the Act of 1925, which fixed tithe at £105. There was no reason for fixing tithe at £105 in 1925.That was an unfair and unjust proportion. Since then, there has been a precipitous drop in prices. Corn prices have fallen precipitously. The statistical department of the Ministry, in which I have the greatest confidence, supplied me with figures which show that the Gazette price per cwt. of wheat in 1925, when the Act was passed, was 12s. 2d. and that in 1935 it had dropped to 5s. 2d., an enormous fall. The Gazette price of barley was 11s. 9d. and that has dropped to 7s. 11d. The Gazette price of oats was 9s. 9d., and that has dropped to 6s. 8d. You can sympathise with the man who has to pay tithes when the prices of his products have fallen so drastically. I feel that he has a grievence, inasmuch as the Bill is founded upon 1925. It shows how important it is so foresee, not 60 years hence, as does the Bill, but even ten years hence. We must remember that ten years ago those were the prices, as I have quoted them, and that to-day they have fallen tremendously. When I am told that the Act of 1925 cannot be altered, I remember that the Corn Production Act, which affected agriculture, was repealed in 1920.

I warn the right hon. Gentleman that there is a feeling of rankling injustice in the country districts on this matter. In the West of England we have distress sales which are symptomatic of something, and they will do and are doing immense damage to the Church. The Church is a spiritual institution and when there is anything like injustice or apparent injustice, the Church must suffer. We have been told that tithes are a charge on the land. I am prepared to accept that statement. The land has been bought and sold subject to tithe. But very little land has been bought or sold since 1925, and when, therefore, land has been bought and sold with tithe upon it, it has been on the understanding that the tithe would rise and fall according to the Act of 1836. That, to my mind, is only reasonable, and, although I know my right hon. Friend's difficulties, I cannot help feeling that, as he has only reduced the tithe, in spite of this very heavy fall in prices, by something like 16 per cent., there will be very great dissatisfaction outside. Before the War, in 1913, the tithe rentcharge was £76 per £100 par value. I understand that, if the calculations were made on the prices I have quoted, it would be something like £71 per £100 of par value, and when a man has to pay the difference between £71 and £91 11s. 2d., there must be dissatisfaction. I have no doubt that the Bill will go through, but I should have liked the Minister to have considered whether it was not possible to take out the redemption Clauses. If the redemption Clauses were taken out, the tithe rentcharge would go back to £76, which is more or less a reasonable figure.

It is said, however, that this Bill must wipe out tithe in 60 years. I am not tremendously interested in what will happen 60 years hence, in 1996. At that time I shall probably be playing the harp, and my right hon. Friend will probably be playing the bagpipes. This is a matter in which the present tithe-payers require immediate relief. Would it not have been very much better to give them that relief now, rather than wait until 1996? I cannot help feeling that the Government would have eased the situation very much more, if they had taken out the redemption Clauses altogether. But, if the Government are determined, they will, of course, carry their way. I am sorry for it, because, despite the fact that I see it stated in influential journals that agriculturists have the best of this world in taxes, and I agree that the agricultural taxpayers have received great favours from the Government, I must remind the House, the Government and the country that prices have tumbled precipitately, that the cost of repairs has gone up by something like 75 per cent., and that wages have increased—they have rightly increased, and are still not high enough to keep men on the land. Therefore, I suggest that it would have been a wise act on the part of the Government if they could have brought the present burden upon the tithe-payers down.

In 1836, when the Tithe Commutation Act was passed, land was the main wealth of the country. To-day we all know that land, qua land, has no value whatsoever—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—I am talking of agricultural land. If you take the buildings, and the improvements, and the fences, and the cultivation, these have wiped out all the value of the land, and in fact, to-day, in hardly any agricultural district would it be possible to get for a farm the amount of money that has been spent upon it. It is becoming a question in the rural districts why it is that agricultural land should have to maintain the national Church. It is a big burden, and it bas assumed it for a good many years, but I am afraid that this Bill will not add to the general content. I happened to be in Hyde Park the other day and went to see the demonstration, and I was amazed at the widespread discontent that was shown. I can only hope that this discontent will die down, but I very much fear that it will not. I wish my right hon. Friend could have adopted the suggestion I have made and withdrawn the redemption Clauses, for then, I think, the Bill would have been far more favourably received in the country.

4.51 p.m.


I have very grave doubt whether the suggestion that the redemption Clauses of the Bill should be withdrawn is one that would be universally popular throughout the country. Speaking with such responsibility as I have for one of the most distressed areas, it seems to me that one good point at any rate in the Bill is that in time the annuity payments which are the semblance of tithe rentcharge will cease to be payable, and, for our grandchildren at any rate, there will be no collection in the countryside in respect of these annuity payments, nor anything which directly or remotely represents tithe. One realises, of course, that there is a great deal of disappointment among tithe-payers, and particularly among those whose land is specially heavily tithed by reason of the fact that it was arable land in 1836 and has long since ceased to be arable, with the measure of relief which it has been possible to give them in this Bill, and, although. I thank my right hon. Friend for many Amendments which I believe will smooth the working of the Bill as time goes on, I feel that the relief afforded to the owners of heavily tithed land of that description is not really going to be sufficient to get them out of the troubles in which they are.

I realise that, if we have to take a scheme in which what is to go out to tithe-owners, in the way of stock, interest and sinking fund, has to come practically entirely from the tithe-payers who have to pay in on the other side—because the Government contribution, to my mind, really represents little more than a continuation of the relief that was already being given to local authorities in respect of rates on ecclesiastical tithe—and if there is to be no additional contribution worth having from the Exchequer at the expense of the taxpayer, then I believe that this scheme is as good a one as can be got on that basis. To my mind the mistake, which I have openly condemned, lies in the fact that there has been no additional contribution, beyond the rate relief, from the Exchequer at the expense of the taxpayer.

On this point I differ fundamentally from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, whose main object throughout the proceedings on this Bill has been to make sure that the taxpayer should not have to pay any more, their view being that the Church ought to be looted in order further to relieve the tithe-payer. With those views I do not agree. I do not believe that the Church or any other tithe-owners could properly be asked to give up more than they are giving up under this Bill, and for a solution on the lines that I wanted there ought to have been, in my view, an additional contribution by the Exchequer at the expense of the taxpayers. Historically that would have been the right solution, and I believe there are very few people in this country among the taxpayers generally who would have objected to a contribution being made by the Exchequer at the expense of the taxpayers into the sinking fund, so that, in those cases in which the amount of the tithe annuities fell particularly hardly on the owners of the land, the annuities might have been reduced. To my mind the fact that these annuities on heavily tithed land remain, and will remain, above what I believe it is possible for the owners of the land to pay, even with the one-third Schedule B relief, is the great flaw in the Bill as it stands at present.

The other point which is causing so much trouble is the imposition for the first time on the tithe-payer, with the exception of the extraordinary tithe rent-charge, of personal liability. I realise that obviously, if there is to be assistance by national credit—and that is what the assistance from the Exchequer is—by the issue of guaranteed stock, it is a very sound argument that, ultimately and at length, the person who has to pay into the pool the amount which has to go out to repay interest and sinking fund must be made to pay if he can pay. But, on the other hand, I want to repeat that the provision that a court of law has got to make an order for personal execution at the request of the commission, however doubtful the judge may feel as to whether it is a proper case for personal execution, is another great flaw in the Bill. I believe that a court ought to be given a discretion as to whether it ought to make an order for personal execution, and I dislike intensely the idea that any judge, whether a county court judge or otherwise, should be turned into a mere instrument for enforcing the demand of the commission. I believe that, as I advocated in Committee, if that particular provision were removed, and if judges were given a discretion as to whether or not an order for personal execution ought to go as of course, it would go a very long way towards oiling the machinery during these first years.

I have stated my main objections to the Bill as it stands at present. They are objections on which the growing unrest throughout the country is mainly founded. But, on the other side, those of us who represent these areas ought in my view to take many other points into consideration. The Bill sets up a committee which is given power to open up all the outstanding arrears—power to open up actual orders of courts insisting at the present moment that the land is liable for so many pounds of tithe rent-charge. The owner of that land, despite orders, is to have the right of showing to a court that he ought to be let off something. It is true that, in going before the committee, he has to take on the personal liability, but none the less it is a great thing that these owners of land should have the right of having their outstanding arrears again inquired into.

Only yesterday I had at my home a man who has orders in respect of the last four or five years, the payment for which is being pressed for, and distress is being threatened by the tithe-owner, even while the Bill is going through the House. My advice to him was to look forward to the setting up of the committee which is to go into financial affairs and wait till they have made up their minds how much of these heavy outstanding arrears he really has to pay.

Above all, the great advantage of the Bill is to get rid of the present machinery for collecting tithes. There is no good pretending that there is not the greatest ill-feeling existing in the heavily tithed areas against those bodies whose duty it is to collect; and to substitute for them a new commission, responsible indirectly to the House, which will go into every case and find out the exact amount payable and then proceed to exercise their powers of collection in substitution for the existing collecting authorities is one great step forward, which may help towards restoring peace in the countryside. As to the actual amount of reductions, those for the lightly tithed land where, on the whole, there has not been any great trouble in collecting it, and in respect of which there have been very few instances of hardship, they are substantial. The difficulty arises in the case of heavily tithed land, where you may have hard cases.

What is going to be the position of those men in the future? It is all going to depend on the policy that the commission is going to adopt during the next two or three years. If they carry out the statutory duty imposed upon them, with discretion and understanding of the difficulties of the tithe-payers, I believe there is a very fair chance that this new machinery may go a long way to dispelling our difficulties, but it will all depend on how the new commission use the machinery put at their disposal. It may be used harshly and thoughtlessly and severely. If so, I fear we shall not get peace. But we have to remember the other interests as well as those of the tithe-payer. To my mind there is such a chance that this change of machinery, despite the deficiencies, as they appear to me, in connection with the Bill, may be a real step forward towards restoring peace that, in spite of the criticisms that I have made, I propose to support the Third Reading.

5.5 p.m.


I am glad that the alteration was made in Committee which enabled the present incumbents in their present incumbencies not to have a diminished income. That suggestion was first put on the Order Paper in our reasoned Amendment to the Second Reading, and I am glad that it has been possible to carry it out. I must correct the suggestion of the Parliamentary Secretary that that was the only provision which those for whom I am now speaking were willing to make in the matter of payment. The Minister made the same point, but at once withdrew it when the matter was corrected by my hon. Friend. That is not our position at all. Coming to the main point, I cannot avoid the conviction that the Government's action in producing and pushing this Bill through has been unwise, and will be realised to be unwise later on. I think it will be found that the Bill is not accepted by a very large proportion of tithe-payers as an acceptable and reasonable compromise between the parties concerned. I think there will be very gret resentment against some of its main provisions, and in some districts the opposition to payment will be intensified rather than abolished.

The main mistake that I think the Government have made is that they did not allow the country and those concerned to consider the Report of the Royal Commission by itself. It is an insult to a Royal Commission not to let its Report be published for consideration by the country and to hold it up for months until the Government have made some commentary on it and had, after consulting one party only, namely, the Church, and not the tithe-payers at all, added 50 per cent. to the payment required to be made by tithe-payers. That was a fundamental mistake which will prevent the Bill being the basis of anything like the friendly settlement which some people suggest it will be. If the payment had been for 40 years, as the Royal Commission proposed, a great many people would have said: "It is much too high. It still seems to be based on far too high corn prices compared with those ruling now, but, after all, 40 years is a time to which even we, if we are young men, can look forward and to which our children will undoubtedly reach." But when it was made 60 it became a very different prospect, and I do not wonder at the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) that, if the Government are really going to propose 60 years, they might just as well have no limit at all and go on indefinitely, but on a lower basis of payment.

It is the fact of the Government having varied the Royal Commission's Report that has produced a great deal of the present soreness and sense of grievance. Of course, the important question is too big for any of us to consider in detail, the question of the rates, but the Government might have dealt with that without putting the burden of compensating the local authorities on to the tithe-payer, which is what they have done. I think the Government could have adjusted that in view of the fact that local authorities in general are going to gain more from the fact that agricultural workers are going to receive Unemployment Insurance than they would have lost if they had had to pay what is now paid to them by the Government on tithe. I know, of course, that there is no arithmetical correspondence between the two in particular areas, but the Government is the paymaster of the local authorities and can adjust that as they like, and it might have been so adjusted that, taking the two things together, there would have been no loss in the area of any local authority, and that would have been a far better alternative than simply putting an extra 17 years on to the tithe-payer.

I, too, saw the demonstration in Hyde Park and I was convinced that, for the reasons that I have given—and many more could be given—the settlement proposed could not be accepted, as the Government seem to think, as final. I heard some arguments which I thought were rather extreme and some I did not quite agree with, but the actual men I knew, the men from Devon and Cornwall, seemed to me to be the finest type of yeoman farmer, men who mean what they say and are difficult customers to deal with if you get their backs up; and when they say they feel more adverse to the new Bill than they did to the settlement which it supersedes they mean something definite by it and there is no possibility of the difficulty in collection being overcome when the Bill is passed. They feel very intensely the unfairness, as they think it, in the nature of the payment from a charge collectable on certain produce of the soil into a personal tax liability. I am afraid we shall find that there will be refusal to pay, there will be resistance and there will be imprisonment, and there will be a good deal of sympathy with those who go to prison rather than pay, and from that point of view the Bill will not have reached the settlement that is desired.

I know that the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) will say, "Do you not realise what the Church is losing compared with the settlement of 1925? "I do, but it was quite impossible on any grounds of justice to maintain a settlement based on prices as they then were, and I want to make this point which a good many Churchmen do not realise. The gain to the Church of having £70,000,000 of good solid Government money, which is what they will have, instead of the precarious tithe income, becoming every year more precarious, is quite enormous. The idea that it would have been possible to go on collecting tithes for another 75 years under the present Act, in view of the very rapid changes that are corning even over the countryside which is supposed to be so unvarying and unvariable—the idea that they can compare what they would have received if there had been no alteration in the law with what they are going to receive under the law as it is going to be after the Bill is passed, is wholly illusory. There is a very strong and growing feeling, even on the part of members of the Church of England, that the Church is failing to relate the money that they receive to the services they render, and the longer the delay in readjusting the service they give to the necessities of the people had gone on—there seems no prospect of it being tackled by the Church in a businesslike way—the more difficult the tithe would have been to collect, and any calculation based on what would have been the position without the Bill, comparing it with the position created by the Bill, is rather lacking in actuality.

The gain to the Church in having this fixed sum provided from State funds is quite enormous. I hope that the Government will perhaps learn one thing. When they appoint a Royal Commission they had better let its report rest where it is without altering it and putting it before the country on an entirely different basis. It is mainly because of that fact that I see no prospect of a final or satisfactory settlement being achieved.

5.16 p.m.


I should like to congratulate the Minister upon being the person responsible, when this Bill is placed upon the Statute Book in a few weeks' time, for putting an end to tithe. This subject has so often been a matter of dispute between us throughout the years, and now at any rate tithe is to come to an end. Though I realise that Parliaments are not bound, I cannot imagine for a moment any Parliament in the future restoring tithe in the form in which we have known it, and from which we have for so long suffered. While I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon attaining that position. I join the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who rightly criticised the methods of the Government in passing the Bill through the House. I noticed that the Minister objected to the hon. Member's statement that no Amendment had been introduced in Committee. No Amendment worthy of the name was introduced or stood the remotest chance of either being in order or being carried in Committee. That was because of the system, which has now become so persistent in the House, of limiting the right of our discussion by the tremendous detail of the Financial Resolution, thereby rendering us really powerless.

I remember many of us saying on the Second Reading that all would be agreed because tithe was to come to an end. We were saying on both sides of the House that we were to see the end of it. The Royal Commission had reported on it, but, of course, there would be disagreement upon the terms. But because of that Financial Resolution and the detailed way in which it had been drawn, many of us were in a tremendous dilemma. Either we could vote against the Government, and, if there were a sufficient number of us, defeat the Government, and perhaps for a long time to come put aside from further discussion the question of tithe; or vote for the Government and carry the Financial Resolution and thereby deprive ourselves of the right of further real criticism of the terms. Those were the things that mattered. On the one side you had the tithe-owners saying, "We are not getting enough. We are being badly treated," or "We are getting only £50,000,000, when we ought to have had £70,000,000." On the other hand, you had the tithe-payers calling attention to the extraordinary amount that they had been paying in the past, and saying there was no reason whatever why, as the right hon. Gentleman for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) said, the figures should have been fixed in 1925 and continued throughout these depressed periods until to-day. There was room for argument and for moving Amendments on either side. Both these courses were out of order, and our tongues were tied.

Now we are faced with the Third Reading. Speaking for myself, I shall certainly vote for the Third Reading, for I regard the removal of tithe, whether now or in 60 years' time, as of possibly more importance at the present moment than the actual terms. I will tell the House why. Whatever the Minister may think, I do not regard this as a permanent and final settlement. There will come a time, without a doubt, when the farmers and tithe-payers will come to this House and say, "We have been badly treated and called upon to pay too much." It may be that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) may come along and defend the tithe-owner. I am convinced that voices will be heard throughout the land with regard to the terms, which must be discussed on the Floor of the House, which is the proper place. That is why I say that, if anyone thinks that this is the final settlement, he is taking far too optimistic a view of this very vexed question. At any rate, we can congratulate ourselves that this afternoon, in a very thin House, this great question, which has agitated so many minds throughout the whole of the century, is passing through with so much ease and without any of the acrimony and feeling engendered in the past.

I should like to thank the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with the position in regard to Wales. Prior to the Bill, all of us in Wales, thanks to the Disestablishment and Disendowment Acts now on the Statute Book, are paying lay tithe, but, unfortunately, there was no power of redemption. When the Bill becomes law, there will be the right to redeem, and that is where I differ—and I think this is the only occasion on which I have found myself differing from him—from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton. I regard the fact that for once and for all an end will be put to tithe, and that there will be the right to redeem, as a real step forward with respect to the Welsh tithe. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) in that I should have preferred it to have been wiped off not in 60 years, but in 40 years. But whether it will be 40 years or 60 years, or even less than 40 years, is a matter which will have to be discussed in this House.

There is another point upon which the Minister has met us, with the assistance of the Treasury, namely, the financial position in which the Welsh Church Commission found itself, and the amount of interest which it had to pay. Thanks to the fact that the Minister, with the assistance of the Treasury, has now come to our assistance, we shall no longer be compelled to pay the very high rate of interest—5 per cent.—that we have had to pay since 1920. That will be reduced to a proper proportion, and for that I am grateful. I hope that the House will give the Bill the Third Reading, realising, as, I think, everybody does, that it is a great step forward, and that never will there be a retrograde step again. But it is not the final settlement; it is only possibly the beginning of another discussion with regard to terms.

5.23 p.m.


I do not always find myself in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), but on this occasion I am in most hearty agreement with him in what he said about the shortening of the period. It is rather a late stage in this Bill to hark back to first principles, but there is one aspect of first principles which I should like to put before the House. The question which I am most commonly asked by tithe-payers—and I have no doubt that it is asked of other hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies—not only by tithe-payers who happen to be Nonconformists, but staunch members of the Church of England as well, is why, if the Church of England is indeed a national Church, one particular section of the community, and apparently a small one at that, has to bear so high a percentage of the cost of the Church's upkeep? That is a question which I have always found it impossible to answer, and I have never heard anyone else give a satisfactory answer. I do not think that there is an answer.

The various historical aspects of the question which have been dug up by one side or the other for controversial purposes, really seem to be neither here nor there. The House has to deal with the position as it is in the 20th century, and that position is a very anomalous one. It is the fact that the agricultural industry, which is still a somewhat depressed industry—in some parts of it there is acute distress still—represents at the widest computation only 10 per cent. or less of the population of these islands, yet that small percentage has to bear a proportion of the cost of maintaining the national Church really out of ratio altogether in numbers or wealth with the community as a whole. There is no getting away from that fact. The State might have taken a very different line from that it has taken. It might have been said that tithe, by way of being an historical accident, was something in which the State could not interfere. It might have been said that the tithe-owners and tithe-payers might have settled their differences in the normal way in which disputes arising in transactions between other classes of the community are daily settled. But it did not take that line.

The State has been intervening decisively in the controversy, and, having done that, it cannot escape responsibility ultimately for putting right any anomalies or anachronisms which may remain. Anachronisms and anomalies unquestionably remain. The State has the responsibility of putting these things right, but unfortunately under the Bill, from a purely practical point of view and from the point of view of the tithe-payer, the situation will remain for another 60 years very much in essence what it is to-day. Important changes of detail have been made—I admit that fact—but unfortunately these changes do not seem to achieve their object. The Church seems to have got a new grievance, whereas the tithe-payer does not appear to have lost his old one. The percentage of advantage that he gets in his current payments seems to be, rightly or wrongly, outweighed in his eyes by the change in the state of his liability. There is no question about that.

The question was, how could the Bill be improved. What has actually been done gives a very useful line of thought which may be applied to this Bill. Incumbents of livings who rely very largely upon tithe are to be safeguarded from loss during their lifetime. Precisely that same principle might equally be applied to the other side, to the tithe-payers. Sixty years is a period altogether too long in my opinion; even 40 years, suggested by the Royal Commission, was also too long. The commonly accepted average span of the human lifetime is generally taken to be 33 years, and that period should have been taken as a basis. Had it been so taken, the feeling which exists now would not have manifested itself, or, if it had, would have very quickly disappeared. There is all the difference in the world, from the psychological point of view, between 60 and 30 years. There is all the difference in the case of a man who may look forward to getting rid of a charge during his own lifetime and that charge carrying on through the life of his children and grandchildren.

If the change had been made, the State and possibly the local authorities would have had to make a substantial contribution, but in these days of tremendous national budgets the total contribution would have been so small, spread over the community as a whole, that no individual would have felt any perceptible hardship. That is the line that the State ought to have taken. I cannot pretend to give an estimate of the total amount that would have been involved, but I think I am right in saying that, spread over the whole community, no one would have suffered by the State cutting down the redemption period to 33 years. If that had been done it would not have been a case of merely trying to placate the tithe-payer or trying to buy off the Church, but it would have been better for the State to do what in justice and logic it ought to have done in the first instance.

I realise that it is too late to introduce these proposals into the Bill now. The Bill will pass into law and come into force three or four months hence, but I very much doubt whether this represents the last that we shall hear of this question in the House. I am very much afraid that the feeling among tithe-payers will persist in a chronic and acute form, and I am much afraid that it will be still one more settlement which was meant to be final but will have to come back to the House for revision. I fear also that it will prove a continual source of embarrassment to whatever Government is in power, because we must remember that no longer will there be Queen Anne's Bounty to act as a kind of buffer and, still worse, I am very much afraid that the status and prestige of the Church will suffer.

5.33 p.m.


I had hoped that on the Third Reading we should have had more leisure than we have hitherto had for discussing the important points of the Bill. Unfortunately, our time is limited and as there are many speakers each of us will have to compress his arguments much more than he may like to do. I should like to add a sincere word of congratulation to the Minister of Agriculture, who during the passage of the Bill has displayed a Parliamentary technique that I have never seen equalled. He has been compared to Ulysses and Robin Hood. I should rather have compared him to the Red Queen with Alice. We remember how she took her firmly by the hand and careered onward with breathless speed and landed exhausted at her destination. My right hon. Friend in reaching the Third Reading stage has certainly adopted one sentence of the Red Queen as his motto in dealing with the House: Faster. Don't try to talk. That has been his useful working motto and it has operated with great success. I am the more glad to offer this sincere congratulation because I cannot pretend to be a whole-hearted admirer of the Bill. As I said on Second Reading, I supported the Bill in the hope of Amendment. We have had an Amendment which certainly got rid of one great objection, but the longer the Bill is before the House the more in some ways does it seem open to criticism. It is in principle an extremely simple Measure. It is a redistribution of property rights. It is a Measure that hands over to landowners a sum of £25,000,000. I should not have expected to find the Opposition desiring to increase that figure, but that would have been the effect of their arguments and their Amendments, had it been possible for them to carry them.


The hon. Member does not do us justice. We advocate a national land policy. We stand for that to-day as we have always stood, and we think it is in the best interests of the Church.


The effect of the arguments and Amendments of the Opposition would have been enormously to increase the gift to the landowners. I agree that hon. Members opposite may have envisaged nationalisation of the land perhaps 10 or 20 years hence, but these added values would in the meantime have firmly settled into the structure of the land system and nationalisation would be all the more costly. That is the policy which the Opposition have adopted. I do not want to follow that line of argument, but I want to deal with what I regard as the defects in the Bill that are still capable of remedy. The Bill transfers property rights from one set of persons to another, both of them normally living in the same parish. You have two very different types of case. In the one case you have the incumbent, modestly paid, and the farmer, earning a precarious living. In this case some transfer of income may seem eminently fair. There is a commoner type of case where the property of the incumbent is to be transferred to a neighbouring resident, wealthy squire. In that case my sympathy is not in the least with the tithe-payer. I am a small landowner and I shall have income from a poorer neighbour transferred to me and I think that is not a desirable feature in the Bill. I recognise that in making a great settlement of this kind you cannot obtain precise equity in each individual case and that you have to proceed on broad lines but this scheme does not attain the degree of fairness I should like.

There are two lines of criticism of the Bill. One is that the gift to the landowner is excessive, and the other is that the relief as between different classes of landowners is not allocated as justly as it might be. The gift to the landowners is £25,000,000. Of that amount the ultimate loss to the Church is reckoned at £14,500,000 and the immediate loss £11,000,000. By an Amendment to the Bill there was an additional charge placed upon Church funds. I welcome the concession given by the Minister to safeguard life interests, but that safeguard was at the expense of the capital fund of the Church. The Church was given power by the Amendment which was made to the Bill in Committee to utilise as revenue a portion of the capital sum transferred to her, to an amount that is expected to be some £3,000,000, for meeting the life interests of incumbents. The effect of withdrawing that £3,000,000 from the capital fund is to decrease the amount that will be available in interest to meet the annual charges in future years. Under the Bill it was reckoned that the net tithe receipt was reduced from £94 to £76 12s. 6d., but owing to the Amendment the £76 12s. 6d. has become £72 2s. 2d., which means a net loss of over 23 per cent. on the present net tithe income. I want the House to grasp the implication of that.

On October 1st next every new incumbent instituted in a parish will find that nearly one-fourth of his tithe income has gone. That is a serious matter. I have expressed the view that on the grounds of its spiritual work the Church might wisely accept the Bill, but as a business proposition the loss is far beyond anything that it might reaonably expect to suffer in maintaining the existing system of tithe until the whole system comes to its end under the present law. It has been suggested that the Church can easily meet the situation by reorganising its parochial income. I hope that as a result of this Bill the Church will reorganise parochial income, and much good can be done to the Church in that way, but you cannot reorganise parochial funds in a year or two; it must take a number of years, and you have the immediate problem before you of incumbents taking up duty next October. I am not without hope that there may be friendly tithe-payers who will gain so substantially from the Bill that they will help to ease the immediate difficulty by paying a voluntary tithe. If there is any organised system devised for collecting a voluntary contribution of say a half year's tithe I should gladly participate.

Let me come to criticisms of the Bill from another angle. I agree entirely with the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens), who has done so much both to ease the tithe situation both for his constituents and Queen Anne's Bounty. He argued that the one failure of the Bill was that it did not sufficiently meet the grievances of heavily tithed land. That I believe to be true. So far as I know the tithe problem there is no real difficulty in the lightly tithed areas, but there is real distress and hardship where tithe is high. The relief given where tithe is in excess of one-third of the assessment under Schedule B, will no doubt assist agriculturists, but I should have liked to see the figure one-fourth instead of one-third. The Bill maintains the evil of the system of growing tithe. That I believe should be abolished.

Let me consider what happens where a man has obtained relief because the tithe is in excess of one-third of Schedule B. He proceeds to improve his land. His Schedule B assessment goes up and immediately he is called upon to pay a higher tithe. The more his assessment in Schedule B rises, because he has improved his land, the higher his tithe. That is a fundamentally bad system. It discourages improvement and irritates the agriculturist. I think the Bill ought not only to fix a lower fraction for remission but should also fix a maximum amount for tithe; xs. per acre, so that a farmer would know that however much he improved his land he would not be liable for increased tithe.

My second objection to the Bill is that it deprives us of the only way in which this can be done within the framework of the Bill. The existing term of tithe is about 75 years. The Bill shortens it to 60, and as between 60 and 75 there is very little difference in the mind of the normal landowner. What precisely is going to happen in the year 2000, who is going to pay the annuity in those days, does not matter very much to him, but by increasing the period of 60 years to 70 years I calculate that there would be set free some £125,000 a year. Unfortunately we have no figures to show what would be the aggregate cost of fixing the Schedule B figure at one-quarter, but it is clear that the sum of £125,000 would more than cover what is necessary for this concession and leave something over which would be available to do more justice to the tithe-owner.

My last criticism is that the Bill does not adequately distinguish between different types of tithe-payer. We all have sympathy with the heavy tithe-payer, with the man who bought his farm after the War under the pressure of the breaking-up of estates, and in the hope that the Corn Production Act would enable him to sustain mortgages or tithes or other charges. He deserves our sympathy. But the man who does not deserve our sympathy is the man who bought his land after the 1925 Act was in full operation, knowing that there was a charge on the land which would exist for 85 years, and in the face of that obtained his land at a lower price, I challenge anyone to produce a single case in which there was substantial tithe on land bought since 1926 where the fact was not fully taken into account in the lower price paid for the land. Why that man should now receive further benefit I find it difficult to understand. I think his case would be more than adequately recognised if he was relieved of the £4 10s. sinking fund, given the benefit of any shortening of the period there may be, and also the benefit of the Schedule B relief. These three benefits would be more than any person who bought his land since 1926 deserves. I should like to read a sentence from the letter of a land agent who made that suggestion to me: I should be glad if you would also see your way to move an Amendment that no land which has been purchased since the Tithe Act of 1925 became law shall participate in the proposed reductions. The purchaser knew full well when he was buying that the payment of tithe was stabilised for a period of 85 years, or such period remaining unexpired when the sale took effect. He added an interesting and significant sentence: It is very distressing to hear these landowners boasting that they will now sell and take the capital profit on the reduction in the amount of the tithe. I do not know what hon. Members feel about it. Do they really think that this is the sort of case in which to transfer income from the incumbent to the neighbouring landowner? That, I submit, is the kind of case which should not be included in the full benefits of the Measure. The Bill is going to another place and I hope it will be usefully amended, for two special reasons. In the first place, they are not bound by the Financial Resolution as we were, and will be able to amend the Bill as seems to them wise, in so far as they do not add any charge to the public funds. I have no doubt that Mr. Speaker will be able to protect the privilege of this House, should any question of privilege arise. But there is a second and a more interesting advantage which the other place has over this House. Throughout the conduct of this Bill I have felt discomfort because in this House we belong almost entirely to one side. Speaker after speaker has been a tithe-payer, I myself am a tithe-payer. On the Opposition side I do not think there is a single tithe-owner.

While I do not accuse hon. Members opposite of being less able to take an impartial view of this subject than myself, I do not know—or rather, I do know—how they would feel if a Coal Mines Bill were submitted to a House containing a few dozen colliery owners and no miners at all. Would they feel that the House would be able to give quite that completely impartial and disinterested consideration to the Bill which should be given? An assembly completely immune from tithe-payers and tithe-owners alike I could trust, but I distrust my own judgment when I am an interested person, and we have in this House very few what I may call practising tithe-owners. We experience the difficulties of tithe-payers but not of the tithe-owners. In the other House we shall have tithe-owners. I believe that one Noble Lord was burnt in effigy in one occasion and he is not likely to forget that he is a tithe-owner. In this House an ecclesiastical tithe-owner is debarred from election, but in the other House the ecclesiastical tithe-owners will be represented. Therefore I believe that in the other place we shall be able to get fresh light on this controversy from the point of view of the tithe-payer and the tithe-owner alike, and I hope it will lead to a fairer settlement of the whole question. It is only fair to warn the other place that this House would not agree to anything which would upset the handiwork of the Minister, but within the limits I have indicated I suggest that the Bill can be made fairer, and I hope it will return, to us a better Measure than it is now.

5.57 p.m.


I do not know that I have very much sympathy with the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) in his regrets at the absence of the views of tithe-owners, but I notice that he is optimistic that in another place it will come to an end and that the views of tithe-owners will be heard. There have been repeated votes of thanks to the Minister of Agriculture for the expeditious way in which he has piloted the Bill through the House of Commons. It is a strange accident that in recent years the destinies of the Church of England have almost entirely fallen into the hands of Scotsmen. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, the Archbishop of York is of Scottish descent, and in this House a representative from the same country is fixing the destinies of tithe-payers and tithe-owners. Perhaps it is because of his national detachment that he has been able to look on this problem with a certain amount of judicial calm, but being a member of the party opposite he has, of course, seen that vested interests have not altogether been uprooted or challenged by the Bill.

I want to impeach the Government for their conduct in this matter from the beginning. Commissioners were appointed to inquire into the whole question. Their report was finished and in the hands of the Government, but was withheld for months from this House. There is evidence on the face of the Bill that during the time this report was in the hands of the Government and not divulged to the House, consultations were held with interested parties. I charge the Government with deceitfulness and dishonesty in the matter. They present us with a watertight Bill embodying their terms with the tithe-owners. As evidence that they have entered into this plot consciously I do not blame the Minister for whom I have great respect; I impeach the Government. Not merely did they come here with a Bill which fundamentally has not been changed by one comma since it was introduced, but they also introduced a Financial Resolution as well. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) who is one of the ablest Members of the House and has devoted much attention to this Bill, tried his best to get a slight amendment of the financial provisions, but was always reminded by the Chairman that he was tied by the Financial Resolution.


The Minister was kind enough to accept two of my Amendments.


I am speaking of the Friday morning you attempted to get Amendments across the Floor until you had to resume your seat.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

The hon. Member must address me.


I am taking a privilege which is very often taken by hon. Members, but I will not do it again. It is no good any attempt being made to say it is not true that the free deliberation of this House was not hedged about by the Financial Resolution. That gives strength to the conviction that the Bill was a fixed and definite Measure before it came to the House, and that there was a determined attempt—as indeed we have seen—to push it through the House without very much change. If that is called Parliamentary Government, the democratic analysis of proposals before the House of Commons, I am not in agreement with it. To say that the Bill passed through the Committee in record time is absolutely true. I do not think I spoke more than once or twice, and even then I only partially explored the Bill. It was a matter of listening to the dreary discussion of the Clauses of the Bill, knowing that one could do nothing with it, and one attended the Committee as a matter of form. Naturally the Bill went through in record time, since no good could have been effected by rising in Committee and fighting it.

I am sure I shall be excused if again I ask the question, What is tithe? What is this thing we are talking about? Who is the owner of it? We are constantly discussing tithe-owners in connection with this Bill. Tithe is a contribution from the land to maintain education, the poor, the clergy, the Church, and so on. It is a tenth of the proceeds of the land. Who is the owner of that tenth when it is surrendered? In recent times the Christian Church appropriated the tithe, which existed long before the Christian Church was heard of. Later on, this House, in its wisdom, made a mad attempt to give this ever-changing quantity called tithe a fixed expression in terms of money, and instituted the tithe rentcharge, which was paid over to the Church. Let me say at once, so that there can be no misrepresentation as to how we feel on these benches, that if the tithe rentcharge were paid not specifically by the users of the land, but by those who are in occupation of the land, I would support its payment on condition that it was a tenth part of the annual value and that it was used for communal purposes, such as education and public enlightenment and, if you like, the maintenance of the structures built, not by the people who are now appropriating the tithe rentcharge, but for the maintenance of those structures which were built in other times when there was more religion and more devotion.

Now we have this constant talk about the tithe-owner. One would think that the Act of Supremacy had no significance in this House. By the Act of Supremacy the Church in England became a State Department, owned and controlled by this House, and as it is a State Department those who are holding office in it cannot claim as their own any property belonging to it. The tithe-owner is usually taken to be the clergyman who receives the tithe. He is nothing of the kind. If the Act of Supremacy has any meaning to it, there can be no tithe-owners in the real sense of the term. I admit, of course, that by the Law of Property Act, 1925, the tithe rentcharge is sustained as a legal estate on the land, but there again is evidence of the wit and wisdom of the lawyers. Tithe ownership resides in this House. It is in the hands of the State and cannot be divorced from the control of the House and handed over, as apparently is the suggestion in this Bill, to an ownership separate from the State. We come to this pass. We have a State Department, owned and controlled by the State, and owing final allegiance to the Crown. We are not told that it is a State Church, but that it has a property claim as distinct from Parliament and the State, and that therefore, if there is to be an extinguishment of the tithe rent-charge it shall be the duty of Parliament to do—what? As I have said before it is now apparently the duty of Parliament to do one of the most villainous things which this House has ever been called upon to do.

Hitherto the tithe rentcharge has had to be secured for the tithe-owners by means of collections from the landowners. Owing to the difficulty created by Parliament in attempting to give a fixed monetary expression to an ever-changing quantity, a reaction set in and the tithe-payers began to protest. The vested interests of the Church said that that could not go on for very long without endangering their income. Hence this Bill. I want every hon. Member who intends to vote for the Bill to note that in doing so he is assisting the Church to step back from its real responsibilities. Under this Bill, the Church is to be allowed to step back from its responsibility of securing the tithe rentcharge, and the State is to step into the position and wield the scourge that is to screw and wring tithe out of the tithe-payers of the country for the next 60 years. The Church is to go off into security with a gilt-edged security in its pocket. It passes into the sublime sanctuary of holiness on security, leaving the State in the forefront to carry on the fight with the distressed tithe-payers. That is the position which will be created when this Bill is passed.

What was the language of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture? He said, repeating the language of the report, that we must immediately divorce the Church from the tithe-payers. Why? I thought the duty of the Church was to keep in touch with every member of the community. No, we must divorce the Church from the tithe-payers because of the trouble that is arising in the attempt to collect tithes on behalf of the Church. Here we have a Bill which—again using the language of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture—calls upon the State, the general taxpayers, to assume responsibility for the interest and the sinking fund of this capital sum. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary heard the speech made at that time by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens), who said it would not be very long before the tithe-payers would not pay anything. The general taxpayers are now handing over this vast sum to the Church and they will lose all claim on the tithe-payers in the event of such a situation arising. I believe that is what will happen.

The commission recommended that the liquidation should be carried out in 40 years. It is very pathetic to note that the commission said that 40 years would be a commendable period, because it would at least bring it within the lifetime of many of the tithe-payers now living. But the Government insisted on 60 years. Why 60 years? Because rates have to be paid. Hitherto rates have had to be paid on tithe rentcharge, and if there was anything insisted upon in one rating law after another which was passed in this House it was that the tithe-owner should pay rates upon his tithe rentcharge. Now, by a polite manoeuvre, that has been changed right round the other way. There will be an extension from 40 years to 60 years to allow enough money to be gathered into the fund to enable the Government to be in a position to pay compensation to the local authorities for the revenue they will lose by these rates remissions.

It is interesting to look back on the Bill as it was printed. A provision is made for an Exchequer contribution of £685,000 a year for 60 years. This estimated the rates charge, plus little savings in administration. There is one point to which I have already referred and on which I hope the Minister will have something to say. I did not raise it in Committee because I wanted the Bill to pass as expeditiously as possible. It is the novel procedure by which under this Bill local authorities are to receive compensation because they are losing revenue as a result of the abolition of the tithe rentcharge. That is something which has never been done before, and if the practice which is now introduced in this Bill is to be condoned, I should like every hon. Member who represents a distressed area to go to his constituency, to find out the number of depleted hereditaments and what the local authorities have lost in rates, and then to come back and demand compensation.

The next point which seems to have caused a great deal of heartburning is that after the enforcement of this Act the tithe-payer will be subject to the action of the law courts. He will be a debtor to His Majesty the King. I wish the Government luck in that procedure. It is a procedure which, I think, is inevitable, and when once the principle embodied in the Bill has been put into operation, I can see no other machinery in the hands of the Government. A national debt is being created against the tithe-payer, and the only way in which the debt can be secured is by using the stringency of the law. The Government have handed over to the Church a gilt-edged security and have taken on the duty of wielding a whip and scourge for the next 40 years in order to exact the payments in lieu of the lump sums from the tithe-payers. As I have said, it is difficult normally to express one's opinion about this Bill. It means the paying of a vast sum of money to people who are not the rightful owners of the tithe. It means the passing over of public money which may never be redeemed in the future.

I would be the last to complain about the expenditure of public money, if it meant that we were permeating the community with religious or philosophic ideas and bringing the community back to the fundamentals upon which society must stand, if it is to be saved from destruction. I would be the first to subscribe to a proposal that this House should devote large sums of money to the study of the mental condition of the people outside. But with the handing-over of these vast sums to the Church, I invite the Church now to go in for a little stock-taking. I ask whether the Church, in view of the large sums which it now holds and the sums which it anticipates as a result of this Bill, is interesting itself in doing anything to clarify the minds of the people of this country to-day. I will not go too far into that subject, but I think we have a right to ask that question when we are told that it is essential that the Church should be maintained, even by means of this Bill and the expenditure of this money, in order that it may minister to the spiritual welfare of the State. For God's sake let us look at the spiritual condition of the State, and ask ourselves whether there is any religion hanging about in these days, when, even the Bishop of Durham last week was out as a recruiting agent—and he no doubt would be an enthusiast for this Bill. That brings us back to the fundamentals of this question.

It may be asked, what would we do in these circumstances? Tithe ought to have been merged long since in the value of the land, because it is a part of the land value. It should never have been allowed to continue as a separate contribution to the Church or anybody else. Whatever pretentions the Church may have to a claim upon tithe, the lay tithe-owner has no claim whatever. Yet he is to be compensated. I should like to see the lay tithe-owner who would come into this House and assure us that he was giving spiritual healing to the State. But the lay tithe-owner is to be compensated and that is to be done, we are told, because of the spiritual necessities of the State. He is a tithe-owner. Whatever may be said about the farmer and the landowner, in many cases they have provided buildings and improvements on the land and it can be said without challenge that the labourer on the land does a great deal to make the land a possible paying proposition but the so-called tithe-owner—tithe appropriator would be a better name—does nothing to agriculture except to act as an impediment upon it. He is a constant drag on it and the commissioners themselves in their report, in no partisan spirit, say so. I suggest that it would be an easement to agriculture to have this Bill carried and to relieve agriculture of the constant drain of tithe payments.

Apart from criticism of the Bill which may seem to be purely negative, let me express a positive opinion. As I have said, tithe ought to have been merged long ago in the annual value of the land. The House knows that some of us hold strong views on what ought to happen then to the lump sum value of the land. If the Church or any other institution in the State is performing a great communal service to the State, it is the State's duty to set apart a section of the national finances, rightfully, for the maintenance of such institution. That could have been done long ago, but the procedure here adopted is based upon a false conception of what tithe is and a fallacious acceptance of who the tithe-owner really is.

Last but not least, let me say that I do not know how the State Church of England has the audacity and the deceitfulness in 1936, through this Measure, to capitalise an age-long tribute to her own immediate benefit, disregarding entirely the fact that the whole community in the State, as taxpayers, will be held responsible for the final redemption of this vast sum. If that is Christianity, then I have another view on the matter. But let the Church settle that with its own conscience to-day. We on this side cannot do anything now. It is too late to stop the Bill passing, but I would say, from my place in this House now, that the men outside who are to be looked upon now as debtors to His Majesty the King will be called upon to surrender the instruments, the information, the documents which will be necessary before the commission can have the machinery in full working order by 2nd October. I hope the tithe-payers will make that as difficult a task as any Minister ever had to undertake.

It is necessary that the people of this country should see, in all its nakedness, the truth that lies behind this Bill and realise who are affected by it—those who are acting not by any pious methods, not even going out into the parks to hold demonstration. I would like to tell the Conservative party that they have made a first-class blunder with this Bill. Heretofore they have been able to lull the agricultural constituencies to sleep. They have been able to chloroform them with millions of pounds of subsidies. I say to hon. Members opposite, "You have aroused them by this Bill and you are going to lose agricultural seats as a result of it." I trust and hope that the tithe-payers outside will act in no uncertain manner and that they will do everything to make this Measure an impossibility by 2nd October. I hope that the Bill will be rejected by those who have decent intentions with regard to honesty and fair dealing in public affairs in this House.

6.23 p.m.


I am afraid that in this case, my voice is to be an echo of those breakers upon the rocks about which the Parliamentary Secretary spoke, because I cannot support the Third Reading of the Bill. I regret that very much from a personal point of view, because I hate to be at variance with my party and I know that, like Odysseus, the ordinary private Member who ventures to go counter to the policy of the Government is apt to run into troubled waters. I feel I have to make it clear that the organised farmers of this country will not, and cannot, accept this Measure as an equitable or final settlement of the tithe problem. If the Bill goes through as a final settlement, then, indeed, it will be one which has been forced on the farmers and not accepted by them.

I regret that the Government have not used this opportunity to produce a settlement which would be equitable and final. I believe they have had the opportunity, and that the opportunity will not arise again for some time. Had they approached the subject from a different angle, had they given us a fairer appreciation of the tithe situation and presented it in a different way, I believe that all Members would have been glad to assist in making a real settlement. There is not one Member, however divorced he may be from agriculture, who does not realise that here is a great problem, right outside party politics, which is worth solving for its own sake, and I believe we would all have co-operated in arriving at a settlement even though it would have meant some financial assistance from the Treasury.

In the Preamble to the Bill the Government say that it is based on the Royal Commission's report. So it is, with one or two variations. One variation is that it puts on the tithe-payers a sum of £55,000,000 which was never contemplated by the Royal Commission. It may have been very difficult for the Minister to get over the problem of that sum. It must have taxed his resourcefulness to find how he was going to do it. He has done it by putting the sum on to the tithe-payers, and the tithe-payers object. That sum is, of course, for the rates and for the poor clergy. I would say that the tithe-payers never had to bear that responsibility and they will never accept it as a responsibility which ought to be theirs. On that account I cannot support the Bill. That £55,000,000 would not have been very much from a Treasury point of view, spread over a long period of years, but it means a lot to people who have to find the money from what are in most cases very slender means.

The Government have commended the Bill on the ground that it will put no further charge on the taxpayer. The Government's attitude seems rather callous towards those in many districts who have, somehow or other, to produce this money out of their pockets. The most that its best friend can say about the Bill is that it is some sort of rough compromise and probably quite a good compromise, inasmuch as it pleases nobody, but that strikes me as an unconvincing argument for a big Government Measure. It is true that the Bill gives some immediate relief to those who need relief. The "Times" on Saturday pointed out that it gave the tithe-payers a reduction of 16.8 per cent. on their present payments, but that is not the point. It is no good to say to the tithe-payers in this case, "You are lucky because you are getting a reduction." A reduction from what? A reduction from a figure to which the tithe-payers never agreed—the figure in the 1925 Act, which they always thought to be iniquitous. It is like saying to a debtor, "I will let you off so much on the debt," when he does not acknowledge the debt. It is very cold comfort to offer a reduction if in the mind of the debtor, the debt has been forced upon him, is not of his own contracting, and is fantastically high. That is how the tithe-payers feel as far as the figure of £99 11s. 2d. is concerned; the tithe-payers will not agree that even the reduction now proposed brings it down to a fair figure.

We are asked what would be a fair figure. If the Government withdraw the Bill and talk to us about what would be a fair figure, we shall be glad to give them all the advice we can, but we have not had much opportunity of discussing that aspect of the matter. The "Times" went on to say that if we were passing a Bill which would relieve the Income Tax payer, say of 1s. in the £, we would all be pleased but there is a great difference between Income Tax and tithe. Income Tax, in some degree at all events, is based on ability to pay. If there is no income there is no tax. Time was when much the same could have been said of tithe; when, if there was no produce from the land, the tithe-owner received nothing. But the Bill alters all that once and for all. It entirely divorces payment from the ability of the farmer to pay out of the proceeds of his land.

I do not know what this House would think if we were to-day passing a Measure which said to all Income Tax payers, "We are going to stabilise Income Tax once and for all, but it will not depend on whether you can pay it, on your income, or on the state of your business; if you cannot pay it out of income, then you must pay it out of capital and out of your savings." The question of personal liability is one of the worst features of the Bill and one which causes the most resentment throughout the tithe-paying areas. The tithe-payers feel that if the Government had got the figure down to a fair figure which they could pay, having regard to the proceeds of their farms, the Government would never need this personal liability. It would be a debt which they would readily pay, but it was because the Government knew that in certain districts they would not be able to pay it, that they had put on this personal liability. The tithe-payers realise that there must be security for this loan, but it seems to them that in putting on this personal liability the Government are, to use the tithe-payers' own expression, out-Shylocking Shylock, and they do not like it. For those reasons I am afraid I cannot possibly support the Third Reading.

We know that in certain heavily tithed areas the Bill will not give the measure of relief which is necessary. The Minister of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary have time and time again mentioned that the National Farmers' Union have said that one-third was a reasonable figure. If they would do us the honour of reading a little bit more of our evidence, they would see that that was linked up with having some special machinery to deal with hard cases. That was part and parcel of the evidence, and beyond that they would see that it was also linked up with a plea that there should not be this personal liability. If we had got some machinery to deal with hard cases, I feel that there would be a lot of difference in our attitude towards the Bill. Time and time again the Minister has been asked, but there has been no possibility of getting this through at all. Therefore, I believe, with other speakers, that there will still be a lot of bitterness left, and I am very regretful about that.

Since the Government came in they have put on to agriculture a great many experiments, some of which have not been altogether popular, and if the farmers had followed their natural and their first instincts, I do not think many of those experiments would have seen the light of day, but I and many of my colleagues on the National Farmers Union have spent many weary days trapsing the countryside, trying to break down the opposition and to give the Government a fair field for their agricultural policy. Whether we have done right or wrong, time alone will show. I hope that we have done right, but in regard to many measures which the farmers distrusted, when we have explained them and tried to get at the Government's attitude, we have gradually broken down the opposition, and by argument, coupled with the despair of the farmers themselves, we have managed to get the measures adopted by the farming community. In this case, however, it has been entirely different. At the beginning, except in the heavily tithed areas, the farmers were inclined to accept the Bill without much question—there was not much interest in it—but as understanding has come and they have realised the full implications of the Bill, opposition has grown steadily, and at the present moment I believe it is still on the upgrade. As one hon. Member has said, I think the Government are making a profound mistake in shifting the bitterness from Queen Anne's Bounty on to the Government's own head. Because I agree with that opposition which is growing, and because I believe the farmers have a good case as tithe-payers, I cannot possibly support the Third Reading of the Bill.


Sir Edward Ruggles-Brise.


On a point of Order. Since it has become apparent that the total contribution as a result of this Bill will amount to £41,000,000 in 60 years, and since the people of Scotland are still taxpayers, why have not Scotsmen the chance even to talk about what will fall on the Scottish taxpayers?


What chance should we have of speaking on a Scottish Measure?


That is hardly a point of Order.

6.35 p.m.


I should like to deal with the speech which fell from the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), which I do not think should go unanswered. Throughout the whole of that speech was the suggestion that this Bill was a gift to the tithe-payers. If it is a gift to the tithe-payers then obviously the gift has come from somebody, and presumably the hon. Member means that the gift comes from the tithe-owners. It does not come from the State, for instance; there is no Exchequer contribution. I must really bring the hon. Member right down to it, and I will put this to him: He has repeated time and time again, not only on the Third Reading, but on the Second Reading and in Committee upstairs, that this Bill is a gift to the tithe-payers, and I challenge him directly on that. I am telling him that if it is a gift to the tithe-payers, obviously the gift must come from somebody, and he suggests that it comes from the tithe-owners. I take it that he will not challenge that.


I really have not time to go into this controversy, but if the hon. and gallant Member will refer the figures given by the Minister of Agriculture, he will see that it arises partly from the tithe-owners and partly from the use of the credit of the State.


Obviously the hon. Member does not wish to give any reply to my perfectly straight question. The Government, a certain situation having arisen, considered it of such importance as to make it necessary to ask His Majesty to appoint a Royal Commision to look into the whole question of tithe. This House would not have so acted had there not been grounds for so doing. That Royal Commission was appointed, and what was the nature of its report? Did it report in the sense that there should be a gift made to the tithe-payers? No. It reported in the sense that it was quite clear, from all the evidence which it had received, that for years past the tithe-payer had been paying too much. That, in a sentence, is a summary of the Royal Commission's report. The hon. Member for Central Leeds surely will not challenge the integrity or the good faith of the members of the Royal Commission, and if he cannot do that, then he must accept this fact, that the report of the commission in effect says that the tithe-payers have been paying too much and that the amount which they have been compelled by Parliament to pay must be reduced by Parliament. Is it therefore fair for the hon. Member to say that this Bill constitutes a gift to the tithe-payers? I refer him to the report of the Royal Commission.

I would also like to say a word or two to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Major Dorman-Smith), with whom on all matters as a rule I find myself in the closest agreement, as I hope and have no doubt I shall in the future again, but on this particular matter of whether or not this Bill should receive its Third Reading, I do not find myself in agreement with my hon. and gallant Friend. I would again refer to the report of the Royal Commission, which made three main recommendations. First of all, there was to be a reduction of the amount of tithe rentcharge to £91 11s. 2d.; secondly, the Royal Commission reported that the relief of tithe should operate where redemption annuity exceeds one-third instead of two-thirds of the Schedule B assessment; and, thirdly, the Royal Commission recommended that the period of redemption should be reduced from 76 to 40 years.

Whatever shortcomings this Bill may have—and in my view it has a great many—we must come back to this solid fact, that the Government have accepted two of those recommendations wholly and the third in part, and if there be any virtue at all attaching to the setting up of a Royal Commission, and its report being received by the Government, I think we must, when we come to the final decision, go back to the fundamentals of the case. I think we should, therefore, judge this Bill and decide whether or not to give it the Third Reading on whether it does in fact go a reasonable way towards meeting the recommendations of the Royal Commission. As I have just said, on two recommendations it does that, and it goes some way towards meeting the third. That being so, let us consider whether or not the tithe-payer will be wise to accept this Bill. At all events, although falling far short of his expectations, there will be some immediate relief in the very next half-yearly payment of tithe. It is a definite reduction, though I, for one, think it is not large enough, and it is a reduction which will commence to run at once. I rather think the tithe-payer will be wise to consider that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and that possibly half a loaf is better than no bread.

I agree entirely with my hon. and gallant Friend that that may be very cold comfort, but let us at least be practical. We have to remember that in so far as certain recommendations are concerned, the Government have gone some way, and that there is a definite relief in part. I, therefore, think the tithe-payers would be ill-advised to reject this Bill, though I share with them grave misgivings as to it, but I think that we, as hon. Members of this House, should feel it our duty to give the Third Reading to the Bill on the grounds which I have given, that we set up a Royal Commission, that we received its recommendations, and that, although the Government have not followed them by any means to the full, yet they have followed them a good long way. Therefore, I think the duty of this House will be to give the Third Reading to the Bill.

6.44 p.m.


After listening to the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise), I cannot help feeling that there has been some backsliding on his part. The Parliamentary Secretary, in his opening remarks, gave a classical illustration when referring to his chief, the Minister of Agriculture. He compared him to that classical subject Ulysses, and rather likened him to a wily navigator. In fact, I think he called him a wily navigator, and he told us that the Minister of Agriculture, unlike Ulysses, had not lost his crew. I do not think that the Minister of Agriculture is going to lose his crew, particularly after the speech of the hon. and gallant Member. The Minister, no doubt, realises that it will be necessary for him to retain his crew to enable him to steer his very frail barque to port, namely, the Third Reading. All through the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman has had a very rebellious and mutinous crew, and on Friday they even raised the Jolly Roger to the masthead and revolted to the extent of a large proportion, considering the numbers in attendance, against the Government. No doubt since then the right hon. Gentleman has threatened them with the yard arm, and I have not the slightest doubt that they will come to heel to-night.

I want to deal with the figure of £91 11s. 2d. which the owners of tithe rentcharge will be paid if this Bill goes through. This figure is far too high, and that is the grievance of those who are demonstrating against the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary levelled the charge against the party on these benches that we were out to confiscate the whole of the tithe rentcharge now enjoyed by the tithe-owners, and the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) rather suggested that we were out to loot the Church. That is entirely inaccurate. It is neither our case nor the case of those who are demonstrating against the Bill. Let the House remember what the tithe rentcharge actually is, and what this annuity will be. Tithe rentcharge is merely tithe, and since the Act of 1836 it was based not on the value of the land, but on the produce of the land. So when the Minister suggests, as he does in this Bill, that the tithe rent annuity shall be fixed at a certain figure capitalised on what I suggest are false premises, he is doing something never previously suggested by the Church in days gone by. They could take only one-tenth of the actual produce of the land, but in future that is not going to be the case. An hon. Member has reminded the House that in the collection of Income Tax—and when the commission ceases to function the Inland Revenue authorities will take over the collection of the tithe rent annuities—the tax is based on the actual income enjoyed by the taxpayer. To-day, however, we are taking a certain set of figures and stereotyping them for 60 years ahead, with the exception of certain minor alterations which the Minister hopes it will be possible to make in future owing to certain economies that will take place.

When I listened to the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) stating his case and asking for the full bond, I rather thought that his suave manner of speech and benevolent appearance belied his intentions. He reminded me of that character in the "Merchant of Venice" who asked for the full bond and nothing but the bond. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Leeds, who speaks in a special capacity—the House knows what that capacity is—is not only asking for his pound of flesh but for the blood that goes with it. Let me give him one illustration which may appeal to him, and it is one of several that I could give. When the Parliamentary Secretary talks of the owners of 200 acres, I would remind him that that is a fair-sized farm. The average, I believe, in Nottinghamshire is about 90 acres. The case I have in mind is that of a married man with two young children who bought a smallholding of 40 acres—




In a dear time. I am not certain of the year, but probably it was within a few years after the War. The tithe was £14 per annum. The man worked the holding himself, but later, through ill-health, he could no longer work it and had to go into a cottage and let the farm. There he kept fowls, a pig and a cow and he was just able to manage with his wife's help. In the depth of the agricultural depression he could not get a tenant for the farm, and for three years it went out of cultivation. The tithe, however, still remained on the land. Queen Anne's Bounty went to court, but they did not distrain, for the obvious reason that there was nothing on which to distrain. Previous to this Bill, the only way an owner could get his tithe rentcharge was by distraining, not on the land itself, but on what was on the land. The court orders in this case were kept alive and the family lived in extreme poverty. The woman had to take in washing and go strawberry picking. Eventually, the man obtained a tenant at a fair rent, and, as the tenant wanted all the land, the smallholder was not able to keep his pig and his few fowls, and he had to live on the rent. With the income he was able to get, which amounted to about 5s. 6d. a week, he managed to peg along. Queen Anne's Bounty applied for a rent receivership and the judge made the order. The order was not enforced because it was realised that without the rent the tenant would not have been able to live. The smallholder then came to terms with Queen Anne's Bounty.

Queen Anne's Bounty know that when this Bill goes through a commission will be set up and arrears will come before it, and they will have the power—and I am glad that they will have, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for including it in the Bill—to remit all or part of the arrears. Queen Anne's are in this case pressing for settlement of the arrears. I will say in fairness that they are not asking for all, but are asking for a proportion of them. If this case goes before the commission later on this smallholder will probably be relieved of all the arrears.


Will the hon. Gentleman therefore support the Bill?


I support that part of it, certainly, but my main case is that this £91 11s. 2d. is too much, and that in the case I am quoting the arrears should have been wiped out. The land had not been cultivated, but the tithe continued. There are certain other points I could put before the House in support of my argument, but perhaps it would be as well, as we are dealing with matters of an ecclesiastical nature, if I quoted not only the quick but the dead. As regards the quick, I would like to quote from the Minority Report of the Royal Commission, which was presented by an eminent gentlemen, Sir Leonard Coates. In his conclusion he says: The surprising thing about the tithe system in this country, of which tithe rent-charge is the present form, is not that it has provoked recurrent discontent, but that it has endured so long. Successive generations have contributed their meed of regulation and pruning, and many times the belief has been expressed that a final solution of its problems had been achieved; but new conditions have repeatedly created new difficulties and a sense of injustice in its incidence. I suggest to the Minister that the conditions which he wishes to stereotype in this Bill will not remain static. They are constantly changing, and in the course of the 60 years which are envisaged under the Bill they can change still further unless the Minister gives far more subsidies than he is doing to agriculture. Let me quote also the dead. I refer to Lord Palmerston, who was then Prime Minister, who is quoted in this report as saying in 1856: I do not agree with those who maintain that what is called the property of the Church is so strictly belonging to the ministers of religion that Parliament cannot deal with it. Undoubtedly the property of the Church belongs to the State, and the State, represented by its proper organ, the Legislature, has the power and the right of dealing with that property as the circumstances of the times may require. The main objection that I have to the Bill—and it is the main objection of the tithe-payers—is that the figure of £91 11s. 2d. has been wrongly based on figures, which can be, and have been, proved by the Minister of Agriculture, but which I say are entirely wrong. We are putting £91 11s. 2d. in this Bill for 60 years until tithe is redeemed, but on the figures given in the report for 1935, the proper amount per £100 of tithe rent-charge should be £80. For these reasons I shall certainly vote against the Third Reading, and I am glad to see that at least one member of the crew has told the Minister that he will not support him in bringing his craft into another place, but will also vote against the Third Reading.

6.58 p.m.


I do not intend to detain the House for long because there has been such a number of speakers already and they have shown the remarkable fact that this Measure, which is of such great importance to the Church from its point of view, and to agriculture from another point of view, is going to be read a Third time, apparently under pressure from the Government, without one speech giving it 100 per cent. support. There has not been one utterance from the other side, since the Parliamentary Secretary opened with his humorous interlude, which has given unqualified support to the Bill. Even the hon. Member who represents Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), and also a certain aspect of Church government, has not put a complete "O.K." on the Bill. In these circumstances, it does not seem to me to be necessary to address the House at any length. If the great machine majority of the Government will vote for this Bill any way, one cannot appeal sufficiently to the consciences of hon. Members to lead them to alter their minds. It is true that the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Major Dorman-Smith) has made a gallant and courageous speech on behalf of the agricultural community, but many of those who claim that they specially represent agriculture have been extraordinarily agile in the way they have been running away from the challenge of the crack of the Government whip. One need not stress that any further, but it shows that we on our side of the House, at any rate, have been adopting the right view in opposing this Bill all through, although we have been twitted by the Parliamentary Secretary to-day and by the Minister on previous occasions for our attitude.

The Minister and his Department have all through the discussions on this Bill assumed that there was no other way out of the serious situation in which the tithe-payers have been placed except their own proposals. That point of view we deny. It is not the only way out. The Government have never given adequate consideration to the well-informed and excellently argued Minority Report. Revelations which are given there of the manner in which the existing income from tithe rentcharge is divided among existing recipients show that by a proper discipline within the Church, and a proper redistribution of the Church income, the real burdens which have fallen to be borne so unjustly by the tithe-payers could have been relieved without adopting the proposals put forward in the Bill. We challenge the statement of the Government that this form of legislation was the only one which could have been adopted.

We say that the Government cannot hope to obtain a permanent settlement on the basis of this Bill. You only need to listen to the case put forward by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) and the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield to know that the Bill cannot be a lasting settlement, to know that even though you are transferring the duty of collection from Queen Anne's Bounty to the Inland Revenue authorities, you will never break the spirit of resistance among the tithe-payers during the next 60 years. The fact that you are changing from a charge on the produce of the land to a charge on the personal possessions of the persons charged with making this contribution, will mean a spirit of resentment as well as a daily exercise of injustice which cannot live. It would be very much better if the Government, even at this late stage, would make up their minds to secure a complete revision of the basis of this legislation and move to a sound scheme for the removal of the injustice among tithe-payers themselves.

When I hear remarks that have been made about the attitude of the Opposition being in favour of making gifts to landowners, I am more amused than anything else. We feel that if you are to get a lasting settlement you can only do it on a communal basis. We say that there is no special right of any section of any religious faith in this country to be supported in this way. Those of us who are Nonconformists have to support our own particular schools of religion and philosophy. You will only get a settlement of this problem on a communal basis in which the land is dealt with in a national sense. To suggest that you should settle the tithe-payer with a redemption period of 60 years is totally unreasonable. If you are prepared to accept the communal view and to move to national ownership, to create a central land fund, to create within the operation of that fund a reasonable period for the amortisation of any past rights which may be admitted, and to see to it that any return to those with the rights is used by them for communal and not for small sectional things, then you can hope to get a permanent and lasting basis.

This Bill may bring a certain amount of immediate injustice to certain incumbents, on the lines of the speech by the hon. Member for Central Leeds, but it certainly brings no adequate or immediate relief to agriculture in its position of need to-day, and it is likely to accentuate the sense of injustice by passing from the charge on the produce of the land to the possessions of the persons individually, this charge in the future. For all these reasons we feel that we should be able to ask the House irrespective of party to go into the Lobby against this Bill. It is the only chance to prevent this injustice being done. It was impossible from the moment the Government drafted the Financial Resolution governing the House in its discussion of the Bill to get an adequate Amendment to any of the major provisions affecting tithe-payers. If you want to keep from doing injustice to the tithe-payers, and to leace the door open for real relief from their pressing burdens, the only duty—even for the Conservative friends of agriculture—is to vote for the rejection of the Bill.

7.8 p.m.


We approach the final stage of a Measure which has engaged the intense attention of the experts for nearly two years, and now of the House of Commons for many weeks. It has been treated by the House and by the Committee upstairs in a non-party spirit, and a spirit desirous of finding as far as posible a settlement of this great and difficult problem. Let me deal shortly with the arguments raised to-night, not on party grounds but on the ground of how we can best deal with the situation that confronts us a short time before we pass this Bill to another place. It has been said that the difficulties of the Bill are shown by the fact that almost every speaker to-night had some criticism or other. I accept that. It is not a party measure where one side can beat the party drum and get the enthusiastic cheers of his own supporters, and equally the enthusiastic roar of denunciation from the other side. Even the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) welcomed this Bill in respect of certain of its provisions which he said would bring relief to a small farm which he knew, and would bring relief in respect of arrears and in respect of ultimate extinguishment.


My case was that these arrears would not be considered if Queen Anne's Bounty insisted on the collection before the commission takes over.


Is that not an argument for passing the Bill forthwith, for bringing the Commission into action? The question of arrears is one which may lead to great trouble in the countryside, and it is for that reason that I have more than once asked the House and the Committee to work swiftly and to remove the injustices. The Committee and the House have worked swiftly and they have worked well. The arguments brought up are that the difficulties of agriculture will not be removed by this Bill. No, they will not, nor did I ever claim that they would. They can only be removed by general measures for the prosperity of agriculture as a whole. It is useless to concentrate the whole of our relief on landowners many of whom do not have to pay a tithe. Landowners and tenant farmers who do not happen to pay tithes have their own difficulties. It is true that the difficulties with which we are concerned here are mostly in the East Anglian lands, but it must be remembered that time and again I have had to come to Parliament for reliefs which specially interested the East Anglian farmers. They may have been resented by other farmers, but they would have been doubly resented if they had relieved some farmers in East Anglia and not others.

I have the responsibility for agriculture, and I say that the fact that the State has underwritten agriculture by £70,000,000 is an earnest that the State recognises the needs of the future of agriculture, and recognises the responsibility which lies upon it to keep that industry solvent. That is our great responsibility which I ask the House to take. This Parliament and future Parliaments will realise the necessity of maintaining agriculture in a solvent condition, and I believe that through general measures for agriculture, and not through special measures, will prosperity be given to agriculture. We have done our utmost to deal with the special difficulties of agriculture and of the tithe-payer. We have a not uninteresting example in Wales of the special difficulties of the tithe-payer which would not be solved if we adopted certain of the proposals which have been laid before us to-night for special relief concentrated in highly-tithed areas. Wales is not a highly-tithed area, and a bitter complaint would go up from Wales if relief were subtracted from that country and concentrated in East Anglia. It is said that the difficulty would all be removed if farmers, agriculturists and landowners felt that all the revenues here were being devoted to communal purposes. But they are being devoted to communal purposes in Wales and I can imagine that owners of heavily-tithed land in East Anglia, like owners of lightly-tithed land in Wales, would feel no relief whatever if revenue derived from their land were to be concentrated on public instead of private aims in future.

Hon. Members have said, "Why deal with the future at all? Why have this element of sinking fund in the Bill? "The sinking fund element is of great value in Wales. If it had been imported into tithe at the beginning it would already have gone a considerable way to wiping out tithe altogether. In fact if Parliament had grappled with it in that way in 1836, when it first took up this subject, tithe would long since have been extinguished. Sinking fund payments have wiped tithes off agriculture in great countries on the Continent. The sinking fund element is of great value, especially, on heavily-tithed land, where the extinction of the tithe, and not its diminution by a certain fraction, is the chief thing to which proprietors of the land look forward. The diminution will reflect itself before very long in the ultimate value of the land, and in benefits to the tithe-payers over and above the immediate relief given by the reduction in the annual charge. The farm to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw referred will benefit as sinking fund begins to run; the benefit will be reflected in the improvement in the investment which the man has made and the improvement in the realisation value of the property. I am sure the hon. Member will agree with me on that, as one who has given much attention to these financial and accountancy problems.

I do not believe our difficulties would have been obviated by a reduction of the charge from £91 to £75. I do not believe the difference between 9.1 and 7.5 would have been such as to remove the grievances of the demonstrators who came to Hyde Park and marched through London a few days ago. Why did that demonstration come? I think it came, fundamentally, because those people believe that if this Bill were defeated a better Bill would be introduced. I think that belief lies behind the arguments brought forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Major Dorman-Smith) that opposition to this Bill had grown as time went on. Yes, but that is because people were told that if this Bill were defeated a better Bill would be introduced—but a better Bill in what way? We have already had arguments which have destroyed each other, the arguments of those who wish for more relief to the heavily-tithed lands and of those who wish for more relief for the lightly-tithed lands, the arguments of those who say that the Church and other tithe-owners are being prejudiced and of those who say that tithe-payers are being asked to bear an altogether unreasonable burden. The tithe-owners are not by any means all ecclesiastical tithe-owners. There is lay tithe, owned for the most part by great educational institutions, by Oxford and Cambridge colleges which now have a high proportion of working class members among their students. We should certainly have heard a great deal more of the injury inflicted upon educational establishments if we had made such a cut in tithe as would really satisfy the tithe-payers.

As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) said, after a thoughtful and careful analysis of the Bill, and facing up frankly to many of the difficulties which he saw now and in the future, the House would be ill-advised to reject this Bill. I do not believe that if we shipwrecked this Bill we should find a better Bill this year, or within the lifetime of this Parliament or of any Parliaments to come. The chances of Parliamentary life are very great, and having got so far with the ship it would be a tragedy to see it capsized in sight of port. But it will not be. The House as a whole is, I am convinced, desirous of seeing a solution to this question, though it is a solution which may not be a final solution, because which of us can prophesy for 60 years?


Not this Government.


I do not know of any Government which will last for 60 years. But this is a proposal which, at any rate, takes a long step forward on the right road towards the solution of the difficulty. The right road is, first of all, to sever the link, which has become a fetter, between the Church and tithe. Hon. Members in all parts of the House have said, "Oh, if only the tithe could be 10 per cent. of the produce of the land instead of this fixed charge." The value of the agricultural produce of the titheable land of this country is £140,000,000 a year, and 10 per cent. of that would be £14,000,000 instead of the present tithe rentcharge value of between £2,000,000 and £4,000,000 a year. The breaking of that link is desirable and necessary. The second step is the unification of the charges upon the land. That the Inland Revenue will, in future, be the collector of the tithe is not an argument against but in favour of the Bill. A body which knows the difficulties of the agriculturist from the closest examination is a body which can be trusted not to harry him, not to press him unduly hard; otherwise, if they recover money with their right hand, they will lose it with their left hand; and it is the object and desire of the Inland Revenue authorities to keep the industries of the country, including the industry of agriculture, active and working. The unification of the charges on the land is a step forward and not a retrograde step in the solution of the problems of agriculture.

Finally, the scheme will bring the State into even closer connection with agriculture than it has been before. In the past the argument about tithe has been warped through and through with the religious quarrel, and any suggestion of a concession on tithe has been immediately mixed up inextricably with the question of whether it would or would not do good to the Established Church. From the moment this Bill passes through Parliament that quarrel ends. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, that quarrel ends. Questions of whether the annuities should or should not be lower, or whether the method of collection is harsh, will be answered on the Floor of the House by a Minister; they will not be mixed up with a religious quarrel, but with the economic question of whether the burden is an undue one to place upon the shoulders of producers on the land. I think these are steps in advance which the House would be ill-advised to refuse. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) said the Bill ought to be rejected because of the Financial Resolution and the necessarily strict terms in which it was drawn, but I think his argument was stultified by the very instances which he gave. He recalled that the Noble Lord the Senior Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) had said that he could not support the Bill, but that he hoped it would be amended later so as not to remain the harsh and cruel Measure which it then was. Where is the Noble Lord to-night? He is not with us. Why? Because his argument has been met, because his case has been satisfied, because the protection of life interests, which was the main point he put before the House, has been effected. That was done by Amendments carried in Committee, the Committee which the hon. Member opposite said had been powerless to improve the Bill. I say that instance alone shows that the Committee was by no means the helpless body it was represented to be.


The Noble Lord is not here to vote for the Bill.


In this case he who is not against me is for me. In other respects the Committee was by no means the tongue-tied and helpless body which has been suggested. The right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) said the Committee could not help the tithe- payers. The hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) will remember that in Committee we carried an Amendment providing that all the profits from the scheme should go, not into the maw of the Treasury, but into the scheme for the benefit of the tithe-payers. The shortening of the period, if the financial arrangements prove favourable, by, it may be, one, two, three or four years, was especially secured by an Amendment carried in Committee, that Committee which the right hon. Gentleman says was powerless to assist the tithe-payer. Other Amendments were made for the benefit of the tithe-payer, as all who were on the Committee will remember. The Financial Resolution was strict because the control of finance by this House, on the Floor of this House, is strict. Extra burdens placed on the general taxpayer would have led to the shipwreck of the Bill, because the interests of agriculture are interests which have to be protected by general measures, and I could not recommend those general measures to the House if, at the same time, I were recommending particular measures to benefit particular sections alone.

The benefits which the Bill has brought are denigrated by certain hon. Members —they are lessened, I will not say sneered at, but condemned, by hon. and right hon. Members opposite—because we have merely come down to the figure of £91. The figure in the Bill of 1925 was introduced for the purpose of averting a mountainous rise in tithe. It was adopted to avoid a rise in tithe based on the figure of the seven year average, which hon. Members now say they would have been satisfied to see adhered to. The figure for the future of this industry cannot be calculated on forecasts of prices. An arbitrary figure must be taken, and if that arbitrary figure needs to be reconsidered it will be for future Parliaments to do so. I hope that necessity will not come to future Parliaments, though on that I will not attempt to prophesy. It has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield: "If you throw out this Bill we shall come to you and give you advice; we shall tell you how you can arrive at a solution which will end your difficulties." The

Royal Commission was set up for that purpose, and went into this question far more thoroughly than this House can do, and the only variation we have made from the findings of the Royal Commission has been to avoid a rise in rates which might have amounted to 2s. 6d. in the pound in some rural parishes. The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon put his finger on the spot when he said, "You appointed a Royal Commission and allowed that Royal Commission a long period for the examination of the question. You then took the findings of the Commission and worked over them carefully for many weeks and, indeed, for months. The Royal Commission should be backed up, and the findings of the Committee of this House should be backed up." I ask you to do that to-night by giving a Third Reading to this Bill.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 251; Noes, 128.

Division No. 256.] AYES. [7.30 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff(W'st'r S.G'gs) Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.) Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.) Guest,Maj. Hon. O.(C'mb'rw'll,N.W.)
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Courtauld, Major J. S. Guinness, T. L. E. B.
Albery, Sir I. J. Craddock, Sir R. H. Gunston, Capt. D. W.
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C.of Ldn.) Cranborne, Viscount Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page Hanbury, Sir C.
Apsley, Lord Crooke, J. S. Hannah, I. C.
Aske, Sir R. W. Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Hannon, Sir P. J. H.
Assheton, R. Croom-Johnson, R. P. Harbord, A.
Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover) Crowder, J. F. E. Hartington, Marquess of
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Culverwell, C. T. Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)
Atholl, Duchess of Davies, C. (Montgomery) Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.
Balfour, G. (Hampstead) Davison, Sir W. H. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) De la Bère, R. Hepburn. P. G. T. Buchan-
Balniel, Lord Denman, Hon. R. D. Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)
Baxter, A. Beverley Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Drewe, C. Herbert, Capt. Sir S. (Abbey)
Beauchamp, Sir B. C. Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop) Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.
Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury) Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Holmes, J. S.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Dugdale, Major T. L. Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.
Bernays, R. H. Duggan, H. J. Hopkinson, A.
Blair, Sir R. Duncan, J. A. L. Howitt, Dr. A. B.
Blindell, Sir J. Dunne, P. R. R. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Eastwood, J. F. Hudson, R. S. (Southport)
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Hurd, Sir P. A.
Brass, Sir W. Ellis, Sir G. Jackson, Sir H.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Elliston, G. S. James, Wing-Commander A. W.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Emery, J. F. Jarvis, Sir J. J.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Emmott, C. E. G. C. Joel, D. J. B.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Emrys-Evans, P. V. Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)
Bull, B. B. Erskine Hill, A. G. Keeling, E. H.
Campbell, Sir E. T. Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.) Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)
Cartland, J. R. H. Findlay, Sir E. Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)
Cary, R. A. Fleming, E. L. Kimball, L.
Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester) Fox, Sir G. W. G. Kirkpatrick, W. M.
Cazalet, The[...];ma (Islington, E.) Fraser, Capt. Sir I. Latham, Sir P.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n) Fremantle, Sir F. E. Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)
Channon, H. Furness, S. N. Leckle, J. A.
Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.) Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C. Leech, Dr. J. W.
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S. Goodman, Col. A. W. Lees-Jones, J.
Clarke, F. E. Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.
Clarry, Sir Reginald Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J. Levy, T.
Colfox, Major W. P. Gridley, Sir A. B. Lewis, O.
Colman, N. C. D. Grigg, Sir E. W. M. Liddall, W. S.
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Grimston, R. V. Lindsay, K. M.
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Drake) Liewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.
Lloyd, G. W. Pickthorn, K. W. M. Spens, W. P.
Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S. Pilkington, R. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)
Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Plugge, L. F. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)
MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Power, Sir J. C. Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
McCorquodale, M. S. Raikes, H. V. A. M. Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.
MacDonald Rt. Hn. J. R. (Scot. U.) Ramsay, Captain A. H. M. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Ramsbotham, H. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.) Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Reed, A. C. (Exeter) Sutcliffe, H.
McKie, J. H. Reid, Sir D. D. (Down) Tasker, Sir R. I.
Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees) Remer, J. R. Tate, Mavis C.
Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton) Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Magnay, T. Ropner, Colonel L. Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)
Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'derry) Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge) Titchfield, Marquess of
Markham, S. F. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A. Train, Sir J.
Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M. Runciman. Rt. Hon. W. Tree, A. R. L. F.
Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Russell, A. West (Tynemouth) Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.) Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen) Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.
Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Salmon, Sir I. Turton, R. H.
Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Samuel, Sir A. M. (Farnham) Wakefield, W. W.
Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R. Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney) Walker-Smith, Sir J.
Moreing, A. C. Sanderson, Sir F. B. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. Sandys, E. D. Ward, Irene (Wallsend)
Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.) Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P. Warrender, Sir V.
Morrison, W. S. (Cirencester) Scott, Lord William Waterhouse, Captain C.
Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Selley, H. R. Wells, S. R.
Munro, P. Shakespeare, G. H. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree) Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Nicolson, Hon. H. G. Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar) Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
O'Connor, Sir Terence J. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A. Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T.(Hitchin)
O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Orr-Ewing, I. L. Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich) Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Palmer, G. E. H. Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen) Wise, A. R.
Peat, C. U. Smithers, Sir W. Withers, Sir J. J.
Penny, Sir G. Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)
Percy, Rt. Hon. Lord E. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Perkins, W. R. D. Southby, Comdr. A. R. J. Major Sir George Davies and
Petherick, M. Spender-Clay, Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H. Mr. Cross.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Parker, J.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Patrick, C.M.
Adams, D. (Consett) Groves, T. E. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Potts, J.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'Isbr.) Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Pritt, D. N.
Ammon, C. G. Hardle, G. D. Richards, R. (Wrexham)
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Harris, Sir P. A. Riley, B.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Ritson, J.
Barnes, A. J. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Batey, J. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)
Bellenger, F. Holdsworth, H. Rowson, G.
Benson, G. Hollins, A. Salter, Dr. A.
Bevan, A. Jagger, J. Seely, Sir H. M.
Broad, F. A. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Sexton, T. M.
Bromfield, W. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Shinwell, E.
Brooke, W. John, W. Short, A.
Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire) Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Silkin, L.
Burton, Col. H. W. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Chater, D. Jones, J. J. (Silvertown) Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Cluse, W. S. Kelly, W. T. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)
Compton, J. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G. Sorensen, R. W.
Cove, W. G. Lathan, G. Stephen, C.
Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Lawson, J. J. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Dagger, G. Lee, F. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd) Leslie, J. R. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Loftus, P. C. Thorne, W.
Day, H. Logan, D. G. Thurtle, E.
D[...] Chair, S. S. Lunn, W. Tinker, J. J.
Dobble, W. McEntee, V. La T. V[...]ant, S. P.
Dorman-Smith, Major R. H. McGhee, H. G. Walker, J.
Ede, J. C. MacLaren, A. Watkins, F. C.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Maclean, N. Watson, W. McL.
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) MacMillan, M. (Western Isles) Wayland, Sir W. A.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. MacNeill, Weir, L. Welsh, J. C.
Gardner, B. W. Mainwaring, W. H. Wilkinson, Ellen
Garro Jones, G. M. Mark[...]ew, E. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Mathers, G. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Messer, F. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Granville, E. L. Montague, F. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Grenfell, D. R. Oliver, G. H. Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Charleton.
Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Paling, W.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.