HL Deb 18 July 1831 vol 4 cc1386-94
Lord Dacre

then rose to move the Second Reading of the Bill which he introduced for effecting a Commutation of Tithes. His connection with agriculture had naturally drawn his attention to this subject, and he was anxious to devise some remedy for the admitted evils of the Tithe-system. In stating the objects of his Bill, he felt he must throw himself on the indulgence of their Lordships, as he found himself anticipated on many points, and had already been replied to by one of the most powerful and learned persons in the House. If he conceived that the bill introduced by the most rev. Prelate would be at all operative, he would give it his earnest support, but, in the present state of agriculture, he did not suppose, that the powers given by the most rev. Prelate's bill would induce the occupiers of land to apply capital to permanent improvements. The application of capital to agriculture could only be produced by a permanent provision relative to tithes; and the only permanent provision was a commutation for a fair and full equivalent. He concurred with those who thought that the right to tithes was as full, as sacred, and as complete, as the right which their Lordships had to their estates; but the collection of this property led to such inconvenience, and impeded the application of capital to agricultural improvement so much, as to require their Lordships to ascertain whether they could not find and apply some substitute for this species of property, giving the proprietors a full equivalent for everything of which they might be deprived. The great evil of the tithe system was, that tithes increased in proportion to the cost and expense of cultivating the land. In early periods, when there was only a species of rude cultivation, tithes produced little more than the tenth of the actual value of the land; but, as the expenses of cultivation increased, the value of the tithes increased in proportion. In the year 1739, tithe were considered equal to one-eighth of the value of the land; but in 1759 they were one-fifth, and subsequently one-fourth of the value of arable land, and one-seventh of the value of pasture-land was required as the commutation for tithes. The result was, that the application of capital to agricultural improvements was limited far within the natural bounds, and greatly to the injury of the country agricultural improvement had been suspended. The principle of commutation was recognized in that House, after a long and able debate, in 1781, and since that time had been frequently applied. The commutation of tithes by land had often been tried in Enclosure and Allotment bills. There were many objections, however, to a commutation in land on any large scale. It would be difficult to prevent dilapidation, and there was an objection to placing so much land in mortmain. It might, perhaps, also lead to a neglect of ecclesiastical duties. There were many cases, also, in which corn-rents had been tried as a commutation for tithes, and the experiment had worked beneficially: in those cases he had never heard any imputation or suspicion of fraud, and he had, therefore, adopted that principle as the ground-work of his Bill. The principle was, that a rent should be paid to the tithe-owner, vibrating with the price of corn. It was for the interest of agriculture, and more especially for the interest of the Established Church, that the tithe-owner's increase of profit, arising from the application of increased capital to land, should cease. He was persuaded that substituting a corn-rent for tithes, would be advantageous to the Church; to injure which no one was less inclined than he was. He considered, however, that a measure like that which he proposed, would give security to all property in land, and to Church property in particular. His great object was,] to clear away the restrictions which prevented the application of capital to land, and, by giving the tithe-owner a rent-charge on the land, vibrating with the price of wheat, that, as far as tithes were concerned, would be accomplished. The tithe-owner would receive a full equivalent for his property, and an end would be put to litigation. Although he wished to avoid commuting tithes for land, yet in some cases the Bill provided that such a commutation might take place. He wished, that the tithe-owner should commute with the proprietor, instead of the occupier, as at present, which would be accomplished by his Bill giving the tithe-owner all the security of a rent-charge on the land. He proposed to give two-thirds of the tithe-payers in any parish, a compulsory power over the other third, and over the tithe-owner, so as to enable them, giving proper notices, to call upon the tithe-owner to appoint a Commissioner, who, in conjunction with one appointed by them, should value the tithes. Should the Commissioners not agree, an umpire was to be appointed. Some objections might, perhaps, be made to this part of the plan—indeed, some had been made; but if their Lordships would allow the Bill to go to a Committee, he should be willing to make changes to meet those objections. In conclusion, the noble Lord observed, that he would be happy to accept the Composition bill of the most rev. Prelate, if he thought it would be effectual; but he was satisfied that a measure of commutation would give security to the property of the landholder, and strength to the Church Establishment, whilst it would relieve the people. The noble Lord then moved the second reading of the Bill.

Lord Wynford

considered it his imperative duty to oppose the measure of the noble Lord, because he was perfectly convinced that, if carried into effect, it would operate most injuriously on the interests of the clergy. The question for their Lordships' consideration was, whether commutation or composition be the better mode of reconciling the interests of the occupier of lands and the tithe-owner at this time. Their Lordships had approved of the principle of composition by suffering the most rev. Prelate's Bill, to be read a second time; but as he meant to ask their Lordships to reject the Bill of the noble Lord, it was incumbent on him to shew, that the bill of the most rev. Prelate would either do all that was necessary, or would prepare the way for a much more equitable commutation of tithes than that proposed by the Bill of the noble Lord. He had heard with great satisfaction, from all parts of the House, that the right of the tithe-owner to the tenth of the produce of the land stood on the same ground, and was as strongly secured by law, as the right of the landowner to his rent, or to the produce of the other nine-tenths if he cultivates the land which he owns. The land-owner and tithe owner are, in unequal proportions, possessors in common of the land: why, then, was the right of the tithe-owner considered more injurious to agriculture than that of the land-owner? Because the former took advantage of all improvements in the cultivation of a farm, at however great an expenditure those improvements might be made, without in any manner contributing to the expenditure. It was this circumstance which made a farmer, who willingly paid his rent, object to pay tithes. When buildings necessary for the cultivation of a farm were to be rebuilt or repaired, or when the lands required draining, or manure must be purchased, or an expense was to be incurred by altering the mode of cultivating the farm, the landlord either took upon himself the whole, or a part, of these expenses, or gave the tenant as long a lease of the farm as would enable him to repay himself what he might expend in such improvements. A composition for tithes, at the value they are of at the time the composition is made, for so long a period as will enable the farmer to take the benefit of his own improvements, would place him in the same situation with regard to the tithe-owner as to the land-owner, and when such a composition was made, the right of the tithe-owner would bear no heavier on the occupier of lands, or tend more to the discouragement of agriculture, than rent. The occupier had a right to be repaid his outlay, with a reasonable profit upon it. When composition should have secured this right to him, whether his rent was to be paid all to his landlord, or a part of it to his landlord, and a part of it to the tithe-owner, would make no difference to him. Such a composition would not only entirely remove from tithes the objection of their being incompatible with the improvement of agriculture, but the still more serious objection of their diminishing the moral influence of the clergy, and of their exciting feelings in the minds of the farmers which prevented them from receiving the spiritual advice of their pastors, or joining with them in the Church service, with the charity that was essential to make such service of any use to them. He agreed, however, with his right rev. friend (the Bishop of London) that their Lordships ought not to stop there, but should endeavour to establish such a commutation of tithes as would secure the interest and influence of the Church. There was but one mode of accomplishing that desirable end, and that was by commuting tithes for land. He preferred the bill of the most rev. Prelate to that of the noble Lord, because the bill of the most Rev. Prelate would facilitate a commutation for land, whilst that of the noble Lord would prevent, and even preclude it. To make such a commutation, an accurate knowledge of the value of the tithes was necessary, and time would be required to find such an estate as should be considered a just equivalent for the tithes. By a composition under this Bill, the value of the tithes would be ascertained, and the farmers would have all the benefits of a commutation, whilst they might be employed in finding a proper estate for the tithe-owner. If during the term of the composition the land-owners did not purchase such an estate, the right to the tithes might be again restored to the incumbent. By composition the tithe-owner and the tithe-payer would be placed on a level, which would not be the case if commutation were adopted, because the value of every species of produce was constantly liable to variation. By having recourse to composition, no difficulty would be found in making an arrangement by which the tithe-owner would receive that to which he was fairly entitled, while the tithe-payer would not contribute more than in justice he ought. If, however, they wished to proceed on the principle of commutation, then he must say, that "land" alone furnished the only fair and just commutation. Many eminent individuals, he was aware, had written in favour of commutation, and amongst them Dr. Smith and Dr. Paley. The commutation proposed by the former was in the shape of a tax on the land; that of the latter was founded on a plan something like that contained in the present Bill. But, in his opinion, commutation, founded on either principle, would, at no distant time, operate most injuriously towards the tithe-owner. It was impossible, however, not to see, that a fixed rent might operate, as it happened, either injuriously to the Church, or to the ruin of the agriculturist. The rent must be assumed upon the pre- sent mode of cultivation, and the profits arising from it; but ten thousand circumstances would induce the occupier to give up the present mode of cultivation, and adopt some other. If land went out of tillage, and the rent fixed when it was in tillage was still payable to the tithe-owner, the farmer and the land-owner must be ruined. If tithes had been commuted for a fixed rent within the last five years, so many farms had gone out of cultivation, that numbers would have been ruined. It appeared by the provisions of this Bill, that a certain modus was to be paid on arable, pasture, and wood land; the first of one-fifth, the second of one-eighth, and the last of one-tenth. Such a system he did not think exactly fair to either of the parties concerned, on account of the fluctuation in the value of produce. He was most anxious that the Church should not reap too much advantage from any great outlay of capital on the improvement of land, and the consequent increase of crops; but, at the same time, he did not see any reason why the tithe-owner should not have his share of such advantage as well as the land-owner. He strongly objected to this measure, because he could not view it as commutation, but as the destruction of tithes. He felt the utmost respect for the opinions of those who differed from him with respect to religious tenets; but still he must say, that he could not, in a question of tithes, allow sectaries of every class to interfere, which, by the provisions of this Bill, they would be permitted to do. Quakers, who, from a conscientious feeling, objected to the payment of tithes, would, by this Bill, be permitted to decide in tithe questions on their affirmation. It appeared also, that where any dispute occurred, an umpire might be nominated. By whom was that individual to be appointed? Not by the Lord-lieutenant, or the Magistrates assembled in sessions, but by the parishioners convened in vestry, where all were to have a right to vote. The whole matter was left in the hands of the parishioners, who had clearly an interest in appointing a partial individual. Then it might be supposed, that there was some appeal from the judgment of this umpire; but there was no such thing—his judgment was to be final and conclusive. He conceived, that this measure was a direct attack on Church property—first, by commuting it for less than it was worth; and secondly, by placing the whole rights of the Church absolutely at the mercy and discretion of those who felt conscientious scruples in opposition to it. It would be most extraordinary if those persons who scrupled to pay tithes at all, were to sit in judgment to decide on the amount which was to be allowed in all cases. For these reasons he should move—" That the Bill be read a second time this day six months."

The Earl of Carnarvon

expressed his conviction, that if the present Bill were passed, many of the clergy throughout the country would be placed in a most unpleasant situation. The question of commutation, their Lordships must feel, was surrounded with very great difficulties, and ought to be approached with the utmost caution and deliberation. Still, though he did not approve of this Bill, he thought that some measure, tending to calm those angry feelings which the difficulties of the times and the distress which prevailed in the country had induced, ought to be brought forward. Instead of arguing this question at present, he conceived, that it would be better if noble Lords gave their cordial assistance in perfecting the bill of the most rev. Prelate, which, he conceived, was calculated to do much good. Hereafter they might, with calm and mature consideration, adopt some measure of a more permanent nature. He hoped, therefore, that the Bill of the noble Lord would not now be pressed. The measure proposed by the most rev. Prelate, when it was duly arranged, and its principle was clearly understood, would, he was convinced, be most beneficial to churchmen and laymen. If they were to sit to that protracted period which it was likely the Session would reach—if they were called on to decide upon measures of great importance, which must occupy much time, and must demand great and serious deliberation—in that case he thought that, before they were prorogued or adjourned, it would be desirable to adopt some measure to allay those feelings of discontent which prevailed in the agricultural districts.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

hoped that the noble Lord would withdraw the Bill. If he did not, although the great respect which he had for the noble Lord would make him take such a step with regret, still he should feel himself compelled to give his decided negative to the, motion. The Bill which he had had the honour of introducing, and which had been read a second time, rendered the Bill of the noble Lord in a great degree unnecessary. The measure now before their Lordships professed to give to the clergy one-fifth, one-eighth, and one-tenth, with reference to different portions of land. But, in fact, it did no such thing, because rates must be deducted out of the amount so paid.

Earl Grey

also recommended his noble friend not to proceed with the present Bill, until the bill of the rev. Prelate should have been disposed of. He only recommended, that his noble friend should withdraw, not abandon his Bill. He was friendly to the most rev. Prelate's bill, the principle of which, as well as the details, he much admired, and believed that it would produce most beneficial effects. That bill was not intended to make an alteration in Church property — it was strictly a bill of regulation. He thought it was likely, by means of composition and commutation, to remove the differences which so frequently arose between parishioners and their pastors. If those differences could be removed for ever, in the words quoted by the noble Lord on the Woolsack, it was "a consummation devoutly to be wished;" but every noble Lord who had turned his attention to the subject must be aware, that these difficulties were of too great magnitude to be surmounted by a single measure. The bill, however, by enlarging the time for the composition of tithes, and by giving security for their being paid, would in some measure remedy the evil. On those grounds he agreed with the noble Karl (Carnarvon) that it would be advisable for the noble Lord to abstain from proceeding with the present Bill, in order that the bill of the rev. Prelate might be furthered with the least delay possible, particularly as that bill would be a step towards the attainment of his own object. He hoped, that the bill of the rev. Prelate, emanating as it did from the Church, would put an end to those unjust reflections on the Church, as if its members were always unwilling to make any sacrifices for the good of the community. The most rev. Prelate had proceeded with proper caution, and had produced a bill which was certainly the more practicable of the two, and he should therefore give it his utmost support. He hoped his noble friend, therefore, would withdraw his motion, even with a. view to to its ul- timate success; but if his noble friend persevered, he should feel himself compelled to vote for the postponement.

Lord Dacre, under these circumstances, consented to withdraw the Bill for the present. In doing so, however, he must declare, that he would introduce it again, or some similar measure, if the bill of the most rev. Prelate was not found to answer the expectations of noble Lords.

Bill withdrawn.