HL Deb 09 July 1839 vol 49 cc76-8
The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, that in moving the second reading of the Tithe Commutation Act Amendment Bill, he felt it necessary to offer a few observations. This Bill was one of considerable importance, though it was not likely to call forth any difference of opinion among their Lordships. He would state briefly its chief objects; but, before doing so, he might as well inform their Lordships of the progress made in carrying the Commutation Act, to which this was an amendment, into effect. From a return which he held in his hand, it appeared that the Commissi- oners, under the Act, had already made great progress in reconciling the interests of the Church with those of the public, and on grounds which would prove beneficial to both. The return to which he referred showed, that 4,255 voluntary agreements had been already made with respect to the commutation, and, of that number, 3,114 had been confirmed. Of compulsory agreements there had been 339. There had been 179 notices given of awards actually received, and 57 of awards confirmed. Thus it appeared, that one-third of the kingdom had been already brought under the principle of voluntary agreement, and there was a satisfactory prospect that the whole kingdom would at no distant period, be brought under the operation of this salutary measure. The chief points of the bill before their Lordships were these.—First, it provided that former charges on tithe be transferred to land; second, that supplementary awards might be made. He would admit that it was not generally desirable that awards should be re-opened, but in some cases it became absolutely necessary; as, for instance, in cases where parts of parishes had been accidentally excluded. In the third place, occupiers of Lammas land were allowed to enter into competition without reference to the sum paid by graziers, who sent their cattle for part of the year on the land. The fourth point related to the tithe on fruit. Orchards would be taxed in the same way as other land, but it was proposed and assented to by the Commissioners and those who represented the interests of the Church, and by those who represented the interests of the fruit-growers, that a composition should be made of tithe on the land as land, and that another should be made on the capital embarked in growing the fruit, with the power of rescinding that composition when the orchards fell back to be used as ordinary land. These were the chief points of the Bill. Some amendments would be necessary in the committee. But to these it was not necessary to advert at present. He moved, that the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Ashburton

did not rise to offer any opposition to the Bill. He admitted that the sanction of the Commissioners would do much to remove difficulties, and the progress they had already made showed that they were executing their trust with zeal and ability; but when he heard that there were above 4,000 cases of voluntary settlements, he must remark that they were settlements between the tithe-owners and tithe-payers, and that the proportion to be paid by the tithe-payers amongst themselves, was not settled. The simple question was this—the practice of the country had been to rate the tithe-payer or farmer on rack-rent, and also on his profits, but the courts by whose decisions this practice was sanctioned, left it undecided how the pofits were to be ascertained. They could not give the clergy compensation on one principle, and allow the rating to be on another. He thought it was necessary that Parliament should settle that vexata questio.

Earl Fitzwilliam

thought, that his noble Friend was in error as to the point. The case of "the King and Joddrell" was one, as at present decided, which would make the law press heavily on the tithe-payer. That was a case in which the opinion of all the judges should be taken. It appeared to him, that if the first decision come to was good law, it ought to be so declared before the whole land was ruled according to the principle established in that decision. If the law was allowed to remain as it had been decided in the first instance, in the case he had mentioned, it would be very hard on the tithe-payer.

The Duke of Richmond

said, that if the present opinion of the judges remained, it would be necessary to come to Parliament to settle the question, for if the farmer were rated on his profits, so ought the merchant and the manufacturer to be rated likewise. The land would gain by this principle, for the merchant and the manufacturer would be made to bear some part of the burthen.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, that as the question was to be argued before all the judges in November next, their Lordships would not think that Parliament could interfere until they knew what the final decision of the judges would be.

Bill read a second time.