HL Deb 21 May 1874 vol 219 cc601-12

asked Her Majesty's Government by what method it was intended to realize the capitalized value of the terminable annuities into which the tithe rent charges and three-fourths of the head rents belonging to the late Established Church in Ireland may have been converted in those cases in which they may have been sold by the Church Temporalities Commissioners on the system of payment by instalments extending over a lengthened period, in accordance with the terms of the Irish Church Act, 1869?


said, the Irish Church Commissioners were in debt to the National Debt Commissioners to the amount of between £8,000,000 and £9,000,000. As he understood, it would be between 16 and 17 years before that debt could be paid off. The Government had not before them any proposal of the Church Commissioners for realizing the capitalized value of the annuities payable by the landowners; and with these engagements upon the Commissioners there did not seem to be any object in pushing forward any scheme for the realization of those annuities.


asked the noble Viscount (Viscount Monck), who is a Member of the Irish Church Temporalities Commission, "Whether he could give the House any information as to the progress made in carrying out the objects of the Commission? He believed that under the Irish Church Act the Commission was appointed for 10 years, and that half of that time—five years—had now elapsed. His object was to ascertain how much had been paid off under the Act, and also what might be the surplus in future time. The property of the Irish Church, as he understood, was about £400,000 a-year; and he was not aware that any steps had been taken to convert that, and apply it to the extinction of tithe rent-charges. He was anxious to hear from the noble Viscount opposite what progress had been made in the matter, in reference to 22½ years' purchase of the liability.


My Lords, in rising to reply to the Question just put to me by my noble Friend, I must commence by bespeaking your Lordships' forbearance, because, in order to answer it intelligibly, I shall be obliged to trespass at considerable length on the indulgence of the House, and, I am afraid, to make a dry statement of facts and figures. I wish to commence by dividing what I shall have to say under three heads—first, the amount of work done by the Commission; secondly, the cost of that work; and, thirdly, as far as is in my power, to state the present condition and future financial prospects of the Commission. My Lords, your Lordships will recollect that the Irish Church Act received the Royal Assent on the 26th of July, 1869, but it did not come into full operation—that is, the property of the Church was not vested in the Commissioners till the 1st of January, 1871. Those two dates naturally divide the business entrusted to the Commission into two classes. The first, the business done between the date at which the Act received the Royal Assent, and that at which the Commissioners got possession of the property, was partly of a temporary character—that is, it was not directly connected with the object and scope of the Act. The second is business directly connected with the disestablishment and disendowment of the Irish Church. Now, with respect to the first class. The Commissioners were obliged to execute necessary repairs of ecclesiastical structures, and to provide all articles necessary for the carrying on of Divine Worship. We had to carry into effect, within certain limits, engagements for the building and enlargement of churches entered into by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I need not trouble you with details of those duties; but I may say in the discharging them we made 4,547 orders, each of which necessitated a minute examination of facts in order to ascertain whether the claim made came within the terms of the Act, and the total of which entailed an expenditure of £162,469. I hope I have succeeded in conveying to your Lordships that this work was only of a temporary character. It was, so to speak, the work necessary for maintaining the fabric of the churches, from the time of the passing of the Act till the vesting of the Church property in the Commissioners, and had nothing to do with the disestablishment and disendowment. The subsequent and principal work of the Commissioners naturally divided itself under three heads. First, the ascertaining and, by order, declaring the amount of compensation to be awarded to the different classes of persons whose interests were to be affected by the Act; secondly, the commuting for a fixed sum of money the compensation of those persons to whom compensation was given by way of annuity, and also the life interests of the clergy in the glebe lands; thirdly, the selling and otherwise disposing of the property of the Church and the realizing of the surplus. I wish here to mention to your Lordships that these operations, both by the tenor of the Act and the requirements of the case, must have been taken up in succession and in the order I have stated them. One process could not have been engaged in until the preceding one had been completed. I make this observation because, from comments which have appeared in a portion of the Press, it might be supposed possible to have carried them on simultaneously. But it is obvious that annuities could not have been commuted until they had been ascertained. They had to be ascertained and fixed before the 1st of January, 1871, because on that day it was competent to any clergyman to come into the office of the Commissioners and claim that his annuity should be commuted. If we were not prepared to comply with his claim an injustice would be done him, because as time advanced the amount to which he would be entitled would be getting less. In the next place, sales of land could not be made until commutation had been effected; because lands were vested in the Commissioners subject to the life interests of the clergy, which could be determined only by death or commutation, and the Commissioners were prohibited from selling land subject to life interests. The first operation we had to perform was that of fixing the annuities, and I have already stated the reason why that had to be done by the 1st of January, 1871. Every annuity was fixed by that day. To ecclesiastical persons other than curates they numbered 1,459; to curates, 921; to diocesan schoolmasters, 14; to clerks and sextons, 3,189; to Nonconformist ministers on account of the Regium Donun, 579; to vicars-general, 42—making a total of 6,204. By another provision of the Act we were directed to give gratuities to curates and certain other persons who were not to be compensated by annuity. We made 494 orders in respect of them. Another class of persons who had to be compensated were the owners of advowsons, but the compensation in their case was made at a later date, because they had three years from the passing of the Act within which to make their claims. In the case of these persons, 351 claims have been received, and 291 disposed of, so that there remain 60 still to be disposed of. The delay in this case does not, however, he with the Commissioners. It arises from some legal difficulty. It will be seen then, my Lords, that with this slight exception we have performed the whole of the duty of ascertaining the compensations for those whose pecu- niary interests are affected by the Act. I now come to the second great head of work, which consisted in commuting for a fixed sum the compensation to those to whom, by the Act, compensation was given by way of annuity. When we came to this we were met by an obstacle which I, at least, had not anticipated. Looking at the large amount of money which in this country is every year risked on the probable duration of human life, I had imagined that the power of calculating that probability under any given conditions, would be as easy as the calculation of the interest of money; but when we came to inquire we discovered that the conditions of human life are so various, and each slight change of condition affects those probabilities in such sensible degree, that we had to prepare tables of our own in order to measure the amounts which should be paid for commutations of annuities under the Act. I think it was the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) who, during the discussion of the Irish Church Bill in your Lordships' House, proposed that the lives of the clergy should be valued at a uniform term of 14 years. I voted against that proposition; but, as one of the Commissioners, I have often felt inclined, as far as my personal ease was concerned, to repent of my vote, because we found it most difficult to obtain a basis satisfactory to the clergy. We could not commute a single annuity against the will of the clergyman entitled to it; and therefore if we could not have obtained tables satisfactory to them we should have had no commutation at all. Having got over that difficulty, we proceeded to deal with the applications for commutation. We had to commute not only the annuities granted by us to the clergy, but also their life interests in glebe lands. They could have remained in possession of those glebe lands, but that would have been very undesirable. We succeeded in overcoming the difficulties of the case, and I have to tell your Lordships that out of 6,204 annuitants, whose annuities were fixed as I have already mentioned, 5,765 have commuted, leaving a balance of only 439 uncommuted. There are only 66 incumbents who have not commuted, 13 curates, 3 diocesan schoolmasters, 314 clerks and sextons, whose annuities are but small, 29 Nonconformist ministers, and 14 vicars-general. Of these, 41 have lately desired to commute. That finishes the second great head of business to which I have proposed to draw your Lordships' attention. I will now state very shortly the cost of this commutation. The sum paid or secured to the members of the Disestablished Church was £8,090,559; to Nonconformist ministers on account of the Regium Donum, £695,434; and the annuities still outstanding to complete commutation are valued to the Church at £461,907, to Nonconformist ministers at £38,460; the total cost of commutation of the annuities being £9,286,360. That may seem a large sum; but I can state to your Lordships two facts which, I think, taken together, show that the Commissioners were enabled to hit on the happy medium between too strict an interpretation of the terms of the Act against the interests of the annuitants, and too lax a reading in their favour. One fact to which I have already alluded is, that the whole of the annuitants who have commuted have commuted of their own accord, which shows that they did not consider the terms offered too unfavourable to them. The other circumstance is this. Everyone having a life interest in the land, if discontented with the value attached to that life interest by the Commissioners, had the right to appeal to arbitration. Several persons exercised that right, and in every case the decision was against the Commissioners, which showed that we had not been too lax in our dealings, and had not given more than men of intelligence and integrity thought the annuitants entitled to. Incidental to the work there were other matters with which we had to deal. Your Lordships are probably aware that if an incumbent in Ireland built a glebe house out of his own funds he was entitled to charge the outlay for that purpose on his successor, and that successor on the person who succeeded him. These were charges on the glebe houses which we were authorized to pay off, and that has formed a considerable item of work which is now all but completed. We have paid £225,288 on account of those building charges, and there remains still an estimated balance of about £16,166 to complete the work. For the purpose of extinguishing the tithes, we were authorized to purchase leases of the tithe rent- charges, where such existed; and on that account we have paid £54,438, the estimated balance to complete the purchase being £135,421. The payment of other charges and encumbrances affecting property amounted to £96,015, leaving an estimated balance to complete the work of £98,278. I come now to the third division of business—namely, the sale and other disposition of the property of the Church. I will take the lands first. The lands resolved themselves into two classes. The first class consisted of mensal lands, hitherto occupied by the clergy. The second class comprises the Bishops' lands and glebe estates, occupied by tenants. By the Act of 1869 the Church Representative Body was entitled to the offer of the glebe houses on certain conditions, with as much mensal land as, in the opinion of the Commissioners, was necessary for the convenient enjoyment of each house. To arrive at a decision on that question, we were obliged to have very minute and accurate surveys and maps made of all glebes in Ireland. The number of glebe houses and mensal lands in Ireland is 970, the annual value of which is £35,377. Orders have already been made ascertaining the quantity of land to be attached to each of these houses in the case of 458, or about half the total number, and there have been actually vested in the Church Representative Body 134. I now come to the lands held by tenants. These lands resolve themselves into three classes—first, those held in perpetuity; secondly, those held on renewable leases; and thirdly, those held by yearly and other tenure. In the case of the perpetuity holders, the price charged for their holdings was fixed by Act of Parliament at 25 years' purchase. In the case of renewable leaseholders a different provision was made. These renewable leaseholders really had perpetuities, for they could compel the renewal of their leases whenever they expired. They had, by the Church Act, three years from the 1st of January, 1871, within which it was competent for them to convert their renewable leaseholds into perpetuities. After that time the power ceased. It is, therefore, obvious that we could not sell any renewable leaseholds to the public until the 1st day of January, 1874. The number of holdings in perpetuity is 1,626; of renewable leases, 505; of yearly and other tenures, 8,432, making a total of 10,563; and before we could offer any lands of the second and third classes to the public, we were compelled to offer them to the tenants at a rate to be fixed by the Commission. We have already offered 3,914 of those holdings to the present occupiers, and the number who have accepted and completed the transaction by paying their portion of ready money and securing the remainder by mortgage is 1,335. There are 363 other holders who have accepted our terms, but whose purchases are not yet completed; and there are a considerable number of offers which have been only recently made, and the time for accepting which has not yet expired. I am told that the acceptances of the offers are coming in so fast that by the 1st of July, 2,000 out of the above number of 3,914 will probably have been received. I wish here to explain that considerable responsibility was thrown on the Commissioners in respect of these offers. The solo right of fixing the price was with the Commissioners. If we fixed the price too low we should have been sacrificing public money with which we were intrusted; whereas if we fixed it at a reasonably high but not extravagant rate, the tenant would not in reality be injured; because, if he considered the sum asked too much, he had only to refuse, and afterwards when the land was sold by public sale, he, as one of the public, would have as good a chance of buying it as anyone else. That concludes what I have to say about the sale of the lands. I now come to the tithe rent-charges, which are dealt with in two ways. We are enabled the Act to sell the tithe rent-charge for ready money to the payer of the tithe rent-charge at 22½ years' purchase. The effect of the other mode was that, by entering into a prescribed arrangement with the Commissioners, the payer of a tithe rent-charge paying the rent-charge to which he was otherwise liable in perpetuity, would at the end of 52 years extinguish the charge. We had no power to compel persons either to buy for ready money or to enter into the arrangement under which the tithe rent-charge was to be extinguished. The number of sales for ready money have been 1,110, and the annual amount has been £11,883 3s. 8d. The number of commutations by the other method was 6,321, and the annual value £144,396 2s. 7d., being about two-fifths of the entire amount I have mentioned. My Lords, I have now concluded my statement of what has been done in giving effect to the provisions of the Act; but before I sit down I wish to say a few words concerning the other duties which devolved on the Commissioners. We have been since the 1st of January, 1871, the managers of a very extensive property in Ireland. In addition to the duties already adverted to, the Commissioners have had the management and collection of the revenue of landed property held by 10,563 tenants, and yielding a revenue of £225,622. The tithe rent-charge consists of about 40,000 items—I use the word designedly—and yields £406,815 per annum. The total number of payers of both classes is 50,563, while the total amount collected annually is £632,437. Besides this, the sales during the three years which have elapsed since the Act came into operation have produced in ready money an average of nearly £250,000. Therefore, the whole amount collected in our office has been £882,437. That finishes my statement of the work which has been accomplished, and I have now to call your Lordships' attention to the consideration of the second head, into which, when I began, I said I would divide the observations I proposed to address to your Lordships. I mean the pecuniary cost of this work. The entire expenditure of the Commission during the three years ending in December, 1873—including the whole cost of collecting its revenue, and managing the property intrusted to the care of the Commissioners—was, in 1871, £27,723; in 1872, £29,673; and in 1873, £28,701, the average of the three years being £28,699, or about 3¼ per cent on the amount collected and administered—a sum which I venture to say could not be considered unreasonable if it had been the charge for collecting the revenue alone. I must now briefly allude to the third division of my subject, in giving your Lordships' a statement of the present financial condition and future prospects of the Commission, and I would here call your Lordships' attention to two provisions of the Church Act, which materially delay the realization of the surplus. Your Lordships are aware, from what I have already stated, that the property of the Commission consists, in round numbers, of about two-thirds tithe rent-charges and one-third land. I have already mentioned to your Lordships the two modes provided by the Act for disposing of the tithe rent-charge—namely, by sale for ready money, and by the process by which the tithe rent-charge is converted into an annuity which extinguishes itself in 52 years. Your Lordships have seen that no large sales for ready money can be expected of this sort of property, and that the effect of the Act will be to convert almost the whole of the tithe rent-charge into a terminable annuity. A similar result is produced in reference to the land by the provision which enables purchasers of land to leave three-fourths of their purchase money on mortgage, repayable in 64 half-yearly instalments. Having premised so much as to the powers we possess for realizing the property, I now come to our actual condition and prospects. The capital liabilities ascertained are £10,711,303, and those estimated are £845,604, making a total of £11,556,907. Of that sum we have paid out of the current receipts £1,001,335, leaving a balance of £10,555,572. Of this, £8,400,000 is due to the Commissioners for the Seduction of the National Debt, and £1,309,968 to the Representative Church Body. The estimated sum still required is £845,604. It is estimated that the debt to the Church Representative Body will be paid off in July, 1876, by moans partly of a further advance from the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt of £500,000, and partly from current receipts. The Church Representative Body will be paid, including interest, £892,079 in 1874; £626,000 in 1875; and £106,000 in 1876. The regular liquidation of the debt to the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt cannot begin until the debt to the Church Representative Body shall have been discharged. The calculation that this debt will be paid in about 17½ years from the present time is based on the assumption that the Commissioners will be able to devote out of the current receipts, including sales, £800,000 a-year to that purpose. There will then remain—first, the residue of the terminable annuities into which any portion of the tithe rent-charge may have been commuted; secondly, the tithe rent-charge in perpetuity, subject to the right to buy or com- mute it, as regards such portion as may not have been bought or commuted; and, thirdly, the outstanding balances of the instalments payable on the purchase money of land sold. It is, of course, very difficult to say what will be the capitalized value of these different items; but, according to the best estimate we have been able to form—and I do not think it exaggerated—we put the capital value of tithe rent at £9,621,914; of landed property, at £6,626,948; and from other sources—trust funds, glebe house, mortgages, &c.—at £494,504, making a total of £16,743,366. Deducting from this the sum of £11,556,907 for liabilities, there will be a probable surplus of £5,186,459. My Lords, a Question was asked early in the evening by a noble Friend of mine who sits opposite, as to the possibility of realizing this surplus at an earlier date than that at which it will become available by the collection of the terminable annuities, into which I have shown you the bulk of the property will, by the operation of the Act, be converted. It is not my province to devise plans for this purpose; but it does appear to me that when the Government shall have become, by the liquidation of the debt to the Representative Church. Body, sole creditor of the Church property, the operation of capitalizing and making available the surplus, ought not to be a very difficult process, or one beyond the powers of an enterprising financier. I have to thank your Lordships for the kindness with which you have listened to, I am afraid, a rather tedious statement. I cannot sit down without doing justice to the staff of the office with which I am connected, and having had some little experience of official life, I must state I have never known a body of public servants who performed their duty with greater zeal and efficiency. In justice to them, I am happy to have been enabled to lay before your Lordships this evening a statement of the large amount of work which has been transacted by the Commissioners at a comparatively small cost.


I have listened with great interest to the statement of the noble Viscount; but, in spite of the ability with which it has been made, it must, I think, be obvious to your Lordships that such a statement would have been more satisfactory if it had been put into print. It is impossible to follow all the details of a spoken statement. I would venture to suggest that a yearly statement should be made of the proceedings of the Commissioners.


I entirely concur with my noble Friend that it would be better to make what I may term an annual historical Report. We are only bound by the Act to make a mere financial Return.