HL Deb 31 May 1883 vol 279 cc1273-82

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: My Lords, before entering into the proposals contained in the Bill which I have the honour to submit to the House, I trust that I may be allowed to explain how tithes are at present calculated, and how collected and paid. There are two sorts of tithes—ordinary tithe, and extraordinary tithe—the first calculated on the price of grain; the second on hops and fruit. Very frequently land is subject to both these kinds of tithe; but I am not going to allude to extraordinary, only to ordinary tithe. I will not enter into the history of tithes, or do more than touch on the Acts which regulate their payment. Certain Acts in the Reign of Henry VIII. enforced the punctual payment of tithes to the Church; but it was not until the year 1836 that tithes were commuted into a tithe rent charge, representing £100, and calculated on the average price of grain seven years previous to the year 1835. The standard prices of grain were fixed as follows:—One bushel of wheat at 7s.d.; one bushel of barley at 3s. 11½d.; one bushel of oats at 2s. 9d. Thus the yearly rent charge is so much higher or be much lower than the sum fixed by the award, according as the authorized averages are higher or lower than the standard prices given in the Commutation Acts. By a later Act in 1864, the average prices of wheat, barley, and oats are taken in 149 boroughs in Eng- land and Wales, and the average market price is given weekly in The London Gazette. In January, the seven years average of tithe rent charge is announced. The House is well aware that tithe rent charge is apportioned to each field, and a tithe map kept in every parish. Tithe rent charge is now recoverable by means of distress on the land, and it can rarely happen that there is neither crops or stock on the land which cannot be seized to pay off tithe. If nothing can be recovered, application can be made to the High Court to recover tithes by means of taking possession of the land, and farming it by the tithe owner. My Lords, it is clear that, by the 80th section of the Tithe Commutation Act, landlords were required to pay tithes. I think there is no doubt on this point. But at present, though in the North of England they pay the tithes, it is the usual custom in other parts of the country for the tenant to pay tithes, and on that account paying a smaller amount of rent for his land to the landlord. As to the objections to tenants paying tithes instead of landowners, I think they may be generally stated to rest partly on the altered conditions and prospects of agricultural pursuits, and partly on the disinclination which exists among tenants to pay tithes, taxes, and rates, at other times than at rent days—that is, half-yearly. It is now the usual custom for large land surveyors and valuers to value land tithe free, and then the landlord makes his agreement with the tenant. In consequence of a succession of bad seasons and. agricultural distress which has prevailed during the past six years, much arable land has been laid down to grass, yet, though the farmer receives less profit, he has still to pay the same amount of tithe, as it is all separately apportioned on his land. I have already said that tenant farmers are disinclined to pay tithes at odd times, and prefer only to make their half-yearly payment of rent, considering tithes a landlord's charge. I may be allowed to remind the House that in Scotland, tithes or "teinds" are, and have been for many years, paid by the landlord, and no trouble or friction exists in the collection of these teinds. I now come to the seven years' average system of calculating tithe rent charge, and I think it will be seen at once how unfairly the average system now works. For instance, when agricultural seasons are the worst, and the farmer is making the least profit, he has to pay the highest tithe. In 1875,which was not a good season, tithes stood at £112 15s.; and in 1878, which was a disastrous year, tithes stood at £112 7s. It is with the hope of removing these objections that I have ventured to bring this Bill before the House; but I should have deemed it a presumption on my part, had I, on my own responsibility, brought forward this proposal. This recommendation, however, originates from the Report of the Royal Agricultural Commission, of which the noble Duke below me (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) was the Chairman. What did the Royal Agricultural Commission say? They recommended that the tithe rent charge Should be a fixed sum, that it should be paid by the landlord, and that every facility should be given for its redemption. This proposal is signed by 18 Royal Commissioners—indeed, all of those who were present. Among many witnesses who gave evidence in favour of this recommendation, I will only quote the words of one whose opinion will carry great weight, I mean Sir James Caird. Sir James Caird was asked— Would you see an advantage, or a disadvantage, in compelling the landlord to pay the tithe in all cases? He replied— It was the spirit, undoubtedly, of the Tithe Commutation Acts that it should be so, and it is so enacted. Sir James was also asked— Would you like to see an Act passed by which it should be made imperative upon the landlord to pay the tithe? The answer he gave was— I think it would be an advantage both to the landlord and the tenant. He was further asked— Would you like to see the tithe a fluctuating sum, as at present, or a fixed sum, as has been suggested to us, of £100? And he replied— I would rather have it a fixed sum. The Commissioners also give the various reasons in favour of such a change. They say— A very general complaint is made by witnesses of the way in which tithe rent charge is calculated. The grounds of objection are thus briefly put by one witness. The big measures have never been reduced to standard Imperial measures fixed at a given weight. A very small number of towns have been selected from which to get the prices of the corn returns, in order to arrive at an average. The large quantity of seconds and tail corn has never been taken into consideration in the calculation. The merchant's profits have often been added to the prices that the growers receive as the basis upon which to make the Return. These causes together have operated to create a higher average for the tithe than should fairly be the case. Well, as regards the want of uniformity in the Imperial measures, the Corn Average Act of last Session had, to a great extent, remedied the evil. As to fixing tithe at £100, now was the time to do it, because the average stood this year at par, or nearly so, being £100 4s.d., and next year it would probably fall to £98. It was urged that as tithes were falling the tithe-payer should have the advantage, and pay less than £100; but I venture to think that this is a somewhat narrow and short-sighted policy. It was originally intended that tithes should be commuted to £100; and, looking forward for some years, it was not unlikely that tithes would average above £100, as they had in past years. Since the Commutation Act tithes had averaged, during a period of 47 years, £103 2s.d., even though, between 1850 and 1858, they had fallen considerably below £100. Then, again, it was obvious that it was more probable that tithes would be redeemed if they stood at a fixed sum. No one would readily redeem a fluctuating average. It might seem, at first sight, as if gold would fall in value, and the produce of land would improve in value. But this is contrary to the opinion of those who have studied the subject, and who are the greatest authorities on currency questions. Monsieur de Laveleye, in a pamphlet published in 1881, maintains that gold is gradually increasing in its purchasing power; and Mr. Goschen, in an able lecture recently delivered, fully corroborates this view. Mr. Goschen shows that because Germany, Italy, Holland, and the United States have adopted a gold currency, there is annually an enormous demand for gold, and that they absorb about £200,000,000 in 10 years. He goes on to show that the supply of gold is falling off, and that, whereas in 1852 the amount of gold produced was £36,000,000, it is now only about £20,000,000 per annum. From this it follows that unless fresh discoveries of gold are made the value of gold will rise, and its purchasing power will increase. My Lords, the advantages to the tithe owner under this Bill will be that he will secure prompt payment of his tithes, all friction between himself and the tithe-payers will be avoided, and he will save largely in the cost of collection. As regards the cost of collection, it is usual to pay 5 per cent for collecting tithes; then there is a tithe audit dinner, and with delay in payment and bad debts the cost of collecting amounts to sometimes 8 and 9 per cent. In the Bill existing leases are exempted; but I cannot think that it will be any drawback to landlords in the South of England to be obliged to pay tithes, as is the case in Scotland and in Ireland. Yearly agreements may require endorsement; but no new 6d. stamps will be required. It is not intended by the Bill to give the tithe-owner power to levy tithes where before they could not be recovered; and, if there is any doubt on this point, it will be easy to introduce a clause to remove all such doubts. Her Majesty's Government do not object to the principle of the Bill; and I, therefore, urge the House to allow it a second reading, both in the interests of agricultural tenants, and for the purpose of carrying into effect the recommendations of the Royal Agricultural Commission.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl Stanhope.)


, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that this was the second legislative effort this Session of the noble Earl. In his first Bill there was a Preamble which became inconsistent with the provisions of the Bill after their Lordships had directed certain Amendments; and he had recommended the noble Earl to get rid of the difficulty by omitting the Preamble. Although the noble Earl did not take his advice then, he had taken it as to the Bill before the House, and had omitted any Preamble. He should, however, very much liked to have seen how the noble Earl would have framed one. The only Preamble he (Lord Bramwell) could conceive would be—"Whereas it is desirable to meddle with the law and alter it." As there was no Preamble and no principle in the measure, he (Lord Bramwell) must deal with it as a collection of clauses. He had not heard at any time during the existence of the present law that there was any difficulty in the collection of tithe. He did not mean to say that persons who had to pay liked it; but solicitors of great practice had told him that the present means were amply sufficient. First, as to Clause 3. No doubt, the landowner was the person really affected by the tithes, and not the occupier; and the Tithes Commutation Act had contemplated that. The consequence was that in certain cases, no doubt, the landowner had paid the tithes; but he believed that in the majority of cases the landowner, for convenience sake, had stipulated that the tenant should pay the rent charge. The noble Earl's proposition was that, no matter how convenient it might be that the tenant should pay, and no matter how inconvenient it might be that the landowner should pay, if they made a bargain between themselves that bargain should be void. What was the good of this? Was it supposed that by that 3rd clause the burden could be shifted? Even if it were so, why should it be done?—unless, indeed, their Lordships were of opinion, as some people were, that landlords were the proper persons to be plundered. But it was manifest that if the clause were passed the consequence would be that the tenant would have to pay a higher rent, and the landlord would stipulate with the tenant to get him to pay the tithe for him, and the only effect of the 3rd clause would be that some slight alteration would be made in the phraseology of leases; and, therefore, the clause was positively ineffective. As to the 4th clause, there was very little in it, except that it said that if the tenant paid the rent charge he should be at liberty to sue his landlord for it, or to deduct it from the next payment of rent. He would now call attention to the 5th clause. It said that the tithe rent charge might be recovered from the owner by action as a simple contract debt. At first sight that seemed to be a benefit to the tithe-owner. But what was the consequence? Suppose the tithe-owner, if he were a clergyman—or, for the matter of that, if the tithe were in lay hands, but particularly in the case of a clergyman—went to the tenant for the tithe rent charge, the tenant would say—"Go to the landlord, who is the real debtor, and not trouble me." So that the clause, although it seemed to give a benefit to the tithe-owner, by giving him a right to sue the landowner, would, in fact, practically take away from him his power of distress against the tenant. The next clause was really most extraordinary. It was as follows:— Any guardian, trustee, committee, husband, or attorney who, for the purpose of the Tithe Commutation Acts, represents any owner under disability of lands subject to tithe rent charge, shall represent such owner for the purposes of the Act, but not so as to incur any personal liability; and any goods of such owner which may be vested in or under the control of any such guardian, trustee, committee, husband, or attorney may be taken in execution of process under this Act. This word "attorney" was sensible in the Commutation Act, but was absolutely unnecessary in this Bill. Again, the consequence of that section might be that for a debt recovered from A B, the goods of C D might be seized; and the goods of the man himself would never be taken in execution unless they were vested in, or under the control of, any such guardian, trustee, committee, or attorney. Then, again, the owner was spoken of; but what did the noble Earl mean by the owner?


The tithe-payer.


But they were told, by the 2nd section of the Bill, that the words used in this Bill were to have the same meaning as those in the Tithes Commutation Act. Now, the latter Act had excepted from its scope tenants for life or years holding under leases; and, therefore, the noble Earl would be obliged to leave out of his Bill such tenants, and so a very large portion of the landowners of the country would have to be left out. He would not occupy their Lordships attention any further on this clause; but there was one—the 7th—which he was much surprised to find in any Bill introduced into that House. Clause 7 provided that— When the owner of land subject to tithe rent charge shall not himself be in occupation of such land, he shall, if such rent charge be paid within one month after the same shall be due and payable, be entitled to deduct a sum equal to three per cent of the same from such payment, or from any future payment of such rent charge. So that gentlemen in England were to be allowed a discount of 3 per cent for paying their debts properly. Why that benefit should be given to the owner in respect of a farm which he did not occupy, and not in respect of the next farm which he did occupy, it was difficult to see. He wondered whether the noble Earl had realized what 3 per cent meant to a man whoso tithe rent charge supplied him with food and clothing. It meant a week and a-half without anything at all. Besides, it was clear that clergymen could not sit at home to receive their rents; they would, no doubt, as they had hitherto done, employ a collector, and the only result would be that they would receive so much less money than they had been in the habit of getting, as the 8th clause declared that the rent charge was not to vary, if a sum could be agreed upon. It should be borne in mind, however, that the mode of fixing the rent charge was adopted to guard against a change in the value of money and its consequences. It might be that, notwithstanding this consideration, a fixed sum and a fair one would be preferable. There was, however, one clause—the 10th—which he entirely agreed with. The clause provided that the Act should not extend to Scot-laud or Ireland. He wished to go a step further and provide that it should not extend to England.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day six months.")—(The Lord Bramwell.)


said, the only advantage of the Bill, would be getting rid of uncertainty and troublesome calculations by fixing tithes at par. There was no reason for restricting the discount the Bill proposed to owners who were not occupiers, since the greatest difficulties of collection were in the cases of small freeholders who were owners and occupiers. If the tithes were added to and merged in the rent, as the Bill took no precaution against it, farmers would be rated on their gross rent—that was, on the tithes which were not their property; and, on the other hand, owners would, if they did not take much care and trouble, pay Income Tax upon these tithes, which would be included in their rent. There was no advantage in the Bill equal to the trouble it would give.


said, he was convinced that the noble Earl who had introduced the Bill had done so from the most laudable motives, and had attempted to find a satisfactory solution of what was, no doubt, a question of no ordinary difficulty. After the criticism of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Bramwell), it appeared that the clauses had the singular disadvantage of not being of a perfect kind. He hoped his noble Friend (Earl Stanhope) would forgive him for saying that he was not personally enamoured of the provisions of the Bill; and, without going into details, he would appeal to his noble Friend if he would be satisfied with the discussion he had raised, leaving the Government to deal with the subject in a more ample manner on some future occasion?


said, he was afraid he must join in the appeal of the noble Earl who had just sat down. The grave recommendations of the Royal Commission, however, certainly did invite Parliament to legislate on the subject. For his own part, he felt a strong sympathy with the object the noble Earl had in view in introducing the Bill. He could not entirely agree with the remark of the noble and learned Lord that there was no grievance or evil to remedy. No doubt, the noble and learned Lord spoke from a legal point of view, and perhaps in that view there was no difficulty; but, undoubtedly, it was very inconvenient for a tithe-owner to be obliged to enforce his remedy of distress. This was felt particularly in the case of clergymen, who were often unable to give time to tenants, as landlords usually could. They were compelled to distrain, thereby exposing to the world the position of their debtor, and bringing his other creditors upon him. He was unable to concur in the opinion that there was no evil to be remedied; but it was expedient that a remedy should be sought by a Bill less open to criticism and objection. He was not so sanguine as to believe that the noble Earl would be satisfied with the discussion; but he thought there were only two courses open to the noble Earl. One was to withdraw the Bill, in order that it might be re-introduced in a better form; and the other was to refer it to a Select Committee. Before he heard the speech of the noble and learned Lord he was in favour of the second alternative; but as it had been pointed out that there was so much ob- jection to so many of the clauses, on the whole, he thought the sounder proceeding would be to withdraw the Bill.


wished to confirm what had fallen from the noble Marquess. There were practical difficulties in the way of collecting tithe, and it was not so easy and pleasant a matter as the noble and learned Lord implied. While he regretted the unsuccessful attempt made by the noble Earl to remedy the defects of the existing law, he was of opinion that the noble Earl was entitled to the thanks of the tithe-owners for his exertions.


wished to recognize the good intentions with which the Bill had been drawn; but he felt that the subject was one which it was not desirable to deal with in a piecemeal or imperfect way, and the Bill did not contain any provision with respect to extraordinary tithe, although it was affected by the 8th clause. The whole matter ought to be dealt with at the same time.


said, that the tithe was less than the rent, and if the tenant could not pay the tithe, he could not pay the rent, so that they would not improve the position of the tithe-owner by referring him to a pauper landlord, instead of a pauper tenant.


said, he regretted to find that the recommendations of the Royal Agricultural Commission were so little acceptable to their Lordships, and the more so as the present year was specially favourable for dealing with tithes. He felt confident that ultimately the principle of the Bill would be adopted, and that landlords would pay tithes in England as they did in Scotland; but, in compliance with the evident wish of their Lordships, he would withdraw the Bill.


, as President of the Royal Agricultural Commission, was not surprised at the reception the Bill had met with, because it did not carry out the views of the Commission, or respond to the evidence taken by them. He agreed with the strictures of the the noble and learned Lord (Lord Bramwell), and was glad that the Bill was to be withdrawn.

Amendment, Original Motion, and Bill (by leave of the House), withdrawn.