§ BILLS PRESENTED. FIRST READING.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
, in rising to call attention to the mode of levying tithes, and to present a Bill, said: I wish to bring before your Lordships a Bill with reference to the incidence of tithes and the lamentable occurrences which are taking place, especially in the Western part of the country. It was not possible last Session to pass the measure which passed through your Lordships' House, because it did not commend itself to the judgment of the House of Commons. A good deal of discussion took place upon tithes, and we were able to see where the difficulty with respect to them lay, and we are now able to introduce a measure to modify the difficulty. I must first call your attention to what the difficulty is. Tithe is a very peculiar property. It is not a burden on the land; it is not a burden on the landowner; it is a burden on the produce of the land. But the produce of the land is in the hands of the occupier; while by law the person responsible with respect to the tithe is not the occupier but the owner. The result of that state of things is this—that in order to get at the produce of the land you must levy distraint upon the occupier. Yet the occupier, who is not the debtor, has to suffer the inconvenience of distraint for a debt that is not his own. And the difficulty arising from that state of things has been a good deal envenomed by its being mixed up with social and theological discussions, into which I need not further enter. The first consideration which occurs to us, on reviewing the discussion which took place both last year and before, is that the difficulty has arisen because the Act of 1836 has not been exactly obeyed, or rather that the landlords, in their contracts with the tenants, have been able to contract themselves out of the operation of the Act of 1836. By the 80th clause of that Act the tenant is indeed liable for the payment of tithe; but having paid the tithe, whatever it is, he is at liberty, just as in the case of the Income Tax, to deduct the payment that he has made from the rent he owes to the landlord when he comes to pay the rent to the landlord. But the difference between the case of the tithe and the case of the Income Tax is that the Act of Parliament establishing the Income Tax guarded that tax from being imposed upon the tenant by a subsequent contract between the 163 landlord and the tenant; and the Tithe Act overlooked that precaution. If the precaution had been taken this difficulty would not have existed now. If that precaution is taken now the difficulty will only exist as regards the existing contracts; it will not exist as regards contracts which come into existence after the passing of this Bill. It appears to me, therefore, that if there is a question as to what it is best to pass, we have to economize our time; the first thing we ought to do is to pass an Act remedying that defect in the Act of 1836, avoiding contracts between landlords and tenants which throw the burden on the tenants instead of leaving it, as the Act does, upon the landlord—in fact, putting tithes on a level with the Income Tax in that respect. If we do that the evil will be remedied as to future contracts, and all existing contracts will in due time die out. I propose, therefore, to split up the Bill of last year into three separate Bills. The first Bill I submit to your Lordships is one for simply putting tithe on a level with the Income Tax in respect to that precaution, and avoiding for the future contracts which prevent the tenant from recovering tithe he has actually paid by enabling him to deduct it from the rent due to the landlord; That will only operate in the future. What are we to do with contracts that exist now? The evil is too great, the injury done to the relations, especially between the spiritual titheowner and the landowner and occupier, are too serious to allow us to wait till the slow operation of the change of which I have spoken shall make these conflicts for the future impossible. Last year our proposal was simply to transfer the liability from the occupier to the owner, to put an end to the remedy of distraint, and, with certain elaborate precautions, to enable the titheowner to recover his tithe from the owner of the land. I believe that is a perfectly sound and innocent remedy. But I am bound to say that, though the Bill passed this House with great case, the landowners, of whom we have not a few here, accepted it apparently with goodwill; but when it came to "another place" of more jealous and exacting scrutiny there was a very considerable number of landowners who were not at all prepared to submit to this new responsi- 164 bility being placed upon them. There is no doubt it laid a considerable responsibility upon them, because it made the whole property of the landowner liable to tithes, which it is not now. We should have contended that the new liability was so surrounded by precautions that no practical harm could result to the landowner. However, we are very anxious if we can—I do not know whether it is possible—to find a mode of effecting the change which shall neither injure nor frighten the landowner, and, therefore, we propose to take another course this year. We shall leave the case of the owner who occupies his own land just where it is; the grievance does not arise with him, only that there is a remedy which is already in the Act of 1836 which we shall slightly develop and apply to cases of land occupied by the landowner and other lands—I mean the remedy that is given by the Act of 1836 in cases where there is not sufficient to distrain upon on the land. The Act of 1836 provides that where there is not enough produce on the land to pay the tithe, the titheowner may stop into the place of the landowner and become ad hoc the landowner, receiving the rent until the tithe shall be paid, and the costs incurred shall be paid, when the land shall revert to its proper owner. We propose to re-enact that remedy in a more modern form by enabling the County Court to appoint a receiver of rents where the tithe is not paid. The receiver will be appointed at the suit of the titheowner when the tithe is a certain period in arrear, and that receiver will have the right of either farming the land, if it is in the occupation of the owner, or of receiving the rent, if it is in the occupation of another person. As soon as the tithe is discharged and the costs paid the receiver will hand the land back to its true owner. I think that remedy, though effective, will possibly be costly; and we propose another remedy in the cases where the occupier is not the owner of the land. Distraint in that case, which is the present remedy, will be forbidden; and in place of it the County Court will, on the petition of the titheowner, issue an injunction to the farmer warning him to pay the tithe out of the first money that comes into his hands as the produce of his farm. If, after the receipt of that notification, the farmer 165 shall pay any rent to his landlord before he has paid the tithe to the titheowner he will have accepted the tithe as his own personal debt; in other words, we attach the rent. I do not know whether that will be held to be a more satisfactory remedy than the one we proposed last year. At all events, it is theoretically a much sounder remedy, for it limits liability absolutely to the produce of the land and imposes no liability on the landowner himself. The produce of the land will be liable, as it is now, in the first instance, to tithe before any rent is paid, and when that tithe has been paid the rent will be paid as before. It will be obvious, of course, that this remedy will be of no use in those cases, of which I am afraid we have some instances in the country at the present time, where the produce of the land after all expenses are paid is not enough to pay either the tithe or the rent. In these cases, of course, it is of no use to attach the rent; to attach the rent when there is no rent is an illusory remedy; there is no possible remedy except the remedy of a receiver in that case. Although the titheowner has a right to get whatever the land yields; I believe in reality in those cases that, practically, the right no longer exists; and where the land has failed to yield produce the titheowner, as well as the landowner, is practically dispossessed of his property. That, putting it simply, is the nature of the remedy which we offer in this Bill for the purpose of getting rid of the grievance of distraint. It is bad to leave the law as it is even if it would work; but the friction and animosity produced are so great that we are bound to find some other means of conveying to the titheowner that share which is his due in the produce of the land. One thing more. Great complaint has been often made of the operation of the seven years' average. It is said, and said justly, that where a depression and consequent fall in the prices of agricultural produce set in, the first years of the seven years' period continue by their high prices to bear down the farmer long after his farm has ceased to yield the high results on which those first averages were based. We believe it would be more just to take a three years' average, and that that would be sufficient. The Bill of last year had yet 166 another part which I do not propose to introduce to-night, although I should be glad if it were possible to come to some arrangement with the Episcopal Bench in regard to it—I mean that part of the Bill which concerns the redemption of tithes. I had the honour to introduce into the Bill of last year clauses which would have facilitated the redemption of tithes, I believe, in a practical manner; but the terms, which were favourable enough to induce the landowner to redeem, were thought too favourable to the landowner, and those who represent the Church pressed for some modification of those terms. Whether we shall be able to effect such a modification I do not know, but I must express a strong conviction that if redemption is thought by those who represent the Church to be a desirable object, it will not be brought about with out a sufficient concession to the landowners to induce them to undertake it. However, that is a matter hardly relevant to my present purpose. I propose now to present the Bills which I have described to the House, and after the Recess I will ask your Lordships to read them a second time.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
said, he did not propose at the present stage to discuss measures which were not in terms before the House; but still he should like to say a few words on the observations of the noble Marquess. He was glad the noble Marquess had recognized that a change in the mode of recovering tithe should be made; but it was a matter which might cause landlords a loss. With regard to the first Bill, he was inclined to say that the provision that the landlord should not be able to contract himself out of the obligation to refund the tithe to the tenant was a fair and just provision. In a great number of instances it was the practice for landowners to permit the tenant to deduct from the rent the tithe which he had paid, and he believed in those cases no difficulty had been experienced. In that respect the Bill would establish throughout the country a practice found to work smoothly in places where it was in operation. With regard, however, to the provision for the recovery of the tithe from tenants holding under existing contracts, he confessed to some doubt—he hoped it might prove otherwise—lest 167 the proposed remedy should turn out to be too complicated, and after all should not remove the difficulty with regard to the tenant. That was to say, they would still have to go to the tenant, and the tenant would, no doubt, in many cases continue to act unreasonably. He was afraid that any system by which it was necessary to make application to the tenant would be apt to produce friction. On the question of redemption he entirely agreed with the noble Marquess that unless the Church was prepared to make some concession it was practically impossible to effect the object. It was not that it was desired to take away from the Church her due share in the produce of the land; but the present was a case in which, in the interests of the Church herself, he believed redemption would be desirable. There was another subject which the noble Marquess had not touched upon—that was the re-assessment of some portion of titheable lands. It could not be contended that they should persevere in a system with regard to certain lands where the tithe actually swallowed up the whole profit of the land and operated as a confiscation of the whole income of the land. This was no light matter. Surely it was not a mere question of pounds, shillings, and pence, because the result would be that land would go out of cultivation. Great injury would be inflicted in districts where the land ceased to be cultivated. In making these observations, he wished to be understood as reserving his opinion till he saw the Bills; but he felt sure that the desire of his Colleagues on the Front Opposition Bench was to co-operate, as far as possible, with the noble Marquess in the object he had in view.
§ EARL STANHOPE
said, that he was glad the Bills had been brought forward, and hoped that they would be pushed through Parliament as rapidly as possible. The resistance to the payment of tithes in Wales had assumed an acute stage. He was glad, too, that the seven years' averages would be reduced to three years. It would be much more equitable to all parties.
§ LORD HARLECH
said, he agreed that there was a great call for legislation on this question; but, considering the opportunities for obstruction in "another place," he was not sure that the noble Marquess was pursuing a judicious 168 course in dealing with the subject in three Bills. He suggested that it would be more convenient to make one Bill of it divided into three parts, and thereby afford less opportunity for obstruction.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
said, he was of opinion, on the contrary, that to adopt the suggestion of his noble Friend would be to run the risk of destroying the whole of this legislation. The advantage gained by having three Bills was that if two went to the bottom the third might float. The Government hoped, however, to be able to pass all three Bills.
§ Bill read 1a. (No. 53.)
§ Bill to amend the law with respect to the recovery and variation of tithe rentcharge in England.—Presented (The Marquess of SALISBURY.)
§ Bill read 1a. (No. 54.)