HL Deb 27 July 1899 vol 75 cc435-9

House in Committee (according to Order).

Clause 1:—


My Lords, I was unfortunately prevented from being in my place when the Second Reading of this Bill was taken, and I should like, therefore, to make one or two observations upon Clause 1, and, if necessary, to move the omission of the clause. I regret very much that Her Majesty's Government have brought in this Bill, especially at so late a period of the session, and I regret it for several reasons. In the first place, although the amount of money which is to be handed over to the tithe-owner is small, a very serious principle is involved, and as one interested in the rating question, I feel that it is rather important, in the interests of the local taxpayer, that the principle which was adopted when the Agricultural Rates Act became law should be adhered to. I remember that, at the time that Act was passed, the principal argument of those who upheld it was that rates were a tax on capital, and that if a landowner or tenant farmer, by means of his capital, doubled the rateable value of his land, his rates would also be doubled. It was also argued that land was the raw material upon which a farmer depended for his trade, and that for that reason it was unfair that it should be taxed. I took this line myself, and was strongly in favour of the rates being taken off land in consequence of the injury they did to the capital of the farm. But it appears in this Bill that the principle has been extended to those whose capital is not affected in any way, and whose incomes are fixed. The unfortunate thing about this Bill is, that in those counties in which the tithe is highest the relief will be greatest. Let me give you the instance of Essex, where the commuted tithes amount to an average of 5s. per acre throughout the county, and to a total of £250,000 a year. This amount is equal to 6s. per head of the population. In Lancashire, the amount of tithe is only £75,000 a year, and the relief of the tithe-owner in Lancashire will not be great in consequence. The tithe-owner in Essex receives 5s. for every acre in the county, and 6s. 4d. per head of the population. In Lancashire, he only receives 4½ d. per head of the population. In Northumberland he receives Is. 1½ d. per acre, or 3s. per head of the population. In the County of Hereford, it is at the rate of 13s. 6d. for every head of the population. Surely, you would think that the tithe-owner who received so large a sum as 13s. 6d. per head of the population was receiving enough; but it is in the counties where the tithes are the highest that the owner will receive the most benefit under this Bill. This will fall very heavily on the local taxpayer, because, if the money were not given to the tithe-owner, it would go to the relief of the general rates. In my opinion the ratepayer has a prior right to it. A good deal has been said as to whether tithe-owners are liable to pay rates. I think it is clear that in the years immediately preceding the Tithe Commutation Act tithe-owners did pay rates. It will be seen from questions which arose, especially in Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk, that the rates which were paid by the tithe-owners in those days were very high indeed. In 1833 and 1834 the Poor Rate alone was, I believe, sometimes as high as 10s. in the £ I am of opinion that the reason the tithes in Essex and Suffolk are so high, is that when the Commissioners under the Tithe Commutation Act inspected the different districts, they found that the rates were so high that they increased the tithes with a view of protecting the tithe-owner from any danger which would accrue in consequence of these high rates. It is for these reasons, and not through any want of respect for the clergymen, who have so well performed their duties in the various parishes, that I condemn the principle of this Bill. Tithes are no doubt the property of the tithe-owner, but they carry with them the obligation to pay rates, and by passing this Bill you are injuring the chance of the Agricultural Rates Act being prolonged, and only conferring a temporary benefit on the clergy of the Church of England.


My Lords, I do not understand that the noble Lord has made any motion, but it would not be entirely courteous to him if I left his remarks unanswered, although he has travelled over ground which I thought was fairly covered during the Debate on the Second Reading. As regards his general criticism of the reasons why this Bill has been introduced, I can only refer him to the statement of the Government. They have introduced this simply as a rating question, to remedy what in their opinion is a great injustice, and an injustice which has remained too long unredressed. As to the second point of the noble Lord, that the relief to be given would not correspond exactly with the prospective amounts taken from the Local Taxation Account, county by county, Her Majesty's Government entirely admit that fact; but the point for which we have contended is that it is perfectly within the competence of Parliament, and within the original intention of the Local Taxation Account, to redistribute a prospective advance in this way. I know this view does not command the universal consent of your Lordships. This sum is only a prospective advance. I find that the average annual increase during the past eight years in the whole of the Local Taxation Account has not been loss than £100,000 per anmum, and the total amount proposed to be taken under the Bill is £87,000. Therefore, under no circumstances will this Bill take anything from any county which it ever had before. It simply forestalls to a certain extent the proportion of the prospective increase to which they might otherwise have looked forward. The noble Lord has accounted for the high tithe in Essex by the theory that a special allowance was added to the Essex tithes by the Tithe Commissioners in 1836 in order to make up to the tithe-owner the large amount of rates for which he was liable. That was a point which I endeavoured to deal with in my speech on the Second Reading, and I trust the noble Lord will allow me to assure him respectfully that there is not the shadow of a shade of foundation for that theory. The owner of a farm, when he lets his farm, receives from his tenant a certain rent. What he receives from his tenant is not the letting value of his farm. If anybody wants to ascertain the exact letting value of a farm, he must add to the amount of rent which the owner receives the amount of income-tax which the tenant pays to the Inland Revenue on his account, and which he deducts from the rent. That is exactly what happened in the case of the Essex tithe-owners. They had in most cases made a composition with the tithe-payer. Suppose an Essex tithe-owner had arranged with a tithe-payer that the value of his tithe was £400 a year. In most cases the tithe-owner would say to the tithe-payer, "You pay me £350, and pay the £50 which I should have to pay in rates for me." This was not done in all cases. In some cases the tithe-owners decided to receive the composition in full and discharge the rates themselves. But in those cases where this arrangement was not made, in order to arrive at the full value of the tithe rent-charge, the Commissioners had to add to what the tithe-owner received from the tithe-payer the amount the tithe-payer paid in rates on behalf of the tithe-owner. Those two together made the true composition, and the allowance in respect of rates to which the noble Lord has alluded was simply in connection with this arrangement. The Tithe Commissioners have left on absolute record that they never made any allowance for the payment of rates as such, or in other words, they never added anything to the commutation on the ground that the tithe-owner was heavily rated. I trust the noble Lord will be satisfied with that explanation.

Clauses 1, 2, 3, and 4 agreed to; Bill reported without Amendment; Standing Committee negatived; and Bill to be read 3a to-morrow.