HL Deb 05 August 1909 vol 2 cc961-3

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are prepared to lay on the Table of the House a Return of the parishes in England and Wales in which the chancel of the parish church must be kept in repair by the lay-rector and impropriator of the great tithes, or by the lay-rector, or by the impropriator of the great tithes, and in how many instances at the present time the lay-rector or the impropriator of the great tithes is a dissenter from the Established Church, and nevertheless is compelled by law to pay for the sustentation of the chancel, and whether they will introduce any measure with a view to relieve such persons, either wholly or in part, of their liability; to ask if there are any parishes in England or Wales where the sustentation of the chancel of the parish church is by law a burden wholly or in part on any manorial property in land in the parish, although such property is not owned by the rector of the parish, and if so, how many lords of such manors there are liable to this burden, and how many (if any) such persons are dissenters from the Establishment.

Since Church rates were abolished fifty years ago or more there appears to be no liability whatever upon any person or persons to build up the parish church if it falls down or gets out of repair in any small degree whatever. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, or, I should say, in 999 cases out of a thousand, the parishioners, of course, are only too glad to come forward with voluntary contributions to build up the nave of the parish church if it falls into disrepair, but there is no obligation whatever, as far as I am aware, that they should do so. I think that is a curious fact, and one that is very often overlooked. The incumbent is not entitled to exact any rate or tax from the parishioners to build up the nave, and, therefore, if the parishioners were so minded they might, I presume, however interesting the building might be and however precious in the eyes of an antiquarian, allow it to fall into ruins. But with regard to the chancel it is quite a different thing. It appears that the rector there is subjected to a tax or the obligation of building up the chancel, and it would be interesting to know how many cases there are where the rector is a lay-rector and is responsible, and it would be still more interesting to know in how many cases that lay-rector is not a member of the Establishment. For it seems to me that there not only a hardship but an injustice comes in, because the lay-rector in that case who is a dissenter from the Church of England, whether he be a Jew, or a Nonconformist, or a Catholic, is obliged to pay for the sustentation of the Church.

I think the present Government, which professedly boast of liberal ideas of an extreme type, might take into their consideration whether it would not be just to that small body of persons to relieve them of their liability—that is to say, to relieve them of the necessity of paying a tax which may be, in individual cases, a very heavy one, amounting to several hundreds of pounds, to sustain a building of which they cannot make any use and which belongs to an alien religion. The lay-rector, although he is, in theory, the freeholder of the chancel, is not entitled to lock the chancel up or to make any use of it whatever. All he has to do is to build it up when it falls down, and this is rather a hardship upon any person who does not have any use of the building and who cannot in the nature of the case use it as a place of worship. I think, therefore, that the suggestion which I have made in my Question may not be unworthy of the consideration of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I am sorry to say that the Government are not able to comply with the wishes of the noble Lord. The information that he asks for is information which the Government are not able to obtain; and even if they could obtain it I am afraid that there would be a great deal of trouble and expense involved in obtaining the returns asked for. The Ecclesiastical Commis- sioners have been communicated with on this subject, and they state that they have not in their possession the materials for furnishing this information, and have not any means of procuring it. I am afraid that it would involve a very large inquiry locally into the tenure and conditions of holding property. I am sorry, therefore, that the Government are not able to promise the information which the noble Lord desires.


My Lords, had the Question been asked as it appears on the Paper and received the inevitable reply which has been given to it by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, I should not have said a word. But the speech of the noble Lord imparted a different complexion to the Question. The noble Lord spoke of this as being a tax on certain persons, and he looked upon it as being unfair if the taxpayer, as he described him, happened not to belong to the Church of England as at present established in this country. But there is no tax in this matter at all. The noble Lord or those who went before him acquired certain property subject to certain liabilities; but those liabilities are not a tax. A certain amount of land, for example, is bought subject to the liability to pay tithe; but this liability for tithe is no tax. Persons are liable to pay this tithe and they would be presumably called to account if it was not paid. The grounds on which they pay tithe are precisely similar to those upon which the noble Lord or any other owner of rectorial rights is liable to certain charges. The property was liable to certain charges when it was acquired, and those charges remain on the property as long as the holder owns it.