HL Deb 15 October 1918 vol 31 cc683-94

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is very modest in form, but it deals with rather a complicated matter, and one which I think it is quite time should be put on a more satisfactory basis. To a certain extent the introduction of the Bill in your Lordships' House has had its effect, because after the Bill was put down here the Government introduced a Tithe Bill in another place. I sincerely hope that that Bill will be pushed forward, and that we shall find a satisfactory solution of this question within the terms of the Bill about which I am going to say a word or two, and of the Government Bill.

I did not introduce this Bill on my own authority. It is in the terms of what has been accepted by the House of Laymen of the Province of Canterbury (whose members are very interested in this kind of question) and also by the Lower House of Convocation. Your Lordships had the advantage a short time ago of hearing a statement in this House by the Lord Bishop of Norwich. So that I believe I may say that the policy contained in my Bill is not only in accordance with that of the House of Laymen, which is specially cognisant of matters of this kind, but also of the Lower and Upper Houses of Convocation. Therefore there is no difference as regards the main point—that it is advisable, and a matter of good policy, to encourage the redemption of tithe rent-charge. I think that is common ground upon which every one approaches this question, and it reduces any proposal to one concerning the best method in which that general policy can be carried out.

Since 1891 there has been a constant expectation and hope among those who thought over the matter that some proposal would be brought forward and passed. It was in 1891 that the late Marquess of Salisbury introduced a Bill in your Lordships' House which, although it did not make any alteration in the incidence of tithe—because tithe was always a charge on the owner and not on the occupier of the land—yet it did, in effect, make a great difference in this respect. It prevented contracting out between the owner and the occupier, which had been the ordinary course in which these matters had been dealt with for a long time, and threw the charge directly upon the owner, who was not allowed to pass it on. But there is still an element of friction left as regards collection of the tithe, and I think it is in the interests of every one that this friction should be removed as far as possible.

I need not trouble your Lordships with anything like an historical narrative. If we were to take merely the views of the late Lord Selborne, who dealt so frequently with the matter, tithe has its origin in private gift. It has been a trust property for religious purposes for about 700 years, and it is impossible to imagine that any trust property or any property is more securely maintained or is held by a stronger title. There is one matter on which I wish to say a word, as to an omission from the Bill which I propose; and it is also, I think, an omission from the Government Bill. Lord Clinton, who represents the Board of Agriculture, will tell me if I am wrong. When the rentcharge was settled in 1836 it included a sum for rates. Of course, the amount of rates included in those days would be very different from the amount included now; and as regards the various Acts of Redemption of Tithe no special provision was made, because it was probably considered that the redemption would be carried out only in certain particular cases.

Since that date a Tithe Act has been passed which dealt with the question of the rates paid by tithe-owners. It was passed after a report from a Royal Commission, of which I had the honour to be one of the members. That Commission was presided over by Lord Balfour of Burleigh. The result of the recommendations of that Commission, carried into effect by Act of Parliament, is that the tithe-owner pays only one-half of the tithe to which he would have been subjected if that Act had not introduced this measure of alleviation. I think the result could be stated in this way, that at present about £150,000 a year, as nearly as I can get the calculation—


Half the rates.


I am obliged to your Grace—half the rates. The result is that at the present time a sum of nearly £150,000 a year is being paid in rates by the tithe-owners. I think that is the sum. One of the questions which will be involved when the matter is considered in greater detail is how this rating question shall be dealt with. Of course, there are two ways of dealing with it. You may either leave it as it was left in the old Acts which deal with the question of tithe redemption, as a matter which is practically settled by the terms of the redemption itself, or you may have to introduce some special provision in order that other ratepayers may not be penalised because the tithe-owner gets rid of his tithes owing to the system of redemption. If this were done I think there might be a system of considering the difference in value between the gross tithe and the net tithe, and in the distinction between these two sums an amount could be put on one side which would reserve that sum of £150,000 a year payable for rating purposes. Whether it is necessary or not I do not say. I only throw out the suggestion for consideration by the Government if they think the rates question should be settled at the same time as the redemption of tithe.

The Bill which I propose to your Lordships is an extremely simple one. At the present time by agreement, but only by agreement, the tithe can be redeemed at twenty-five years purchase. In some cases a different term is applicable, but in substance twenty-five years is the term generally applicable under the Act of 1878. The first proposal of my Bill is simply this—that instead of twenty-five years purchase we should substitute twenty years purchase. And if your Lordships will consider for a moment I think you will see that this proposal is quite fair in itself, and is likely to lead to a real advance in the direction of the redemption of tithe. I will give an illustration of what I mean. In old days £100 worth of tithe could have been redeemed for the lump sum of £2,500. That can be done at the present moment by agreement. The proposal in the Bill is that instead of £2,500 being paid for the redemption of £100 worth of tithe, the amount should be £2,000. It is quite clear that this is an additional inducement to the tithe-payer; it is obviously an advantage to the owner who is paying tithe in respect of his property. But, on the other hand, it is no disadvantage as regards the tithe-owner, because at the present time the tithe-owner has to invest the sum of £2,000 to bring him in as large an annual income as what he could obtain from the investment of £2,500. It is nothing more than recognising a change in the terms upon which you could change one form of investment for another. Your Lordships will of course, understand that there is no proposal whatever to Change the purposes to which tithe is to be applied. I should be the last person to make any suggestion of that kind. The only proposal is that the nature of till., investment should be changed; you can change it on the twenty years purchase, so that the old income is still maintained, and you get this advantage in the change in the form of investment, that the friction which undoubtedly does arise, and always will arise, in connection with tithe is got rid of.

I should like to give one or two figures as regards the value of tithe rentcharge of recent years, in order to show why at a period of this kind a Bill of this sort should be introduced. In 1878 the tithe rentcharge stood at £112—£100, of course, being par—and every one, I think, in your Lordships' House is aware that agricultural depression became very severe in 1879 and the succeeding years, with the result that in 1901 the tithe fell to £66 and some odd shillings and pence. It had fallen, in fact, from £112 to £66. After 1901 the process began of the recovery of the value of the tithe rentcharge. In 1914, just before the war, it had gone up to £77. In 1917 it was at £92, and this year it is £109. But if the proposal of the payment for tithe rentcharge had been on the basis of one year instead of an average of seven years, the amount payable in this present year would have been £188 9s. I give you that figure because it is a matter which ought to be and must be dealt with, having regard to the special conditions under which tithe is rising at the present time. I do not shut my eyes to the fact that at the same time that tithe has been rising, prices generally have been rising; and I certainly do not want to suggest any proposal that could really be regarded as a hardship upon the tithe-owner. But if you consider that the tithe-owner would get rid of all the expense of collection, that he would get rid of all the incidental friction which undoubtedly arises in connection with tithe collection, and if you add to this that the only proposal, in my Bill at any rate, is to put in twenty years instead of twenty-five, I do not think the tithe-owner has any grounds of complaint.

The second proposal in my Bill is to make the machinery of redemption more easy. At the present time you cannot carry out the redemption of tithe rentcharge without the assent of the Bishop of the docese and the patron of the living, and although it may at first sight appear that this is not a troublesome matter, yet it has in many cases caused a great deal of trouble and a considerable amount of expense; and it is difficult to see how either the Bishop or the patron can be affected when the only proposal is not to alter in any way the incidence of tithe or the purchase for which tithe shall be given, but merely a change in the form of the investment. I am not sure whether the Government Bill contains a similar proposal, but, if it does, I think it is one of those changes of procedure in the direction of simplicity that ought to be sanctioned.

Now in the Bill which I am proposing to your Lordships there is a third proposal, which is very similar to one contained in the Government's Bill, although I feel more doubtful how far a proposal of this kind ought to be pressed. The proposal is this—that the value of tithe shall not exceed what it is in the present year; that is about, or a little under, £110. If there is a reduction the question of the value of tithe in the future is not a matter of very great importance, but if a provision of this kind is introduced there ought to be a corresponding provision which will protect tithe-owners in the event of the probable, or possible, reduction of tithe after war prices have gone down. I propose, therefore, in the Bill before your Lordships' House, that there shall be a guarantee after the end of the war for a period of ten years against any reduction of the tithe then payable to the tithe-owners. That proposal is not of the essence of the Bill; but, as I say, this Bill is introduced after most careful inquiry by a specially selected Committee of the House of Laymen, and, as I am proposing the Bill, it has been accepted after considerable discussion by the House of Laymen themselves. They are not a body likely to deal unfairly with the clerical tithe-owner. Their object has been to give every possible consideration to the clerical tithe-owner to relieve him of a matter of friction between himself and his parishioners, at the same time leaving the endowments of the Church on the same footing as they are at the present time.

Now, my Lords, I want to say a word as regards the Government's Bill. I am sincerely desirous that this matter should be settled, and I do not want at all to press; my Bill beyond the point of explaining how far, at any rate according to the information that I have, the clerical tithe-owners at the House of Laymen are prepared to go in connection with a matter of this kind. In the first place, the Government's Bill proposes compulsion. At the present time you can only redeem tithe by consent; it must be done on the initiation of the tithe-payer, and with the assent of the tithe-owner. So that you cannot at the present time obtain redemption of tithe except by compulsion. Well, the question of compulsion was considered in the Committee to which I have already referred, but that Committee were opposed to the principle of compulsion altogether. I want to say, as regards my own individual opinion, that I am not so opposed to compulsion, if compulsion can be applied in a fair form.

What I do object to, and object to very strongly in the Government's Bill, is the way in which they propose that the terms of compensation shall be assessed under a compulsory process. And, as far as I know, there is no precedent—it is difficult to say exhaustively there is no precedent—for the Government's proposal, and it appears to me to be on an entirely false footing. The proposal is this: that if the two parties cannot agree, what is called "compensation," or the terms of redemption, shall be settled by an official body—namely the Board of Agriculture. It surely is altogether wrong that a question of compensation in matters of this kind should be settled by any official body whatever. It is not a matter for a bureaucratic body; it is a matter which ought to be settled by some outside authority wholly independant of political influence. One knows perfectly well that political influences do have their bearing upon our central Departments. I do not in the least want to satirise the work which the central Departments do; at the same time, we have to look the matter in the face. And what I suggest to your Lordships is this: that it is a wrong principle, a principle which ought not to be allowed, that one of these central official bodies should settle questions of compensation of any kind—for instance, as between the tithe-owner and the tithe-payer. Practically you ought to have the same number of years purchase, which is the only question in all cases, because the security is practically the same in all cases.

But, my Lords, I have had a suggestion made—it came, I think, from the Land Agents' Society—which may meet the point between the views I have expressed and those expressed in the Government's Bill. If a Government Department is to have a power of this kind, my view is that it is wrong in principle. It ought to be on the basis that they cannot force the tithe-owner to accept compensation below an adequate number of years purchase—for instance, twenty years purchase—and that there ought to be no opportunity of imposing conditions from high quarters which would allow an unduly large number of years purchase to be fixed as compensation for the tithe-owner. The document to which I have referred, and which comes from the Land Agents' Society, which possesses knowledge of matters of this kind, compares the proposal that I have made with the proposals of Mr. Prothero's Bill. I think I can say that it agrees in the main with the proposals which I have made in my Bill, but it does not agree with them altogether, nor does it agree altogether with the proposals made in the Government's Bill.

I am brought to this consideration. Assuming that this is a matter which your Lordships think should be settled—that, of course, is at the basis of all that I have said—I would suggest that a Second Reading be allowed of the Bill which I have introduced and which has had the effect already of hastening the Government's steps, but that I should not proceed with my Bill to the Committee stage until the Government's Bill has been discussed and considered in the other House. I quite realise—and I am sure Lord Clinton will understand this—that a matter of this kind is one which legitimately should be left in the Government's hands, and I only want a guarantee that if it is left in their hands the proposal shall not be allowed to die down, but shall be pressed forward, and that the Bill shall not only be a paper Bill, but one which shall be made a reality.

Undoubtedly this is a question in which time tells against a fair settlement. I think that the Government Bill itself proposes that the value of tithe rentcharge in this year—1918—should be taken as the basis of payment for a certain number of future years. So it appears quite clear, if you get beyond 1918, that you will have to consider the terms of a fresh settlement upon a fresh basis. I have no desire to press my own Bill. I shall ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading, and then I think it might rest with the Second Reading in the hope that the Government will proceed with their proposal, and that a practical scheme will be carried through Parliament. I want to make it quite clear that I am no opponent of the Government's Bill, and that I shall do my best, subject to the criticism which I have made, to help any Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Parmoor.)


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord who-has proposed the Second. Reading of this measure speaks with an authority not only derived from his great personal knowledge of the question, but also as representing, I think, the House of Laymen in the Bill that he has brought forward; I believe, also that he has the approval of the house of Convocation. Consequently his views are entitled to the fullest respect and consideration. The whole question of tithe has been the subject of Parliamentary activities for a very long period of years. I think that there have been something like a dozen public Acts passed into law since the great Commutation of Tithes Act in the year 1836, but none of them, apparently, has had in it much of the element of permanency. They have for the moment, at all events—I think I may use the term—broken down in the face of a very sudden emergency.

The matter at this moment, as I think the noble Lord told us, is really urgent on account of the very high prices which are prevailing—high prices that are directly connected with the war. The result is that the averages upon which tithe rent-charge is calculated, if they have not actually at this moment will in the very near future, impose a burden upon the tithe-payer which it will be exceedingly difficult for him to bear. The matter is one of difficulty both to the tithe-owner and to the tithe-payer. The tithe-owner is fully entitled, by his bargain with the State in the Act of 1836, to take advantage of the high prices of corn in order that his income may be sufficient to meet the other high expenses which the increase of prices entails upon him. At the same time the tithe-payer finds himself also faced to an equal extent, if not to a greater extent, with the difficulties arising from increased expenses. He finds in a great majority of cases that he will get no advantage from the high prices, while at the same time he has to meet this very largely increased claim for tithe. However legal and however justifiable it is for the Church—the tithe-owner—to receive the fullest tithe to which it is entitled on account of the increase in prices, I do not think that it could be anything but disadvantageous to the Church if it got into a position through the exercise of an undoubted legal power—the exercise of it perfectly justly—in which it claimed from so many parishioners a tithe out of due proportion to the lower income of those parishioners.

It would no doubt be an advantage to all the parties concerned if a settlement could be found fair to both sides. The measure of the noble Lord is based mainly, though not entirely, upon the principle of redemption. It is probably the best, if not the only possible, solution of a great difficulty; but the noble Lord himself recognises that, while we may be in agreement on the principle of redemption, yet there are a great many methods by which it might be carried out. The noble Lord went on to explain his method. It is a redemption on the flat rate of twenty years purchase of the gross value of tithe at par. Lord Parmoor has shown the difficulty which calculating on the gross value may lead us into; that is to say, it ignores altogether the incidence of the deduction of rates from the tithe-owner's income. That rate varies very much in different parishes. The reduction is also increased, perhaps, by a varying cost of collection, and although it may have been possible when we were carrying through tithes of small amounts occasionally to ignore these differences between the net and the gross value of tithe, yet I think that when we are dealing with a matter which I hope will spread itself over all the parishes of the kingdom, it would not be proper to leave out of account such an important feature as the difference between these. I do not want to go into the subject of the future incidence of rates, because I think that would require alterations of the Rating Act; but it must not be lost sight of that there are difficulties in connection with the future of rates which will arise directly out of the redemption of tithe.

I do not want to follow any of the noble Lord's criticisms of the Government's Bill. I think it will be more proper to do so when that measure is before us. But because that measure is already before Parliament,—it is actually at this moment under consideration in another place—I am going to suggest to the noble and learned Lord that probably the better course for him is not to proceed with the Second Reading now, but to adjourn the debate until the House is in full possession of the Government's proposals. In anything I have said I do not want it to be understood that I am in any sense hostile to the measure of the noble and learned Lord. I recognise its value, but I also recognise—both of us recognise—that there are different methods of carrying out the same thing; and because the method of the noble and learned Lord is not the method which the Government has adopted, I claim that we should leave this matter in suspense until the whole proposals of the Government are before your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I think that neither the noble and learned lord who introduced this Bill, nor the noble Lord who has spoken on behalf of the Government, will regard it as disrespectful to the discussion or to themselves if I, who necessarily will have something to say about this subject when the proper time comes, postpone my observations until such time as the Government's Bill is before this House. The noble and learned Lord has helped us considerably by the speech which he has made. He has put many of the points before us with great and characteristic lucidity, and his speech can do nothing but good. Nor can it prejudice the ultimate issue that we should have his Bill before us as setting forth his view of the situation. At the same time there are points, both in his Bill and in the Government's Bill, upon which questions may easily arise, and I do not want at present to weigh the one against the other, or to speak about them in detail. The difficulties are considerable. That relating to rates has been referred to to-night, but there are others besides.

I am anxious that in the discussions which must take place in both Houses this subject should not be spoken of as if it were entirely a clerical matter. There are lay as well as clerical tithe-owners, and it must not be supposed that any advantage (if there be advantage, which if doubt) which is to be gained by the tithe-owner would be entirely for the benefit of the Church; or, on the other hand, if sacrifices would have to be made by the tithe-owner, that those sacrifices would be made solely by the Church. That point has to be remembered. The policy of redemption is obviously at the base of both Bills, and personally, and as far as I know every one who has thoughtfully considered this subject, believe that it is the real secret of a satisfactory solution of this question that redemption should be encouraged to the very utmost of our power. Redemption, on whatever may be decided ultimately to be reasonable grounds, would be of advantage to both parties to the controversy, and would avoid a great many difficulties which at present exit. Therefore both Bills are founded on the principle flat redemption ought to be permitted, and I believe that to be in every sense sound.

There is a point—a rather fundamental point—which, if it has not already come before us in the Government's Bill by the time that measure reaches this House, or when either Bill is before this House in Committee, I shall be prepared to speak about—I mean some change in the arrangements by which at present tithe is calculated at an average of seven years. I believe we should in every sense act better, in the interests both of the tithe-owner and the tithe-payer, if the tithe were calculated at a longer period of years, and if fifteen years, rather than seven years, were the basis on which calculation took place. I shall be prepared to show that after the war—or, rather, after the period when temporary arrangements cease—that would be a more satisfactory basis to work upon than the seven years principle. I merely wanted to mention it now as a matter which bears very pointedly upon the whole question, and which will have to be debated when the right moment comes.

In the meantime I would thank the noble and learned Lord for his continued interest in this, as in any other matter which concerns the well-being of the Church. Nothing could have been more reasonable, I think, than the way in which he has expressed himself to-night as ready to wait for any decision upon the subject and for the appearance in this House of the Bill which, at this very hour, I believe, is under discussion in the other House of Parliament.


I understand that the noble Lord who represents the Board of Agriculture desires to move the adjournment of the debate.


I suggested to the noble and learned Lord that he should withdraw his Bill until the other Bill came before us.


I am entirely willing to meet the views of the noble Lord. My only desire is that we should get a good Bill. If he thinks that that would be a more convenient plan, I will move that the debate be adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Parmoor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.