§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD LEE OF FAREHAM)
My Lords, this is a temporary Bill introduced by the Government to give partial relief to incumbents and ecclesiastical corporations from the rates now payable on their tithe rentcharge. It will be remembered that in the year 1918 a Tithe Act was passed which fixed the value of tithe rentcharge at the figure at which it then stood—namely, £109 and a few odd shillings—until the end of the year 1925, and that Act prevents tithe rentcharge rising, as it otherwise certainly would have risen in consequence of the prevailing high price of wheat, barley and oats at the present time. It would probably have risen, for example, in the present year to something in the neighbourhood of £140. There is no question, therefore, that the Act of 1918 involved considerable sacrifice on the part of the Church, with corresponding benefit to agriculturists and landowners, and at the time was accepted by the great majority of incumbents chiefly on patriotic grounds It is true also that the Act in question contained a provision as to ascertaining tithe rentcharge after 1925 on a 15 years' average instead of a 7 years' average, and this will eventually give the Church some advantage from the present current, prices. But in spite of this I think it is generally acknowledged by landowners and occupiers of agricultural land that they obtained a very valuable concession from the Church with respect to that Act.
Since then circumstances which no one had foreseen at the time have arisen, and the position has changed very materially and very seriously as against the interest of the incumbents by the rapid and enormous rise in rates throughout the country, which has every appearance of becoming even more serious and also has been aggravated by the great increase in the cost of living. If the Act had not been passed and if the tithe rentcharge had been allowed to rise in a natural way, the increase of the income of the incumbents would have been available to meet this increase in the rates, but that is now stopped by the Act of 1918. Therefore a very strong case has been made out for some relief whilst this artificial restriction 974 On the amount, of tithe rentcharge continues—that is, to the end of the year 1925. The Bill, which only professes to afford temporary and partial relief, proposes, that during this limited period of restriction up to the end of 1925 the rates on ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge shall be levied at the same rate as in 1918–that is, at the time when the restriction on the amount was imposed—and that the provision shall operate as regards any rate which has been made on or since April 1 this year.
The proposals of the Government in the original Bill have been extended in another place by an Amendment giving entire exemption from rates on tithe rentcharge to incumbents with incomes not exceeding £300 a year, and half exemption to incumbents with incomes within the limits of £300 and £500. This will be quite consistent. with the principle of the Bill, which was to maintain the status quo in 1918. In view of the undoubted and extreme poverty of many of the clergy at the present time it is hoped that the modification in the original proposal will commend itself to your Lordships' House. I am aware that in this connection many anomalies may arise in the case of incomes which are very close to the limits that are suggested, but that is always the case in exceptions of this kind, and I am afraid cannot, be avoided.
This Bill has been criticised on the ground that it does not go far enough, but it will at any rate give relief to incumbents to the extent of something in the neighbourhood of £150,000 this year, and will give an even greater relief in future years. The relief to ecclesiastical corporations will also. be substantial. It is obvious that payment of the rates from which relief is given must fall upon other ratepayers, but the total amount will be quite insignificant, averaging well under some small fraction of a penny. No opposition has been seriously voiced to the proposal upon those grounds, for it is obvious that by the restrictions imposed in the Act of 1918 very great benefits were conferred upon landowners and others at the expense of the poor clergy; indeed, the only serious objection that has been so far advanced against this Bill in another place has been as to its temporary and partial character.
I am aware also that in your Lordships' House earlier in the session there was a discussion upon a Motion dealing with the 975 broader question of rating of tithe rent-charge, but I think there is nothing in this Bill which is inconsistent with the Resolution, which was then discussed by your Lordships, and which I believe was not pressed to a conclusion. On behalf of the Government, may I say that we feel every sympathy with the grievance of the clergy with respect to this broader question as to whether tithe rentcharge should be rated at all or not. It is certainly a very anomalous thing that the clergy should be selected from among all other classes of the community and rated on their professional incomes. I believe the position is unique, and the Government has every sympathy with the protest which has been expressed very forcibly by those who are authorised to speak for the Church in these matters. But the view of the Government is that it would be quite impossible to deal with this grievance, great though it is, as a detached matter, apart from the whole question of legislation for the general reform of local taxation. This broader question undoubtedly calls for the attention of Parliament and perhaps is much overdue, but owing to the great pressure of public business, and also to the great complexity of the question, it has not hitherto been possible to find Parliamentary time for the purpose.
I wish to emphasise that the acceptance of this partial and temporary measure by your Lordships and by the Church will in no sense prejudice the claims of the Church to have this broader question dealt with hereafter in a fair manner. Though the relief which is proposed to give incumbents under the Bill is not all that may be their due, the relief to them is at any rate a substantial one, and I hope your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading and favourable consideration in its subsequent stages.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Lee of Fareham.)
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I am grateful first for the very clear exposition which has been given of a somewhat technical and even unattractive subject by the noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Government; and second, and still more so, for the exceedingly cordial and sympathetic way in which he has recognised what I believe to be a real, long-standing, and remediable grievance. It is not a 976 small thing that we should have recognition now publicly given to certain large principles and facts that are often forgotten or ignored.
We have a combination of things at this moment which accentuates whatever difficulty this Bill is intended to meet. We have, first, the rising of rates in many parts of the country pressing upon everybody in its degree, but not upon everybody alike, because it presses most upon some particular classes. Then we have the fact that the clergy are really quite disproportionately rated. They are the only men whose earned income is subject to rates, and their position in this matter is unique. As the noble Lord has said very clearly, it would have been perfectly fair and in consonance with our general legislalation in these matters had the Bill gone much further than it does, and had it been possible to obliterate altogether the rating of people on their actual earned income.
There is a third fact beyond the rise of rates and the disproportionate rating of the clergy. The third fact is that the clergy belong to a class which at this moment is far more than any other being hit by the post-war cost of living in all its aspects. As in the case of other men with fixed incomes—not salaries which can be raised half as much again, or trebled sometimes—the cost of living presses upon them far more than it does upon those who are able to go to some paymaster, be it the country, or a corporation, or an individual, and say "It is impossible for me to live upon this; my salary must be raised in proportion to the present cost of living." They belong to the class which is, therefore, hit quite out of proportion to other people by the present costs. And the sense of that is made far more acute to them by the fact, to which the noble Lord alluded and explained so clearly, that the clergy are, by the Act of two years ago, barred from what would have been the natural increase of their income by the automatic rise of tithe. I do not say for a moment that at the time that Bill was passed it was wrong to pass it in the form which it took; on the contrary, I supported it, believing that it was the only mode in which we could meet the then difficulties. The clergy generally acquiesced with loyal patriotism. Your Lordships will all understand how the acuteness of the difficulty is accentuated for men who, had there not been that legislation, would at this moment have been receiving, not £109, but £140, which in some sense 977 may be said, according to precedent, to be legally theirs.
Put all these facts together, and the result is that the position is an exceedingly grave one for the clergy, and the outlook for them is a very dark one. The Bishops day by day have to go into these matters and try t o deal in such way as they possibly can with the terrible problem of the poverty of clerical homes. The clergy are in this position, that they can neither go on living at the present cost with any possibility of educating their children properly or of doing that which is ordinarily expected of them, nor can they resign and take up other work. The resignation would, in itself, involve a great payment on dilapidations of houses that are much too large, which they have inherited, and, besides that, they are barred to other professions and other means of making a livelihood which are open to their brethren in other fields.
In these circumstances I am simply amazed day by day by the quiet courage, the persistent, brave acquiescence in extreme difficulty, and the plucky way in which men are trying to live. It is evident all over the country, and I am quite sure that it is entitled to recognition on the part of all those who observe and understand the situation. I will give an example of what I mean—some of your Lordships may probably have means of knowing it at first hand. I have had conversation lately with some of the directors of the insurance office in which the clergy insure their lives, and I hear pitiable stories of men coming to appeal for leave to charge their policies with £5 or £6, because, without that, they simply cannot go on. When they are reduced to the condition that they have to go to the insurance office to raise a £5 note we see the straits to which gentleman in that position, with families to educate, have been reduced. That is a single example of the kind of things which come daily before us, showing the way in which brave men are struggling with extraordinary difficulties. We come on their behalf to ask that such relief as this measure can give should, at least, be given to them. There never was a time when the need was greater, there never was a time when the pressure was so hard upon these men, and I cannot help hoping that, even yet, it may be possible to extend somewhat the benefits which this temporary Bill will give. That, however, is a question which, I suppose, 978 would arise on the Committee stage. But we welcome this relief, even such as it is, and reserve any criticisms or questions as to whether it may not go further until that later stage.
It was to me a source of real satisfaction to hear the noble Lord say that the fact of this temporary relief being given will not, if the Government can help it, be used hereafter as an argument against some other form of relief should the occasion arise for bringing that about. It would be very hard if you said, "You accepted this arrangement as a satisfactory solution of your difficulties; therefore we do not listen to your appeal for something wider." The noble Lord has made it perfectly clear that this is a temporary relief, but that the granting of it will not bé regarded as prejudicing future action, should Parliament decide to take future action, on a larger and more generous scale. Meanwhile, I desire, on behalf of those for whom I have the right to speak, to thank the Government and the noble Lord for what they have so far done in this matter, and to say that the relief given by this Bill is sorely needed, and will be greatly prized, and we should be grateful if it were possible to extend it further.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I think that this Bill must be regarded partly as a temporary Bill, but at the same time one cannot put out of sight the general principles which underlie the whole of this rating question, so far as tithe rentcharge is concerned. As regards these temporary matters it stands in this way. The Act of 1918 has operated very hardly on the owners of tithe rentcharge used for spiritual purposes. It has already been pointed out that the effect of that Act is to reduce by from 27 to 28 per cent. the income which clergymen would now be receiving if the Act had not been passed. In other words, they are receiving £109 now instead of £140. I understand that when the Act of 1918 was passed it was' in contemplation that there would be a considerable redemption of tithe rentcharge. I admit I was rather sceptical at the time as regards that effect, and I expressed that view, but that was the underlying motive with which the Act was passed. I do not know—I was not here during the whole of the noble Lord's speech—if the noble Lord gave any information to the House as to whether redemption has proceeded 979 to any large extent under that Act, because, if it has not, it stands in its naked reality as a very large deduction from the income of a hard-worked and hard-pressed class. So that, looked at as a temporary measure and in reference to the Act of 1918, the proposal in this Bill would, I think, hardly give fair justice, and it does not go far enough. Because I am quite sure that the reduction in rates will not be equivalent to the reduction of 28 per cent. under the 1918 Act. In other words, it is only a partial remedy for the evils then created as regards the spiritual income chiefly of the incumbents of this country.
I think it is generally acknowledged that the rating of tithe rentcharge in any form is an anomaly; because we know that under the Common Law "spiritualities" (as they were called) were not subject to rating at all. Whether that is owing to the terms of Magna Charta, as I think Lord Cope suggested, or from any other cause does not matter; but so far as Common Law is concerned they were not regarded as rateable property but as an income paid for spiritual purposes. No doubt as long ago as the Statute of Elizabeth words were introduced under which, by Statute, it was held that the tithe rentcharge was rateable; but, as a matter of fact, although that was said to be the law in some cases, it was not very generally operative. I have no doubt that the noble Lord who introduced this Bill has cognisance of the fact that, although under the terms of that Act the tithe was rateable, in a very large number of parishes and under a large number of what were called modices no rates were in fact exacted.
Then we come to the Tithe Rentcharge Act of 1834. What passed after that? The question was raised whether a parson, being rated on his tithe rentcharge, was not in effect rated on his income. In other words, whether, so far as he was concerned, the rate was not in the form of a local Income Tax. A very learned and well-known Judge, Mr. Justice Bailey, held it was so; and the result was that, according to his dictum, either the rates imposed on the clergy would have to be foregone, or you must rate profits generally; you must have that which we have often sought to introduce but without suceess—namely, an Income Tax for local rate purposes. I am not saying anything as regards the benefit of an Income Tax at that time, but in fact 980 it has never been introduced. Yet the effect of that decision was that in 1840 an Act was passed by which persons were not rated. In other words, the principle of rating income was put on one side because it was considered to be difficult and unfair, and according to the principle after 1840, there ought not to have been rating of the tithe rentcharge at all. The same principle that applied to other profits ought to have been applied to the tithe rentcharge. I dare say your Lordships are aware that the provisions of the Act of 1840 are only kept in force from year to year; the Act is renewed from year to year in the Acts extended under the General Act dealing with the necessary renewal of Acts of Parliament. That is so, because we have had constant discussions as to how rates ought to be applied and levied as between land and business undertakings.
That being the state of things, in 1899 a Report was made by the Royal Commission on Local and Imperial Taxation. I had the honour to be on that Royal Commission, which sat for four or five years under the chairmanship of Lord Balfour of Burleigh. The effect of the recommendation of that Royal Commission was this, that the rates payable on tithe rentcharge were halved. There was some difference, which is not always appreciated, between the terms of the concessions for agricultural land and the concessions for the payment of rates on the tithe rentcharge. I think my recollection is right in stating that the average rate of the gross tithe rentcharge at that time was about 2s. 6d. in the £. So that the result was to reduce the charge from 2s. 6d. to 1s. 3d. As a matter of fact, I think I am also right in stating that for a large number of years, I think even up to 1917, that Act operated in this way, and the half rates which were left payable by the parson on his tithe rentcharge amounted in the average—though it was different in varying cases—to about 1s. 3d.
I want now to ask the noble Lord a question. At the present time the actual amount that a parson is paying on the average of his tithe rentcharge is about 3s. 9d. Taking that figure for the moment, if I may, I want to know what is the actual effect of the proposal contained in this Bill? If I understand it, it is this. The poundage rate is to be the same as in 1918–not to be enhanced. Therefore, so far as the poundage rate is concerned, you will have no higher rate per £ than in 1918. Is the 981 result of that this, that assuming in 1918 the poundage was, we will say, 3s., does it mean that 3s. in the £ is to be the highest poundage rate apart from special circumstances, and that one-half of that will be remitted under the Act of 1899? In other words, that under those conditions a parson rated would pay 1s. 6d. in the £. I desire, to know whether that is the operation of the Act generally. I find some difficulty, although I have had a great deal of experience in rating questions, to know what the exact operation is; and perhaps the noble Lord in reply to my question will tell me whether I am right or not.
This brings me to another question which is a very important one. For my own part I do not desire this Bill to be placed on what I call eleemosynary grounds; I want to discuss it as a pure act of justice and rather as a bare act of justice. So that, in addition to what I have already said with regard to poundage—which was the only provision in the Bill when it was first introduced into the House of Commons—there is a further provision as regards parsons whose total income (as it is called) does not exceed £300 or £500, as the case may be. I cannot understand any principle involved in this at all. I think it ought to be that, where the total income from tithe rentcharge in any individual case is not above £300, you ought to make a special allowance, in fact no rate should be payable at all. That, I think, would be perfectly in accordance with principle. You are really dealing with a source of income which is not rated in any other way, and it is perfectly right that a man who receives from a source of income of that kind so low a sum as £300 a year should not be charged as a ratepayer at all. That is one of the things indicated in the Report of the Royal Commission in 1899 by some of the members who signed a separate memorandum. Also I can understand that if the tithe rentcharge income is not above £500 you should have the reduction of one-half. That is logical and right. But how can the rest of the man's income be introduced? If you introduce the rest of his income in order to decide whether he is rateable or not, in substance and in truth you rate income directly. In the case of a man who has (we will say) £100 from other than tithe sources, so that his total income is £400, what you really do in this provision is to rate him on that £100. How can you justify a provision of that kind? If you are going to have a new principle of general 982 Income Tax for the purposes of rating, of course I can understand it.
I have dwelt at some little length on this point because I hope that in Committee the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will consider an Amendment which will be put down in order to limit the effect of this £300 and £500 actually to tithe rentcharge itself. If you are going to introduce the principle that the rate a man pays on particular classes of property is to be adjusted because of his private means from other sources, you introduce what appears to me to be a very dangerous and wrong principle. That is what is done here, and I am sure I shall have the assent of the noble Lord so far. It is beyond my comprehension how a provision of that kind can be justified in that form. I quite agree that it was not in the Bill in the first instance; it was introduced, I think, by a Standing Committee in the House of Commons.
I protest against it for two reasons. First of all, I think it is unfair; secondly, it is quite wrong to introduce a special rating provision of this kind. It is inconsistent with the fundamental basis on which our rating is carried out. I am not one of those who object to the idea of Income Tax for rating purposes, if it can possibly be carried out. I dare say the noble Lord knows, and Lord Balfour will know, that the great opponents of it were some Scottish Judges who found, when they took holiday somewhere in Scotland, that they were rated on the income they were paid as Judges of His Majesty's Court in Scotland, and being Scotsmen they naturally objected to that very strongly and very properly. Yet you are introducing that same principle here as regards poor men. I hope that a principle of that kind will not be adopted.
There are one or two other matters, more or less of detail, which I would ask the noble Lord to consider. Would it not be fairer to take the year 1917 rather than the year 1918? I do not want to press that point too much. I dare say the noble Lord has had to consider it. It really arises from this point of view, that, so far as you make a calculation for tithe rent-charge purposes, you make it for the future. It is to my mind a question of less importance than some others which are upon the face of the Bill, but still it has some importance. These are the particular matters to which I want to call attention. I am extremely anxious that this Bill shall not 983 be passed in a form which cannot be supported on general principles, because if it is, I am sure the time will come when what will be said to be an exceptional privilege in favour of parsons—though I do not think that is so at all—will be used as a ground for interfering with our Church endowments and for introducing against parsons matters to their exceptional disadvantage. I think the Bill gives bare justice for temporary purposes, and for permanent purposes it might be a step in the right direction.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
My Lords, the legal knowledge and historical equipment of the noble Lord who has just spoken show how strong is the case upon which this Bill might have been made even more comprehensive than it is; but, temporary or permanent, complete or incomplete, this Bill is a welcome instalment of that which is no more than justice, and this justice is meted out to a class who deserve our sympathy beyond all words to describe. For, in truth, the Act of 1918 deprived the clergy of the automatic operation of an economic influence which, had the law been left alone, would have brought them just the increase in income that would have given them relief against the rise in the cost of living; so that really the old law, so far as it was an academic [...]se of injustice—which it really was not—became something of the most acute and concrete kind.
I am glad to think that the Government have had the courage to introduce and pilot through another place a measure which, in other and certainly no better days, would have encountered opposition of an old-fashioned and now, I am happy to be able to say, perhaps an out-worn kind, for the day has gone by when you can put off or defeat a measure of this kind by putting to any House of Parliament what may be called dialectical dilemmas about whether or not the clergy are indeed or in fact State officers. The fact is that while you are wasting time in finding an answer to those dialectical traps you are allowing a most deserving class to go on suffering a most undeserved injustice; and that, I am happy to find, was the sentiment which permitted the other House of the Legislature to send up this measure of relief to this House.
There is one point I could wish that this Bill had dealt with more courageously. The fundamental principle of the Bill is 984 that you must not levy rates, and never do levy rates, upon the income which a man receives as a consideration for his intellectual or manual labour, and the parson's tithe is not the only property of which that can be said. That is not the only form of property the enjoyment of which is tightly tied to the obligation to discharge certain definite legal duties. In the same way as the parson's tithe is tied up with the performance of spiritual duties connected with the cure of souls in his parish, so is the property in tithe held by ecclesiastical corporations, such as the capitular bodies who have the management of our cathedrals, the conduct of their services and the maintenance of their fabrics, tied up with these duties only less important than those of the parochial clergy. This Bill, I am glad to say, recognises that there is a close analogy between the two cases, because it gives to the ecclesiastical corporations—that is to say, the capitular bodies, the Deans and Chapters—when owners of tithes, the same relief against the increased poundage rate which has, unhappily, become an incident of the payment of rates since the Act of 1918. It gives them the same relief in that respect as it gives to the parochial clergy.
But it would have been possible for this Bill to go further than that, because this Bill does not stop at giving the parochial clergy relief against the increase in the poundage rate owing to the increased expenditure of local authorities. The Bill does entirely re-open in another direction what some people might have called the settlement made in 1899, for it gives, on the ground of poverty, the right to a clergyman to escape not merely the half-rates from which that Act exempted him, but also to go further and claim exemption from the whole rate. Therefore, if it should be found later that an Amendment is put down to enable the Deans and Chapters, the capitular bodies, who are finding the maintenance of their fabrics and the conduct of their services a matter of extreme difficulty under modern economic conditions, to have the same relief from the half rates which the Act of 1899 gave to the parochial clergy, I hope it will not be said that this would be a reopening of the controversy about the Act of 1899, which is undesirable and might imperil this Bill.
I have already shown that the settlement, so far as it is a settlement, is open in 985 a far more important direction already by the terms and proposals of the Bill itself. There is no mere sentimental connection between this kind of property and this kind of duty. It is a firm, legal nexus of the most positive and recognisable kind. There is no sort of doubt that this property is held by the clergy, the discharge of whose duties is a condition of enjoying that property. It is held on conditions upon which it is quite certain, if those duties were not rendered and discharged, the connection between the duties and the enjoyment of the property would cease. It would not stop at spiritual censures. I have very little doubt that deprivation and the mundane process known under the name of mandamus, and compulsion in other forms, would be the result.
My Lords, I see that there is such general support for this Bill that what I say will be more in the way of criticism than with any intention to divide the House. This Bill is supported on two entirely different grounds. The noble Lord who has just spoken laid it down that you must not levy rates on salaries for labour. If that is so, you ought to exempt glebes from rating. If the endowment of the Church is a salary for labour—which is, of course, taking the extreme State-official view of the clergy—and you must not rate salaries for labour, then I would point out that there are counties in England where the clergy are very largely endowed by glebe and not by tithes. The county of Northampton, for instance. In the great period of agricultural distress in the eighties and' nineties, I remember how the clergy of Northampton were especially hard hit because their great glebes, consisting of hundreds of acres, were thrown on their hands, and they had not the capital to farm them and suffered very much in consequence. If you take the line that the income of the clergy derived from tithes is a salary for labour and ought not to be rated, you ought to exempt the land held by the clergy.
But the moment you take up the line that you are going to exempt a person from a tax on income because that income is coupled with duties and ought to be enjoyed free of tax, other considerations come in. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, will accept the argument of a salary or wages for labour.
The noble Lord will not accept it. He took the other line that the rating of tithes was really an anomaly in the history of our law, and he went back to the Middle Ages to prove it. But I think he is right to admit that in what is really antiquity for us, the time of Elizabeth, tithes had been rated, and have been rated again by numerous Acts since then. I should like to point out—I ask the noble and learned Lord to correct me if I am wrong, because he is more familiar with these things than I am—that when the Tithe Commutation Act was passed those Commissioners who assessed the commutation were ordered to take into consideration, and did take into consideration, the fact that tithe was subject to rates.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I assent, if I may say this—that the rates then levied were infinitesimal as compared with the new rates which have been put on since.
Rates fluctuate, and I am not concerned with that. They might have gone down but, as a matter of fact, they have gone up. The point is that this is property which was rateable in law before, and was determined to be rated in future, and when the Commissioners were ordered to take into consideration that liability to be rated in determining what should be the commutation value of the tithe, the parochial clergy and others got the benefit of a more liberal commutation because they were to be liable to pay rates That being so, you cannot say it is an outrage that they should pay rates on account of the special type of property they hold when, in fixing the rate of commutation, the fact that they pay rates upon that property was taken into account. I think the noble and learned Lord also brought into question the modus, which is just a little antique, although I think that every tithe payer would be only too thankful if he could have a modus. The modus existed in the Middle Ages but in the course of time has, in many cases, gone by the board.
The point I want to press is that if tithe is a particular kind of property which ought not to be rated, then, as in the former Act, which let off the parochial clergy one-half of the tithe, you have not now to deal with the tithe on account of its particularity as property, but on account of the character of those who own it. You did 987 not exempt the Ecclesiastical Commissioners then; you did not exempt Deans and Chapters then; and you do not now exempt them. The only thing you say is that they shall not be rated on a higher poundage than before. But you do not deal with the lay tithe owner. It is quite clear that you are not dealing with this particular type of property; you are dealing with it, as the noble Lord indicated, from the character of the men who enjoy from three-fourths to four-fifths—I do not know exactly what the proportion is—of the tithes of this country, which are held by the parochial clergy. You are dealing with a section of tithe-owners and not with the principle of tithe. Nobody disputes that clergymen, especially those with a small living, are very hard hit. But the clergyman is not the only man who is hard hit. Is not the dissenting minister hard hit? Is not the small annuitant, with money in the funds, hard hit Is not everybody with a fixed income of less than £1,000 a year—and in some cases even those with income of over £1,000 a year—hard hit? Are not the hospitals hard hit? They have large duties but they have to pay their full rates. Everybody is hard hit in these days.
I can sympathise with every straightforward man who is hard hit, but if you select this particular type of person and subsidise him—I will not use controversial words and say because he is a State official, for many of them say they are not State officials but ate in enjoyment of ancient statutory property earlier than the statute —you are subsidising him because you say he is in fact performing a service for the State. Therefore, this Bill is simply reaffirming the principle of Church Establishment. You are giving to these people because they perform State services a subsidy out of the rates, which the noble Lord who brought in the Bill said would be £150,000 this year on the top of the Act of 1899, which gave hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to relieve the pressure on people who are State servants. I object to the State subsidising any particular form of religion, and I object also to this inconsistent and entirely different argument. One man says "Do not rate the tithe because it is an ancient possession which only by recent Acts, passed in the time of Elizabeth and onwards, was made subject to rates," and the other says, "Do not tax the clergymen, because you ought not to tax any man on an earned 988 income"; but I say you are doing it because you wish to perpetuate the principle of an Established Church.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, I wish to say how grateful I am to the Government for introducing this Bill, and how much I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading. Perhaps it would not be improper for me to interpose at this stage for a few minutes. First of all I come from the great county of Norfolk, which is rich in its churches and rich in the ability and goodness of its clergy, but singularly poor in its endowments; and in the second place, when the subject was under discussion about two years ago in your Lordships' House I used these words—Whenever we speak to the clergy on the subject of tithe, the first question that comes forward is the question of rates. The clergy say they are the only class in the community who pay rates—they should say half rates—on their income.At the time of which I am speaking nothing could be done, although of course I received a moat courteous reply from the Government, but I am very glad indeed to find that although the Government on that occasion said that the question of these rates could not be discussed apart from the question of rates in general, now they have come forward in a most gracious manner to help the poor clergy.
The clergy are indeed curiously unfortunate just now. The noble Lord who has just sat down said something about the history of the rates and their original incidence, but I think he has failed to observe that the clergy were originally liable only to pay rates like other inhabitants of the parish. It is an intricate subject, and I ought not to waste your Lordships' time. in going more fully into it; but, if I am not under a misapprehension, in the year 1885 so great a Judge as Lord Lindley, the last of the Serjeants, who I am afraid is never able now to take his place in your Lordships' House, although I have the personal pleasure of seeing him from time to time, made it clear that through the course of the centuries these rates which the clergyman was originally liable to pay, as other inhabitants, became mixed up with the other rates with regard to which the noble Lord who has just sat down has made his recent remarks. These rates may be distinguished from the rates paid upon 989 actual glebe, because the rates there would be paid by the clergyman in his capacity as a landowner, and that, I think, makes a very considerable difference.
But a difficulty in which the clergymen are is that they are in a very awkward position for gaining any real justice as to their rates. May I read a few words from what I said two or three years ago—I consider it very unfortunate that at the present time assessment committees are far more inclined to raise the rates on tithe than on land. No doubt in part this comes about because tithe goes up and the assessment committees are aware of it, and can easily re-assess it. In the case of land it is naturally much more difficult to deal with the issue,The result is that the rates which the clergy pay rise out of proportion to the rates which their neighbours pay. There is in the nature of the ease no reason why reassessment of the rates payable by the clergy should not come hand in hand with the rates which others pay, but it is in fact easier to reassess the clergy, and I imagine that the assessment officers, holding unpopular offices, delay making reassessment all round and content themselves with making a reassessment of the clergy. I have no doubt whatever that that is what takes place in a great many instances.
The rates, as we all know, are rising by leaps and bounds at the present moment, and I would like to give one or two figures. In one parish the rates in 1899 were 1s. 10d., and in 1919–20 8s. 8d. In another parish they have risen from 3s. 6d. to 9s. 2d; in a third from 2s. 8d. to 9s.; and in another from 6s. 10d. in 1918 to 15s. 8d. now. We who are bishops can indeed sympathise with the clergy in their troubles, and we know from the inside something of what all this means to them. We all have to pay rates on vast mediæval houses, and we know something of the difficulty of meeting the demands that the rates make upon ourselves. I am glad to say this not only for the information of your Lordships' House but because I think it is important that the clergy should recognise that the Bishops take a personal, true, and sympathetic interest in their troubles at the present time.
The noble Lord who has just spoken to us seemed to forget that the Tithe Bill was passed two years ago, and that that introduced to our consideration a special claim by the clergy at this time. No one was able to prophesy how prices would go. 990 I have here a paper which shows that taking the index figure of food at 100, in May last the price stood at 329; and in the case of materials, taking the index figure at 100, the price was 317. The clergy suffer both in regard to food and materials, because, as the most rev. Primate has pointed out, they have to meet serious dilapidations of their all too big houses. If we had left the. clergy alone two years ago they would have had no complaint to make, because they would merely have been in the position of others to whom the noble Lord referred who simply are feeling the high prices of these difficult days. No one would approve the Act now, but it was impossible, two years ago to prophesy. I thought at the time the recent Act was passed that it was a wise and reasonable compromise between the rival interests, and one cannot blame oneself for taking the facts as they then stood, and not being able to foresee that prices would go on rising after peace had been signed.
The whole question seems to me to have been put into a nutshell in a recent article in The Times, which pointed out that the clergy stand apart from the rest of the community in that an artificial check has been put upon their stipends during the time When high prices have been at least as difficult for them to sustain as for other persons. All this leads me to welcome the Bill, but I would like to echo a word which I think was used by the noble Lord, Lord Stuart of Wortley, when he spoke of the Bill as an instalment. I cannot believe that the situation will ever be dealt with quite satisfactorily without reference to the Tithe Act of two years ago, and I would venture to ask the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill whether he will be kind enough to say that his sympathy would extend so far as to contemplate something that would go further than the mere reduction of the rates to be paid by the clergy. To repeal the Tithe Act would be going too far, and it would be impossible at the present time to re-introduce the septennial averages scheme, but by an alteration of one figure in that Act I believe we could reach a situation that would at once be satisfactory and fair to all the interests concerned. The Act contemplates that there should be a fifteen years' average after 1926, and this would mean the clergy would climb up bit by bit towards the position that they will hold in 1926. I regard with some little alarm the situation that will occur in 1926 when suddenly the leap is made up to 991 the highest average, and I believe it would be a wise policy to introduce a gradual slope up to the highest point that will ultimately be reached. That, however, is not the question before the House at this moment.
I believe this Bill is thoroughly in accordance with public opinion. The public have regretted to see the clergy singled out for special treatment by the imposition of a check upon the natural rise in their income. It may be that the clergy are not men of business, or that they are too unselfish to bring their needs before the public. Hitherto they have not disclosed the straits under which they have been living, but now that has come out, and the most rev. Primate referred to their terrible afflictions, especially in their complete incapacity to do anything for the education of their children. We shall never get the best work out of a man who is daily anxious as to whether he can make ends meet. No one who follows the gracious and heavenly work that our clergy actually do but must approve of this Bill. The spiritual forces are the greatest forces in the world, and the clergy stand for those. It is their work that brings the touch of the eternal into the things of this life. I am very glad, therefore, to have an opportunity of supporting this Bill.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
My Lords, it is only with your Lordships' leave that I can reply to the questions which were addressed to me by noble Lords who have spoken, but I think it would only be courteous if I replied briefly to the specific points which would not properly arise on the Committee stage. A good many of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Parmoor will be dealt with in Amendments that will come up naturally on the Committee stage, and I will not trouble your Lordships with them now. But he asked two specific questions. The first was whether the redemption of tithe rentcharge has proceeded very far. I could not without notice give him the actual figures, but I know as a matter of fact that as many applications for redemption have come in, in a single week recently, as were received in a whole year before the Act of 1918, and undoubtedly the redemption is proceeding very fast.
He asked also with regard to the poundage. The position is quite clear. We propose in the Bill, as a matter of justice following on the Act of 1918, that as we 992 have stopped for a period of seven years the rise in the value of tithes so for the same period we should stereotype the rates at the poundage at which they stood in 1918. In the case of tithe rentcharge which is attached to a benefice or to a cathedral chapter, the poundage shall be the same as in the year 1918. Take the figure of 1s, 6d. If it was 1s, 6d. in 1918 it will be 1s, 6d. in 1920.
The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Norwich asked a question with regard to the 15-year period. I am sure he will recognise that this would be entirely outside the scope of the present Bill, and could only be dealt with by withdrawing this Bill and introducing a new one. That, I am sure, would not be your Lordships' wish. I can only say that if the Government should receive any representations indicating a general desire to modify the terms of the Act in the direction indicated by the most rev. Prelate, we shall be very glad to give as much consideration as possible to those representations, but it will require fresh legislation, and I cannot hold out any prospect of any legislation on these lines, at any rate at the present time. Other points to which attention have been called will doubtless arise on the Committee stage.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.