§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, the object of this Bill is to remedy an error in the drafting of the Tithe Act of 1920. I should like to remind your Lordships that in the Tithe Act of 1918 the value of tithes was reduced so that many incumbents received a lower amount of tithe; in fact, the tithe was fixed at £109 for a few years. It is very greatly to the credit of the clergy that they accepted that Act. But they fully realised that the landowner, who pays the tithe, could not continue paying the increased tithe out of his existing rents as, although corn prices were rising rapidly, the landowner got no advantage of that; it was the corn grower who got the advantage and he did not pay tithe. It was then found that the Tithe Act of 1918 inflicted some hardship on the clergy, and it was enacted by the Act of 1920 that no clergyman should pay a higher rate on his tithe than the rate which existed in 1918. That provision applied to all the clergy alike.
Then, in order to help the poorer clergy, it was further enacted that where an incumbent had a total income from his living of under £300 he was exempted from rates on tithe. When his income was under £500 he was to pay half rates on his tithe. It was afterwards found, that owing to an error in drafting and under a decision of the Law Courts, where an incumbent held united livings he could claim a separate calculation on each and, therefore, although he might have an income say of £800 a year, if the income from each of his livings was under £500 be could get an exemption in respect to half the rates on his whole income. Similarly, if he had an income of £500 a year from a 189 united living composed of two separate parts, each of them under £300, he would escape paving rates altogether, although he might be better off than, or as well off as, many of the other ratepayers in the parish.
My Bill amends the Act of 1920 only in this particular: that an incumbent with an actual income of not more than £300 and not more than £500 shall get the relief, and that the Act shall not apply to larger incomes simply because they are derived from united benefices. The effect of the Act of 1920 on some poor rural parishes has been that, owing to the relief of the clergyman from certain rates, other ratepayers in some cases have had to bear an extra 1s. or 2s. in the £ in rates, and unless this Bill is passed those other ratepayers in some places will have to pay still higher rates. The measure is supported by the National Farmers' Union. I have seen correspondence from incumbents on the question, and they also support the Bill, very greatly to their credit. I have always had great sympathy with the clergy. Your Lordships will remember, no doubt, that I fought my best for them during the passage of the Bill for the disendowment of the Church in Wales.
But I think the decision of the Law Courts can be described as a windfall. It is very difficult-, I know, to say what is in the mind of any legislator when dealing with Bills in Parliament, but I do not believe that any member of your Lordships' House or of another place meant, when the original Act was in course of consideration, that a clergyman should be able to get relief from paying his rates simply because he held two livings. This Bill has passed through all its stages in another place. It has received the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, and I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Lord Dynevor.)
§ EARL GREY
My Lords, there is only one sentence in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, with which I really feel that I cannot agree. His main statement of the case and his description of the decision in the Law Courts as being in the nature of a windfall is, I think, correct. But the sentence with which I could not agree was that in which he said that the incumbent who had an income of £500 a year and could claim half exemption was 190 very likely in an unfair position, because he might be as well off as the other ratepayers. I quarrel with that statement, because you cannot compare any other ratepayer to the clergyman who is rated on his tithe. There is no other ratepayer who is rated on any similar income for local rates. I do not think on this occasion it is necessary to go into the ancient history of it.
There is only one small Amendment in the noble Lord's Bill which I should be very grateful if he would consider before the Committee stage and that is as to whether it would not be better that the Bill, if it passes into law, should not conic into operation until October 1; because the current rates are already levied on half pay. I suggest to him, as a matter ofustice, that the Bill ought not to come into operation until the date I have mentioned.
If there is, as your Lordships have heard, one unforeseen result of the Act of 1920, there is also another very unfortunate and unforeseen result of that Act. The Act says that in so far as a clergyman is relieved either from the whole or a portion of the rates on his tithe that sum shall be deemed to be irrecoverable from him. The effect of that provision is that instead of treating that remission of rates in the same way as the remission of agricultural rates was treated in the Act of 1896, the sum which the clergyman is excused from paying is left to be collected from the other ratepayers in his parish. If I read to your Lordships an extract from a particular demand note it will make quite clear what I mean. I have here a copy of a demand note served on the ratepayers of the Gosford Union in Essex. It goes through the Poor Rate and the County Rate, and it finishes with a demand for the payment of the clergyman's rates under the Ecclesiastical Tithe Rentcharge (Rates) Act, 1920, of 21s. 1d.
It is quite clear that if the people in a parish are served with a demand note asking them to pay an extra rate for their clergymen, and that that demand note is served upon Nonconformists and others, it will naturally arouse a very great sense of grievance amongst a large number of ratepayers. This particular demand note was quoted in the Widnes Free Church magazine, and there was this comment upon it:—Is there any reason in justice or equity why our Free Church pastors should be compelled to 191 pay rates due from the Anglican clergy? It is an outrage and ought to be resisted.Obviously, if there is any large measure of such feeling growing up as a result of the wording of the Act of 1920 it is most unfortunate, and it is a condition of things that we ought to do our best to remove.
I have been in consultation with the central board of finance of the National Assembly, and, incidentally, I should like to say that the National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution petitioning His Majesty's Government to do what they could to remedy this grievance. I believe that it would be possible to find words which would have the effect of placing this remission of rates on the whole spending area, and not upon the individual parish with which a parson is concerned. You might say that to spread the sum remitted to the parson over the whole spending area would only widen the grievance, and would not remove it, but I think that so long as the officers of one parish are able to go to the ratepayers in that parish and say: "You must pay more because your neighbour, Mr. Brown or Mr.ones, cannot pay his share, or has been excused from paying his share," you will have a grievance. The effect of that must be far worse than would be the effect if the remission were spread over the whole rating area. It is true that such an Amendment would not remedy that grievance, and that it would not be in accordance with the preamble of the Bill, but I would appeal to Lord Dynevor's good feeling in this matter, and to noble Lords themselves to consider on Committee stage whether it would not be a worthy and a legitimate object to introduce an amendment to remedy this grievance, even if it did mean making some slight alteration in the preamble of the Bill.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, with the best intention in the world I should find it quite impossible to resist the Bill after the speech of the noble Lord who introduced it. His arithmetic seems to me to be quite unanswerable, and I do not see how it would be possible to say anything against this Bill without stultifying ourselves in regard to the calculations given.
The truth is that from the tithe the parson receives for the discharge of his duties he ought really to be exempted altogether, if any one views the way in which the Act of Elizabeth was altered for all other inhabitants in parishes by the Act 192 of 1840. There is no occasion to elaborate that question here now, but I would point out that the clergy are being rated in a way that no other members of the community are rated, and that one would have been glad if it had been possible to seize any opportunity of rectifying that anomaly. I do not think that the Bill which is before us is an opportunity of rectifying that anomaly. It only concerns a certain number of clergy—those who happen to derive their income from two benefices, either united or held in plurality, which separately do not reach the figure of £300, or the figure of £500.
In a way it is an awkward thing—a kind of thing to which I am afraid we are very much accustomed—that the relief given to the poor clergy to compensate them for loss of tithes came in the form of relief of the rates. This year, the clergy as a body have, by the operation of the Tithe Act of 1918, collectively lost the sum of seven hundred thousand pounds. The relief that is being given to the poorest of them has not been through any alteration of the Tithe law, but, indirectly, through the alteration of the rating demands made upon them.
I do not believe that we shall ever get to the end of this long controversy until the whole matter is handled and grappled with from the many sides which are concerned in it. It is very easy for the clergy to say that the landowners are those who are in a position to help in this way and in that way, and that the clergy are the only ones who suffer from the high rating. I do not believe that to be true. I recently had a communication from a friend of mine—I do not say he belongs to the County of Norfolk—in which he points out that the tithe on his whole property, which he represents as being a very average property in the county where he lives, amounts not to a tenth but to a quarter. It is clear to me that we need to review the whole incidence of rates all over the country, and until that is done I believe that all our measures will be of a make-shift and unsatisfactory character.
But in failing to oppose this Bill I should indeed be sorry if it was thought that my sympathies did not go out to the hardworking and to the underpaid clergy. I believe it is being recognised more and more as a kind of national disgrace that our clergy should be working, as they do work, on such miserable stipends. If ever a living falls vacant in my own gift that is worth £300 a year I regard it as a princely 193 gift, and I very carefully consider a large number of men who may, after long and hard work, be rightly considered as candidates for such preferment!
I have said that I think we cannot resist this readjustment of the law. This is an occasion on which it is right for those of us who are interested in the clergy, and I am sure that means a great majority of your Lordships' House, to bend our mind to the present; situation in the hope and intention that by the year 1925, which will see an end of the existing Tithe Act, some comprehensive system of rating will be devised. It would be the greatest misfortune if the whole question of tithe was; postponed until the end of 1924. It would be much wiser to consider it now in a less contentious atmosphere than is likely to prevail when that Act comes to an end. Your Lordships will forgive me for saying so much with reference to the clergy on this Bill, but the rating of the clergy on their tithes is most unsatisfactory.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I desire to support what has been said by the Bishop of Norwich with regard to the extreme inconvenience of the continuance of an admitted wrong on the clergy, a wrong to which they have been subjected year after year with no immediate prospect of its removal. We have been obliged, during recent years, to pass little Bills—not little to those who have to suffer the grievance— with regard to the rating of tithe, and we have called attention to the fact that the whole matter urgently calls for consideration. I have been accustomed to discussions on this subject for the last forty years. I have been for nearly thirty years in this House, and every time that the matter has come up I have heard the same thing said. It has been said: "We have no doubt about the grievance, but it cannot be dealt with until the whole subject has been reconsidered."
If anyone wants to be quite sure what the facts are he should read the lucid and weighty statement in the Report of the Royal Commission of 1899, which dealt with the question of local taxation. It shows absolutely clearly that there is this genuine grievance on the part of the clergy in the fact that they alone are rated on the income which they require for doing their natural work. The rating of tithe is a genuine and admitted grievance. It has been constantly said: "We admit 194 the grievance, but you must go on for the present because we must deal with it on a large scale." The time does not come for dealing with it on a large scale, and it is very hard on the clergy that they should be told: "You must go on bearing your grievance because we are not ready to deal with the subject as a whole."
If it is impossible to deal with it as a whole then it should be dealt with in part. It can only be dealt with as a whole by the Government. The necessary legislation must be initiated in another place, and must come from the Government. The point I want to press is that the grievance of the clergy in this matter is being constantly admitted. It is only allowed to go on because it forms part of something larger, and the question of dealing with the larger subject is postponed. That is not an adequate answer, and I am thankful that the occasion of the introduction of the present Bill has been taken for calling attention afresh to a very real grievance which, I hope, will be remedied before long.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I am much obliged to your Lordships for the way you have received this Bill. My noble friend, Earl Grey, has suggested two Amendments he would like to move in Committee. The first, with regard to the date, is not a very difficult matter, which I will consider; but the second is much more serious. He would like to place, the rating on the whole spending area, not on the parish. I sympathise with his object, but I think it would mean altering the title and preamble of the Bill. Before I pledge myself to accept any Amendment I should like to get some assurance from the Government that they would give every facility for the Bill in another place. I propose to put down the Committee stage for to-morrow week, Tuesday, July 11, if that is agreeable to the noble Earl.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.