§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Dynevor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.328
§ [The EARL of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ The EARL of SELBORNE moved, after Clause 1, to insert the following new clause:
§ ". (1) Where any sum assessed upon any owner of tithe rentcharge attached to an ecclesiastical corporation or benefice in any rate made by the overseers of a parish has by reason of the provisions of the Ecclesiastical Tithe Rentcharges (Rates) Act, 1920, become irrecoverable the overseers in satisfying any precept made upon them by any spending authority may, subject to the provisions of this section, deduct the amount of the rate that has so become irrecoverable from the amount which would but for this section, be payable to the spending authority.
§ (2) The amount which may be deducted under this section from a precept shall not exceed the sum which bears the same relation to the amount irrecoverable as aforesaid as the amount in the pound of the rate estimated to be required for the purpose of satisfying the precept bears to the total amount in the pound for which the rate was made.
§ "(3) Where a precept sent by any spending authority to overseers includes a sum payable under precept to another spending authority, the sum so payable may be reduced by a deduction equivalent to that which could have been made by the overseers in pursuance of this section if the precept had been addressed to them.
§ "(4) This section shall apply only in respect of any sum which has become irrecoverable in any rate made on or after the first day of April nineteen hundred and twenty-two, and before the first day of January nineteen hundred and twenty-six.
§ "(5) In this section 'spending authority' has the same meaning as in the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896, 'precept' includes a contribution order, and 'rate' means any rate made for thr relief of the poor and for other purposes chargeable thereon according to law."
§ The noble Earl said: The object of this Bill is to remedy an unforeseen effect of the Ecclesiastical Tithe Rentcharges (Rates) Act of 1920. The Amendment which I am proposing is designed to remedy another unforeseen effect of that Act. The exact purport of the Amendment, naturally, is not very clear from a casual glance at its words, but I think I can explain it fairly clearly. In the first place, your Lordships will remember that the only individual in the whole land who is rated on his earned income is the clergyman, who is paid for his work by means of tithes. That is a relic of a previous state of affairs, when personal property was rated as well as real property. It has been generally allowed that it is an anachronism and a hardship which must one day be dealt with in any Act which reforms our whole rating system. But, for the present, I would only ask you to remember 329 that the clergyman alone is rated on his earned income. It is a matter of public knowledge that the clergy are, to say the least, not the richest class in the land. Many of those who are paid by means of tithes are at the present moment among the very poorest of our population.
§ The next point I ask the House to remember is in connection with the Tithe Act, 1918. That Act was passed to stop the quick rise in the value of tithes which was consequential on the increased price of corn. It stereotyped the value of tithes at £109 from the year 1918 up to 1926. I believe that if tithe had not been so stereotyped at £109 it would to-day be £130 or more.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
The most rev. Primate says that that is an understatement; at any rate, the value of tithes to-day would be very high indeed. It has been estimated that what the tithe owners lost by the policy of fixing the tithe, between the years 1918 and 1926, amounts to £7,000,000. I have not made that calculation myself and I do not guarantee it, but it has been so estimated by perfectly competent authorities. And I would ask your Lordships to believe that this immense sum—immense considering the position in life of most of the people who would have shared in it—was taken away from the tithe owners for public reasons, and, so far as I know, they have never made any complaint of that Act. They accepted then, and have accepted ever since, this very serious diminution of their emoluments as a regulation for the public weal to which they did not object, however hard they might have felt the necessity to be.
But when the great leap forward in rates occurred, His Majesty's Government admitted that the position had become very unfair, and endeavoured in the Tithe Act of 1920 to remedy in part the grievance that had occurred—tithe stereotyped at £109 and the rates mounting up by leaps and bounds. The principal provision of the Act of 1920 was to the effect that an incumbent who received less than £300 a year should be relieved of the payment of rates for the time being; that is, up to the year 1926 when the Act of 1918 comes to an end. The result of giving that relief, however fair and necessary, to these poor clergy was an increase in the present burden of 330 other ratepayers. The drafting of the Act of 1920 had this unintentional effect: that the rate to make good the deficiency caused by the Act of 1918 was confined to individual parishes. The whole of the adjustment rendered necessary by a poor clergyman being relieved of his rates because his income was less than £300 a year was, by the wording of the Act of 1920, thrown on the parish in which he lived.
A demand note for rates really deals with three different kinds of rates—the parochial rate, the rate for expenditure in the parish proper, generally a very small portion of the total; the union rate; and the county rate. Of those three constituent parts of the demand note, the parochial rate, of course, is generally much the smallest. Now, supposing, for example, that a clergyman in a parish, with an income of under £300 a year, was paying, at the moment the Act was passed, £30 in rates, of which the major portion was for union and county purposes, as the Act of 1920 was worded, the whole of that £30 was thrown upon the other ratepayers in that particular parish in which the clergyman was an incumbent. In many cases the readjustment has been stated not only in the rate book but in the demand notes to individual ratepayers, in an absolutely unfair and even insulting manner. It has been stated as if the incumbent was a defaulter, and that because he was a defaulter his neighbours had to make good his shortcomings. In certain parishes where the whole history of the matter is not properly understood and where the relations of the incumbent and his parishoners have been, I believe, very harmonious, the effect of that has been to produce a state of immense indignation and irritation on the part of other ratepayers in the parish. To such an extent is that so that it has occurred, I believe, again and again that the clergyman has refused to take advantage of the Act of 1920, because he has said that he preferred to be poorer still than to have bad blood stirred up between him and his parishioners.
I have an instance which I can give your Lordships. I have in my hand a circular which was sent out by the Ministry of Health. Their attention had been called to the fact that in demand notes sent to individual ratepayers an item, in addition to the county, union, or parochial rates had actually been included in connection 331 with the default of the incumbent. The Ministry of Health sent a circular note in August of last year to say that it was irregular, most improper and unfair. Here I have an actual case, the particulars of which have been sent to a friend of mine by an incumbent in the diocese of Bath and Wells, who writes as follows—At a public meeting held in my parish it was mentioned that the parishioners were paying £31 for me in rates. I felt it so much that I returned the money that had been paid. The Government meant to be kind in passing the Act of 1920, but in the way in which it was done it is proving a cruel wrong. The clergy all round here are experiencing the same thing.The Amendment I propose to your Lordships is designed to remove this cruel injustice. It really amounts more to a change in account keeping than to anything else.
If your Lordships accept this Amendment the effect will be that instead of the union and the county rates, no longer paid by the poor incumbent, being charged on the parish in which he lives, the parochial rate only will be spread over the parish, the union rate being spread over the union, and the county rate over the county. If that is done, I am advised that the misunderstanding and grievance will disappear; that the ill-effects of the wording of the Act of 1920 will disappear with it; that harmony will once again reign where there is now misunderstanding and discord; and that instead of a sensitive clergyman, ground down by poverty, being unable, owing to misunderstanding among his parishioners, to take advantage of the relief which Parliament meant to give him, he will be able to benefit in the way which was intended by this and the other House. I beg to move.
After Clause 1, insert the said new clause.—(The Earl of Selborne.)
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF ANCASTER)
My Lords, I think the noble Earl who has just addressed your Lordships has given a very clear description of the unfortunate state of affairs which occurs in certain parishes owing to these recent Acts connected with tithe and the rating of tithe. The Ministry considers that the Amendment which the noble Earl has placed upon the Paper is a better arrangement than the existing one, but I must 332 point out to your Lordships that the Amendment is such a substantial alteration to the character of the Bill, and raises financial questions of such a novel and intricate nature, that no definite undertaking can be given that time will be found for the further stage of the Bill, if it be thus amended, in another place.
The Minister of Agriculture, I believe, has stated that he will do his best to find time for this Bill if this Amendment is put in. It must, however, be apparent to your Lordships that it is a very far-reaching Amendment, and is a matter dealing with finance. There is a chance, therefore, if your Lordships put this new clause into the Bill, that it may have the effect of killing the Bill altogether. It is, therefore, rather difficult for me to know exactly what advice to give to the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, Lord Dynevor. I think he must judge for himself whether he will accept this Amendment, and take the chance then of his Bill becoming law with the Amendment inserted in it. If he thinks the chances of his Bill becoming law will be very much endangered, and prefers not to accept the Amendment, I should recommend him to divide the House against the Amendment, though I must tell him that I think the Amendment is an improvement of the Bill and that I personally shall have to vote for it.
I cannot explain the matter better to your Lordships than the noble Earl has already done. Undoubtedly, there is a good deal of unrest in certain parishes owing to this extra rate having been thrown on other ratepayers, and where the question is not understood, the clergyman is held up as trying to get out of his just payments, although, of course, that is not a fair and proper statement. In view of what I have said respecting facilities in another place it is for the noble Lord in charge of the Bill to decide whether or not he will accept the Amendment.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, this Amendment no doubt will relieve certain parishes from a heavier rate. On the other hand it will impose a heavier rate on other parishes. It has been found in certain parishes that under the Tithe Act of 1920, owing to the relief given to incumbents whose incomes do not exceed £300 a year and £500 a year, a heavier rate has been imposed. I think there is something to be said against imposing a heavier rate on other 333 parishes to make up the difference. In some parishes a heavier rate has already fallen on certain of the parishioners owing to tithe having been redeemed, and this Amendment would impose, in certain eases, a still heavier rate.
I am extremely anxious not to lose this Bill. Your Lordships are aware that it has already passed through all its stages in another place, and my noble friend, Lord Ancaster, has just hinted that the session is very far advanced. I was anxious to hear the views of the Government upon this Amendment, and upon the possibilities of it becoming law. My noble friend, Lord Ancaster, has pointed out the extreme danger—perhaps I am putting his words too high; I will say the possibility—of the Bill being lost in another place. Although the Government might help to a certain extent, they are unable to give any guarantee that this Bill win become law, and I think the small Bill that I introduced is so important, and I am so anxious not to lose it, that I feel the only thing I really can do—although to a certain extent I have sympathy with the Amendment of my noble friend, Lord Selborne—is, rather than lose the Bill, to ask your Lordships to decide the question.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
My Lords, I am extremely sorry to find myself inclined to take an opposite course to that which my noble friend, Lord Dynevor, has advised. I understand he is going to ask your Lordships not to accept the new clause. I think these prospects of the dangers to Bills are apt to be very much magnified and exaggerated. After all, this will be just a Lords Amendment, and my recollection of the procedure of another place is that it is generally not difficult to find time for the discussion of a Lords Amendment, probably at what the ancients would have called an intempestive hour of the night. Still, it gets discussed, and this will be disposed of in one issue. No doubt, it may be opposed in another place. If it is opposed, and serious opposition arises, and if it be defeated, it will be perfectly possible for my noble friend when the Bill comes back to this House to move that we do not insist upon our Amendment. Probably statesmanship and good policy points to this House not insisting upon the Amendment in such an event, but I think there is so much justice in the Amendment itself that I should be inclined to support Lord Selborne in asking the House to agree to his new clause.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I very much hope that the House will not reject the new clause proposed by Lord Selborne. The noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, speaking on behalf of the Government, said that it was a far-reaching clause. That means that the grievance is a far-reaching one. The Bill seeks to remove an admitted grievance, and, if it be far-reaching in its character, it means that the grievance is affecting a great many people. The noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, says he is anxious to secure the passing of his Bill, which is designed to remove an admitted grievance spread over a very large number of people, and to a very small amount. This new clause is to remove what is at present a very much larger amount imposed upon a few individuals, and not spread over a large portion of the community. If this clause be not put in you are inflicting upon the clergy, who are subject to the provisions of the relieving Act, a very real hardship, for you are placing them in the invidious position of appearing to be what they are not—men who are taking advantage unfairly of something that has been a kind of windfall to them, at the expense of their neighbours and fellow parishioners. That is a most unfair presentation of the case, and it is put in that kind of form, as the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, has pointed out, in some of the demand notes and documents circulated upon the subject.
I very much hope that this House will at least assert its desire to act fairly to these men, and not subject them to this cruel hardship of misrepresentation of facts, done under what looks like Government authority. I hope the House will follow the line taken by the noble Earl who speaks on behalf of the Government. He has expressed his personal sympathies with those who are thus suffering and is prepared to accept the new clause moved by Lord Selborne, which, it seems to me, is in the largest sense perfectly fair. No one has argued that it is not a fair clause, that it is not doing a justifiable thing rightly, and I feel that it would be a narrow and petty view to take of the whole subject to reject that Amendment because of the possibility—and it is only a possibility—that it might affect the further progress of the Bill. I do not see why that should be so, and I earnestly hope your Lordships will accept the new clause.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.335
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE moved at the end to insert, "and to provide for an adjustment of payments in consequence of the reduction of rates authorised by that Act." The noble Earl said: This is consequential.
In the title, after ("benefice") insert ("and to provide for an adjustment of payments in consequence of the reduction of rates authorised by that Act").—(The Earl of Selborne.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Title, as amended, agreed to.