§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD BLEDISLOE)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time, and it is only right that I should tell your Lordships that, although the Bill contains provisions which are not unconnected with the question of finance, it comes from another place without certification by the Speaker that it is a Money Bill. The main general principles upon which this Bill is founded may be summarised as follows:—(1), That all tithe rentcharge, both ecclesiastical and lay, shall be stabilised, and no longer depend upon the price of corn for the time being; (2), that all ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge shall be redeemed by means of a sinking fund at the end of a limited period; (3), that the clergy as a whole shall not be called upon to pay more than they are 1106 paying at present by way of rates, levied upon tithe rentcharge; and, (4), that the relationship of tax-gatherer and taxpayer shall hereafter be abolished as between the clergy on the one hand and their parishioners on the other.
As the Bill definitely and permanently alters the basis of tithe rentcharge as established by the Tithe Commutation Act, 1836, it may perhaps be convenient to remind the House what was the purport and effect of that Statute. The payment of tithes, or the tenth part of the produce of the land, towards the maintenance of beneficed clergy, was established before the Norman Conquest, and has been recognised by English law since the eighth century. There are several exceptions to the payment of tithe (as in the case of the abbeys and of Crown lands), and in the course of the centuries persons and corporations other than the clergy have become legally entitled to the receipt of tithes, especially at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 and 1539.
Although originally payable in kind, it was largely the custom at the time of the Tithe Commutation Act, 1836, for a tithe-owner to accept a fixed sum of money, or a fixed quantity of titheable commodities, in place of the actual tithes. The principle of the Tithe Commutation Act, 1836, was, as explained by Sir Robert Phillimore in his classic work on Ecclesiastical Law, to make this system general by substituting a tithe rentcharge "permanent in quantity and payable in money, but fluctuating in value, for all tithes which previously belonged either to ecclesiastical or lay persons." The rentcharge was apportioned to all the lands liable to tithe in the parish, and its value fixed at the value of the number of imperial bushels of wheat, barley and oats which the same would have purchased at the average price of such cereals during the seven years preceding Christmas, 1835. Such prices were in fact 7s. 0¼d. per bushel of wheat, 3s. 11½d. per bushel of barley, and 2s. 9d. per bushel of oats, and the actual value of the tithe rentcharge has always been based upon the quantity of each cereal which at that date represented £33 6s. 8d. or one-third of the sum of £100. These quantities were, in fact, 95 bushels of wheat, 168 bushels of barley, and 242 bushels of oats. The consequence is that 1107 the price of oats has a much greater influence on the fluctuation of tithe rentcharge than either wheat or barley. That is a rather significant fact, when estimates or conjectures of the probable future trend of cereal prices are being made, as they have been made during recent weeks.
The current value of the tithe rentcharge is ascertained by taking these numbers in each case, i.e., 95, 168 and 242, and multiplying them respectively by the average price of each cereal over the preceding period of seven years. The aggregate of these figures represents the current value of tithe. Under this arrangement it is, perhaps, interesting to mention that tithe rentcharge has varied in value between 1836 and the outbreak of the War in 1914 from £66 at the lowest in 1901 to £112, the highest figure reached, in 1875. It may be rather instructive to note that it does not necessarily follow that the highest prices of cereals had been reached during the preceding seven years. In fact the highest price reached in the case of wheat was in 1855, the price being 9s. 4d. per bushel, and the highest prices for barley and oats were reached in 1874, the prices being respectively 3s. 7¼d. and 5s. 7¼d.; but as oats, and to a less extent barley, have a greater operation on the value of tithe rentcharge than wheat has, it is interesting to note that the peak was in fact reached in pre-War tithe values during the seven year period of which the year 1874 formed one of the years. That is the year in which oats were at an exceptionally high figure and barley also was very much above the normal.
There was, however, no violent fluctuation until the time of the late War, when corn prices, although under Government control, rose to such an extent that on the 1836 basis tithe rentcharge would have reached in 1922 the figure of £172 for every £100 of tithe. In 1917 the Church, not desiring to take advantage of abnormal War conditions, patriotically initiated a movement for the temporary stabilisation of tithe rentcharge, and accordingly the Tithe Act of 1918 was passed. This provided for stabilisation for seven years at the figure of £109 3s. 11d., reverting thereafter to the old system of tithe ascertainment, but on the basis of a fifteen years instead of a seven years average. 1108 This seven years stabilisation, which was provided for as a temporary expedient in. 1918, ceases at the end of this year. The fifteen years average, which was intended to come into operation at the end of that seven year period, was intended to ensure that the effect of the high prices consequent upon the War should be spread over a longer period, and their severity thus tempered to the tithe payer. The year when cereals reached their highest price was 1920. It has been realised during the last three years that even on a fifteen years average the value of the tithe rentcharge would rise far above par, and would, in fact, reach £131 next year, with a probability of £133 and £135 in the two following years and £137 in 1930. It was felt that this would impose a heavy burden upon the agricultural community during a period of falling prices and considerable instability.
I may perhaps remind your Lordships that since 1891 the tithe rentcharge has been payable by the landlord, and the landlord has been unable to contract out of that obligation by any arrangement made with his farm tenant. But it is interesting to remember that, as the result very largely of the purchase by farm tenants of their holdings since the War, no less than twenty-five per cent. of all those now occupying agricultural land are, in fact, owners of the land they cultivate—a much smaller proportion, I may remark, than in most other countries of the world.
Negotiations were commenced in 1923 with a view to a new basis of stabilisation combined with compulsory redemption, and were conducted by a Committee consisting of representatives of the Church, the National Farmers' Union, the Central Landowners' Association, and the Land Union, but the negotiators were unable to come to any definite agreement. The Government therefore felt bound to take the responsibility of coming to a decision, and have accordingly provided by this Bill for a scheme of permanent stabilisation which, it is hoped, will be regarded as equitable to all parties concerned. At this stage it may be pertinent to remind the House that the tithe rentcharge is of three different kinds:—(1), That attached to benefices (or incumbents' tithe rentcharge); (2), that owned by ecclesiastical corporations—and, of course, when I speak of corporations in 1109 this connection I mean, not corporations sole, but corporations as defined by the Episcopal and Capitular Estates Act, 1851—and (3), lay tithe rentcharge, which constitutes about one-third of the whole, and which is owned respectively by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, by the Welsh Church Commissioners, by various colleges, including very particularly those of Oxford and Cambridge, by schools, by hospitals and other charitable institutions, and lastly by various private individuals. The amount of lay tithe owned by private individuals represents about three-fifths of the whole of the lay tithe.
Under this Bill all tithe rentcharge of every description is to be stabilised at £105, and the first two classes of tithe rentcharge, which are collectively described as ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge, are to be redeemed by an annuity. Consequently, in respect of each £100 of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge, the landowner will pay £105 plus the amount which is required to provide the necessary sinking fund. There is no compulsory redemption by annuity of lay tithe rentcharge. Queen Anne's Bounty has been selected as the central body which will be responsible for collection of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge, thus terminating the present system of the parson collecting his own tithe—a somewhat invidious task, and one not calculated to assist his spiritual work.
For this purpose the country is to be divided by Queen Anne's Bounty into not more than twenty separate areas, and in each area there will be a Committee set up which will be charged with the duty of collecting tithe rentcharge, and the cost of collection in each area will be pooled. Tithe-owning clergy will be duly represented upon these various area Committees. This ought to provide that the collection will be as effective and as economical as possible. A scheme to be made by Queen Anne's Bounty will provide that losses due to failure to collect tithe rentcharge will be pooled and shared by all incumbents alike within the collection area; thus the relationship of tax-gatherer and taxpayer will be completely abolished, with one exception only. Where the incumbent has in the past been in the habit of collecting his own tithe rentcharge, without employing an agent, and therefore without incurring any expense, it is provided by the Bill 1110 that he shall be allowed to continue to do so as long as he remains incumbent.
Now I want to turn shortly to the question of redemption. The annuity which is comprised in the figure of £105 by which ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge will be redeemed does take into account what I may call the "peak" years following the War, but spreads the charge of them equally over all succeeding years for a complete period of eighty-five years in the case of incumbents' tithe rentcharge and 81½ years in the case of that owned by ecclesiastical corporations. The difference in the periods of accumulation is due to the fact that from the figure of £105 different amounts have to be deducted for rates—£5 per cent. in the case of the incumbent's tithe and £16 per cent. for other ecclesiastical tithes. In respect of each £100 of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge par value—the stabilised value of which is £105—it is provided that the sum of £4 10s. shall, in addition, be payable by the tithe payer into a sinking fund, thus making his total payment in respect of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge £109 10s. It is estimated that these sinking fund payments will produce, at the end of this period of eighty-five years in the one case and 81½ years in the other, a capital sum which will yield the same net income as that which the tithe owner has previously derived from his tithe rentcharge, which will thereupon become extinguished. This will represent in the case of incumbents £97 10s.: that is, £105 less £5 for rates and less £2 10s. for collection expenses; and in the case of ecclesiastical corporations a sum of £86 10s.: that is, £105 less £16 for rates and a similar sum of £2 10s. for collection expenses.
It is proposed to vest the sums payable by way of redemption annuity absolutely in Queen Anne's Bounty who will hold them as legal owners upon trust for the various beneficiaries and ecclesiastical corporations respectively. A sinking fund being required for redemption purposes, it is obviously an advantage that the collection, investment and management of the sinking fund should be in the hands of the same central authority. Queen Anne's Bounty will, therefore, undertake these tasks. Queen Anne's Bounty have always received moneys in respect of the cash redemption of tithe rentcharge, attached to benefices, and, since the Tithe 1111 Act of 1918, such redemption annuities as were provided for by that Act. Provision is also made in Clause 8 of the Bill for redemption outright by a capital sum before the expiration of the full period of 85 years or 81½ years, if the tithe payer so desires.
Lay tithe rentcharge—that is, as I pointed out, all the tithe rentcharge which is not either attached to a benefice or belonging to an ecclesiastical corporation—is stabilised similarly at £105, but no scheme of compulsory redemption is proposed in that case. There is a slight modification of the redemption terms in this case under the Tithe Act of 1918, which is found in Clause 17, where an application for redemption is made by the tithe payer. A very material consideration in relation to this Bill is the question of rating.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Before the noble Lord leaves that point, would be kindly say what is the calculation of the net amount after the deduction of the cost of collection and administration?
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
Perhaps I may be allowed to mention that later. I was going to mention it in summarising the case for the Bill. Your Lordships will remember that the Tithe Rentcharge (Rates) Act of 1899 relieved tithe rentcharge payable to incumbents of half the rates. That followed on a similar provision that was made by the Agricultural Rates Act of 1896 as regards agricultural occupiers. There has always been deemed to be a rough relation between the cost of living on the one hand and the value of tithe rentcharge on the other, although the former is not immediately reflected by the latter. In 1919 and 1920, owing to the high cost of living, coupled with the limitation upon their tithe income imposed by the Act of 1918 and owing also to high rates resulting from monetary depreciation, a large number of incumbents found themselves in a serious condition of financial embarrassment. This led to the passing of the Ecclesiastical Tithe Rentcharge (Rates) Act of 1920 as a temporary measure. This Act expires at the end of this year concurrently with the Tithe Act of 1918. This Act of 1920 relieved incumbents whose tithe income was less than £300 a year, of all rates. If their income was between £300 and £500 a year it relieved them of 1112 three-quarters of their rates. If their income was in excess of £500 they remained chargeable with half their rates. That is to say, the position remains the same as it was under the Rates Act of 1899, all rates for the purpose of the Act of 1920 being calculated on the basis of the 1918 poundage. At the end of this year all incumbents would ordinarily revert to the payment of half-rates.
This measure afforded much relief to the parsons, especially as the poorer benefices escaped the rate burden altogether. The effect of exemptions contained in the Acts of 1899 and 1920 is that the average amount of rates paid by incumbents—the average amount of rates—is £5 for every £100 of tithe rentcharge and the average amount paid by ecclesiastical corporations is £16 for every £100 of tithe rentcharge. As no Exchequer Grant was provided at the time of the passing of the Act of 1920 the other ratepayers in the locality had to make good the deficiency. This is altered by the present Bill. Incumbents have claimed from time to time that under any new arrangement some provision should be made by Government for the payment of their sates. It is, therefore, proposed to stabilise the rate liability at £5 and £16 respectively per £100 par value of tithe rentcharge and to provide, in addition, an annual Grant from the Exchequer in lieu of the additional burden which has been thrown upon other ratepayers as the result of the Act of 1920. As a matter of machinery the Commissioners of Inland Revenue will, in fact, pay to the local authorities the whole of the rates on ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge and will receive £5 and £16 per cent. respectively from Queen Anne's Bounty. The new money which will be provided by the Exchequer for this purpose will amount to about £292,000 a year, of which no less than £272,000 will be in respect of incumbents' rates.
There is ample justification, I submit, for this proposal. The burden which has been cast on other ratepayers by the Act of 1920 falls very unequally on different parishes. In parishes where there is no tithe rentcharge entitled to exemption under the Act of 1920, there is, of course, no deficiency in rates arising from that Act. In others, where the tithe rentcharge is totally exempt from rates, 1113 and also at the same time forms, as it does in some cases, a considerable proportion of the whole rateable value of the parish, the additional rate required to make up the deficiency amounts in some cases to no less than 3s. in the £. The Bill leaves the total amount payable by way of rates by incumbents and ecclesiastical corporations practically unaltered, but provides for the deficiency being made good by payments from the Exchequer, so far as this is not met under the Act of 1899. This will obliterate the inequalities of the exempting system as between parish and Parish, and will do something to remove the sense of injustice which has been felt by farmers and agriculturists generally in many agricultural parishes, due to these inequalities.
To sum up the main provisions of the Bill: First of all, in respect of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge, the tithe payer will pay a total sum of £109 10s. for every £100 of tithe rentcharge, and this will be made up in this way. In the case of the parson £100 goes to him, less Queen Anne's Bounty's cost of collection and administration; £5 goes to the Exchequer as representing rates; and £4 10s. for 85 years to Queen Anne's Bounty for sinking fund. In the case of the ecclesiastical corporations £89 goes to the Corporation, less the cost of collection and administration; £16 to the Exchequer for rates, and, similarly, £4 10s., but for 81½ years instead of 85 years, to Queen Anne's Bounty for sinking fund. Lastly, in respect of lay tithe rentcharge, the tithe Payer will pay £105 for £100 par value, and no provision will be made for redemption by annuity. In answer to the noble Lord's question put just now, it is not possible to give with absolute precision a figure representing the deduction for the cost of administration. In another place the Minister suggested 5 per cent. as a possible figure, but declined to accept an amendment inserting that figure in the Bill. I am not in a position, therefore, to state with absolute accuracy what will be the net value of the tithe rentcharge in future to the parsons or to the ecclesiastical corporations, as the case may be.
There are other provisions contained in the Bill which are ancillary to or consequential upon those which I have 1114 endeavoured to explain to the House. Some question has been raised, especially I think by those who represent the colleges at the Universities, as to what is to be the appointed date at which this Bill will come into operation. We cannot say precisely the appointed date, but it will probably be April 1, 1927, If it is not that date, it will probably be the day before.
That, my Lords, is the Bill. I am not going to pretend that the scheme which it embodies satisfies fully either tithe owners or tithe payers. The former consider the stabilisation figure too low and the latter deem it too high, and what I may call the margin of dissatisfaction on each side is of about the same dimension. This, perhaps, affords the most convincing claim for your Lordships' favourable consideration of the measure, and is the strongest evidence of its equity and impartiality. The Government, at least, have done their best in this Bill to solve a problem of some considerable difficulty and complexity, which is a source of anxiety and possible friction in our countryside, and we venture to hope that this House which is, by its composition, specially qualified to express an authoritative opinion upon it, will regard the solution which we now submit for your consideration as an equitable one. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Bledisloe.)
§ LORD STRACHIE had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That the Bill be read a second time this day three months. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving that the Second Reading of this Bill be put off for three months, I do not do so in any hostile spirit to the general principles underlying the Bill. It is to its details that I object I could not help feeling, when the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture was addressing your Lordships, that he might not have used the words that it was a Bill which had equity and impartiality as its hallmark. I could not help reflecting that in this very Bill there is a great deal of inequality and a great deal of partiality.
§ Why should there be such a great distinction made between the clerical tithe owner and the ecclesiastical cor- 1115 porations—that is to say, our great Universities and teaching centres—and also, last but not least, such an inequality in the case of the ordinary lay tithe payer, a very different treatment is meted out in these three cases, and I think it might have been better had the noble Lord, instead of claiming impartiality and equity for this Bill, explained upon what ground he justified the treatment accorded to our great Universities, and the treatment meted out to the ordinary lay tithe payer. Certainly it is a question of property, and undoubtedly the Church has a right to her property. So also have the Universities a right to their property, and so also has the owner of the lay tithe a right to his property. Why then should there be this different treatment? How, in the face of this difference of treatment, can the noble Lord say that this Bill is one of impartiality and equity? I am expressing, I think, what is the general feeling in the country upon this question when I say that if the Bill were fair all round we should not object to it so much.
§ There is one other reason why it is objected to, and that is that it is compulsory. I take it that the majority of noble Lords in this House, whatever their attitude may be towards the general principles underlying this Bill, dislike compulsion. We all know what we suffered in this country from compulsion under D.O.R.A. We were told that these things were necessary to win the War and we put up with all kinds of interference. The noble Lord who represents the Ministry of Agriculture knows very well that the men who hate compulsion more than anybody else are the agriculturists of this country. We even hear them say that they will never accept subsidies from the Government for the benefit of agriculture if these are to be combined with compulsion and control. That is exactly what this Bill is going to impose, for the agriculturists of this country are going to be made to redeem their tithes whether they want to do so or not.
§ I may be asked why I am moving the rejection of the Bill, instead of endeavouring to insert Amendments. I understand that the Government have no intention of accepting any Amendments. There is another point. It has been said that it would be perfectly possible to obtain a compromise in this matter. I believe that it would be quite easy to find 1116 a compromise that would be generally accepted by both tithe owners and tithe payers, who strongly object to this Bill as it now stands. I should have been glad if the noble Lord had explained here the reason for dropping the Act of 1918. That Act was brought in by a great agriculturist, a great landowner who was then Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture—I refer to Lord Clinton—and in introducing that Bill be said that it was brought forward owing to the abnormal prices to which grain had risen in consequence of the War, leading to conditions which in some cases were almost intolerable. He added that it was possible to provide a scheme for redemption that would be better both for the tithe owner and the tithe payer.
§ What has altered that condition of affairs? Is there any reason why your Lordships should seek to change this Act of 1918, which was introduced by the then Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture on the ground that it was desirable and would be a protection to both parties concerned? I notice also that the Archbishop of Canterbury, during the debate on the Second Reading of that Bill, said that he believed that your Lordships in passing such a Bill through the House would be conferring a benefit upon both the parties for whom it was intended. The most rev. Primate added that some of the details of the Bill might require consideration, but I have looked up the debate and I see that the Archbishop never raised any objection as regards the details of the Bill, with which, apparently, he was quite satisfied. He also stated that the redemption of tithe might be decided ultimately to be to the advantage of both parties.
§ All I ask on behalf of the agriculturists for whom I am speaking is a reasonable ground for this change. So far as I am aware, no single argument has been put forward by the noble Lord to show that anything has happened to make it necessary to alter the Act of 1918, which led to a large amount of redemption. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the interesting fact that under the Act of 1918 340,000 rentcharges were redeemed, and I understood at the time—I was myself redeeming some rentcharges—that the Ministry of Agriculture was simply snowed under by applications from all over the country. It is interesting to note that the Ministry of Agriculture, in their 1117 Report upon this question, say that if the number and size of applications for redemption received in 1920 had been maintained yearly the whole tithe rentcharge payable in this country would have been extinguished in about ten years. That is a statement from a responsible quarter. The whole of the tithe rentcharge would have been extinguished in ten years! That would have been a very excellent result, which I am sure would have been welcomed by the Church as a whole and would have been very much better than redemption spread over the long period of eighty-five years.
§ Then the Rent Act of 1920 was brought in and it stopped redemption at once. It is interesting to note that in 1920 the number of applications was 11,159 and that they fell in 1923 to 1,792, showing that the effect of the Act of 1920 had been to stop redemption and to bring us into our present position. Under the Act of 1918 the average annual payments to redeem tithe over a period of fifty years was £107 12s.; that is for those people who wished to redeem by an annuity instead of buying right out as they had the option of doing. It is proposed that in eighty-five years the annual rate shall be £109 103. Why should that be so? If, under the Act of 1918, it was considered that an annuity of £107 should be paid by the tithe payer to redeem in fifty years, why this extraordinary change to a figure of £109 10s, when the payment is to take eighty-five years?
For what reason, indeed, has this Bill been brought in? So far as I can understand it arose out of a deputation of clergy to the Chancellor of the Exchequer stating that almost alone in the country the clergy had received little or no increase of income during the War. On that very point I should like to quote the opinion of Lord Ernle, expressed in a letter to The Times. He said:—
No one could contemplate without alarm the bitter hostility which the collection of such sums would have aroused in 1922 and 1923. The feeling would have been aggravated by the facts that, in the national interests, landowners generally had abstained from raising rents and that the net profits of farmers had been restricted. If the sleeping partners alone were left uncontrolled, they would profit disproportionately by the abnormal conditions arising out of the War.
Those of us who happen to have been royalty owners, railway shareholders or
coalowners, know that we also were controlled and, very properly, were not allowed to make excessive profits. There is another class, a very small class, which has been treated very severely indeed—I refer to those who have come under the rent restrictions which apply at this moment and which control a large number of small owners. I cannot see why the clergy of the Church of England should expect to be treated differently from any other class of the community. As regards the hard cases, I must say that I sympathise very much with those clergymen who, like many others with small incomes, have suffered owing to the War in the same way as others have, been hampered by rent restrictions and have not been able to increase their rents, thus suffering considerable damage.
§ Then again, since January, 1918, tithe has been at £109 3s. 11d. instead of £15, as it was before the War, an increase of very nearly 40 per cent. That was not an unreasonable increase to enable tithe owners to meet extra expenditure, but they did not seem to be satisfied with that. However, the fact that under the 1918 Act redemption goes on at £109 3s. 11d. instead of £75, as in 1914, shows that the clergy have had a considerable increase. We ought to remember also, as the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, how very high tithe has gone up on one or two occasions. I should like to remind your Lordships that the average for the whole period up to the outbreak of War was only £95, and the probability is that over a series of eighty-five years it will fall to an average not higher than £75. At one time it was only £66. As the noble Lord pointed out, the Act of 1920 relieved tithe owners of their rates, in some cases entirely, and one of the grounds given for the introduction of that Act was that it was undesirable that they should have to pay rates at all.
I notice, however, one statement which was made by no less a person than a Cabinet Minister, Sir Samuel Hoare, to the effect that in nine cases out of ten up to the nineteenth century the parson was never rated on his tithe at all. I can answer that very clearly by quoting a statement made by Lord Clinton on this matter. In reply to a Question, the noble Lord said—
I have no doubt there is a distinct liability on tithe to pay rates.''
Of course there is a distinct liability on tithe to pay rates, because when tithe was commuted a sum was actually added to the commutation to make up to the clergyman for having to pay rates in the future. Let me refer your Lordships to Section 37 of the Tithe Act of 1836, and to a House of Commons Return of 1839, where it is clearly stated how much was given to the tithe owner in consideration of his having to pay rates in the future. There is a case in Essex where the tithe was commuted at £960 and there was added, for rates, £542. Again, in Sussex, there was added £415 to the commutation of £555, showing quite clearly that as far as rates are concerned this was taken into consideration. What is happening now is that not only do the clergy have a sum added to commutation in order to indemnify them for rates, but they are to have a further sum given to them out of the pockets of the tithe payer and of the Imperial Exchequer.
§ There is another point to which I must refer. The clerical tithe owner is to have his £100 of tithe free of all rates, and it is rather interesting to notice that it is provided that he is to be allowed to deduct these rates from his income although he does not pay them. The tithe payer has to pay £100 to the tithe owner, and also £5 for 85 years in aid of the clerical rates in addition. At the present moment the taxpayer is finding £396,000, not directly from Income Tax purposes, but it is taken out of the Local Taxation Account. The general body of taxpayers lose that money which otherwise would go to the help of local taxation. Now it is proposed to give a sum of £295,000, which is to be found by the taxpayer in the future. As far as I can understand, the noble Lord indicated that the sum which was required to make up the loss on the rates is going to be a fixed and not a variable amount. Therefore the unfortunate taxpayer, if the rates go up as they are generally doing, will have his rates increased because the Imperial Exchequer will not make good the deficiency.
I notice that a question was asked on this point of the Minister of Agriculture during the recent by-election, and Colonel Guinness, according to a newspaper report, said that—
he had lately seen the Prime Minister and told him that in his opinion it would
be unwise to drop this Bill unless they were in a position to vote more money. The Government are not in a position to vote more than the £300,000 a year for the relief of the two interests in tithe. 'I think it is a compromise which does justice to both sides, and I certainly could not advise the Government to withdraw this Bill.'
§ Apparently, the Minister says that not more than £300,000 a year will be voted to meet the deficiency and therefore the unfortunate taxpayer is to be called upon in the future to make good any deficiency in this matter.
§ I have mentioned the Minister of Agriculture and perhaps your Lordships would like me to take this opportunity of saying how much I look forward to his taking the office of Minister of Agriculture. I am certain he will prove a most valuable asset to the agriculturists of this country. I myself, and many of my friends, admire the admirable way in which throughout the recent contest he would not allow himself to be drawn into any promise to support the interests of any particular class and that he was determined to look after the interest of agriculture as a whole.
Apparently the tithe payer will have to find for redemption a sum of £4 10s. for 85 years. I cannot understand why it is to be £4 10s. It seems to me that for redemption purposes £4 is sufficient. I have made a calculation which shows that £4 in 85 years will produce £3,158, and that should be a sufficient amount in this particular case. I have dealt with some of the details of this Bill and I would like to go into the general effect of one or two of the proposals. Mr. Wood, during the Second Reading debate in another place, said—
One effect of the break-up of large estates has been to multiply the possibilities of friction between the incumbent and the parishioners from whom he has to collect the income to which he is by law entitled. … I think there will be a wide measure of agreement among men of all parties that it is on general grounds desirable to bring to an end the direct relationship between the incumbent as tithe owner and the owner of land as tithe payer, and at the manic time, in doing that to stabilise the sharply fluctuating payments.
§ I entirely agree, and the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill has the same view. He pointed out that last year 35 per cent. of the owners of land were also occupiers of the land, and there is no 1121 doubt that there has been an enormous increase in this respect in recent years. Very soon the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture in this House will have to talk, not of 25 per cent. but of 50 per cent. owner-occupiers.
§ I do not think this Bill is going to decrease friction in the next 85 years between the owner-occupier and agriculturists generally. What are the statements made by those who represent agriculture outside this House? What did the President of the National Farmers' Union say when a deputation representing the Land Union, the Central Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union attended on the Minister of Agriculture? Mr. Robbins said that he had never come across a case where property had been valued at the same figure when a reluctant buyer bought from an anxious seller as when property was sold by a reluctant seller to on anxious buyer. If to-day they went down on their knees to the Church and said: "Let me buy this property," the Church said: "You must buy it at the full value, £105." Under the Bill they were compelled to redeem, because the Church said "we do not think we can collect the money next year, but you must still buy on the full value, £105." That was not what he called "a square deal."
And the President of the Land Union writing to The Times, said this:
The House of Commons ought not to pass this Bill without a satisfactory answer from the Government to the following questions:—
Why the Government, having compulsorily redeemed the tithe on state-owned land under the Act of 1918 on the basis of a payment, of under £6,000 for every £100 of tithe, including rates over a period of 50 years, now proposes to compel the tithe payers to pay £9,300 for every £100 of tithe, spread over 85 years.
Why, when they have, at the public expense, relieved the clerical tithe owner of the rates on his tithe, do they under Section 8 of the Bill, charge the capitalised value of this relief upon the tithe payer, and why, after 1920, did they impose a similar charge in redemption which might, otherwise have rendered this Bill unnecessary?
§ To this day I do not think the Ministry of Agriculture or the Government have attempted to answer that very pertinent question, put to them by a gentleman so well known to your Lordships and so well known as a supporter of the Government.1122
Then last, but not least, I come to the very strong resolution which was passed by the Council or Agriculture of England last October. May I explain to your Lordships what that Council represents? It is a body set up originally, I think, during the War by the Ministry of Agriculture, with the object of informing the Minister and the Board and through them Parliament as to the views of agriculturists throughout the country. How is that body constituted? Two representatives from each county agricultural committee in England and Wales are chosen, and I believe the general practice is to appoint one landowner and one farmer. And in addition there are also persons nominated by the Ministry of Agriculture—Labour members and other people interested in agriculture not elected through the county councils. What happened in October at that meeting I A farmer from Hampshire moved the following resolution:
This Council, while anxious for a fair solution of the tithe question, is of opinion that the terms of the Tithe Bill are very unfair from the tithe payers' standpoint.
§ What is most remarkable about that resolution was that not a single voice was raised against it, although it is a very strong one indeed, and when it was put to the vote only two members voted against it, so that we may say that for practical purposes it was carried unanimously. Another remarkable feature about the case is that when the Chairman was called away he left the meeting in charge of the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, and to the surprise of everybody the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry did not say one word with regard to that resolution. He therefore gave us the general impression that he agreed with this resolution, saying that the Bill was unfair, and that the Council of Agriculture of England was justified in making that statement.
Another point is this, and I think it is very remarkable indeed as showing how unpopular this Bill has become, and how it grows more unpopular every day. On the Third Reading of the Bill recently in the House of Commons the Chairman of the Unionist Agricultural Committee spoke against the Third Reading, and refused to vote for it and only 168 mem-
bers could be induced to vote for the Bill. What does Sir Granville Wheeler say? He says:
A large section of the Church are not satisfied, and the vast majority of the tithe payers are, dissatisfied, and I think the Bill cannot be regarded as final.
That is what I am trying to put before your Lordships—namely, that the greatest injury is going to be done to the Church of England, of which I am a strong supporter, by keeping open this sore for the next 80 years. Then again we have the Chairman of the whole of the Agricultural members of the House of Commons, Sir Henry Cautley, who said,
I do not believe that many hon. members know that after this Bill passes one-third of the tithe will remain in existence.
§ Then he went on to say that the Bill would only cause trouble and irritation, and that if the tithe is redeemed the State no longer contributes to the payment of rates. Therefore there is no inducement to tithe payers to redeem the tithes on the land, because in that case the Government subsidy comes to an end and falls upon the particular parish, which would have to make it good.
Therefore actually the Bill has the effect of doing harm to and not assisting the process of redemption. It is undoubtedly a strong argument that the clergy have suffered since the War like a large number of other classes, but it seems to me that, it is not a sound argument to say that they should be relieved at the expense of somebody else. I suggest that it would be a much better plan for them to put their house in order and pool benefices and dioceses where they have, as in my neighbourhood, one benefice with an income of £1,400 a year and another with an income of only £350 a year. I believe that the Bishops admit that it is very desirable to add small parishes together and so be able to provide a better salary for the incumbent. I feel perfectly certain that it is not in the true interests of the Church to do what is being done at their instigation—namely, to break the settlement which was made in 1836, without the mutual consent of both parties to that settlement. It is a plain case of a Parliamentary bargain being broken. I will end by making one other statement—namely, that this is a very dangerous attack indeed upon property in this country. It
is compulsorily making a man part with his property, and I cannot emphasise it any more strongly than by quoting what was said by that great Conservative Churchman, Lord Hugh Cecil, who, speaking on this Bill, said:
A Government which purports to be here in order to defend the rights of property is taking away property from the people to whom it belongs.
§ I beg to move my Amendment.
Leave out ("now") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day three months").(Lord Strachie.)
§ LORD PARMOOR, who had on the Paper an Amendment to resolve, That it is not advisable to proceed further with a Bill which seeks to deprive incumbents of the benefit of the settlement made in 1836, and to alienate funds dedicated to religious, charitable and educational purposes, said: My Lords, I propose to say what I have to say on this Bill on this occasion, because the terms of my Amendment would be ruled out of order by reason of the form in which the noble Viscount on the Woolsack will put the Question. Therefore, I think it is convenient to say what I have to say in opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill. My answer, I think, to what the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary has said is not so much a matter of detail, but when he talks about equity and impartiality he really has forgotten the whole foundation and position of tithe and the tithe question. I need not go back into ancient history, but the tithe owner as a rule is the particular incumbent of a particular parish. He is what is called a corporation sole. It is not so much a question of the Church, where you may wrap matters up and get away from realities, but what I am seeking to raise in my own Amendment is the question of these poor incumbents, many of them really wholly inarticulate and for whom efforts are being made to give them what I may call a living salary.
§ Apart from generalities and words like "stabilisation," which I suggest means nothing, let us see what is the real fact. As matters stand now, an incumbent receiving, say, £300 a year in tithe would receive twenty per cent. increase next year, that is, £360, and he would receive something more in addition in the two next years, because 1125 his tithe goes up from £131 to £133 and £137, and beyond that I presume the noble Lord does not seek to go into the realms of prophecy. That is an extraordinarily serious matter—an extra ordinary interference with what I regard as the rights of property—to a man who is now having £300 a year and has the greatest possible difficulty in making ends meet. What is the case for depriving him of the additional £60 a year which Vie would get next year if you left the 1836 Act alone, or the additional sums beyond that which you would get in the succeeding years, when you go up to £137? I really think that is a very monstrous proposal.
§ The one great difficulty in the Anglican Church has been to provide adequate endowments for the various incumbents. All of us who are members of the Anglican Church are cognisant of the subscriptions raised in our own dioceses in order that the clergy may have a living salary. And what are we doing now if this Bill passes? We are taking away money from a man who otherwise would have £360 a year, and keeping him at the £300. More than that, though I do not want to go into matters of speculation, it scorns extremely probable that in the immediate future, at any rate, he would have a larger income. What does that mean? Let us take the case of present incumbents, particularly elderly incumbents, although I believe it will apply in all incumbents. It means depriving a man of a sum of money to which he is absolutely entitled at the present moment, which is the most sacred form of property. No one will question for a moment, that he is entitled to the benefit of the 1836 Act. If there is a form of property which ought to be regarded as exceptionally well secured it is income from tithes which has come down from probably Judaic times, through the Saxon and Norman Kings, and ultimately has been stereotyped, as we know, in the 1836 Act.
§ The noble Lord uses the word "stabilisation." That is rather a terrible word if it means twenty per cent. off the income you are otherwise entitled to, and when he talks about stabilisation I would reply that you cannot get it. I think probably you had better stabilisation under the old principle of the three cereals than you have under the gold 1126 standard. You are much more likely to have inflation and deflation under what he calls stabilisation than you would if matters were left to the fluctuations of prices under the old conditions. It is, indeed, extremely fair that, as prices and costs go up, so tithe should go up, too. That has been the experience ever since 1836. There was a period, as we know, when the tithe payer only paid about sixty per cent. I never heard at that time that the landowner or any one else asked that that should be stabilised at £100. It has always been the other way, and the tithe payer has come to complain about tithes whenever the tithe average has been satisfactory to the tithe owner.
§ Let me put another consideration, which I think is very important. If you are going to stabilise tithe and reduce the income of the tithe owners, that is the incumbents, the margin or difference does not belong to the landowner at all. He is not entitled to a single farthing of it. It is a national property, to be used wholly for national purposes. I was astonished at the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Strachie. I can well recollect what was said by Lord Salisbury, the father of the present noble Marquess, and what we all said in those days in the Unionist Party—that tithe was a national property. Of course, the incumbent is entitled to it in the first instance, but, if the incumbent is not to have this difference between £100 and £130, to which he is entitled, no landowner is entitled to a farthing of that sum. He had the advantage of the low tithe in the old days, and he has got to take the disadvantage—if it is a disadvantage, because many matters come into it—of a higher tithe at the present time. And, of course, tithe is not a proportion of rent; it is a proportion of produce, which is a very different thing.
§ What was the last precedent? It is a precedent to which personally I objected in many ways, but still a precedent. The tithe was taken away from ecclesiastical purposes in the Welsh Disestablishment Act. What happened? The money so obtained was divided into eight parts. Two parts out of the eight were given to each of the three Universities, and I know that one other part was given for the formation of a National Library—I forget for the moment what happened to 1127 the remaining one-eighth. That, of course, is quite right. But there is no way by which you can so promote the insecurity of property as by taking it and giving it to people who have no title to it. The whole essence of security of property is to recognise it where it is, and protect it to the utmost. You do the two things here which I think are sins against any true conception of proprietary rights: you deprive the poor parson of what he is entitled to by law, and, having done so, you give it to the landowners, who have no title to any of it. I do not believe landowners want it. They do not want to despoil the Church. All of us who live in the country know the extremely difficult conditions under which the ordinary country parson has to live. We are all trying, as I am sure the noble Marquess at any rate recognises, to raise what is called his stipend to a reasonable living level. Here we are depriving him of 20 per cent. of the property to which he is entitled. That is the point I am bringing forward in my reasoned Amendment could I have moved it.
§ I believe that his Grace the Lord Archbishop is going to speak and, therefore, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am in no way attacking Church principles in this country; indeed, I should be the last person to do so. But this property does not belong to the Church, but to the incumbent. The poorest and most inarticulate man you can find, the man who bore his troubles during the War without any idea of profiteering, is the man whose property is now to be taken in order that it may be handed over to the landlords. I do not, and I cannot, believe that this is justifiable. I know it is suggested that twenty, thirty or forty years hence you may possibly get a reaction the other way, but that is pure prophecy. These people are entitled to this advantage in the next four, five, six or seven years. Many of them are old men. I say that the interest of every incumbent in the country in the tithe payment based on the Act of 1836 ought to be preserved; and I can see no answer to that argument.
§ Let me go a little further, because I do not want to misunderstand what the noble Lord has said. The amount of the ecclesiastical tithe that we are dealing with may be taken as £1,924,000 and odd 1128 pounds; say, about £2,000,000 a year. That is why I asked the noble Lord, who kindly gave me such information as he could, what the effect of the provisions of this Bill would be upon the income of the tithe owner in regard to Queen Anne's Bounty. It occurs to one that the tithe owner does not want a scientific inquiry into matters of this kind but wants the money to which he is entitled for his every-day living. I knew Mr. Nathaniel extremely well, and your Lordships all knew him, and we regret that we have not the benefit of his experience. He aided me greatly when I went to see him on the question of tithe redemption. But, after all, Queen Anne's Bounty has no staff and has none of the administrative facilities necessary in this case. The consequence is that the figures I have go somewhat beyond those mentioned by the noble Lord. I do not want to go too much into detail, but the figures I have show that you have to take 7½ per cent. off the £100; that is to say, 5 per cent. for collection and 2½ per cent. for administration.
§ Now let me answer what the noble Lord has said. He suggested that there is some great advantage to the parson if he gets his tax gathered—I think that was the expression he used. My experience is quite the contrary. If you collect local money by local means you can generally collect it without friction. But it is my experience that if you collect local money from a central office you will never persuade people that the money is not being taken out of their locality for expenditure in other directions. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Stuart of Wortley, who represents the Ecclesiastical Commission in your Lordships' House, is present at the moment, but I should like to know what his experience has been. How often have I been asked: How can you justify a foreign body like the Ecclesiastical Commission taking money out of our locality for some purpose outside? I have generally replied that I think the idea is incorrect and that the money is not taken for outside purposes. We all have to pay tithes; I have to pay them, and I do not experience any difficulty or friction, because if I am a little late my parson reminds me in a kindly way that the time has come and that he hopes a cheque may be received shortly. I believe that this idea of friction in connection 1129 with collection is a myth, though there may be some exceptional cases. What a man like is to have his local funds collected locally and, if possible—he would not do it directly, of course—by the man who receives the benefit.
§ I want be deal with two other points raised by the noble Lord which appear to mo to be of great importance. First of all, there is the question of redemption. I have introduced, without much success, one or two Bills for the redemption of tithes. Redemption is a matter for which the money has to be; found, and the conditions attach, not to the tithe owner at all but to the tithe payer. It is the latter who wants it redeemed and he has to pay whatever the actuarial price may be. But the fact that you are going to redeem the tithe is a very cold blanket on the poor incumbent who finds himself suddenly deprived of an addition of some 20 to 30 per cent. upon his poor income. It is very poor consolation indeed, and I do not think it comes into his calculations at all I did not wonder that the noble Lord said, though I thought matters had gone further, that negotiations had been attempted and had failed. If you are to deal with a matter of this kind it should be by agreement after negotiation. That, undoubtedly, is the way in which the matter should be dealt with, and I think it is a very serious factor that figures have been put into this Bill in the way they have been put into it. There was an excellent speech on the subject in another place from the Viceroy-Elect of India, and we know there was no inquiry in the sense that you would make an inquiry if you were really considering exact figures in matters of this kind.
§ I have said before and I want to emphasise it, that in my opinion this question does not arise because no owner has any title to any portion of his tithe at all. I see the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in his place. I recollect very well that he supported me some years ago in saying that every owner knew perfectly well when he acquired his land that he bought it subject to the tithe obligation, whatever it might be, and had no reason to complain if the figure was worked out in accordance with the Act of 1836.
§ The noble Lord referred also to the question of rates. It is a very curious argument that you are to take away 1130 from a man 20 or 30 per cent. increase in his income and make some adjustment in the rates which you hope may satisfy him; that is what it comes to. On the Royal Commission on Local Taxation, Sir George Murray, another member and myself—I have forgotten for the moment who it was—did not want the rating of tithes dealt with on what is called the dual system or on the casual revisions which are made from time to time. We said, as I think rightly, that if tithes were properly rated—I admit it would want legislation nowadays—if you made the deductions that ought to be made on what has been called the gross and net rateable value, no harm would be done to the incumbents in the various parishes. I am afraid that in the past the laymen in the parishes have done what they could to put an unfair rating burden upon the incumbent. We need not trouble about it, but it has been done and I have never altered the opinion I expressed in the Report of the Royal Commission somewhere about 1898, that if people would only approach this rating question on the true principle of rating all these difficulties would disappear. Surely this also must be said: that the parson is entitled to a fair system of rating without having to give up 20 per cent. of his income for it. How can that be justified? I think it cannot be justified at all. If the Bill goes through, existing incumbents will undoubtedly be deprived, in the sense that I have indicated, of a portion of their income, and I very much hope that they will in some way be exempted from the provisions of the Bill.
§ There is one other matter, about which I shall say but a few words, because the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, told me he desired to speak about it. This is a matter concerning Oxford. The terms of my Amendment refer to the incumbents, and then speak about alienating funds dedicated to religious, charitable and educational purposes. I think the word alienate is not perhaps quite what I meant. What I rather meant was "diminishing" funds, and I will explain that in a moment. The three educational bodies with which I have been connected that are tithe owners are Winchester College, New College, Oxford, and, in the old days when I was a fellow, St. John's College, Oxford. Why should 1131 you deprive any of these educational establishments of any advantage that they will get out of a rise in rates calculated as they ought to be upon the principles established in 1836? I see Mr. Keynes said the amount involved was about £100,000. No one could have put the case better than Mr. Fisher, who, I understand, so far as New College is concerned, where he is now the Warden, says the amount involved is something like £1,000. What reason is there for the transfer of educational funds of this kind to owners who have no title whatever to the funds? I do not want to speak in the least harshly upon this point, but I feel that it is one of such extreme importance that we in this House should not allow the reproach to be made that we sanction a scheme of this kind.
§ How can we justify it? Granting everything in the way of taking money away from the incumbent and from these educational bodies. I say that it ought to be dedicated as a national fund to national purposes. That is a view which the late Marquess of Salisbury, the father of the present Leader of the House, pressed more than once. A very deep principle is involved. When he placed the burden of payment on the owner as against the occupier he was asked why he did not go further into this rate question, and he answered: "He would be a very unwise man who attempted to do so." And he showed himself a very wise man. I say, leave the 1836 settlement alone unless, by negotiation, you can get some agreement. Even then do not forget that we are dealing with a national fund, and so far as it is not wanted for ecclesiastical purposes it ought to be used for the common social and educational benefit of all people, and all classes, and certainly ought not to be handed over to a single class.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I rise to express the hope that your Lordships will give a Second Reading to this Bill. I suppose that in some degree I may be regarded as the natural spokesman for two different bodies of tithe owners, one the ecclesiastical owners (the incumbents, and the ecclesiastical corporations in England) and the other, the Ecclesiastical Commission which, strange to say, though called the Ecclesiastical Commission is not an ecclesiastical cor- 1132 poration but belongs to the lay corporations. I think this distinction should be pointed out, because there has been a misunderstanding. That Ecclesiastical Commission holds about £300,000 worth of tithes, and is an extremely important lay holder of the money that we are discussing to-day. I believe that by passing this Bill you will deal fairly—not generously, but fairly—with the owners of ecclesiastical tithes, for whom I am speaking in this matter.
We have heard two eloquent speeches against the Bill. I think I may leave them to answer one another. I could not rival the stringent character of the terms in which my noble and learned friend (Lord Parmoor) dealt with the arguments of Lord Strachie, but I will leave the matter to be settled between the two, falling back upon something which will not satisfy either of them, but which is, as I have said, reasonable and fair. Lord Strachie thinks that the tithe payer throughout the land is being robbed for the benefit of the Church. Lord Parmoor thinks that the Church throughout the land is being robbed for the benefit of the tithe payer. That is what I understood him to say. I think that both are mistaken as regards there being any unfairness in what is now proposed. The Bill, as your Lordships have been reminded to-night, comes to us, not, so to speak, out of the blue but as a matter of necessity. Some Bill must come. I am not quite sure whether my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor will say that no Bill is necessary.
§ LORD PARMOOR
If his Grace will allow me to interrupt, I would point out that the 1836 Act would operate. It does not want anything.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
That is what I was anxious to elicit. That means that those in your Lordships' House who are tithe payers now, if they voted with my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor, would be offering to pay £130 to £140 instead of the £100 for which they are now liable. I can only say that the ecclesiastical owner would be delighted with that solution, but I could not honestly say that it would be treating the tithe payer quite fairly if the ecclesiastical owner received all that money and put it in his pocket. It would have come about more or less accidentally, and I do not think I should 1133 regard it as a fair arrangement. Notwithstanding the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, some Bill has to become law now with a view to replacing the Act which comes to an end at the close of the present year, the seven years' Act. This Bill has come to us automatically at the end of the seven years, and we have to consider how we can deal with it fairly.
We have been reminded of the facts of 1918, when the War had upset the whole equilibrium, when corn prices had risen enormously, and something had to be done. I should like to quote, for I think they ought to be remembered, words which are not mine, but which came from the Minister of Agriculture when he was introducing the measure in the House of Commons. He said:It should be remembered to the honour of the Church that, in the days when there was a good deal of taking advantage of War prices and conditions going on, she deliberately withstood that temptation, if temptation it were, and came forward with an invitation to arrive at a fair basis of measurement by which that might be avoided. It was accordingly at the instance of the Church that in 1918 tithe was stabilised for seven years at the figure at which it now stands, at £109 3s. 11d., and that, of course, meant a very considerable sacrifice to tithe owners.
It did I stood at this table to advocate the passing of that measure in 1918 be cause I felt that the clergy, so far as I was able to gauge the opinion of the wiser among them, Intensely disliked the idea of being open to the charge of something very like what was called at that time profiteering because of the accidental circumstances—if one may use such a word in such a connection—of the War and the rise and fall of prices bringing to them a payment of something like £130, £140 or even as much as £170 a year instead of £100. They did not wish for that and they felt that some legislation was necessary to prevent it.
I took the responsibility on public grounds of recommending that legislation in 1918, and I take the responsibility of recommending now in 1925 the Bill which is before your Lordships' House. If you do not do something like that which is here suggested, I would again like to quote what Mr. Wood said as to what the result would be. He said:—The first result would be that tithes next year would rise to something like, I think, £131 with an estimated rise to £137 1134 in 1930, the rise to £131 next year being approximately a rise of twenty per cent. Without any sure prospect of a compensating rise in corn prices, that could hardly fail to be a very dislocating element in what we may hope to be the more stable poise of agricultural economics at the present time.I have purposely quoted the words of such a very high expert as Mr. Mr. Wood rather than state the points myself. Something not very different was said by the noble Lord who asked your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.
We all agree, I imagine, that logically the argument of the noble Lord who has just sat down is a sound one, that there is a great deal to be said for the arrangement that tithe should rise and fall with the price of corn and that fluctuations should correspond, roughly speaking, with the price of the necessities of life. But we have passed beyond the stage when we can argue logically in that way, now that the number of tithe owners is so enormously increased and we are dealing, not with a few landowners in a parish, but sometimes with hundreds of small payers. To expect them to appreciate and understand the kind of fluctuation which the clergy have had to put up with and which tithe payers have had to put up with—or rather, to be thankful for in most cases, because the fluctuations have generally been upward rather than downward from the £100—to expect that to be workable when the ownership and occupancy of land stands as it does to-day seems to me to be quite out of the question. The fluctuation is fraught, and always has been fraught, with very great disadvantages to the incumbents in the relations with their own parishioners, with whom they have the extraordinarily difficult and delicate relationship of being at one moment their pastor in parochial work and the next moment a collector of tithe for their income. We want to reduce that kind of fluctuation to a minimum because undoubtedly it did more than anything else to exacerbate sentiment.
I recall well the time—your Lordships will recall it too—when £67 instead of £100 was paid by the tithe payer. We are now told that, if we let the matter completely alone, we may rise before very long to a very high figure—something like £130 or more. In 1918, if there had been no legislation. I believe that the actual payment of tithe would have been 1135 £200. That kind of fluctuation is one that it is impossible to expect that an incumbent can handle satisfactorily when he is in his present difficult relation with the tithe payer, and I am anxious, on quite other than financial grounds, to bring to an end if we possibly can, the kind of difficulty which is constantly arising and must, I am afraid, if that fluctuation goes on, continue to arise between the tithe owner and the tithe payer in the parish itself.
We are all familiar with the repeated desire for stabilisation—I apologise for using a word which Lord Parmoor criticised—for the settlement of a fixed figure, and, when I find that the clergy at this moment feel, as Lord Parmoor thinks that they do feel, that they have been hardly used, I would ask them and him to go back twenty-five years in memory and see what would have been felt by the clergy generally throughout England if, in 1900 or 1901, when the tithe was down to sixty-seven or sixty-eight, he had been told that it would be stabilised for the next eighty years, or so long as it lasted, at £109 in the way now suggested. They would all have said that this was more than they had hoped for, and it would have been regarded universally, by the clergy at least, as a gain for which they would have been profoundly thankful. We want to bring about that result now, and to let the clergy receive something like £100 for the £100 at which the tithe is commuted. I think the exact figures are these: that for every £100 which the tithe payer now pays he will have to pay £109 10s.—£4 10s. being for the formation of a sinking fund, £5 going to the rates and the remaining £100 going to the parson, subject to the deduction that is necessary, not, as the noble Lord accidentally said in moving the Second Reading, for administration and collection, because administration is going to be entirely in the hands of Queen Anne's Bounty, with no expense to the clergy at all the only cost will be that of collection, which will be. I hope, very much less than has sometimes been estimated, though it is desirable not to be too sanguine upon that subject.
Very great powers are obviously put into the hands of Queen Anne's Bounty in this matter. Is that body fit to discharge, this great task? I think it is, 1136 though I quite understand that it sounds plausible to ask whether it is really competent to do it. The noble and learned Lord was, I think, inclined to ask that question. Queen Anne's Bounty is no new and untried body. It has existed for 200 years for administering on a larger or smaller scale this kind of funds. It has had immense responsibility. For example, between 1871 and 1920, that is, for rather less than half a century, Queen Anne's Bounty dealt practically and with general satisfaction with dilapidation money to the extent of £3,000,000. A little later, in 1917, Queen Anne's Bounty held more than £1,250,000, representing redeemed tithe, and it now holds nearly £2,500,000 more, representing tithe, than it did seven years ago. These are enormous sums and the body has not shown itself in the least incapable of dealing with these large matters. They are not very complicated. The sums are large but the procedure is simple, and the work has been exceedingly well done. All that we are doing now is to speed up the process of redemption which was begun in 1836 and accelerated in 1918. The present Bill increases enormously the amount that will come into their hands for that purpose, but it does not change the character of the holding of the money.
Lord Parmoor spoke of the danger of money being collected from a distance rather than by local people with local interests. He spoke of the dangers of centralisation, of what I suppose we may call bureaucracy, in a matter of that kind, and thought it very much better that the money should be collected on the spot. If he means that it is better that the parson himself should be collecting money from his own parishioners, I can only say that I entirely differ from him. I do not believe it to be a good thing and I am certain that it is working less well than it did, now that land has become more widely distributed, and that it does very real mischief. Instead of endeavouring to arrange that the money shall all be collected from an office in London that has nothing to do with local interests, local knowledge or local personalities, the Bill expressly provides that there shall be these twenty areas throughout England, in each of which the tithe shall be locally collected, and that 1137 on the Committee shall sit representatives of the tithe-owning clergy in whose area the work is being done.
Therefore, far from this work being done by a bureaucracy from the centre the arrangements will be carried through by those who know the locality and the people they have to deal with. The Queen Anne's Bounty will administer the finances which are thus placed in their hands. The whole cost of the administration will fall on the accumulated fund, and not upon the clergy or the tithe payer. The actual cost of collection we cannot estimate with any certainty. It will differ in many parts of the country, and differ immensely between places where the tithe is easily collected and places where it is difficult to collect. That will depend on the management of the local Committee, not on the central people, who will reduce to a minimum the cost of collecting the money, and it is only a proportion of the money required for the collection which will fall on the clergy in diminution of the £100 they receive.
As originally drawn the Bill might be said to press hardly indeed on the men who collect tithe and who have no trouble and no expense in connection with it. They may simply receive a cheque twice a year and acknowledge, its receipt, and therefore the cost of collection would be only threepence a year. What is now arranged is that we are going to allow men who have done this to go on doing it as long as they are the incumbents. We do not wish to place men in a difficult position as regards collection, but we only allow it as a kind of life-privilege. Of course, we want to reduce the cost of collection as a whole to a minimum and we think it fair that after the present incumbents, who have been accustomed to do it in this easy way, have died out the general cost of collection should be rendered as small as possible by being distributed over the whole country. Thus the tithe-owning clergy would each bear their share of collecting tithe rentcharge throughout the country. That is the plan and it seems to me a right and fair one.
There can be no question that for many years past tithe collection has been a fruitful source of friction and difficulty. Ireland and Wales give great examples; England too, is not without its examples. Tithe collection has always been a matter 1138 of extreme difficulty, and it is growing greater now as land ownership becomes; more widely distributed. My object is to make the relations between parson and people, between tithe owner and tithe payer, as simple and as free from friction as we can. We believe that this Bill will contribute to that result, and that is one of its many advantages. Of course, there may arise in Committee points of controversy which will have to be carefully discussed, but in the meantime I hope that a Second Reading will be given to a Bill by which we shall, as I believe, confer a real benefit on the Church and on the country.
§ LORD ERNLE
My Lords, we have heard from the most rev. Primate a speech marked by that cool and moderate judgment with which we are familiar in this House. I well remember in 1918, when I had to bring in the Tithe Bill of that year, my many interviews with the most rev. Primate on the difficulties we had to surmount, and I was immensely impressed not merely by the cool judgment but by the great courage with which he was prepared to support a measure which, to many of his clergy, must have seemed in the nature of confiscation. The principles upon which he went then he goes now. It is to bring about kindly relations in every parish between the priest and his parishioner, and I believe, although I do not like this Bill in many points, that from that point of view it is calculated to produce the effect that is hoped for it.
I do not like the Bill for one or two reasons, and on two points in particular I may possibly find myself obliged to move Amendments. One is the position in which educational and charitable corporations are placed under this Bill, and the other is, as it seems to me, the omission of any attempt whatever to effect on a large scale the immediate redemption of tithe. I take the first point—the position of educational and charitable corporations who are tithe owners and who derive from it incomes which are spent for purposes of education or for the relief of the sick and the needy. I speak, in fact, on behalf of Universities and the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, of the schools of Eton and Winchester, of old-endowed hospitals, of which I may mention the hospital of St. Cross at Winchester. Tithe rentcharge forms a con- 1139 siderable part of their endowments. It is perhaps almost the most ancient part of their endowment, and it passed into their hands under what is even now recognised as a principle of law. The spiritual obligation of giving tithes from your estate was discharged whether the landowner gave money to the monastery or to the priest upon his estate, and the result was that large quantities of tithe passed into the hands of the monasteries, and they discharged the spiritual obligation attaching to the tithe by appointing a vicar and allotting to him some portion of the tithe or a stipend.
When the monasteries were dissolved, not, merely the great dissolution to which allusion has already been made, but when the alien priories were dissolved in the fifteenth century, large blocks of tithe passed to the Crown, and the Crown granted them either to private individuals or to colleges, schools and hospitals. In those days I think it was quite possible to say that the provision for religious ministration was excessive, and the principle of law which was adopted was that if it was excessive the destination of the tithe devoted to religious purposes should be followed as nearly as possible by devoting it to educational purposes and the relief of the sick. The most ancient endowments of the Universities, schools and hospitals that I have mentioned are of that origin. They have inherited a portion of the tithes that came into the hands of the Crown at the dissolution of the monasteries.
It is a very large sum, when you come to consider that Oxford and Cambridge have something like £105,000 coming to them from the tithe that they own—from what, is classed as lay tithe, but which I venture to submit to your Lordships is not really lay tithe, but is charged with national services of inestimable value, such as the education of this country. When I say that, I need hardly say that the national services that are discharged by hospitals are equally great and equally inestimable. I make no comparison—naturally I do not wish to do so—between the national services of the religious ministrations of the parochial clergy and the national services of education and relief of the sick, but I do say that they are similar, and so similar that to distinguish them, 1140 as is done in this Bill, practically penally, is a great injustice. What happens to this tithe in the hands of the Universities? Whereas a clergyman, an incumbent, receives upon his £105 a net income of £98 and a member of a cathedral chapter an income of £89, the owners of tithes devoted to such purpose as education and the relief of the sick and needy only receive £70, and over and above that are liable for any rise in the rates that may hereafter follow.
You cannot, when the point is brought home to you, really say that that is fair to our great Universities. Of course, the poverty of the Universities is a relative term. I might mention that forty years ago I was commissioned by an important newspaper to go throughout the country and report upon the sufferings of the clergy from the difficulty of letting their glebes, and subsequently from the anti-tithe agitation in Wales. I went with, introductions from Bishops and Archdeacons, and I saw the inside life of the parochial clergy. I saw men who, to the outer world, had to preserve public appearance, living within their doors on the slenderest margins between poverty and actual want. Therefore I am not comparing the poverty of the Universities with this sort of poverty; but the poverty of the Universities in the sense of the inadequacy of their funds to carry out their great national purposes is very great, and if I may be allowed to say so, I speak upon this point with some confidence. I was a member of the University Commission of 1919, which investigated the financial resources of the Universities. I was chairman of the Estates Commission of the same date, which investigated the management of their estates; and I served on the Finance Committee of the Royal Commission. I believe therefore that I have had unique opportunities of seeing what I may call the relative poverty of the Universities.
You are not dealing here with great wealthy corporations, but with people who are struggling to make ends meet to keep their education efficient, and you are going to strike at them, under this Bill, a blow which is equivalent at Oxford to a loss of an endowment of £60,000, and the loss is very similar at Cambridge. Cambridge owns slightly less tithe, and therefore her loss will be something slightly less. I speak in the presence of the Master of Peterhouse, 1141 who knows perfectly well what is the position of the University of Cambridge, and he will no doubt set me right if I go wrong. The Commission found, I think I may say unanimously, that there was not enough money to keep the education efficient over the very wide field which the Universities are now required to traverse. They found that the fellows were not only overworked but underpaid; that there was not enough money to equip the Universities with the necessary laboratories and to enlarge all the public buildings which the great accession of students in recent years has compelled, and they were so unanimously of that opinion that they recommended to the State that the Universities should receive, fur their national services, and to make those national services still more efficient than they were, a minimum sum of £100,000 a year to each University. The State has not paid anything near that sum. Still they have recognised the services to the nation, and they have also recognised that the Universities' needs are great.
Look at it from the common business point of view, Is it a good piece of business to reduce the income of these Universities with one hand, and supplement it with the other? I think that to take away their income is a very unwise proceeding, and I look with great dismay at the prospect that the Universities may be driven to rely still more upon the State for assistance. After all it is the independence of our Universities that we value. Some day or other there will be conditions attached to the grant of State aid, and I for one should regard that as nothing short of a national disaster. The University is the coping-stone of our education. I do not want to see it measured by the foot rule and squared by the machine of the Ministry of Education. I prefer that it should be shaped by the intellects and by the experience of the men who are in charge of University education. Therefore I cannot think that it is any solution of the difficulty which I now put to you to say that the State may provide further funds.
If I could, I should move that the educational and charitable corporations to which I am alluding should be placed on the same footing as the parochial clergy; that is to say, that they should 1142 receive £98 for every £105 of their tithe. Your Lordships must remember that they are surrendering the claim that has been alluded to by the noble Lord opposite, the claim to £137 at which tithe will some day stand. Therefore, if I were able to do so. I should move that they be placed on the same footing as the parochial clergy. But, failing that, I should move, and move with extreme confidence in the justice of the claim, that they should be placed on the same footing as the cathedral and capitular bodies. If that were done I know that the Universities would be satisfied and would accept that solution of the problem. The cost of it so the Ministry of Agriculture inform me is only, at the outside, something like £40,000 a year to be added to the fund set aside to meet the rates. Of course, I know, in spite of whatever sympathy the noble Viscount on the Woolsack might feel with me, he would be bound to tell me that that would be beyond the powers of your Lordships' House, because it imposes a charge on the Consolidated Fund.
But one point I may emphasise about the capitular bodies. I have no doubt that in fixing the favoured treatment of the capitular bodies something was due to the historic fabrics that are in their charge. I might, perhaps, say that the upkeep of those is often defrayed by public subscription, but I do not take-that point. But I would say that the colleges also are historic buildings; they are our national pride, and the pride of all our Empire, and they are maintained out of the incomes of the colleges themselves. They pay most of the cost by means of a loan, which is spread over a certain period of years with a sinking fund; but, besides those loans, at Oxford they have spent in one year alone, the last year that is complete, £35,000 out of their incomes on the maintenance of buildings. If you put all those points together, and if you reflect what Oxford and Cambridge are doing at the present moment, I think you will feel that a case has been established for relief from what I must say I think is an accidental omission from this Bill.
The Universities to-day are filling a place in national and Imperial life such as they never filled before in the long period of their existence. They are training men for a greater variety of profes- 1143 sions, they are attracting within their walls men of every class of society. They are taking the lead also in the education of women. On all those grounds they make a strong appeal to be relieved from the consequences of this Bill. The only argument that the Ministry really brings forward is that they have no relief from rates under the legislation of 1898 and 1920. But, if it was wrong in 1898 and in 1920, when you are now coming to a permanent settlement, as we all hope, of this great question, why perpetuate the wrong? Why not remedy it now and remedy it in some such way as has been suggested? I cannot, as I have said, move to give to the educational and charitable corporations the same favoured treatment as the parochial clergy or even as the capitular clergy are to receive, because I believe it would be a breach of privilege. I am therefore driven to propose an Amendment, which I shall put on the Paper if this Bill comes to Committee, which will give the Government a breathing space, so to speak, in which they may think of what they can do to remedy what I hope your Lordships will believe is a serious injustice.
§ VISCOUNT CHELMSFORD
My Lords, no one could have more fittingly put the case of the Universities than my noble friend Lord Ernle, a former member for Oxford University, and a member of the Royal Commission which sat to investigate the position of the two Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; and if I intervene in this debate it is because I happen at the present moment to be the Chairman of the Oxford Statutory Commission, whose duty it is to endeavour to put into statutory shape the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Ernle and his colleagues. May I remind your Lordships of the genesis of that Royal Commission? In 1919 the two Universities were so crippled by the War that they came to the Government and asked: "Will you give us State assistance?", and the Government of that day expressed their sympathy, but said: "Of course, it must be subject to an inquiry into your resources." As a result the Royal Commission which was presided over by the noble Earl, Lord Oxford, was appointed. Subsequently to that, on the recommendation of the 1144 Royal Commission, two Statutory Commissions were appointed to make statutes in general accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission, one for Oxford and one for Cambridge.
From the experience I have derived of the work during the past two years I realise that one of the most difficult problems we have to tackle in connection with that work is the serious difficulty of finance. My noble friend alluded just now to the parlous state of the two Universities as a consequence of the lack of money. He said there were certain dangers arising to the Universities from lack of funds. There was, first of all, the under-paying of the teachers and the absence of anything like a pension fund; in the second place, an insufficient number of teachers and inadequate time for those teachers to indulge in research; and thirdly, the inability to maintain the libraries and museums. There is a fourth danger which he did not mention, but which I think is very important at the present, and that is the danger to the accessibility of the Universities for poorer students.
The Royal Commission, having reviewed these dangers, indicated the various sources and possible alternatives for financial relief. They, first of all, put forward the matter of increased fees and dismissed it because they said that any increase in the fees to undergraduates would merely result in the Universities becoming rich men's Universities and being closed to men of moderate means. They then put forward enhanced college contributions, with which I will deal in a moment, and, lastly, they discussed the question of private benefactions, but saw no immediate prospect of any assistance from that source. Then they made the recommendation to which my noble friend Lord Ernle has referred—a grant of £100,000 a year towards the Universities. The point I wish to make is that not a penny of that grant goes to the colleges. It is made entirely to the Universities. It was on the recommendation of the Royal Commission that the colleges, as colleges, should get not one penny of the grant from public funds. The net result to the colleges—I am distinguishing at this moment the colleges from the Universities—at the present moment is that while they have no assistance from the grant given by the Govern- 1145 ment they are expected to pay their teachers better and to establish pension funds, they have to have more teachers and give them time for research, and they are expected to keep down the fees and the expenses of the students.
We regarded the position of the colleges as contrasted with the Universities as so serious that we have had perforce somewhat to modify the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the matter, with, naturally, a resultant loss of revenue to the Universities. But we had this obligation put upon us by the Act of Parliament under which we were set up—that regard should be had, in the first place, to the needs of the colleges for educational and other collegiate purposes; so that in the matter of modifying the recommendations of the Royal Commission we were bound to do as we have done in order to carry out the Act. On the top of all that there comes the further blow to the colleges which will result from this legislation. So that as a Commission we are put on the horns of this dilemma. Either we have to reduce the contributions of the colleges to the Universities, in which case the whole object of the Royal Commission will be frustrated—namely, to find more money for the Universities—or we cripple the college resources by maintaining those, contributions and disobey the direct mandate of the Act that we should care for the position of the colleges.
We are fortunate in having in your Lordships' House the noble Viscount, on the Woolsack, who is Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, who is Chancellor of the University of Cambridge They both happen to be members of His Majesty's Government. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that we who are connected with the two old Universities should appeal to our Chancellors and ask them to save us from this fate? It can hardly be with the consent of the Chancellors of the two Universities that the crippling blow adumbrated by my noble friend is to be dealt at the colleges. I appreciate the fact, as my noble friend Lord Ernle has pointed out, that it is impossible, from the point of view of privilege, to move an Amendment, but surely the sands are not completely run out and it is open to us to appeal to the Government not to press forward with this particular matter, but so to modify the Bill 1146 in regard to the University colleges that the blow which we all fear may not fall upon those ancient institutions.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, coming as I do from the County of Norfolk, which contains, I suppose, a greater amount of tithe rentcharge than any other county in England. I venture to make one or two remarks which have not yet fallen from any of your Lordships who have spoken. I believe that at the bottom of all our difficulties is the fact that the land in England can no longer support all those who look to get their livelihood from it. There are four classes of persons at least who are interested in the land. There are the landowners, the tithe owners, the farmers and the labourers. There is not enough to go round to satisfy the desires or even the claims of all, and I cannot think that it would be a right policy for any one of those four classes to say: My claim must be satisfied first, and then the other three claimants can discuss among themselves as to what they will do with the remainder.
On the last occasion on which Lord Long spoke in your Lordships' House he impressed upon your Lordships the immense importance of all those who are interested in land working together and not as rivals to one another. It appears to me that the Bill before us makes a fair compromise. As the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, said, the fact that it is criticised from both sides makes one think that it is not extravagant in either direction. Some compromise must, I think, be had, and if any relief is to go to the land is a whole it must come from an independent source, however that is to be done, and no one of those four classes whom I have mentioned ought to secure more than a fair share by impoverishing the other three.
The clergy of Norfolk have had three strong objections to this Bill which, I think, have been shared throughout the country. First of all, they have objected to what they expected would be the largo charge that would be made by Queen Anne's Bounty for administering the whole matter. The most rev. Primate has assured us, and we have it in the Bill, that Queen Anne's Bounty will make no charge. That answers one of the criticisms. Then they have expected 1147 that the cost of collection will be something very great. I have even heard it put as high as something like 10 or 15 per cent. — quite an absurd figure—but what will really happen will be that Committees will be appointed in various parts of the country, and the clergy themselves will sit on these Committees, and they will be able there to look after their own interests. A further concession is made to those who have been collecting their own tithes. For a certain period that will not be disturbed so long as they hold their present benefices.
I cannot think that this is unjust to the clergy, because it would have been almost absurd to think that things might have been left to themselves, for, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, has said, the whole complexion of England has altered in the last hundred years. Think of the relations now between tithe and rent as compared with those days. I think there are landlords who find that they have to pay in tithe pretty well the whole rent that they receive. That was never contemplated a hundred years ago.
There is a flaw, I consider, in the Bill—but that I suppose is quite irremediable—that comes from the constantly lowering purchasing power of money. I was reading the other day, somewhat to my amusement, that when Edward I fixed prices for fish in London he settled that oysters should be 2d. a gallon, and best soles should be 3d. a dozen. Steadily since those days has money been able to purchase less and less, and we cannot expect that it will improve very much in its purchasing power. We can, after all, only deal with money, for one would deplore the introduction of averages based on corn and oats.
One more point that I should like to make about the clergy is that nothing has distressed them more that I am aware of since I have been a Bishop, a good many years now, than the fact of their rates. I am quite certain that all over the country we should be most thankful if this rating question were dead and buried. Do not think, my Lords, that speaking as I do, I am making little of the claims of the clergy, so well indicated by Lord Ernle. I see their poverty constantly before my eyes, yet I can say, on the other hand, that in their own interests, with those four claims on the 1148 land which I have already mentioned, I do not think that it is ever likely that in this impossible situation that has arisen the clergy can look to get as favourable terms again. I hope, therefore, very sincerely that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, before the debate closes there is a question that I wish the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture would answer. Why is it that in constructing this measure the Government have ignored the fact that they took a directly different principle in a measure which is now on the Statute book, and which was passed in this very year? I speak of the Scottish Act for the redemption of tithes, and I speak of it because I know about it. I was Chairman for a year of the Government Commission which inquired into the whole matter in Scotland. I brought in a Bill here when I occupied the Woolsack, and it was again brought in, in substantially the same form, by the present Lord Chancellor. I confine my question to one point. We were most careful in that Act, and the present Government was most careful, not to treat the Universities and lay corporations worse than anybody else. You did not inflict upon them the penalty that there is here.
I sympathise deeply with what was laid before the House by the most rev. Primate about the necessities of standardisation, but when you are dealing with a system of standardisation, bring it in justly, treat everybody alike, do not fine the Universities, and do not do what you do at their expense and not at the expense of other people. It is a serious point, and one upon which I think people will feel that the Government have acted differentially. What was just, and what was deemed necessary six months ago, cannot have become unjust and unnecessary now and I hope that the representatives of the Government who are responsible for this matter will take into account the strong feeling that there is in this House about the position of the Universities, and even now reconsider the situation. It can be done by a very few words. It all arises under Clause 2 of the Bill. There the tithes are transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to hold them in trust for the benefices to which they belong. That is only the 1149 tithes attached to benefices. If were extended so as to include belonging to educational and corporations then the difficulty met. Because that is not produce an inequality winch great injustice to the authorities.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, in the many speeches that have been made to-night the point of view of most parties connected with tithes has been discussed very fully, but, except for what was said by my noble friend Lord Strachie, hardly a word has been spoken from the point of view of the tithe payer. The tithe payer holds very strong opinions upon this Hill. I am grateful to the right rev. Prelate who spoke recently, and who did put the case which ought to be put before your Lordships: that the position of the tithe payer to-day is extraordinarily difficult, not only because his tithe payments may, as the right rev. Prelate said, sometimes be almost equivalent to his net rental, but because of the altered conditions of these days. When the burden of tithe fell upon the occupier I hen there was a rough relation between the prices he received and the amount which he had to pay for tithe, but now that the tithe falls upon the landowner there is really little or no relation at all between the two, because the high prices charged for commodities to-day have no relation to the prices that were paid years ago. Rentals have been reduced, and the cost of production has greatly increased. I would never argue that we should reduce the tithe, or attempt to reduce the tithe, on account of the cost of production, because I recognise that they have no connection whatever. But it is one of the difficulties which landowners feel at this moment and they must do what they can to get any reasonable settlement of this very difficult question.
Before I proceed—and I shall not speak long—I should like to make one remark upon a matter which occurred in the very able speech of my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, when he spoke of the negotiations which have been going on between tithe owners and tithe payers and regretted that they had not come to any definite agreement. But to us who worked for nearly two years with that 1150 aim he did, I think, rather scant justice. He was followed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, who also regretted that there had been no opportunity for agreement. Some of your Lordships will know that you had a Committee representing the Church Assembly on one side and landowners' organisations on the other and while we started at the beginning of our deliberations with our views very wide apart indeed, by really close and careful discussion and negotiation we came very close together at the end. We came to actual agreement upon many of the most important points of this Bill. We agreed, first of all, that there should be compulsory redemption of all tithes in right of benefice; we agreed that the tithe owners should be paid at commutation value free of all rates. We disagreed upon certain points, mainly in connection with the impropriate tithe owner where we found a great deal of support from his brother tithe owners of the Church, and also on certain questions relating to rating, mainly in relation to the Ecclesiastical Tithe Rentcharge (Rates) Act, 1920, in regard to any new measure that might be adopted. So far as we reported, however, we may say, I think, that our definite agreements are very largely the foundation of this Bill, and I wish the noble Lord had gone a little further in his reference to that point.
The main objection that I raise to this Bill is that it represents a loss of opportunity. You had a magnificent chance. The lithe owner and the tithe payer alike were looking out to find some definite settlement of this question. This Bill deals with it is a timorous way. It does not attempt to deal with the whole of tithes. It attempts to deal with tithe in right of benefice only, and provides that it should be redeemed over the long period of eighty-five years. The figure is fixed at £105, payable by the tithe payer. We fixed the figure at £100, payable by the tithe payer and receivable by the tithe owner. The bill leaves the impropriate tithe almost altogether out of account. I think that the scheme that we proposed would have been in many respects welcome to both parties. We would have redeemed the whole of our tithe at the price of £100 over a period of sixty years. The amount paid by the tithe payer would have been the same as 1151 that received by the tithe owner. The actual sum paid year by year would have been the same over our period of sixty years as over the suggested period of eighty-five years, the whole difference being that the Bill provides that tithes should be paid for eighty-five years without giving the incumbent any more.
The length of the period is of very great importance to the tithe payer. Not only, during the course of the eighty-five years, do you naturally pay in the aggregate a very much larger sum than you pay in sixty years, but there is no significant reversionary value to an estate for an annuity of any kind which has more than sixty years unexpired. The owner of an estate may be paying in redemption of his tithe a sinking fund every year for twenty-five or perhaps thirty years, and, if the estate comes for sale, he will get no benefit from it at all, while if the period were sixty years some benefit would accrue almost immediately.
The whole of this trouble is due to taking the figure of £105. That is, to my mind, an entirely arbitrary figure. It is true that you base it on certain calculations carried out by a Committee appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture, a thoroughly competent body. They sit down and fix the price of wheat, barley and oats year by year in perpetuity. They look fifty years ahead and have to say what the price of wheat, barley and oats will be in those years. That is a perfectly impossible task. I admit that they do it very well, but at the same time they would be the last people to say that there is any chance of accuracy. I submit that the figure of £105 that they have taken is £5 too high. The representatives of the tithe payers upon the Committee adopted a different course. We said that it was no use looking forward into the uncertainties of the future. We preferred to take the ascertained facts of the past. That is not an inappropriate way of finding out tithe value. It was the method adopted in the year 1836, when the previous seven years were taken. Fortunately, they were normal years and the value has held out exceedingly well. It is by looking back seven years that the septennial average has been fixed every year since then.
Only last year in your Lordships' House, in fixing the redemption of the 1152 stipend in the Scottish Church, you looked back over the average of fifty years to find the value. I do not see why the same course should not have been taken in this case. The average of all values since the year 1836 is £98 for every £100 of tithe. We did not, for various reasons—I need not go into particulars—adopt that value but we offered, and the Church representatives accepted, the figure of £100 as the annual value in perpetuity. Why should the figure be fixed at £105? It is, of course, entirely a question of rating. The noble Lord said that the clergy receive £105 and pay £5 in rates. No doubt that was quite a proper method of putting it, but I would have put it in a different way. I say that we pay to the incumbent £100 and we pay to the Inland Revenue officer £5. Tithe payers are really paying £5 as the incumbent's rates.
In every case of redemption in the past we have had a fixed value, either a commuted value up to 1918 or an estimated value since then, and from that fixed value you have always deducted your rate before your redemption value has been assessed. Following the same analogy exactly in fixing the tithe at £105, the tithe payer to-day should have deducted his £5 before he paid £100 over to the incumbent of the living. I see no reason why, in order to save the State some expense in carrying out their policy of saving the incumbent from rates, a definite charge should have been put upon the tithe payer, which comes back upon the land from which the tithe issued, so that we are saddled in perpetuity with that £5 rate which you are now taking from us to pay the charge upon the tithe in right of benefice.
I cannot go into more details on this matter at the moment, for it is getting late, but I should like to say that I do see so many objections to this measure that I should have liked to support my noble friend Lord Strachie, who moved the rejection of it. I am bound to say, however, that I shrink from any possible consequences of that action. In my opinion there must be a Tithe Bill this year. I believe that the effect of tithe rising to a high figure next year and higher still in later years, will be that not only will you create great inability to pay, particularly among the many new owner-occupiers, but you will increase 1153 the unwillingness to pay among a very largo number of people who, quite wrongly and illogically, look upon tithe as a tax upon land and as a tax very often for the upkeep of a Church to which they do not belong. It will create a condition in many agricultural parishes of social unrest, and the first brunt of that will be felt by the Church herself. I think that a Tithe Bill of some kind is essential this year. If there was any possibility of postponing consideration while you could fix value over a short period in advance one might be willing to support it, but at the present moment, in view of the possibilities of rejection, I am not inclined to support the Amendment that has been moved.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
My Lord's, this is Second Reading and not Committee and, therefore, I rise to say that I support the Bill both in my individual capacity and in any representative capacity I may possess, and undoubtedly I do represent here the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The fundamental principle of this Bill has not really been attacked except by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor. It is the principle of stabilisation, and the question on Second Reading is whether you admit that, to be a thing in itself desirable. I have not heard anybody except Lord Parmoor object to it. My noble friend says the landowners accept it; and why is it that it is so largely accepted? It is not disputed by Lord Strachie that it is a desirable thing. It is accepted because to dispute it is to ignore the fact that modern conditions have produced a state of things in which a factor has grown which is incalculable to the point of danger. I mean it is the assumption that you can effectively collect a tithe higher than anything like £130. Some of us older politicians were actually spectators of a strike against tithe in a part of these realms. The tithe payer can strike because the value of the tithe has risen too high. It is not possible for the parochial clergy to strike because they cannot get more out of the land, and therefore it is that the rise in value of the tithe beyond what may be called the breaking-point is a thing that a statesman naturally wishes to prevent and avoid if he can.
The second principle of this Bill is the principle of compulsory redemption in 1154 cases selected for it. That opens up the question whether it is desirable for a clergyman to have any pecuniary relations at all with his parishioners. Is it, indeed, desirable that there should be the relations of a mortgagee and a lender, of creditor and debtor, super-aided to that of pastor and flock? It has been alluded to by previous speakers and I will not therefore enlarge upon it. I only rose to make it perfectly clear that the question, whether the sum at which stabilisation has been defined has been drawn at the right place or not, is not raised by the question as to whether the Bill shall be read a second time.
I understand that Lord Parmoor, who has left the House for the moment, said something during my temporary absence, when I was engaged in looking up the historical point raised by Lord Strachie as regards the pecuniary condition made to the compensation given to the clerical tithe owner in 1836. The noble Lord may understand the fallacy of that historical allusion if he did not ignore the fact that it was not given in every case; as, indeed, there was no reason why is should be given in every case. And the reason it was not given in every case was that in certain parishes a composition existed between the parson and the parish under which the parson before 1836 could hardly be said to be liable for rates at all. Therefore, you made an arrangement in 1836 by which you gave a sum of money to make up that deficit. All that was put historically by the Ministry of Agriculture in a letter to the Land Agents' Society, which appeared in The Times of October 3, 1924, and if Lord Strachie has any answer to that letter now it is rather a pity he did not give it. I am totally unaware of any answer to that letter. I only wish to add that I should be very pleased if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, will give me notice of the allegation he was proposing to make about the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I shall do my best to answer it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am sine your Lordships will have listened to the debate with great interest. It is a further illustration of how, upon a very intricate subject, your Lordships possess talent to enlighten the matter on every side and convince any one who doubts the competency of your 1155 Lordships' House. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord who moved the Amendment is going to a Division. He is a great authority on agricultural subjects and upon questions dealing with the ownership of land, but I think, if he were successful in his effort to-night, he would not receive much thanks from the land-owning class whom he champions. The only result of the loss of this Bill would be that in a short time lithe would mount up to £130 and £131, and finally—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord is in error. That comes to an end. It is a temporary arrangement. He apparently would like a different kind of Tithe Bill, but the only result of the particular action he proposes to take would be to produce the consequences I have foreshadowed. I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, who is a very great authority on this subject He made a most interesting speech, and I was gratified to find that he is not going to oppose the Bill, although he spoke of it with a certain amount of regret, lie thinks we have missed a great opportunity and that we might have settled ibis question more fully than we are attempting to do. That is the kind of criticism I have heard very often on Bills proposed to Parliament. It is said: Why do you not do rather more? After a long Parliamentary experience, I have come to the conclusion that it is far better to be satisfied with doing a little and not attempting to do too much.
But in truth we have settled, if this Bill passes, a very great deal. I do not want to repeat the arguments which have been used to-night, but we shall, at any rate, stabilise tithe, and shall get rid for all time of that uncertainty in its amount, that doubt, which upsets everybody, as to how much they will have to pay, or on the other hand how much they will be entitled to receive, from year to year. Then we have settled the redemption 1156 question, so far as some tithes are concerned, or we shall have done so, and that is a very large element in the settlement. My noble friend thinks we ought to have made provision under which all tithes could have been redeemed. I should have been very glad if that could have been done, but do not let the House imagine that there is no provision in the law for the redemption of lay tithes. Under the law as it stands it is open to the tithe payer to redeem the tithe whenever he likes. No doubt he would have to pay a capital sum, and not an annuity, but it is open to him to do so, and even in this Bill we facilitate that process by giving the tithe payer rather better treatment under Clause 17.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
We give special advantage under Clause 17. Then my noble friend proceeded to say that we had adopted a wrong foundation figure. I shall not attempt, especially at this time in the evening, even if I were competent to do so, to contest actuarial points with my noble friend, for he is a far higher authority than I am, but undoubtedly the Government do rely upon the figure of £105, which is the foundation of their Bill. That is perfectly true. I am not quite sure whether my noble friend challenges that figure altogether. My noble friend indicates that he does. I admit that it is a matter of estimate. My noble friend may be right, and the figure may not be perfect, but all that can be said is that it is as good a figure as we can arrive at.
We took the only steps that were open to us in order to arrive at some figure. The matter was referred to a Committee which my noble friend admits was a very competent Committee. They fixed, in the first place, £104 as the figure, and that was afterwards modified to £105, but it is founded upon the authority of that Committee, and the Chairman of that Committee, who, of course, had great influence in determining its Report, is a gentleman whom I have the honour to know and who has great experience on the subject. He was Chairman, as I think your Lordships know, of a Com- 1157 mittee which had to do with the fixing of the value of tithe rentcharge for several years past in connection with the ordinary voluntary redemption of tithe under the present law, in regard to which the Ministry of Agriculture have to make certain decisions.
The Government, therefore, had a Committee in order to furnish them with a figure. Sir Charles Longmore was Chairman of that Committee, and in arriving at his conclusion he took a great deal of evidence from very distinguished people. They did not all agree, of course, but my point is that every step was taken which could have been taken to arrive at the truth. The Committee called expert witnesses, and it was only after hearing what they had to say on one side and on the other that the Report was made and the figure was furnished to the Government. What else could have been done? We might perhaps have asked my noble friend to tell us what was the proper figure, and perhaps we would have been better advised, but I do not think that ho himself will criticise us for the course that we adopted, even if he differs from the result at which we arrived.
I turn for a moment to consider whether this settlement is accepted by all parties. I cannot pretend that it is accepted by all parties. It is, in certain elements of it, a compromise, but there is a very large measure of consent. Take the Church, for example. We have heard the speech of the most rev. Primate, and he spoke avowedly as representing the parochial incumbents, and in their behalf he welcomed the Bill. Also you are aware that these matters have been considered by various Church organisations, and on the whole this settlement commands their consent. There is, I know, another body whose members are not so cordial in their approval. They have had very distinguished representatives before your Lordships this evening. I refer, of course, to noble Lords who represent so ably in this House the colleges and Universities. Let me just say a word as to them. I first of all put aside any idea that we are taking anything whatever, on the whole, from the colleges and Universities. If the figure of £105 is a good figure then that means that on the average, in the course of time, it will be found to be a fair average figure. There will no doubt be 1158 a loss during the next few years, but that will be made good in the years which follow.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, made a good deal of what he described as robbing the parson. He did not, I think, use those words, but that was what, in effect, he meant. Undoubtedly there is an element of hardship in the case of the existing parson. He may be an old man and may die before the fat years come. He loses during the lean years and does not get the full advantage of the fat years which will follow. That does not apply to the colleges. The Universities and hospitals are not going to die, and as time goes on—of course, it all depends upon whether £105 is a fair fundamental figure—if it is, then upon the average they will lose nothing. But it may be said, and I think that Lord Ernle in effect did say it, that the grievance did not turn upon the figure £105, but upon the fact that there was not so much consideration for them in the matter of rates as has been extended by the law to the parochial incumbents. That is perfectly true, but there is no novelty of that kind in this Bill. That is under the existing law. Under the existing law Parliament has been very considerate of parochial clergy in the matter of rates. There was the Act of 1899, in which rates were calculated at a half. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, ought to complain of that Act, because the agriculturists whom he represents received exactly the same consideration three years earlier. And therefore it does not lie in his mouth to reproach the clergy because they got their rates halved.
Later, no doubt, further concessions were made to the clergy in the matter of rates, and I think that most of your Lordships would think that thoroughly justified. After all, these concessions were made to the very poor clergy, whose pitiable cases Lord Ernle so properly described. These poor clergy, with their miserable stipends of under £300, were let off rates altogether, and the parsons who had stipends very little better—between £300 and £500—did not get off rates altogether, but they got the former figures halved. I think that your Lordships on the whole thoroughly approved that considerate treatment for these men, who are, after all, doing a great work 1159 for their neighbours, and are most inadequately remunerated for it.
But Lord Ernle said you ought to treat the colleges in the same way. Does he really contend that the colleges ought to be treated on the same footing as parochial incumbents receiving under £300 a year? I cannot believe that he would say that. The colleges and Universities are not so poor even as the clergy receiving between £300 and £500. If, however, my noble friend says to me: "Cannot you give some consideration to the colleges and Universities and hospitals? I confess he moves me. I can assure him that there are many of us who would like to give some consideration in the matter of rates to colleges and Universities, but he must realise that they do not stand alone, but that there are other institutions not so distinguished, nor occupying so exalted a place in the world, yet equally deserving. When one comes to consider these institutions—and it may be, certain individuals—and realises what a precedent we should be setting if we began to make exceptions, I hope my noble friend will not think it very hard treatment if the Government, after all, are not able to help him. Of course, I could not refuse, and should not wish to refuse, to consider what he has said between now and the next stage, but I am afraid I cannot hold out any hope that a remedy will be found. All I can promise him is that I will weigh, and ask my colleagues to weigh, what he and other representatives of the Universities have said, and if there is any possibility of finding a way out of this difficulty we shall be the first to welcome it.
§ I think I have dealt with all the main points of criticism which have been made in respect of this Bill. I have every reason to be grateful to your Lordships for the reception which, on the whole, you have given to it, and I will only say this in conclusion, that in a subject of this immense intricacy, dealing with interests which are necessarily conflicting, and a solution of which is impossible without the element of compromise, I hope your Lordships will judge us kindly if, when we have gone through the other stages of the Bill, we are not able to please everybody.
My Lords, I think the last statement made by the noble Marquess, in which he said that he saw no hope of being able to meet what appears to me to be a great injustice done to the Universities, leaves me no alternative but to utter my protest against it. I have no exception to take to the compromise that has been entered into, and I should like the Bill to pass for other reasons, but I do feel that a great injustice has been done to the Universities. My own college loses £1,000 by not being given the same terms as are given to the clergy—instead of £105 they will receive, I understand, only £72. It is only by making a protest, by dividing against the Bill, that I feel that we may influence the Government between now and the Third Reading to do something to remove this injustice, and therefore I propose to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?—
§ Their Lordships divided::—Contents, 44; Not-Contents, 10.1161
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Stanhope, E.||Faringdon, L.|
|Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
|Cave, V (L. Chancellor.)||Peel, V.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|London, L. Bp.||Lawrence, L.|
|Norwich, L. Bp.||Merrivale, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Monson, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Avebury, L.||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|Clarendon, E.||Biddulph, L.||Phillimore, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Bledisloe, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Lovelace, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Raglan, L.|
|Morton, E.||Clinton, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Mount Edgcumbe, E.||Danesfort, L.||Somers, L.|
|Plymouth, E. [Teller.]||Darling, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)||Templemore, L.|
|Spencer, E.||Ernle, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Arnold, L.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Liverpool, E.||Chalmers, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Charnwood, L.||Strachie, L. [Teller.]|
|Bertie of Thame, V. [Teller.]||Gainford, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.