HL Deb 20 July 1927 vol 68 cc678-96

LORD PARMOOR had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government—

  1. (1) What amount of tithe or tithe rent-charge is due to ecclesiastical tithe owners;
  2. (2) What amount of such tithe or tithe rent-charge has in fact been paid over to the ecclesiastical tithe owners;
  3. (3) What is the ratio to parity of the tithe rent-charge as ascertained under the recent Act and what would have been the ratio if such Act had not been passed;
and to move for Papers.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, owing to the courtesy of my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, I have been supplied with a Paper, which was sent to me last night, which contains sufficient information to answer the Questions I had addressed to him, and I need now refer to them only in order to emphasise their application. I am not going back to the discussions which took place in this House when the Tithe Act, 1925, was passed, but I did indicate then my fears that that Act would not lead to economy or to a speedy collection of tithe, and that it would probably work very unfairly, especially in regard to existing incumbents who had vested interests. I think that at that time the noble Lord himself recognised that was likely to occur. Now that we know what the facts are, I want to put them forward and make one or two suggestions in reference to them. The last date named in the Act of 1925 for taking over the duties of collection of tithe by Queen Anne's Bounty was April 1, 1927. I understand that no steps were taken by Queen Anne's Bounty as regards the collection of tithe up to that date. I am further informed in the information before me that Queen Anne's Bounty, who no doubt are at the back of the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, cannot give any later information in regard to their progress in this matter than that available at the end of May, so that unfortunately the period of time with which we have to deal is comparatively a very short one.

The position is this. The amount of tithe to be collected from all benefices and also from the ecclesiastical corporations is a little over £2,200,000. It is not necessary to give the exact figure. So far as the ecclesiastical corporations are concerned, in substance they have exercised the option which was left to them of collecting their own tithe in their own way and nothing really turns upon that part of the question. As a matter of fact I think it is all collected by their own agents for their own purposes, as was done previously, except to the extent of about £2,000. But the position is different in regard to the tithe of the ordinary incumbent. Of that tithe £1,600,000 has to be collected by Queen Anne's Bounty and about £500,000 by the incumbents themselves as the agents of Queen Anne's Bounty. That is where the difficulty arises.

In regard to the amounts collected by them the incumbents have the same opportunities and advantages as they had before the passing of the Tithe Act, but as regards the larger sum, which amounts in the aggregate to £1,600,000, a complaint has reached me that those who ought to have the benefit of the tithe and who are undoubtedly poor men, have been put into very straitened circumstances owing to the arrears in its collection. So far as this portion is concerned, only about one-fifth of the total amount has so far been collected. I know that we have to consider the dates and times, but so far as the information which has been supplied to me goes, no sum has been collected so far as Queen Anne's Bounty is concerned except the sum of £488,000. That, so far as I can gather, is the whole amount which has been collected and it is something like one-fifth of what should be collected. That is one part of the case. I always felt myself, and I feel still, that tithe had much better be collected locally, as it was in the past. It is not paid by tenants, but by owners and landlords, and in a very large number of parishes, particularly in the poor parishes where stipends are low, the amount could be readily collected, probably from one or two tithe-payers who are the only tithe-payers in that particular district.

There is another matter that I want to ask the noble Lord about and to my mind this is of still greater importance. The effect of the Tithe Act, 1925, has been to reduce the amount which would have been payable to the poor incumbents and others if that Act had not been passed to the extent of nearly £600,000. The actual figure is £584,000. It is the difference between the two figures which have been given to me of £2,133,000 (which is the amount collectable under the Act.) and £2,717,117 which would have been collectable if the Act had not been passed. I think I am right in the figures. That means, in other words, an immediate loss to the parish incumbents of about £600,000 a year, which is a very large figure. It works out at about 25 per cent. of the income which they would have got if the Tithe Act of 1925 had not been passed. Let me put it in this way. A man who now gets £400 a year, which is not an unusual figure to take, would have got £500, and a man who now gets £300 would have got £375 a year. There is no class of men in this country poorer in relation to the work they have to do and the responsibilities which they incur than the incumbents, especially the incumbents of our poorer parishes. We have all seen in the papers reports of applications for Poor Law assistance because the tithe has not been forthcoming and has not been paid in the usual way.

This is a matter which I hope noble Lords opposite will consider, because it seems to me to be of extreme importance. They often use the words "Bolshevism" and "confiscation" and words of that kind. In this instance existing incumbents who had a vested interest were deprived of 25 per cent. of the income which they might have expected. That is an entirely novel matter in our English law. I have often argued in the strongest way that compensation is of the essence of the proper dealing with proprietary rights. Suppose this had been a Bill for the disestablishment of the Church and we took the precedent of the Welsh Disestablishment Bill: all existing incumbents would have been protected in their income as long as they lived or, in the alternative, would have had their income assessed for commutation on annuity tables. That is perfectly right and perfectly just, and it really is a matter of great moment as regards the future in dealing with proprietary rights of this sort that under this Act an existing incumbent, who would have been entitled to a 25 per cent. or 30 per cent. increase in his income, has been deprived of it without any compensation either in respect of having his rights reserved or having a commutation figure fixed in respect of it. I quote these two alternatives because in the Welsh Disestablishment Act and the Irish Disestablishment Act and, I think, in all cases where vested or existing interests are concerned, that principle has been adopted.

I want to ask the noble Lord opposite a question if he will give me his attention for a moment. At the present moment the loss is £600,000 in round figures—0584,000 to be exact. When he was dealing with the matter before, he said—I think I am right in my recollection—that in succeeding years the loss would be still greater. That is to say that the difference between what the incumbent would have been entitled to but for the Tithe Act and the amount which he would be entitled to under the terms of that Act would mean a larger deficiency—I do not say in the far future but in the immediate future—than there is in this particular year. In other words, the deficiency which now operates to the disadvantage of our incumbents to the amount of £600,000 a year, in future, years—he gave us figures at the time—would be still larger.


I am not quite sure if I understand the noble Lord. Does he mean the deficiency reckoned on the fifteen years period without including the War years, because we have no reason to believe that the value of corn upon which tithe is based, as he knows, is likely to be maintained at anything, like those figures.


I can make it perfectly clear. As the matter stood, you had a system of calculating tithe on the past values of certain cereal crops. That was changed under the head of stabilisation, about which I shall have a word to say. The difference I am putting is the difference between what the tithe rent-charge would have been if so ascertained and the amount at which it is ascertained under the terms of the Tithe Act, 1925. The difference in the way of loss to the incumbents is £600,000 a year, or as I have said, nearly 25 per cent. of their income. That is the existing figure as supplied to me. The noble Lord no doubt has the figures. What I am putting to him is that, although that loss is the true figure for the current year, next year, putting these calculations side by side, the loss will be still larger. Of course, if you go on to the future I quite agree that no one knows what may happen, because no one can prophesy as regards these prices in the future.

Now I want to say a few words as regards stabilisation. I do not agree that you will get stabilisation in matters of this kind by taking the gold standard, but that is what is done. I think you will get a much firmer and truer form of stabilisation by retaining the average prices of cereal products, because a tithe is a proportion of the prices of produce irrespective of rent. I do not want to go further into these matters because they may in the distant future operate one way or the other. The present position is that existing incumbents only get £400 instead of £500, or £300 instead of £375, which they would have got if the Act had not been passed. The difference between these figures means the difference between poverty and what I may call decent comfort. Many of these men calculated—because they knew they were entitled to it under the terms of their incumbencies—on this improvement in their income. They have not had it. I have had a very large number of complaints—I suppose it is the experience of everyone who is concerned in this matter and is in the same position as myself—as regards diminution of income and in many cases as regards not getting income at all. I do not think the noble Lord will be able to say that I have in any way exaggerated the position. My object has been to bring the case of these poor incumbents to the notice of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies I think it desirable that something should be said from the landlord's point of view. My noble friend who has just addressed the House has taken only the point of view of the present incumbents. He does not seem to realise that the Act of 1925 was passed in the interests of the Church as a whole and not simply in the interest of individuals. It is undoubtedly true that individuals had to make a sacrifice of present income, but they did so for the benefit of the Church as a whole. If they had not done so tithe might have stood at £109 10s. as a permanent charge upon the land of the country. "Permanent," of course, is not strictly accurate. It would have been two generations, say sixty or seventy years, but for practical purposes it may be called a permanent charge. That was compromised for the benefit of the Church of England. At the same time the landlords gave up something, for the tithe cannot go back certainly to par. I regret to say that, from the point of view of landlords living in corn-growing countries, since the prices of corn, barley and oats are going down, it will go back in some fifteen years to something like £70, instead of £100, as before the War. The only reason why tithe went to that enormous figure was on account of the War and high prices, and if the clergy have any grievance it is one which they share with the landlords, who were the only class in this country who were not allowed to be profiteers. If it had been possible, the clergy would involuntarily have been profiteers owing to the War.

The noble Lord has referred to the difficulty of receiving payment. I ventured to address your Lordships in opposition to the Bill of 1925, and I pointed out that the clergy in many cases would suffer from the fact that, instead of receiving cheques, in some cases for the whole of the tithe, from one landlord, they would in future have to get it from a Government Department; and we know what that means. No doubt landlords were in the habit of paying the clergy at once, on April 1 or October 1, as the case might be. Now advantage can be taken of three months grace in paying to the Government Department—for Queen Anne's Bounty is practically a Government Department. Nevertheless, I am rather surprised that more has not been collected, because the period of grace has gone by. But it is a mistake to say that there has been no compensation. The landlord has had to make sacrifices and the Church will in future have to make the same sacrifices. I am rather surprised that my noble friend, who is such a great Churchman, does not realise the great advantage of receiving £109 for eighty years, of which £104 is paid to the incumbent and the rest into the sinking fund, and that until the end of eighty years the Church is perfectly safe and will get her funds irrespective of what is done as regards the land in future—and nobody knows what that will be. Accordingly the Church is in a very favourable position at the moment—in fact, in a much more favourable position than the landowner.


My Lords, I do not wish to trouble your Lordships for more than a few minutes, but I find certain points very difficult to understand. I have paid exactly the same for the last two years as I paid before, and naturally you do not pay before you get your rents. I live in the County of Norfolk, where the conditions are peculiar and are found, I think, in only two other counties. Our Lady Day does not come until April 6 and our Michaelmas is October 12. Our half-year's rent is due on April 6, and it used to be collected about the first week in July. I collect mine on June 11 if it is not a Sunday. I pay the half-yearly tithe on July 2, though, as a matter of fact, I paid it on July 5 this year, because I had been away.

In Norfolk we have very small parishes, and in many cases there are only two tithe payers in a parish. I know one person very well who did not pay his tithe through any of these agencies but paid it himself. I thought it best to go down and see him. He said: "I do not like to send it up to these Commissioners, because I do not know what they will deduct for expenses, and so I prefer having it paid by the landlord just as it is." I said, "All right; but you have made one mistake. Tell him I shall go on paying." I know that the position is almost impossible for the clergy in some of these small parishes unless they have some assistance from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Some of the clergy are worse off than an agricultural labourer who is a team man. The Church of England should not appoint people to parishes if they cannot give them enough to live upon, and if the stipends are too small the only remedy is amalgamation. I am now trying to amalgamate a small parish with a larger one, and the man in the larger parish will be better off and better able to look after his parish. I think it is premature, however, to discuss what the clergy get until they have raised the first half-year's tithe and we know exactly what it is.


My Lords, I want to ask the noble Lord in his reply to be good enough to inform me what was the Value of tithe just before the War.


My Lords, in case I forget to answer the question that has just been put to me, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to give the figure at once. The value of tithe in 1914 was £77 1s.d. The noble and learned Lord opposite has addressed three Questions to me, two of them asking for certain figures with which I have furnished him and the third asking for certain relative figures upon which he has based a criticism of the scheme of the Tithe Act, 1925, as it is actually working out in operation. I hope that noble Lords will understand, as I am sure my noble questioner understands, particularly as he has been associated with ecclesiastical matters for a great part of his public life, that the Tithe Act, 1925, entrusted to Queen Anne's Bounty certain duties in regard to the collection and ultimate redemption of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge, and the Ministry of Agriculture, which I represent in this House, is in no way responsible for the administration of Queen Anne's Bounty in regard to matters which, after all, are domestic to the Church. But I have obtained from the Bounty the figures which I have furnished at the noble and learned Lord's request and upon which he has based his arguments.

I think it is only fair to the House—I hope I shall not weary your Lordships—if I give in reply shortly to the first two Questions, the answers which I have given privately to the noble and learned Lord. In reply to the first Question, the par or commuted value of the tithe rent-charge now vested in Queen Anne's Bounty which was previously attached to benefices is £2,031,505. In addition to the tithe rentcharge previously attached to benefices a further annual sum amounting to £18,200 is payable in respect of what is called extraordinary rentcharge, that is, an additional rentcharge in lieu of tithe on hop grounds, orchards, fruit plantations and market gardens, and a further annual sum of £41,148 is payable in respect of annual payments in lieu of tithe (usually referred to as corn rents). This makes a total, as I think the noble and learned Lord stated, of £2,090,853, which is vested in Queen Anne's Bounty, representing tithe previously attached to benefices. I am not going to trouble the House, and certainly not in detail, with the other kind of tithe—namely, that which was previously owned by ecclesiastical corporations, such as Deans and Chapters, Archdeacons and the like, because the noble and learned Lord has not based his case on any payments that are made to them through Queen Anne's Bounty, but has rightly said that the total amount payable under both heads is £2,189,669. So much for the noble Lord's first Question.

In reply to the second Question, as to the amount of tithe or tithe rentcharge that has in fact been paid over to the ecclesiastical tithe owners, taking, first of all, the figure of £2,090,853 previously attached to benefices, of this amount £488,051 is, as I think the noble and learned Lord indicated, being collected by incumbents as agents for Queen Anne's Bounty, while the remainder, £1,602,802, is being collected through area committees. I think, if I heard him aright, the noble Earl opposite expatiated upon the advantages of paying this money direct, but the object of Queen Anne's Bounty interfering in this matter is that, although the bulk of the money is retained by the incumbents who collect it, there has to be sent up to Queen Anne's Bounty the amount required for sinking fund, because ultimately redemption is involved, and for Income Tax, Land Tax and rates. Queen Anne's Bounty will send out half-yearly a statement showing the deductions for these purposes. As regards the item—and this is the item which I think the noble and learned Lord chiefly had under consideration—of £1,602,802, the amount received by Queen Anne's Bounty from the area collection committees as collected during April was £227,873, and this amount, less deductions for sinking fund, Income Tax, rates and Land Tax, was distributed on or about June 1. A further amount of £174,741 was received from the area collection committees as collected during May, and subject to the usual statutory deductions was distributed last Monday, July 18.

I am not going to refer to the amount formerly received by the ecclesiastical corporations, but I will turn at once to the third Question, and, as is often the case, the sting is in the tail. My general observation with regard to the noble and learned Lord's argument based upon his third Question, is that he has sought, in the course of this debate, to discuss once more, and in some detail, the merits of the Tithe Act, 1925. I think it is only fair for me to say that this Act was passed after considerable, discussion in both Houses of Parliament, and, as Lord Strachie has indicated, did not pretend to be anything more than a compromise between conflicting interests. It is of no use pretending that in this matter the interests of the parsons and the interests of the agricultural industry—of the landlords or the land occupiers as the case may be—are identical. What I ventured to say, and what I submitted to your Lordships at this box, when moving the Second Reading of that Bill, was that we had received, with almost equal vehemence from both sources, severe criticisms of the basis on which stabilisation was suggested, and I argued, and I think your Lordships agreed, that as in both directions the criticism appeared to be equally vehement, the compromise sought by the Bill could not be an unfair compromise.

It is perfectly true that a certain number of incumbents, and I might say all incumbents, are receiving considerably less than they would have received if they were benefiting by some of the War years included within the fifteen year period on which the value of tithe had been based under the old system, which was the current values of wheat, barley and oats, for a period of fifteen years. That is perfectly true, but it is only fair to bear in mind, especially at a time like this when the landed industry is suffering severely, more than it has ever suffered since the great depression which was deemed to terminate about the beginning of this century—it is only fair to bear in mind the other side of the picture, and to express some wonder how the landed industry would be able to face the additional charge under the existing circumstances, if the Act had not been passed and if the noble and learned Lord's wishes were realised, or attempted to be realised, at the present time.

Lord Olivier, I think, asked what was the actual value of tithe in the year 1914. I gave him the figure as £77 odd. Perhaps, as illustrating what I may call the very abnormal period of the War, I might give some further figures of tithe estimates and tithe payments which preceded the War. The last year when tithe stood at par value, or upwards, was 1882, until the War year of 1917; that is to say, from 1882 to 1917 the value of tithe was considerably below par. In 1883 the value of tithe was £98 6s. In 1900 it was £66 10s. In 1914 it was £77 1s. 4d., and I suppose it may be reasonably argued that but for the abnormal conditions prevailing during the War one might have assumed that a steady, but very slow, rise would have taken place, though certainly not to anything like the figure which was reached, and which frightened the landed interest very much, in 1917—the abnormal figure of £109 3s. 11d. Taking the whole period from 1836—from the time of the passage of the Tithe Act in the early part of last century—to 1921, the average value of tithe was £92 11s. 9d. Can it reasonably be suggested that where there are these conflicting interests the clergy have made an altogether bad bargain in securing that for over eighty years the payment of tithe shall be stabilised at £105?

I now want to leave that consideration for one moment—and, after all, that is re-discussing a matter which has been thrashed out in both Houses of Parliament within the last two years—and I turn to the more difficult question whether there is undue delay in the collection and payment of tithe rentcharge. The noble Lord (Lord Parmoor) has made certain calculations from which he arrives at the suggestion that there is a loss to the parsons, as a result of the statutory stabilisation of 1925, of £600,000. That I want to correct, because the noble Lord has not taken into account what is a very important factor, and that is the permanent rate relief which has been afforded to the incumbents by the Act of 1925, which to a very considerable extent vitiates his conclusion. As a result of the permanent rate relief afforded by that Act these incumbents gain no less than £300,000 in respect of rates. I will explain that in this way. The Ecclesiastical Rates Acts of 1920 and 1922 were due to expire on January 1, 1926, and if the Tithe Act of 1925 had not been passed incumbents would have been liable to pay half of the rates on their tithe rentcharge, that is, to revert to the position which had obtained from 1899 to 1920. Taking the average rates in town and country at about 10s. in the £ it may be estimated that the total rates thus payable on tithe rentcharge of an average annual value of £2,717,000 would have been approximately £400,000; whereas the amount payable for rates under the 1925 Act, on the basis of 5 per cent. of the par value of the annual tithe rentcharge, is approximately £100,000. In other words, there is a gain of £300,000 in respect of rates to be set against the loss of something like £584,037.


Does the noble Lord suggest that in a calculation of this kind you should take into account the rates in towns as well as country?


I am taking a very general figure. I do not want to enter into the difference between urban and rural rates, but I am given to understand on pretty good authority that it is not unfair to take the average rates to-day in the country as something like 10s. in the £. I turn to the question of the delay in collection, and, although it is not part of my duty to defend Queen Anne's Bounty, I think any impartial person who realises that you have set up here for the first time a new and big machine, which has got to operate not merely efficiently without any experience of this new system to go upon, but also economically unless the parsons themselves are to suffer, will admit that no very serious charge can properly be brought against Queen Anne's Bounty in this connection. From the figures which I have given in answer to this Question it will be seen that approximately 46 per cent. of the incumbents' tithe rentcharge due on April 1 has now been paid over to the incumbents, and, as tithe rentcharge due on April 1 last was not legally recoverable until July 1, it will perhaps be agreed that the position does not disclose any serious ground for complaint against Queen Anne's Bounty or those who act as its agents—namely, the area collection committees; although one has to admit that under the old system it is possible that some individual incumbents would actually have received their tithe rentcharge at a somewhat earlier date.

But what I do want finally to press upon the House is this. It should be remembered that any additional work must increase the cost of administration, and it would have increased substantially the cost of administration if an attempt had been made to distribute the tithe at an earlier date. The costs of the central administration are borne by the general funds in the hands of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty, without any charge whatever on the tithe rentcharge, but, as such funds have been primarily raised in the past for the augmentation of the incomes of the poorer clergy, the Governors are forced to keep the costs of central administration reasonably low. It has further been the aim of the Governors, I am informed, to keep the cost of collection down to the lowest possible figure, and, as they state that the average cost of collection throughout the country is a little over 3½ per cent., it would certainly seem that their object in this direction has been achieved. I venture to hope that noble Lords generally will appreciate the very great difficulties that the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty have had to face in operating this new machine, and I hope your Lordships will agree that on the whole they have discharged their task efficiently and without any such serious delay as the noble Lord opposite has laid to their charge.


My Lords, I am not going into the details which have been so clearly given in this very complicated financial matter, and I am not, indeed, competent to speak with expert knowledge of their financial minutiæ at all events. But, as President of Queen Anne's Bounty, I feel bound to say a word or two after the speech of my noble friend opposite, who implied—I am sure he did not intend to convey any actual censure—that there had been either carelessness or something worse on the part of Queen Anne's Bounty in the distribution and raising of this money.


I certainly did not intend to convey that. What I did convey was that the conditions under which Queen Anne's Bounty collect were certain to raise these difficulties.


I am very glad to understand now what the noble Lord said. Of course, no one in the House will suppose that I am able to speak from personal and detailed knowledge of the exact process of the calculations made, or the action of the agents, but every information that comes to me—and I have had a great deal of it during the last six months—tends to show that not only will the administration through Queen Anne's Bounty be carried on with an efficiency and regularity which has not always been possible under the local administration, but that it is already cheaper than it was, and in the long run will become very much cheaper still. Undoubtedly there are individual cases, such as the noble Lord opposite mentioned, where an individual landlord pays the tithe not on the day when it is compulsorily due, but when it becomes technically due. They are very rare I am afraid, because I should be surprised if the noble and learned Lord, with his great knowledge, were to tell me that it is the ordinary custom throughout England for landlords to pay on the earliest day instead of on the latest day. On the contrary, I have had complaints from all over the country for years past that it seemed hard lines on the clergy that they always had to wait for the compulsory day instead of being paid on the day when the tithe nominally fell due. The advantage therefore lay with the landlord and not with the parson, who is a much poorer person.

The noble and learned Lord in his speech may have left on people who are unfamiliar with the matter an impression that there had been some real stupidity or unfairness to the clergy in bringing about the change that took place when the War began. I was the recipient of more vehemently worded complaints from both sides than anybody else. Occupying a position episcopally, being a Commissioner of Queen Anne's Bounty and having a seat in this House, I was the natural person to serve as a target for, the shafts of their criticisms. On the one side they said: "Do you mean to say that we clergy who would have been entitled, if you had left the law alone, to get £140 or £150 a year are now to be content to receive £105 or £108 a year? Are we to be content with that when, if you had left the matter alone, we would have got £150 a year? You are mulcting the clergy." On the other hand, a more effective argument came in the bitterest way from the tithe payers. They said "Do you mean to say that the clergy alone in this country are to be such profiteers from the War that, whereas if matters had gone on in the ordinary course they would have been receiving only £80 a year, you are now to let them receive nearly double that and give them £140 to £150 a year? All because a war has brought about that change of conditions! We should not pay that tithe. We will go on strike. The clergy will not receive the money which they would then be greedily, avariciously raking in"—I am putting their views—"you must arrive at some compromise or arrangement between the two."

A compromise or arrangement was arrived at after any amount of discussion. It was arranged to stabilise it in years to come at £105 or £108 and that that should be the sum to which the clergy should be entitled right on. Had we gone, in the days when I was dealing with these matters, to any of the clergy or incumbents in England and asked them what they would have thought of a stabilised £105 or £108 a year, instead of the £80—in some cases it was as low as £67 or £68—which they were then receiving, they would have said that it was far beyond what they ever dared to hope for. We reached a compromise, and I was the person criticised on both sides for the compromise. All I can say is that at that time, looking at the interests of the clergy on the one side and of the country and tithe payers on the other, I believe that the compromise then made was absolutely fair and as much as the clergy could ever hope to receive reasonably in years to come.

Then we have had detailed points raised to-day about Queen Anne's Bounty and about dilatory payment at present. That is a matter of extraordinary technicality and difficulty. The payment being formerly made through agents locally, there have often been arrangements with the incumbent that something should be advanced to him by the solicitors or other agents who are looking after the matter before the landlord has paid the tithe that should actually come to the parson. That was a common arrangement, but it obviously could not be carried through by Queen Anne's Bounty. At the moment the difficulty does arise, but Queen Anne's Bounty, by a large rearrangement and financial adjustment, has arranged to pay to the clergy who are waiting large sums, which they are not legally liable to pay as tithe collectors, in order to meet that difficulty. Nothing could be more carefully done than the way that that has been gone into by the man at the head of it, by Sir Lewis Dibdin, who has gone into it day by day in order to meet the needs of the poor clergy. We had the fact paraded in the newspapers of a man who was to go on Poor Law relief because he could not get his money. If any one looked into the facts, he would find there was another side to the story of that sensational picture. There is not the slightest need for an application to a Poor Law authority. I do not wish to go into the matter but if anyone would investigate he would not give that as an example.

There is undoubtedly the difficulty that the money is not customarily paid by the tithe payer to-day until the time it is legally recoverable instead of on the earlier day. There is undoubtedly a grievance on that, and I have always wondered that tithe owners should be compelled to suffer as they do by the tithe payer, or usually his agents, withholding the money until the day when it can be compulsorily obtained. That has always been hard lines on the clergy and nothing could be fairer than the attempt of Queen Anne's Bounty to meet the situation. Do not suppose that I, of all men, am unaware of the poverty that is pressing upon the clergy at the present time. It is crushing. But I believe that if you ask the parochial clergy themselves you will find that the efforts we are making are doing all that can reasonably be done to relieve that difficulty and that the large grants, which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are able to make in increase of former payments, will help to relieve that difficulty to an immense extent. But it does exist and I am not at all surprised that the men who are suffering should make the appeal and that, as the Queen Anne's Bounty is more easily attacked because it is the tithe collector, they should go for that. My belief is that in future years it should be seen that Queen Anne's Bounty by centralising collection has been able to diminish the cost of collection far more than was ever possible before and the clergy will turn out to be great gainers by all that has taken place. I think it is only fair to say that, because there has been a great deal of misunderstanding and controversy on both sides.


My Lords, I think it is extremely satisfactory that His Grace has been able to assure the House, and I hope he will assure a great number of people outside who are very doubtful at the present moment, that, although there are difficulties in connection with the change in the method of collection, yet after a short time the change will be satisfactory in both directions. It will be carried out with more regularity and at less cost than the old collection. I do not in the least wish to traverse that in any way. In fact I think it is extremely satisfactory if, as a result of this discussion, that opinion of His Grace is known very widely indeed. Everyone will desire that. It will explain what, on the figures as they stand, appears to be an anomaly.

Upon the other points let me say a word in reply to Lord Strachie and Lord Bledisloe. I was not desirous of entering upon a discussion of the principles of the Act of 1925, nor do I intend to do so now, but as Lord Strachie referred to me as though I knew something about ecclesiastical law—I think rather sceptically—I cannot help answering him by saying that he shows an entire ignorance of it altogether. Tithe is not the property of the Church; it is the property of the incumbents and the property that is vested in the incumbents has now been vested in Queen Anne's Bounty. When the noble Lord talks about the tithe he must know perfectly well that, as was laid down more than once in this House by the great Lord Salisbury, tithe is a national property, and entirely a national property, upon which trusts are imposed for religious purposes. It is nothing less and it has so been dealt with in every case of disestablishment. Therefore it is not a question between the landowner on the one side and the tithe owner on the other. In all cases in which tithe has been reduced, as it has been reduced now, the benefit has gone for public purposes.

In regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, said, I would point out that tithe per se has nothing to do with agricultural depression, but if you were taking it away from the clergy you might have established a fund which would have been of great importance to agriculture if you thought that a right purpose to which to put a public national fund of this kind. That, of course, would have been a very different matter altogether, but I will not go back into it now. When we were discussing it in 1925 I made it quite clear that the view which the noble Lord then expressed was not in accordance with ecclesiastical law and that if any change were made in the sense of diminishing what was going to the clergy the residue ought to have gone, as in all other cases, to national purposes. In fact, in every case of disestablishment where the rights of the clergy have been interfered with the residue has been regarded as national property and used for national purposes.

There is only one other point to which I desire to refer. The question of tithe being below par in the old days has really nothing to do with the question we are discussing at the present time. If in those days the landowners had come forward to say: "Oh, the clergy are very poor; tithe is only at £66; we think they ought to have par," well and good, but of course they did not do that. I do not blame them for not doing it. It is an ordinary public charge ascertained in a particular way, placed not on land but on the Produce of land, which is a very different thing—placed on the produce of land for national and public purposes of a religious kind. I have often expressed my objections to dealing with rates in any way such as the noble Lord suggested—that you may take away with one hand what is unfair and give to other ratepayers with the other hand. That is a double injustice if it operates in the way the noble Lord suggests, although I doubt very much whether it does.


Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will allow me to say that I only mentioned that in order more clearly and more approximately to assess the relative poverty of the clergy.


It was not really relevant to my Question or to what I was saying. I think the noble Lord quite appreciates that; therefore I will not go any further into it. The figure he himself gave me was the right one—£584,000 a year. I took from my calculations the figure of about £600,000. It is, of course, a very heavy debit indeed. I am much obliged to the noble Lord for the information he gave me and I desire to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.