HL Deb 17 April 1934 vol 91 cc571-625

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. When my right honourable friend, the Minister, first brought up this question within the Department, I can assure your Lordships that he realised to the full how very difficult and indeed dangerous a subject he was raising. He realised that he was raising a question which concerns itself with the most bitterly opposing interests. He realised, also, that he was raising a question which concerns itself with the very deepest prejudices that can be felt in the countryside—prejudices that go right back into history for very many centuries. Over this question of tithe, for countless numbers of years, there have been the bitterest conflicts. Therefore, I can assure your Lordships that we had not the slightest delusions, in discussing this subject, that we were going to be able to bring this Bill in with the happy agreement of all parties. On the other hand, we had to realise that here was a subject that must be dealt with; that throughout the countryside there were great numbers of landowners, small owner-occupiers, who were passing through a most grievous period in the history of their industry, and who were finding themselves quite unable to meet their obligations, no matter how legal those obligations might be.

There were then, on the one side, genuine hard cases that needed assistance, and immediate assistance. On the other hand, we found that the law was falling into a state of utter confusion and disrepute, and that in many cases the orders of the courts of law were being deliberately defied. And therefore, from both those sides of the question it was quite evident that no Government, no matter how difficult and how dangerous it might consider the subject to be, could fail to do its duty and make some attempt to face the situation. What degree of fairness and impartiality we have been enabled to achieve is for your Lordships to decide; but if there is one guarantee of impartiality that hitherto I have been able to observe in the Press and from what I have heard from the public platforms, it is that we are being most forcefully abused from both sides, so that we have probably managed to act with some degree of impartiality.

If I venture to deal with this subject at some slight length I hope your Lordships will forgive me. It is a most important subject, raising as it does the most vital and important principles; and it would not be doing justice to the subject, nor indeed to your Lordships' House, if I attempted to deal with it in too short a time. Perhaps your Lordships will first allow me to refer as briefly as possible to the history of this question. I do not think that for the purpose of this debate it is necessary to go back further than the year 1836, when the first great and important change took place in the nature of tithes. Up till then tithe had been collected on the basis of payment in kind, not only on wheat and barley and oats, but on many other crops and much other produce of the land—beans, hay, calves, colts, lambs, milk, eggs, and honey. From 1836 that stopped, and tithe thenceforth become a rentcharge, that is, payable in money, and a standing charge, no longer a share of the produce or the profits of the land. That standing charge was to be assessed on the basis of the prices of wheat, barley and oats over the preceding seven years.

It has been suggested that this change was of great advantage to the Church, and it is certainly true that thence forward the Church did get a certain and sure income from a source that had hitherto been dependent on the fluctuating profits of the land. But, on the other hand, we must not forget that the value of money and the value of the produce of the land have changed and increased immensely since 1836. In 1836 tithe was £4,000,000, representing as it did a tenth of about £40,000,000; it was certainly very near a tenth of the value of the produce of the tithable land at that period. To-day it is £3,000,000, not £4,000,000 because £1,000,000 worth has been redeemed in the interim period. But to-day the value, so far as can be ascertained, of the produce of tithable land is no less than £40,000,000 and one-tenth of the produce of that land would amount to £14,000,000. It certainly does not look at though that settlement, which was perfectly fair and just, was an unfair settlement from the point of view of the tithe-payer.

The next important date to which I would refer is the year 1891, when the second big alteration in tithe law was introduced and carried. That Act contained three major changes. The first, which only concerns us indirectly to-day, was that thenceforth tithe was no longer a charge upon the occupier of the land but it became a charge upon the owner of the land—no longer therefore a tenant's charge, but a landowner's charge; and in so far as we hear of farmers suffering to-day it is the farmers in their capacity of owner-occupiers—as owners, and not as mere occupiers, of the land—who are concerned. The second change was that the tithe-owner was deprived of the right to distrain for himself, and thenceforward the distraint was to be carried out by an officer of the County Court. The third change was that a certain remission in tithe rent-charge was made in favour of the payer. It was laid down that where the tithe, or tithe rentcharge as we should say, exceeded two-thirds of the value of the land for Schedule B, then he should be entitled to a remission, that remission to be obtained by application to the County Court. In that Act of 1891—and your Lordships will realise that this Bill is an amendment of the Act of 1891—there were two precedents, both precedents for this Bill: the first a precedent for remission in certain hard cases, and the second a precedent in the alteration of the law of collection.

Now we come to a yet further date—namely, the Act of 1918. As a result of the Act of 1836, as I have already mentioned, tithe was assessed on the basis of the prices of wheat, barley and oats during the preceding seven years. In 1918, following as it did on the War period when prices were very high, it was found necessary to come to some arrangement so that tithe should not be driven up to an unreasonably high amount as the result of these inflated prices. Accordingly it was stabilised at £109 for the next seven years—that is, until 1926, after which date it was to be based, not on a septennial average, but on a quindecennial average. As the result of that settlement landowners or tithe-payers were actually saved approximately £11,000,000 between the years 1918 and 1926—saved, that is, from liability for that sum, because it has frequently been stated, and possibly with a great deal of truth, that it would have been very difficult to collect if tithe had risen to the heights to which it might have done. Whereas it was stabilised at £109 in 1918, it would have risen to £124in 1919; £140 in 1920; £162 in 1921; £172 in 1922; it would still have been over £133 in 1927; and even up to the end of the year 1931 it would have been slightly over what it is to-day.

The last date with which I shall trouble your Lordships is that of 1925, when a yet further Act was brought into force. In 1924 it had become quite evident that on the fifteen years' average which was due to come into force in two years' time tithe would still be over 30 per cent. above par value. Therefore in 1925 an Act was passed which stabilised the charge at £105. Without that Act tithe rentcharge in 1926 would have been over £131 and even in 1934 it would have been £116—that is, assuming wheat to be at world prices and not at wheat subsidy prices. Whether £105 was exactly the right figure to have fixed at that date or not, whether we in the light of subsequent knowledge would have selected that figure, may be open to question and very serious question with many, but if the 1925 Act, which effected that stabilisation, had not been passed tithe-owners would now, this year, have been paying at the rate of £116. If the 1918 Act had not been passed as well, it is perfectly true to say that during the last three years of low prices the tithe-payer would have been paying less, but up to 1932 he would have been liable for infinitely more, to the tune of over £14,000,000 between 1919 and 1932.

That is a very brief history of the subject to date, and I can well imagine some of your Lordships saying: "If these, in fact, are the true figures, if your feelings are the feelings of His Majesty's Government, which are in truth expressed by the presentation of these figures, then we wonder that you are taking any action at all to assist the tithe-payers." But that is not the attitude of His Majesty's Government. We say that from these figures, from the history of the subject, it is perfectly clear that each settlement which I have mentioned resulted in a decrease in the present or future value of the property in tithe. It is equally clear that tithe as a property remains unquestioned. Tithe is just as much a property as is the ownership of land, the ownership of stocks and shares, mortgage, or any other form of property. But what we do say is that it is something more than mere legal tithe, and I believe that the Church and other tithe-owners besides the Church must be the first to recognise that fact.

We say definitely that there is no case whatsoever for what must amount to a general or partial abolition of tithe, and, in effect, by others, the word "abolition" might be replaced by the word "confiscation." We say that in a great number of cases a general reduction of tithe would mean a gift from a parson of a village, possibly already deeply impoverished, to the landowner of the parish, and I think very few of us who are landowners or tithe-payers would like to feel ourselves in the position of taking property from the parson for our own benefit. But what we do say is that it is an indisputable fact that there are very hard cases at the moment, particularly cases of owner-occupiers, who bought their land at high prices, the value of that land having since dropped disastrously, and we do say that while tithe is a property and an undisputed property, at the same time it is very generally recognised in this country that property has its responsibilities, and sometimes very heavy responsibilities.

In seeking to deal with the question from that point of view, and from the point of view of the assistance of hard cases, we have looked to the Act of 1891 for our precedent, because we believe that in the principle there laid down we find the means of assisting those who most need assistance—namely, those who are living on land, and are responsible for tithes on land, whose value has very much decreased. It is perfectly true that under this system there are certain tithe-payers who will get very large remissions, and many others who will get no remission, but I suggest to your Lordships that if the value of the land has been maintained then there is very little case for a remission of what is, I think, generally agreed to be a perfectly legitimate debt. There are these other cases which are suffering severely at the present moment from the depreciation in the value of their land. I find, having taken out figures at random in twenty-three parishes, divided up between fourteen counties, a case where, if there was a general reduction of tithe, say, to £90, there would be a saving to the tithe-payer of £29, whereas, on the basis on which we are working, there will be a saving to the tithe-payer of over £68. Another case—a much more extreme case—is where, on the basis of a reduction to £90 the saving would be £50, while on the two-fifths basis which we are taking the reduction will be by £227 —over four times as much.

I will not weary your Lordships with the figures. I have simply picked out two as examples in the attempt to show that we are giving remissions where they are most needed, and that in many cases those remissions are going to be by no means negligible in their character. Therefore, under Clause 1, we have made it possible to obtain a remission when tithe rentcharge exceeds two-fifths of the annual value of the land based on Schedule B. We have also made it very much easier to secure that remission by making it obtainable by application to the officer responsible for taxation in the district instead of by application to the County Court.

In Clause 2, as I have already said, we also follow the precedent of 1891. In the Act of 1891 powers of distraint were transferred from the landowner to the officer of the County Court. Those powers were not in any way altered, and, as they have been operating for the last few years, they have turned out to be clumsy, ill-defined and expensive even from the point of view of the tithe-payer himself. I have cases here of tithe-payers who, in addition to being faced with their tithe, are being faced with heavy legal bills as the result of the clumsiness of this particular method of procedure. Furthermore, it has led both to technical evasions and to deliberate obstruction. The change proposed in Clause 2 of the Bill does raise very important and very serious principles. It means that from henceforth, if this Bill is passed into law, tithe will be collected as an ordinary debt at the County Court; in effect, that tithe becomes a personal debt, which hitherto it has never been. But let us remember that while recognising what an important change in law this is, the great bulk of tithe at the present moment in this country, taking it all over the country, is in fact being paid, and this alteration in the law therefore will not make the slightest difference to the man or the woman—ladies I believe have come into this particular controversy—who is responsible for writing out a cheque for tithe. Nor will it affect those who are actually taken to a County Court and are, after all the machinery of investigation has been gone through which we know is gone through in our County Courts in dealing with questions of tithe, prepared to accept the ruling of the Court.

The only person that this change in the law can affect is the individual who is quite deliberately setting himself up to defy the majesty of the law of this country. I am happy to think that there are very few individuals whom this change in the law will actually very deeply or personally affect. I believe that when the law is altered in this manner, evasion, obstruction and defiance will no longer be possible: they cannot be carried through successfully, so that evasion and obstruction will not be attempted. It is possible to criticise the Government for making this great change, but I would put it to your Lordships that when we are up against a deliberate refusal to pay a legal debt—a debt that has been investigated and ordered to be collected by a court of law—when action amounting not only to a deliberate challenge to property but to law and order in this country is taken, then nobody, and certainly no member of your Lordships' House, would say that the situation should be left entirely as it is. If it be possible to proceed by any other means, or if at a later stage of this Bill it appears that we have not chosen the best method, then I would suggest that there are occasions on which we can discuss individual clauses of the Bill.

I come to one further point. A great deal has been made of the demand for an inquiry into the whole situation as regards tithe. Governments in dealing with very difficult subjects find it only too great a temptation to refer a matter to an inquiry. It is a very easy way to get out of the difficulties. But an inquiry is only justifiable when it is likely to put the Government in possession of facts or policies which they are unable to think out for themselves without such inquiry. In dealing with this question of tithe we feel that setting up an inquiry would be merely shirking the issue. We are in full possession of all the ascertainable facts. I use that word "ascertainable" because the vital question of future prices is quite unascertainable. Therefore, we prefer to take action even though that action may not be on such far-reaching lines as some might like.

We saw two perfectly clear tasks before us. One was the relief of a great body of genuinely hard-pressed men on the countryside. The other was to restore the law to a position where its orders might be enforced so that it might be thus saved from falling into contempt. That is a perfectly definite policy and I suggest to your Lordships that it is also a balanced policy. I think it is hardly necessary to say to your Lordships that a balanced policy really means that the two sides of that policy must stand or fall together. The alternative to this Bill I find very hard to imagine. Having considered this matter very fully, the Government are convinced, as I have said, that they are in possession of all the ascertainable facts. Certainly it would be misleading your Lordships if I for a moment suggested that the alternative to the Bill was setting up an inquiry. I rather hesitate in saying this, because know that certain noble Lords are very anxious that there should be an inquiry, and I am particularly anxious not to seem to be threatening them by stating this fact; but the alternative to this Bill, as I see it, must be the existing situation. I only fear that too rigid an, insistence on the rights of certain individuals—fortunately, as I have already said, only a limited body of individuals defy the law—may deprive a great number of really hard-pressed tithe-payers throughout the countryside of relief to which I am quite convinced they are entitled.

Finally, may I say that the real solution to this problem must lie in a general improvement in prices? During this year some slight improvement has taken place, but it is not sufficient. It is not by picking on one debt, whether it is tithe rent-charge or whether it is mortgage interest or bank interest and refusing to pay that, that you are going to assist agriculture. We have to continue the process which we have already begun—the Government and the farmers working in the closest co-operation—of building up a prosperous agriculture that can look all its creditors fully in the face. Meanwhile, His Majesty's Government have put this Bill forward, not under the illusion that it is a complete solution of this very difficult subject, but at least feeling that it is a really useful contribution to what is a very thorny problem. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Earl De La Warr.)


My Lords, the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of this Bill explained very lucidly the meaning of the Bill, but as he said in his last words it is a very thorny problem, and he appeared to spend most of his time in dealing with possible objections from behind him. It rather reminded me of a picture of Mickey Mouse protecting his posterior against the attack of large mosquitoes from behind. It is a difficult problem and I think he has a very difficult task. The people ranged on the two sides of the problem have been very voluble. I myself have had large numbers of documents thrown at me explaining different points of view.

Owner-farmers, for instance, object strongly to the tithe rentcharge being made a personal liability. I do not blame them, because it may mean imprisonment if they cannot pay the tithe, or it may mean bankruptcy. I think they have a right to object to that. They complain that the concession in Clause 1 of the Bill is really no concession at all, because it will only operate when the tithe rentcharge is so heavy as to be largely irrecoverable. It is a fact that many owner-farmers were forced into the purchase of their farms in 1919 and 1920. They were unwilling purchasers after the War, and I think they have very reasonable cause to complain when we consider that for the last twelve years they have been faced with agricultural prices so low that farming has not been remunerative. Farmers are hit more than any other class of the community by falling prices, because the time lag between the purchase of what is necessary for production on the farm and the sale of the produce of the farm is longer than in any other industry in this country. Consequently falling prices mean a greater loss to the farmers than to any other people in industry. I think owner-farmers have a justifiable complaint.

Then we have the case for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and Queen Anne's Bounty. The most reverend Primate will, no doubt, deal with that, but personally, having read through two pamphlets which have been sent to me, I do not think they have made the best of the case they could put forward. I have here a document entitled "Tithe and the Agricultural Depression," published by Queen Anne's Bounty in July, 1931. The first thing that you come across there is that they complain that money given to the tithe-receivers "provides salaries for work done" and therefore they should have it—a complete fallacy, and an absurd statement to put forward as an argument in favour of continuing the present arrangement. Then they say that the tenant-farmer is not affected; they say that it is only the landowners and owner-farmers who are affected. Of course the tenant-farmer is involved; he has to pay a higher rent for his farm if the owner has to pay tithe. That is a bad argument. The 1891 Act referred to by the noble Earl was, as a matter of fact, not altogether a fair Act in 1891, but Queen Anne's Bounty maintain that if it was fair in 1891 it is equally fair to-day. Of all the ridiculous arguments that have ever been put forward the most ridiculous is included in this pamphlet, that tithe-payers would have had to pay much more if the 1923 Act had not been passed. To say that if a certain Act of Parliament had not been passed a certain group of people would have been better off is a childish argument.

Then we have Canon Rowling's pamphlet, "The Facts About Tithe." He very carefully omits all reference to the Act of 1891; he does not mention it at all. He again brings out what tithe-payers would have paid, and quotes Mr. Baldwin, who stated that they had been saved £14,000,000—the same bad argument. On page 4 of the pamphlet he admits fully that there has been a great deal of depression in agriculture, and says that no fewer than 3,000 cases had already been quietly settled by compromise up to February, 1934. Of course there have been hard cases, agriculture has been in difficulty, and I have no doubt that that is really the argument of the Government for producing this Bill. On page 6 of his pamphlet Canon Rowling says that agriculture has had a great many subsidies in the last few years; he says that there was a derating subsidy of £4,500,000, a share of which he thinks the Ecclesiastical Commissioners ought to have. He uses it as an argument for continuing the full payments. He says that agriculturists have had a wheat subsidy, and that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners ought to have that—


It has nothing to do with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.


I meant Queen Anne's Bounty: I beg the most reverend Primate's pardon. The pamphlet then says that the sugar beet subsidy should go to Queen Anne's Bounty, and so on. Canon Rowling argues point after point, that because agriculture has had help from the Government, that is an argument for the tithe-receivers maintaining the payments which have been made up to date. Finally, in this case, they rely on the Bible; Canon Rowling falls back on a quotation from Malachi, in which it is stated that the whole nation had robbed the tithe-receivers and so had robbed God, and that the whole nation is "cursed with a curse." It ends up with: Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there will not be room enough to receive it"— that there will be a large harvest, that there will be no pests, and that the harvests shall be normal in future. But that is not proved by the facts. It may be desirable in Malachi, but it is not a reliable argument for one side in discussing an Act of Parliament.

There is one group in this controversy which has been entirely left out, and that is the agricultural labourer. The only time I can see that the agricultural labourer is mentioned is when we are told by those on one side of the controversy that the agricultural labourer is dismissed because the tithe-payer has to pay too heavy a tithe. I came across a letter in The Times in which it was said that the land could not bear both tithe payments and wages. Of course it is a ridiculous argument, but it is clear that if the tithe payment is too high the agricultural labourer may have to be dismissed, or it will be used as an argument to keep down his wages. That is, of course, the argument; and each side equally produces that as an argument in favour of its point of view. The landowners point to the poor farmer-owners who suffer; the clergy—Queen Anne's Bounty—point to the very low-paid clergy who will suffer by the non-payment of tithes; and Queen Anne's Bounty uses the very interesting word "spoils." What is actually happening is that we are having a quarrel over the division of the spoils between the landowners on one side and Queen Anne's Bounty on the other, with the essential factor, the agricultural labourer, entirely left out of the argument.

The original argument is that tithe is a recognised right, acquired in the same way as private ownership of land, and that if private ownership of land is right, tithe is right. I agree; if private ownership of land is right, tithe is right; but if private ownership of land is not right then tithe equally is not right; they are both indefensible and both ought to be abolished. Therefore, for that reason, we on these Benches are opposing this measure and we oppose it because agricultural labourers and tenant-farmers will be worse off as a result of this measure. Some will be faced with imprisonment for debt, which has not been their trouble before; they will be faced with more bankruptcies, and they will be definitely worse off. We are against the measure because it perpetuates the injustice resulting from the private ownership of land, or from tithe payments; we are against it because it includes imprisonment for debt as a new punishment for non-payment of tithe; and we are against it because it gives additional power to the representatives of Queen Anne's Bounty to extract payments from a depressed industry for tithes.


My Lords, the objects and provisions of this Bill have been most clearly and ably presented by the noble Earl who has introduced the Bill. I think that nothing could be fairer or clearer than the case which be put before your Lordships. I am not going to follow the noble Lord who has just sat down in his discourse about the Old Testament, nor do I propose to discuss whether or not the agricultural labourer has been left out. If he has been left out, it is for the good reason that in this matter he does not come in. I think we all realise that the noble Lord made the best of his case, sitting on the Benches where he does sit; but he let the cat out of the bag when he intimated that he objected to all tithe because it was a form of private property, which we know is anathema to him. There is the case of the tithe-payer, and I have no doubt that later in this debate that will be put before your Lordships clearly. And here let me say—because I would wish this to be kept in mind in regard to anything that I may say in the course of my remarks—that we in this House must all have the greatest possible sympathy with the difficulties to which the oldest, the noblest, and the basic industry in this country—agriculture—is now exposed.

But I think it is necessary to put the case of the tithe-owners. I have both a right and a duty to put that case officially, as President of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty, on whom Parliament, in the Act of 1925, laid the charge of collecting and administering the great bulk of the tithe rentcharge in this country. That tithe rentcharge amounts to about £3,000,000, of which something like £2,300,000 are now payable to and administered by the Bounty. The Governors of the Bounty, your Lordships will realise, have thus been placed in the position of trustees for the great multitude of the tithe-owning clergy throughout the country. It is a very heavy responsibility, and we should be untrue to it if we did not do our best to protect those who are committed very specially to our charge.

It is, happily, unnecessary in this House even to allude to the widespread fallacies which, alas! are too widely circulated outside, and which are largely responsible for much of the agitation which has been carried on—fallacies, for example, such as that tithe is a tax imposed on agriculture for the support of the Church and the like. It has been abundantly pointed out already that tithe rentcharge is a form of property like any other. That does not commend itself to the noble Lord opposite, but it is a point which the great bulk of the citizens of this country ought always to remember. It is true that any right of property involves, as the noble Earl has already said, responsibilities in the nature of a trust, and I hope that this form of property, even regarded as a trust, is used by those who possess it almost invariably throughout the country in the service of the people. Tithe rentcharge means this, that a purchaser paid for his land so much less because of the tithe rentcharge with which it was charged. It is in the nature of interest payable on a sum of money which the purchaser was not obliged, and would otherwise have been obliged, to pay. Accordingly, whether or not this payment is to be made to the clergy, or to any other person legally entitled to it, is a wholly irrelevant consideration. I am sure your Lordships agree that the clergy are as much entitled to justice and fair play as any other class of the community.

At the same time I should like most cordially to recognise the very great difficulties of the tithe-payer. I have in mind the owner harassed by the difficulty of collecting his rents and by the heavy Death Duties which he has to meet. I have in mind the owner-occupier harassed by low prices and by the very high interest which he is obliged to pay for purchases made at the time when, after the War, the price of land was very high. I think it is not unnatural that in their stress they should turn to tithe as affording a possible means of relief, but I submit that it is not fair to select tithe and treat it differently from any other legal charge or interest. Indeed I will venture, perhaps rather daringly, to say that the degree and extent of the hardship have been considerably exaggerated. There is the fact, though it is often forgotten, to which the noble Lord alluded, that at the present time over four-fifths of the country tithe is collected without any difficulty whatsoever. The difficult counties are mainly in the East. Suffolk is the worst, and after it come Essex, Norfolk, Berks and East Kent. Elsewhere there is very little difficulty. Let us keep a sense of proportion in this matter.

Again, I think the proportion to outgoings involved in the tithe rentcharge is very often exaggerated. I take the three worst counties in East Anglia; Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and I find that the tithe rentcharge only amounts to about 3½ per cent. of the gross charges, such as labour, foodstuffs and the like. In many places it is even much less than that, and I do not think we can dismiss from our minds that the agitation which has been going on has been very largely exploited by those who have some hostility to the Church, or has otherwise been bolstered by the ludicrous fallacies and misstatements as to the whole nature of tithe. Yet I should be the last to suggest that there were no difficulties to be met, and that the tithe-payers' position is one which ought not to command our sympathy. I want to make it clear, however, that nothing can be more untrue than to represent the tithe-owners as holding tightly to their rights and insisting upon their pound of flesh. On the contrary I have to remind your Lordships of the sacrifices that they have already, over a long course of years, made willingly or without protest.

It might even be said, with regard to the settlement of 1836—I think that was also pointed out by the noble Earl—that if the intention of that Act had been followed out the value of tithe would be about £14,000,000, instead of just £3,000,000, and certainly the purchasing power of £100 in 1836 was a totally different thing from what it is now. In the years preceding the War, as your Lordships will very well remember, when prices went down tithe went rapidly down with them. It reached as low a figure as £68 at one time, but no relief was given to the tithe-owner because of that depression, nor, I think, did he actively insist upon it. Then came the boom years which followed the War and, of course, as has been pointed out, prices rose and tithe rose, and threatened to rise to a very high point. Immediately appeals were made to the tithe-owners, particularly to the clerical tithe-owners, that they were the last people who should seem to be profiteers, and they were called upon to make sacrifices. My Lords, they did so. They accepted, and without any protest, the Act of 1918, by which tithe was stabilised for seven years at £109, and it has been calculated that that meant a loss to them of about £4,000,000. It is no good for the noble Lord (Lord Marley)—I see he is not in his place and I therefore will not expend an argument upon him.

Moreover, it was a provision of that Act of 1918 that in the case of tithe payable after January, 1926, the tithe should be estimated not on a seven years' average of prices but on a fifteen years' average. If that had been done in the years between 1926 and 1934, as I think the noble Earl pointed out, tithe would have risen very largely to any sum between about £130 and £116, and tithe in this present year would have been at the rate of £116. Again, there was no difficulty, there were no protests; the tithe-owners accepted the position. They recognised that it was not reasonable that the tithe should rise during these years to so high a level. And therefore they accepted the Act of 1925. As your Lordships are well aware, that Act was intended to be a final and permanent settlement, and stabilised the rate of tithe rentcharge at £105, with £4 10s. in the case of ecclesiastical tithe for a sinking fund to redeem all tithe in eighty-five years. It has been calculated—and I venture to repeat it because, in spite of what the noble Lord said, it is a most relevant consideration—that the effect of these two Acts of 1918 and 1925 has been that the tithe-owners have lost, and the tithe-payers have gained, as much as £14,000,000. I stress these points because you have to balance the difficulties of the landowner and the owner-occupier against the sacrifices which the tithe-owner has already made, and it is a sufficient proof that the tithe-owners have never really been in the position of heedlessly demanding their pound of flesh.

Then in the second place it is only right that I should call your Lordships' attention to the desire of the Governors of the Bounty to be most equitable in their administration. They have always felt it to be their duty to give special care to hard cases. When they find that the tithe-payer, be he landowner or owner-occupier, is unable to pay because of the stress of circumstances, they meet him. Where they do not meet him is in the case, not infrequent, of a tithe-payer who is known to be quite able to pay but refuses to do so. In really hard cases inquiry is made, advisers are sent down, and up to the present year in no fewer than 3,700 cases have settlements been effected, and the Bounty has made voluntary remissions during the last year of £26,000 and since 1932 of as much as £45,481. The Governors believed that, following this system of equitable administration, and relying, as I hope we may, on an improvement in agriculture, we should have been able to tide over this difficult time, and therefore they have not asked for legislation of any kind. But, at the same time, we fully recognise the nature of the pressure that has been brought to bear upon the Government, the force of a good deal that the noble Earl has put before your Lordships' House, and the great difficulties in which many tithe-payers are undoubtedly placed, and therefore we are not surprised that the Government should have brought in this particular Bill.

You have been reminded that the principle of the Act of 1891, which was itself an incursion upon the principles of the Act of 1836, the object of which was to divorce tithe rentcharge from the profits of produce of the land, was to decree that where the tithe was over two-thirds of the rental value, as assessed in accordance with Schedule B of the Income Tax it should not be recoverable. That principle, right or wrong, has been admitted, and this Bill is only making an amendment of the Act of 1891. The vital question is the fraction that is to be selected. The Governors advise me that any smaller fraction than one-half would be really an unwarrantable sacrifice for the tithe-owners to make. That of itself would mean a loss of something like, I think, £60,000. The Bill contains the fraction of two-fifths. It is my duty to point out to your Lordships that that will mean a loss to the tithe-owners of anything between £130,000 and £150,000 a year. Let me show your Lordships how it would bear upon individual parishes.

I take a group of twenty parishes—they are selected as representing different parts of the country—and I find that in those twenty parishes where remissions are already in operation under the Act of 1891, tithe rentcharge is £2,230, the remissions under the Act of 1891 are £623, and the remissions under this present Bill would be £1,266. Let us bring it down to individual parishes. I take two out of my own diocese. There is one where the tithe rentcharge is £123, the existing remissions are £16; under this Bill they would be £58. In another parish, where the tithe rent-charge is £105 and the existing remission £37, under this Bill the remission would be £64. You have to translate these figures into the budgets of the individual incumbents. A man who undertook his benefice in the belief that the Act of 1925 was a final settlement has no margin. A few pounds, which look very little when stated in this way in your Lordships' House, mean to the incumbent the difference between his educating his boy or girl or his not educating them. And, therefore, these comparatively small slims mean something that is very large and serious in the budget of the individual incumbent.

It is sometimes said: "There are surely large funds at the disposal of the Church by which these losses can be spread over a wider circle." There are no such funds unless the funds of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are to be depleted, and they are charged by Parliament with the responsibility of increasing the already small endowments of other than tithe-owning clergy and of providing endowments to meet the immensely increasing spread of population throughout the country. Therefore, the loss must fall upon the individual incumbent, and I think it was a very true phrase that was used by the noble Earl when he said that we should not ask men in that position, unless it were actually necessary, to make a gift to the landowner or the owner-occupier in his parish. Therefore, the position is that we believe that one-half is the very utmost that ought to be asked of the tithe owners and that two-fifths will involve very serious hardships. At the same time the Governors do not advise me to take the responsibility of opposing the Second Reading of this Bill. But I am bound to say that if at a later stage Amendments were moved reducing the fraction, say, to one-third, we should have to resist them most strenuously. If the fraction were one-third it would mean a loss to the owners of £200,000 a year. That is a tenth part of the whole tithe of the country and that, I submit, would be something like confiscation. Therefore, I do not feel disposed—though I do not like it—to be intransigent about the figure of two-fifths, but if the fraction is made lower than that I shall feel obliged—and I am sure I shall have the support of many of your Lordships—to resist any such Amendment.

I come just for a moment, not more, to this much-debated Clause 2, which, provides an alternative method for the recovery of tithe rentcharge by extending the right of recovery from the land to the person of the payer. I want to make it very clear that though this right is represented as a great concession to the tithe-owner it is not pressed by the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty. It is perfectly true that there are cases where it would mean preventing obvious injustice being done. I have in mind certain comparatively well-to-do landowners—I dare say some of there are known to some of your Lordships—who are perfectly able to pay their tithe rentcharge but not only decline to do it themselves but foment agitation in the area in which they live, advising all other owners or owner-occupiers to refuse to pay it. It is really intolerable that there should be no way of dealing with that class of person, who is obviously entitled to no kind of consideration. But very often the existing method may prove to be the best. Therefore, the position of the Governors of the Bounty is that so far they welcome this Clause 2, but they are not to be understood as pressing for it.

I suspect—I think I have a right to suspect—that the real reason is much more what was indicated by the noble Earl—namely, that this clause may be necessary in order to prevent the grave disorders that have been occurring in different parts of the country. As your Lordships are aware, an order for distraint issued by the County Court has to be executed by the officers of the Court, and the bailiffs who are charged with this often irksome duty find that it puts them in a position of great difficulty with their neighbours, and invests them with an unpopularity which they greatly dislike. Moreover, it results, when the attempt is made to remove the produce of the land, in those scenes of public disorder of which the Press has been full. Therefore, there is a great deal to be said for this clause as ensuring that the law is not brought into contempt and that public order is not defied.

I have kept your Lordships longer than I had intended. I want to make it clear that I cannot like this Bill. How can I, when I consider that even the difference between one half and two-fifths means so much to the daily life of multitudes of those whose interests I am bound to consider? At the same time it is impossible to put aside the difficulties of many of the tithe-payers. I am most anxious that the stress of this agitation should be mitigated. I am most anxious that we should come to some agreement. I know I am speaking for many incumbents when I say that they would be willing to suffer any equitable loss if it resulted in restoring better relations between themselves and tithe-payers in their parishes, many of whom are personally on the most friendly terms with them. I hope some agreement can be reached, and if I, as representing the multitude of the tithe-owners, am willing with great reluctance to accept this two-fifths, I do venture to hope that those who represent the tithe-payers will not press for a greater loss and sacrifice on the part of the tithe-owners. If some agreement of that kind could be reached then I think we should all be satisfied. I hope I have not overstated the case for the tithe-owners. Indeed, I am disposed to think I have rather understated it, but I think your Lordships will recognise that I should be false to my trust as a Governor of Queen Anne's Bounty, and still more as a Bishop, if I did not do my utmost to protect my brethren from any unfair treatment and do what is possible to oppose any unfair or inequitable increase of anxieties, burdens, and hardships from which already so many of them are suffering.


My Lords, I desire to intervene only for a few moments in this debate. If I may I wish to compliment the noble Earl for the very lucid and well-balanced statement he made in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill. I have no intention whatever of travelling in the regions into which the most reverend Primate led us just now. He speaks with great authority and also with special knowledge on this subject, and when we consider the sum with which the Queen Anne's Bounty deals we can have some idea of the importance of the observations which he has made.

As I have followed what has been said, this Bill is something in the nature of a compromise or a balance of positions. I think some language of that character was used by the noble Earl who introduced it. My difficulty is to follow how this compromise can be made equitable. I appreciate that there must be a remission as is provided in Clause 1 which proposes to change the fraction of two-thirds in the 1891 Act into two-fifths under this Bill, which remission means that there is a recognition, as I follow it, of the fact that in a number of cases the hardship of the tithe rentcharge at the present moment is so great that the law, as represented by the Government, feels bound to step in and reduce the amount that would have to be paid, so that where a tithe rentcharge is more than two-thirds of the value under Schedule B of the Income Tax there must be a remission of the excess, and that remission is irrevocable. I followed very well what was said by the most reverend Primate in regard to that. He is willing to fall in with that proposal, if it is the view of the Government and of your Lordships' House, but nevertheless he would resent very strongly any attempt to make it more. I do not wish to say anything more regarding that.

There is a great deal of prejudice and a great deal of misrepresentation with regard to the nature of this charge. It must be recognised—certainly I recognise, as a lawyer by profession I am bound to recognise—that there is property in the tithe rentcharge; but it is not the same kind of property as other property. It is a special kind; it is a charge upon the land, at any rate upon the produce of the land as it is now under the Act of 1891. My difficulty is to understand in this compromise whether there is a remission in those cases in which admittedly hardship is so great that the Government must intervene. I have nothing to say with regard to that. I accept that view. That part of the Bill I am prepared to support. I must assume that nothing more can be done. But when I come to the second part of the compromise, I find it much more difficult to accept the Government's view. There is not only a complete change, as regards the tithe-payer who is suffering from the difficulty of having to pay much in excess of what he should pay, and therefore would come under the first part of the Bill, but this alteration in Clause 2 will affect all tithe-payers. It is not limited. It affects every class of tithe-payer. As a result it puts the tithe-payer in a totally different position from that which he has hitherto occupied. As I understood the most reverend Primate—I speak in his presence and therefore subject to correction if I am wrong—this part of the Bill is in no sense the result of pressure or of any demand by the most reverend Primate and those associated with him.


Neither pressure nor opposition.


Therefore it is something for which the Government are alone responsible. Once we know that it cannot be said that the first part of the Bill could not stand without the second part. That to me is an important matter, and the only one on which I want to intervene. I should be very glad if my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack could give us some explanation of why this 'most important change in the law is to be made. Do not let us be under any misapprehension. It is a very great change. You have had an alteration in the law as a result of which the County Court official made the distraint and got rid of difficulties which otherwise occurred between the tithe-owner and the tithe-payer, and now, if this Bill goes through, you have this change, that every tithe-payer will be in a different position. His liability is converted from a very special and limited liability into the ordinary liability. with all its consequences, of a personal debt. That is a very big change indeed. and I think we ought to have some further explanation of it than has hitherto been given.

The result of it, as has been indicated quite clearly, is that now the tithe-payer is in a position to be sued for his tithe and, if there is a judgment against him, all the consequences of the law follow. All the various processes of execution which are open to a creditor who wishes to levy payment of his debt in consequence of his judgment are open to the tithe-owner. If the amount is sufficient and the conditions comply with the law of bankruptcy, the tithe-payer can be made a bankrupt. That is a very serious matter. The tithe-payer now becomes liable to all the consequences of an act of bankruptcy and, equally, as I have indicated, to all other processes of execution. Again, if he is able to pay and if there is sufficient evidence on which a Judge can act, the defaulting tithe-payer can be committed to prison for contempt of court for not paying the debt. These are great changes. I am sure my noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack must realise that this is a change in the law as it has existed now for centuries. This tithe charge has always been in a very exceptional position. The only reason for the change that I am able to find for myself is to be gathered from what was said by the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of the Bill. It is because in some parts of the country, and I think in some parts only, it has become difficult to collect the tithe rentcharge.

Because it has been found difficult in certain places to collect it, the Government are saying: "We will get rid of all those difficulties which follow upon trying to levy an execution or distraint upon stock on the land by making it an ordinary personal debt; thus we shall not have to enforce the law and everything will be made easy." It is going to affect, as I have already indicated, not merely those tithe-payers in a particular district who may have caused difficulties, but all tithe-payers. Because of that, I gather from what has been said, the whole of the law which has existed for centuries is to be changed in a very important respect indeed. The tithe is to become a personal debt. I have failed so far to understand why that should be so. Why should not the Government be able with all the forces in its power, to deal with any difficulties that occur? The Government will never get rid of the objector to payment. There may be some who will object very strongly, and who will prefer to go to prison rather than pay what they regard as an unjust charge. If that is their view you will not get rid, of it by converting the liability into a personal one. You will not get rid of the objection to pay. On the contrary, you are making a difference which will have most serious consequences. It seems to me that, because some persons object to pay and because there are difficulties in limited areas, the whole of this charge is made one of a much more serious character. I should want to hear arguments that I have not yet heard before I could assent to this part of the Bill going through, even if it is put forward as a compromise.


My Lords, I do not desire to speak generally on this Bill. Although I have no doubt your Lordships are perfectly familiar with the procedure for the collection of tithe, may I state the legal position as clearly and as briefly as possible which at present exists and which will exist should this Bill become an Act of Parliament? It is perfectly true, as the noble Marquess who has just sat down said, that this Bill is a compromise. The tithe-payer gets something out of it; he gets a certain remission. The tithe-owner gets something out of it; he gets an easier, cheaper and more satisfactory method of collecting what at present certainly is a just payment. But there is something far more important in this compromise than what the tithe-payer gets and what the tithe-owner gets. We are not all of us tithe-payers, we are not all of us tithe-owners, but one thing we are all of us concerned in is the, maintenance of law and order in our country. The present machinery for collecting what is at present a just debt will not work. It is not a very good argument, I submit to your Lordships, to say that you are altering the law only that a number of tiresome people may be compelled to pay What is just. Do not misunderstand me. I am dealing with the question from the point of view that at the present moment, admittedly, tithe is a just debt. This alteration of the law would not affect anybody in any part of the country who is ready to pay this just debt of tithe. It will only give a shorter and less expensive remedy in those parts of the country where organised opposition has brought the execution and the administration of the law temporarily into contempt.

May I be permitted, in order that others who are not in this House should understand and appreciate the real position, to state how the law does stand? In English law the man who thinks he has a right may endeavour to enforce it in one of two ways. He may pursue a remedy against a thing or he may pursue a remedy against a person. The most familiar example of a remedy against a thing is contained in the procedure of the Admiralty Court, where it is possible to arrest a ship and hold it until the Court has pronounced upon the rights of the parties. Nowadays, unfortunately, the most familiar remedy against a person is when an injured citizen sues the owner-driver of a motor-car for negligently running over him. With regard to the nonpayment of tithe it is perfectly true that hitherto a person could only enforce a remedy against a thing—namely, against the land out of which the tithe issued. He had no remedy against anybody personally for the recovery of the sum alleged to be due. If the tithe-payer was in possession of the land by himself, the tithe-owner could go to the County Court and obtain permission to levy a distress on the land. If, on the other hand, the tithe-payer was not in possession, but a tenant of his was occupying the land, the tithe-owner could go to the Court and get a receiver of the rents and profits of the land appointed.

The practice on resort to the Court—that is, the old practice—is peculiar, and the application is followed by an elaborate system of notices and cross-notices. I have looked into the matter and I observe that there are no fewer than fifty-eight County Court Rules affecting the proceedings and no less than thirty-five different forms for use in the various steps to be taken in the various contingencies. Both these alternatives are cumbrous and expensive, and, as no doubt your Lordships have seen during the last six or eight months, they have led in the country to very considerable friction, a friction which in the daily Press is magnified by calling it a "tithe war." The disadvantages of this old procedure are many. Permit me, as the matter is so important, to indicate a few of them. The law of a landlord's distress is still governed in parts by some of our most ancient Statutes. The practice has become tolerably clear where a landlord's distraint is upon the goods of a tenant in a house. It is much less clear where he is compelled, as the tithe-distraining officer is, to distrain on agricultural land. The greatest difficulty is that a sheriff's officer who seizes goods under a fi. fa. and a County Court bailiff who seizes goods under the County Courts Act may remove them immediately to a place of safety during the five days which must elapse before a sale. The tithe-distraining officer has no such general power. There, are many things which he cannot remove at all, and there are others which be may not remove more than three miles or outside the parish.

The complications, my Lords, are so great that even during the present agitation distraining officers do not remove the goods at all but keep possession by remaining physically on the land, under police protection if necessary. There are, therefore, under this old system a very large number of difficulties and doubts which lead to friction. Other difficulties are that the law itself bristles with points of doubt. It is not clear, for instance, whether the law governing distress by a landlord is to be applied as it was in 1836 or as it is at the present day. Again, it was not clear until a very recent decision of the High Court whether furniture was distrainable for tithe.

So far I have dealt with cases where the lands are occupied by the owner. The present agitation has also affected cases where the lands are let to a tenant. As I have already pointed out, the remedy under Section 2, subsection (3), of the Act of 1891 is the appointment of a receiver of the rents and profits, but it is possible—I refrain from stating publicly how it is possible—to render this remedy ineffective. It has been done in some parts of the country. Great advantages will accrue if the tithe-owner is given an option of proceeding under the Act of 1891 or by an ordinary action in the High Court or County Court.

What are the advantages of proceeding by action? First of all may I put it on the side of the tithe-owners and the officials of the Courts? The procedure is well-known to practitioners and to the officers of the Courts. It can be applied with as little difficulty to the recovery of tithe rentcharge, as it applies to the recovery of a mortgage debt, and, which is perhaps more important, not at an excessive cost. The new procedure is exceedingly fair. The landowner has ample opportunity of putting up every defence open to him. If he has no defence the tithe-owner obtains an ordinary judgment against him which creates a personal debt enforceable in the ordinary way. It may be enforceable for instance under a fi. fa. from a County Court. There the question of what is distrainable is well known and no mistake can be made with regard to it. If there is organised opposition, as unfortunately takes place in many cases, the bailiff can remove the goods to a place of safety pending sale.

The proposal of the present Bill for the first time gives a remedy for the recovery of tithe against the person alleged to be liable to pay it. That is to say, instead of the remedy being merely against the land, tithe is for the first time treated as an ordinary debt and may be recovered in the County Court. As I have already pointed out, this will not affect at all the thousands of people who pay their tithes without any compulsion, and on the other hand, as far as those who do not pay their tithes are concerned, it is a far cheaper and less expensive process. Unfortunately, during this acute controversy there have been persons taking part whose zeal for the cause renders them somewhat heedless of the accuracy of their arguments. It is, for example, not accurate to say that under this Bill for the first time a person who has to pay tithes may be sent to prison if he refuses to do so. That is one of those dangerous half-truths which sometimes arise in a difficult controversy when feeling runs high. The real position is this: tithe will be placed in just the same position as an ordinary contract debt.

Supposing, for example, judgment is given against a man for £50 for tithe, it will not be true to say that if he does not pay the £50 he will go to prison. The result will be that execution may be issued against the man's goods and chattels for the amount of the judgment, and this will be done under the ordinary process of the Court and in the ordinary form of law, as it is done in tens of thousands of other just judgments for just debts. If, however, it is found that he has no goods and chattels upon which execution may be levied, the judgment creditor may take out a summons against his debtor for the amount of the judgment. The creditor will then have to prove—I emphasise that it is the creditor who must prove it—that the debtor has means, or since the judgment has had means, to pay the sum which has been judicially decided to be due from him and that he has refused or has neglected to pay it. In that event the Court may make an order for the payment of the debt, or for the payment of the debt by instalments, and decree that if the debtor does not pay it, he shall be committed to prison for a certain specified time. The reason for this is that the Court has found the money to be due, has ordered the debtor to pay it, and it has been proved that the debtor has the money to pay but has refused or neglected to do so, and therefore is treating the Court with contempt.

The new Bill does not propose to do away with the present right of proceeding against the land, but simply gives an alternative right to proceed against the person, so both rights will be in existence. It is impossible to prophesy whether there will be the same friction under the new procedure, should this Bill become an Act, as there was under the old procedure; but it may be asserted with confidence that there is much less opportunity of litigation, more certainty of recovery, and certainly less opportunity for friction.

Let me deal, if I may, very briefly—and I shall not detain your Lordships for more than two or three minutes longer—with the clauses themselves. The object of Clause 2 is to give tithe-owners an alternative remedy to that prescribed by the Tithe Act, 1891; and I beg your Lordships to remember this, that apart from any question of the maintenance of law and order, this Clause 2 is a vital part of the compromise represented by the Bill, as it is the only advantage which the tithe-owner gets—namely, the cheaper and more expeditious methods of obtaining his rights, For the concessions, pecuniary and otherwise, which he has to give under Clause 1. The reason why the alternative remedy is an advantage to the tithe-owner is that the violent agitation against the payment of tithe which now prevails in certain parts of the country is bringing the law in those districts into contempt. The older remedy worked tolerably well when tithe-payers behaved in a normal law-abiding fashion, but in the face of organised opposition it has not worked well. Experience has shown that during such violent agitations as we have recently witnessed—and this is a point which, standing here, I do desire to press home to your Lordships —the County Court cannot perform the tasks imposed upon it by the Act of 1891. A precedent for an alternative remedy in the case of tithe is to be found in the Extraordinary Tithe Redemption Act, 1886, Section 4, subsection (5).

It is perfectly true that this clause has been criticised on the ground that hitherto tithe rentcharge has been a charge or the land but not a personal debt of the owner or occupier. But why should it not be made one? Since 1891, the owner of the land has been the person liable to pay the tithe rentcharge. If the tithe-owner can ascertain who is the owner liable in respect of the tithe rentcharge issuing out of a particular piece of land in respect of a particular period, there seems to be no reason or requirement of natural justice why the owner should not be made to pay that debt—which, by the hypothesis upon which we are all discussing this matter, is a just debt—by the same procedure as if it were a mortgage debt or other civil contract or personal debt. The words at the beginning of the clause, "Notwithstanding anything in Section 67 of the Tithe Act, 1836, or Section 2 of the Tithe Act, 1891," are intended to make sure that if the tithe-owner chooses to proceed by action, the tithe rentcharge will become a personal debt. The two sections referred to each contain words which prevent tithe rentcharge becoming a personal debt.

One final thing. Clause 3, which I think has not been mentioned up to now, deals with Court fees. At present the Court fees are limited to a very low figure by the Schedule. Experience shows that with the modern value of money the expense thrown on the County Court far exceeds the fees allowed, and the effect of the clause is to allow the fees to be prescribed under Section 165 of the County Courts Act, 1888, which gives power to the Lord Chancellor from time to time, with the concurrence of the Treasury, to make orders prescribing what fees are to be paid. That is how the position stands legally, and I hope that your Lordships will be satisfied that by this new Bill no injustice is done to anybody, but rather that it enables just debts to be collected in a more expeditious and less expensive way.


My Lords, rising as a tithe-payer I would like, if it be thought not presumptuous on my part, to congratulate the noble Earl and His Majesty's Government on having made some effort to attack this thorny subject, because I have a strong feeling that they would very much rather have left it alone than have attacked it. I would also very much like to add my congratulations, if I may, on their having introduced it in your Lordships' House, because it seems to me that here we have far greater representation of both tithe-payers and tithe-owners than there is in another place. I render those congratulations the more readily because I regret to say that they begin there and there they end.

Since the question of tithe became acute, and every few months more acute, this problem had been considered by many bodies, and by none more carefully than by three which I shall name. I happen to belong, like others of your Lordships, to all three, but they are none the less reputable on that account. The first one is the Conservative Agricultural Parliamentary Committee. They no doubt were pressed on by their constituents in the various counties. The second is the National Farmers' Union, many of whose members are, of course, tithe-payers, but who also have as their concern the whole question of agriculture. The third, but by no means the least, is the Central Landowners' Association. I say advisedly that they are by no means the least, because it is sometimes forgotten that the people who pay tithe are the landowners, and I think that ought to be kept will in mind. I regret to say that it has sometimes seemed to me that there is no one who requires more reminding of that fact than His Majesty's Government. Those three bodies, working independently, came to two separate conclusions which were exactly the same. The first and most important conclusion they came to was that it was imperative that there should be an inquiry by an impartial Government Committee into the whole matter. As that Committee would naturally take time they also asked that some relief, through some alteration of Clause 8 of the Act of 1891, should take place, to give relief while that Committee was forming its opinion.

I may be asked why none of these bodies thought it better to have a policy of their own, and the reason was that they thought in the first place that as the crisis was a direct result of Parliamentary action, it was for Parliament to find the best method of putting it right, and, secondly, that none of these three bodies could get the evidence necessary to enable them to frame a remedy without running the great risk of doing a grave injustice. The first attitude of the Government, as I understand it from an answer given in another place, was that primarily this is a matter for negotiation between the two parties, and having seen that answer yet another body, the Central Council of Agriculture, tried to bring the tithe-payers and owners together for discussion, but Queen Anne's Bounty could not agree to such a meeting. At all events they said they could not agree to re-open what is described in some quarter as the 1925 settlement. I must deprecate the use of the word "settlement" in connection with the Act of 1925. I submit that "settlement" means one of two things. In the first place it means that the matter is finished and done with, and not open for rediscussion. The fact that we have this Bill before us now definitely proves that the matter is not settled in that sense. Otherwise, I take it, it means that the two parties have got together and after discussion have settled the matter between themselves. That never happened in 1925. Then there was a settlement between the Government and the tithe-owners, but the tithe-payers, through their representatives, opposed that settlement to the twelfth hour.

I would appeal to the noble Earl and to the Government, once again, that they should set up the Committee for which we have asked. Surely it is abundantly proved that there is need for such an inquiry. You have heard to-day from the most reverend Primate that over 3,700 cases have been settled by a charitable remission. I would say to your Lordships that in my part of the world, although there is gratitude for such charitable remission, the farmers are not in love with charity. They ask for what they think, rightly or wrongly, to be justice rather than charity. I cannot see why the Government do not set up this inquiry. As I have said, there is need for it. Everybody knows that the present state of the law is the result of piecemeal legislation. They know that the last two Acts, under which the law is now administered, were coloured by the false economics which occurred in the War period and directly afterwards, and I suggest that such an inquiry should be of a far-reaching nature. It should include an inquiry into the question of redemption of tithe. It should include the question of ability to pay, with regard to tithe, and I also suggest that it should include an inquiry into an easier method of collection.

I turn to the present Bill. It is, after all, no temporary measure that is asked for, but a measure of a very revolutionary nature. The noble Earl has said that it is a balanced Bill; that is to say, it gives jam and powder to the two parties, in what he judges to be a fair measure to each. The first clause represents the jam to the tithe-payer, and I would like for one moment to interpolate a protest against the drafting of Clause 1. As the noble Earl has said, this clause is to put two-fifths instead of two-thirds, as was the case in the Act of 1891. If your Lordships will turn to the Bill, at the bottom of page 1 and the top of page 2 you will see this. "Two-fifths" is never mentioned, but we find these words: …. where the sum becoming duo …. exceeds one-fifth of the annual value of those lands for the twelve months ending on the fifth day of April in the year in which the sum becomes due, the excess shall be irrecoverable …. Is it surprising that nine people out of ten, reading this Bill, have gained the impression that it was one-fifth and not two-fifths, and that even expert lawyers have gained a similar impression?


May I explain? Of course tithe is payable twice a year, and we were very anxious to get this measure into operation as soon as possible, and this is the easiest method of doing it.


The noble Earl says this is the easiest way. I am not a lawyer, but I am well aware, from experience of this House, that a Bill is considered to be well drafted just as far as it is incomprehensible to laymen. If that is so, then this Bill is well drafted. The object of this Bill has been stated by the noble Earl to be: (1), to do away with cases of the most real hardship; and (2), to prevent the law from being brought into contempt. With regard to Clause 1, I ask myself whether it will have that effect. I ask myself this, and I expect other noble Lords have asked themselves the same question: Why is it that during late years moderate men, reasonable men, who are not agitators or extremists, men who always used to pay their tithe, have now shown this grave reluctance to pay? Has any new factor occurred? I venture to suggest that if there is not a new factor there is a new realisation of a factor, and I believe it is at the bottom of the whole of this trouble. I think the factor is this: that people have now grasped the fact that many men are asked, and legally asked, to pay a charge or tax, whichever you like to call it, whereas they may not have the wherewithal to pay it, and that seems to be unfair.

I will give you two cases, and ask you to consider whether this new Bill is likely to remedy such cases. The first is the case of a landowner, the figures of whose estates have been lately put into my hands. The estate is about 4,000 acres, divided into two parts. The principal house is let, and so is the shooting. The result of ten years' accounts, not taking into account money lost in keeping land in cultivation, and not taking into account the tithe, is an average net loss of £300 per annum over the ten years. There is not a very large tithe on this land, not I think more than £500, but the fact is that the owner is asked to pay that £500 a year, whereas all he gets annually is a debit of £300.

That is a hard case, but there is a very much harder case, although I do not think for a moment that that case is by any means unique: that is the case of the owner-occupier who has been forced to buy his farm, usually much against his will, by the breaking up of an estate through the ruinous result of taxation and Death Duties. He has been forced to farm it and year by year he has lost his money. Probably his sons are working with him and getting no wages. Very likely he is, as are many of the farmers down my way—and the best men and the best farmers, too, among them—a Non- conformist. That may be said to have nothing to do with it, but it has this to do with it, that his conscience tells him that he has also got to subscribe to the upkeep of his own denomination. It is no fault of his that he has lost money, because it is a matter of common knowledge that the better a man has farmed—the more money he has spent, the more labour he has employed, the more crops he has produced—the more money he has lost. And it can be no surprise to your Lordships that such a man—and they exist in scores and hundreds—when asked to pay tithe out of his losses regards that as a gross injustice.

I will take Clause 2 for one moment. That is the revolutionary change—and it is no less than a revolutionary change—which makes tithe a personal liability. I admit, we must all admit, that there are bad cases, and that there is a need that the law should be tidied. But I do not think that as yet it has been made out by anybody that there is need for such a revolutionary change as this. I wish to make three small points in connection with this clause. The first is that, whereas Clause 1 only applies to a limited number of tithe-payers, Clause 2 applies to the whole body of them. And with regard to this clause I would ask the noble Earl whether he would tell me at some time if I am right or not in thinking that Clause 2 is retrospective, whereas Clause 1 is not. Again with regard to this, the old method of recovery was limited to two years. So far as I understand it—and again I hope that later the noble Earl will be able to give me an answer on this—I gather that in regard to Clause 2 there is no such limit. Thirdly, your Lordships are asked under this clause to make it legal that a man who has paid his tithe may in certain cases be put into prison because his neighbour has not. I admit it is unlikely to happen, but it is legally possible to happen, and I do not think we ought to be asked to pass any measure which contains even such a possibility as that.

There is one thing which I think is more serious than these slight criticisms I have made, and it is this—and I say it with all seriousness—that it is my belief that, at all events in my part of the country, the first man who is put into prison over the non-payment of tithe will raise such a storm that it will damage the prestige of my and our Church for a generation. My Lords, with all the power that I have I would appeal to the noble Earl and the Government to change their minds and to set up this impartial inquiry of the best men they can find to go into the whole question. While that inquiry is in progress I would ask them to withdraw Clause 2 of this Bill. I was indeed relieved and pleased to hear the most reverend Primate say that he did not press for Clause 2. It seems to me that, if he does not press it, the Government might well take that course; but if the Government feel that that would unbalance the Bill—which, in my judgment, is unbalanced now—then I seriously trust that they will withdraw it.


My Lords, by the introduction of this short measure the Government have expressed their opinion that once again it is necessary for the Legislature to interfere in the incidence of tithe, and in Clause 1 they have laid before your Lordships proposals for a change in this incidence. It is plain that there must be three angles of approach to Clause 1. There are, and there will continue to be, many who will hold that, tithe being what it is, any interference with its incidence is also a gross and uncalled for interference with the rights of property, that no interference is called for, and that such interference ought to be resisted. There are, and there will continue to be, others who will hold that the interference suggested by His Majesty's Government will affect so few that it will only touch the fringe of a great question, that at best it will be wholly inadequate, and that great pressure should be brought to bear for a measure of wider scope. And there will again be others who will hope—perhaps hope is all that they will have in that direction—that a compromise has been found which will satisfy both parties. It occurs to me that so much can he said, and can rightly be said, in favour of at any rate two of these angles of approach, that if this Bill were to get into Committee debates should—and will of course—be devoted to them.

But of do not propose, although of course I have my own views on the subject, to detain your Lordships even for a moment in discussing Clause 1 of the Bill. What I should like to do is to devote such time as I have at my disposal to a discussion of Clause 2, and to supplement, if in any way I can, what fell from the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, when he expressed such grave doubts as to the possible operation of that clause. We all know of the unfortunate incidents that have occurred arising out of distraints which have had to be levied on certain reluctant tithe-payers in certain parts of England. It has brought the Bounty into some disrepute just as it has brought the parties who have taken an active part in resisting distraint into disrepute. But the remedy which is proposed is revolutionary in the highest degree. In 1836 there was passed into law by the wisdom of Parliament an Act which transferred the tithe from the occupier to the owner. Previous to that date, as we all know, tithe was collected in kind and since that date, as we also all know, tithe has been collected in cash. That was a revolutionary change, but at least tithe still remained firmly linked to the land. Because in a few parts of England a few people have resisted the collection of their goods in lieu of tithes we are asked to agree to a fundamental change in the whole law of tithe.

May I remind your Lordships that hitherto, tithe being attached to the ownership of land and not to the individual, it mattered nothing whether that individual was a God-fearing Christian or whether he worshipped a ju-ju. His liability to tithe arose out of his ownership of the land, and although I am not going so far as to say that persons have never made religious objections to the payment of tithe, they at any rate have not come prominently to public notice, because the individual has felt that no such objection could be sustained. It is the land which has paid the tithe and not the individual. With this proposed change in the law, conceive what would happen. The individual would become liable in his own person for the payment of what has been described as a just debt. The word "just" is an extremely important word, and I propose a little later to refer to it. He will be called upon to pay what the law says is a just debt, but he will not necessarily feel that the debt is just, and if he happens to be a person holding strong religious beliefs contrary to those of the Church of England he will unquestionably feel that the debt is not just. So long as tithe was attached to his land he had no locus standi, but the instant it is attached to himself then his personality and his individual beliefs rightly have free play.

Do we in these days of religious tolerance desire to stir up the class of religious strife which is contained in essence in Clause 2 of this Bill? With the greatest respect to whoever may have first thought of this clause—and happily I do not know —I would say that no man has ever suggested a greater disservice to the Church of England. There are parts of England —I happen to live not very far from them myself—which are notorious (or shall we say famous?) in history for always having held an independent view. There was once a ship called the "Mayflower." There may be once again another. Is it to be supposed that the Churches strongly represented in those parts of England are going to accept as just a personal liability to support the Church of England? It is a very grave risk, so grave a risk that I venture to advise this House that we cannot afford to take it. My noble friend Lord Cranworth did say that the first man thrown into prison for failing to pay his tithes would do more damage to the Church of England than any other thing done for a century. It will do more than that: it will intensify the very thing that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack desires to see improved. It will be more conducive to the upsetting of law and order in this country than a hundred times the number of distraints to which the noble Viscount so reasonably objects. Do we want to stir up the class of religious strife which existed in the time of the Gordon Riots? It is not impossible. There is not one amongst us who would wish religious feeling to be dead in ourselves. It is good that people should hold strong religious beliefs, but you do not wish to bring them to the surface if you have any regard for law and order. This Bill will do that. On those grounds I hold that Clause 2 of this Bill is catastrophically dangerous.

I shall not stress that point further; but there is another point. There are in this House a majority who desire to see a National Government returned to power again when the time comes for it to face the suffrages of the democracy. Is it necessary that we should commit political suicide? Is it not reasonable that the Government should bear in mind that in such circumstances others will suffer besides themselves? Is it desirable to raise up against the National Government a host of enemies among those who are now its natural friends? If anyone has any doubt as to the view which rural constituencies take of Clause 2 of this Bill, I should advise him to take a journey and he will come back disillusioned. Therefore on two grounds—the lesser ground of political expediency, the far greater ground of continued religious tolerance and the avoidance of disorder — I suggest to your Lordships that this Bill cannot be permitted to pass into law with Clause 2 attached to it. I hold that view so strongly that unless the Government are able to say from that Bench that they do not propose to press Clause 2, or that they prefer rather to withdraw the Bill altogether, then if I can get another Teller I shall resist the passage of this Bill through its Second Reading.

What is the alternative of this Bill? I submit that it is an inquiry. It is perfectly reasonable for every man to be fearful of an inquiry and to hope that the Act of 1925 may in time be regarded as a final settlement. I would hope so myself. But those who cherish that hope forget that in the last decade the land of England has passed into a myriad hands, and that a vast number of these owners of the land of England have asked for an inquiry. Whether this inquiry resulted in measures which went against them or not, it is an inquiry which they mean to have, and no amount of temporising legislation will in any way deter them from pressing for that inquiry. Are there no grounds for an inquiry other than those which spring immediately to the eye? I would like to mention two or three not in the least degree the subject of controversy which should terrify no one in granting an inquiry.

The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and I think other noble Lords, mentioned the fact that the tithe rentcharge is now based upon the Commutation Act of 1836. I mentioned just now that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and others referred to "just" debts. If the settlement of 1836 is just to-day, the debt is just. If the settlement of 1836 has ceased to be just, the debt itself can no longer be justified. No matter what succeeding legislation there has been, it is the Act of 1836 which purported to fix for all time the basis upon which the calculation is made on which tithe is paid. Eighteen hundred and thirty-six is nearly one hundred years ago. Is it to be said that the value of the produce of a certain acre of land in 1836 is any criterion of the value of the product of the same acre of land in 1934? Obviously it is not so. I have not the remotest idea as to whether the Church would benefit or the Church would lose by any Commutation Act; I might hope the Church would largely gain; but the very fact that tithe is now assessed and paid on a valuation of one hundred years ago is in itself sufficient to fortify any who desire an inquiry as to whether tithe is now a just debt. In 1836 the value of produce was dependent, as it is to-day, upon the costs of production. In 1836 the costs of production were nominal. In 1936 the costs of production are overwhelming; in 1836 it was hardly necessary to consider them. To-day they are an essential factor in the whole matter.

Another point as to why art inquiry is at least desirable. As your Lordships know the impropriate tithe—that is tithe payable to laymen and to corporations—was fixed under the 1925 Act at £105 per centum, but no compulsory redemption is attached to that. That £105 per centum, payable in impropriate tithe, was fixed for ever. Is it possible to hold that £105 per centum should always and for ever be paid to the corporations which own tithe, without any relation whatever to the movement of world prices in agricultural produce? It does not touch the Church, but it affects at least one quarter of the tithe. It is true, as has been pointed out in this House, that tithe-owners suffered many restrictions during the period of and following the War, but the tithe has been fixed at £105 for ever, and for ever is a long, long time to set against the five or six years in which the payment of tithe was restricted. Can it be contended that this is not at least a subject fur inquiry?

One more point. The alteration in the interest value of money must clearly make a fundamental difference in the accumulation of funds being set aside by the Bounty for the purpose of paying to the Church in eighty-five years from 1925 the same sum in tithe as it was receiving in 1925. The fluctuations in the value of money must have an immense bearing upon the accumulations in that Fund. Would not the Bounty itself be well advised to have an inquiry in which they may be able perhaps to adjust their own financial arrangements to suit not themselves but the generations of clergy which are to come? Is it necessarily right that the incumbent in 1934 should be receiving too much in order that the incumbent of 2010 should receive too little? That is very likely to happen. That, again, is clearly a subject for inquiry. I have detained your Lordships too long, and I do not propose to say any more on this subject, but I did wish to point out, if I was able, to the Government that the call for an inquiry has solid foundation. There is real occasion for an inquiry, and I should deeply regret that the destruction, the withdrawal, the emasculation of this measure should in any way interfere with the Government pressing on in due course with an inquiry that is overdue.

But, meantime, we are confronted with this Bill. I refer only for a moment to what I have already said, and that is that so strongly do I feel the extreme danger of the future effects of Clause 2, both in respect of law and order and upon the Church of England, and so greatly do I fear its effects upon the political adhesions of the people who have hitherto supported the National Government, that, though defeat or withdrawal may be a comfortless alternative for the Government to consider, I would regard it as an infinitely more attractive alternative than the dreadful consequences which will ensue from passing this measure into law in the form in which it now stands.


My Lords, we have just listened to two very powerful appeals for an inquiry in order that the country and the Government should be in a position to deal with certain injustices which have been referred to. I should like to support that appeal, and for the reason that there is another set of injustices to which no reference has been made. If this Bill were to come to Committee I should propose to try and rectify those injustices by moving Amendments. I think it would be only courteous to your Lordships and the Government to indicate broadly the grievance which I think has not been dealt with in the Bill. I accept the fact mentioned by the right reverend Primate that there is property in tithe. I accept also the statement by the noble Earl in introducing the Bill that its object is to rectify injustices. I hope, accordingly, that when I move my Amendment I shall receive his support.

I wish to refer to the injustice to the man who is compelled to pay tithe and yet who finds himself, or may find himself, in the position of being prevented by law from making the best use of his land in order to earn money to pay that tithe. I am not dealing with an imaginary or hypothetical case, as I shall indicate presently by quoting an illustration. When a man buys property he takes certain facts into consideration. He estimates, on the one hand, the fixed charges which he may have to meet, the rates which he may have to pay, the tithe which he may have to pay, and any other charges that may attach to the land; and, on the other side, he looks into the use which may be made of that land, the use which is being made of it at the moment, the use which has been made of it in the past, and the use which he may make of it in the future. Then, after balancing those things, he arrives at what he considers to be a fair price for that land.

An entirely new principle is now hung over our heads, and it is this. It is possible for certain orders and schemes under two Acts recently passed—Marketing Acts—to have the force of law, which will prevent men using their land for growing specific crops or for agricultural purposes. Certain owners of land, or certain cultivators, will be allowed to go in for particular branches of agriculture and make profits thereby. Other owners or cultivators of land will be prevented from doing so; it will be illegal for them to use their land for the same branch of agriculture; and yet, unless we deal with that in this Bill, they will get no remission of tithe. I suggest to your Lordships that if by Act of Parliament we take away part of the value of a man's land it will be a monstrous injustice if we do not at the same time take steps to reduce the fixed charges which he is compelled to pay.

Let me quote quite briefly only one illustration to show that I am not dealing with wild, imaginary, hypothetical cases. I have in mind the case of a man who bought two farms. On the one he has to pay tithe at the rate of 10s. an acre. On the other, he has to pay tithe at the rate of 20s. an acre. That tithe is based on the value of the land when it was used for growing hops. It is based also on the profits which might be earned by growing hops in the future. At the present moment the owner of that farm has decided not to exercise the right of growing hops on that land. He has decided to do that for a short period of years. He finds himself in the position of being compelled to pay this tithe, and yet he is likely to be prohibited from growing the crop on the growth of which tithe was fixed and for which the land is eminently suited. It seems to me that if we allow legislation of this sort to deprive a man of property, to reduce the value of his property, to make it illegal for him to grow the kind of crop which he used to grow in the past but which he ceased to grow merely for a short time, we must provide for reducing the fixed charge which he has to pay on the land. The noble Earl in introducing this Bill said the object of the Government was to remedy hard cases. I hope very much that the Government will find it possible to support an Amendment which I will introduce in Committee, if the Bill goes to Committee, to try to remedy this manifest injustice. I have only referred to one particular crop, but exactly the same prohibitive powers could be used in other branches of agriculture.

There is another type of injustice to. which I shall not refer in any detail and that is the case of a man who can be fined for cultivating land for a particular purpose. There again it seems to me that there is a case for remission of tithe. I notice that in a letter to The Times a few days ago Mr. Middleton, who is Chairman of the Tithe Committee of Queen Anne's Bounty, referred to the fact that certain Statutes recently passed —the Marketing Acts and the Sugar Beet Subsidy Act and others—were going to make it possible for certain farmers or landowners to make more profit and that they would thereby be put in a position to pay tithe. But that argument cuts both ways. If some Statutes make it more difficult for owners of land to earn profit in order to pay tithe it seems to me that we have got to meet those hard cases somehow or other. It would be sheer injustice to forbid a man to make the best use of his land in order to earn profit with which to pay tithe and, at the same time, to compel him to pay the full tithe which he has paid in the past when he was able to make free use of his land.


My Lords, I will not detain the House very long at this time of the evening, but I should like to say a few words in reference to two or three speeches which have been made. The general case from the point of view of the Bishops with respect to this Bill has been put by the most reverend Primate so ably and so fully that there is very little of a general nature to be said in addition. One or two criticisms made against the Bill may, I think, be answered. There is, for example, the question whether or no hindrance to an inquiry was put forward by Queen Anne's Bounty, and I think that ought to be a little more carefully considered by your Lordships. Queen Anne's Bounty have not said that they would stand out against an inquiry, but they did not themselves see any reason for holding one. One reason is that they think that all the relevant facts are known and that it is extremely doubtful whether an inquiry would bring out facts Of a relevant character. Moreover, it is perfectly certain that an inquiry would hold up the settlement of the present difficult position for a considerable time. They cannot shut their eyes to the difficulty of which they have been conscious for the last two or three years. It is obviously important that that difficulty, if it can be settled, should be settled. But if there were air inquiry it might last two or three years, because Governmental inquiries as a rule are not very speedy, and there would be great encouragement to those who find that their present methods have had some effect on the Government to continue those methods and to exercise what pressure they could in the hope that the inquiry would end by giving them the kind of answer they would like.

A number of instances of hardship were quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth. Our view is most certainly that we ought—and we have done our best in every case—to meet them. Then it was said that what is wanted is not charitable treatment but justice. It may be on that ground that the Government felt that they ought to bring in a Bill of this sort. But one effect of the Bill will be not only that those persons who are in a position of great difficulty would benefit by it, but that persons who may possibly be quite well able to pay their obligations will get some benefit, and the feeling that we have is that it is really not necessary to do that. However, no doubt the Government have thought out that matter. There are certain figures which do not seem to show that farming is in any such desperate straits all over as has been suggested. The Actual produce from the land during last year was stated as being of the value of £200,000,000. The actual profits made by farming were £24,000,000. When you remember that £3,000,000 is the whole of the tithe burden —ecclesiastical tithe and other tithe—it does not seem that the state of agriculture is so distressed that it really cannot hold its head above water unless it gets relief from that £3,000,000, or half of that sum, or a part of it. The actual relief given would, I suppose, even in the minds of those most sanguine who ask for it, not be more than 50 per cent.

What is the effect going to be when spread over the whole agricultural industry of remitting £1,500,000 on produce of £200,000,000 and on a total income, on which Income Tax is paid, of £24,000,000? It does not seem that the case is really so hard that you must say that unless you give this relief farming is ready to come to an end. The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, said that there must be some new factor which resulted in this tithe agitation. I think there is a new factor. It is stabilisation. Tithe has no relation to profit in the ordinary sense of profit and has not had since 1836, if not before then. It is a charge upon production. The tithe-owner was entitled to his tenth whether any profits were made or not. Nor is it at the present time related to production, because when tithe was commuted in 1836 it was definitely on the understanding that it should be divorced from the prosperity of agriculture. It was attached to wheat, oats and barley, and not for the benefit of the tithe-payer. It was done in the supposed interest of the tithe-owner, because it was thought that money was the fluctuating thing and that wheat, oats and barley would be stable whatever happened, and therefore that if you gave to the tithe-owner the equivalent of so much wheat and oats and barley, you would secure to him a permanent income in the future, whereas if you gave him gold you very likely would not. The position of gold at the present moment is a little unsettled, but we should probably agree to-day that, although money has fallen in value, we should not wish to substitute for it wheat and oats and barley. But that was the idea—to give the tithe-owner something the value of which would be stable.

Then of course it was attached to price; it went up and down as the price of those things went up and down. When stabilisation came that ceased; but surely this deserves consideration, that the effect of stabilisation is to fix a price which in hard times may press very severely upon the tithe-payer, but also to fix a price which in better times will be to his advantage; and at all times the tithe-owner ought to be able to rely upon the price. If you are not going to give him the benefit of a rise in price when things are going well, you ought to secure him against a fall in price when things are going badly; and I cannot see the force of the argument that because tithe sometimes has to be paid out of capital, therefore it ought not to be payable. What is capital but profits which have been made in previous years which the owner puts into his lands? And he has made those profits because the tithe is stabilised at a figure which enables him to make them. That stabilised figure, therefore, surely ought to be reliable whatever the future may be.

I should like to say just one word about Clause 2 which has been referred to, as to the method of recovery. The most reverend Primate himself said that we were not pressing for this, but if we are to accept with as good a grace as we can the lower tithe, the effect of which will certainly be very serious in many cases, there ought to be some better guarantee than we have at present that the tithe which is due can be collected. It is very easy to say, as people are sometimes disposed to say, that Christian men ought to look at this matter in a charitable and Christian spirit, but I am not aware that the possession of a Christian spirit should compel a trustee, who is a trustee for somebody else, easily to let go his income, and not do his best to enforce the collection of it. Undoubtedly a great deal of prejudice is brought in. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, spoke about cases in which religious prejudice might be imported. Surely the prejudice exists at present, and exists very much to the detriment of the tithe-owner. A case was brought to my notice not very long ago in which a farm was sold a few years ago on this footing: £13,000 tithe free, or £10,000 with the tithe obligation; and there was a tithe of £150 a year upon it. The purchaser was a Nonconformist. He said that he would pay the £10,000 and pay the tithe. He has been very vigorous in his protest against being required to pay tithe to support a Church to which he does not belong. He does not realise that he has put into his own pocket £3,000 which belongs to somebody else if he does not pay the £150 a year.

That is really the position; and much as we deplore these differences between us, I cannot see that we need hesitate to go forward on what we feel to be a just and right course, because we are afraid of a certain amount of religious prejudice which may be excited against us. I do not think that it is likely ever to be carried far if it is evident that in our action we are endeavouring to be just, and certainly sympathetic as far as we can with those who suffer. I am perfectly confident of this, that Queen Anne's Bounty has never taken a step to extort money from a man when it is satisfied that he cannot pay, or to extort money unless it has evidence that the man is in a position to pay. The inquiries which are made by the representatives of the Bounty are of the most searching and careful character, and I am quite prepared to say on behalf of the Bounty that they have never themselves pressed for payment of any tithe unless they had some evidence that the tithe-payer was in a position to pay


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the eloquent and powerful speeches which have been made against the acceptance of this Bill, but I should have been more deeply moved had a constructive alternative proposal been submitted to the House. It is suggested that no action be taken, that an inquiry should be held. I think we are all aware where that would lead us: it would mean that the intention of this Bill would be defeated. The intention of this Bill is to deal, and to deal promptly, with cases of hardship, and if the course which has been suggested, and that course alone, were pursued, it would mean that those hardships—and there are undoubted cases of hardship—would continue. The need of this Bill is due directly and solely, in my humble judgment, to the depression which has overtaken agriculture. That has led in its turn to an agitation against the payment of tithe, and it has led to organised obstruction to the administration of the law and to the recovery of tithe rentcharge. I venture to suggest that there would have been no agitation had it been possible to place agriculture on a prosperous basis.

When considering the Bill I think we must bear in mind that there are those—and perhaps a considerable number—who frankly challenge the right of the tithe-owner to receive tithe, and who do not try in any way to conceal the fact that in their judgment tithe should be abolished. Really they are in fact ready to challenge, and are only too anxious to challenge, the rights of property. In fact, we heard a speech this afternoon from the Benches opposite to that effect; the opinion of the noble Lord who spoke was that there was no right of property in land and there was no right in tithe. It was argued that tithe is not properly payable and that it might well be expropriated. I venture to suggest that the title of the tithe owner is as absolute and as good a title as the title of the land-owner. I also suggest that when land has been sold at all recently, full information has been available and probably has been given to the prospective purchaser before be bought the land, and that he bought the land, which he knew was subject perhaps to a drainage tax and tithe and other charges of that nature, feeling that it would be a good investment for him to make. Therefore I venture to suggest that it is unfair for him to contend or to argue that tithe is not properly payable now that agricultural prices have fallen.

Those who criticise the collection of tithe might equally well criticise the collection of mortgage interest or ground rent or any other charge upon property. There would be no greater justice in repudiating those payments than there is in repudiating the payment of tithe. At the same time I suggest that there are cases for relief where tithe is charged at a high rent per acre as compared with the annual value of the land at the present time; but I feel that this Bill makes provision to meet those cases. On the other hand, it seems to me rather hard on the tithe-owner that he should be requested, and repeatedly requested at short intervals of time, to make sacrifice after sacrifice. In 1918 he forgave some of his rights; in 1925, more of his rights; and this year he is asked to make a still further sacrifice. The proposal in the Bill goes a long way towards meeting the suggestions which were put forward by the National Farmers' Union and in another place by the Conservative Agricultural Committee, who suggested that an Amendment should be made in the Tithe Acts on the lines incorporated in this Bill. It is true that both those bodies also asked for an inquiry into the 1918 and 1925 legislation. Nevertheless, I can quite see the reluctance of the Government of the day to open the tithe question by means of an inquiry, when we consider for a moment the political and religious issues which are involved and the very small assistance which such an inquiry could really give to the agriculturists.

Reference was made to the possibility of a farmer, an owner-occupier, being incarcerated because his neighbour had not paid his tithe. It is true that as the Bill stands, where tithe has not been apportioned that could take place, but so far as I am aware the remedy is to seek apportionment at once, and then that situation could not possibly occur. Moreover, there is the safeguard that the County Court Judge would not take action in such a case. If we assume that the tithe-owner's title is good, that it is a charge which is properly payable by the landowner, and if we assume that reasonable remission is given in hard cases, then I do not see why the tithe-owner should be prevented from recovering his debts and why they should not be recovered by a modern procedure applicable to other debts, that is, without expense and without delay. I believe that by moderate and unprejudiced people this Bill will be welcomed. It will be welcomed because it gives relief in hard cases and provides modern machinery for recovery, and what is still more important it helps to check future attempts at confiscation of property and rights in tithe. As to the measure of relief contained in the Bill that is clearly a controversial matter which no doubt can be settled upstairs in Committee. I venture to support the Bill and trust that it will receive the support of your Lordships.


My Lords, the Government have acknowledged quite clearly that this Bill is a compromise measure and, being a compromise, as is to be expected under such circumstances it naturally does not find very warm support. The most reverend Primate has said that Queen Anne's Bounty would suffer severely from the substitution of two-fifths for two-thirds, and although he said he was prepared to agree with it he made it clear that it will entail a very great sacrifice on many incumbents of parishes who are already in great financial difficulties. On the other side we have had two most powerful speeches from my noble friends Lord Hastings and Lord Cranworth. Indeed they criticised severely both parts of the Bill. Lord Hastings suggested, as did also Lord Cranworth, that an inquiry was essential. I have listened very carefully to what both those noble Lords have said and their reasons for pressing for such an inquiry. It is the view of the Government that all the facts in regard to tithe are in the possession of the Government and they consider that nothing could be made clear by an inquiry which is not already known to the Government at the present time.

Lord Hastings suggested that if the Act of 1836 was unfair then everything which occurred subsequently in regard to tithe was unfair also, or might be unfair. He then went on to say that of course the cost of production in 1836 was very different from what it is to-day. I agree with him that this Bill has nothing to do with the tithe question of 1836. He wants to alter the whole incidence of tithe since 1836. He referred to the cost of production, but that has never had anything to do with tithe. Tithe prior to 1836, as I understand it, was one-tenth of the total production of the land, whether corn, meat, poultry or other products.


I am sorry to interrupt, but I should be very sorry that it should go down that I had in any way criticised Clause 1 of the Bill. I left that entirely open and endeavoured to concentrate everything I said upon Clause 2 and then suggested one or two reasons why I thought an inquiry was desirable. I have an entirely open mind with regard to Clause 1. I do not wish either to criticise or condemn or praise it.


I understood that the noble Lord did not criticise Clause 1 but I understood him to press for an inquiry. Now, my Lords, passing on, from 1836, as Lord De La Warr has pointed out, tithe ceased to be related to the actual production of the land. It was merely fixed as a definite charge upon the land. In regard to that I would point out that of course tithe has been stabilised a very long time now. My noble friend said it would be impossible to get any figure which could be agreed on in perpetuity, but tithe rentcharge put upon the land in 1836 was based in perpetuity, but varied according to the value of corn. What he proposed, as I understand it, is that the whole question should be re-opened and tithe assessed on something entirely different, not connected with the production of the land as it was prior to 1836. I venture to suggest that 1836 is practically a century ago, that all land has changed hands either by inheritance or purchase since that date, and that in every case the charge upon the land which was laid in 1836 by a tithe rentcharge is a charge which every person holding the land has had to meet from the time that the land came into his possession. I suggest that to change that now is either to increase the burden on that land or to give the owner a gift by reducing the charge on the land. I think your Lordships will agree that, either way, that would be unfair and that we must stand by the Act of 1836.

In 1891 the Government of the day felt that the charges on land were such that it was hardly fair to ask the tithe-payer to find as much as he was then being asked. The year 1891 came after the hungry 'eighties and for that reason the tithe rentcharge was reduced at that date. Again at the present time all our sympathies are with those who have to pay this tithe. But we have to be fair in this matter, and that is what the Government are endeavouring to be. Supposing there were an inquiry, what change would this make? None of us can foresee the course of prices. The Government hope, and I think have reason to hope, that prices will rise. Supposing that prices remain as they are to-day. Suppose we take the price of wheat at its guaranteed price of 45s. a quarter and the prices that have been in operation during the past seven years in regard to wheat, barley and oats—which, as your Lordships know, is the basis on which tithe is settled. If you take those seven-year corn averages, your Lordships will find that the producer, with the help of the wheat subsidy, would be paying at par value this year £90.

Supposing that the Committee of Inquiry say: "Let the tithe be assessed at the annual value of the corn prices," and it should come down to £90 instead of£1O5. What effect will that have on farming? Let me give your Lordships a case. Take the case of a farmer owning 300 acres of land. The tithe rentcharge is 3s. 6d. an acre—and that is the average charge throughout England and Wales for land liable to tithe—the amount that the farmer would be required to pay would be £7 10s. per annum less than he pays at present. If any of us could say that the difference between success and failure is £7 10s. on a 300-acre farm we should be much more satisfied than We are at present. Therefore, do not let us get an exaggerated idea of what this tithe question means.

Several noble Lords have referred to the reason for the recent agitation, and the right reverend Prelate who spoke has suggested that the new factor which was the cause of these troubles was stabilisation. I would put it in a different way. I do not think it is stabilisation of tithe which is responsible for the difficulties, but the great variation in prices. It is the enormous fall in prices over a very short period of years that has caused the owner-occupier to say: "This is no longer fair." Our memories are short and we forget that if it had not been for the Acts of 1918 and 1925 every tithe-payer would have been paying a very much larger sum than he has done in recent years, and all that we are thinking about is the actual effect of the fall in prices in regard to tithe at this moment. Surely, we cannot take just one year or even the present moment and have an inquiry in regard to that, and alter the whole incidence of tithe.

Let me remind your Lordships that in 1925 when the Government took a great deal of evidence on this matter and consulted every kind of authority, Mr. J. M. Keynes, whose name, after all, is by no means unknown to us, suggested that the right basis of tithe was not £105 but £127. What chance should we have of getting a better opinion in these days than we had in 1925? Everybody will agree that at this moment the question of prices is one of great difficulty. Therefore all we have been able to do is to suggest that, where tithe is high in comparison with the annual value of land, that tithe should be reduced until it comes out at two-fifths of the annual value, instead of two-thirds. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, made a point in regard to the alteration of crops. That is a matter which we can deal with much more easily in Committee, but it is obvious that if, say, a hop crop comes to an end, presumably the value of that land goes down, and that is shown by the Schedule B assessment and the tithe will fall with it.

As regards the other side of the question, in which my noble friend Lord Hastings was particularly concerned, if he lived in what I consider to be the best county in England, Kent, he would find that there is another kind of tithe which has for a very long time been a personal liability on the tithe-payer—extraordinary tithe. Now, extraordinary tithe was a rentcharge which was commuted by the Act of 1886 to a fixed and permanent charge, and was not made liable to any variation of any kind. The total amount payable in England and Wales still is £18,500. That tithe rentcharge is recoverable in the High Court and the County Courts, and I do not think my noble friend ever heard of a single case where anybody has made objection that that charge is a personal charge and not only a charge upon the land. So smoothly has the matter gone that I do not think my noble friend had any knowledge of extraordinary tithe.

But the Government have a strong reason for proposing Clause 2 of this Bill. We, in this country, are perhaps the most law-abiding people in the world, but here we have quite a number of cases where the law has been brought into disrepute and, indeed, into contempt. Can we really allow legislation to remain on the Statute Book which allows an increasing number of these people—because they are increasing each year and, indeed, each month—to go on defying the law and leave the law as it stands? All that is really being proposed is this, that in view of the fact that the tithe-payer is getting considerable advantage out of Clause 1, the tithe-owner should receive some consideration under Clause 2 by having a modern method of collecting a debt instead of a very antiquated one. After all, whom is this going to affect? My noble friend thinks people will go to the stake because they are asked to pay tithe. All that they have to do is to get rid of their land. That, I think, he will probably tell me, is not a very easy matter in these days, but at any rate I dare say it can be given away by my noble friend if his feelings on tithe rentcharge are as strong as that.

My noble friend Lord Cranworth took one case as a typical case, that of an owner-occupier who had lost a great deal of money in farming, as many of us have, and then found himself faced with this tithe rentcharge, and he was put in an extremely difficult position. But supposing there had been no tithe rentcharge on that land, supposing it had been redeemed. Obviously when he bought that farm he would have had to pay the capitalised value of that tithe rentcharge in his purchase price. My noble friend would say that he would not have had the money to do it, but he would have had to raise it by a mortgage. Instead of paying tithe rentcharge annually he would have been paying interest on his mortgage. Therefore there is no difference either in one case or the other, except that, in the case of the mortgage, he would probably be paying a higher rate of interest on his capital than in fact he does in the tithe rentcharge leviable on the land.

I think the most reverend Primate, and certainly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ipswich referred to the way in which Queen Anne's Bounty deals with hard cases. There was a question asked in another place yesterday as to the number of cases of tithe hardship which had been settled by the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty in the last year and how many cases are still before the Governors awaiting settlement. This is the reply that was given. I think your Lordships will realise how extremely wide-minded and generous the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty are in dealing with these hard cases: During the year ended 31st March, 1934, a sum of £37,426 was remitted by the Bounty to 3,142 individual tithe-payers, the total tithe rentcharge involved in those cases being £195,849. The number of similar cases which are now being considered by the Governors is 1,365, the amount of the tithe rentcharge involved being approximately £80,000. In the great majority of these cases the Governors have already offered a concession. I submit that, the Governors acting as they do, nobody is going to be brought before the County Court when the Governors are satisfied he is making a reasonable attempt to pay this charge which is levied on the land in his possession. Action will only be taken in those cases where people refuse to pay because, perhaps, they are opposed to the Church of England, because, perhaps, they think this charge represents the difference between profit and loss on their farms. There are people who in some cases are in a position to pay, and the reason why many straightforward, honest people, as my noble friend Lord Cranworth described them, are now refusing is that they had been misled in some cases by agitation.


The people I said were honest, decent people are people who do not pay because they have not any money.


Then I imagine they will be dealt with as the Governors do deal with them, by considering such cases with the utmost sympathy and consideration. They are not the people who will appear before the County Court. I submit that in this extremely difficult case the Government are trying to hold the balance fairly between tithe-owners and tithe-payers. We feel it is essential to assist tithe-payers who are in great difficulties, and we have attempted to be fair between them and the tithe-owners. We are endeavouring to modernise the law in regard to the method of recovery, and to see that it is obeyed as the law in England normally is obeyed. Therefore I submit we have been justified in bringing this Bill before your Lordships' House, and I venture to hope your Lordships will now support its Second Reading.

On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 45; Not-Contents, 18.

Canterbury, L. Abp. Elibank, V. Hindlip, L.
Hailsham, V. Howard of Glossop, L.
Sankey, V. (L. Chancellor.) Halifax, V. Kinnaird, L.
Knutsford, V. Luke, L.
Bath, M. Ullswater, V. Marks, L.
Bristol, M. Merrivale, L.
St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, L. Bp. Moyne, L.
De La Warr, E. Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)
Dudley, E. Salisbury, L. Bp. Rankeillour, L.
Feversham, E. Remnant, L.
Lucan, E.[Teller.] Amulree, L. Rennell, L.
Malmesbury, E. Bingley, L. Rochester, L.
Plymouth, E. Cornwallis, L. Rockley, L.
Selborne, E. Daryngton, L. Stonehaven, L.
Stanhope, E. Eltisley, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Vane, E.(M. Londonderry.) Ernle, L.
Gage, L. (V.Gage.) [Teller.] Templemore, L.
Cecil of Chelwood, V. Harris, L.
Reading, M. Conway of Allington, L. Melechett, L.
Cranworth, L. [Teller.] O'Hagan, L.
Balfour, E. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Iddesleigh, E. Hastilngs, L. [Teller.] Sanderson, L.
Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.) Stanmore, L.
Carrington, L. Ker, L. (M. Lothian.) Strabolgi, L.
Marley, L. Trent, L.

Resolved in the affirmative and Bill read 2a accordingly.