§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, my attention has been drawn, as has doubtless that of other of your Lordships, to a statement in that usually well-informed paper, The Times, with regard to the Tithe Bill. As I have still a Question on the Paper with regard to tithes, and as it is a matter of very deep importance to the part of the country from which I come, I venture to ask if the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House has by any chance any statement which he would be prepared to make to your Lordships' House.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I am very much obliged to my noble friend for asking me this question, and it would be convenient, although slightly irregular, if I ventured to answer it at this stage. Your Lordships will remember that the Bill to which my noble friend refers did not purport to deal with the whole position of tithe in this country. It was avowedly a compromise. The first clause was designed to give relief to the tithe-payers in cases of real hardship, and the second clause was designed to assist tithe-owners by rendering the collection of their due less cumbrous. Before bringing these proposals before Parliament the Government had grounds for believing that these proposals would recommend themselves to the great body of moderate opinion both of tithe-owners and of tithe-payers. In the event, however, it has proved that this belief has not been justified. Possibly the fact that neither party is satisfied is an argument in favour of the view that the proposed compromise was essentially fair. The Government, however, have come to the conclusion that they would not be justified in attempting to force these proposals upon the contending parties when neither of them professes to desire them, and they do not intend to proceed with the Bill.
This involves that the existing conditions will continue. The Government, however, have reached the conclusion that it would not be right to leave that 909 position indefinitely, in view of the complaints which both sides have put forward. But before bringing any proposals of their own before Parliament to deal with the general position of tithe in this country, they think it would be right to give to all parties concerned a full opportunity of putting the facts and contentions which they desire to have considered before an impartial tribunal. Accordingly the Government are proposing to set up a Royal Commission with the widest terms of reference—namely, to enquire into and report upon the whole question of tithe rentcharge in England and Wales and its incidence, with special reference to stabilised value, statutory remission, powers of recovery, and method and terms of redemption. The Government hope to be in a position to announce the names of the persons serving on the Royal Commission at an early date.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I beg to thank the noble and learned Viscount for the very full answer he has given to my question, and I hope that neither he nor your Lordships will think me presumptuous if I venture to congratulate His Majesty's Government on the decision they have taken. It will be no doubt a decision that will occasion the greatest satisfaction to thousands, not only of tithe-payers but of tithe-owners. It may be that there will be bodies, or even individuals, who will claim this as a personal triumph for themselves. Speaking for the body on whose behalf I some times address your Lordships' House, I can say at once that that will not be their attitude in the least. If there is any cause for anybody to regard it as a triumph I think we should regard it as a triumph for His Majesty's Government, because, as I know your Lordships will agree, it takes not only a good Government but it takes a good man to reverse an opinion that has been formed when further evidence is brought forward. If I might venture to express two hopes, they would be, in the first place, that the utmost expedition may be used with regard to this matter, because the thorn is still rankling in the countryside, and in the second place, that the terms of reference, as I gather they will be, will be sufficiently broad to allow that Commission to look at all aspects of the case in the present situation in order to effect a lasting peace in this unfortunate contest.
LORD PONSONBY or SHULBREDE
My Lords, we on this side of the House note that the Government are dropping a Bill owing to the opposition of the parties who would have been affected by that Bill, and I congratulate the noble Lord on having succeeded in inducing the Government to do that. His proposition that there should be a full investigation, which he urged on the Second Reading of the Bill, has now been adopted by the Government. May I ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House whether the Government will continue that practice and drop the Incitement to Disaffection Bill, against which there is a very large body of opposition?
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount replies may I associate myself with the noble Lord who expressed the hope that all expedition may be shown in this matter? I am afraid I am not able to associate myself with everything that fell from him, because we fear that this delay may foster the scenes of disorder which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack so very much deprecated when he framed one of the clauses of the Bill which at present has been abandoned. There is no question of anything so petty as a personal triumph in this House or in your Lordships' minds, but I cannot help thinking that outside, where passions are less regulated and where enthusiasm is apt to run wild, it may be that those who agitated against the payment of tithe and against the due processes of law will be encouraged to continue the practices which this Bill, had it become an Act, would have tended to reduce.
I am a governor of Queen Anne's Bounty, and I am well aware of the way in which the conciliatory attitude adopted by the Tithe Committee of Queen Anne's Bounty has led to a deal of contentment and success. I have access to the figures available in the Bounty office, and I am able to say that the tithe rentcharge collected in recent months has steadily and quietly improved. I attribute that more than anything to the way in which the law has been clarified in the Courts. A year ago there was a great deal of doubt in regard to the powers that might be exercised by the tithe-owners against the tithe-payers, and especially by Queen Anne's Bounty, which, as an administra- 911 tive trustee, is interested in collecting the tithe due to the clergy. In recent months cases have been heard in the Courts and decisions have been given which have led to the satisfactory conclusion that the tithe has been flowing in contentedly and in a far greater amount than at this time last year.
What I am afraid of is that if there is any delay in appointing the members of this Royal Commission and their reporting, there may be, while the delay continues, a cessation of payment on the part of tithe-payers, and that the conciliatory attitude adopted by Queen Anne's Bounty may become stultified in its results. Meanwhile, large numbers of the clergy are wholly dependent upon the payment of tithe and, as there are a great many arrears, many of the clergy, as we all know, are in rather a bad way in consequence. I confess that I look with some anxiety on what the position of the clergy dependent on tithe may be during the course of the inquiry. I quite agree with the noble Lord that it is very desirable that a Royal Commission should look into this very intricate matter. It is an intricate matter. One can approach it from a great many different points of view, and the whole subject bristles with the difficulties that belong to any very ancient institution. I am glad to hear that a Royal Commission is to sit. I had hoped that the inquiry would have taken place after the Bill had become an Act. We have, however, heard from the noble Viscount that this is impossible. I consider that there should be no delay therefore in setting up this Royal Commission.
There is another point which fills me with some distress. What will happen to the arrears that Queen Anne's Bounty have been trying to collect, which have been spread over a great many months past? It is unlikely that arrears will be paid, and I think that it is more than probable that the clergy will suffer a greater loss than they have in recent months, not to say years. There is another interest involved, which will no doubt be represented upon the Royal Commission, and that is the interest of the clergy. Only to-day or yesterday, if I am not misinformed, there was complaint in the Lower House of Convocation of Canterbury that they had not been consulted about the proposal to 912 change the compromise arrived at in 1925. I am afraid that on the part of the authorities of the Church—by that I mean those who are the appointed representatives of the beneficed clergy—some anxiety will he felt owing to the delay which must follow the appointment of a Royal Commission.
I do not know whether it would be proper to enquire whether during the meantime anything can be done to see that the law does stand and is enforced as the noble Viscount said it does still stand. I am quite sure that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will feel as much regret as I should if the appointment of a Royal Commission, which we all welcome, leads to a repetition of those unpleasant scenes with which we have become familiar. I was not able to be present when tile Bill was first introduced and I want to say that I believe that delays will be very dangerous. Speaking still as a governor of Queen Anne's Bounty, I would like to say that we are in the position of administrative trustees. We have no wishes in the matter except to carry out the duties imposed upon us and to help the clergy in any way that is possible.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
I beg your Lordships' pardon if I am travelling beyond the question. I will only say with what pleasure I have heard of the appointment of the Royal Commission and that I trust that delays will not be considerable.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I venture to hope that the members of His Majesty's Government who have been questioned on this subject will not think it right to reply, because I am sure your Lordships will allow a very old member of the House to say that this discussion is in its nature very irregular.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is quite usual, of course, for a question to be put on private notice to the Leader of the House or to any member of the Government, and the Minister, out of courtesy to the questioner and out of respect for the House, always replies. But it is not correct for a long discussion to arise upon a mere question on private 913 notice. I hope, if I may say so very respectfully, that your Lordships will see fit not to continue this discussion, which places the Government in a very difficult position and is really contrary to the practice of the House.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, as I had placed upon the Order Paper a Motion to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, may I say that I think that would have been the better course to adopt in order to have an inquiry into the whole question? I have served on Select Committees and I cannot help thinking that such a Committee would have been better than a Royal Commission. A Select Committee would contain representatives of all sections of the House.
§ LORD STRACHIE
I cannot help thinking that a Select Committee would have been better than a Royal Commission. As the noble Viscount said—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I rise to Order. I ventured to call attention just now to the fact that this discussion was an irregular one and I hoped, and I think the majority of your Lordships hoped, that members of the House would obey the Order of the House and not continue a discussion which is in its nature irregular. I beg to submit that this is out of order.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, venture to support that appeal from my noble friend who has a far wider experience than I have in this matter. Of course, if any noble Lord feels that this is a matter which ought to be discussed, he can put a Notice on the Order Paper.