HL Deb 08 July 1936 vol 101 cc540-88

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion for the Second Reading, moved yesterday by Viscount Halifax.


My Lords, I would like with your Lordships' permission before embarking upon any detailed discussion of this Bill to make certain acknowledgments. Tithe-owners, through right reverend Prelates, made it perfectly clear yesterday that they did not ask for the Bill. Tithe-payers did not ask for this Bill, but they did ask for a Bill, and more particularly did they ask for an inquiry on the whole great subject of the tithe, hoping that thereby the grievances from which they suffered would be in some way relieved and the hardships they were enduring would be removed. It would be wholly improper on the part of any one who had the privilege to speak first in this debate from the standpoint of the tithe-payers if he failed to make acknowledgment of the great service that the Government have done to the tithe-paying interests in granting the Royal Commission which sat and so ably discussed the entire subject. There can seldom have been a Royal Commission more patient or more competent and the Report to which they signed their names will for all time remain a classic upon this subject. The pity of it is that the Government did not adopt the findings of that Report in their entirety. I would like, too, to acknowledge the services which the Government have rendered to the agricultural interest in finding time as well as will to give attention to a subject of such great domestic interest at a period when there is so grave a pressure of other affairs. Lastly, I would like to give expression to the satisfaction which I feel sure will be felt upon the Episcopal Bench as upon this Bench at the compliment which has been paid both to that Bench and to this by the fact that this Bill was introduced into your Lord ships' House by its noble Leader.

Last night the most reverend Primate gave short expression to an opinion that it would surely be impossible that any person should desire to repudiate the right of the tithe-owner to the tithe. My noble friend Lord Bingley also added certain views upon that subject, and those two expressions of opinion would lead me before embarking upon a discussion of the Bill to say here and now that landowners in the corporate capacity of the body for whom I and others are entitled to speak have never even discussed the question of repudiation. It is entirely foreign to their views on the rights of property, as it would be entirely foreign to the appreciation which as a body they have of the services of the Church. Landowners do not share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Marley, that tithe is paid for little service. The incidence of the tithe is severe—I will come to deal with that directly—and it is perhaps not fairly shared as between the payee and the payer, but never at any time has there been any question of discontent or dissatisfaction with the services which the Church has rendered in return for tithe received. I could not permit myself for one moment to be thought as one who would stand here in criticism of the Church or as one who would link himself for an instant with the agitation which has for its object the repudiation of tithe obligations. I hope I have made that much clear.

Having done so, I would come to a discussion of the Bill itself introduced so lucidly by my noble friend the Leader of the House. In the noble Viscount's speech it would perhaps have been inappropriate, and that is the reason why he did not do it, to have gone back into any distant history of the tithe, but it is impossible for me to avoid altogether that aspect of the matter by reason of the fact that the obligations of the tithe-payers are so entirely tied up by it. The tithe-owner, for reasons which are perfectly obvious, finds it convenient to allow the public to think that tithe originated in the 1925 Act. But although, of course, the purposes of the tithe-owner are well served by that attitude towards the matter, the tithe-payer is bound, not to go back into distant history, but to go back at least to the basic Act of 1836. That Act gave for the first time the protection of Statute law to the tithe. It transferred the tithe from the production of the land to the land itself; it transferred the liability for the payment of the tithe from the shoulders of the occupiers to those of the owners. To implement those two great changes it did what it was necessary that it should do: it caused a valuation of the tithable land of England to be made in order that a reasonable commutation of the production of the land into a land charge should be arrived at.

In 1836 we were some years before the repeal of the Corn Laws and, although there were some who, in the dim and hazy distance, anticipated some change in those laws, the majority were not of the opinion that any such change was likely to be practical politics. Before the repeal of the Corn Laws the land of England which was growing corn had a value which, after that repeal, was never again reached. Valuers are only able to take things as they find them at the time, and in 1836 that land which was most productive in the terms of the wealth of that day quite clearly carried and was charged with the just tithe. The valuations which were made according to the best ability of those who made them in 1836 are the valuations which not only prevail to-day but which are being perpetuated in the Bill of 1936. I should like, to impress that fact upon the House with all the emphasis at my command, because it is the valuations of 1836 which constitute and are the cause of the difficulties of tithe-payers in the high-tithe areas to-day, and those difficulties, although they are to be ameliorated in many senses by this Bill, are still to be perpetuated through the medium of those valuations.

If I may, I will give your Lordships an instance in my own knowledge, a perfectly simple one. I know of a tithe unit which in 1836—the tithe unit being in this case a whole farm—was let at 55s. an acre. The tithe rentcharge placed upon that land at par was 11s. 6d. an acre—not an unfair figure, because it was generally considered then that one-fifth of the rental value was a fair commutation of the production of the land changed into a rentcharge, and the 11s. 6d. was only a very trifling sum above that one-fifth. That land, which in 1836 was charged with a rentcharge of Ms. 6d. an acre upon a rental of 55s., has never since 1870 been rented at a higher figure than 10s. an acre. You may ask what happened to it during the War. I would remind your Lordships that the raising of rents was restricted during the War. That land has never carried a rent of more than 10s. an acre since 1870. The tithe rentcharge has of course continued at its par figure subject to the septennial average of corn which, before the War, had reduced it at one time as low as £70 per £100 unit value. Since the War it rose until it was much more than 11s. 6d., and it was then stabilised at the figures with which we are familiar in the 1918 Act and the 1925 Act, and now it will be stabilised at the new figure.

I do not quote that case as in any way desiring to use it as an example of hardship to the owner, for that is all in the past. I quote it so that I may be able thereby to convince your Lordships that this land, which was only one instance of many, is going to carry for the next sixty years exactly the same valuation as caused it then to carry a charge of 11s. 6d. an acre. If it can sink into your Lordships' minds that the actions, the deeds, of the Act of 1836 are to be perpetuated—and I am not suggesting that they should not be—through the medium of these valuations, this House and the public will then realise where the real difficulty has arisen in respect of the high-tithe areas. You will be disposed to discount agitation, but you will not be disposed to discount the real grievance which, in the nature of things which nobody could control, was bound to arise by reason of those particular circumstances.

It is not the purpose of anything I may say in this speech, nor will it be the purpose of any Amendment that I may move in Committee, to pit tithe-owner against tithe-payer or in any way to exacerbate such feeling as may now exist. There is, however, one great point of difference to which it is quite impossible for me to avoid referring, and that is when tithe-owners, notably spokesmen for the Church, refer to loss. Loss can only be estimated by a comparison, and the basis of comparison is the gauge of what you lose. If I were to find a pearl necklace in the street and I were then to lose it, I should consider myself a very unfortunate person, but I should feel that the amount of my loss was less than if the pearl necklace had belonged to me before. May I, perhaps, compare the basis of comparison which is used quite naturally by the tithe-owner with that little analogy? The tithe-owner is basing his loss upon the Act of 1925. The tithe-payer is bound, by reason of the facts which I have just ventured to describe, to compare his position under the 1936 Bill in large measure with the basic Act of 1836. It has never struck me as quite fair that one party to this dispute—if it can be called a dispute—should base his comparison on the Act of 1925 when the other party is compelled by circumstances to base his upon the Act of 1836.

Nobody need throw stones at the Act of 1925. The promoters of that Act were not the only people who made mistakes in 1925. They were not alone in supposing that the value of land would be maintained at a higher figure than it was. I have no sense of grievance, but, on the other hand, I think it would be wise to-day for all parties to regard the Act of 1925 as being no more than a transitional Act. In the early part of its currency the tithe-owner was severely restricted in his receipts; in the latter part of its currency it has had the effect of bolstering those receipts to a much higher figure than the Act of 1836 would have allowed. We have just about struck a balance; neither party is any the better or the worse off; and now comes the time when it is universally felt that the 1925 Act has served its purpose and that something new must be brought forward.

Once more, on this subject of loss: if I were to feel that the Church of England was really going to lose £11,000,000 by reason of the passage into law of the Bill which is now before the House, I really think that I would vacate my seat in this House. But although by comparison with the Act of 1925 that loss would be a real one, actually in fact by comparison with the Act which preceded it for more than eighty years the loss will vanish and disappear. I do not wish to stress the point too much, but when Church and other tithe-owners cry out about their loss, I feel that something should be said about the position in which the tithe-payer finds himself by being bound for the sixty years which are to run by an Act which has no reference to the basic Act of 1836. When the Act of 1836 passed through Parliament there were those who were sufficiently far-sighted—more far-sighted than those who introduced the Act of 1925—to see that the prices of corn were not going to be stable for all time, and in order to provide for such fluctuations as there might be a clause was inserted in that Bill providing for the payment of tithe to be based on an average of corn prices over a seven-year period.

There were one or two speakers on that Act who did warn the House that the Corn Laws might at some time be repealed, and Lord John Russell, who was then leader of the House of Commons and who was impressed not by the probability of such a happening but by the possibility of it, inserted in the Bill this provision for the estimation of tithe on the basis of a septennial average of the price of corn. There is no doubt at all that that average enabled that Act of Parliament to continue for the number of years that it did, and in the Bill of 1936 now before this House that essential provision, though lost entirely, in itself is given effect to in the remission clause, Clause 14 of this Bill, which when we come to deal with it in Committee your Lordships will recognise as perhaps being the most vital of all clauses in the Bill, for it is the one and only clause which endeavours to do what the Act of 1836 did—namely, to provide for those hard eases which have been the mainspring of the Bill now before this House. When that fact is realised your Lordships will not be surprised at the importance which tithe-payers as a whole attach to that clause and the hope which they have now that it may be adjusted in some degree to their further advantage.

The Commission adopted the convenient practice of translating their finance into the terms of a balance sheet. The Government in their White Paper followed that excellent precedent and it is not unreasonable that tithe-payers should estimate their own potential advantage under this Bill by the same process; and if your Lordships will permit me I propose to state in terms exactly what this Bill will give to tithe-payers and exactly what it will take away, and when that position has been disclosed it will be so much more easy to form an independent opinion of the value of the Bill to that particular class of the community. In the first place, we have got to consider the value to the tithe-payer of the reduction of the period of redemption from the seventy-six years which the 1925 Act still has to run to the sixty years proposed in this Bill. The actuarial difference of the redemption of the larger sum for the longer period as compared with the smaller sum for the smaller period is clearly great and the White Paper itself gives us the figure as twenty-two and twenty-seven per cent. respectively as regards clerical and lay tithe. That actuarial difference is one which is on the face of it of great value to the tithe-payer, and I do not in the least hesitate to conceal that fact, but I am coming back to it in a moment. The annual payment to be made under this Bill is to be £91 11s. 2d., as compared with £109 10s. inclusive of sinking fund made under the 1925 Act, giving a balance of advantage of £17 18s. 2d. to the tithe-payer. The actuarial difference between the redemption in seventy-six years and redemption in sixty years and the £17 18s. 2d. in respect of the annual payment—these are on the credit side of the account.

Now for the debit side of the account. It is unfortunately impossible to-day to make any financial calculation without the closest reference to taxable liability. The effect of the actuarial improvement in value of an estate which the Bill will create will be of importance for the purposes of Inland Revenue when estimating it for Death Duties and it is possible to calculate that the whole of the actuarial value which will accrue to the tithe-payer now will over the space of sixty years find its way entirely into the pockets of Inland Revenue. The man who first pays the Death Duty, that is to say on the first passing, will pay upon the greater value of his estate while continuing to pay out the figure stated in the Bill. It is the man on tire second payment, while paying on the larger figure, who will have the compensating advantage of the cessation of the annual tithe payment. So that it is merely a statement of fact when I say that the actuarial advantage which apparently accrues to the tithe-payer will in fact accrue to the Treasury, and not to the owner of the land.

Now in respect of the annual payment, in which I have shown that the apparent advantage to the tithe-payer is £17 18s. 2d. At the present time the tithe-payer is entitled to deduct £105 per £100 commuted value of tithe from his Income Tax return. Under this Bill he will be entitled to deduct five-sixths of £91 11s. 2d.; that is to say, he will be entitled to deduct £76 5s. 11d. for every £100 commuted value of his tithe. He will therefore pay tax upon an additional sum of £28 14s. 1d., which for convenience I will take at £7. So, while he puts in his pocket £17 18s. 2d. under the provisions of this Bill he will have taken out of that pocket £7 by the Inland Revenue, reducing his advantage to £10 18s. 2d. You may say that that £10 18s. 2d. is better than a rude remark. Unquestionably it is, but on the other hand, it is not a very large sum, and the reduction to £10 18s. 2d. will mean that the tithe-payer as an Income Tax-payer will continue to have his tithe charged upon him not at £91 11s. 2d., but at £98 11s. 2d. That is the effect.

It is true that a large number of tithe-payers are now owner-occupiers and those who are owner-occupiers are in all probability not payers of Surtax. But it remains a fact that the tithe is, in greater part, still paid by the greater estates, the owners of which are liable for it; and remembering that all charges go on to the top, so to speak, of the Surtax return, we are quite justified in taking a reasonably high figure of Surtax, and I take it at the 5s. rate. The tithe-payer who is a Surtax payer who will advantage himself to the extent of £17 18s. 2d. will lose £7 in Income Tax and £7 in Surtax. Therefore the net advantage to him will be £3 18s. 2d. Would it be inappropriate to suggest that the mountain has brought forth a mouse? £3 18s. 2d. from £100 commuted value is what the larger number of tithe-payers are going to gain by this Bill.

What are the tithe-payers going to give under this Bill for this inflated mouse? They are going under this Bill to surrender what has perhaps been that to which they have been all the time most greatly attached. The noble Viscount in introducing the Bill did not seek to conceal it from the House yesterday. They are going to consent to the transfer of tithe rentcharge on the land into a personal liability; in other words, the land on which tithe is charged may depreciate to a nil value, but so long as they have a penny in their pockets derived from any other source, earned or unearned, they will be liable to the penalties of the law if they do not pay the tithe rentcharge, which will then have been converted into a State tax.

They are also being invited to assume a liability for rates. Now a study of the White Paper and of the reasons leading up to it will reveal the fact that the Government did not find themselves able to deny to the local authorities a claim for the rates which redemption of the tithe would lose to them. And anybody with any knowledge of the whole question of tithe rentcharge will be aware that hitherto the liability for tithe rentcharge has been shared between the State and the tithe-owner. Never at any time in history has the liability for rates upon tithe lain upon the tithe-payer. This Bill squeezes the scheme to the extent of £600,000—that is an equated figure over the whole period of sixty years—in order to satisfy the local authorities in England, to compensate them for their loss of rates. I believe that the Ministry of Agriculture think that they have made a very good bargain in this matter. For myself, although I have the greatest respect for the Ministry of Agriculture, and more particularly for the right honourable gentleman who is at its head, I feel that the local authorities have one up on them.

However that may be, this £600,000 which is being squeezed out of the scheme may be regarded of course from two aspects. The tithe-owner may say: "Well, if it was not squeezed out of the scheme we should have it." The tithe-payer may say: "If it was not squeezed out of the scheme we should have it." But, as it happens, neither party has it, and we are entitled to say that the tithe-payer, who never hitherto has been charged with rates, is being charged with rates under this Bill. I feel the more justified in making that remark because the Royal Commission reported that in their estimation a forty years redemption period was the proper period, and the Government have stated that they have felt themselves compelled to raise that forty years to sixty in order that this particular charge may be met. And therefore, although the tithe-owner may feel in a sense that the scheme has been squeezed in some small way to his disadvantage, in actual fact it is the tithe-payer who is going to pay this rate because the redemption period is raised from forty to sixty years. This is an entirely new charge. It is imposed for the first time in the Bill of 1936.

The additional reason submitted by the Government for the increase in the period of redemption from forty to sixty years has been that in their view the requirements of the poorer clergy were undeniable and must be met. There is not one of your Lordships but would feel sympathy for the poorer clergy, but what would your position be if, as the trustee of an estate paying out a small annuity to a maiden aunt, you found that that lady said that she was unable to live on her annuity and demanded more? The trustees would say: "We have a certain legal obligation and we are fulfilling it. It is no concern of ours how the money is spent or indeed to whom it goes." The tithe-payer has never before been asked to accept responsibility for either the destination or the sufficiency of the tithe which he was liable to pay. For the first time the Government have required the tithe-payer to take cognisance of the poverty of the person to whom the rentcharge is payable. It is an entirely new obligation to place upon the tithe-payer. It is the third of the new obligations. He has to give personal liability; he has to assume responsibility for the rates; he has to assume in some measure responsibility for the poverty of the recipient of the tithe rentcharge.

I do not know how any organisation of landowners, however well disposed they may be, could conceivably consider that the terms of such a Bill were sufficient. It is impossible to expect any corporate body of landowners to view with joy any such suggested solution of their difficulties. That is the great difficulty which those who have the privilege of speaking for them have been up against since this Bill found its way into print. That which is being given away is really a very serious aggregation of matters, and I am not disposed in discussing this Bill to deny the necessity for any of the things which the Government have thought it necessary to impose on the tithe-payer. But I have felt, and those who act with me have felt, that in view of the tremendous concessions which are demanded, the financial advantage should be correspondingly greater. The Government do not seem to have fully envisaged how much they are asking the tithe-payer to give away. They do not seem to have realised how greatly the success of this Bill is bound to depend upon the good will of those who have the honour or the opportunity of leading the tithe-payers, and how greatly that good will is likely to be undermined by this charge of personal liability.

I do not wish to raise in too strong terms animosity in regard to that matter; but some two years ago, when a Bill affecting tithe was introduced into your Lordships' House, I did feel it incumbent upon me to speak about the tremendous risks which were then being run, by reason of this proposed change into a personal liability. There is to-day really only one chance of getting its acceptance in the country and more particularly in those independent areas of the country in which I have my home: if there is at the same time a sense that justice has been dealt out and that a settlement has been attempted which, while taking much, will give an adequate return. I have already said that neither now nor in Committee could I find myself in any way able to dispute the necessity of the State insisting upon this personal liability in return for the great liability that the State itself assumes in the collection of the interest and the creation of a sinking fund for not less than £70,000,000. I could not possibly deny the necessity for that provision; yet I do ask this House to remember that when we come to Committee, those who speak for tithe-payers must expect greater consideration for that surrender than this Bill at the moment proffers.

How is it going to be possible to improve this scheme? That is what everybody naturally wishes to know, and I feel that the Government themselves would be anxious to improve the scheme in any direction that would ensure peace. The whole motive behind those who pressed for the inquiry, the whole motive behind those who asked for the Bill, the whole motive behind the Government's decision to accede to that request, the motive behind this Bill itself, is to bring about a settlement of a vexed question, a question that has so gravely reacted to the disadvantage of the work of the Church of England, and has caused so much irritation among tithe-payers in the tithe-paying areas of England. No Bill passed through Parliament that does not give a prospect of a real settlement is worth proceeding with. I would like to endeavour to show how improvement may be possible, and I would not, in any suggestion I make, attempt to decrease that portion which is now allocated to the tithe-owners. But I do feel that there is money in the scheme which might be used to greater advantage to tithe-payers than has been done.

My noble friend who leads the House, in his speech yesterday, indicated that the balance sheet had been drawn on a very narrow margin. I have no doubt the noble Viscount believes what he says. Curiously enough, I do not, and with the greatest desire to be courteous I shall be asking him at a later stage for figures which will convince me that his estimation of the situation is the correct one and mine is wrong. In the matter of taxation the Government, at the bottom of their balance sheet in the White Paper, have allowed for a sum of £135,000 which they estimate to get out of savings in the administration of the Tithe Acts at present and for increased Income Tax they may receive. I have got out some figures to show whether that estimation of increased Income Tax is an under- or an over-estimate. These figures have been drawn with the greatest care and there is every certainty that they are correct. Under the provisions of this Bill tithe-owners receiving less will naturally pay less in tax, and there will be a loss to the Exchequer of £130,000 on that account, but under this Bill, by reason of the figures which I gave to your Lordships some time ago, tithe-payers will pay more. They will pay no less than £211,000 more. The Treasury will therefore receive the balance between £211,000 and £130,000—that is to say, an increase in round figures of £80,000. £80,000 from £135,000 leaves only £55,000 as the present cost of the administration of the Tithe Acts.

It is therefore apparent that the scheme will receive a very much greater increase in Income Tax than the Treasury has been good enough to admit. These figures I have given to your Lordships take no account of Surtax or of Death Duties both of which accretions will greatly swell that figure of £135,000. There is in the scheme a provision for remissions of £200,000. I think that in view of the fact that the remissions of recent years have never risen higher than £3,000, the reduction from two-thirds to one-third liability can hardly call for an increase to £200,000. I think the Treasury has left itself a very handsome margin in that regard. In the schedules we find also that the Treasury has provided for five per cent. as the cost of collection. Is it conceivable that when the Inland Revenue gets into the saddle in regard to this matter of tithe it is going to cost them five per cent. to collect? There is not one of us who would not be glad to arrange for the work at one per cent.

The question I am going to ask of the Government and to which I do not ask for an immediate reply but only when a reply is made at the end of this debate is this. There is an important figure in the balance sheet of the White Paper which says that the sinking fund accumulated under the Tithe Act of 1925 is estimated at £1,369,000. Under this Bill the new rate of tithe would become payable on the 1st October this year to sinking fund, so that half the sinking fund for the year—that is £2 5s. for the half-year—will still be payable by the tithe-payer. I should like to ask if that £2 5s. is included in the estimated sum of £1,369,000. If it is, of course there is nothing more to be said for it. If it is not, there is an additional figure available in the pockets of the Treasury to be used for the purposes of the scheme. Now, we shall naturally hear all about these assertions of mine from the Front Bench when their time comes to reply, but I hold, and those who act with me hold, that there is within the scheme a reasonable sum of money still available for the advantage of one or other of the parties to the scheme. I, of course, am claiming it for the tithe-payer, and Amendments which will at a later stage appear upon the Paper in my name will be directed to that end.

I come very briefly—I have spoken for as long as your Lordships are likely to be able to tolerate me—to a consideration of the clauses of the Bill which in my estimation will require amendment. In Clause 13 of the Bill there is set down a concession already made in respect of the amount of the deduction which is to be admitted for Income Tax purposes from the tithe-payer. That is now five-sixths; it was once two-thirds; and is still not sufficient, and I shall hope to be able to insert into the Bill a figure which will accurately represent the real deduction which should be made. In Clause 14—the remissions clause—there will undoubtedly appear upon the Paper an Amendment directed to the object of improving the scale of remission in really hard cases. But there are two other matters which must be briefly dealt with in connection with Clause 14. One of these affects the owners of land subject to remissions. The institution of catchment boards has clearly brought that matter into direct perspective. If, as appears in the Bill—I think it is Clause 33—it is proper to relieve land which has gone under the sea from all further tithe rentcharge, it is equally not unreasonable to allow as a deduction the cost to the landowner of keeping the sea from swallowing more land and there will be Amendments directed to that end.

Then there is another, a more controversial matter, arising out of Clause 14. Your Lordships will be aware that under the 1918 Act a certain number of persons clutched like drowning men at floating straws and redeemed their tithe, some few by cash payments—these were more fortunate and were able to afford it—some, a larger number, by means of fifty-year annuities. The Royal Commission considered that it was really impossible for them to report or to advise upon the treatment recommended by the 1918 Committee, and the Government, following that advice, have omitted the 1918 redeemers from the considerations in this Bill. I would be the first to agree that an agreement is an agreement, and it would be unwise in the highest degree to attempt to go back on anything agreed in 1918, but it does remain a fact that whatever you may call a tithe rentcharge, whether you call it a tax or an annuity or a tithe rentcharge, it comes out of the same pocket, and it is derived from the same source—namely, the rental value of the land itself. Those who redeemed their tithe under the 1918 Act have felt to an equally high degree as those who did it under the 1925 Act the hardships of the depression and the difficulty of meeting their annuity charges, and it seems to me to be not unfair that they should be brought into consideration in the remissions clause, particularly as the cost thereof will be exceedingly small. An amendment will be on the Paper with that end in view also.

Now we come to Clause 16, and with this I propose to close. In Clause 16 there is provision made for a charge of 5 per cent. upon defaulters who do not pay their rentcharge on demand. Five per cent. in these days is not a reasonable sum to demand. More important than that is that in Clause 16 there is abrogated the old-time, and always prevailing, custom of giving three months grace for payment of tithe. To no tithe-payer can it be otherwise than difficult to pay his rent. From time immemorial the landowner has been in the habit of giving three months grace to his tenants. In many cases it is much more but it is never less. The Inland Revenue are taking power to recover their tithe rentcharge or whatever it may hereafter be called on the date it is due and the landowner who has no money with which to pay it, may—I do not say will, but may—be consigned to the county gaol. I am fully aware of the improbability of this prospect being given effect to, but it is one that must induce those with the interests of landowners at heart to endeavour to remove it from the Bill. I apologise to your Lordships for the great length at which I have spoken, but I thought it right and proper that I should give some slight indication of the direction in which the reasonable tithe-payer, not the agitator, feels that this Bill must be amended before he can accept it as a real settlement. If this Bill is not to be a settlement it had very much better not leave this House, for a settlement is what we all desire to see achieved. If that cannot be done our time will have been wasted and we had better try again. With that I will thank your Lordships for your tolerance of so long a speech.


My Lords, it is with very considerable diffidence that I rise after the most lucid and extensive analysis of the Bill which we have just heard so ably expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. The noble Lord has, in fact, persuaded me that I may probably have the novel experience of following him into the Division Lobby. If we, on this side of the House, discuss this Bill I am sure that no one will for one moment forget that we consider that this is only a very small part of a problem the only solution of which is public ownership of the land. But since we desire the general benefit of agriculture and recognise the immense disadvantage to agriculture that tithe constitutes at the moment, we venture to offer our suggestions to the Government on this present Bill in the hope that we may make it a better Bill. It is in no spirit of carping criticism but in a spirit of the fullest helpfulness that we make suggestions. The most reverend Primate apparently doubted the bitterness that is felt about tithe in the country. I think the most reverend Primate underrates that feeling. There is a very strong feeling all over the country. Because many tithe-payers pay regularly and quickly it does not follow that they pay it ungrudgingly. The things are not the same.

Perhaps I might sum up the position of my noble friends on these Benches by reiterating that in our opinion tithe is only a very small part of the rural problem, and that it must eventually be solved on lines in accord with our Party programme. But whilst we do not and cannot approve of State support for any Church we do not wish, and I am sure that nobody wishes, to cause hardship to any living beneficiary of tithe. On the other hand, we could certainly not approve of any gratuitous augmentation of the capital value of land which the suppression of tithe would immediately bring about, to the sole benefit of the landowner, since the existence of this tithe must have influenced the price paid for the land. When the tithe was imposed it was imposed in circumstances which have now made it out of date and in many cases grossly unfair. It is acting to the general detriment of agriculture. I believe it has been calculated that when the tithe rentcharge was instituted in 1836 the clergy gained about 50 per cent. owing to the saving they effected on transport and marketing and by getting rid of the other difficulties in coping with tithe in kind. That was before the repeal of the Corn Laws, which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, so rightly mentioned. That in itself seems a considerable increase in income.

Noble Lords on this side of the House desire the earliest possible disappearance of a charge that is proving disastrous to the countryside and that is certainly morally obsolete. The peculiar nature of tithe has been frequently remarked upon in your Lordships' House and in another place during the last hundred years. It has been held to be a kind of State property in which the incumbents of livings are permitted a life interest. If noble Lords look at the Report of the Royal Commission they will see in a footnote on page 80 a quotation from a speech by Lord Melbourne. He, I think, could hardly be described as a particularly revolutionary statesman and even if he had been so regarded in his time I imagine that by this time he would be regarded as a respectable figure. I want to refer to this because of what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich yesterday. These are Lord Melbourne's words: The tithes and landed property in the hands of clergymen do not belong to them, but it is a portion of the national property, which has been set aside, either by the institution of the country, or by the superstitions of former ages, for the maintenance of the established religion of this country; and being a portion of that national property, it is in the power of the State, from time to time, to increase it, should it be too small, or to diminish it if too large, and apply the surplus to whatever purposes might be considered the fittest to promote the great end and object in view. These are the only safe principles upon which the Legislature or Government can proceed. Lord Palmerston said something similar, which is also quoted.

That seems to me a complete answer to the right reverend Prelate who maintained that the Church has a right and that that right should be considered in this matter of tithe. I should like to deny most strenuously that claim to a right. It is State property of which the State is perfectly entitled to dispose as it finds best. If it is found that this charge is damaging an important and essential interest in the State the State would be perfectly justified in abolishing it entirely. The right reverend Prelate spoke of rights. Well, Shylock had his rights! I have no doubt, and I really do not think that noble Lords on the other side except perhaps the right reverend Prelate doubt, that the country as a whole is opposed to the support of any Church by State taxation. I am certain that that is the universal feeling throughout the country. It is largely owing to that feeling that this agitation against tithe has arisen. In any case, supposing that a good case could be made out for supporting an ecclesiastical organisation by the State, then surely the charge should be universally shared and not merely borne by a certain class of the community and a class who happen to own land and may not be more benefited by the services of the Church than any other, and equally may not be any more interested in them, and very probably are not.

The Minister also, when he introduced this Bill in another place, made an interesting admission which is of great interest to us, since we on this side are particularly keen to see at least partial suppression. He said that on the present prices of wheat the figure should be £71 and not the £91 11s. 2d. which has been decided. I fully realise that it includes sinking fund. Even with the wheat subsidy it would only come to £80. I cannot quite follow why the Government have elected to stabilise this payment at so very much higher a figure. It seems to me most unduly optimistic. Their aim and object must inevitably be, I take it, to finish with this vexatious charge in the shortest possible time, but they appear to have done everything in their power in this Bill to avoid doing that. They have extended the period of forty years originally suggested by the Royal Commission, a period which we on this side consider already too long, to sixty years. This tithe rentcharge has existed for a hundred years, during which no fewer than thirteen Acts have been passed by Parliament altering and changing it. It has been an incessant source of discussion, dispute and recrimination. Surely the Government cannot suppose that their solution is so much more certain, so much more sure, so much more excellent than any of the previous ones that it will stand for sixty years when during the last hundred years there have been so very many failures. The whole experience is contrary to that.

We on this side consider that even forty years is considerably too long. We think that, without injustice to anyone, this anachronism which I venture to call tithe could be abolished in between fifteen and twenty years, and that within fifteen or twenty years one might conceivably make a settlement which one could hope would not require upsetting. But this Government settlement is going to be particularly difficult to upset, and that is what I and my friends would like to criticise in this Bill. This Bill sets up an organisation which is absolutely inflexible. Tithe rentcharge will smell no sweeter by another name. The Church will still collect odium from the exactions of the Inland Revenue in the same way as it did from the collections of Queen Anne's Bounty. It is inevitable that this charge will be resented. I hope, of course, that agriculture will be so much improved in this country that the tithe rentcharge will become negligible, but I think it is very unwise of the Government to be so optimistic on that point. I hope that noble Lords, when they read the Royal Commission's Report, also read the Minority report of Sir Leonard Coates, with which we on this side find ourselves in considerably more agreement and which seems to us to support our view that this charge not only should be but could be abolished in the shortest possible time. The most reverend Primate quoted Juvenal to show that an artist or a clergyman must have his livelihood in order to be able to fulfil his functions. Might I remind right reverend Prelates that another and perhaps a greater authority warned them of the danger of great possessions? Great possessions the Church has, and great possessions, I am convinced, are spiritually deplorable and have made the Church unpopular and vitiated its influence.

We have heard also a great deal about the unfortunate condition of the poorer clergy. My noble friend Lord Marley remarked upon that, but pointed out that less than one-tenth of the total of tithe rentcharge went to support clergy whose incomes were under £300 a year. I have made a very small calculation here which I dare say is inaccurate, but it cannot be frightfully far out. To keep the stipends of those clergy at the present level would cost between £25,000 and £45,000 a year. The Government—and here I should like to support Lord Hastings—have made more than adequate provision for this particular hardship. The most reverend Primate claims, of course—and I have no doubt that his claim is well founded—that the Church renders very definite services. I have no doubt that it does, and that the services are well rendered. At the same time, if these services are desired, why can they not be paid for by the people who desire them? The Church of England is not the only Church to render these services; there are other Churches, and there are people who consider that their spiritual state is healthier than that of the Church of England—perhaps just for the reason that they are supported by those who desire the services rendered by them.

I beg your Lordships' pardon if I am mistaken, but I think it was the most reverend Primate who mentioned the other income of the Church and claimed that no one had any right to maintain that this income, since it had increased, could be used to some extent to offset any loss suffered by the Church from the suppression of tithe. The most reverend Primate is not entirely justified in his claim. This other income of the Church, since the tithe rentcharge was instituted, has increased by an annual amount greater than the whole of the tithe rentcharge. Though the increase may have been to a very large extent the result of careful administration, it must have been to a far greater extent the result of industrial development and the efforts of the community in general. For this reason I consider that the Church might easily, and should justly, draw upon these resources to make good losses from another source.

In passing, may I support the plea of the noble Marquess who spoke from the Liberal Benches in favour of a remission or a more complete arrangement for the treatment of arrears? The suggestion made in the Bill seems to me to be thoroughly unsatisfactory. It is much too vague and it is bound to lead to bitterness and recrimination, which it is the object of this Bill to dissipate. Again let me repeat, my Lords, that this is in no sense a partisan affair. I assure the Government that we on this side approach the matter in no factious spirit. We are all keenly desirous of solving this problem, and I hope that the Government will accept our suggestions in the spirit of purest helpfulness in which they are made.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with my noble friend Lord Hastings in the thanks that he proffered to His Majesty's Government for setting up this Commission. I do so with the greater pleasure because I regret to say that there are remarkably few flowers left in my basket after I have handed out that one. There could be no greater justification of those who asked for the setting up of this Commission, and of the Government which, perhaps somewhat tardily, granted that request, than the Report of the Commission itself. I would venture to quote just one sentence in paragraph 60: We find that in the process of time the system has become, without fault on either side, inappropriate to contemporary conditions, and a cause of regrettable and unavoidable irritation. We believe that the complete abolition of the system is the only satisfactory method of dealing with its inherent and ineradicable difficulties. I am sorry to say that I differ a little from my noble friend with regard to what he said about the Commission's Report. I personally feel some disappointment. The Commission sat for over eighteen months, during which time they held the not unduly excessive number of twenty public sittings, and in their Report, in many ways so admirable, I do find a certain lack of imagination, inspiration and even of information. I wish to suggest to your Lordships that really the crux of the problem before us, the chief difficulty, lies in the fact that, whereas over great portions of the country involved tithe is by no means a burden, it is hardly felt, it is readily paid, and it constitutes no problem at all, over other wide areas the burden is very great, and over considerable areas it is not too much to say that the burden is intolerable. If I am right in that—and I have at all events the support of the Bishop of Norwich—I should have expected to find in this Report definite statements of fact showing where the shoe pinched, where the heavy tithe was, what the rents were in those places, and generally the information which it seems to me is so essential on this important point.

The Commission say that they realised the need for that information, but that the difficulty of getting such information made it almost impossible. I appreciate their difficulty in getting it, but I do not appreciate the impossibility. There are three bodies to which they could have applied. There is the body which I have the honour to represent, the Central Landowners' Association, and there is the National Farmers' Union. Both of those bodies have a branch in every county in England, and would have been only too glad to give help. There is even a more authoritative body, that is to say, the body which in each county has the duty of collecting the rates. That body found no difficulty, in a very much shorter time, in bringing forward a case which convinced the Government of the hardships, and I submit that they could only have brought it forward by producing the evidence which the Commission failed to put in their Report. It seems to me impossible for your Lordships, or anybody else, to find in this Report a true picture which will enable them to judge on this appallingly difficult problem.

If, however, this Report had been accepted in its entirety, although I was disappointed in it I should have had nothing to say to your Lordships. I should have felt myself in the position of one who had appealed to arbitration in this matter, and was not going to find fault with the arbitration for which he had asked. But the Government seem to me to have upset entirely the balance of this Report. They talk about balance, but they have upset one balance pretty clearly, or so it seems to me. They have altered the term of redemption from forty years to sixty years, thereby imposing an additional burden of some hundreds of thousands of pounds, and have decreed that the whole of that burden should fall upon one of the parties to that arbitration. It is suggested now, I think, in the White Paper—not, I hasten to say, by the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill—that really the Commission did not lay a great deal of stress upon the period of forty years. If any one suggests that, you have only to read the Report, and indeed only to read the passage quoted in the White Paper by the Government, to disprove it. In paragraph 113 the Commission say: In the second place, the period of the redemption annuity should not be so protracted as to deprive the average tithe-payer of the prospect of some material advantage accruing to him during his lifetime. I must say that to put the lifetime of an average tithe-payer at forty years seems to me somewhat optimistic, but sixty years is really two generations. Do your Lordships realise that it is possible, if not probable, that within sixty years we may see a Socialist Government in power? What will happen then? Tithe will be abolished, and I would remind Lord Faringdon of this—ownership will be abolished, and even Lord Faringdon will be abolished, too. That, I think, is worth remembering.


Also Lord Cranworth.


The matter is also even more strongly put in paragraph 84 where, if you will read it, you will see that such stress did the Commission lay upon this short period that they actually say that if this period had not been so short as forty years they would seriously have considered the alteration of the whole basis on which tithe was to be levied. If that is so, it seems to me that if the period of redemption was to be changed from forty to sixty years the Commission should have had a further opportunity of making that recommendation. Why have the Government made this vast change? As far as I understand it there are two reasons. The first, which has been mentioned more than once, is their sympathy for the poorly-paid clergy. Of course every one of your Lordships feels that same sympathy. It has urged the Government to that most popular form of generosity, the giving of a gift of £2,000,000 of someone else's money. Why should it be assumed that the Commission had not that same sympathy with the poorer clergy which every one of your Lordships has? I have no doubt that they had that sympathy, but they felt, I think without doubt, that it was no concern of theirs to advise the tithe-owners how they should put their house in order. Certainly I should consider it the grossest impertinence if I were to attempt to do so.

The second reason is on account of the loss occasioned to the rates. It is suggested in the White Paper that the Commission had really given little thought to this aspect of it Again a study of the Commission's Report will show most clearly that in paragraph after paragraph they considered the incidence of rates, and I venture to quote the very passage in the White Paper which His Majesty's Government make the justification for imposing this burden. This is what they say in the White Paper, quoted from the Commission's Report: Our proposals will mean a substantial loss, which will have to be made good out of public funds, central or local. It does not say "out of the tithe-payer"; it says "out of public funds, central or local." And that is the passage that the Government quote in their support. I do not understand it. Clearly when they start by saying that a contribution should come from central or local funds they consider that is hardly their province. But I think it is fairly clear which funds they think should be appropriated for this purpose.

They talk about the burden on agriculture. They point to the case of Denmark, in which tithe was extinguished by the aid of a very large contribution from the Government, and they say in paragraph 65: There is thus a very strong case for claiming that in the final settlement of the tithe question which we are called upon to provide, any gap which may exist between what it is fair that the tithe-payer should contribute and what it is fair that the tithe-owner should receive should be provided by the State. There seems to have been almost a conspiracy to shelve this part of the problem, because I think really it is an undeniable fact that most of the tithe-payers and the tithe-owners, and quite clearly the Commission, did anticipate that the State would pay something to settle this question. And why should they not? The tithe position is said on all hands to be bad. What made it bad? Parliamentary action. Parliamentary action has changed the nature of tithe, it has changed the amount of tithe, it has changed the people who collect it, it has changed the people from whom it is collected, and it has changed the persons for whom it is collected. Clearly whatever position it is in now it is due to the act of Parliament, and it does not seem to me to be unreasonable to ask that Parliament should find some money to put it right.

But I fully admit that before this question of tithe comes the question of our national safety, and all I would say on that point is that if they could provide nothing they might have been better advised to wait until conditions of finance were more favourable. At all events I think you can say this quite definitely, and I think without fear of denial, that if the Commission's Report was fair to the tithe-payer then the Bill is grossly unfair, and if the Bill is fair to the tithe-owner then the Commission's Report was grossly unfair. At all events, I venture to say that we are justified in considering this Bill as a Bill, and entirely without relation to the Commission which was set up. Before the Commission was set up I ventured to write down certain things which it seemed to me were essential to a settlement, and I put them down as four: To be fair to both parties and to inflict as little hardship as possible; to remove our Established Church from the arena of a somewhat sordid struggle; to make a settlement, permanent and decisive, which would leave behind the minimum of rancour; and to lighten the burden on the shoulders of those least able to bear it. I judge this Bill in as far as it will affect what I consider to be those, the main, objects to be attained. And I do not think as it stands now that the Bill is fair to both parties; if the Report was, the Bill is not. At all events that must be the view of a great many tithe-payers. And I do not think you do remove our Church from that sordid struggle. I agree with the most reverend Primate that I expect to see further legislation on this subject. I do not think this is a permanent settlement.

Now come to what I regard as the crux of the situation—to lighten the burden from the shoulders of those least fitted to bear it. That is Clause 14, and the question of what we may call the ability to pay. The ability to pay, or the placing of a point beyond which tithe could not go, really got its first legislative sanction in the Act of 1891. The Commission at all events said that it has been inherent in tithe from its very start. And I think all paragraph 31 should be read by your Lordships. I will just quote from it: Indeed, it is evident as a matter of economies that the only fund out of which tithe rentcharge is payable is the same as that out of which agricultural rent is payable, viz., the surplus remaining after the proper expenses of cultivation, including a reasonable allowance for the farmer for living expenses, have been met. Does that exist under the Bill? I do not think it does. With regard to this two-thirds remission under Schedule B of the Act of 1891 the effect, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Hastings, was that in 1933 £1,415 was remitted and in the following year £3,525, a sum so insufficient that the tithe-owners, with their habitual good feeling, added to it in—I think the most reverend Primate said—over 10,000 cases.

I would ask your Lordships whether this percentage is really a good method of dealing with these hard cases. I would point out one very simple mathematical sum. If land is rented at £2 the deduction of one-third of that leaves £1 6s. 8d.—ample for other people and ample to provide something for the owner. But if Schedule B rent is 10s. the amount is 6s. 8d., which is clearly inadequate for either. In parts of the country there remain, and will remain under the Bill, very hard cases. I have had access to the accounts of an estate, or rather two small estates, between 3,000 and 4,000 acres. They were carefully kept over a period of ten years, and I find in them that the cost of repairs during that period averages 9s. an acre, and I well know the tenants on that estate would not say that the repairs had been in any way overdone. The other burdens upon that land—A and B tax, Land Tax, roads, insurance, agency, and estate staff—were such that there was no fund available to pay tithe or anything else; but in that case the owner had other resources and the tithe was paid and gladly paid.

But what about the occupier-owner? His case, to my mind, is very much worse. I have heard it said that when he bought his land he knew the tithe on it, and therefore he has only himself to thank. But in many cases—most cases I think—brought to my notice, accounting for this vast increase of owner occupiers—11 per cent. in 1913, 36 per cent. in 1927, and still increasing—occupiers bought their land owing to the break-up of large estates due to taxation and especially to Death Duties. The occupier had no option if he wanted to stay on in his own home where he and his father before him had lived; and many families in my part of the world have lived on the same farm for over 300 years. Moreover, in many cases he was led by the fact that corn production bounties were on to think that a golden era was at hand.

I would ask the Government a question which I hope in due course they will answer: Do they really wish to ask a man to pay that which he has not got? Do they really wish to bring the law in with all its severities to make a man pay that which, with the best will in the world, he is totally unable to pay? I am quite sure that right reverend Prelates have no such wish, considering their generous action in the last few years, and this Bill proves that the Government have no such intention, because, if they had, I do not think they would have made this a personal duty, for the Government must be as well aware as I am, and as many of your Lordships are, that the first man who is made bankrupt from this cause for a debt which he has no means of paying, and through no fault of his own, will raise a storm that will not only react badly on the Government but do incalculable harm to the Church itself. I hope to move an Amendment on Clause 14, and if the Government are going to say "No" to the question that I have put to them, I confidently expect not only their sympathy with the Amendment but their practical help in making it an acceptable one.

I only wish to say in conclusion that I do not find this a very good Bill. The best thing I find about the Bill is that it links the Government to the land, at all events to the tune of £70,000,000; but I have full confidence that they mean to give your Lordships' House every latitude to improve this Bill. I was strengthened in that belief by the statement of the noble Viscount when he said that your Lordships had an exceptional right to speak on this subject. Surely that is true, because not only are tithe-payers far more liberally represented in this House than in another place, but it is the only place where the tithe-payer has an undisputed right to speak at all. If it were not for that confident hope I should not leave this Bill without opposition at this stage, because in its present form I regret to say, for my part, I find it wholly unacceptable.


My Lords, I should like at once to draw attention to the queer use, in the course of the history of this matter, of the phrase "permanent settlement." The word "permanent" is evidently a favourite one with the Leader of the House. If we read last night's OFFICIAL REPORT we find he used it three times in six lines, but it is not the first time, as the most reverend Primate wisely reminded him on which he has used the term. As Minister of Agriculture, when he was the Hon. Edward Wood, in introducing the Bill in the House of Commons in 1925, he used the word "permanent" and used it, I think, in a still more powerful sense than he did last night. I shall not trouble the noble Viscount with quoting his words on that occasion, but I assure him it has been a great pleasure to re-read his speeches at that time. It is fair to point out—and I do not think the noble Viscount will deny—that his Bill of 1925 was not a very popular one. Many people were asked to make sacrifices in that Bill which they made in the interests of a "permanent settlement." It is a pity that that permanent settlement is now to be thrown into the rubbish heap, and it is a pity therefore that when that phrase was used eleven years ago it was not built on a surer foundation.

Having made my protest on that point, I would like to join in congratulations to the noble Viscount on the very clear exposition of the Bill which he gave to us yesterday and which was a very great advantage to us. He delivered a long speech. My only complaint is that it was not a little longer, because there were one or two very important omissions from his speech, and I hope, before the end of the debate, that these omissions may be, if possible, made good. First of all, we have not yet, as far as I know, received any defence of the fixing of £91 11s. 2d. from the point of view of the tithe-owner. I accept the figure from the point of view of the tithe-payer, and I shall not oppose it in Committee, but the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich dealt very effectively with that point. He pointed out that the proper sum is £97 15s., and I hope we may have some answer to the very powerful argument which the right reverend Prelate used yesterday, and with which I entirely associate myself.

We have had no reason given to us why the lay tithe-owner is cut down from perpetuity to sixty years. The noble Viscount did tell us why the period was increased from forty years to sixty years, but he did not complete his argument by dealing with the other point. He did explain—and I suppose this is what was in his mind—something of the unpopularity of tithe as illustrated by the increase in the number of County Court orders which he quoted from the evidence placed by the Lord Chancellor's Department before the Royal Commission, which evidence, of course, I accept. But I think it is possible to explain this increase in the number of County Court orders by other reasons than the mere unpopularity of tithe. First of all, the number of tithe-payers has greatly increased since the War, due, I am told, to the breaking up of a number of large estates and due also to urban development, and you would naturally expect therefore an increase in the number of County Court cases. I am told by those who have knowledge of a number of these cases that most of them occur in urban and not in rural districts, and that they are often due to ignorance. The owner of the land does not ascertain that he is liable for tithe until the claim is first made, and he does not pay until he is brought into Court, whereupon, of course, an arrangement is made.

There is another reason which might account for the increase of these County Court cases due to the increased number of tithe-payers, and that is that, as your Lordships are aware, under the Act of 1836 arrears cannot be collected for longer than two years. Therefore, it is an elementary precaution to get an order of the Court if a tithe rentcharge payment becomes eighteen months overdue. It generally results, I am told, in an arrangement for payment by instalments, and the result is a satisfactory one, for the owner and the payer come together and make a satisfactory arrangement to suit each other. I should have liked to know very much in what parts of England this great increase in the number of County Court cases has occurred. I cannot help wondering if it has occurred in Kent and East Anglia where, of course, as everybody knows, the agitation has been most energetically and actively organised, and if my suspicion is correct—I do not put it forward as more than a suspicion—it is a very significant comment on the noble Viscount's figures. Elsewhere, I believe, the number of County Court orders has not greatly increased. I have it on the authority of the bursar of my college, Dr. Radcliffe of New College, that since he has been bursar of the college he has collected about £70,000 in tithe, and he has only once had to proceed to execution under a County Court Order. In that case the delinquent was a very rich man, who happened to be the chairman of the local Tithe-payers' Association, and he paid in a few hours.

It is very tempting to enlarge on a number of the points that have been dealt with in this debate, but I shall refrain from doing so. I do, however, ask for your Lordships' patience for a short time to deal with a side of the question which I do not think has been yet mentioned in either House of Parliament, except for a few sentences from the Leader of the House yesterday. I will put the case as briefly as I can, but I think I can show at once how important it is. This Bill is going to inflict very serious damage on higher education. I am not now speaking of the Church side; I am speaking of the lay side. If I may take the figures given by the Ministry of Agriculture before the Royal Commission—I have no doubt they are correct—they show that roughly there is rather over £3,000,000—the exact figure is I believe £3,150,000—of tithe rentcharge extant in England and Wales. Of this about £1,000,000 is lay tithe—let us say one-third for the sake of sticking to round figures. Of this £1,000,000, £577,000 is owned by colleges, schools and other establishments. That is to say, rather more than half of the lay tithe, and almost one-fifth of the whole of the tithe that is paid in England and Wales. Your Lordships will at once appreciate the importance of the work done by such institutions at St. Bartholomew's and Guy's Hospitals, which are important medical schools, the ancient colleges of Eton and Winchester, and Christ's Hospital, and I need not say anything further about them. I understand that the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge have an income in each case of £50,000 a year from tithe, and the result of this Bill will be a loss of 20 per cent. to each of the University Colleges. Each University is to lose at least £10,000 a year as a result of the passing of this Bill.

In the White Paper the Government tell us that the Commissioners did not take into consideration the hardships which their proposals might cause to any particular class of tithe-owner. I think that is a great pity, because they had ample evidence given to them on the subject—evidence which did not break down under searching questioning—and I think the recommendations of the Commission might have been more valuable if they had said something about it. But if the Commission had no responsibility in this matter, Parliament has, and I do not hesitate, therefore, to ask your Lordships to give it very serious consideration. I cannot, of course, speak with any authority for the other institutions that I have named, though it is fair to say that they communicated with the Commission. They said that they had seen the memoranda put before the Commission by the Cambridge and Oxford colleges, and that their circumstances were the same. I am, of course, not entitled to speak for the University of Cambridge, but I can give a few Oxford figures believing that they illustrate the position generally. These educational establishments have already suffered great losses in an attempt to find a solution of this problem. Figures are given—the reference is to page 532 of the evidence—which show that the seventeen colleges of Oxford concerned did not pick up Lord Hastings's pearl necklace in 1925. On the contrary, some of them have had these tithe rentcharges for over 400 years. A very interesting table shows that as the result of the passing of the two Acts of 1913 and 1925 the average loss in each year to seventeen colleges of Oxford in income has been £15,800 a year—that is to say, that has been their contribution to the permanent settlement of 1925 which is now being cast to the rubbish heap.

It is fair to remember that the Government anticipated this loss of tithe, and we were told when we raised that point in the course of discussions in your Lordships' House that there would be a loss at first, but that good years would follow and would eventually make good the loss. But the prospect of those promised good years is being wiped out by this Bill. What is proposed is a further reduction of over 20 per cent. I will not argue that that is necessarily unfair, because that is the sort of argument that does not get much sympathy, but I would argue much more that it is not only unfair but it is unwise. May I illustrate it very shortly but graphically by mentioning a piece of evidence which was submitted from my own college to the Royal Commission? It is a very interesting graph, but it has not been printed in the Report of the Royal Commission. I suppose it was too expensive for the Treasury to pay for the printing of it, the Treasury having determined that it will not contribute anything to the solution of this question. But this graph, a copy of which I shall be glad to show to any of your Lordships, gives the amount of tithe received by my college, New College, Oxford, in every year in the last fifty years before and after the payment of rates. Now the lowest year of any in the last fifty years—and I am assured that apart from this graph it is the lowest year of the whole hundred years—was the year of 1902 and that the gross annual value of tithe was £67 3s. 8¾ d. Deduct the cost of collection, which is five per cent., and the commission and the rates which were actually paid in that year and the amount worked out to the college at the net value of £51 2s. 10d., per £100. Under this Bill it will be permanently fixed at a lower figure than in any year in the last hundred years.

It is only fair to the Government that I should mention how that is worked out. We take £91 11s. 2d., we deduct 5 per cent. for the cost of collection (£4 11s. 6d.) then the rates at 10s. in the £l—I am informed in my college that the lowest rates ever paid are 12s. in the £l—£34 15s 11d., and finally this mysterious figure to improve the security, taken at £5 per cent. I am informed that the college had to collect £5,500 in the year 1934, and all that remains unpaid of that £5,500 is £53, and £53 on £5,500 is not 5 per cent. according to my arithmetic, but perhaps the Board of Agriculture have a different view. It is fair to say that in that year the college did remit £154. They let off the payment of £154, but I hope that tithe-payers will realise that there is going to be no letting off in the future. If you add that voluntary remission to the £53 unpaid, then the loss owing to bad security amounts to 3¾ per cent., which is lower than the 5 per cent. which the Commissioners have taken. Nevertheless taking that 5 per cent. we have to deduct £44 7s. 5d. from the £91 11s. 2d., so in future the college will receive £47 3s. 9d. per annum, which is less than it has received in any single year during the last hundred years. I use that as an illustration.

Now I come back to the round figure of £10,000 a year less to be spent on education in Oxford alone as a result of this Bill. Your Lordships will appreciate what the loss of £10,000 a year means. It means the loss of over thirty tutorial fellowships. It is equivalent to a loss of 110 scholarships. One college, Christ-church—which has many distinctions, one being that it took part in the education of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House—will suffer half the loss which falls on Oxford. Christchurch will lose £5,000 a year as a result of the Bill. The loss of a scholarship is a very real thing. A recent census taken in Oxford has shown that half the undergraduates are enjoying a scholarship of some kind, not necessarily a college one, not necessarily a University one, but a scholarship from somewhere. I need not emphasise the fact that the loss of a single scholarship means that a poor man loses the advantages of University education. Your Lordships, I know, will not imagine that these colleges are rich communities well able to afford this loss. They are not hoarders but are bodies doing their best to spend every penny they can for the advancement of learning.

I do not think your Lordships will consider that I use too strong words when I say that a serious blow is being caused by this Bill to higher education. The noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, did, for the first time that I remember in any speech by a member of the Government, deal with this point last night. He said: As regards the Universities and Colleges. I hope that because they are so provided with a marketable security, and considering that they pay no Income Tax and never die and therefore are liable to no Succession Duties"— that has been the same with regard to tithe— they would not find it impossible to recoup themselves, at least in part, for such loss of income on re-investment. I wonder what the noble Viscount meant to suggest by that. Surely the Chancellor of the University does not mean to suggest that the governing bodies of the colleges should have little flutters on the Stock Exchange, but I cannot read these words really in any other way. Surely he knows, as we all know, that the City of London is not an enchanted ground from which one can pick up gold and silver. I remember seeing a letter from a young lady friend of mine to her father, a well-known business man, in which she wrote: "Dear Father, next time you go to the City will you please make me £100?" I cannot help thinking that that young lady and the noble Viscount must come from the same financial family tree.

But seriously, there is nowhere in the market now that you can make up a loss of £10,000 on £40,000, which will be the net amount the colleges will have, without some depreciation of security. Yet we are being charged 5 per cent. for the improvement of security at the same time as we are being driven to less reliable investments. If it is not to be done by investment, how else is it to be done? Does the noble Viscount contemplate ground rents? I believe you can get higher interest from ground rents than you can from gilt-edged securities, but they are nothing like as secure. The only alternative is the purchase of land, and at present tithe rentcharge is a first charge on land. The colleges would be substituting the ownership of land which would be a much less favourable security than they have now. No, my Lords, the hope held out of profiting by fluctuations of the share market or in any other direction seems entirely illusory.

Yet something must be done. I hope it may be done before this Bill receives the Royal Assent. I want to make my position quite clear vis-a-vis my friends the tithe-payers. I should not agitate for their being called on to pay more than £91 11s. 2d. I should not ask for anything which would upset the new favourable arrangements with regard to Schedule B. I would not ask for any reduction in the proposed compensation to local rating authorities. And I know it is no use hoping that any contribution will come from the Treasury, which is at present contributing nothing except the credit of the nation, which is going to cost them nothing. What will be suggested, I know, is that the seventy-six years period of repayment in the 1925 Act shall be put into this Bill. Before I sit down all I would like to say on that point before we reach the Committee stage is that the most reverend Primate mentioned yesterday that this was barred by the Financial Resolution in another place. We all know that Parliamentary procedure is not a simple matter, but there is one thing quite clear and that is that no rule of procedure in one House has the smallest authority in another place. Both Houses are entirely masters over their own procedure. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, referred last night to our experience over the Irish Land Acts. I can think of many much more far-reaching Amendments that were made to those Acts than anything that is likely to be proposed to this Bill. However, we shall deal with the matter at the proper time. We certainly have the right to discuss anything we like in this House, and I hope that when we reach the Committee stage it will not be too late for the Government to be a little more liberal in view of the special considerations affecting a very large problem which I have ventured to put before your Lordships.


My Lords, the last sentence of the noble Earl who has just sat down is one of great importance. I am quite sure that your Lordships will agree that we have the right to discuss anything we wish in this House. I want to say a few words on this Bill because I am one of the general treasurers of Queen Anne's Bounty and I am also a member of the Clergy Pensions Board. I want to refer to the remarks made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Marley. He said: …tithe is a special burden on agriculture; and, as the Royal Commission pointed out, it amounts not only to a burden on agriculture but to a handicap on the agriculture of Great Britain in competition with that of other countries. It is unpopular because, as the Report says, it is a tax specially levied on agriculture and to-day it is no longer voluntary. I want to put before your Lordships this afternoon what the Royal Commission did say on this point. It is contained in sub-paragraphs (5) and (6) of paragraph 59 on pages 24 and 25 of the Report.

This is what the Report says: Another cause of unpopularity is the belief that tithe rentcharge is in the nature of a tax specially levied upon agriculture…. Again, we doubt whether this view of the situation can be justified;…but the belief exists that tithe renteharge is a special tax upon agriculture and account of that belief must be taken as of a fact which has an influence on present conditions. Then, after reference to the representation that the system is peculiar to England and Wales and that tithe rentcharge "is a burden upon English and Welsh agriculture which has no parallel abroad," the Commissioners went on to say: We express no opinion as to how far the allegation that English and Welsh agriculture is handicapped by tithe rentcharge in competing with the agriculture of other countries is justified, but here again account must be taken of a widely prevalent belief. I thought it important that this point should be made this afternoon, because it puts the position quite differently. Lord Marley then referred to the fact that the services rendered by the Church are not rendered solely to tithe-payers, and stated that large numbers of tithe-payers do not want those services in return for tithe but actually resent the Church. I should like to point out, as a member of the governing body of Queen Anne's Bounty, that we have had comparatively little difficulty in obtaining the money during the last few years. The improvement has, of course, been very gradual, but it has been great during the last two or three years, and the number of people who do not pay their tithe is comparatively small taking into account the whole number. But the payment of tithe rentcharge is not a payment for services rendered by the tithe-owner, who is often not the Church at all but a college or a private lay owner. I am very glad that the noble Earl who has just sat down has mentioned this question of the colleges, and I should like also to emphasise the hard position of the deans and chapters of various cathedrals in this country. In paying tithe rentcharge the tithe-payer is meeting obligations which he impliedly undertook when he bought the land and which he should have taken into account in the price he paid.

The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, in a very interesting speech this afternoon, referred to the fact that there would be a feeling against the Church if any legal action were taken by the Church in regard to these questions. I suggest, however, that the same law applies as far as rent is concerned, and a very large number of people in this country of all classes seem not to realise that tithe is merely a form of rent. I should also like to mention, before I sit down, that Lord Marley said that the Act of 1925 "raised the amount of cash and gave additional means to extract it from unwilling payers." That Act stabilised the value of tithe rentcharge at £105 per cent., and had it not been passed the value in 1927 would have been £133 per cent., a remarkable figure, and not £105 per cent. It was not until 1932 that the value on the seven years' corn averages would have fallen below £105 per cent., and, on the fifteen years' average—the average laid down for future payments under the Act of 1918—it would not have fallen below that figure until this year. I do not think that fact is generally known. The 1925 Act gave no additional powers of "extraction from unwilling payers." In his remarks on the income of the clergy Lord Marley was no doubt referring to certain tables, but I should like to suggest that those figures are not quite correct. I have little to add in conclusion because of the very full statement that was made by the most reverend Primate yesterday in regard to the whole question, but I see no reason why this should not be a final settlement. It is certainly true that in the last hundred years there have been fifteen Tithe Bills, but this is of a totally different nature, and I sincerely hope that it may be final.


My Lords, I think we can all be agreed on one thing, and agreed most strongly, and that is that this debate is a debate of which your Lordships' House should be very proud. We are dealing with a subject on which there are the strongest feelings and on which, indeed, there is a very strong case to be put on both sides, a subject on which, as the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, told us yesterday, we are strongly represented on both sides. Nearly every noble Lord who has spoken in the debate can be said to be interested on one side or the other. Yet the whole tenour of the debate has been about as far from a wrangle of different interests as could well be imagined. Right through the speeches of the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelates who followed him there was running the whole time a full appreciation of the difficulties of the tithe-payers and the agricultural interests connected with them, and similarly, running right through the speeches of the noble Lords who spoke on behalf of the tithe-payers and agricultural interests, there was a deep sympathy for the problems of the tithe-owners.

The fact of the matter is that there is here represented in this question an absolutely fundamental and, in many ways, irreconcilable conflict, and it is particularly difficult to deal with because the two parties never meet; they deal with the question from completely different grounds. The only thing that just a little bit disturbs me in the situation is that, when two sides in a controversy in this country are unable to come to any decision or any form of agreement, they too often tend to get together on the one point on which they can agree, and that is their firm intention to kick His Majesty's Government. My only hope, however, is that the kicks that have been administered have on the whole been quite intentionally not hard enough to make us withdraw the Bill.

Certain points have been generally admitted, and they have quite clearly arisen out of the debate of the last two days. I say "generally admitted," but I think they are completely agreed by all except one or two noble Lords, notably Lord Marley, who I am sorry to see is not in his place at the present moment. It occurred to me, however, that his points did not need to be dealt with at any great length, because most of them seem to be almost complete irrelevancies to the question we are discussing and to have been inserted simply in order to make it quite clear to the House that, whatever noble Lords thought, he was determined to indicate that he had no intention of agreeing with anyone. He raised, however, one serious point on the question of the rates, and perhaps I might be allowed first of all just to deal with that point. He stated that local authorities were going to suffer because although this annuity of £600,000 for sixty years was allowed for this specific purpose, that was going to run out. Of course, as we know, the payment will start with the actual rating income derived in the year 1935 and then, of course, it will diminish year by year. That is perfectly true, but it must be remembered that under the existing law approximately two-thirds of the income which the rating authorities derive from the tithe rentcharge will have disappeared at the end of seventy-six years; and there is a point over and above that: that redemptions are being carried out all the time from year to year, and so far as those redemptions are being carried out from year to year the local authorities are at the present moment losing rates.

I am afraid I have got away from the point at which I started, which was an attempt to elucidate some of those points which have emerged clearly as points of agreement in this discussion. The first point that has emerged is that it is quite generally admitted by all sides that tithe, just like anything else, whether land or stocks and shares, is a form of property, and there has been no desire whatsoever on the part of those who have spoken most strongly on behalf of the tithe-payers in any way to question that point. So often we hear, and we have heard it, I think, from the other side of the House during this debate, the implication that certain people in the country do not like the Church and do not like parsons, and therefore they should not have to pay tithe to the Church or the parsons. Of course, what some of them are really getting at is the point made by Lord Marley and by Sir Stafford Cripps in the park at that great demonstration, that if only they can establish a definite questioning of a form of property first in the form of tithe, unquestionably the next attack will be on land itself, and indeed Lord Marley made that perfectly clear in his speech. But in doing so, he did introduce a complete irrelevance, because he tried to prove to your Lordships that if only land were nationalised the problem of tithe would disappear. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether X passes a piece of property to Y, or whether the State buys it, tithe will remain a charge upon that piece of land, unless it is going to be confiscated, which nobody has suggested.

Then it is agreed that tithe is a form of property. I think it is agreed also, which was a point made by Lord Bingley, that tithe was a part of the land and recognised as part of the land when the land was inherited, or when it was bought, and that in so far as the land was inherited there was a saving on Death Duties, due to the incidence of tithe, and in so far as the land was bought it was bought at a cheaper price. Another point of agreement is that no form of property can in fact—and I do want, if I may, to emphasise this very obvious point for the purpose of future argument—be abolished. It can be transferred. The noble Lord opposite has talked about the abolition of tithe. All you can do is to transfer it from the existing tithe-owners to the tithe-payers, or if you laid it down that the owners should be compensated by the State, then it would be a transference of wealth from the State to the tithe-payers. Lastly, one other point, which I may say we were all glad to hear made by Lord Donoughmore, is that the payment of tithe is not simply a payment to the Church, for it is a payment which has to be made to a great number of other interests as well as the Church. That is a certain set of points, and mostly points which, if we were dealing in terms of controversy, are rather in favour of the owners.

What is the other side of the case? Various points have been put forcibly before your Lordships. The first is that since the beginning of time the owners of any form of property, however universally recognised, have always been prepared to make concessions. Landlords have always been prepared to make concessions in the case of rents. There are other cases where mortgagees have even reduced mortgage interests. Of course these concessions will always inevitably apply mainly to fixed interest payments, such as tithe, because such payments bear most hardly upon a depressed industry. Another point which was brought out by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House was the catastrophic fall in prices which has taken place since 1925. Then, again, there is the fact that tithe itself is a form of tax which has frequently been changed in the past. It was changed, as we all know, in 1925. At that time, as Lord Daryngton ton has perfectly fairly pointed out, there was an attempt to make concession to the tithe-payers, and a considerable sum was saved, but we all recognise to-day that the Act of 1925 is acting exactly in the opposite direction. We also recognise that occupiers have bought a great deal of land and that most of it was bought at a time of very inflated prices.

Lastly, I think we all recognise that whatever we may feel about the irrelevance of saying whether this form of tax is to be paid to the Church or to someone else, nevertheless there are a number of people in this country, perfectly sincere and honest people, who do feel a very great objection to the payment of tithe on possibly quite an irrational ground, but nevertheless a very sincere one. I cannot help feeling that in many cases there has been in regard to this a great deal of exploitation, and that people whose consciences have not greatly troubled them in other directions have felt a great stirring of their consciences in respect of the payment of tithe. Nevertheless, I feel that there has been this sincere objection in some quarters.

What is the position of the Government? I think it is a very clear one— that this is a difficulty that has arisen between two sections of the community. Our position is a judicial one. It is true that we have done our best to help in the solution of that problem by pledging the credit of the country to a very large sum—namely, £70,000,000, and by placing at the disposal of the scheme that has been worked out the very low borrowing powers of the Government. Actually our position is a judicial one. With all due deference to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, who says that the fact that neither side really likes the settlement is not an argument in favour of it, I venture to suggest that in this case, where there are these two almost irreconcilable views, the fact that there are complaints from both sides does show that a really genuine endeavour has been made to strike a fair and happy medium.

We recognise that, in the words of the Report, it is a charge that is quite inappropriate to contemporary conditions. We recognise that, if it had been possible, the right reverend Prelate might have been quite right and we should have been better advised to leave the matter alone. If we had not had a sense of responsibility we might have done so. But quite apart from the duties of a Government to deal with a problem that obviously needed to be dealt with, I do not think that any of your Lordships who knew the state of the country in 1934 would for a moment say that we could have got away with such an irresponsible attitude. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House has already mentioned the number of cases that were before the County Courts, but, in addition to that, in 1936 there were arrears of tithe amounting, I think, to £716,000, of which I think £40,000 had been in arrears for over three years.

There is one point about the Government attitude upon which I think it is quite essential that we should be clear from the beginning, because it really bears on nearly every point of criticism that has been brought out, and will have to be dealt with later, and that is that His Majesty's Government are not prepared to charge the general taxpayer with this liability. If a subsidy to agriculture is needed—and I think the Government have shown that they are quite prepared to put this particular pledge into operation—then it must be given on general lines. If a section of the industry is depressed—whether it is the wheat growers or the pig producers or the milk producers—then we will help agriculture on the basis of its being an industry. We have money available for the relief of the industry, but we could not for a moment consider giving it to one particular section, the tithe-payers, in order to help them deal with one particular form of liability. Your Lordships realise that there are farmers all over the country who are not paying tithe at all but who still have a difficulty in meeting certain liabilities.

What are the main lines on which the Royal Commission has proposed that we should proceed? I fully recognise the truth of what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has said. We have not in every case followed the recommendations of that Commission. But at the same time he will admit that the scheme is in general based upon its recommendations, with the qualification of the point which I have just made, that His Majesty's Government have had to make certain alterations because we are not prepared to pledge the taxpayer, and I venture to suggest before I leave that point that those who have uttered criticisms to-day, and those who are going without doubt to propose Amendments at a later stage, really must answer this specific question: If they want a greater relief for the tithe-payer do they really hope to get it out of the tithe-owner—many things in their speeches have suggested that they do not, because they recognise the difficulties—or do they intend to get it out of the general taxpayer? We really must be clear in our minds that greater relief cannot come down like manna from Heaven; it has to come out of somebody's pocket. It has to come out of the Church's pocket, out of the lay tithe-owner's pocket or out of the taxpayer's pocket. And I think it is a perfectly fair point to make to those who have uttered these criticisms that at some stage or other in these discussions they will have to answer that question.

Now what are the proposals? First of all that there should be a flat-rate reduction of tithe. I need not dwell in any detail on this particular item, because it has already been expounded so clearly to your Lordships, but actually it is a flat-rate reduction that amounts to approximately 16 per cent. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has given your Lordships figures which question a great deal the benefit of that 16 per cent. He says it is written off by a great number of extra payments. What are those extra payments? In the main it is a fact that, because the property which has been liable to tithe will in future not be liable, it will be subject to greatly increased charges for Death Duties and Income Tax. But that is an argument for no reduction at all. The noble Lord might as well have said that if we abolished tithe it would be no use to him because he would have to pay increased tax. Really I do not think that that particular point of Lord Hastings can be substantiated. Now there is the question of a further concession, a concession to hard cases, modelled on this basis, that in the past no tithe-payer had to pay his full tithe if in fact it came to more than two-thirds of his Schedule B. In future that two-thirds will be reduced to one-third.

There lies the answer to the case of the noble Lord about the rent of the property which in the past has been rented at 55s. with a tithe upon it of 11s. 6d. He said that the amount, instead of being 55s., is now 10s., and he left us to infer that on a rental value of 10s. a tithe of 11s. 6d. would have to be paid. Under this concession it would only be one-third of the Schedule B value, and the Schedule B value at the most could not be more than 10s. If the property was in the actual occupation of the owner it would be less, because he would be able to deduct the value of his farmhouse and cottage, and, at the most, the tithe would be only 3s. 4d., which would be a concession to the tithe-payer of no less than 8s. 2d. There again, in this concession lies the reply to the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth. I made a note of his question: Do you want to ask a man for what he has not got? If the value of the land has in fact deteriorated to the point which the noble Lord suggested, then the Schedule B value has so declined that the tithe becomes infinitely reduced.

Then we come to the question of period. The period has been reduced from seventy-six years to sixty years. That is another concession. I fully recognise that that is not so big a reduction as was recommended by the Commission, but the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has already dealt with this point. All I would say, in addition, is that the real reply to the criticism that we should have followed the recommendation of the Royal Commission lies in the point I have already made—namely, that His Majesty's Government are not prepared to charge the general taxpayer with the liability for this charge. There would have been no way of keeping the period down to forty years without imposing a charge upon the general taxpayer. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, criticises us for it. He likened it to finding a pearl necklace in the street which at a later stage he lost, so that really it was not a very severe blow to him. Of course, he recognises he has never had the forty years. He did see it referred to in the Royal Commission Report, but he has never had it, and what has really happened is that he has had his liability reduced from seventy-six years to sixty years. That is what tithe-payers get out of this Bill.

What does the Church get? The Church gets a very much increased security. In some of the speeches which right reverend Prelates have made there was a certain belittlement of the value of this increased security, and I rather think that the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, did not treat it with the respect which we might have expected from him. I have put before your Lordships certain figures on which I need not dwell. There is the figure of arrears—£716,000 in 1936. A very large part of that sum was in arrear for over three years. Do right reverend Prelates, and does the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, really suggest that the security of the State, with prompt payment on the very day of every penny that is due, with none of the obligations of collection, is not worth a very great deal to them? Of course it is. There is something even more important with regard to the Church. While the Church requires these funds in order to carry out the spiritual work of the parishes, they know that a great deal more important to them than any amount of funds they have for the carrying out of that work is the good will of the parishioners. That is the real reason, I think, why the most reverend Primate, in that statesmanlike speech he made to your Lordships yesterday, closed his speech, which admittedly had a number of points of criticism in it, with the assurance that he intended to do nothing that would endanger the Bill.

What are the other criticisms that have been raised? I apologise to your Lordships for being so long, but a great number of points have been raised. I do not know that a great deal has been made of this point, but it has been suggested that the flat-rate should be less than £91. In justification of that, we have been given the figure of £76, which it would be on the average of prices, or £80, as it would be if we included the wheat subsidy. Actually I think the figure would be £85 if we included the wheat subsidy over a period of seven years, because the figure of £80 is based on last year only. Still that is virtually six per cent. less than £91. I do not want to make too much of this point, because it is rather a general point than a particular one, but actually, in addition to that flat-rate reduction, there is the reduction under Schedule B, and it has been reckoned to represent £200,000. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, did not think it would amount to so much as that, but I can only assure him that the Commission and the authorities have gone into the figure very carefully, and since he made the point I have taken some trouble to check it, and that is the figure as near as we can get to it. That £200,000 represents another reduction of nearly seven per cent. on the average over all the tithe-payers, which gets us down to nearly £85. I know that that concession does not operate on a flat-rate basis, and that a great deal more goes to hard cases and a great deal less, therefore, to the ordinary payer; but I think the real answer to the point that the flat rate should be less is the answer that might have been given in 1925 from the other side. If you take any set of seven years, you can establish any basis, but it is always certain to be unsatisfactory in a very short time. I think the Royal Commission took the right line in taking the average figure for eighty years.

Looking at it from the other side, with reference to the point made by Lord Donoughmore that the figure should be £97, my reply to that is that, whether there is mathematical justification for it or not, if we had put the figure at £97 we just would not have got it; but I think there are very much better reasons than that which induced the Commission definitely and consciously to omit the very exceptional years which they would have been quite out of order in including. The next point of criticism which noble Lords have made refers to the question of the concession under Schedule B. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, particularly, and I think Lord Cranworth, mentioned that point, and said they are going to move that there should be a greater concession than that. A great number of us live in the country, and we all know the countryman and the farmer. We all know that if we saw a farmer going into a field trying to sell a cow who did not try to get a better price for it than was in fact offered, we should not think much of his business capacity. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, is perfectly right in taking up that attitude and saying "One-third! What an absurd thing: we must have more than one-third." I come back to the point I made at the beginning, where is this increase going to come from?


I have told the noble Earl.


My contention is that it can only come from the tithe-owner or from the State. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, says it can come from the scheme itself. Well, I can only tell the noble Lord that the financial basis of the scheme was originally gone into most carefully by what he himself has told us was a very first-rate and excellent Royal Commission. It has since been gone into not only by the Ministry of Agriculture but by the financial authorities of the Government, and, on the other side, by the financial authorities of the Church and the lay tithe-owners. If it happens that there have been mistakes in their sums here or there, that is a matter that can be gone into, and, naturally, if a mistake is discovered, then the scheme would have to be altered, but I do suggest to your Lordships that it is very unlikely that these authorities will have made any very considerable mistakes in their arithmetic.


I regret to interrupt the noble Earl, but there was one very big mistake found, and it may not be very singular that there should be another.


I will certainly go through the figures again, and, if I find any mistake, I can assure the noble Lord full benefit will be given to it in the scheme before this Bill is put upon the Statute Book. Before I deal with the question of personal liability, I want to refer to a smaller point, but one which is I know a very important one. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, asked me a specific question with regard to Clause 19, subsection (2). There is a payment of £2 5s. which, in the noble Lord's opinion, would have to be paid by the tithe-payer into the sinking fund. If the noble Lord will read that subsection very carefully, he will see that it is a liability of Queen Anne's Bounty to carry over into the sinking fund and not one on the tithe-payer. There will be no liability on the tithe-payer to pay that £2 5s. for this reason, that the £2 5s. has already been paid by him last April into the sinking fund, and this will be a transfer from one account to another.

I come now to the question of personal liability, a matter on which I think there is a strong feeling; in fact a stronger feeling than on any other point in the Bill. Let us consider the position of the Exchequer which has pledged its credit to the extent of no less a sum than £70,000,000 in order to enable this scheme to benefit through Government credit by borrowing at a low rate. Are they not entitled to say: "If we take this step which enables this very considerable relief to be made to the tithe-payers, then we must insist upon being certain of being able to collect our money." I think that is a perfectly simple and a definite attitude to take up, and quite sufficient of itself to justify this change in the law. But I think that behind what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said, and I think also the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, said, both on this occasion and in 1934, there is a very deep misconception of the reason why tithe-payers at the moment are not under a personal liability to meet this charge. I think the misconception is on this point. It seems to be thought that it was considered at the time when this method of collection was laid down—I am not stating what has been said in so many words, but what I think lies behind this point of view—that, as a special privilege to the tithe-payers, they should be granted a peculiar method under which their debts would be collected from them in order to enable them ultimately to meet that charge.

Actually the reason why there is this particular method of collection is not that it was laid down as a privilege at all to the tithe-payer, but simply and solely that in 1836, when it was laid down, that was the most effective way of collecting tithe. Let me read a quotation from the speech of the Minister in charge of the Bill at that time, Lord John Russell. He said: The object of this Bill is, that whatever the amount of the rentcharge which it gives the tithe-owner, whether one-third or a half, or one-quarter more or less than the present amount of his tithe, the tithe-owner should have a sufficient remedy for its recovery. Now I conceive these clauses to provide no more than the sufficient remedy; however, should the House think otherwise, I shall propose another, which I have now in my hand, giving him the power of bringing an action for his rentcharge. Some remedy he must have, or the Bill will be inoperative. It is clear that the intention then was that the strongest power possible should be given to the tithe-owner to collect the charge. This is an important point. There may be, as I believe there is, as His Majesty's Government believe there is—and that is why they are introducing this Bill—a very strong case for the relief of the tithe-payer, both on a flat-rate basis and on the basis of special concessions to hard cases, but there is no case for relief to anybody on the basis of a person saying he will not pay his just debts and that he thinks he has discovered a loop-hole in the law whereby he can evade his obligations. I know that that is not the line that noble Lords behind me would for a moment begin to justify, but at the same time it seems to me that there is no getting away from the logic of the case and that this objection to personal liability can really only be justified ultimately on such a basis.

I venture to submit to your Lordships that this Bill is a fair solution of a problem that has never been in the past and never can be in the future—I pass over the point whether it is a permanent solution or not—settled on a basis that is absolutely satisfactory to all parties. It cannot be. But I do suggest that this Bill is a fair settlement. It relieves the Church of being in the unhappy position of collecting a charge from men who in far too many cases it is realised cannot meet the charge. It relieves the tithe-payer from the equally unhappy position of having to attempt to pay a charge which he feels he cannot pay, or of having to deny the Church of which very possibly he is a member or the colleges for whose work he has the greatest respect payment of a debt which he knows ha is liable to pay. For these reasons I say that this is a fair settlement. We shall be prepared to discuss in Committee every point raised by noble Lords, but at the moment I trust your Lordships will give the Bill the Second Reading it deserves.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.