§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.877
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2:
§ Compensation by issue of stock.
(3) For the purposes of this Act the gross annual value of a rentcharge shall be taken to be the amount which bears to the amount of the rentcharge the same proportion as the following sum bears to the sum of one hundred pounds, that is to say—
(a) if any of the land out of which the rentcharge issued immediately before the appointed day was on the first day of April, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, agricultural land, ninety-one pounds eleven shillings and twopence;
§ THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE moved, in paragraph (a) of subsection (3), to leave out "ninety-one, pounds eleven shillings and twopence" and insert "ninety-seven pounds fifteen shillings." The noble Earl said: In moving this Amendment and my next Amendment to Clause 3, following what occurred on the Second Reading, I am actuated by one primary motive—namely, the object of mitigating in some way the tremendous hardship and harm which may be done to higher education as a result of this Bill. In the interests of saving time I think I might explain, in regard to these two Amendments, that they stand together. The second is necessary if the first is passed, but if the first is not passed I shall not trouble your Lordships by moving the second. I can sum up the objects of the Amendments in a few sentences and I presume it will be to your Lordships' convenience that I should state the case now for the two Amendments.
§ The first would raise to £97 15s. the gross annual value for £100 tithe rentcharge, so that the net income of the tithe-owner on which he receives compensation is increased for an incumbent from about £76 12s. 6d. to about £82 4s. 2d., and for the lay tithe-owner from about £51 19s. 9d. to about £55 18s. 2d. These Amendments would not wipe out the effects of the Bill but would mitigate the harm which is done. They leave the tithe-payer still paying £91 11s. 2d. and still enjoying the increased Schedule B remissions proposed in the Bill, and find the money to pay for the extra stock 878 issued to the tithe-owner by leaving the redemption period at the seventy-five years still left of the period laid down by the Act of 1925. With regard to raising the gross annual value from £91 11s. 2d. to £97 15s., I will not repeat the powerful argument of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ipswich on Second Reading. I adopt them entirely, and they are the justification for what I now propose. I agree with him emphatically that in arriving at the value of tithe there is no justification for omitting the years under War conditions, and in any case £97 15s.. is the correct figure. The statement that war conditions are exceptional is entirely contrary to history. In the last three centuries there is no other period of eighty years in which there has not been a world war in which we have been involved. I would remind your Lordships in one sentence that whilst the Bill refuses to consider the War years in connection with ascertaining the value of tithes, when we come to rates the War years are included, so that the Government in the Bill take the best of both worlds and gives us the worst. My noble friend the Under-Secretary for Agriculture—
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
He is certainly agriculturally-minded. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, in the very good-natured speech in which he wound up the Second Reading debate, did not in any way mitigate the unpalatable things he was saying to us. The pill was beautifully gilded, but its inside was as bitter as we know that pills can be. He takes consolation, however, in the fact that as both sides are attacking him he probably finds himself in a fair position as between the two. Your Lordships were taught when you were young that two minuses make a plus, and we accepted that doctrine because probably we were punished if we did not, but I have never been taught that two wrongs make a right. My emotions do not come solely from one side, for I think both sides are being badly treated. First of all, there is the very unfair treatment of the lay tithe-owner, and I illustrated this by figures supplied by seventeen Oxford colleges representing the whole. These colleges, which lost £15,800 a year by the Acts of 1918 and 1925, are to lose another £10,000 a year by this Bill. They 879 are almost certainly in every case, with perhaps one or two exceptions, going to receive in future an income from this source lower than in any year in the last century. These institutions, your Lordships will remember, all over the country are said to have £577,000 a year from tithe, and of that they lose roughly 20 per cent., or one-fifth, £115,400 a year.
These institutions indeed are given a severe fall, and that fall has not been broken in any of the ways in which, quite rightly as I think, Parliament has come to the relief of the Church. This loss is occasioned by letting many people off amounts of tithes which they can well afford to pay and which they always have paid honestly and punctually, while the relief given in the really bad cases in the distressed agricultural areas is in my view nothing like sufficient. And the keynote of the whole position is the period selected of sixty years. Therefore, I press for the retention of the redemption period of the Act of 1925, because this shortened period now is responsible for a quite outrageous sinking fund, and it is the burden of this sinking fund which causes the cutting of the lay tithe-owners to the bone and the insufficient relief to these distressed areas.
Your Lordships will of course remember that one of the reasons for this is that the sinking fund is fixed at a time when we have to contemplate 3 per cent. interest. In the good old days when we got 4 per cent. it would have been much better. If your Lordships will look at page 6 of the Government White Paper you will see that the tithe-payer will pay in future in round figures £2,800,000 a year. Of this £422,000 is sinking fund. That is to say, when the tithe-payer pays £24 in tithe he will pay £4 in sinking fund; in other words of every £91 11s. 2d. £14 is sinking fund, which is a colossal figure. The longer period suggested would lower the sinking fund enormously. Over 76 years I am told that it comes to £274,520 a year, instead of the £420,000 which is suggested. This reduction in sinking fund would be sufficient to pay for this Amendment and to pay for the Amendment which we are moving later with reference to what has been erroneously called by myself and others 5 per cent. It is not 5 per cent., it is £5, which 880 is another story altogether. And even then the Government will have a surplus of £24,000 a year, which would give my noble friends below me a very pleasant addition of 12 per cent. to the £200,000 which is set aside for hard cases.
If I thought the Government scheme was squeezed dry I would not claim so much, but I, like my noble friend Lord Hastings in his speech on Second Reading, am convinced that there are large hidden reserves which either the Government do not know about or which they have not disclosed. The Commission, it is quite true, suggested forty years. The Government have already disagreed with them on this point. I do hope that they will disagree a little more. And, finally, I would point out to my tithe-paying friends that it will not be doing an unwise thing in putting this further burden, not on themselves but on future generations, who will profit by the maintenance of the present educational facilities, who will suffer if these facilities are diminished, and who will be able to undertake this duty when doubtless, owing to the optimistic action of the Government now and in future times, agriculture will be in a very much better state and they feel the call on themselves very much less.
Page 2, line 27, leave out (" ninety-one pounds eleven shillings and twopence ") and insert (" ninety-seven pounds fifteen shillings ").—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
I rise to support this Amendment. The noble Earl has explained the matters educational involved in it. I revert to what was said on the Second Reading, the position of the clergy, and I have no hesitation in doing so owing to what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, in his very friendly speech. He quoted Lord Melbourne as a primary authority on Church history; I should scarcely have put him in that position. On the other hand, of course I am well aware that Parliament is perfectly competent to deal as it pleases with rent and tithe and possessions and positions of all kinds. I am not questioning that, but I would suggest that under the present Bill the clergy are being treated with quite needless severity. In any case great sacrifices are being demanded of 881 them. I should like to see the Amendment accepted so that those sacrifices might in some small degree be mitigated.
I believe the Amendment does offer us a just solution of an admittedly complicated question. By changing the period of redemption from sixty years to seventy-five the noble Earl has explained that the sum miscalculated at £105 in the 1925 Act could be put on a firmer, sounder, and perfectly just basis of £97 odd. It is that £97 odd that I am asking your Lordships now to be good enough to consider. Take it how one pleases, this Bill does confer great advantages on the tithe-payer. I do not see that it is giving anything to the tithe-owner except security, for which he is asked, in my humble judgment, to pay a very large sum. But there is one security that he does get; this I think does no good to anybody, either to the individual or the community. It is the security given to a man who does not leave his present incumbency, and I find already it is being recognised all over the countryside that a man holding a certain benefice on October 2 will never dare to move from it unless something very much better is put within his reach. That kind of security of tenure, which means permanency of tenure, I certainly for one very much deprecate. I said on the Second Reading that I have great sympathy with a great, many of the tithe-payers—not all of them, because a great many of them neither need nor ask for sympathy. It is only in a certain portion of the country that the tithe question pinches, and where the tithe question pinches I do not think this Bill is giving adequate relief.
The noble Earl has explained that to extend the period from sixty years to seventy five years would meet a very large number of these objections and inflict far fewer sacrifices upon the tithe-owners, while, as he has indicated, it does no harm whatever to the present tithe-payer. Any injury, if it is an injury, that is to be inflicted will not come into operation for sixty-one years. Land is constantly changing hands, and it is impossible that any one sitting here will feel the pinch in the sixty-first year. What I should prefer is that the Committee should accept some or all of the Amendments standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, my fellow county man. These reliefs would 882 be of some relief to the present tithe-payers, and I must say I am more interested in them than in what may happen in the days of my grandchildren.
If this permanent settlement—I emphasise the word "this "—is to last for sixty-five years, I think it might very well last for seventy-five years. The proposal of the noble Earl would inflict no hardship whatever on the taxpayer. Already the tithe-payer is to get a considerable reduction, and when we come to Schedule B, as it stands, he is to get a good deal of help. If the Amendment of Lord Hastings is carried he will get more help. I should like to express the humble hope that we shall hear, if this extension of time is not accepted by His Majesty's Government, what is the reason why sixty years has been fixed. When one considers that the change from sixty years to seventy-five years would do so much good, it is important to learn exactly why there is sanctity about the term of sixty years. We all mean to be reasonable, and we all know the Government have been put in a difficult position in the post-War years. I should be the last person to make more than a smiling reference to what has been said about the settlement which has now been discarded. A great deal has happened in the last fifteen years, but I see no reason why the Government that stood behind the settlement of 1925 should throw over more of that arrangement than is positively necessary. I cannot myself agree that the change from sixty years to seventy-five years, as advocated by the noble Earl, is an unreasonable demand for consistency from the Government, and I beg to support the Amendment.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
I am bound to say I feel the deepest sympathy with the noble Earl who moved this Amendment. I think that lay tithe-owners, and more especially the colleges, have had a very raw deal in this matter. I should very much like to support the Amendment, but I find it quite impossible to do so. I would remind your Lordships of this point, that I do not think any of the tithe-owners raised any objection when we asked that a Royal Commission should be set up and that the position as between payer and owner should be put to arbitration. That Commission sat for eighteen months, and after its award was 883 made the Government weighted that award with some hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum, and decided that the whole of that weight should be paid by the tithe-payer. Since this is stated to be a balanced scheme, one would have thought this burden would have been equally divided, but it was not; the tithe-payer was asked to bear it all.
Some £2,000,000 of that sum was to augment the income of the poorer paid clergy, an aim with which we are all in sympathy and agreement, and I am sorry we have not had more gratitude for that enforced gift. I want to point out that in spite of that extra weight, in spite of the fact that the whole of this extra burden is being borne by the tithe-payer, there is not one single Amendment down from those who speak for the tithe-payer which imposes a single penny of extra burden on the tithe-owner. I submit in that case that surely the tithe-owners might treat us in the same way because, as matters stand, it is really like the request of Oliver Twist over again. I regret I cannot support the Amendment.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (EARL DE LA WARR)
I think the whole Committee, like Lord Cranworth, must feel the very deepest sympathy with the case which has been urged by the noble Earl and the right reverend Prelate, but on the other hand the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, has shown very clearly the difficulty in which the Government find themselves in dealing with this question. It is quite clear that this is a question either of takng more from the tithe-payer or of doing nothing to help the tithe-owner, and in that case the Government come down on the basis of the Royal Commission's Report. I think your Lordships will agree that is really all we can do. When I say we come down to the Royal Commission's Report, I must make a qualification, because noble Lords will remember that actually the Report said forty years and we have gone up to sixty years. Therefore already the tithe-payers have been let in for an extra period.
Before I continue with this argument I might touch on one point that the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, mentioned, and that is the question of the educational institutions about which the noble Earl is so very concerned and with which, 884 again, we have all particular sympathy. I think the noble Earl will find he is under some misconception because he has twice given us the figure that the University of Oxford is going to lose £10,000 a year. The figures which I have—and since the Second Reading I have had them carefully checked to make quite sure they are right—are these. In the case of Oxford University, at the present moment, the par value of their tithe rentcharge is just over £48,000, but their present net income, taking into account rates and various necessary deductions, is £31,500. Their future income will be £25,347. That amounts, in round figures, to a difference of just over £6,150. But some of these colleges are also tithe-payers, and from that sum of just over £6,000 you have to deduct a sum of approximately £1,500 which they will save, leaving them with a net loss of something just over £4,500. I do not say that that is a figure of no importance, but at the same time your Lordships will agree that it is a good deal less than the sum which the noble Earl has mentioned.
In addition to that, there is the point made by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House on the Second Reading, that it should be possible for the colleges to improve their investment position. The noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, complained that the Leader of the House was suggesting that he was engaging in speculation. This was a point that was put to the Royal Commission by one who was speaking on behalf of the tithe-owners, although it is true he came from the rival institution to Oxford. He said:I assume, that tithe-owners would be entitled…to exchange the guaranteed stock into other approved investments, in so far as they desired to do so. By gradually reinvesting the proceeds of some part in other suitable assets, less liquid and without the special attractions of a Government security, it should be possible in present conditions largely to reinstate the existing income, with a degree of security and a freedom from anxiety not inferior to what is now enjoyed.I know that that suggestion was one that came from Cambridge, but there is another which came from one who, I think the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, would admit was a very prominent member of his own University—the most reverend Primate. The most reverend Primate said the other day in his speech that he had great hopes that at least this loss might be substantially mitigated, 885 apparently by the investments which the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty might be able to make of stock transferred to them by the Government. I think we can assume that the most reverend Primate thinks there is something in this point. Of course it is a hypothetical point and one does not know to what extent it might actually work.
Perhaps I might now return and give a more detailed answer to the particular Amendments set out before us. The two Amendments are, first, that the sum should be increased from £91 odd to £97 odd and, consequently, that the period should be increased from sixty to seventy-six years. I have already ventured to deal with the question of the periods. There is the question also of raising the amount from £91—I use round figures—to £97. Again the suggestion is that we should depart from the Report of the Commission. That Report has actually suggested, and we have adopted the suggestion, a higher figure than would be justified by the price of corn in the last seven years. For certain very good reasons that have been given by the noble Viscount, we have adopted that figure, and, although I do not think the tithe-payers for a moment can be accused of accepting it, they have, in so far as they have not proposed any Amendments to it at this stage of the Bill, said that they are ready to proceed on that basis.
Shortly, the reason for raising the figure is that in assessing the figure what the noble Lord would describe as vital years have been left out. I do not think any of us would suggest for a moment that in taking any sort of average over any period whatsoever you would be justified in including in that average the price of corn during the War years. There could be no justification whatsoever for that. But I look at it from a more practical point of view, one I ventured to mention on the Second Reading, and that is that His Majesty's Government are pledging the credit of the taxpayer to the amount of £70,000,000, and, therefore, they hope to see the scheme launched on a basis on which the money is likely to be collected. I think your Lordships who know the tithe-paying areas, particularly the heavy tithe-paying areas, would admit at once that £97 odd would not in fact be accepted by the tithe-payers. This Bill is an attempt to bring some appeasement to 886 the countryside, and to make it more possible than it is at the moment to get a complete and full collection of the liability. I think we all would say that there was very little likelihood of collecting a sum of £97. Therefore, on purely practical grounds, I would say that the sum of £97 would take us back, to the position which we are trying to get away from at the present moment, would take us back to a liability based on a sum which the tithe-payers are not prepared to accept. For that reason, amongst others, but for that reason particularly, I hope your Lordships will not give your consent to the insertion of this Amendment.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I would only detain the Committee for one moment with reference to the practical reasons for the non-acceptance of this Amendment which have just been given by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. I did endeavour to show the House on Second Reading that the maximum benefit which would accrue to the tithe-payer as taxpayer would be £3 18s. per £100 of the tithe. If £6 were add to his liability his loss under the Bill would be £2 2s. Earl De La Warr reminded us in his speech on Second Reading that really my figures provided an argument for doing nothing in respect of tithes. So far as it went that argument was quite sound, but, as practical people, we have got to regard the net financial effect of any proposals put before us by the Government, and in these days of high taxation it is taxation which more than anything else decides the financial effect upon payers of this kind of charge. I need hardly do more, I think, than draw the attention of your Lordships to the effect which this proposal would have, inasmuch as the benefit would completely disappear and would be turned into a net liability. That fact alone, I think, would justify me in inviting the tithe-owning interests, whose hardships under the Bill are recognised in many directions, not to press this particular Amendment, for it would have the inevitable effect of very gravely sharpening the points of difference between the two parties interested in this Bill.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
May I say two or three sentences before I respond to the appeal which has been 887 made by my noble friend behind me? First of all I must defend my figures. £10,000 a year is based on the evidence given before the Royal Commission. It was in a memorandum submitted by Oxford bursars which was sent, I understand, to the Minister of Agriculture in April, 1936. If those figures were wrong the Minister of Agriculture has taken a long time to find it out. Anyhow I would claim that the bursars of colleges have an intimate knowledge of this matter and are responsible enough to see that their figures are correct. I shall go on saying that this Bill does in fact mean a loss to certain Oxford colleges of £10,000 a year. My noble friend referred to Mr. Keynes. Mr. Keynes is a very eminent financial expert, and he is the only man who showed that the Versailles Treaty was wrong in face of the financial experts of the world. Mr. Keynes gave most interesting evidence before the Royal Commission practically the whole of which has been rejected by the Government. They appeal to him on one or two small points; but I shall perhaps say more on that subject before the debate closes. Had the Government accepted Mr. Keynes guidance in everything I should have been grumbling much less this afternoon.
I quite appreciate the point as regards the investment powers of Queen Anne's Bounty. I am advised that they have much wider powers of investment than the Oxford colleges. The Oxford college investments are controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture which is an unimaginative body. I would not choose them myself in place of my stockbrokers. I am informed that the colleges are confined to trustee securities and the prospect therefore of any improvement from their point of view is not at all a hopeful one. I, of course, cannot fail to realise the force of the appeal made by my noble friend behind me. I have much too much sympathy with the way in which tithe-payers are being treated to do anything which their protagonists think might injure them. Therefore, I will not divide on this Amendment, although I may have something else to say later. I beg leave to withdraw.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I can only speak again by leave of your Lordships, but I should like to be allowed out of courtesy to the noble Earl to say that I should 888 not like him to think for a moment that we are questioning his figures. It is probably a matter of what deduction should be made to arrive at the net figure. I think he has been rather more generous to himself than we have.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5 [Obligation of owners of rentcharges to give particulars thereof to the Commission]:
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The Amendment to this clause is little more than a drafting Amendment, but it has been thought right that we should include the words "or otherwise howsoever" at the end of paragraph (d) in subsection (1), as it is just possible that some of these charges referred to can only be established by relying on the doctrine of presumed loss of grant.
Page 4, line 44, after (" disposition ") insert (" or otherwise howsoever ").—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 6:
§ Documents to be placed at the disposal of the Commission.
§ 6.—(1) A person having in his custody or control any collecting list or similar document relating to tithe rentcharge, shall place it at the disposal of the Commission on being required by them so to do:
§ (2) Any person having such a list or document in his custody or control who fails to place it at the disposal of the Commission on being required by them so to do or who fails to transmit to them a copy thereof which he is under obligation to transmit within twenty-eight days after the obligation is incurred, shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five pounds.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME moved, in subsection (2), after the first "who," to insert "wilfully." The noble Viscount said: It seems to me that this is a reasonable Amendment because a very short time is allowed—only twenty-eight days—and there are plenty of precedents for saying "wilfully" failed. It is quite possible that a man may have lost his list or document. I hope therefore my noble friend will accept the Amendment.889
Page 6, line 20, after (" who ") insert (" wilfully ").—(Viscount Bertie of Thame).
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
Almost all the Amendments which my noble friend moves are reasonable, but I do not think that in this case the insertion of the word "wilfully" would really improve the subsection. I would ask my noble friend to look again at what the subsection really proposes. It proposes that any person having a document in his custody who fails to place it at the disposal of the Commission on being required to do so, or who fails to transmit a copy which under the previous subsection he is under obligation to transmit, shall be liable to a penalty. I suggest that a person will only be liable to conviction if he has got the document in his possession, and therefore it is quite impossible for him to commit an offence under the subsection other than wilfully. With regard to the transmission of a copy, which is dealt with in the second Amendment on the Paper in the noble Viscount's name, he will see if he looks at the proviso immediately preceding this subsection that a person must submit a true copy when required." When he is required" presumably postulates that he has been invited by letter or otherwise to do so, and therefore he will know it is an obligation. It cannot be an obligation of which he is ignorant.
I should like to add that I am advised that the words of the subsection are perfectly usual. Indeed, during the last few weeks they were accepted in another case—the Cotton Spinning Industry Act—on which as my noble friend will remember he moved an Amendment that it should only be an offence to make a false return if it was done knowingly and recklessly. He himself at that time took no exception to failure to make a return being an offence without the word "wilful." In view of that explanation, and of the advice that I have been given that in fact the offence cannot be alleged against a person without the protection he desires, I hope he will not press the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
I think my noble friend has shown that I have been guilty of some carelessness, and I can only excuse myself on the ground that the provisions of the Bill are so complicated that they are very 890 difficult to understand. I will not waste your Lordships' time, but will ask leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7 [Issue of stock and provisions as to beneficial interests therein]:
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
This is a drafting Amendment which has to be read with the next Amendment to insert a new proviso at the end of subsection (1).
Page 6, line 41, leave out from (" shall ") to (" be ") in line 43.—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
VISCOUNT HALIFAX moved, at the end of subsection (1), to insert:
Provided that the foregoing provisions of this subsection shall have effect subject, in the case of stock to be issued to Queen Anne's Bounty, to the provisions of Part II of the Third Schedule to this Act, and subject to the provisions of this Act relating to the issue of stock in certain cases in respect of liabilities to repair chancels of churches or other ecclesiastical buildings.
The noble Viscount said: This also is a drafting Amendment. The provisions in the Bill as to the issue of stock under Clause 31 to the diocesan authorities are, as the Bill stands, inconsistent with the provisions of this clause as to issue to the persons specified in Part I of the Third Schedule. For that reason the proviso is required to introduce safeguards.
Page 7, line 5, at end insert the said proviso.—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 7, line 16, leave out subsection (3).—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [Transitional provisions as to interest on stock]:
VISCOUNT HALIFAX moved to insert at the end of subsection (5):
enforceable against the person to whom the stock is issued in like manner as if the rentcharge in respect of which the stock is issued had been subject immediately before the appointed day to a mortgage to secure the amount charged, with priority aver all other interests so enforceable.
(6) Nothing in this section shall affect the Bank of England, or a person purchasing in good faith and for valuable consideration stock in respect of which any such charge as aforesaid exists, with notice of any such charge.
§ The noble Viscount said: This also is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 8, line 33, at end insert the said words.—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 9 and 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11 [Compulsory redemption of certain annuities]:
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
There are three drafting Amendments to this clause and with your Lordships' permission I will move them en bloc. The object of the Amendments is to make it clear that the reference to land in a case where two or more annuities are charged is a distributive reference to each piece of land on which the annuity is charged. I am advised that the point that requires to be safeguarded is the point that without these Amendments it might be thought that there could be compulsory redemption only where there are two or more annuities if they are both or all charged on the same land.
§ Amendments moved—
§ Page 11, line 14, leave out (" any of ").
§ Page 11, line 15, after (" or ") insert (" any of ").
§ Page 11, line 16, leave out (" or are ").—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 12:
§ Transfer of management of annuities from Commission to Commissioners of Inland Revenue.
§ (3) A direction under this section shall specify a date on which the direction is to take effect and as from that date the annuities charged in respect of land in the district to which the direction relates shall be under the management of the Board and shall be ascertained, recovered and applied by them.
§ LORD HASTINGS moved, in subsection (3), after the first "date," to insert "not being earlier than the expiration of seven years from the appointed day." The noble Lord said: This Amendment, 892 which appears in the Marshalled List for the first time to-day, has taken the place of another which stood on the Amendment Paper for some days. On consideration and after having had certain discussions, I came to the conclusion that this was the better place for the Amendment. The Amendment does not affect the finance of the Bill but it is an Amendment of very great importance. It has a three-fold purpose. Your Lordships will be aware that there exists at the present time a small but worthy community which has for some years past and more particularly under the Act of 1925 devoted itself to tithe collection, and that some persons have been at the expense of setting up special offices and others have surrendered the work which they had been previously doing in order to devote themselves to this.
§ As the Bill is drawn, there is no certainty whatever in respect of the date upon which the work of tithe collection will be taken over by the Inland Revenue. Those persons who have made it their business to establish organisations fit and competent to collect the tithe were naturally very much disturbed at the prospect of their work being lost to them, and in the other House of Parliament strong arguments were advanced with the object of inducing the Government and the Minister to give them a certain security of tenure in those employments. Not unreasonably that security which was asked for was declined, but I think in the mind of the Government themselves, and certainly in the mind of the Minister, there remained a definite sense of obligation to these persons, and in the course of the debate it was made clear that, so long as the Tithe Redemption Commission remained in the position of tithe-collectors, these persons, or such of them as were worthy, would be certain of employment by the Tithe Redemption Commission.
§ The first purpose of my Amendment is to fix a date before which it will not be legal for the Inland Revenue to take over the work of the Tithe Redemption Commission, and the purpose of that is to give some reasonable security, or some prospect of security, to these persons who are now employed in the work. With a minimum of seven years before them it is obvious that the men who anticipate losing a particular form of employment will have ample time in which 893 to make other arrangements. For that reason this Amendment is most strongly desired by those who represent the land agency branch of agricultural endeavour, and I hope that for that reason alone it may appeal to the Government.
§ But there is a second reason which is really more important, because it affects an infinitely larger number of persons. The House will be aware that there has been in another place—as there will be later in this House—much debate upon the question of grace being given to the tithe-payers for payment of their tithe. The three months' grace which is usually—in fact, invariably—given by landowners to their tenants for the payment of rent is felt to be of vital importance to the tithe-payer in restricting the demands of the Inland Revenue upon himself. The fixation of a date seven years from the date of the passing of the Act gives the tithe-payer a certainty that during the period in which the Tithe Redemption Commission will be functioning he will have that three months' grace. It is not sufficient, it is very far from being sufficient, but seven years is better than uncertainty, and this Amendment will ensure that for seven years that three months' grace will prevail.
§ There is yet another purpose in this Amendment. At the end of seven years, when the Tithe Redemption Commission may be expected to be winding up its operations, if a date of the character I have in mind and have put upon the Paper is adopted, it will give an opportunity to Parliament for revising in the light of knowledge the whole of the operations of the Tithe Redemption Commission in relation to the collection and disposal of the tithe. There is only one other point which I should like to mention in this connection. If the Government could possibly see their way to the acceptance of this Amendment, which does not affect their finance, they will be encouraging a class of the community whose assistance they will find most valuable in the collection of tithe. They will be to some extent removing from the whole tithe-paying community the sense of difficulty and even of grievance which it now feels in respect of its deprivation of the three months' grace, and they will be giving to those who are interested, as we all must be, in the finances both of the Church and of the State an opportunity for revision at the 894 end of a specified period. I do most greatly hope that the Government may see fit to accept this Amendment.
Page 12, line 7, after (" date ") insert (" not being earlier than the expiration of seven years from the appointed day ").—(Lord Hastings.)
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
The Amendment that my noble friend has moved has taken the place of an earlier Amendment that he had on the Paper and is, I think, if I may respectfully say so, a great improvement on the earlier form. It is quite true that, as he said, this matter was debated at some length in another place, and in the course of that debate my right honourable friend who was there in charge of the Bill indicated to the Committee that it was in fact unlikely that this transfer with which we are here concerned would, to any great extent at least, take place before the expiry of seven years. There is considerable force in what my noble friend has said as to the desirability of certainty in this matter so far as it can be arrived at. This being so, and having regard to the strong feeling that has been expressed on this matter by those for whom he speaks, and having regard also to a fact which the Government, I am afraid, must constantly have in their minds, that this is not an Amendment which affects the financial structure of the Bill, I do not think that there is any insuperable difficulty in accepting it. Accordingly I shall be very glad to meet my noble friend in this matter—the more so as I shall be unable to meet him in some of the other matters which he will shortly be moving.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 12, line 29, after (" apportionment ") insert (" extinguishment ").—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 13 agreed to.
§ Clause 14:
§ Remission of excess of annuity over one-third of annual value of agricultural land.
§ 14.—(1) Where one or more annuities is or are charged in respect of land wholly comprised in an agricultural holding, then, if 895 the amount of the annuity, or the aggregate of the amounts of the annuities, as the case may be, exceeds one-third of the annual value, for the twelve months ending on the fifth day of April in any year, of the holding exclusive of any part thereof in respect of which no annuity is charged, payment of an amount equal to one-half of the excess shall, subject to the provisions of this section, be remitted, in proportion where there are two or more annuities to the amounts thereof respectively, in the case of each instalment payable in that year.
§ (2) In this section the expression "annual value" means annual value for income tax purposes under Schedule B as specified in a certificate issued in accordance with the provisions of the Fourth Schedule to this Act, subject to any amendment which may be made in such a certificate for the correction of any clerical or arithmetical error.
§ (4) Where an owner has made an application for a certificate with a view to a remission under this section in the case of an instalment which becomes payable on a date before the certificate is issued, the instalment shall be recoverable in full on or after that date, but on the issue of the certificate the owner shall be entitled to recover from the appropriate authority an amount equal to any remission to which he may then appear to have been entitled under this section in the case of that instalment.
§ LORD HASTINGS moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "one-third" and insert "one-fifth." The noble Lord said: I wish I could think this Amendment could be discharged in a few words, but I fear that it cannot. The Government will bear with me, I hope, if I refer to what might at first sight appear to be an irrelevance but which as I continue I hope they will realise is by no means irrelevant. It is a fact that this Bill places upon the tithe-payer a personal obligation for the payment of tithe, an obligation which has hitherto rested exclusively upon either the produce of the land or upon the land itself. When I was venturing to address the House on the Second Reading I said that, although I fully recognised, and those who act with me fully recognised, the necessity under which the Government were placed of insisting upon this really revolutionary change, yet I felt that for that very reason it was proper that the tithe-paying community should receive greater consideration in other directions than the Bill offered to it.
§ It is Clause 14, with which we are now dealing, that touches—and it is the only part of the Bill which touches—the hard cases from which this Bill has sprung. 896 Clause 14 is what we may describe as the Remission Clause. As the Bill is drawn it limits the liability of the tithe-payer to one-third of the amount of the Schedule B assessment of the land upon which the tithe is paid. As the law now stands that limit of liability is two-thirds of the Schedule B assessment, and the Bill proposes to reduce that two-thirds to one-third. It would be exceedingly ungracious if I failed to acknowledge the great value of that concession. Admittedly it is of the greatest value, but the question that we have to debate and decide is whether one-third is enough—enough in two senses. Firstly, is it enough to give justice? Secondly, is it enough to give reasonable satisfaction? Justice is a thing which Governments and Parliament should always be ready to accord. Satisfaction does not come into the same category, but in a matter of this kind the giving of satisfaction to the largest possible number is what we are all aiming at, for unless that is done the disabilities which the incidence and collection of tithe have imposed for a number of years on the work of the Church of England will be continued, and our main purpose in discussing this Bill is to remove those disabilities and create an atmosphere of peace where one of dissension now exists.
§ There are areas in England tithed at a very high figure, for reasons which were fully gone into on the Second Reading, and which had their origin in the valuation of 1836, and whereas a reduction of the maximum liability from two-thirds to one-third clearly gives much relief in those high tithed areas, it is yet possible, and indeed in certain cases certain, that the amount for which the tithe-payer will be liable will be much greater than he can afford when he is in occupation or ownership, or both occupation and ownership, of lands let for low values because, under the circumstances, the lands themselves are of low value. Your Lordships can very well visualise valuable land letting at £2 or 50s. per acre, with tithe limited to one-third of Schedule B assessment, leaving a good balance in the hands of the owner, but when you come down to land in certain parts which is let as low as 5s.—or shall we say 6s. peracre, because 6s. is easily divisible by three—and that land is carrying a tithe equal to or even greater than Schedule B assessment, as it frequently is, this Bill 897 Limits the assessment to one-third, and the owner or occupier will not be required to pay more than 2s. in tithe, but what does that mean? It means 4s. left to the owner.
§ It is in such a case as that that real hardship arises. One-third of a large sum leaves a large sum in hand. One-third of a trifling sum reduces that trifling sum to such a figure as to make the opportunities which the owner may possess of continuing to maintain his land almost negligible. It is to meet such hard cases that I have ventured to put this Amendment on the Paper. My noble friend beside me, Lord Cranworth, has an Amendment next on the Paper which in a sense I prefer to my own. I wish I could think that the Government would accept it, but unless we have; such an assurance I feel that something concrete, in the form which I have put upon the Paper, is necessary in order to extract from others an expression of opinion upon this vitally important matter, and more particularly from the Government. When a reply is made I trust it will not be exclusively confined to a discussion of the merits of the actual figure, but that it will be borne in mind that this Bill does impose upon the tithe-payer an obligation such as has never been imposed upon him before, and that it is of vital importance to the settlement of this whole question that as small a number of dissatisfied persons shall be left when the Bill becomes an Act as we can manage. I think I have said all that requires to be said in respect of this Amendment, and I beg to move.
Page 14, line 18, leave out (" one-third ") and insert (" one-fifth ").—(Lord Hastings.)
§ LORD CRANWORTH
I will only say one or two words in support of my noble friend in this matter. This Amendment seems to me in a way to be largely a matter of finance, and to a certain extent I am bound to say I share the views of the noble Earl behind me that there are still some funds available in this scheme. Of course I am bound to agree with my noble friend on my left that it does make one a little suspicious about this when we have the Government's own admission in regard to Clause 13. It makes one feel that they have been rather generous in other parts of the Bill. I would like to point out that this 898 sum of £200,000, which this remission of one-third is going, it is said, to cost, is after all a supposititious figure. No one can say what it really is. It depends upon the state of agriculture in the future. If the policy of the present Government is carried out, and is a success, and the position of agriculture improves, so will Schedule B go up, and that figure of £200,000 will come down, and it may well be there will be room within the scope of this Bill for this further benefit for hard cases.
In his winding-up speech last week the noble Earl said that there were only two sources from which this money could come. He said his contention was that it could only come from the tithe-owners or the State. He said that twice, so I think he made a great point of it; but is it in fact true? I do not think it is. There is another source from which it could come. It could come from the tithe-payer, and that I venture to think is the source from which it should come. The noble Viscount who leads the House said that if it was found that there were savings in this Bill they would be used to reduce the time of redemption. I venture to suggest that if you accept the Amendment of my noble friend, and find there are not sufficient funds fully to meet that Amendment, then you should extend the time of redemption and pay for it in that way. I think if you have it one way it would surely be fair to accept the other.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
This Amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, has quite rightly said, is a matter of finance, and, as far as we have been able to estimate it there would be a sum some-think like £300,000 to be found if this Amendment were inserted in the Bill.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Yes, in addition, and I will tell the noble Lord in a moment how we arrive at that computation. The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, has put forward a proposal which is something quite new and, as far as I can see, would fundamentally alter the structure of the Bill.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
No, I said something quite different. The noble Lord in making this proposal quoted from a speech of my own, but at that moment I was assuming—I think rightly—that the tithe-payers were not ready to pay any more, and therefore I said any increased assistance to the scheme must come either from the tithe-owners or from the State. The proposal of the noble Lord—that is where it is quite new—is that it should come from the tithe-payers by, I think, actually increasing the period, which is a proposal that has just been made and has been rejected—I am glad to say with the noble Lord's own assistance.
The proposal therefore is that the £300,000 should, on the basis of this Amendment, be somehow found in the scheme. In an otherwise gloomy world it is always a welcome thing to meet an optimist, and it is quite clear that certain noble Lords are convinced that there are enormous hidden reserves in this scheme. But let me assure them that, while I do not like to class myself as a pessimist, we have been into these figures again and again and, whilst admitting that of necessity a certain number of these figures are based on estimates, nevertheless, we are quite convinced, after a careful consultation with the best authorities on these questions in the Government, that these figures are the closest approximations that we can lay before Parliament and the country. At the same time I made it clear on the Second Reading, and I wish to repeat this assurance, that if in fact there are these reserves, then the Minister in another place has already said that they will be put at the disposal of the scheme. More than that I do not think the noble Lord could possibly ask from His Majesty's Government.
I mentioned the sum of £300,000. I think on the Second Reading Lord Cranworth felt that we had rather exaggerated the amount that was already to be saved to the tithe-payers by the existing reduction of one-third. He thought that the sum of £200,000 that we then gave was excessive. I think he made that statement on the basis that under the existing exemption of two-thirds the sum of relief amounts only to £3,000, and he therefore made the very natural calculation that if there is a saving to the tithe-payer of £3,000 on the 900 basis of two-thirds, then there would be approximately twice as much on the basis of one-third, and no more than twice as much. But it is quite wrong to base figures on the assumption that the amount of remission is in any way proportionate to the actual fraction.
I think the easiest way of trying to explain my point is to take an example. I have taken a parish in Essex where the average rate per acre of the tithe is 6s. 6d. par value and the estimated average annual value per acre is 17s. In that parish of thirty-one landowners whose property is subject to tithe only two landowners would qualify for remission under the old basis, and the remission would amount only to £18 per annum. But on the basis of remission of the redemption annuity in excess of one-third of Schedule B the number of landowners who would qualify for remission rises from two to eight, the amount of remission being estimated at £103 per annum. But if the remission were anything in excess of one-fifth of the Schedule B value then the number of landowners who would qualify would jump to sixteen, and the estimated amount of remission would jump then to over £230. Your Lordships will therefore see at what rate the amount of remission does, in fact, increase.
But there is a third point, and that is that as the amount of the possible remission increases, so it becomes increasingly worth while to apply for it. Therefore at the present moment there are probably quite a number of landowners who do not bother to apply for the comparatively small remission that they get under the existing law, but who will most certainly apply when it becomes as considerable as it is under this Bill. The proposal is that we should increase this remission from one-third to one-fifth. What basis have we for saying that that is a demand that is really made by those who represent the farming and land-owning interest? I have turned up the evidence given by the National Farmers' Union to the Royal Commission, and I find there that they suggested in their evidence that:one-third of the Schedule B value should be substituted for the two-thirds under Section 8 of the Tithe Act, 1891, and special consideration should be given to cases where the owner-occupier tithe-payer shows by his Income Tax return no profit on the year's fanning operations.901 Our figure is one-third too, and the noble Lord, against the evidence of the National Farmers' Union, suggests that it should be one-fifth.
Then I turn to the evidence given by the Central Landowners' Association, a body with which I believe the noble Lord has some connection, and I find that their proposal was that the remission should be based on one-third of Schedule A. But Schedule B is actually more favourable to the tithe-payer than is the gross annual value of Schedule A. Therefore the Government are in fact granting the full remission that has been asked for both by the National Farmers' Union and the Central Landowners' Association. And, generous as are the Government, and anxious as they are to assist the tithe-payer, I do not think anybody would suggest that we ought to go further than the National Farmers' Union and the Central Landowners' Association have themselves asked. On these grounds I ask your Lordships not to accept this Amendment.
§ LORD HASTINGS
The noble Earl has asked me on what basis I have fixed this one-fifth. If the noble Earl will carry his mind back to 1836 he will know that the commutation of tithes was made upon that very fraction, and that one-fifth of the annual value was then assessed and considered to be a very fair commutation of one-tenth of the production. Then, in substantiation of that same principle, I would remind him that the settlement of the Scottish tithes—tiends—was based on one-fifth of the annual value. These are two fairly useful precedents on which to found a request for one-fifth to-day. In answer, so far as I am able, to the noble Earl when he quoted from the evidence placed before the Commission, I would remind him, without the slightest intention of depreciating the importance of the National Farmers' Union in all directions which concern agricultural production and the well-being of the agricultural community, that tithe is a landowner's and not a farmer's question. In regard to the evidence given by the Central Landowners' Association, I would say that the hope of the Central Landowners Association was that the one-third would be based on the net Schedule A, and net Schedule A, is of 902 course a very different thing to gross Schedule B.
But I really think all that is not of very great importance. What is important is to try to meet these genuinely hard cases which are greatly diminished by the existing proposals of the Bill but not entirely abolished. I confess I am not altogether happy about this suggested reduction of one-third to one-fifth, because there will be plenty of cases—as is evidenced by the astonishingly large figures quoted by the noble Earl—where the balance left to the owner after the one-third maximum liability has been discharged will be ample for the purpose; and it is not the purpose of myself or those who act with me to reduce that liability in such cases, which, of course, my Amendment would do. But there will always remain a balance of persons whose Schedule B assessment is exceedingly small and the deduction from which of one-third will be far too much. It is these persons whom my Amendment was really designed to serve. I admit its weakness, and although I am strongly of opinion that there are plenty of hidden reserves in this scheme—we shall come to them in due course—I am not suggesting that there is as much as £300,000 to be given away where it is not exactly required.
I prefer to take whatever there may be for genuinely hard cases, and not to spread it over where it is not required. Therefore I would ask the Government very sincerely whether they themselves, in the interests of peace and of the success of this Bill, could not devise some means of giving greater relief to the relatively few who really need it. If they could, they would be doing a good deal to prosper the. Bill in the countryside and give justice where justice is required. I admit my Amendment is too wide, and therefore, with the permission of the Committee, I shall withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
LORD CRANWORTH moved to insert at the end of subsection (1):
Provided that no payment of an annuity shall be enforced which does not leave a residuum sufficient for the reasonable maintenance of the land charged.
The noble Lord said: Although this Amendment appears to involve a minimum of money, if it involves any at all,
I am not going to deny for a moment that it is an Amendment of major importance. It is designed to provide that when a tithe-payer is hauled into court for non-payment of tithe, if he has effected the necessary repairs, works, and maintenance, and paid any Land Tax and rates that he may have to pay, and if he proves there is nothing left to pay tithe, that shall be a valid defence. In some cases, like the case quoted by my noble friend just now, it will be obvious if that state of affairs exists. The man will have to produce figures to prove it. They will be simple, direct figures, and I do not think there will be any difficulty or hardship involved if he has a real case.
§ During the Second Reading debate I asked the Government if they would give me an answer to this question: Was it really the intention of the Government to take from a man that which he had not, and to use the new powers which this Bill gives them against a man who, with the best will in the world, is unable to pay? I asked that, and the noble Earl who wound up the debate, with his usual courtesy and eloquence, answered me, but unfortunately as I come from the country I was not entirely able to understand whether his answer was in the affirmative or whether it was in the negative. After the debate was over I went to one of my town friends, and he told me: "Oh, his answer was neither negative nor affirmative; it was Parliamentary." I suggest, in all seriousness, that there are a great many people besides myself who in this matter will want something more than a Parliamentary answer.
§ I believe that under the Bill as it stands there is almost certain to occur a case of grievous wrong. A perfectly good and honest man will be had up and will be made bankrupt. It is my wish, if I can possibly do so, to avoid the grievous harm that that will do, not only to the Government, but to the Church. I do not think there will be any appreciable loss of revenue under my Amendment. The most reverend Primate in his speech pointed out—I believe with great truth—that the great bulk of the tithe is paid readily and willingly, and it will go on being so paid, but if under this Bill you enforce the non-keeping-up of land, and you enforce its depreciation, many of your Lordships know what the result will 904 be. It will take years to put that land into such a state as will attract a tenant of any sort or kind, and that tithe will be lost, not for one year but, may be, for nine or ten years. Little and possibly no loss of revenue would be involved if my Amendment were accepted.
§ The most reverend Primate made a moving appeal on behalf of those poor clergymen who had an income below £500. I am appealing to your Lordships on behalf of a smaller number of men who in some cases have not an income either of £500 or £300, but who, through no fault of their own, have no income at all. It is on behalf of those people that I appeal. This Amendment may not be in the right words, it may not be in the right place, but I venture to say that it is in accordance with the spirit of the tithe from its very inception. It is in accordance with the spirit of every word of the Commission's Report, and I humbly suggest that it is in accordance with the spirit of Christian charity, and I assert that it is in accord with principles of justice.
Page 14, line 26, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Cranworth.)
§ LORD HASTINGS
It occurs to me that the Amendment which has just been moved by my noble friend really meets the case that we both have in mind better than the proposed fixation of a fraction that was contained in my Amendment. My noble friend's purpose is to make it certain that these comparatively few persons who would find the one-third limit a liability insufficient to enable them to carry on should be in a position to prove their circumstances in a Court of law and to be given the relief which those circumstances would in the view of the Court entitle them to. The principle underlying the Amendment appears to be one which I can hardly think His Majesty's Government would care to deny. They have to find a better way of ensuring the effectiveness of that principle, and I am certain my noble friend would welcome their co-operation, but I would appeal to the general sense of the Committee in this matter. I feel confident that the Government and the Committee alike would not wish, for the sake of the exactitude of the finance that is in the scheme, to occasion a continuance of real hardship, amounting to 905 injustice, upon however small a body of the community.
I revert again to what I have stated more than once I regret to say already, that the tithe-payer is being asked, and indeed compelled under this Bill, to give away certain highly valued privileges, and the scheme has; been squeezed at his expense in a way which we are not resisting but which some tithe-payers do greatly resent. I am most anxious, if possible, that that resentment should be allayed. Here is the opportunity for doing it. If this Amendment is not acceptable in these terms or in the place where it now appears, might I not ask the Government if they could themselves meet the case of grave hardship by some Amendment drawn up by themselves for insertion on Report? Really the case brought forward by my noble friend is too strong to be refuted on mere grounds of finance. He himself has expressed the opinion, which I share, that the cost of this Amendment would be so small in money and so great in kind that it would be well worth including, and that such action might be taken without the risk of adding anything of a grave nature to the cost of the scheme.
§ LORD MARLEY
May I say one word in respect of this Amendment on behalf, particularly, of the small occupiers who are suffering in many cases very much? I have been surprised at the very large number of letters which I have received from individual farmers all over the country giving cases—and these are particularly from poor people—of terrific hardship in this matter from which they are unable to emerge to carry on their farming if they are not protected. I think there is a very great deal in the argument, if I may venture to say so, that in the end, if we by some concession are able to allow the land to continue to be cultivated especially in marginal cases, the gain in the collection of tithe may be greater than the loss occasioned by an Amendment such as this. The cases which I have received one cannot quote, but many are from friends engaged in agriculture and are heartrending. I have a case of a naval petty officer who served with me many years ago. He says that he is only able to pay his tithe out of his naval pension if he is to carry on at all, and that he has no profits sufficient to pay the amount of the tithe. Then I 906 have the case of a man who gives me his exact balance sheet for the last four years. There is a payment of tithe of rather more than £10 on his little holding, and this has to be paid out of a total income of something between £40 and £60. It is very hard that he has to find such a heavy amount as that, and he says he cannot carry on. That means that his little holding, which is a few acres in extent, will go out of cultivation. Then he will have merely his pension to live on, and he will not be producing something which is of real value to the country. There are hundreds of other cases which I could quote, and I hope very much that the Government will see their way to accept the spirit of this Amendment even though the exact wording may be altered.
THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. EDMUNDSBURY AND IPSWICH
May I say a word on this Amendment, although it does not really, I think, directly affect the interests of tithe-owners? As the Bill is drafted it is provided that the tithe-owners will have stock and the Government will get the proceeds of tithe annuities. If there is to be any Amendment I hope that any loss there may be will fall upon the Government. If the Government say: "We accept this Amendment, but our only way of accepting it is that we must inflict a loss upon the tithe-owners," then the tithe-owners will certainly have something to say about it. I cannot think that the Government would say that, because, by the Bill, they are going to determine the amount of stock which every tithe-owner is to have upon the basis of his holding. I do not suppose that if in hard cases a little allowance was made now and then, that would really affect the scheme. We all feel, if there are cases where a man is getting nothing at all, that it is very hard he should have to pay tithe, and from that point of view there is certainly sympathy in the minds of all of us who represent the Church. As the Bill is drafted I do not quite see how, even if the Government could concede this point, it would involve the tithe-owners in a loss, but I would rather like to see the form of words by means of which the Government propose to treat that loss of the tithe-owners before expressing a decided opinion about it.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Up till now there have merely been occasional glances between the Benches on which the noble Lords representing the Central Landowners' Association sit and the Benches on which the right reverend Prelates sit, but now we have got a little nearer to the danger that I ventured to mention in my Second Reading speech of the two sides who are in disagreement uniting on their one common basis of disagreement to get as much as they can out of His Majesty's Government. But I think the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken is a little optimistic, because the Government have laid it down quite definitely as a principle—and there is no question whatsoever of withdrawing from it—that they are not prepared that this scheme shall be financed at the expense of the taxpayer. Therefore if it is your Lordships' wish that the Bill shall be amended in this way we would be bound most unwillingly to find some further Amendment whereby the charge was kept within the bounds of that principle. That is merely to say that we should have to find some way of putting it on the tithe-owner. I hasten to assure the right reverend Prelate that we have not the slightest intention of doing that and for that reason we really cannot accept this Amendment.
It is perfectly true, as my noble friend Lord Cranworth said, that less money is needed under this Amendment than under the last, but that does not affect the principle. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said surely we would not turn down the Amendment on the mere question of finance. But this scheme is a financial scheme and therefore quite definitely, if the financial basis of the scheme is knocked out of it, we cannot shirk the issue by saying that we are not going to be affected by mere matters of finance. I am sorry if I have to repeat one or two arguments, but really this Amendment is so very similar to the last in principle that it is difficult to reply without doing so. I come back to the point that this is more than is asked for by the representatives of the farmers and landowners. It is all very well for the noble Lord to say that this is not a farmer's question but a landowner's question. Technically, that is perfectly accurate, but surely everyone who has thought about the subject for a moment 908 must recognise that the reason why it has become such a serious matter and why the Government have been prepared to intervene, is that to a very large extent, through farmers purchasing their own land, it has become partially a farmer's question. Therefore I suggest to the noble Lord that we should not too much question the right of the National Farmers' Union to pronounce on these matters.
Coming back to the point of the noble Lord's preference for this method of procedure instead of the procedure under the last Amendment, I would say quite frankly that if we had to have either I would have preferred the first Amendment. I do not say that merely because the first Amendment is now out of the way, but for the reason that it is going to be very difficult, and almost impossible, to decide the extremely contentious question of whether the payment of an annuity in any particular case would in fact result in an insufficient residuum being left for the reasonable maintenance of the land. That is a purely hypothetical question which it would be quite impossible to decide. It was for that reason, I think, that the Royal Commission arrived at the conclusion that if in fact further remission was necessary it should be on a definite flat-rate basis. For that reason they proposed and we accepted the proposal that the remission should be changed from a two-thirds basis to a one-third basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, put a question to me on Second Reading and he has accused me of giving a Parliamentary answer. My reply to the noble Lord is that sometimes Ministers are faced with Parliamentary questions and then they demand Parliamentary answers. We all know the question that is sometimes put to learners of logic, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"—a very difficult question to answer. I therefore answer the noble Lord entirely on my own basis and do not accept the basis of his question. I say that tithe is a liability, a debt, which is admitted by every single member of your Lordships' House. We were able to comment at the end of the Second Reading debate that no one had questioned that it is a liability. But it is generally recognised that there is certain hardship as the result of the conditions under which that liability has to be fulfilled at present. 909 This Bill proposes to meet that hardship in two ways—first, by making a general flat reduction from £105 to £91, and secondly, by giving a special remission in specially hard cases. The noble Lord opposite will be pleased to think that his friend the naval officer will benefit from both these reductions. Liability was there when he either inherited the land or bought the land, and the only difference in his position after the passage of this Bill will be that that liability is very considerably reduced. If, after this assistance that has been given to him, he is still unable to meet his recognised liability, then I answer the noble Lord by saying that he is in precisely the position of any other citizen when he is unable to meet his just debts.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I would ask your lordships' leave to say a word or two on this Amendment although I am not qualified to say how far it can be fitted into the structure of the Bill. I am not very fond of the Bill, for in many respects it seems to me a Bill which is going to take from the tithe-owners money which really belongs to them and which ought to be left to them unless strong reason can be shown to the contrary. It is because this Amendment touches the very heart of the point whether that strong reason can be shown, that I have considerable sympathy with the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Cranworth. After all, why should the Government have approached this tithe question at all? It is because in certain cases great hardship is felt in the payment of tithe, and my noble friend seeks to provide by this Amendment that where the hardship is really so grave that the actual cultivation of the land is interfered with there is a case for remission. In my judgment, it is the only case for remission.
The tithe-owner has as much right to his tithe as the landlord to his rent, but when the landlord asks for his rent he in practice always makes a remission if he finds that the rent is so high as to interfere with the cultivation of the land. I think the same principle might be applied so far as possible by the tithe-owner. Where the tithe is so high that it interferes with the cultivation of the land there is a case for remission, but where the tithe can be quite readily paid there is no more reason to interfere 910 with the tithe-owner's rights than there is to interfere with the landowner's rights. My noble friend says he wants to bring this actually to the test and to put in an Amendment saying that where tithe does actually interfere with the cultivation of the land it ought to be remitted, and I am bound to say that I think his argument is perfectly sound. I do not say it is possible to put the Amendment into the Bill in the form in which it now stands. That must be a matter for the Government, and I am not prepared at this moment so far as my humble vote is concerned to interfere with the structure of this Bill. But I do not think that the answer of the noble Earl is adequate. He sought to show that the Government had dealt with that by a flat-rate principle. I hate these flat-rate principles which interfere with absolutely established rights. Why should you have a flat-rate principle if the rights of the tithe-owner are what my noble friend describes them to be—admitted? You want exceptional treatment, treatment where there is hardship, and not a flat-rate treatment at all. Therefore I venture to hope that between this and the next stage of the Bill the Government will see whether they cannot make a better approach to meet my noble friend's Amendment.
THE LORD BISHOP OF NORWICH
I should like to support the last words that have fallen from the noble Marquess, It may be perfectly true that this Amendment, as it stands at the moment, cannot be satisfactorily implemented, but I think that there are a good many considerations that we ought to bear in mind. From the beginning I have maintained that one of the chief faults in this Bill is that it gives help to those who do not need it and do not ask for it, and does not give adequate help to those who do need it and do ask for it. They will go on needing it and go on asking for it. When we were told on the Second Reading debate that the odium would be removed from the Church because the clergy would be receiving annuities and no longer receiving tithes, I felt all the time that still on the countryside the man who is sold up because he honestly cannot maintain the land that is charged with the tithe will complain that it is all through the resident parson that this has come about. It appears to me 911 to be quite impossible now to change the annuity arrangement. That would be such a complicated financial business that I do not think it is worth discussing or considering at all.
But we have not found this question such an extraordinarily difficult thing as the noble Earl has suggested, in our administration of Queen Anne's Bounty. We have had eight men, whom we have called "investigators," who have gone round and visited the farms concerned. They have not been local people, and the whole thing has been confidential. One of the very reasons why Queen Anne's Bounty has been such a complete success, during the last year since the law has been clarified, in getting in tithe has been that these investigators, with good knowledge and good sympathy, have learnt the actual nature of the ease and discovered the very thing which we have been told it is impossible to discover—namely, whether the owner-occupier can or cannot pay his tithe and whether it is impossible on the produce of the land for him to pay his way.
A point which has been mentioned, but which I think is such an important thing that it ought to be said again, is that we all have a wider interest in all this than that of the mere tithe-owner or the tithe-payer—namely, the cultivation of the rural areas of England. It would be a dreadful thing if, for the sake of what I venture to think is rather a pedantic view of the finance of the matter, we should see here and there the ground going out of cultivation. I believe it to be our duty to prevent any such catastrophe as that would be. I venture to suggest to His Majesty's Government, if I may respectfully do so, that they should take all this matter into consideration and find whether there may not be some way in which these admittedly very few people to whom the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, applies could not be helped. It does not seem, from what we have heard, that anybody is going to produce a rough-and-ready solution now, but I should be extremely sorry if the door were slammed, and I think it may be the desire of the Committee that when this matter comes forward on Report the Government should be gracious enough to see whether they can devise some way of helping these hard-pressed people, of 912 preventing the odium that would necessarily attach to the clergy, and of maintaining the land of our country.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
The noble Earl in charge of the Bill stated the case for the Government with the utmost clearness and, in a general sense, most fairly. It will, however, have been evident to His Majesty's Government from the speech of the right reverend Prelate who has just sat down, and also from that of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and from that of the noble Lord speaking from the Opposition Benches, that the Committee in general received his statement with considerable disappointment. It seems to me that in one sense the change brought about by this Bill has not been quite apprehended by His Majesty's Government. The payment of tithe becomes a State liability of the same nature as the taxes which we, willing or unwilling, pay, and the possible cases of hardship which have been so clearly set out by different speakers assume a different aspect when the liability which the tithe-payers are unable to meet is a State liability whereas, before, they were able to argue—rightly or wrongly, but they did argue—that the payment was one to a corporation, if that is the proper word, an institution, and therefore a payment which is not precisely on all fours with a liability to the Government.
I trust, therefore, that the noble Viscount opposite will agree to the suggestion, which seems to me a very reasonable suggestion, that before the Report stage the Government should give full consideration to the possibility of some means by which these hard cases can be met and that they should produce their solution. It is hardly, I think, reasonable for His Majesty's Government to put the onus of suggesting a way out of this very obvious difficulty upon the shoulders of the noble Lords interested in agriculture, or the National Farmers' Union, or any other body. After all, this is a Government Bill, and it has got to be made acceptable to the country by the action of His Majesty's Government. I trust, therefore, that this suggestion for further consideration will not be altogether put aside by the noble Viscount who leads the House.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I cannot but say a word in response to the very courteous invitation addressed to me by the noble 913 Marquess opposite. Nothing, of course, would be easier for me on behalf of the Government than to say that we would, between now and Report, undertake to examine by what means the feeling that has been generally expressed by those of your Lordships who have taken part in this discussion can be met, and to leave on the minds of your Lordships the impression that I share with you the conviction that it can easily be met within the four corners of the Bill. I will say a word in a moment as to why I do not think that that would in fact be possible, and why, that being my judgment, I do not think it would be frank with your Lordships to leave you in possessing of a different conclusion. There is no dispute between any of us as to the desirability and the importance of making fail-provision for remission in what I may for brevity's sake call hard cases arising under the Bill. The case for remission is, of course, generally admitted, and the Royal Commission, as has been said move than once, after going into the whole of this question and having all the points that have been raised in this debate before them, came to the conclusion that there was no other effective way of meeting what they desired to meet than by having some general arrangement, sufficiently generous as to bring in the hard cases which might be expected to arise.
My noble friend Lord Salisbury said that he has a great distaste for flat rules, and so have I, but with every respect for him I think that this rule which is suggested by the Amendment is the flattest rule which could be devised. I think so for this reason. You will observe that the Amendment says that "no payment of an annuity shall be enforced which does not leave a residuum sufficient for the reasonable maintenance of the land charged." The test in my noble friend's mind is, is the land itself capable of bearing the burden which is placed upon it, or rather upon the owner of it? It is quite evident that there may be plenty of cases in which a comparatively wealthy man will be the owner of comparatively poor and derelict land and in such a case it is proposed to exempt. I cannot conceive the justice of devising a rule which will cover with one umbrella the millionaire with poor land and the hardworking farmer on good land who happens to be struggling with adversity 914 —bad seasons, bad prices, and so forth. Therefore I cannot for that reason think that this Amendment is wholly justifiable. Then, apart from that, let me for a moment dot the i's of my noble friend's argument. Who is to decide what is sufficient for the reasonable maintenance of the land charged? The yield of the land entirely depends upon how it is farmed, and there is no authority in heaven or on earth who can decide with strict finality whether land is uneconomic because it is badly farmed or because the payments are too high. For all these reasons I suggest that there is no better way of meeting these hard cases than by making your rules general enough to bring them in. That, I suggest, has been done.
There is one other word which I must say. It is not pedantic, as my noble friend has said, to point this out, that if the Amendment were included in the Bill it would be only included in the Bill for one reason, and that was that it was going to give greater remission to tithe-payers. That means that it is going to cost more money to the scheme, and I am bound to repeat, whether it is approved in all quarters or not, that the only condition on which the Government introduced this Bill is that they were not prepared to charge the taxpayer with further charges under it. Therefore if any remission were made it is evident that a consequential Amendment of the whole scheme would have to be made, by which the money required would have to come out of the pocket of the tithe-owner, and I do not think that tithe-owners are so indirectly concerned with the Amendment as the right reverend Prelate so light heartedly seemed to think. Therefore your Lordships will appreciate that it is with those reasons in mind that I should feel considerable reluctance to give any undertaking that I would look into the matter between now and Report, in order to produce a result which, however much I tried, I do not think it is possible to produce within the four corners of the Bill without the undesirable consequences which I have mentioned.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
I can only, naturally, express the very greatest disappointment at the answer which the Government have given to my Amendment, and thank those on both sides who 915 have supported it in spirit. As I said before, I have nothing to be proud of in the wording of it. It may be worded entirely wrongly, or it may be proposed in the wrong place, but I believe that the spirit of it is entirely right. I have only heard two arguments against it. The noble Earl who replied said that I had only a few behind me. That is contrary to my information. Then we have the other view put forward by the noble Viscount who asked who could say what
§ Resolved in the negative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
LORD HASTINGS moved to insert at the end of subsection (2):
after deducting from such annual value (a) the amount charged on the land by any
§ was sufficient for reasonable maintenance of the land. Surely there is a little bit of misapprehension there because the maintenance is not a matter of farmer's repairs, but entirely a matter of owner's repairs. I am deeply sorry at the Government's answer, and must regretfully put your Lordships to a Division.
§ On Question, Whether the proposed words shall be there inserted?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 41; Not-contents, 73.915
|Wellington, D.||Bledisloe, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L. [Teller.]|
|Camden, M.||Hambleden, V.||Faringdon, L.|
|Crewe, M.||Hereford, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)|
|Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Hastings, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)|
|Denbigh, E.||Sidmouth, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Hardwicke, E.||Tredegar, V.||Marley, L.|
|Lichfield, E.||Mendip, L. (V. Clifden.)|
|Macclesfield, E.||Norwich, L. Bp.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Redesdale, L.|
|Poulett, E.||Arnold, L.||Snell, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Brocket, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Stratford, E.||Cranworth, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V. [Teller.]||Ernle, L.||Woodbridge, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Ullswater, V.||Greenway, L.|
|Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Halifax, V. (L. Privy Seal.)||London, L. Bp.||Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.|
|St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, L. Bp.||Hutchison of Montrose, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Iliffe, L.|
|Winchester, L. Bp.||Jessel, L.|
|Bath, M.||Lamington, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Ashton of Hyde, L.||Latymer, L.|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Askwith, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Bayford, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Bingley, L.||Mildmay of Flete, L.|
|Cavan, E.||Camrose, L.||Mount Temple, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Palmer, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Playfair, L.|
|Iveagh, E.||Cochrane of Cults, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Cromwell, L.||Rennell, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Daryngton, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Desborough, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Doverdale, L.||Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)|
|Munster, E.||Ebbisham, L.||Stafford, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Rothes, E.||Eltisley, L.||Strickland, L.|
|Sandwich, E.||Elton, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.)||Teynham, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]||Wakehurst, L.|
|Glanusk, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Swinton, V.||Glenravel, L.||Wolverton, L.|
§ public rate or assessment in respect of draining, fencing or embanking or, in cases where the sums expended have not been so charged, the amount expended by the owner of the land on an average of the twenty-one preceding years in respect of such works and (b) the amount expended by the owner of the land on an average of 917 the twenty-one preceding years in the making or repairing of sea walls or other embankments necessary for the preservation or protection of the land against the encroachment or overflowing of the sea or any tidal river as the same shall be."
§ The noble Lord said: I come now to an Amendment which really requires reference to a clause which the Government themselves have put into the Bill. It will be found that in Clause 33 the Government adopted a recommendation of the Royal Commission—a very reasonable one—that where land had disappeared under the sea it should no longer be titheable. It would appear to me not unreasonable that those persons who are preventing their land from going under the sea should receive some consideration. The setting up of catchment boards has brought this matter into the realm of practical politics, and although persons who are subject to the rates for drainage and sea defence are not very numerous, at the same time those who exist are, I think, entitled to some special consideration. Schedule B assessment would not, otherwise than by direction of Parliament, include that consideration. We might have, and shall have, cases of land-owning tithe-payers who will find themselves charged in excess of the charges levied upon the ordinary land owner for this special purpose.
§ It will be seen from the Amendment that regard is to be had to the rate now charged for drainage, fencing, or embanking, and, where no rate is charged, to an average expenditure of the twenty-one preceding years in the making or repairing of sea walls or embankments. This Amendment really does not require very much advocacy, because it stands to reason that if these expenditures were not embarked upon the land would become waterlogged, and therefore derelict. It might remain titheable but it is certain that tithe would not be collected upon it, either by the Inland Revenue or by anybody else. The natural effect of this proposal must be so trifling as to be of no account. Even if it were not so, I would like to remind both the noble Viscount and the noble Earl that although they keep on telling us that the scheme is such-and-such, and that anything we propose will involve a charge on the taxpayer, neither of them has as yet answered our contention that there is in the scheme a reserve of money.918
§ It is not unreasonable to claim that while they are, quite properly, unwilling to place a charge on the taxpayer, they ought to tell us they are equally unwilling to make a profit. We have had no answer to the figures I produced on Second Reading, no answer to the figures produced by other speakers as well, but merely the statement that anything we do must involve placing a charge upon the taxpayer which the Government will not accept—the mere obiter dictum of the Treasury, that is all. It is inconceivable to my mind, in this particular case, that the charge on the taxpayer would be noticeable, as I hold that no charge would be involved at all. There are, in the fen areas and in certain coastal areas, a limited number of persons to whom this Amendment would do but justice, and I trust the Government will see their way to accept it. I beg to move.
Page 14, line 33, at end insert the said new words.—(Lord Hastings.)
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The noble Lord complains that the spokesmen of the Government keep on repeating their points, but it is really very difficult for us not to do so as the noble Lord goes on repeating his. He continually makes the remark that his proposals will have no real financial effect on the scheme; at any rate, that the effect will be so trifling that it will not count. If that is the way that the noble Lord deals with his finance, he must forgive me when I say it is not the way in which His Majesty's Government deal with the national finances. The noble Lord keeps on talking about these hidden reserves in the scheme, and says that neither the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, nor myself has yet answered his contention that there are hidden reserves. If the noble Lord is really anxious, I am quite prepared to bring in on Report a pile of documents with all the figures which the Treasury has gone into, and take your Lordships through them. Unless the House is anxious for me to do that, if the noble Lord says that the Government figures are wrong, it is up to him to prove his contention. He has not made a single attempt to do so except to throw out as a general impression that there is something being kept up our sleeve.
919 I had rather hoped, after the last Amendment, that the noble Lord might withdraw this Amendment, for the simple reason that it is a very ingenious way of bringing about very much the same result. It is a simple endeavour to get more remission than that which was recommended by the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission recommended that the remission should be based on one-third, instead of two-thirds, of Schedule B. The noble Lord now suggests we should alter, in certain cases, the basis on which Schedule B is calculated in order to get a further remission. On what basis does he suggest that? On the basis of those who have to pay a public rate or assessment for draining, fencing, or embanking against the danger of sea erosion, and also where, apart from having to pay a public rate for that purpose, the owner has himself to maintain a sea wall or undertake some such similar expense.
Why should he choose that particular form of maintenance of land for special relief? There is not a landowner in the country who has not got some peculiar form of maintenance of his own particular piece of land which he has either inherited or bought. Some of us had the misfortune to inherit land, perhaps, with buildings in a bad condition. That was a form of maintenance we had to meet. Others of us do not have the sea coming in and invading our land, but we have the rain coming down from above, and possibly we have soil that does not readily let that water away, and we have to undertake an expensive scheme of land drainage ourselves. There is a vast number of kinds of land maintenance which would have to be allowed for under Schedule B if we were to adopt this principle.
I suggest to your Lordships that we have arranged for a very considerable concession already by reducing from a two-third basis to a one-third basis. I am sorry to have to repeat this point, but if this Amendment is worth having at all it means a reduction of the money going into the scheme. That difference is not going to come out of the pockets of the taxpayer, and I again must tell the noble Lord that the only way it can be got hold of is by a consequential Amendment at the expense of the tithe-owner. That may be a very unpleasant piece of 920 reality to face, but it is a reality, and as such I suggest we really must face it. For these reasons I am afraid the Government cannot accept the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
I venture to participate in the discussion of this particular Amendment because I cannot help thinking that the noble Earl is under an illusion in endeavouring to place this particular charge upon land on the same footing as various other charges in respect of which the owner or his predecessors in title have incurred obligations resulting largely either as a matter of history or in consequence of their own neglect. Here is a charge which is imposed upon land under a regional scheme and in respect of which the owner of the land, or indeed the occupier, may be wholly unable to prevent the damage which the charge is imposed to relieve.
I speak as having been Chairman of the Royal Commission which reported in favour of the establishment of these catchment areas and the imposition of this class of rating in order to improve the drainage of land over the whole of the catchment area of any particular river. I realise the difficulty in which the Government find themselves, and I realise the extreme difficulty in which this House finds itself, in moving any Amendment to this Bill in consequence of the contention that this is a carefully designed financial scheme which cannot be altered in any way because it would impose an extra burden—so it is alleged—on the Exchequer. I know my noble friend Lord Hastings tells us that after very careful calculation he is satisfied that the Exchequer has something, so to speak, up its sleeve which will enable it to make concessions. If there is any such amount, I cannot imagine any purpose in respect of which, as a matter of equity, the Government could more usefully make a concession than in respect of this particular charge for the drainage of land under a catchment area scheme.
I have intervened in this debate only because I feel there is a very great distinction in principle between a charge that is passed over by inheritance or purchase with the land and a charge which has been imposed from outside under entirely new conditions which, in most cases, have not existed in days gone 921 by, and in consequence largely of the greater utilisation of water in the higher altitudes of catchment areas, and more particularly the improved methods of drainage under which water runs much more rapidly down beneath the surface of the soil into those water-logged areas than ever it did in former days when these super-civilised customs did not exist. I hope that in this case at any rate, if there is anything available under the scheme, it may be applied to the purpose and that an exception will be made.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The noble Viscount speaks with very great authority on this matter, and his point cannot, therefore, be allowed to go without a reply. There is no one who knows more about this subject from his general experience and from the experience which he has mentioned of presiding over the Royal Commission on Land Drainage as a result of which we had the Land Drainage Act. But I would venture to bring this particular point to his notice. In so far as the expense which is mentioned in the Amendment has a special position—I freely admit that it has to some extent a special position—the difference in its position really is on the whole a point in favour of the Government's case. After all, if he or I have to repair buildings or undertake a piece of work of private land drainage, we have to pay everything ourselves, whereas a rate paid for this purpose is a rate for which a very much greater benefit is received than the landowner has to pay for. He only pays a proportion of the expense. Very heavy grants for this type of work are made at the public expense from the Exchequer to the catchment boards, and rates are levied on the boroughs and county boroughs in the area as a contribution to this ex-pence. Therefore, in so far as there is a special position, I venture to suggest that it strengthens the case of His Majesty's Government.
§ LORD HASTINGS
The noble Earl has really brought us to a point where discussion has ranged wider than upon this particular Amendment. The noble Earl has said that I continually repeat, without producing any evidence or specifying what I mean, the assertion that there are within this scheme hidden reserves, and that my constant repetition of this induces him to follow my example and repeat his statement that there are no 922 such hidden reserves. I would remind the Committee and the noble Earl that on Second Reading I did specify quite a number of directions in which I had figures and statistics to show that there was in fact within the scheme a hidden reserve—or a prospect of profit, shall we put it that way?
I ask the noble Earl if it is really likely to be a fact, as the Inland Revenue say, that the cost of collection would amount to 5 per cent.? Really a statement of that kind is not one which could possibly be substantiated. Is it suggested that 5 per cent. of the revenue of this country is expended upon the cost of collection? It really is not reasonable to suggest that such is true. Yet 5 per cent. is taken out of this scheme to provide for that particular charge. I produced figures to show that the amount of increase in respect of the Income Tax alone would account for a greater sum than is allowed for in the scheme as the balance at the time of the White Paper balances, and I pointed out that the figures I gave still took no account either of the Surtax or of the Death Duties. These are only a few of the instances which, I venture to assert, show that there is a probability of profit in the scheme. Every Amendment which we have to deal with is based upon the truth or upon the irrelevance or lack of truth of those assertions, and if it really is true that there is no margin whatever within the scheme, clearly anything that is moved and carried in this or the other House of Parliament must have the effect either of increasing the balance left to the tithe-owner, or increasing the payment made by the tithe-payer, or inducing the taxpayer to find some sum. Really that is what we come down to.
It would be very easy for the Treasury to make a profit, because there is no limit to the amount they can spend, if they wish, on the Tithe Redemption Commission and the general costs of setting this scheme on its feet. I suppose the Treasury would find the greatest difficulty in estimating what those costs really will be within the first two or three years, and, with the wisdom of Government Departments, they have left themselves an ample margin. We feel that there are certain aspects of this Bill which require amelioration either in the interest of the tithe-payer or of the tithe-owner, and we 923 do hope that there are these balances available within the scheme, and that the Government will release them for the particular purposes we have in mind. It seems to me that everything we say in this House is now, so to speak, overruled or over-weighted by this particular argument that there is or is not money within the scheme, and that the merits of the particular Amendments go by the board because of that reason. The noble Earl's argument in respect of the particular Amendment which stands on the Paper may be good or may be bad, but I think it is really not well that the merits should be over-weighted by the other argument, which relatively has nothing to do with the subject.
On this particular Amendment I admit that the noble Earl has arguments which, although they do not convince me, and do not really over-weight mine, yet are of a kind which are sound. I have not met with any support in respect of this Amendment in other quarters of the Committee, and I do not propose to pursue it on that account, not because the noble Earl has told me there is no money in the scheme. He must sooner or later produce figures to prove to us, if he can, that there is no money within the scheme, and not till then will we be content.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX moved to insert at the end of subsection (4) "and for the purposes of the proviso to subsection (6) of the last foregoing section that amount shall be deemed not to have been paid." The noble Viscount said: This is in fact a drafting Amendment. Clause 13 provides that the reductions for Income Tax purposes in respect of liability for instalments are not to be allowed in so far as the liability is extinguished by remission, and the Amendment is moved to cure a defect in the drafting to effect that purpose.
Page 15, line 7, at end insert the said words.—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
LORD HASTINGS moved to add to the clause:
(7) The provisions of this section and of the Fourth Schedule to this Act shall extend and apply (mutatis mutandis) in respect of any annuity payable under an agreement made under Section four of the
Tithe Act, 1918, for the redemption of tithe rentcharge on land wholly comprised in an agricultural holding and accruing due after the appointed day.
§ The noble Lord said: I apologise that these Amendments in my name are coming so rapidly one after the other, but that is the fault of circumstances not of myself. This Amendment is one that I put down more with the purpose of explaining it, or the circumstances which gave rise to it, than for any other reason. It was contended before the Royal Commission that the persons who redeemed their tithe under the 1918 Act on the annuity basis with a currency of fifty years, should be given the opportunity of benefiting by the Remissions Clause which it was proposed and supposed would be inserted in any ensuing Bill. It certainly was not due to any desire to upset or alter in any way the agreement arrived at voluntarily by the tithe-payers, although I did remind your Lordships on Second Reading that these agreements, voluntarily in themselves, were in the nature of snatching at a floating straw by drowning men in the hope that they might save something for themselves instead of all going to wreck.
§ That we will leave. The point really is that those who redeemed their tithe in 1918 converted voluntarily their liability into a personal one, and the Royal Commission felt that, that having been done, it was difficult to bring them within a scheme such as we are now discussing. Personal liability or no personal liability, tithe had never except in these instances come from any but one source and that is the rental of land where land is let and the profits of farming where the owner-occupier is liable for the tithe. Redeemers under the 1918 Act, whether they let their land or were owner-occupiers, had equally felt the extreme hardships and difficulties of the depression which settled upon agriculture following the action of redemption. They had an equal difficulty with those who were compulsorily paying tithe and a sinking fund under the 1925 Act, and it was felt by myself and by those for whom I speak and who act with me, that it would be unfair in practice to deprive them of any advantages which the general body of tithe-payers may be accorded by this Bill merely because of the fact that they had made their liability a personal one and that it was no longer a charge upon the land.925
§ There are not a very large number of persons who would be affected by the Amendment which I have on the Paper, and taking the basis of the remission, as I have done at 6¾ per cent. of the whole value of tithe to be collected and applying that same percentage basis to the balance of 1918 tithe which is paid on the fifty-year annuity basis, and omitting such tithe as was redeemed for capital payment, I find that the annual cost of including these redemptions under the 1918 Act within Clause 14 would be £11,700, which we may put at £12,000 as a maximum. The old argument will no doubt be brought forward that the Royal Commission did not recommend the inclusion of these redemptions in this Bill. The noble Earl has reminded us from time to time that the Royal Commission did this and the Royal Commission did the other. I would say to the noble Earl that if the Royal Commission's Report had been accepted in toto by His Majesty's Government in all probability this debate would not be taking place, because having appealed to Caesar we should be disposed to accept the ruling of that potentate and would not be arguing the Bill framed by His Majesty's Government. But where the Government feel so disposed they disregard the Commission's Report, and where they choose to maintain the Report they constantly refer to it. I trust that this particular case may be argued on its merits, and not upon the fact that the Royal Commission did not recommend inclusion of these, persons who are affected by the 1918 Act. I beg to move.
Page 15, line 25, at end insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Hastings.)
THE LORD BTSHOP OF ST. EDMUNDSBURY AND IPSWICH
The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, if I understood him aright, said that no Amendment moved by him or by those who were in agreement with him would inflict any loss upon tithe-owners. That is certainly not so with respect to this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, spoke about the total figures involved, but we must remember that tithe annuities belong to particular benefices and particular tithe-owners. Any reduction in the amount of tithe annuity must fall upon the particular person who owns that annuity or what arises from it. These tithe annuities 926 arising under the Act of 1918 are a bargain and a bargain made by the tithe-payers. They invited the bargain in order that they might get rid of the liability to pay tithe. Some of them made bargains by paying lump sums. If they did so that money was invested by or on behalf of the particular tithe-owners who enjoyed the benefit of it. If they found that not convenient they proposed that they should pay the sum which they were going to pay by agreement for extinction of tithe by annuities over a number of years. The average number of years was about 18 or 19.
Now at this time, because the tithe question is being again considered, they ask that they may go back upon their bargain and have some special allowance made. It does not seem to me any more fair to deal with this particular bargain in that way than any other bargain. It seems to me beyond question that these tithe annuities ought to continue in force. As the noble Lord said, the Royal Commission recommended that they should so continue. I have no doubt the reason for the Commission's recommendation was that they felt this was a bargain entered into deliberately at a certain date. If it had been entered into now the tithe-payer might have got better terms, but no one can foresee what the future is to be in that respect. If a bargain is made and an undertaking entered into to pay so much, that bargain must be held to, and I would point out that if it is not it will inflict what seems to me unjustifiable loss upon the tithe-owner who is the owner of the annuity in question.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
The noble Lord who moved this Amendment said that he was doing so rather by way of explaining the situation in which he was interested than for any other reason, and that of course he was fully entitled to do. But I am quite sure, after listening to what has just fallen from the right reverend Prelate, that he will realise that were he to press his Amendment it would carry consequences that would, I think, carry him in turn rather farther than he himself would probably wish to go. In the course of the Second Reading debate the noble Lord who moved the Amendment went, I think, rather farther than he was perhaps fully justified in doing in regard to the degree to which the Royal 927 Commission had in fact considered and reported on this matter. I well realise that it is only under sufferance from him that I must quote or refer to the Royal Commission, but I think that I am entitled to say that, although it is of course true that the Government have departed from the Royal Commission, as is now familiar to us all, in the matter of the period, yet it is not illogical or unreasonable to maintain the position in argument that this particular class of payers of redeemed tithe rentcharge does constitute such an entirely separate problem in the general question of tithe rentcharge redemption to-day that we are entitled to claim the guidance of the Royal Commission on this matter, although in regard to another matter we felt obliged to depart from what they advised.
Without wearying your Lordships with what the Royal Commission said about it, I think it would be not an unfair summing-up of their attitude on this question, and I do not think that my noble friend behind me would consider that it was at all unfair, to say that it amounted to a conclusion that it would be both impossible and inequitable to review those arrangements that were entered into, all of them more than fifteen years ago, under conditions that were then thought generally to be fair to the parties who had entered into them. For those reasons, as indeed for the reasons that have just been advanced by the right reverend Prelate, I would hope that my noble friend, having ventilated the question, would not think it necessary to ask your Lordships to accept the Amendment.
§ LORD HASTINGS
There is only one word I would add. I think the Committee will remember that in this particular case I spoke about and quoted the Royal Commission and I did not speak about the scheme. This is about the only Amendment on the Paper that is not within the scheme and on which we are not held up by Financial Resolutions and the like. I am very much obliged to the right reverend Prelate for drawing the attention of the Committee in general to the fact that this concession, if granted, would not come out of the scheme but out of the funds at the disposal of Queen Anne's Bounty. That is the fact. When the right reverend Prelate said that an agreement was an agreement and quoted those who had lent 928 or borrowed money, I would remind him that where any person has borrowed money on mortgage at high-interest-bearing times, he will be entitled to receive, and doubtless would receive, a reduction in that rate of interest when money became cheaper, as it would be bound to do. Of course under the agreement of the 1918 Act there is no such prospect. But it does not appear that noble Lords desire to pursue this particular subject, and I respond to the appeal of the noble Leader of the House, and withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 15 [Procedure for redemption of annuities]:
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN moved to insert after subsection (6):
.( ) Redemption of stock or any part thereof may be made by means of endowment policies on the lives of the tithe-payers to be taken out with approved insurance companies for any period up to sixty years and for such amounts as may be fixed by the Tithe Redemption Commissioners, always provided that the interest on capitalised sums fixed for the redemption of the said tithe is paid to the Commissioners.
Any premiums paid in respect of such policies shall be eligible for rebate of Income Tax on the same basis as at present allowed for insurance premiums, and in the event of the death prior to the maturity of the policies, the capital sums shall not be subject to Estate Duty.
In the event of ordinary whole life policies being taken out on the life of a tithe-payer, where the capital sum for the redemption of such tithe stock is payable at death for the extinguishment of the tithe stock the foregoing provisions for rebate of Income Tax and exemption from Estate Duty shall also apply.
It shall be a condition that any such policies taken out for the purpose of this Act shall be made payable to and held by the Tithe Redemption Commissioners who shall make such regulations as they may think fit for the variation of the scheme provided for by this Act, so as to give effect to the foregoing provisions for the substitution of insurance policies for the whole or part of the redemption of the capital sums.
§ The noble Marquess said: This is a proposal which I hope will improve the Bill neither at the expense of the tithe-owner nor at the expense of the tithe-payer nor at the expense of the Treasury. It is an attempt to bring the principle of insurance to bear upon the problem with which this Bill is mainly concerned to deal. I think most noble Lords have 929 some doubt as to whether this Bill is going to achieve its primary object, to end agitation about tithe, but I think that it might do a great deal to remove the objections if it were possible by adopting the principle of insurance to enable the tithe-payers to get rid of their obligations within their own lifetime, or at the end of their life-time, and thus free their land when their successors inherited it altogether from the obligation. That is the principle, though I do not say that it is very perfectly applied in the Amendment which I venture to move to-day.
§ The proposal is, in effect, that any tithe-payer may enter into an arrangement with an insurance company with regard to payments which are already being made by way of redemption, together with such additional payments as the insurance company may think to be necessary in order to meet the risk of the individual's death long before the sixty years has expired. The insurance policies so arrived at are to be handed over to the Tithe Redemption Commissioners as their property, while the tithe-payer goes on paying the premium, and automatically become their property on the death of the tithe-payer. In those circumstances the tithe-payer, as I say, will free his land from the tithe at his own death. On a number of calculations I estimate that if such an arrangement were entered into at about the age of fifty, he would have to pay a premium about equivalent in amount to that which he would have to pay in tithe. At the age of thirty it would be something not very much more than half that. In addition, the fact that the land will be free of tithe at his death will be an inducement, for the heir will have an additional revenue, which he otherwise would pay as tithe, annuity or whatever the new term is, to help him to meet the obligations of Death Duties.
§ There should be no objection to-day by the tithe-payer, because it is purely at his discretion whether he adopts the principle of insurance or not; and no objection can be raised by the tithe-owner, because it does not affect in any way the payments which he is to receive under the Bill. The objection, if any, will be raised by the Treasury. The Treasury's objection will be that it is part: and parcel of the agitation which has sprung up in 930 different parts of the country for some time that individuals should be allowed to insure against Death Duties, and that such insurance payments, when they mature, should not be assessed with the rest of the deceased's estate for the purposes of Death Duties. I venture to think that this arrangement does not come under that ban. In the first place the policies, as I see it, mature in respect of the property at the death of the tithe-payer, the person who takes out the insurance; therefore the Treasury will in effect get exactly the same Death Duty as they would otherwise get if no insurance wore taken out.
§ On the other hand, this plan does not come under the Treasury ban which is applied in the case of ordinary Death Duties, because it is simply another way of bringing about the redemption of annuity. The principle is already applied in the Bill, because presumably no Death Duties are paid on that proportion of the tithe payment which represents commutation or redemption of annuities, and this is simply a way of anticipating that redemption by wiping out the liabilities to tithe in ten, fifteen, twenty or thirty years instead of at the end of sixty. Therefore it seems to me that the objections which the Treasury might otherwise have reasonably made on general grounds do not arise in this case. The Treasury will lose nothing, because they will get exactly the same Death Duties as they would otherwise get, the Death Duties being payable on the value of the land as it was held by the person who has died; and they will benefit by the fact that, when the second owner dies, the value of the land will be so much more for Death Duties. I venture to move this Amendment, therefore, on the ground, as I say, that it does not damage the tithe-payer nor the Treasury, and it provides a means by which, by introducing the principle of insurance, a great many of these liabilities, which are very onerous and which have caused a great deal of agitation and defection, can be paid off within; the lifetime of a single tithe-payer, if the tithe-payer is willing to undergo the course of adding to the annuity payments so that the Tithe Commission receives at his death a sum which provides for the total wiping-out of the tithe claim. I beg to move.931
Page 16, line 34, at end insert the said new subsection.—(The Marquess of Lothian.)
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The noble Marquess has moved this Amendment, and I am really not quite sure what he hopes to gain from it. I tried to listen very carefully to what he said, but I could not see exactly who was going to gain from this very complicated new machinery.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
It is not complicated machinery, for he simply makes an arrangement with the insurance company whereby on his death the land would be free from payments.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
He pays out heavy premiums to the insurance company directly instead of paying first to the Tithe Commission and then later to the Inland Revenue.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
It is merely a method of trying to hurry up the redemption. You might just as well have a provision in the scheme for immediate redemption, and there is in fact nothing to prevent redemption. So far as I can see, what the noble Marquess feels is this, that the payment of the annuities will not in fact be a solution of this problem of doing away with tithe rentcharge and his anxiety is to get rid of it at a quicker rate. With this object in view he feels that if landowners can only be encouraged to take out life policies in favour of the Tithe Redemption Commission, to provide a capital sum for extinguishment of the charge on death, or within a limited period, it will be all to the good, and that the attraction which should be offered to the landowner to do so is that a capital sum should not be liable to Death Duties. Here, I think, we come to the important point in the noble Marquess's mind—that the sum should not be liable to Death Duties, and also that during the payment of the premiums there should be provision for counting the premiums against Income Tax return.
Of course the Amendment as it is drawn deals with the redemption of stock by the tithe-payer. I do not quite understand the drafting of the Amendment, because 932 it refers to the tithe-payer, but I think the noble Marquess really means the payer of the annuity. Similarly, the reference to the stock should be to the annuity, unless the noble Marquess's reference there to stock is intentional, in which case it is quite inappropriate, because one of the main principles of the Bill is the separation of the annuities from the stock, and the drafting of the Amendment therefore cuts right at this principle, but I think we can agree upon that as a matter of drafting. I think the real intention of the Amendment is to enable the payer of the annuity to pay the sum fixed for redemption not down but by means of this insurance policy, which will mature at some future date, interest in the form of premiums being payable meanwhile. I do not know that I contend that this is necessarily, theoretically, absolutely impracticable. I think it might be practicable. It would be possible to fix the amount of the redemption money and provide that instead of being paid at once it should be payable either at death or in a period of time, say twenty years hence, and of course it would bear interest at the rate assumed in calculating the amount which would be payable. The payer of the annuity might then take out a life policy maturing on death or in twenty years and assign it to the Tithe Commission. Of course provision would have to be made for the premium on the policy to be a charge on the land, and a personal debt in the same way as the annuity would have been. So far, I think we have got to a point where very little would be gained either way.
Then we get to the next part of the Amendment, which deals with the provision for relief from Income Tax and Estate Duty in respect of premiums on life insurance policies and of the sums received from those policies. The Amendment provides that the premiums paid in respect of endowment policies on the lives of tithe-payers or ordinary whole life policies thereon, shall be "eligible for rebate of Income Tax on the same basis as at present allowed for insurance premiums." That is quite unnecessary. No one asks to-day for what purpose a life insurance has been taken out, and to that extent this Amendment is quite unnecessary. Similarly, dealing with the provision for Death Duties, the Amendment says that "in the event of the death (of the tithe-payer) prior to the maturity of the policy, the capital sums 933 shall not be subject to Estate Duty." I think the noble Marquess must have, overlooked the point that while the amount of the insurance policy forms part of the assets of the estate for purposes of Estate Duty, a deduction would be allowed for the debts of the deceased tithe-payer. Such debts will include the capitalised sum fixed for the redemption of the annuity if still outstanding at the date of death.
The relief sought by the noble Marquess therefore would be automatically assured. If, however, the noble Marquess desires that the insurance money should be excluded from the estate, but that at the same time a deduction shall be allowed for the capitalised sum which is payable in redemption of the annuity, he is obviously making an unreasonable request, but I gather from the way in which he looks at me that it had not occurred to him. Of course Amendments on this point have been frequently moved on Finance Bills, and I think the noble Marquess will admit, if he is dealing with the general question, that that is the place wherein to move it. So, generally speaking, in so far as this Amendment might do anything, it is applicable to the Finance Bill, but on the whole I repeat what I have said before, that it is a very complicated way of doing: something which could be done in quite a direct way. There is a good deal in hurrying up redemption, and much has already been done to facilitate redemption, in particular by allowing the annuity payer to pay in a round sum (£25 and upwards), as and when he likes, and have the annuity proportionately reduced. I suggest therefore that this Amendment is either unnecessary or undesirable.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
Do I understand that really in principle the noble Earl accepts the Amendment?
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Amendments moved—
§ Page 17, line 2, leave out (" on ") and insert (" in respect of ")
§ Page 17, line 19, after (" and ") insert (" the annuity ")
§ Page 17, line 20, leave out (" the annuity ") and insert (" it ").—(Viscount Halifax.)934
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 16:
§ Recovery of annuities from owners of land.
§ (2) A payment required by a redemption notice or by a notice served under subsection (7) of the last foregoing section, together with interest thereon at the rate of five per cent. per annum from the date on which the payment is thereby required, shall be a debt due to His Majesty from the person on whom such a notice is duly served.
§ (4) A debt due to His Majesty under this section may be recovered by the Board either by proceedings in the High Court or in the county court or by any other means whereby a debt due to the Crown may be recovered, and where the sum claimed in respect of a debt to His Majesty under this section is less than fifty pounds that sum may be recovered by the Board summarily as a civil debt in proceedings commenced in the name of some person authorised in that behalf by the Board.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "at the rate of 5 per cent. per annum." The noble Viscount said: This Amendment, which is not down on the Paper, is an attempt to meet in rather different form a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on an Amendment which stands in his name. There is a further consequential Amendment, which I apologise for not having been able to put on the Paper. in line 11, after the words "the date on which the payment is thereby required," to insert "at the rate fixed under subsection (2) of the last foregoing section for the purpose of the determination of the amount of the consideration money." The point that I think Lord Hastings had in his mind when he put-down an Amendment to leave out "five" in order to insert "three" was that five was an excessively high rate of interest to apply to these cases; and indeed that was readily admitted by His Majesty's Government, inasmuch as it was their intention to make five a slightly penal rate of interest in cases when these sums were wilfully in arrear. But on reconsideration my right honourable friend in charge of the Bill thought that there was perhaps some force in the arguments that he expected my noble friend to use on this matter and accordingly placed himself in communication with his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the 935 Exchequer. As a result of that consultation I am bringing forward these Amendments, which I hope may generally seem reasonable to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and may commend themselves to the House.
Page 18, line 9, leave out (" at the rate of five per cent. per annum ").—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ LORD HASTINGS
My noble friend the Leader of the House has given me the opportunity of considering the alternative Amendment that he has now moved and, with the consequential Amendment, I find that it does meet the case that I had hoped to make by the alteration of the wording. I shall be prepared not to move the Amendment which stands in my name and to accept that which he has proposed instead.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 18, line 11, after (" required ") insert (" at the rate fixed under subsection (2) of the last foregoing section for the purpose of the determination of the amount of the consideration money ").—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 18, line 29, leave out (" requests ") and insert (" request ").—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
LORD MARLEY had on the Paper an Amendment to insert at the end of subsection (4):
Provided that, if the sum due on account of an instalment of an annuity is in arrear for less than eleven weeks, no such action for recovery shall be taken.
§ The noble Lord said: This is a unique Amendment because it does not affect either the tithe-payer, or the Church, or the Treasury; in fact everybody is going to benefit, because all that it says is that there will be eleven weeks before action can be taken on account of an instalment of an annuity due from the tithe-payer. I think that the Church will benefit because we have heard that there will be a sort of residual odium applying to the Church on the enforcement of these annuities. However unreasonable 936 it may be, yet there will be this residual odium, and therefore any mitigation of that should, I think, meet with the support of the Church. It applies really only to very poor people, the poorest of all the small owner-occupiers, and the letters that I have received indicate that these people would appreciate even this modicum of modification.
§ I have a case of a man who says that when he has paid his tithe he has nothing at all for himself; he is owed money and he has to try to pay before the money comes in which is due to him for his produce. As I say, there is a sort of odium to the Church which will continue, because nearly all these letters attack the most reverend Primate. The Archbishop of course said that he did not mind being burnt in effigy. His predecessors were unfortunately often burnt in reality on a number of occasions. I do not suggest that; on the contrary, that would give great pain to your Lordships as well as to the Archbishop. We want to remove any clanger of this from him, and therefore we hope that this modification may possibly be accepted. On the other hand, when I look down the Amendments I see that there is one by Lord Hastings, the next one following this, which seems to me to include the sort of thing I am trying to get, and even to go a little bit further.
§ LORD MARLEY
In that case I think I would rather not move this Amendment, but support the noble Lord when he comes to move his Amendment.
LORD HASTINGS moved, after subsection (6), to insert:
(7) No application to the court for an order for recovery shall be made, and no proceedings under subsection (5) or (6) of this section shall be taken, in respect of an instalment of an annuity payable on any payment date until the expiration of three months from that date.
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment is one that I and those who act with me regard as really of the most vital importance. There are two separate reasons which may be advanced in advocacy of this Amendment. The first is that under the existing law, and ever since tithe became protected by Statute law in 1836, there has been given to the tithe-payer the period of grace which is by this 937 Bill removed from him. Therefore this Bill proposes to take away from the tithe-payer a statutory right which he now possesses, and in asking that the statutory right should be replaced in the present Bill I am not asking for a concession, but merely for the re-statement of the existing law.
§ Now I come to the second reason for this Amendment. Your Lordships will be aware that throughout England there has been for a great number of years the invariable practice—a practice which has become so much a part of the custom of the country as almost to have the force of law—that rent shall not be collected until the period of three months' grace has been given. Although there are many cases which I could quote where a much longer period than three months is given, it would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to find one where less than three months' grace is given. This collection of tithe is going, in due time, to pass from the hands of Queen Anne's Bounty into the hands of the Tithe Redemption Commission, and thus into the hands of Inland Revenue. Inland Revenue, by the Bill as it now stands, is going to be empowered to collect immediately tithe that becomes due at the statutory periods, approximate to Michaelmas and Lady Day.
§ The landowner who lets his land can, in the vast majority of instances, only pay his tithe out of his collected rents, and if he is unable by immemorial custom to collect those rents until he has given three months' grace to his tenants, it follows that he cannot, in the vast majority of instances, have the means with which to pay his tithe until his rents have come to hand. There is therefore an irrefutable case for continuing to the landowner the three months' grace which he now enjoys by law. In the case of an occupying owner who does not pay his tithe out of his rent but pays it out of the produce of the land, it will be common knowledge to all those who practise farming—more often than not to their loss—that it is not as a rule possible to commute harvest into cash so early as Michaelmas, nor bullocks into cash so early as Lady Day. Therefore, the case of the owner-occupier is as strong as the case of the landowner who cannot pay because he has no rents; the owner-occupier cannot pay because he is not able to convert his produce into cash.938
§ If the Bill were to pass into law as framed, there would be up and down the country the possibility of overwhelming and really terrifying injustice. It is not suggested that Inland Revenue would prosecute wholesale persons who were dilatory in the paying of their tithe, but, when powers are vested in it, we never know, and it is not fair and proper to the countryside and to the tithe-paying community that they should be subject to such an appalling risk as that to which this Bill as now framed will unquestionably subject them. To continue the rights which tithe-payers now possess, to gain from Inland Revenue three months' grace before they may be prosecuted for non-payment of tithe—if that is granted, and can be granted by the Government, they will, without question, remove from the tithe-paying community a source of fear and indignation which now obsesses them. I do not think any single feature of this Bill has caused so much excitement and so much fear in prospect as the possibility that, immediately upon the tithe falling due, the unfortunate tithe-payer, unable in fact to produce the cash, would be liable to prosecution by the officers of Inland Revenue and inevitably to penalties at the hands of a court of law.
§ I trust that the Government will see its way to listen to the arguments which I have ventured to advance. The position of those to whose advice tithe-payers occasionally listen would really be impossible if this injustice were embodied in the Bill now under discussion. The arguments which have been used would be undermined, and it would be impossible to convince the tithe-paying community in general that they were not, at the hands of the Treasury, being subjected to the gravest and most improper hardship. I do hope that these arguments which nearly succeeded, but did not quite succeed, in another place will have better fortune here, and that the noble Viscount who leads the House, and noble Lords generally, will be inclined to support the view that here is a case where peace can be earned and where peace is assuredly deserved.
Page 19, line 34, at end insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Hastings.)
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The noble Lord is perfectly right in saying that there is 939 probably as much feeling on this particular point as there is on any other. It is of vital importance, but perhaps I might put before your Lordships some of the difficulties which there are in accepting it, as indeed we should like to do. To begin with, it is the essence of this scheme that part of the inducement to the tithe-owners to come into it is that they are going to receive their money on the very first day it is due. It is proposed now that that money shall not be paid into the fund until three months after it is due. That means, if not on every occasion, at any rate very frequently, that the fund will be faced with the problem of borrowing for a period of three months in order to pay the tithe-owners at once. That is a difficulty though I do not think it is necessarily an insuperable one.
Then there is the much larger question of principle which must at once arise in all your Lordships' minds. It is here being proposed to lay down the principle that a debt due to the Grown shall be made irrecoverable until three months after the date on which it is due. It is not really a matter of prosecution, because all of us know in fact that Inland Revenue does not prosecute within three months of a debt becoming due. If it did, I do not know where some of us might be in the matter of Super-Tax; but this Amendment virtually means that this particular debt shall be irrecoverable for three months after the proper date. Although of course the Government look at the country as a whole, we have got also to look at this question from the point of view of Inland Revenue and the Treasury, which have been brought into this scheme with the sole and simple object of enabling tithe-owners and tithe-payers to benefit by their cheap credit. They are justified, therefore, in saying: "If we are being brought into this scheme in order to make it possible by pledging our cheap credit, surely we are entitled at least to have our security made valid and be able to collect the money when it is due." Those are some of the reasons that seem to me to make it very difficult to accept this Amendment.
On the other hand, the noble Lord has made. I think, what we must all admit to be an extraordinarily strong case in its favour. He has shown how this particular 940 form of payment is, as it always has been in the past, and to some extent will always be in the future, in a different category from the ordinary debt due for taxation. He has shown how, since the Act of 1891, the tithe-payers have in fact had this statutory right. He has also shown how under the Bill, and particularly under the Amendment for seven years which we accepted, for the next seven years, while the Commission is sitting, that right will in fact continue. I do not think he mentioned, but it seems to me quite a strong point, the fact that after all the whole of this scheme is automatically wiped out in sixty years and, therefore, to that extent it cannot be said that we are laying down a permanent principle with regard to the relations between the Inland Revenue and the taxpayer. He also mentioned the very real difficulty with which landlords are faced, that they do not in fact get their rents until at the very least three months after they are due. Although that does not particularly apply to the owner-occupier, yet the owner-occupier is dependent on the sale of his cattle and crops and to that extent he really is in the same position.
Over and above all those reasons for accepting this Amendment, there seems to me to be one even stronger than any one of them, and it is one that has been mentioned on another matter by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. I think he used the words "surely there is something wider than just the financial scheme." That is a matter which the Government have to consider. We have to realise, considering the matter from the purely financial side, that quite apart from improved methods in collection and so on, one of the main reasons why we hope we are going to be able to get the money in better in future is that of the greater good will that we hope to establish in the countryside. Surely the whole case of this Bill is that we may, by passing it into law, at least make a contribution to healing a real sore that is present now. Therefore His Majesty's Government, in spite of the very strong reasons which I have ventured to lay before your Lordships against its acceptance, have decided to let what we might call reasons of State overrule what may be called technicalities and to accept this Amendment as a real contribution not merely to the passage of 941 this Bill but, what we feel to be very much more important, its future smooth working in the country.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I only rise to express my very sincere thanks to His Majesty's Government for having given way upon this vital point and to assure them chat it will very greatly ease the situation with which I and those who act with me have to deal.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.