Orders of the Day — Tithe Bill.
Mr Walter Elliot (Glasgow Kelvingrove)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I have to put before the House the result of at least two years of the most intense consideration and application. I think the period of our most intense study dates from the appointment of the Royal Commission in August, 1934, but consideration and reconsideration of the problems of tithe had been going on for long before that. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that they have gone on continually ever since the passing of the Act of 1925. The problems of this vexed and ancient subject are in themselves so difficult, and they have their roots so far back in such ancient controversies, that the time-worn phrase in appointing Royal Commissions, that the commissioners are appointed because of our great trust and confidence in their knowledge and ability, is no courtesy phrase. The Royal Commission was appointed in deference to the wishes not merely of the country but of Parliament, and we are all indebted to them for the skill and thoroughness with which they have reviewed this most difficult subject. I should like to pay a tribute to Lord Cornwallis, a member of the commission, who was most highly respected in all the circles in which he moved—and he moved in many—who was fortunately able to complete the examination of the problem before his death. The Royal Commission enables me to cut short the study of the early problems of tithe, which begin with the Book of Leviticus, although there is a cross reference to the Book of Genesis. There was no reference to the preface to the Authorised Version, because that is relatively of a later date. Having got as far back in history as history goes, the House will excuse me if I leave that to the Royal Commission, and devote myself to the comparatively recent events that have taken place since 1925.
Since the appointment of the commission in 1934 the Government have treated this whole question as a most urgent matter, and it has laboured without remission to deal with it as faithfully and as well as it could. The Royal Commission's report was immediately followed by close study of it by the Government, which resulted in the White Paper Cd. 5102. These two documents together—the report of the Royal Commission and the White Paper—do show a preliminary treatment of the subject which has certainly not been surpassed in recent years in the case of any Bill brought before Parliament. The responsibility for legislation is the responsibility of Parliament. No commission's report can remove that responsibility. Therefore, on introducing a Bill such as this of some 40 Clauses and some eight or nine Schedules, the first question one has to answer is, should we touch this matter at all and should there be legislation? I believe that there is no body of opinion in any part of the House, and that there are very few responsible people in the country, who would say that the situation can be left where it stands. It is more than interesting to note that even the two Amendments of the Opposition do not suggest that the situation can be left as it is to-day, although they pass criticisms upon the methods by which we propose to deal with it.
It is certainly the opinion of the Government that the matter should be tackled, and, if it is to be tackled, that it should be tackled now in the first year of a new Parliament, in the first Parliament of a new Reign, and when we have time before us in which we can review those great and important matters and proceed with our long-term policy, which I am being repeatedly pressed from all parts of the House to get on with as quickly as possible. I hope that the Opposition will give us every support in this instalment of our long-term policy, and that no factious or unreasonable obstruction will in any way come into their minds. It is necessary to tackle this problem now because of the acute sense of unfairness which it reflects, particularly in the statistics of cases before the courts of justice of this country. The Lord Chancellor's Department bore witness before the Royal Commission that the applications by tithe-owners to county courts in cases in which the tithe-owner could not recover without proceedings before a county court numbered 2,400 in 1913, and that they numbered 16,000 odd in 1935. That shows clearly that the machinery was running a great risk.
Furthermore, apart from the county court cases, there was an actual barrier of hard facts between the theoretical and the practical position. When the Lord Chancellors' Department gave evidence in 1935, no fewer than 5,500 orders had been made by these courts of justice for the recovery of sums due, and all these 5,500 orders were still outstanding after 60 days. There was no recovery being made upon them. That is embarrassing. It is unsatisfactory and it is wrong that in those thousands of cases the ecclesiastical authorities should find themselves in the position of having to prosecute the agriculturists of this realm, who are in the main a law-abiding body. They would not take up this position in these thousands of cases if they did not feel a genuine grievance. That grievance this House ought to review, and, if it finds it possible it ought to rectify it.
I have said that I am going back no further in general than the Act of 1925. The grievances arising out of that Act, I believe, mainly, if not wholly, arise out of the financial terms of that settlement. The administrative principle of the Act of 1925 followed on, and developed out of, previous legislation on the subject, and this Measure in turn is not the tearing up of previous legislation, but a development and an extension of it. The main principle of the Act of 1836 was the relinquishment of the previous system of an actual physical tenth of the produce of the land, commuted, of course, in many cases by payments of varying amounts. The Act of 1836 instituted a money charge—the tithe rentcharge—which remained on the produce of the land and was linked until 1925 to the prices of the three main cereals. As far back as 1836–100 years ago—Parliament reviewed the tithe question and began to divorce the tithe from the actual proportion of the physical production of the land, the culmination of which is reached in the Bill which we bring before the House to-day. In 1925 the divorce from the actual collection and handling of the fruits of the soil was carried further by doing away with personal collection by the clergyman of the tithe in his parish, and it was done away with in favour of collection by a central body, and that, too, is developed in the Bill now before the House. I do not think that opinion anywhere believes that it is possible to go back to that system, that it is possible at this moment to suggest the revival of a system by which the parish clergy would have to go round the farms collecting portions of the produce, and, no doubt, carrying them away to towns and doing their best to market them in some fashion or other.
Mr Walter Elliot (Glasgow Kelvingrove)
The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) says, "Why not?" He is known to be devoted to quaint and ancient superstitions both in political and private life, and I have no doubt that he would desire to see that domestic custom carried out which would make great inroads on the time of the clergy and on the Ministry of Transport in regard to the main roads. But these considerations did mean that the link between the national church and national land was being affected, and it has been the object of all this legislation to ease the collection that this method involves, and finally the Royal Commission recommended that the fetters should be broken once and for all, that tithe should be redeemed by means of a loan, and that it should finally as such come to an end. The main principle of this Bill carries out the recommendation of the Royal Commission.
To return to the terms upon which redemption is to be carried out. In 1925 the Government fixed the value of tithe at £105 for a par value of £100, and that led to an immediate sharp issue, not for the first time, between the economists and the practical men. The economists were most uncompromising in their statements and indeed in their spokesman. The spokesman of the economists was Mr. Herbert Fisher, of New College, who, speaking with an air of authority and not as one of the scribes, said in this House on 18th June, 1925:
The sum of £105 is based upon a prophecy as to the level of corn prices in the next few decades. I venture to think my right hon. Friend's prophecy, in spite of the letter which he has read to the House from the distinguished expert whom he has consulted, is quite fantastic.
And no one knew the meaning of such words better than the hon. Member for the English Universities, as he was then, Mr. Herbert Fisher as he is now. He went on:
I do not think that any committee composed of competent economists accustomed to study, in a broad way, the course of economic phenomena and the interaction of economic and political forces, would come to the conclusion that there would be in the next decade so great a fall in the price of our three leading cereals."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th June, 1925; cols. 852–3: Vol. 185.]
A decade has come and gone and the fall in the price of our leading cereals is such as to stagger and confound even the practical men, and indeed put the competent economists absolutely out of account altogether. The error was not confined to the Liberal party. Mr. Rawlinson, the late respected Member for Cambridge University, said on 19th November, 1925:
I hold the view, despite the decision of the House a few minutes ago, that £105 is not a sufficiently large sum at which to stabilise tithe to-day, if you must stabilise it at all. In that view I am backed up by every economist who is connected with the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and nearly every other economist is of the same Opinion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1925; col. 674, Vol. 188.]
Practical men could produce no such weight of evidence. They merely stated, and kept on stating, that prices were about to fall and the land could not stand it. Not for the first time the practical men were right and the economists were wrong. If this Bill is anything, it is an apology of the economists to the practical men.
It is unnecessary at this stage to go at length into the fall in corn prices. On the basis of corn prices last year the tithe figure, instead of being £105 would be £71 if one excludes the wheat subsidy, and £80 if the wheat subsidy was included. The Royal Commission, on page 71 of its report, gives a number of tables, showing what prices would be either on a 15-year or a seven-year average, and makes it clear that from both these points of view the figure of £105 is totally out of step with agricultural prices to-day, and that these provisions must be repealed and the books must be opened for us to provide a new figure. Agricultural prices can be calculated not only on corn prices but on index figures, but even index figures show a similar great fall. There is undoubtedly a fall in agricultural prices, which has made it necessary not only here but all over the world to revise our opinion as to what amount of fixed charges can be borne by agricultural land in the near future. It is, of course, not only by tithe-owners that these declines in values have been observed. They have been observed by landowners themselves, by landlords, and it is a notable fact that landlords all over the country have found it necessary to reduce the rents in many cases by at least as large a proportion as it is here proposed to reduce tithes; and it is not out of any spirit of philanthropy alone, but out of the simple business necessity to conserve the value of their property. To try to get more from property than it will stand is not going to preserve that property but destroy it.
One argument which has been made should be just mentioned—that the State has produced a decline in agricultural values, that the State should remedy it, that the State has produced it by means of the Agricultural Wages Act, by safeguarding and protecting the wages of those who work on the land. That argument also is utterly fallacious. If agricultural wages had remained at the levels at which they were pre-war, or even had risen only to levels commensurate with the price of agricultural produce, it would not be possible to get men to stay on the land to-day; the cultivation of the land would come to an end and all value derived from its cultivation would disappear as well. It is a dangerous argument to use and one which I hope will not be used, that special compensation should be given to either party in this bargain because of the higher wages paid to agricultural labour.
It is, therefore, necessary to reopen the financial settlement. There are two parties in the settlement, the tithe-payer and the tithe-owner. I have dealt very briefly with the question of the tithe-payer. What of the tithe-owner? The tithe-owner is, of course, very largely an ecclesiastical owner, although there is a considerable proportion of lay owners, either public or private. The major fact to remember is the embarrassment which the present situation involves to the actual receivers of tithes, an embarrassment which is equally felt by many clergy and not least by those who are responsible over long periods for the policy of the Church. I am sure that the 16,000 court cases and the 5,500 non-recovered orders by county courts against agricul- turists, indicate, as the report of the Royal Commission said, a social irritation, a grievance and sore which it would be most unwise of any of us to leave out of account.
There is a factor which I have mentioned, that remissions here ought to be made and should be made in accordance with these declines in value, because unless there are taken into account a situation will arise in which payments will be swept away altogether. The remissions have been the subject of a great deal of controversy. In fact the whole of the finance of the Bill has been a subject of much controversy, and will no doubt be the subject of very close debate in this House. But we have worked for years now upon this problem, and most intensively in the last few months. I will say this as far as the Church is concerned, that the highest Church authorities whom I have been able to consult agree that the sums made available under this Bill would enable all tithe incomes not exceeding £500 a year to be protected at their present rates for 13½ years, that is to say the full life period of the present incumbents. It would also enable all tithe incomes to be fully protected for a period of eight years, or it would enable a combination of these two to be made, which would mean that no case of hardship would be excluded from the power of the Bounty to grant relief. I say that a proposal which would give a full life interest for all persons with incomes under £500, or alternatively would give full interest to all persons with incomes derived from any tithes whatever for eight years, is not an unreasonable proposal.
We were also asked to take pensions into account. We again examined the matter with a desire to meet the point. I am glad to say that the payment to the Queen Anne's Bounty of a lump sum equivalent to the increased amount receivable in respect of non-agricultural land—and that is the proposal in the Bill —will, it is expected, enable the Church authorities to deal with that situation. I will go further and say that it is expected that this will also enable the Church to deal with a grievance made by certain of the great capitular bodies with regard to the upkeep of cathedrals in their charge, in regard to which they felt great apprehensions. Within the limits in which we had to work those respon-
sible for this may say that their work has been faithfully done. The Bill, of course, provides for the disappearance of tithe rentcharge. In the first Clause and nearly in the first line of the Bill it is provided that:
Subject to the provisions of this Act all tithe rentcharge shall be extinguished on the second day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-six (in this Act referred to as 'the appointed day'), and accordingly as from that day the land out of which any tithe rentcharge issued immediately before that day shall be absolutely discharged and freed therefrom.
That is done and only done by means of the extensive financial operations of the Bill. They involve, briefly, the taking over of the rights of the present tithe-owners by the issue of some £70,000,000 of stock, leaving the risk upon the shoulders of the State. If that is to be done the State must have security for that vast sum. All the more so since it is taking it over in respect of some but not all. The whole kingdom of Scotland is unaffected by this Bill; Scottish agriculturists are unaffected and so is Northern Ireland. A great number of agriculturists in this country even are unaffected by these provisions. It is necessary, if this great sum is to be in trust, that adequate safeguards for the Treasury must be in the hands of the State. Therefore, the scheme involves the power of a personal liability of the tithe-payer, which he has not in all cases had previously but which he will lie under for the future if the Bill passes. Personal liability in regard to tithe rentcharge is no new thing. It is not new historically or in practice. It exists at present in the case of extraordinary tithe, and it is clear from the reading of the Act of 1836 that the omission of personal liability was there done as a matter of convenience, and not as a matter of principle. I know very well that this is one of the thorny points of the Bill, on which agriculturists in particular feel apprehension. I have already indicated that the principle that the £70,000,000 must be protected in every possible way is a principle which no Minister, and certainly no Minister who has served at the Treasury, would allow to be derogated from for a moment. We have, however, found it possible to improve the position of the agriculturist as compared with what it was when we brought in the White Paper.
It may be for the convenience of the House if I go very briefly through the main provisions of the Bill for the purpose of drawing attention to those provisions that differ from the Report of the Royal Commission. As I have said, from 2nd October next the Exchequer will take over from the present owners of tithe-rent charge their interest in that property and will recompense them by the issue of 3 per cent. guaranteed stock, redeemable at par in 60 years. The House will see that this means a swift and expeditious working both on the Floor of the House and in Committee. If we can do it we ought to do it, because the Royal Commission reported that the proposal should be brought into force at the earliest possible moment. I am sure that none of us would desire that this great question should be allowed to hang over, with nobody knowing exactly what is due or to whom payments ought to be made.
Although the payment to be made to the tithe-owners does involve a lower sum than the sum they are at present receiving, that can be allowed for within the limit of the sums made available for the various financial transactions. The first part of the instalment of redemption of annuity becomes payable on 1st April, 1937. It is intended that this payment should be calculated on a new rate, which is taken at £91 11s. 2d. per £100 tithe rentcharge. That is the figure come to by the Royal Commission, and I do not intend to go at length into the reasons for fixing that particular figure.
Mr Walter Elliot (Glasgow Kelvingrove)
I shall be perfectly willing to go into that subject at a later date, even in controversy with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), although I am aware that anyone who enters into controversy on theological or even quasi-theological subjects with him is entering upon a Cresta run of controversy with an acknowledged record-holder. That figure, at any rate, was come to by five good men and true who devoted a great deal of time and attention to the subject. I have no doubt that in other parts of the House it will be considered that that figure has been fixed unreasonably high, and that it should be lower. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Already, the cry of the hounds—I do not say that in any derogatory sense—indicates that the hunt is up. The remissions do not end there. There is a remission which provides for what might be called hard cases. The commission recommended—and the Government have adopted the recommendation—that in any case in which the redemption annuity in any year exceeds one-third of the Schedule B value of the agricultural holding, the excess amount should not be payable or recoverable. It is interesting to note that that provision, which apparently does not meet with the approval of the Official Opposition, is a remission which was asked for by the National Farmers' Union. We have all done a good deal in our day in outbidding in Opposition the Government of the day, but very few of us have gone so far as to recommend any remission for farmers at a figure higher than that which was asked for by the farmers themselves.
The proposals allow for substantial reductions. In the case of a farm of 200 acres with a Schedule B value of £150, the relief, with a tithe rentcharge of 5s. per acre, would be £8 19s. The relief in the case of land with a tithe of 6s. an acre would be £15 14s. In the case of land with a tithe of 7s. 6d. an acre the relief would be £32 2s. 6d. In the case of land with a tithe of 10s. an acre the relief would be £50. These sums go to show that it is no illusory advantage which the Bill holds out to agriculturists, especially to agriculturists on highly tithed land. If we can bring the reduction to £91 11s. 2d. into operation by October of this year we shall have worked swiftly and have done no injustice.
In regard to the liability falling on non-agricultural land, we felt that it was necessary to give the matter further consideration. The great drop in the market prices of agricultural produce means that there must be a corresponding reduction in the amount of charge upon it, if only for the purpose of prescribing the security of the charge, but these arguments do not apply in the case of non-agricultural land. It cannot be said that the owners of non-agricultural land have suffered greatly from the decline in the value of agricultural produce; on the contrary, they have benefited. Therefore, it would be unfair that those who have benefited through the fall in the price of foodstuffs should also be given a remission because by accident the prices of those foodstuffs were the figure on which their liability was originally computed. In all cases the redemption annuity will be payable for 60 years only. That is to say, you come from 76 years to 60 years in the case of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge and you come from perpetuity to 60 years in the case of lay tithe rentcharge.
There are one or two points in which the proposals of the Government differ from the proposals of the Royal Commission. It was recommended by the Royal Commission that the collection should be done in the same way as Income Tax is collected, but it is clear that the liability should fall upon the owner of the land and not upon the occupier. This was the subject of a great and thorny controversy in the past, and it is not proposed to alter the present practice. The Royal Commission considered themselves precluded from dealing with the losses which local authorities sustained, but we felt that it was impossible to leave the matter there. The losses might amount to a sum of from 1s. to 3s. in the £ in areas which would otherwise be deriving benefit from these proposals. Therefore we have, after very long and complicated negotiations with the local authorities, arrived at arrangements which are embodied in the Sixth Schedule of the Bill and which will be dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. At any rate, I confidently hope that he will deal with it, because for complexity, and I have no doubt soundness, they compare very favourably with anything that has ever been laid before the House. The effect of them can be given in a single sentence. The local authority have accepted as compensation for loss which they would otherwise have sustained a series of annual payments equivalent to the present value of an annuity of £600,000 a year for 60 years. That will be paid at first in larger sums and will diminish as the period progresses. It is estimated that in the first period the payments will be about £1,000,000.
The Royal Commission also felt that they were not concerned with the question of hardship to individual tithe-owners, but the Government felt that they must go into that matter. There- fore, a lump sum of £2,000,000 which will be found in the Financial Resolution has been inserted with a view to the mitigation of hardship which otherwise would have been suffered by the poorer clergy. There is also a further lump sum in respect of the additional sums derived from clerical tithe rentcharge on non-agricultural land. Those two arrangements show that the Government have done their best to deal with this matter. Although a Scotsman and not a member of that great body the Church of England, but belonging to my own established Church, I feel that as a trustee I have been mindful of the particular difficulties of those whose fortunes, by the chance of politics, have for the time being been entrusted to my charge.
Let me say a few words further with regard to the finance of the scheme. The Exchequer is liable at present for a portion of the rates payable on ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge. These Exchequer payments will continue to be payable during the period of the extinguishment scheme. The Government will also add any sums which will inure to the Treasury as a result of these proposals—extra Income Tax, savings in administration, etc. The total of these sums will amount to £685,000 a year, which allows for the compensation of the local authorities and for certain payments into the scheme over and above. I will go further. The Bill as at present drawn provides that any surplus standing to the credit of the account at the end of 60 years shall be dealt with in such manner as Parliament may determine. I shall be prepared to contemplate an Amendment to provide that in the event of the fund being in a position before the end of the 60 years period to meet all the outstanding liabilities, the remaining annuities will be waived. If there are any further profits arising out of the higher rate of interest that may take place during the long run of 60 years, it may be a shorter time than that.
There is another point of great interest—the question of arrears of tithe rentcharge. The Royal Commission made a strong appeal to tithe-payers and tithe-owners to facilitate the putting into operation of the new scheme. In regard to that appeal agriculturists say that it does not appeal to them if they are likely to be pursued by two separate bodies in respect of the tithe rentcharge, one body being Queen Anne's Bounty and the other the Exchequer. They feel that between these two contending parties agriculture may fall into the background for the time being. The minority report suggested that there should be a right of appeal by the tithe-payer to the Tithe Redemption Commission, with the consent of the county court, on the grounds of hardship and that the commissioners should have power to order the recovery, reduction or abandonment of the amount of arrears.
We have succeeded in coming to an agreement on that point. The whole of the arrangements will be taken over by the Government, and it will be possible to bring the question of arrears before the committee to be established under the Bill, the Arrears Investigation Committee, which will have power of reviewing and arranging for the instalments or for the reduction or remission of the sums which it has to consider. That, I think, is one of the main points which was brought before me by the deputation on behalf of the agriculturists, and I am happy to think that by agreement with Queen Anne's Bounty we have been able to get this provision inserted in the Bill. The Bounty have also agreed that they will accept only such amount as is decreed by the Arrears Investigation Committee, so that the Bounty stands to lose such sums as are remitted by the committee. It is, therefore, a retrospective opening up of the arrears, although, of course, it means that the person against whom they have been decreed—having appealed to Caesar he must abide by his judgment—may get a reduction, but he also renders himself liable to the procedure for the recovery.
The financial obligations require the very close examination of this House. I have examined very carefully the proposals brought forward by hon. Members to widen the general Financial Resolution so that all these matters can be gone into in Committee. As the Prime Minister pointed out at Question Time, the House will never relinquish its right to have financial questions discussed and settled on the Floor of the House, and it would be a most dangerous thing if it were to do so. The House must have power to discuss and settle financial questions. The Financial Resolution has not been drawn any closer than is necessary to meet the position of the House, nor I hope shall I be asked to do so. I will not go further into that question now, but I am sure that when the discussion takes place upon the Financial Resolution we shall be able to discuss those questions which hon. Members wish to discuss on the Floor of the House.
Mr Albert Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The point with many hon. Members on this side is that private Members cannot move Amendments to the Financial Resolution which will enable any release to be given. It is from that point of view that we are somewhat concerned about the narrow nature of the Financial Resolution.
Mr Walter Elliot (Glasgow Kelvingrove)
The right hon. Member is merely restating what we all know, that it is not in the power of a private Member to increase the charge on the subject, and let us hope it never will be. It is true that an Amendment increasing the charge can be moved only by the Executive. The rights of the House are not being invaded in any way by the Financial Resolution. It protects that point, and it will be possible by Amendments which do not increase the charge on the subject, to raise points which hon. Members have in view. What is more, I say that it is only on the Floor of the House on the Financial Resolution that these matters can really be discussed. I have consulted the authorities available, and they have said that the intricacies of the scheme of finance, the interlocking of its various parts, are so considerable that they would have the utmost difficulty in advising the Chairman of Committee upstairs what was in order and what was not in order if a general Resolution were drawn. I have examined the matter from the point of view of trying to put in some general proviso, but the difficulties of trying to apply such a proviso to Amendments which might be moved upstairs would involve the Standing Committee in greater difficulties than exist at the present. I merely indicate that points can be raised by Amendments which do not increase the charge on the public, although I admit that anything which increases the charge on the subject can only be effected by Amendments moved by a Cabinet Minister.
The proposals of the Royal Commission did not meet with the unanimous approval of the parties most directly concerned; nor did the proposals in the White Paper. Nor do the proposals in the Bill, and when I saw the Amendment set down by the Liberal Opposition regretting that no agreed settlement will be arrived at by the present proposals, I felt a certain sense of pleasure in the fact that there are still such innocent and candid beings in the world as those who believe that complete agreement on the tithe question can ever be reached this side of Paradise. The Liberal Amendment suggests that they are willing to compensate the owners of ecclesiastical tithe rentcharge during their lifetime. I suppose you would call that disendowment, or possibly confiscation.
Mr Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
I do not think that is a fair interpretation to put upon our Amendment. The first part of it indicates that we are sympathetic to the claims of the present incumbents, that their incomes should not be reduced during their lives, and it in no way indicates that thereafter the income of the tithe should completely come to an end.
Mr Walter Elliot (Glasgow Kelvingrove)
I do not wish to misrepresent hon. Members below the Gangway, but their proposal would mean a corresponding greater burden on agriculturists, and I cannot imagine that it would lead to the agreed settlement which is desired by members of the Liberal party. Their Amendment says that they are unwilling to agree to a Bill which
calculates redemption annuities on a basis double the value of tithe in the open market, or for death duties purposes.
That was dealt with in the Report of the commission, who pointed out that there was no such thing as an open market for tithe rentcharge, and, furthermore, on the question of valuation for Death Duties the commission said:
In any such valuation particular conditions must play a large part, and the general problem of the valuation of tithe rentcharge as a whole does not come before the Revenue authorities upon an individual occasion.
We can debate these points when hon. Members have made their speeches in explanation of them. I do not propose
to deal with them in advance. Similarly, I will not deal with the Amendment put down by the official Opposition, save to say that it is interesting to find how often one's opinions become more expansive and sympathetic as you pass from the glow of the Government Benches into the cold shades of Opposition. We remember how often deputations come before the Labour Government urging that something should be done about tithe, and that on each occasion the deputation was informed that the Labour Government were not prepared to take any particular action with regard to tithe rentcharge. It is delightful to find that they have mollified so far in Opposition that they are now prepared to go further than the National Farmers' Union in relief of individual cases. My only regret is that the pessimism of the official Opposition is such that they would hold the whole thing over until a satisfactory scheme can be brought into existence for the nationalisation of the land, which indicates that their anticipation of office is much further off than they have led us to believe.
I commend the Bill to the House. It is based on the findings of the Royal Commission. It has been carefully considered and all the arguments put before us by interested parties have also been carefully considered. We are putting forward the Bill as a substantial step forward in the solution of the vexed and thorny question of tithe. It is scarcely necessary to point out that the scheme of extinguishment runs over a period of 60 years, but unless this great enterprise is undertaken some time it will never be carried through at all. It is desirable and essential that a serious step forward in the solution of the tithe problem should now be taken, and I ask the House to take this step forward by giving a Second Reading to the Bill.
Mr Albert Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
this House declines to assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which postpones the extinction of a charge which cannot be justified under modern conditions, does not adequately relieve the immediate burden upon agriculture, and fails to make sufficient provision for alleviating individual hardships, and this House is of opinion that the problems associated with tithe rent-
charge can only be satisfactorily solved as part of a comprehensive scheme of land nationalisation.
The House is grateful to the Minister of Agriculture for a very lucid, good-tempered and persuasive speech in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill. I cannot admit that in his peroration he has truly represented the situation as regards the attitude of the Opposition on the question of tithe rentcharge in general, but I shall have something to say about that later. We shall all agree that it was urgent something should be done from the facts which the right hon. Gentleman has put before us as to the legal processes which have been going on in the last few years with regard to tithe rentcharge. It is possible, having regard to these differences of opinion and the irritation which has been set up, to address the House at some length on the origin of tithe, on the sectarian objections, and on the fact that perhaps some of its original purposes have now been departed from. Hon. Members may perhaps raise such questions during the Debate, but I want to keep as close as possible to the general spirit of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and not raise unduly the religious controversy. One cannot, however, really escape the feeling that much of the irritation which has been caused by the conditions of hardship in the last few years is added to because agriculturists who have been doing badly are charged for tithe for a church with whom they may not be in membership or active sympathy.
On the general question I say that from the religious point of view no church in the country, whether it is the Church of England or any other church, has a, special right to this kind of charge or support. I shall not attempt to enter into a legal argument as to what is now the legal title in tithe rentcharge, but looking at it from the religious and personal point of view, no separate church has a special right to this special kind of contribution. My own view, and the view of the majority of my hon. Friends who sit behind me, is that once it has been decided that no one has a special right, it then has to be decided whether there should be a contribution at all from the community for the upkeep of a particular religious faith, practice and teaching. If it is decided that, there should be such a contribution, then I think the whole of the community should have the burden spread evenly over it, and that the contribution should not be levied from particular sections of the community. That is the point of view I ventured to put forward in evidence before the Royal Commission and which I still hold, but upon which I will not expatiate further this afternoon.
As to the irritation and grievances caused, I hope the House will forgive me if I refer to my pre-War days, when I was preparing to be a lay preacher, and if I quote the old and ancient authority of Dr. Paley, because I have never been able to find any better statement of my meaning. In his "Moral and Political Philosophy," he said:
Agriculture is discouraged by every constitution of landed property which lets in those who have no concern in the improvement to, or participation of, the profits. Of all institutions which are in this way adverse to cultivation and improvement, none is so noxious as that of tithes. A claimant here enters into the produce who contributed no assistance whatever to the production. When years perhaps of care and toil have matured an improvement; when the husbandman sees new crops ripening to his skill and industry; the moment he is ready to put his sickle to the grain, he finds himself compelled to divide his harvest with a stranger.
Mr Albert Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I hope we shall not ruin this Second Reading Debate by a regular series of interruptions and interjections. As to the point raised by the Noble Lord, I admit frankly that there must be many owners of land who discounted in the capital purchase of their land certain charges by way of tithes. But that is not the whole story, for there are large numbers of owners of agricultural land, particularly those who were almost forced by special duress during the late days of the War and the early days after the War, who had to buy their land under such circumstances that they were certainly not able to discount the charge of tithe upon the land and who, as a consequence of subsequent depression in agriculture, have been working in a position of special hardship ever since. I hope the Noble Lord will bear that in mind.
There is one further word I would like to add with regard to the irritation and grievances. I think there has been an increase in that irritation and those grievances during this period of agricultural depression owing to the incidence of the charge being such that in many cases the burden to be borne year by year by the tithe-payer has been either nearly equal to or in some cases far in excess of the annual value of his land to him. I had this in mind myself, with regard to certain land purchased and farmed collectively by a co-operative organisation, when we were giving evidence. I have not paid so much attention to that, but I was moved a great deal by the receipt of a communication a few days ago from a very old and trusted friend in the West of England, who has been acting as executor for an estate in the Southern counties of England of just over 200 acres, and upon which the charge for tithe is between £60 and £65 per annum. As executor of the estate he has until quite recently been unable to let the farm, nor has he been able to sell it, because as soon as he advertised the fact that there was a charge of over £60 a year for tithe, nobody would buy it. Even at this moment, although the farm has been let, the total gross rental received for it is roughly £50 a year, upon which he has to pay £61 or £62 in tithe, a position which is wholly indefensible with regard to a charge for the maintenance of a specific religious institution in this country to-day.
Therefore, it seems to me that the Minister was right when he said that, in spite of the efforts that have been made in this House from 1836 onwards, it is now a matter of urgency to get this position cleared up. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the setting up of the Royal Commission and paid a tribute to its members. I join with him in expressing regret at the death of the late Lord Cornwallis and in paying a tribute to the work he did. I think, too, we owe a special debt of gratitude to the Chairman, Sir John Fischer Williams, for the very able work he has done. There is another member of the commission to whom I would specially refer, and to whom reference has been signally absent from the remarks of the Minister—I refer to Sir Leonard Coates, who signed the Minority Report. I had hoped that in the course of his Second Reading exposition the Minister would have said a little as to what are likely to be the views of the Government if, in the later stages of the discussion of the Bill, some of us may be inclined to proceed along the lines laid down in the Minority Report for obtaining improvements in the Bill. The Minister gave no indication in his speech as to what is his attitude in that respcet.
I do not propose to deal at any length with the financial provisions of which the Minister spoke, but will merely indicate the separate points on which we feel that the case has not been met. It was all very well for the Minister at the end of his speech to say that he felt a certain pleasure that some of us should say this Bill does not provide a basis for a lasting settlement. Quite apart from the general attitude which our party adopts on land questions, I may said at once that it is because of the very inadequacy of the financial proposals in the Bill to deal with the real grievances of the tithe-payers that we find it necessary to say that the Bill cannot provide a lasting settlement. The Minister then said, early in his speech, that ever since the Government have been seized of the modern aspect of the problem, appointed the Royal Commission and received the report, they have been working at the problem and trying to do faithfully and well as much as they could to provide a solution for it. If that be the case, may I say that they do not seem to have been very faithful about it.
The Majority Report of the Royal Commission recommended that the period for the extinguishment of this charge, which has become so anomalous in the case of many people, should be 40 years. I listened in vain during the Minister's speech for any adequate explanation as to why there is a period of 60 years in the Bill. After looking at the Bill and listening to the Minister's explanations, it seems to me that there was a grave fear in the mind of the Government, which is going to spend £300,000,000 or £400,000,000 on armaments during the next two or three years, that they might have to suffer some small charge upon the Exchequer in order to get an agreed and satisfactory settlement of this problem. Consequently, ignoring the real basis of the majority recommendations of the Commission, they have adopted an ingenious design by which there will be no charge at all upon the Exchequer, and the main buttress of that policy is the extension of the period for the extinguishment from 40 to 60 years. I hope I am not doing the Government an injustice, but it is in that way that I read the main provisions for the extinguishment of the charge.
We on this side of the House say that it is urgently necessary to bring this grievous and irksome charge to an end. It is a charge upon agriculture and it ought to be brought to an end as early as possible. We feel there is not any real justification even for the period of 40 years recommended by the Royal Commission, and we are much more inclined to the view which was put forward at our annual party conference at Brighton last year, that the maximum period for the extinguishment of this charge ought to be such as would provide only for the existing general liability. We then put it that such a period would probably be fair if it were 15 years. We believe that such a period would not be unreasonable, and if it were considered necessary—if there were special points which ought to be met by way of alleviation or other factors which I have not taken into account—there might even be a compromise which would bring the period to 18 or 20 years; but certainly there is no justification for so long a period as 40 years. The Government, however, in order to save themselves any special administrative difficulty, have extended the period to 60 years, and on that we join issue with the Minister.
If our submission that it is not necessary to have this long period for extinguishment is to meet with the argument that the finance is not available, let me say at once that we cannot admit that that is the case. I believe that a careful reading of the well-marshalled facts in the minority report submitted by Sir Leonard Coates will support us in that view. I suggest that in dealing with any final settlement of this particular matter the House cannot give consideration only to the total income received from the tithe rentcharge by the church or church fund, but must have regard to the changing financial position to the church fund as a. whole. On page 99 of the report, in the statement by Sir Leonard Coates, it will be seen that during the last 94 years, a period which is very closely allied with the period which has been taken into account for the assessment of the new tithe, the ecclesiastical authorities have gradually increased their annual income from other sources.
No doubt this has often been because of good management and care, and I pay a tribute to the efficiency of the authorities concerned in that regard. Nevertheless they have increased the income, in one way or another, by £2,315,000 per annum, a sum which is actually in excess of the total estimated income from tithe rentcharge itself, and judging by what is going on, and what I see from time to time and from place to place, that income is continuously on the increase. We should have regard to the fact that the ecclesiastical authorities continue to receive this increased income, not only as the result of their own management and economy but also as a result of the general communal contribution resulting from industrial and other developments in various areas. They are reaping much benefit from the communal effort of the people in general. When we come to deal with the settlement of this question we ought to bear in mind that there are other funds in existence, which are likely to increase from year to year and from which it would be possible to have an extinguishment of this charge in a much shorter period than that now proposed, either in the majority report of the Royal Commission or in the Bill, which has gone back from the proposal in the report.
There is another point to which we must pay attention in regard to the finance of the Bill. In nearly all these cases of wiping out existing commitments by granting compensation there is a great deal of special pleading on behalf of what may be colloquially termed the "widow and orphan" interest. In relation to tithe rentcharge, we continually have brought before us the case of the poorer clergy. I am sure no one in any part of the House, would wish to do any injustice to any serving incumbent of the Church of England who could be classed among the poorer clergy. We recognise that in vast numbers of cases these incumbents are doing great social service as well as giving spiritual ministrations to-day. We do not wish to see them suffer, and in fact the proposals which we should make would provide for the livelihood of such people. But when we come to examine the position in the light of the minority report prepared by Sir Leonard Coates and when we consider the actual distribution of the tithe rentcharge income to-day we find that the case on this ground is much smaller than it is made out to be.
I hope that most Members of the House have read the minority report and I would beg them, those who have not done so, to examine the particulars given on page 99. I am not surprised, in view of the nature of the Bill, that the Minister did not make any reference to this matter, because the figures given are astounding. The annual commuted value of tithe rentcharge attached to livings is £1,998,070. That relates to 6,995 livings. That total income is divided up in an extraordinary way. Taking the values of livings based on the Church of England Pensions Board assessments, we find that the number of livings not exceeding £300 to which tithe rentcharge is attached is 1,137 and the total amount received is £191,478. When we come to the number of livings exceeding £300 but not exceeding £500 we find the figure goes up to 3,829, and the receipt from tithe rentcharge is £837,392. When we go a step further and examine the livings over £500 per annum we find there are 2,029 of such livings receiving £969,200. Thus, those with livings of less than £300, whom I would class as the poorer clergy, receive approximately only one-tenth of the total tithe rentcharge. Yet we have all this plea made mainly on the ground of what ought to be done for the poorer clergy.
I say that, first, by dealing with the increasing income of the ecclesiastical authorities from sources other than tithe rentcharge, and secondly by the wholesome and salutary process, which ought to be carried out by the Church authorities themselves, of a fair and equitable redistribution of the income from this source between the incumbents of the Church, it would be possible to get this matter settled on a basis of extinguishment at a shorter period and providing more than is provided in the Bill for relieving, in an immediate way, the present grievous and unfair charges upon agriculture. In that connection if one followed the recommendations of the minority report, with which we on this side are more in love than with the majority report, one would be able to deal more fairly with the problem of fixing a fair figure in dealing with the extinguishment of tithe rentcharge. The Minister said that the economists and pundits had proved to be wrong, in connection with the 1925 controversies and legislation, in regard to the level of agricultural prices. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to argue in the House that the figure of £91 11s. 2d., in view of the experience of the last few years and what is likely to be our experience, is any more reliable than the figure of £105 which was fixed in 1925. Indeed he actually quoted the figures to show that if you took the wheat basis to-day, the proper figure without the wheat subsidy would be £71, and that even with the allowance for receipts from the wheat subsidy it ought to be £80.
In the minority report, it is pointed out by Sir Leonard Coates that, although it could not be done immediately, there could be a move at once on the basis of making use of the funds to which I have referred from £105 to £90—which is slightly below the figure in the Bill—and this figure of £90 he suggests should only be regarded as the par basis for three years and at the end of three years should be reduced to £80. That would mean more substantial relief, at once, for those who are suffering in agriculture to-day, than is provided in the Bill and we should strongly support it. It is true that in our recommendations to our own party conference we argued, I think with soundness, that if tithe rentcharge were to be continued, it ought to be done on the basis of a proper averaging and assessment of the fluctuating prices of agricultural produce. If there is to be a fixed scheme for the extinguishment of the charge, then we say that it ought to be upon a much shorter period and upon this lower basis of charge.
With regard to grievances there is one other point with which we certainly do not agree with the Minister. He twits us with being more generous in Opposition than we were as a Government and more generous even than the request of the official body of the agricultural com- munity. I do not accept the suggestion that we are being too generous in the submissions we are making on this point, especially having regard to the type of case which I quoted earlier. But we do not hold with the proposal of the Government for dealing with what is one of the gravest and most immediate aspects of the problem, and that is the accumulation of arrears through all this period of legal process to which reference has been made. We do not hold that the contribution for dealing with the arrears is adequate or that it will give immediate relief. We submit that if that matter is to be properly dealt with the arrears ought to be wiped out altogether.
I do not think the House ought to allow the Bill to pass and leave this question of arrears to be a sort of cockpit of controversy leading to all sorts of legal processes, distraints, selling up cases and so forth. The House ought to accept the responsibility of saying that all arrears up to the present should be wiped out. We ought not to leave it to the kind of procedure now being proposed by the Minister. It could be done by ascertaining the actual sum involved up to the day or up to the month preceding the introduction of this Measure and adding that to the capital sum to be redeemed in the course of the extinguishment of the charge.
Mr Albert Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I mean nothing of the kind. I mean to add the whole of the arrears to the capital which is to be covered by the redemption process. If you then take our other recommendations and assess properly what the church can provide, first, by a redistribution of tithe rentcharge income and secondly, by the use of its increasing funds from other sources, you will be able in that way—by adding this to the capital sum to be redeemed—to give immediate relief to those who are suffering under the penalty of these arrears, without adding in any special way to the burden of those farmers who are paying tithe rentcharge.
My time has almost gone and I feel that I must omit a great deal of what I had intended to say, because it is not fair that other Members should be kept out of the Debate. On the other hand, it would not be right for me to conclude without saying something on the last part of our Amendment which is fundamental from our point of view. We hold that in regard to any charge of this kind there can be no real solution of the problem until the nation is prepared to adopt the principle of the land for the people, the land owned by the people, the land let to the people at a fair economic rent, providing a wall managed central fund from which all or any charges of this kind, which are finally settled by the State to be its due, can easily be met.
Mr Albert Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I should have thought the hon. Member would have known, from his better and more Radical days, our policy in that connection. Perhaps he has forgotten it.
Sir Richard Denman (Leeds Central)
On the contrary, so vivid is my recollection of it that I was shocked to note that all the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a denial of the whole principle of fair compensation.
Mr Albert Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
That must be due to the warped manner in which the hon. Member's mind has been missing what I have been saying, because I do not accept that view of my speech at all. The position that we adopt upon that question is that we shall certainly provide a fair compensation. If the hon. Member suggests that in dealing with any such land scheme we ought to adopt a basis which would keep the nation in bondage for two or three generations longer than would actually be necessary or justified upon the real value of the land, then, of course, if he likes to call my opposition to that, confiscation, he is entitled to do so; but on the basis of fair compensation, as to what is the true value of the land and the true interest of the individual owner in the land, we are certainly prepared to accept the principle of compensation. On that basis any such charges as have to be met by way of tithe rentcharge could well be met and could be adequately and efficiently met.
In view of the fact that the Government are bringing in a Bill to-day so called to settle this problem which is going to continue this period of extinguishment to 60 years, which is going to leave this thing almost like a continuous festering sore with those who have to meet agricultural charges year by year, we say that there is no settlement of that question at all, and that you will not get a settlement until you are prepared to stand up to the Motion which we have put on the Paper and to deal with it on the basis of the ownership of the land by the people.
Sir Henry Jones (Merionethshire)
I wish, in the first place, to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture upon the clear and comprehensive manner in which he explained what I think is a very intricate Bill. I think I could explain its object in a word or two by saying that it is an attempt, at any rate, to settle, once and for all, the very difficult question of tithe rentcharge, and with that object I am in complete sympathy. I would welcome the day when tithe rentcharge would be put on a basis which both tithe-owners and tithe-payers would regard as absolutely adequate and fair. But will the Bill achieve that object? That is the question which I have put to myself, and I have come to the conclusion that it will not do so. It is true that the Bill provides for a reduction in the tithe rentcharge, but the reduction is quite inadequate to meet the depressed condition of agriculture at the present time. Calculated on the septennial average of corn prices, tithe in 1935 would have been £80 6s. 11d. and not £105. Compared with the septennial average, the reduction to £91 lls. 2d. is far from adequate. I want to submit this proposition, that before any permanent, satisfactory settlement of this question can be arrived at, the tithe-payer must feel that the amount of tithe demanded from him is such as it would be if the original method of one-tenth of the produce of the land or its equivalent were all that he would be expected to pay. That in my opinion is a fundamental condition before any lasting settlement can be arrived at.
The Bill contains many provisions with which I do not agree, and I will enumerate a few of them. It converts a charge upon land into a personal debt, recoverable in the same way as Income Tax. The whole trend of legislation in regard to tithe has been to convert the basis from that of the one-tenth which was originally levied on the produce of
the land to a fixed sum, and in my opinion this is the worst instance of that trend. Then there is another point that I do not think is perfectly fair. The Bill transfers the collection of arrears to the commission, and no reduction for the cost of collection is to be made. Then there is the question of the period of redemption. According to the Royal Commission, that had been fixed at 40 years, but in the Bill it has been extended to 60 years, and in this connection I would like to read a few words from the report of the commission. This is what they say:
The period of the redemption annuity should not be so protracted as to deprive the average tithe-payer of the prospect of some material advantage accruing to him during his lifetime. After careful consideration we have arrived at the opinion that 40 years is the maximum period which will comply with this condition.
Extended to 60 years as in the Bill, no tithe-payer has the slightest prospect of any material advantage during his lifetime. I ask myself why that period has been extended to 60 years, and as far as I can see, and subject to correction, it is due to the fact that the Bill provides for a subsidy or a grant from the Treasury of £2,000,000 to make good the loss to the poorer clergy. That is the difference between £105 and £91 11s. 2d. That is not relieving the tithe-payer; it is increasing his burden, and apparently the Government think more of the poor clergyman than of the poor tithe-payer, who finds very great difficulty in making ends meet. The Bill in my opinion will not ease the situation. On the contrary, by compelling the tithe-payer to redeem, and that at a figure which conditions do not warrant, the grievance will still continue.
So much for the Bill as a whole. I am a Welsh Member. I represent an agricultural constituency, and I am very naturally anxious to know what the effect of the Bill will be on the Welsh side of this question. The only reference in the Bill to the Welsh Church Commission is contained in Clause 31, which deals with the liability to repair a chancel. It is true that by the repeal of certain Sections of the Welsh Acts of 1914 and 1919, the Welsh Church Commissioners are deprived of power to buy or sell rent-charges. Apart from these references, I find no reference whatever to the Welsh Church. Why put Wales in the Bill at all? Our circumstances are completely different. The Church of England in Wales has been disestablished, and we have no poor clergy to provide for, as all the life interests of the clergy in ecclesiastical tithe have been commuted. Wales, out of a sum of £2,350,000 borrowed for computation purposes, has already paid £750,000, and in about 18 years we should have cleared the balance of £1,600,000. The arrears of tithe in Wales were only £27,000 in December, 1935, as compared with £1,000,000 in England. The urban land in Wales has already been redeemed. We can get no income from that, and Wales does not want compulsory extinction. All it wants is to have the rentcharge fixed at a reasonable figure, and as the capital sum when it has been redeemed will be applied for educational and similar purposes in Wales, the Welsh farmer has no objection whatever to paying it.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a few questions? What is to become of the Welsh Church Commission? Is it to continue in addition to the commission which you are setting up in the Bill? If not, will the commission set up in the Bill take over the debt, and will it satisfy the Treasury and the very high interest which the Treasury charged upon this sum when it was borrowed? It was then 5½ per cent., I think, and it is now 5 per cent. I would like to ask another question, and this appertains to the £2,000,000 which the Treasury advances. Has Wales to contribute to that £2,000,000? If it has, it is a most unfair proposal. We have no poor clergy in our country. They have had their interests commuted, and if we have to contribute to that £2,000,000, you are simply placing on the farmers of Wales a burden for which they are in no way liable.
The case of Wales is so different that I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should consider the advisability of leaving Wales entirely out of the Bill and providing a Measure suitable for Wales itself. I think the right hon. Gentleman would be very well advised to give my suggestion due consideration between now and the Committee stage, and while I know that the Bill will receive a Second Reading by a huge majority in this House, I feel certain that I am voicing the opinion of a large section of the House when I say that even at £91 11s. 2d. it is more than the poor agriculturist, with the conditions in which he is now placed, can really afford. [Interruption]. I have tried to avoid anything controversial. I am simply putting forward points which, I think, deserve the attention of the House. I hope that, in replying, the Parliamentary Secretary will clear up the position in which Wales finds itself under the Bill, and I implore the Minister to consider carefully whether £91 11s. 2d. is not far too high in the circumstances and to reduce it to a proportion that the farmer will be really able to pay.
Lord Hugh Cecil (Oxford University)
I will not attempt such a detailed scrutiny of the very interesting speech of the Minister of Agriculture as is called for, and as will no doubt be made by other speakers who follow me. I will content myself with touching on one or two of the more salient aspects of the subject and indicating why, at the present stage, it is impossible for me to vote in favour of the Bill and why I should, in fact, vote against it if the question were put in such a form that it merely raised the issues of the Bill and did not involve the principles contained in the Amendments. There is one subject on which I should like to say a word, although I am doubtful whether it is in order; that is, the bearing on this discussion and future discussions of the Money Resolution. I may be wrong, but I apprehend that it is not necessary for the King's Recommendation to be signified except in respect to proposals which really in a direct sense throw a charge upon the Exchequer. It certainly is not so in respect of charges on the rates, or of things which are only remotely and indirectly possible causes of expenditure to the Exchequer. I remember a cognate controversy about the privilege of this House against the other House in a bygone discussion when it was suggested, as an illustration, that it would not be a breach of the privilege of this House if the other House, discussing a prison Bill or a Bill for the amendment of the criminal law, substituted the punishment of imprisonment for the punishment of flogging, because imprisonment indirectly cost more to the taxpayer than flogging. That would be too indirect a charge on the people to come within the meaning of the doctrine of privilege. Similarly, it would be too indirect a charge to come within the meaning of the rule which requires the King's Recommendation to be signified. I, therefore, rather doubt whether the Minister was right in. saying that he could not frame a general Resolution which would carry out the normal procedure of limiting the discussion within the limits of what the Crown had recommended in respect to expenditure, because these various aspects of the Bill are so interlocked, directly or indirectly, that any change may involve a charge upon the taxpayer. I do not think that those indirect and remote charges are within the meaning of our Standing Orders, or would be out of order when moved in Committee.
I listened to the right hon. Member who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench with a great deal of surprise and a little suppressed amusement. Who would have thought 40 years ago, when I first got into Parliament, that there would be a Labour party—which was then a very small body indeed—numerous and well-supported, and that on an issue which involves the interests of clergymen on the one side and landowners on the other they would be all out for the interests of the landowners? In those clays the more extreme Radicals and such Labour men as were in the House always characterised landowners as dukes. If you spoke of a landowner you called him a duke, and it would certainly have been said that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was an animated defence of the rights of dukes against the rights of much poorer and more deserving persons. Even now it is not true that all tithe-payers are very poor and struggling persons. A large number of them are wealthy people who do not find the tithe an overwhelming burden upon their finances. I cannot altogether sympathise with those who bought their land knowing perfectly well that they were liable to pay tithe, and, because of a change in agricultural prices—which, according to my right hon. Friend, was foreseen by practical men, although I rather doubt it—are now in difficulties. They bought their land believing it was going to be remunerative in spite of the burden of tithe, and they found, because of the fall in agricultural prices and the rise in agricultural wages, that it was not so remunerative. I have great sympathy with them as I have with anyone in pecuniary difficulties, but I cannot say that they have an. overwhelming claim to public sympathy. They may have made a bad bargain, like people who invest their money in stock which goes down when they expect it to go up, and they have lost accordingly. Parliament has a certain obligation, having burdened the agricultural industry with a special charge, to see that the industry does not suffer. I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend when he said that it is unreasonable to suppose that the change in agricultural wages is in no degree at the root of the difficulty. I remember, when prices were quite as low as they are now, at the end of the nineteenth century, the tithe was paid without very much difficulty, and there is no doubt that agriculture got through that crisis of low prices, as they do not seem to be able to get through the present crisis.
What is there with which we find fault in this Bill? I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is impossible to go back to the remote origin of tithe, partly because the facts are doubtful, and partly because they have no bearing on the present duty of the legislature in existing circumstances. It seems to me perfectly clear that Parliament having deliberately adopted, after full inquiry, a new system of tithe-paying to take the place of the old one, that is to say, that there should be a fixed, stabilised payment, everybody must be regarded as bound by that settlement. It was not thought at the time to be a favourable settlement to the tithe-owners; it was thought to be more in favour of the tithe-payers. It is hasty to assume that agricultural prices are always going to be as low as they are now. No doubt economists were wrong then, but they were not wrong by reason of ignoring all the relevant facts of the case. On the contrary, they took account of those facts, but they did not take account of the great slump that was coming, which really is an abnormal phenomenon and is due in a large measure to the economic dislocation of the war. As time goes on more normal influences are likely to drive agricultural values up rather than down. I do not want to prophesy, and I suggest that the Royal Commission and my right hon. Friend must not prophesy either.
We ought to take the settlement of 1925 as a fixed, settled arrangement in order that everyone may make their own arrangements with the consciousness of what will be their income and what will be the income derived from tithes; and, on the other side, what is to be the payment due on account of tithe. That fixed settlement ought not to be lightly departed from. If it is departed from, it should not be because agriculture is now depressed and has a claim for relief. This relief ought to come out of the common fund of the Exchequer, and not at the expense of the tithe-owner. It is not fair to take away from people, who have been promised a certain assured income, part of that income because the tithe-payer, who is legally bound to bear the cost, is in distress. If he is in distress, let him be relieved, but let him be relieved out of the common resources of the nation and not at the expense of other people who have their just rights, which ought not to be invaded.
Theft is really a very wicked thing. It is very wicked partly because it violates one of the great fundamental instincts of human nature, the instinct of ownership, and in that respect applies to all who own property, whether as corporations or as individuals. It is also exceedingly cruel when it is an injury inflicted upon individual persons who own something and depend upon that ownership, and must undergo hardship if that ownership is taken from them. It is amazing that the title of "poor" in this connection is applied only to people with less than £500 a year. "Poor" is a relative term. A great many clergymen are, for the purposes of their walk in life, and for the charges that fall upon them in respect to the education of their children and the like, poor even if they receive more than £500 a year. I confess that whether they are rich or poor, it makes my blood boil to think that Parliament should pass an Act depriving them of part of their property and giving it to someone else. In the disendowment of the Irish and Welsh churches life interests were scrupulously respected. I observed in the speech from the Front Bench opposite that it appears to be recognised that life interests ought to be respected. The right hon. Gentleman assures us that life interests will be respected if they fall below £500 a year. By what conceivable title of equity has Parliament the right to invade the life interest of anybody, whatever their income? It is their property, just as much as the private investments of a person are, and to take it away is an act of confiscation which has both the dishonesty and the cruelty of an act of theft.
No doubt hon. Members have had letters from the clergy complaining of the extreme hardship to which they will be exposed, how the education of their children will be interrupted, and how the overdrafts that they have incurred in order to educate their children will now become an intolerable and almost impossible burden upon them. They may exaggerate, and let us hope the case may turn out better than they expect, but it is not in consonance with common morality that the existing interests of any person should be invaded by Act of Parliament. That is my moral objection to the Bill, and that is the reason why I shall not be able to vote for it.
There is also an aspect which it is my duty as one of the University Members to bring to the notice of the House, and that is the injury to those great educational organisations, the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, by depriving them of a part of their endowment. Everyone who has studied university education will agree that the two universities have a monopoly, I suppose, throughout the world, and certainly in this country, of a peculiar form of educational organisation. They have what we call colleges, and anyone who has been at Oxford or Cambridge will agree that it is the part of the education that springs directly or indirectly out of the college that is most important. Anyone looking back upon his education will feel that it was the most valuable part of the education he received. It is curious that simple people, speaking a simple and unlettered language, speak of a young man having had a "college training," whereas more highly educated and sophisticated people talk of a "university education." As often happens, simple people put their finger on the real spot. It is the college training that is valuable, and I think it will do a great injury to the educational resources of this country if anything is done to hinder the efficiency of the colleges. Of course colleges differ very much in wealth; some are very poor indeed, and some are very rich; and the injury will, of course, follow accordingly. To hit a poor college hard by taking away part of its property is to do a great educational mischief. This House is generally sensitive to the claim that education makes upon it, and I think we ought not from that aspect lightly to injure the educational resources of the country.
I share with my right hon. Friend the gratitude he feels to the Royal Commissioners for the work they have done, because it is a very fine thing to give up a great deal of time and labour to the public service, but I am afraid that I cannot join with him in admiring their report. The report seems to me rather a muddle-headed piece of work, and certainly there are surprising things in it. I leave to others a more detailed criticism of it. The figure of £91 is purely arbitrary. They might just as well have drawn it out of a bag, for all the logic there is behind it. There is no reason why they should take 80 years or why those should be the particular 80 years they took. To exclude the years of the War merely because war sends up the price of cereals to a very high figure, is a most arbitrary proceeding. The price of cereals is always varying through some adventitious cause. War operates very strongly, and other causes do not operate quite so strongly, and why you should eliminate one particular cause which operates on prices I cannot conceive, and no one except a Royal Commissioner can conceive it. I feel like Lord Macaulay that, "idiots and biographers excepted," no one can see why these things should be done. The reasonable thing would have been to take the whole 100 years between the present time and 1836, and if we had done that the figure would be 97 and not 91.
However, that is not the only charge that can be made against the Royal Commission, not by any means. One of the most remarkable facts is that they charge the sinking fund against the tithe-owner, though it is his property that is to be bought up and redeemed. He is, as it were, to buy his own property and give it away. That is a most grotesque example of confusion of thought, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not defend it when we come to the point where it is challenged in detail. The provision as to the sinking fund is wholly indefensible. I confess to feeling some surprise not that the Government have extended the time from 40 to 60 years but that they should ever have reduced it from the original 76 years. I do not profess to have investigated the intricacies of the subject enough to say that on my own authority, but I understand that if you do not extend but refrain from reducing the period of redemption from the 76 years at which it is now fixed all your financial difficulty about meeting the equitable claims of the Church would disappear and the burden on the colleges would be much mitigated Why in the world should you not do that? The tithe-payer's annual charge would not be affected at all. He would be no worse off. Of course, the capital interest on his property would be affected, but that only affects him if he is going to sell his land. So long as he was working agricultural land to pay the charge upon his capital he would be just in the same position, whether the period be 76 years or 60 years, and I earnestly hope that my right hon. Friend will not close his mind on the question of the period of the redemption. It seems far the easiest way out of the difficult position in which the Commission and the Government have between them put themselves and the House. They should have left things as they were and enforced the law against the tithe-payer.
I am impatient when I am told that the clergy get security, that if they lose money they gain security. How do they gain security? I suppose they gain the security that lawless people will no longer be able to deprive them of their property by refusing to pay their debts. That, really, is the argument of the American racketeer. In America, I understand, when gunmen infest a district there are ingenious people called racketeers who say, "If you will pay us a certain sum of money we will see that you are not interfered with." That is the position of the Minister of Agriculture, although he does not do it on behalf of himself but on behalf of the tithe-payer. He says, "Of course you will not get so much money, but you will get security." That is so, they will get security against lawless persons who would otherwise molest them. We ought not to found a Bill to be presented to Parliament by borrowing from the morals of the American underworld.
I feel very strongly that we ought to do what is right. I am all in favour of the Government relieving agriculture and relieving the tithe-payer as much as they think they ought to do, but they ought not to do it at the cost of poor people or at the cost of educational institutions, and they are doing both. They have no right in morals or justice to do so. I think this Bill in its present form is an immorality. I should not so much complain if all the existing interests were saved, because the cruelty depends on the injury that is done to living people. We all feel that it is more wicked to rob a poor man than a rich one, not because it is more dishonest but because it is more cruel. This is a cruel Measure, inflicting undeserved hardship on poor people, and I cannot vote for it, and I hope that before it leaves this House it will be amended into a juster, fairer and more humane Bill.
Mr Herbert Spender-Clay (Tonbridge)
The House always enjoys a speech from the Noble Lord, who invariably shows us how ingenious and intricate is his mind, but while we listened to his speech with appreciation I think there are a great many here who do not quite take his point of view. He is far removed from the hurly-burly of a district where there are tithe-payers in the majority, and whilst we all feel sympathy with those for whom he speaks I do not think we can quite follow the propositions which he made. The temper displayed hitherto, which I hope will continue throughout the Debate, indicates that there is not the spirit of recrimination in this House which, unfortunately, is seen in so many parts of the country. No one will pretend that this Bill will be received with enthusiasm in any quarter. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture opened his speech by saying that it was a very suitable thing to do to bring in a Bill of this character early in the lifetime of this Parliament, and I am sure we can all agree that nobody could accuse him of bringing in this Measure as a vote-catcher, because it does not please either the tithe-payer or the tithe-owner. It is a Measure of compromise and we must recognise it as such.
The Noble Lord spoke rather lightly of the conclusions of the Royal Commission, but the members of it gave this very difficult subject long consideration, and I think that on the whole the House would be well advised to endeavour to settle this problem now, as far as it can be settled, instead of putting it off to a later date. Everybody on all sides of the House—both the Oppositions and the majority of our own party—must realise that the position cannot be left as it is at the present moment. No one likes paying tithes any more than he likes paying rates or taxes, and there are some people who have a feeling of grudge against the Church, because they feel they are giving support to a denomination with which they are not in full sympathy. My constituency marches with the one of my hon. and learned Friend who, no doubt, will address the House later, and in my constituency I am glad to say the position is not so acute as it is in the Ashford Division which is, perhaps, one of the headquarters of the agitation against tithes. I know that I have a large number of constituents who pay tithe rentcharge at this moment, but I have not received one single letter from a tithe-payer or a tithe-owner during the whole of this controversy. To me it is rather extraordinary how a question may become extremely acute in one district and yet, across an indefinable border, there may be no real agitation at all, and it is my experience that when matters do become acute one's constituents are generally ready to favour one with voluminous correspondence.
Another reason why the matter should be settled, as far as it can humanly be settled, is that I dislike reading about those unedifying scenes at forced sales. They remind one of the scenes which took place in what is now the Irish Free State in the Nineties of the last century. They are debasing to the people who take part in them, they are a cause of great trouble to the police, and I am certain that my Noble Friend, if he gives that aspect of the matter his consideration, will realise that such happenings are not in the best interests of the Church which he wishes to support, and that anything that can be done to remove the causes of the feeling which exists would be of benefit to the Church.
The commission took many months to consider the question. They went to infinite trouble, and their recommendations should be supported. There is an alleviation to the tithe-payer, and Clause 14 seems to be a substantial improvement. In spite of what my right hon. Friend has said, the tithe-owner will not be very materially affected although, in certain cases, hardship will undoubtedly exist The vital point is that there should not, in this matter, be any charge on the Exchequer, or the feeling may be aroused which existed in 1902 in which you had a revolt against paying for a church with which people were not in sympathy. If the money came from Exchequer funds there might be a strong movement for the extinction of tithes altogether. The right hon. Gentleman is facing the unpopularity which this Measure will bring upon him, but, as far as one can see, it is a reasonable compromise in a difficult position, and I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, so that it may have a chance of amendment in the Committee stage.
Reverend James Barr (Coatbridge)
I would like to associate myself with the right hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay), whose speech followed the intervention of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil). The Noble Lord's interventions reveal his great ability and eloquence, and we enjoy very much his play and thrust in debate. I do not need to assure him that he delights all parts of the House. He does not, however, delight us on this side of the House when he speaks of the rights of property being taken away by the Bill, and of lawless people and American racketeers, or when he uses the word "theft," and says that we are taking from these people their property. The Minister has invited us to return to Genesis or Leviticus, but I do not propose to go so far back. We know that these were originally, or seem to have been, voluntary offerings, spontaneous and free, but I would submit that when the day came that, in the interests of the church, the State stepped in and used compulsion upon all, whether they desired to subscribe or not, the position was entirely altered.
I think hon. Members will find that the first compulsion was probably in the year 326, under Constantine. Under Charlemagne, in 779, tithe was made universal. I contend that from that time it became a national charge, recoverable at courts of law. Similar processes took place in England under King Edgar in 970, and in Scotland under
David I in 1147. The latter was the first in Scotland to avail himself of these levies that he extracted by force, and by what he did for the church he won the name in later days of the "Sair Saint." Under Malcolm, and under William the Lion, his successors, this became a universal impost; and therefore national property—I will put it no higher—meantime grew up alongside what the Noble Lord put before us. That explains why statesmen on every side of the House, including Conservative and Liberal, in by-gone days before those party names were known, all asserted that this was a tax, and that there was national ownership in it. Edmund Burke said:
This is a tax of 2s. in the £, raised on the people.
That was his reason for our title to deal with the matter. When we are being accused of being racketeers or thieves, I would ask hon. Members to remember the words of Lord Palmerston:
Undoubtedly the property of the church belongs to the State"—
he referred to this property so far as it is under our cognisance to-day"—
and the State, represented by its proper organ, the Legislature, has the power and the right to deal with that property as the circumstances of the time may require.
Those words are very apposite to our discussion this afternoon.
The Noble Lord will recognise that this is a matter of controversy even among churchmen. Dean Milman, a highly honoured churchman, speaking of Charlemagne's compulsory levies, said:
This tithe was by no means a spontaneous, votive offering of the whole Christian people. It was a tax imposed by imperial authority, enforced by imperial power.
I need not say that the great economist Adam Smith says most distinctly that the tithe is a real land tax. If I may add one more authority, it should be that of the greatest writer on tithes, Selden, who, in his "History of Tithes," published in 1618, took the view that tithes were not payable by any Divine right, but simply because the law of the land had imposed them. The Noble Lord and many hon. Members will know that Selden had to do penance for that statement. The clergy were alarmed and the church was up in arms, and he
appeared before the Court of High Commission and did penance. Yet he never resiled from his opinion, and when it was cast up against him afterwards that he had made an apology, he used these words:
Is there a syllable of less truth in it because I was sorry for the publishing of it?
That brings me to what is rightly debated here to-day—the relation of this matter to agriculture. We were indebted to the Noble Lord for his intervention when my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) was speaking. He said that later legislation had perhaps taken the subject out of its closest connection with the land. One of the great authorities on this subject is Dr. Cormack who, not so long ago, published a book "Teinds and Agriculture," in which he shows what a heavy burden tithe was in the early days in Scotland, when the yield was only fourfold. He points out that when one-fourth of the total crop was required for seed in preparation for the next year, it was a cruel extortion to take away one-tenth in what he calls taxation. He points out also that the teind stood opposed to progress in agriculture, because where a farmer was progressive and greater produce came, he was immediately subject to tithe. He says the effect was such that many farmers turned their land again to waste and forest rather than submit to those exactions.
The Noble Lord has taunted us to-day with standing for the landlords and for their interests in the matter, but the tithe-owner was the landowner. It is very elementary for us to point out that the landowner who has this extra burden and exaction, claims therefore a larger rent from the tenant, and that on that ground the rent is increased. The burden filters down. I am not going to say that it is not more than an excuse, but the tenant says: "Because I have to pay so large a rent, I cannot pay higher wages to the agricultural labourers than they are now receiving." Then again, the Noble Lord said that the owner-occupier knew, when he bought the land, that this charge was upon it. But that does not justify the system any more than in ancient days, for a man to buy a plantation on which he knew there were slaves justified the system of slavery. It does not at all justify the institution. Not only so, but the owner-occupier when he made the purchase in Scotland and, I think, in England, was not entirely a free man. He was under compulsion. He had to face the alternative of losing his home and the fields which he had tilled, and of there being no other farm to which he could go.
The Report states:
Tithe rentcharge had for many centuries…been recognised as a subject of ownership,
but there are crying evils—and State endowment of religion is one of them—which no custom can ever condone and no prescription can ever justify. Although I am not proposing to pursue this point, I may say that the longer the practice the more colossal the injustice.
Reverend James Barr (Coatbridge)
I will only say that I might agree that, according to the adjustment, it might be. My own objection would be, although it is not altogether relevant to state it here, that it is not a total disendowment. That is by the way. With other Members of this House, I desire to conserve the full Life interest of those who are receivers of tithes at present.
I believe there are something like 350,000 tithe-payers. In regard to the argument that we do not know how far prices may rise—the Noble Lord used that argument—I would say that we can hardly hope that there will be no times of depression and famine. If such times come, I fear that even the sum of £91, which is the gross value, may still be far too high. Under the Tithe Act of 1891, remission could be granted if the tithe rent-charge was more than two-thirds of the annual value of the land under Schedule B. That is to be reduced to one-third. I submit that that is still a very high figure. It is one-third of the rent.
I will make only one allusion to our Scottish position in this matter. We still have a land charge in Scotland; we still have cases—fortunately, very few—of Sheriff Court proceedings and proceedings in small debt courts, of distraint and
so forth. These, as I have said, are few, but the system still prevails. In 1925, however, when the Church of Scotland (Property and Endowments) Act was passed, it included a Section, with a relative Schedule, laying down that in all new cases of valuation of land and tithe the tithe imposed should never exceed 20 per cent., or one-fifth, of the annual rent. Section 16 of the Act of 1925 reads as follows:
Where the annual agricultural value of any lands has been ascertained in accordance with the provisions set out in the said schedule, one-fifth part of that value shall be the valued teind of those lands in all time coming.
When we were considering that Measure, this proportion of one-fifth was considered to be excessive, so much so that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. J. Brown), who agreed generally with the Bill, supported by his vote our view that that was an excessive impost to put upon the farmers of Scotland.
As I know that many other Members wish to speak, I will put aside much of what I had intended to say to the House to-day, and will come now to the tithe-owners. They are to receive a great many privileges. They are to be given Government stock, bearing interest which secures to them an income equal to the assumed net income derived by them from the rentcharge reckoned on the gross value of £105. In spite of the caveat which the Noble Lord entered, they are given a superior security. They are given a free right to dispose of the stock issued to them, and they are given an income in perpetuity. In further reply to the Noble Lord I would point out that this is not really disendowment; it is really a capitalised, a complete and final, and in a measure an irretrievable, endowment of the Church by the State. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough very aptly pointed out the resources that are available to meet the case of the poorer clergy. There are the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; there are the accumulations that have accrued from redemption of tithe and so forth; but I would like to point out—
Commander Sir Peter Agnew (Camborne)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that under the scheme the accumulations on account of redemption are being taken into account and debited against the sum paid to the tithe-owners?
Reverend James Barr (Coatbridge)
The finance is certainly very confusing, and, even if I have not, perhaps, fixed on the proper place, there are, as has been pointed out here to-day, many resources in the hands of the Church that can be made available.
Reverend James Barr (Coatbridge)
There are the general funds accumulated by the Church—increasing funds, to which reference has been made to-day. But I do not want to dwell specially on that point; I was simply making a passing reference to it on my way towards what is really my last point in regard to the solution of this question and in regard to the poor clergy. The Church has at least one other resource to bring succour, to the poor clergy. She has Christian liberality. The living Church is the greatest resource of all; and she has the power of remarshalling her own resources. That is the answer to my hon. and gallant Friend who intervened just now. That phrase, "the remarshalling of its own resources," is to be found on page 99 of the Minority Report. I will give two illustrations of what may be done when people are thrown back on their own resources. The Archbishop of Wales, within the last year, spoke of the improved financial position of the clergy, and instanced his own diocese of Bangor, where to-day, he said, there is not a single incumbency with less than £310, whereas before disendowment there were 32 incumbencies under £200, and 65 under £300. At the Conference at Llandaff on the 23rd May, 1930, the Reverend. Chancellor J. D. James, now Archdeacon of Llandaff, indicated that during the first decade, just completed, of the disestablished Church, not a single church was closed, not a single priest was dismissed; and he added:
Since its disestablishment and disendowment the Church had gone from elevation to elevation, and there was in her growing membership a team spirit never known before.
My final word is this: You enrich —a Church by disendowment; you impoverish her by continuing to her the vast. State endowments which we are perpetuating to her to-day. I close with two quotations, both from eminent members of the Church of England. Dean Alford, in advocating disestablishment and disendowment, said:
The chief hindrance to the liberality of churchmen for Church purposes now is the semblance of self-sufficiency which the Church has put on by reason of her union with the State. Remove this hindrance, and the fountain of private liberality will flow as it has never flowed before.
Reverend James Barr (Coatbridge)
My hon. Friend puts in a "Perhaps," but it is not "perhaps" at all. I belong to a Church which is small in numbers, but which, owing to the great liberality of its people, has no minister whatsoever with an income of less than £350, or £300 where there is a manse; and it is the experience of the whole of Nonconformity that, if you remove the clenched hand of the State, you open the free hand of the people. If the House will permit me to give my second quotation, it is from G. W. E. Russell, the biographer of Gladstone, and once a Minister of State in this House. In speaking of the sacrifice involved in disendowment, he used these words:
It is a sacrifice that is worth making for the great boon which it will bring in its train. I am persuaded that it will be a proud and happy day for the Church when, in reply to the just boast of the Nonconformist Communions that they were free-born, she is able to say: 'With a great sum obtained I this freedom'.
It is not yet that she comes forward to pay the great sum, but rather that with this great sum which we are continuing to her to-day, we are—I put it no higher—casting a blight on her Christian giving, we are fettering her freedom, and we are leaving her still in the deadening grip of the State.
Sir Richard Denman (Leeds Central)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) will allow me to thank him for bringing the impartial mind of a Scot to bear upon what is a strictly English and Welsh problem. I would like, however, to disabuse him of the idea, which one would gather from his closing sentences, that this Bill is a Measure calculated to enrich the Church. Of course, as he knows quite well, it is calculated to diminish the resources of the Church by a capital sum in the region of £10,000,000. I think that that is a sacrifice worth making, and I and those associated with me will support the Second Reading of the Bill; but let there be no misunderstanding—there is a real sacrifice and a real loss. Now that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) is back, I want to repeat a line of argument that was advanced by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil). I was amazed at the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. It only convinces me of what one has seen from other examples, how much more concerned the Labour party are to try to secure tactical advantages from momentary expedients, rather than to recollect their old principles.
Is it conceivable that that party should want to make a gift of enormous capital value to landowners? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman saw an answer given to me by the Minister in March, in which it was calculated that, on the scheme of the White Paper, landowners would receive a present capital value of almost £25,000,000. That has been slightly reduced by some of the detailed provisions of the Bill, but I have not the least doubt that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to lessen the period of these annuities by 20 years would at least double that sum; so we find the Labour Front Bench advocating a gift to landowners of a capital value of not less than £50,000,000, as a prelude to taking over the land in the public interest with proper compensation. Is it possible to conceive of a more ridiculous scheme for dealing with land ownership?
I pass to the sole purpose of my speaking this afternoon. On one point there has been an extraordinary consensus of opinion on all sides. The hon. Member for Coatbridge asserted with the greatest emphasis that he would respect life interests. The Liberal Amendment, in terms, makes the same assertion, and the Noble Lord made a powerful appeal with the same object. I want to add my appeal for life interests. Last March, I happened to write a letter that was published in the "Times." It had a remarkable result. I received in the course of the next few days letters from correspondents, unknown to me, in no fewer than 15 different counties, from Lancashire, Lincolnshire, and the Eastern Counties, right down to Devon. They gave me examples of what this would mean in their particular cases. I want the House to listen to a series of quotations, because we all talk about the Church and corporations and societies, and do not consider the real living human beings who are affected by these Measures
that we produce in the House. I shall begin with a letter from Lancashire:
In this Parish tithe is moderate. Much rich reclaimed land is free and there has never been any difficulty in collection, which has been done by my father and myself for the last 54½ years. Now I shall lose about £50 or £60 per annum out of an income of £400.
My next is from Hampshire:
My neighbour, who draws nearly the whole of his income from tithe, will be mulcted in about £120 out of income and, without private means, he has to maintain a large house and garden. I myself am not so badly dealt with, but I can ill afford to lose the £40 or so which I calculate the new proposals will cost me.
This is from Cambridgeshire:
During the past year the county council bought a large farm, mostly in my parish, to divide into smallholdings.
The county council got the farm cheap by reason of the tithe.
My tithe on this is £233 9s. 10d. and the council are quite happy about it. Why give them my money?
It is not a very easy question to answer. Here are people who bought the farm cheaply, deducting the capital value of the tithe payable on it. This Bill now gives the county council, and takes from this clergyman, a portion of that tithe.
Mr Albert Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Has the hon. Member investigated that case? Does it mean that the county council, having bought the land cheaply, will have to pay the annual charge for tithe, which they will add to the rent of the smallholdings?
Sir Richard Denman (Leeds Central)
I do not know how the county council is going to utilise the land, but that is not the point. The point is that they have got it cheaper by reason of the fact that there was tithe on it, having allowed for that in the capital payment, and now they are going to receive part of the tithe as a free gift. It is something of a hardship on the existing life interest. I am not objecting to the ultimate result—what may happen after the lifetime of the present life tenants. What I am arguing for is that we should not permit hardship to occur in the case of those who up to now have been enjoying an assured income from tithe. My next example is from Shropshire:
Here am I with my family at its costliest stage. All my income is from tithe, so we are faced with the problem—we who
have no luxuries, not even a servant or a wireless set—of reducing our expenses by £70 or £80.
These are all letters that came to me accidentally. I do not know any single writer. The next is from Essex:
In my case the effect of these proposals will be to reduce my income by £118 a year. Two very wealthy landowners will benefit, one by about £100 and the other by £15 approximately. A large brewery will receive a couple of pounds. No farmer will be benefited in any way.
Mr Walter Elliot (Glasgow Kelvingrove)
Surely these letters were written long before our proposals were made known? For instance, the case of the brewery that he mentioned is clearly met in the Bill.
Sir Richard Denman (Leeds Central)
I agree that the brewery may not receive a couple of pounds, and that is a matter for which I thank my right hon. Friend, but the point of the letter is that no farmer will be benefited in any way.
Mr Walter Elliot (Glasgow Kelvingrove)
All these are prior to the assurance that I was able to give the House that all interests would be protected fully for eight years, and poorer interests for longer.
Sir Richard Denman (Leeds Central)
I was going to emphasise that point. I am just giving the examples as they came to me. My right hon. Friend must not think I am trying to overstate my case by an inch. It is much too strong to need the least overstatement. Another letter from Devonshire says:
One has undertaken certain commitments, e.g., a son at a university, life insurances on the basis of one's income. Now suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, a large slice is to be cut out of my income. The new arrangement will reduce my income by about £130 a. year.
I have a letter from a rural dean and one or two others, but I need not go on repeating what is practically a continuous story. They all say similar things. These were written not before the White Paper proposals were made and the £2,000,000 grant was issued, but obviously before it had been possible in any way to decide how that grant is to be utilised in meeting hard cases. I agree that that sum is sufficient to provide for the present incomes of incumbents for eight years, but my argument is for preserving the life interest of all incumbents.
I want the House to look at the other side of the picture. I have been giving a picture of what people are going to lose. Who is going to gain? May I begin with myself? I hope that all who own small portions of land who are going to benefit by the Bill will frankly state what is going to be the result in their case. I estimate that I shall gain £12 10s. a year directly the Bill is passed. The market value of the land that I have will be increased by about £300. I present my thanks to my right hon. Friend. But is it quite pleasant that it should be at the expense of my neighbour half a mile away? Would it not be a much more savoury offering from the Government if I knew that my neighbour's life interest was preserved? Perhaps I have not got quite my right hon. Friend's ready wit, but I wonder how he would carry on a conversation with my neighbour if he said to me, "I see that a few days ago you voted in favour of the transfer of a portion of my income into your pocket." What am I to tell him? "Yes, I voted in that way for the welfare of the State because I desired to put an end to a secular controversy." I do not feel somehow that that would be quite convincing. I should much prefer to be able to tell him, "This was a compromise Measure that we have got through in the general interest, but we have at least secured your life interests so that you shall suffer no reduction of income by loss of tithe."
I take my own case first because I am, perhaps, a typical small landowner, and the kind of benefit I shall receive is common to many of my listeners, but I think of this in relation to great estates. The Bill has a great variety of remarks in its sub-title, but it has obviously left one out. It might have been described as a Bill to provide doles for dukes. The House will not think that I am attacking the great estates. In the system of private ownership of agricultural land the great estates have played, are playing and will play a most beneficial and most important part. I am simply afflicted by a sense of the incongruity of these great estate owners paying out less at the expense of the vicarages. It is almost like a bad joke. I think of it in relation to West Sussex. I think of the great houses commanding great areas of agricultural land, the owners not in the least desiring to injure the incumbents within their region, but finding suddenly that the ducal in- come is increased and the income of the parson is less. I wonder if some public-spirited cartoonist will help me and send the Minister a few pictures. One might represent him going round with a plate to the various vicarages collecting his quota and then casting it into the ducal coffers, or perhaps it would be more accurate to put it the other way and represent him as an emissary of the vicar going to tackle the steward and receiving the sum due. One can picture him handing back a proffered cheque for £109 10s. and saying, "No, my good Sir. Take your pen and write quickly, not £109 10s. but £91 11s. 2d." There would, perhaps, be a subsequent picture showing the castle with a little added glory to it, a few more knobs on, and the vicarage with a little added dilapidation, a little more paint off. I am sure my right hon. Friend would gain added pleasure from these pictures if the artist depicted him, not in his familiar shape and clothes, but in the somewhat different proportions and attire of a duodecimo Henry VIII.
I have mentioned these great estates but they are, of course, only examples. Questions have been answered from the Front Bench showing the effect in a few other cases. The War Office paid in tithes last year about £2,500. I do not know whether that is lay or ecclesiastical tithes, but it is clear that the War Office is going to pay to existing incumbents something substantially less in ensuing years. Crown Lands are also paying £282 less by reason of this Bill. From the Chancellor of the Duchy, I am informed that there will be a slight saving. You have this absurd picture of small people having to contribute to some of the wealthiest bodies in the country.
Mr Ernest Thurtle (Shoreditch)
—having their incomes diminished, and I wonder if he has thought of referring those cases, if they are cases of hardship, to the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Bishops with very large incomes.
Sir Richard Denman (Leeds Central)
Clearly that would be a very impracticable proceeding, because even large incomes, which are absorbed in the necessities of public work, would provide very little towards the sums which are needed for the purpose which I have in mind. All that I am asking for is the life interest. There is a simple way by which this can be secured. The way is so simple that I really am surprised that the Government have not already adopted it. It is that the period of the annuity, instead of being 60 years should be 68½. That is to say, that the landowner would forego the reliefs that would be due to him from the years 1996 to 2004. He would forego that in order that his present neighbours might be assured of their income for life. If there are landowners here, is there one of them who would really prefer to be assured that his land would be free in the closing years of this century when perhaps his unborn grandchildren might be enjoying it, or perhaps not, or would he rather know that his neighbour is assured of his present income? I really feel that there can be only one answer to that question.
Mr Douglas Clifton Brown (Hexham)
Is not the landowner just as concerned with the labourer and the farmer as he is with the Church, or other person who takes his view of the Church? Perhaps the hon. Member does not know that the Landowners' Association are more tithe-payers than tithe-owners.
Sir Richard Denman (Leeds Central)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise that I am not asking for any lessened relief at the present time or up to the year 1996. All that I am asking, as the Noble Lord did, is that the relief shall not be extended to the closing years of this century. I appeal to my brother landowners, and on this point I am not arguing in the interests of the Church. I am not primarily interested in the Church, but in those economically small men, the men of modest incomes who will suffer real hardship. I may perhaps begin with a warning. Is it wise that landowners should show themselves so negligent of life interests and that they should create a completely new precedent in neglecting life interests. I want to enforce—and it is an important subject—the validity of the previous precedents. In the case of both the Welsh and the Irish Church Bills life interests were absolutely secured. Hon. Members will recollect the Welsh Church Bill Debates in 1912. In order to refresh my memory I looked up those Debates to see what was said on life in-
terests on that Bill. Mr. McKenna, who had charge of the Bill, said:
I wish to call special attention to the provisions relating to existing incumbents. It is proposed that every existing incumbent, so long as he remains in his present office, should continue to draw his present stipend. …Should any incumbents retire hereafter owing to age or infirmity, they will be entitled to receive one-third of their existing income during life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd April, 1912; cols. 959–60, Vol. 37.]
That, of course, was the existing law. Their life interests were absolutely preserved. In that Debate Mr. Leif Jones made the following remark, because there was some criticism and doubt whether they were to be preserved:
We have to respect the rights of the living, and this Bill does that. Life interests are fully safeguarded by this Bill. If the Noble Lord or anybody else can show that the life interests of any clergyman or curate or other person are disregarded, I am confident that the Government will accept an Amendment on the subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1912; col. 910, Vol. 38.]
In fact we all know that their interests were preserved. I have tried to secure a similar quotation in respect of the Irish Church Bill, but with less success. I turned up the speech in which it was introduced and found that it was a speech by Mr. Gladstone occupying 53 columns of Hansard. A cursory examination showed that it would be necessary, if I desired adequately to convey the thought of Mr. Gladstone to the House, to read not less than four columns, and though I could conceive circumstances in which those four columns might be of use, I do not propose to trouble the House with them now. I can succinctly state that he abundantly recognised that life interests were to be preserved. He based himself, curiously enough, on an earlier precedent taken from Canada, and he gave the results of his investigations and said that the life interests of incumbents of all kinds in the Church would amount to £4,900,000, and that sum was reserved for the purpose. I ask my fellow landowners not to go back on that precedent, and not to create a new principle, so that when the turn of land comes, life interests will be neglected or will only be partially regarded. It is very easy when once you accept the position that life interests need only be partially regarded to make that regard very
partial. It would not be wise of them to introduce such a new precedent. But I appeal to them more directly on the simple fact that we Britons are normally kindly and good-natured people and do not like to commit an injury against our neighbour if we can avoid it. We can avoid it here very easily. I ask the Government also to give effect to the precedents, and not to let it be said that the National Government, for the first time in modern days, are more ruthless than previous Liberal disendowers, and that they have marred a useful national work by imposing personal injury that will leave behind it a stinging sense of injustice, the memory of which will remain long after we are gone.
Colonel Sir EDWARD RUGGLESBRISE:
The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) will forgive me if I do not follow him in giving cases of hardship in connection with this tithe question. I can assure him that I, and a great many other hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies in this House, would have no difficulty whatever in producing quite as many, if not more, letters of hardship not from those who receive tithe, but from those who have to pay it. I will merely make one remark in reply to the hon. Member and to the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil). They have both complained that the Government are now intervening in this dispute and are definitely extracting a sum of money from the pockets of one party to the dispute and presenting it to the other party. The hon. Member and the Noble Lord consider that that is immoral.
Sir Richard Denman (Leeds Central)
I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that nothing I said would justify that conclusion. I support the Bill, but I claim that life interests, which can be so easily preserved, should be preserved.
Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise (Maldon)
I, of course, accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation, but I must point out that if there were no question of a remission of the heavy tithe payments or of the payments which fall so heavily on a great number of tithe-payers, the tithe-payers might retort in this way. They would say that the State, by the Act which was passed in 1925, increased the charge upon them. At that time there was an abstraction from the pockets of one class in order to put money into the pockets of another class. Time and events have now proved that the terms of the Act of 1925 cannot be allowed to stand. A tribunal, charged by the Government with the very serious task of investigation, have declared that the Act of 1925 in equity can no longer function, and should be repealed. The State is now endeavouring to right a wrong and to get back to some measure of equity in this very difficult matter.
I feel that in this question of tithe, where the two opposing parties, perhaps, take very strong views, one should endeavour to try to hold the scales as fairly as possible between the two sides. I recognise that the Government have embarked upon a very difficult and thankless task. It is very difficult indeed to try to satisfy both parties to this dispute entirely. I, at all events, do not intend to add any fuel to the flames of this controversy. My appeal will be on quite different lines. I am going to appeal to His Majesty's Government to consider a certain line of action. As the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University hinted, there are not merely the two parties to this dispute—the tithe-payer and the tithe-owner—but undoubtedly and unquestionably the State. My right hon. Friend the Minister said that before we take the Financial Resolution he would once more cast his eye over its terms with a view to seeing whether, by some method of adjustment, there might not be a certain sum—not a particularly large sum—made available which would go a long way to round off the ragged corners of the dispute.
I trust that no effort will be spared to try to make this Act of Parliament the last Act that Parliament need ever pass in connection with tithe. I do not want to labour the part that the State has played in the last 100 years or more in connection with tithe. No one can congratulate the State on the degree of success that has attended its efforts, however genuine they may have been at the time. From the year 1836, when the Tithe Commutation Act was passed and when the payment was altered from kind to cash, an injustice was almost inevitably bound to follow on the man who had to produce the cash rather than the tithe. It is obvious that whereas in the old days the tithe-owner merely went into the field and collected one-tenth of what was there, if nothing was there he collected nothing, but once the payment was converted into a. cash payment then he stood committed for ever to pay in cash, whether the field on which the charge was made produced anything or nothing. The result of the commutation was to inflict a hardship, not then contemplated by the State, on the tithe-payer. When that Act was passed, did anyone in the Parliament of that day suppose that within 10 years the Corn Laws would be repealed? Of course not, otherwise the Tithe Commutation Act would never have been drafted, much less passed.
The Act of 1925 has been shown by the Report of the Royal Commission to be one that cannot stand in equity. The present Bill has been framed with one overriding consideration, that there should be no possible chance of the Exchequer being called on in any way, directly or indirectly, for any contribution to a solution of the tithe problem greater than that to which the State is already committed. If the State is able to show that as between the two contending parties, the tithe-owner and the tithe-payer, it has acted fairly, then the State must be able to prove that it has played fairly as regards any contribution which ought to go towards a solution from the Exchequer. There are two main questions. If the State assumes a share of responsibility, which historically it should do, and if it does not deny, as there is no intention of doing, its present obligations under statute, then we must examine whether we cannot achieve by some remodelling of the financial proposals the sums of money available to meet the difficulties of the position.
Let me turn to one source from which I believe there may be such sums available. To-day the Exchequer stands committed, as regards the payment of rates, to £550,000 a year for 76 years, under existing legislation, and without making any allowance for the fact that rates are rising. Therefore, the liability of the State in respect of its rate contribution under existing legislation is undoubtedly greater than the £550,000. In the proposals of the White Paper the Government are going to compound this liability by a payment of £600,000 a year for a period of 60 years. I am aware that there are many pitfalls in dealing with figures of this kind, in connection with compound interest and so on, but if you follow the method of simple arithmetic this sum requires an answer. Under existing legislation the State will have to find over the next 76 years £41,800,000 as its rate contribution. Under the White Paper proposals the State will have to find a contribution of £36,000,000 over 60 years. Therefore, there is a saving to the State of £5,800,000 over the whole period as regards its rate contribution. The State appears to be going to save £96,660 a year.
As regards Income Tax savings, the White Paper indicates that the Exchequer will make some savings there, and on administration by the transference of the administration of tithe from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Tithe Commission. It looks to me as if the State will be a considerable gainer over Income Tax, to a far larger extent than is indicated in the White Paper. I will take a round sum of £500 as the commuted value of a tithe rentcharge. Under the present Act the amount which has to be paid by the tithe-payer every year in respect of that £500 par value is £547 10s. The new proposals would bring that tithe-payer's annual payment down to £457, and there would thereby appear to be a saving to the tithe-payer of £90 10s. a year.
When we come to another part of the Bill we find that in making his deductions for Income Tax the tithe-payer is no longer to be allowed to put in the whole or nearly the whole of what he now pays in tithe as a deduction, but is to be limited to two-thirds of the amount he pays. I will show how that deduction will operate. Two-thirds of the new payment of £457 may be deducted for Income Tax, and that is represented by a figure of £305. Under existing legislation the tithe-payer can make a deduction for Income Tax of £525, but under the proposals of the Bill he will be able to make a deduction of only £305. Therefore his Income Tax deduction is reduced by the tax on £220 a year. If you take the tax at 4s. 9d. in the £ on that £220, you will see that he is going to pay an increase in Income Tax of £52. If you deduct that from the remission of £90 10s. which he is getting in another part of the Bill, you will find that the net result on a £500 par value of tithe rentcharge will be an annual saving of £38 10s.
Lieut-Colonel Sir Gilbert Acland-Troyte (Tiverton)
The hon. and gallant Member has forgotten to add that the Income Taxpayer has to pay tax on the £90 10s. he saves. That also has to be deducted.
Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise (Maldon)
It is enough for my point that we now find that in this particular case there would be an apparent net saving of £38 10s., without taking it any further. The point I desire the Minister to follow from this calculation is that whereas the Royal Commission recommended that there should be a general reduction of 17 per cent. in tithe payments, actually, from the example I have given, the true reduction will be only 7 per cent.
Mr Walter Elliot (Glasgow Kelvingrove)
I would point out that we state most clearly in the White Paper that there would be more Income Tax available on certain lands. It really answers the point made by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) about the dukes. A large payer will not received so much as a poorer man. That is not a disadvantage to the scheme, but an advantage to it.
Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise (Maldon)
The Exchequer is to receive a far greater sum than can possibly be covered by the £135,000 mentioned in the White Paper, because that includes administration expenses.
Mr Walter Elliot (Glasgow Kelvingrove)
If the hon. and gallant Member can show where the Treasury is making any money out of this scheme at all, we shall do our utmost to return it to the scheme. It is a fundamental principle of the Treasury that it will not make a penny piece out of the operation of the scheme.
Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise (Maldon)
That is very satisfactory. It is the point to which I have been addressing my remarks. The Minister would be doing the House a great service, and hastening the smooth passage of this Bill, if he could reassure the House at the earliest opportunity that there is no extra addition accruing from any source for the Exchequer. Assuming that there is not, I should like to make an appeal to my right hon. Friend. In the first place, I should like to say a word on the position of the tithe- owners, although I do not need to say much, because much has already been said. They are to receive their income in future partly from the interest on redemption stock, partly from the £2,000,000 fund, and partly from the fact that non-agricultural land is to remain at par value. These three sources of income will go a long way when they are added together to meet the demands of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds. I understand that he is so far satisfied that he is going to support the Bill.
Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise (Maldon)
I understood my hon. Friend to speak from the tithe-owners' point of view and to say that he considers that, in the main, the tithe-owners' position is reasonably safeguarded.
Sir Richard Denman (Leeds Central)
I was speaking from the point of view of the satisfied tithe-payer. I wanted the satisfied tithe-payer to feel that he was giving a decent deal to his neighbour.
Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise (Maldon)
I do not want to go further into the tithe-owners' position, but I should like to say a few words about the tithe-payers' position. I have a few propositions to make. In spite of what my right hon. Friend said in regard to the remission of tithe where it exceeds one-third of the Schedule B assessment, I should like him to look into that matter again. I do not think that the argument he advanced was conclusive. At the time to which he referred the Bill was not before us, and we did not know what the provision would be. We did not know that the Royal Commission's period of 40 years was to be increased to 60 years. Therefore, I do not think that the point he made ought to carry too much weight. It may be asked, on what ground do I suggest that that fraction should be altered from one-third to one-fourth. The relief would come to those most hardly hit. It would not affect a very large number but it would bring relief where it is most needed, and that is the justification for asking my right hon. Friend to consider that fraction once again. The alteration would cost, I think, about £60,000 a year, but I always hesitate to state figures without authority.
There is another small point, but it is an important one. On the whole I agree with the decision of the Government to exclude from the purview of the Bill those who redeemed their tithe under the Act of 1918. It would have complicated the present Bill unduly to have brought them in, and therefore I support their exclusion; but there is one point on which I think that those who redeemed under the Act of 1918 might be brought in, and that is in connection with the provision under Schedule B. Whatever may be the scale of remission granted under the Bill it ought to be extended to those who redeemed under the Act of 1918. I do not think that it would cost much. I put the figure at £12,000. There is yet another matter. In the past in the half-yearly payments of tithe the tithe-payer has had three months' grace allowed, owing to the fact that he himself has to collect the rent from those who occupy the land. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that a provision is made in the Bill for a continuance of that old practice. I do not think that it would cost anything to the Exchequer.
I should like to make another request, an important one, and that is on behalf of the collectors. I think they have a right to some compensation. They started work under the Act of 1925. They prepared tithe maps and tithe lists, and the actual remuneration which they have received in the past eight, nine or ten years in some cases has not repaid them the expenses to which they were put in the extension of their offices, in the provision of secretarial assistance and in other ways. They were always banking on the fact that the Act was to go on operating for 85 years and that they would be able to recoup themselves over a period of time for their original outlay. Now the situation has been altered once again. Therefore, I should like to put in a plea that the collector should receive some consideration.
The right hon. Gentleman may say that I am asking for a lot, and he may ask what the cost will be. I do not think that in the aggregate all the things that I have mentioned would cost a very extravagant sum; perhaps between £120,000 and £130,000. Can the right hon. Gentleman possibly manage to find that sum? If he can, I believe he would smooth the passage of the Bill through Parliament to an extraordinary degree, that he would have the good will of both sides to this dispute and that he would get a far greater measure of support from hon. Members in all quarters of the House. The State in its broadest sense stands committed to a great responsibility in regard to this question, and if my right hon. Friend could see his way to impress that view on his colleagues in the Government, he might get the Bill swiftly and safely on the Statute Book, and secure a final solution of this very old controversy.
Mr Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Penman) spoke as a satisfied tithe-payer on behalf of the tithe-owners. I have to speak very largely on behalf of the tithe-payers. My position may seem to be invidious as I am a tithe-payer myself. I pay tithe under one of the voluntary agreements under the Act of 1918 but unless I get relief such as has been mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) I do not think that I stand to benefit under the Bill. Therefore, I hope that I may be able to speak freely on the matter. I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon for having pointed out, in relation to what has been said about sacrifices, that the question of sacrifices or no sacrifice is governed by whether or not we accept the Act of 1925 as a satisfactory and final settlement. In considering the sacrifices that the churches may be called upon to make, we have to look upon the position of the Church as a whole.
The tithe income of the Church under the Bill will have the same purchasing power this year as the tithe income of the Church had in 1926. The right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) referred to the increasing income of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners over the last 90 years, but what about the increase in income for the last 14 years? In 1921 that income was £2,300,000, and this year it is £3,100,000. It was patiently explained to me, in so far as I was able to understand it, by the Secretary of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, that that increase of £750,000 in income is not free money in the hands of the commissioners with which they can do what they like, because during the period of 14 years they have bound down part of that money in the form of increasing livings or creating new ones. But the fact remains that the total income of the Church as a whole is £750,000 greater than it was in 1921, and that the purchasing power of their total income will not be reduced as compared with 1925.
When we are looking at Church income we have to ask why it was that the State by a series of deliberate acts in the last 40 years, and more particularly in the last 20 years, has increased the value of the income in the hands of the Church by a series of derating Measures. We are told that land was derated, and therefore why not tithe. Surely, we do not legislate in these days for the sake of artistic tidiness, but we legislate to ensure what is best for the people. We saw queues of men at the Employment Exchanges, caused in part because the burden of rates on agriculture was so high, and therefore we removed those burdens. Where do we see corresponding queues of expectant worshippers prevented from offering their devotion and waiting at the church doors, through lack of income of the Church? We shall be told of the expanding needs of the Church in the growing areas of the South-East, but what about the waning needs of the Church in the diminishing areas of the North-East? There is, I believe, no institution which has so little elasticity and power of movement from one part of the country to another as the Church, and there is no public institution in which such inequalities between services and rewards would be tolerated as in the Church. I know that that is not the immediate fault of the Church: it is produced to a certain extent by Act of Parliament.
One would think that as part of a final settlement—let there be no mistake about it that this Bill is a final settlement which no Government of whatever party will ever be able to touch—the Church would have put forward some proposal of its own to give such elasticity as is illustrated, say, by Lloyds Bank, or the Employment Exchanges, or the Salvation Army to move from one part of the country where their services are not so much required, to other parts where their services are more required. If the Church had done that, they would have had the great support of many of their own members. Even if there had been any proposals to bring about equality of services and rewards and mobility in the Church, it would have been hard for the Church to maintain its right to receive for ever a capital sum, over which this House will have no control, equal to the present value of tithe income. It is impossible for the Church to make out its claim to a capital sum greater than the present value of its tithe income.
In spite of what is stated in the report and what has been said by the Minister, I would call attention to answers which have been given about the assumption of the value of lay tithe for Death Duty purposes, in which it is stated that the value, that is, the value which the tithe would realise if sold in the open market, is not arrived at by looking at such sales as have taken place, but is normally computed by capitalising at an appropriate number of years' purchase the amount of tithe payable, less deductions in respect of rates and the estimated cost of collection. That works out at 10 to 12 years' purchase of the gross value. Who will say that the computation carried out by the Treasury has not been made with a scrupulous determination to extort every penny from the taxpayer which the law and justice will allow? If it is not done in that way it is conferring a favour on a particular class of taxpayer. I recognise that lay tithe is rated in full and ecclesiastical tithe at £5. Making an adjustment for that, the proper figure at which to compensate Church tithe-owners is not 25 times the gross value but 14 to 16 times the gross value. Tithe-payers never admit the claim of the Church to receive a capital sum 25 times the present gross value.
I come now to the position of the incumbents, and I join in the expressions of sympathy which have come from all parts of the House. It is a principle that when a man has ordered his life on the basis of an Act of Parliament, that basis should not be struck away if such action can be avoided, although a notable injustice was done to this principle when the Corn Production Act of 1918 was repealed in 1920. It would cost £2,000,000 to preserve the life interest of all incumbents under £500 a year, and a further £1,000,000 to preserve the income of all incumbents in their present incumbencies. I agree that these incomes should be preserved, but where I part company with the hon. Member for Central Leeds is that if this question had been based on a 14 to 16 years' purchase we could not have resisted the demand that the extra £3,000,000 required should also come from tithe-payers. But when we are asked to pay 25 times the gross value, then we say that the obligation to preserve the present incumbents should be met out of the sum which we pay. We recognise that whether tithe-payers pay on a 16 years' purchase, plus £3,000,000, or on a 25 years' purchase, out of which the Church will have to make what arrangements she can, either of these alternatives will result in a net loss of cash income to the Church. Our suggestion is less drastic than that put forward by the Labour Opposition, which really amounts to a 15 years preservation of the present position, a five years accumulation of funds; and then nothing at all.
The question of the ultimate diminution of the cash interests of the Church raises the biggest issue of all. Hon. Members who have spoken so far in the Debate have not devoted to this issue that attention which it deserves. When the Church was co-extensive with the State and agriculture co-extensive with industry there was something to be said for the system—indeed nothing could be said against it—of a compulsory maintenance of the Church out of agriculture, but to-day other religions have arisen, the Free Churches, with 7,000,000 adherents and 12,000 churches, carrying on their activities without a single penny of tithe income. Unfortunately we must also face the fact that there are thousands, hundreds of thousands in the country who own no adherence to any religion whatever. In these circumstances is it the view that tithe income is a sacred property of the Church which must not be touched? Is it the view that the Church should receive a cash income nearly equal to that which she receives to-day, and an income which would continue to come into the Church automatically, although every man, woman and child in the country embraced some other religion? Is that the view?
I know my own answers, but I do not know whether they are the right answers Nobody can afford to be dogmatic on these questions, but they are questions on which the House ought to have a chance of expressing its opinion, because on the answers the justice or injustice of this Bill rests. Look at the position of Wales. Twenty-five years ago public opinion reached such a stage that the whole Church income was swept away, after dealing with existing incumbents. I do not suggest that public opinion in this country has yet reached or is ever likely to reach the stage at which Welsh opinion arrived a quarter of a century ago, but I do say that a 16 years' purchase is not only economically just, but as it would lay an obligation on the Church to collect some part of its income out of the contributions of the faithful, it would be more in accordance with present-day feeling of the British nation. As a devoted Churchman myself I agree that such a settlement would have been in the best interests of the Church.
On the other side there is the tithe-payer. If it be, as I maintain it is, that the Church has no sacred claim to tithe income as a piece of property, and if it be that 16 years' purchase is a fair figure, it may yet be said that I have failed to make out the sacred right of the tithe-payer to pay less. There are, of course, tithe-payers who base their claim for reduction on some right and justice, but I do not feel competent to put their case in that way in this House. We are bound to hear, we have heard, of the man who bought his farm knowing that tithe was upon it, and made allowance for it. Tithe-payers do themselves no good if they do not admit that as against the man who bought his farm yesterday that argument is unanswerable. But we did not all buy our land yesterday. What about the man whose grandfather bought his farm in 1836, in the flourishing and prosperous corn-producing areas of East Anglia? Is it just that he should go on paying this burden growing every year in relation to the prices of corn and in relation to the profits he has made? What about the man who bought in 1918, during the currency of the Corn Production Act and during the period of land mania when there was no question of balancing up tithe burdens and possible profits and rates? The man who lived on the farm as a tenant had to outbid the highest bidder who came along, who was generally a maniac who knew nothing about farming whatever. He had to buy his farm.
What about the man who bought in 1926? He knew all about tithe. He made an estimate of his probable income, which was no doubt a wrong one. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) said "What folly; he is out of luck." But the Government experts made the same mistake, and it is not disputed by anyone that if we had known in 1925 what the course of prices would be the settlement of 1925 would never have been made in those terms. The Minister has given the figure of present prices, on the seven years average, as £80 not £91, and I believe that if prices remain as they are a seven years average will work out at £76. Tithe, in our submission, is a tax, and if it be that the claims of the Church are being met by similar payments out of profits, then it surely is a tax. There is no tax so out of date, so capricious, so unequal; no tax which creates so much inconvenience and resentment, or so many anomalies, and there is no tax which so cries out for redress and reform.
One word about rates. It may be a coincidence but it is a fact that we have passed in the last few weeks an agricultural Unemployment Insurance Act, and we shall pass sometime in 1937 Unemployment Insurance Regulations. These two Measures will relieve rating authorities of a great deal of the burden now imposed upon them in respect of the relief of agricultural unemployment. Surely it is possible to bring together these two things, the burden on the rating authorities by these proposals and the relief given to rating authorities under the two Measures I have mentioned. If the Amendment which I have put down to the Financial Resolution is out of order, as may probably be the case, I appeal to the Government to consider this matter and to see whether they cannot do something of their own along the line I have mentioned to reduce the period of years from 60 to 40. If the period can be reduced to something nearer to the report it would be possible for responsible leaders of agriculture to recommend the ordinary farmer and tithe-payer to take on the new machinery of this Bill with the minimum of friction.
I appeal to the Government and the House. This is a real big issue which is being settled. I hope that the Motion for the Second Reading will be withdrawn or defeated by the House. We are discussing a matter of vital importance. The whole history of Church finance and the relations between Church and State has never reached such a critical stage as to-day. We are putting the whole control of the finances of the Church of England entirely outside this House without considering the many matters which many people believe are calling out for investigation and redress within the boundaries of the Church. There should be a chance for the House to discuss the relations between Church and State, the spiritual needs of the people and the internal finances of the Church, not in relation to the details of a particular Bill but in general terms. If the Minister says that there is no Parliamentary time for this procedure, and if a Bill is to be forced through, effecting this epoch-making change in Church history by the very complicated Financial Resolution which will stifle all discussion in Committee, then I say let us wait a few months or a few years until the House has time to discuss this Measure in a way commensurate with its importance to those things which are permanent in the life of the nation.
Mr Douglas Clifton Brown (Hexham)
I have listened to debates on the subject of the tithe for the last three years, but the Debate which has taken place to-day has convinced me. The principal recommendation which the association to which I belong made to the Royal Commission was that the only way of dealing with this question was for the State to supply the money, as was proposed by the commission, and as is provided in the Bill, which I believe, settles this matter once and for all. I would like to say frankly that the evidence which the association to which I belong gave before the commission was in favour of our tithe-paying members and not the tithe-owners. I think there is in the minds of hon. Members opposite, and perhaps others, the confused idea that an agricultural landowner must be a tithe-owner. As a matter of fact, the party opposite is arguing for the majority of the agricultural landowners and what it believes to be their interests.
An hon. Member has said that the landowners should be careful as to how they play with the question of not recognising Church property, and I would like to say that we thoroughly recognise that; but the agricultural landowner, has to look at the matter not only from the point of view of the Church. It is just as Christian for him to look after the tenants and labourers as to look after the village parson. It was for that reason that the association to which I belong felt it to be perfectly fair to make a case before the Royal Commission in favour, on the whole, of the tithe-payers. In general, the Government have accepted our suggestions, and this Bill will carry out to a very great extent the suggestions that we put before the commission.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Colonel Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) has said that there are three parties concerned—the tithe-payer, the tithe-owner and the State. The third party is not necessarily the State, but the taxpayer. The greater part of the agricultural land of England is untithed, and this Bill is unnecessary in its case. Moreover, many people, like myself, have been able to redeem their tithes, and we look at this Measure only from the taxpayer's point of view. One of the great advantages of this Bill is that it is not unfair to the taxpayer. It does not ask for a subsidy for one or other class of agriculture. The greater part of the agricultural land is not affected by tithes, and it would be very unfair that those who have redeemed their tithes and the taxpayers in general should have to pay extra taxes on account of any subsidy. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on bringing in a Bill which does not place further burdens on the greater part of the agricultural land of the country. The Bill is a fair attempt to settle an age-old dispute between tithe-owners and tithe-payers, without placing heavy burdens on the taxpayer.
There is general agreement among the tithe-owners and tithe-payers that if a scheme such as this is to be carried out and if the Government are to advance £70,000,000, this is the time, in view of the low interest rates, for them to carry out such a bold venture. I am glad the Government have taken this opportunity, and I believe they will succeed in solving this problem at the only time when it could be done. The question which arises of course, is that in a serious, big operation one has to be careful, after the wound has been made, that it is kept properly clean. Some of the measures proposed in the Bill must be very carefully looked into and considered in Committee. I am sure the odds are that that will be done.
A further point to which I wish to draw attention has already been made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon. I hope the Treasury will give a fair deal to the taxpayer and not take away from him any of the advantages which he obtains from a reduction in the payment of the tithe. Another matter which I would like to bring to the notice of the Minister has reference to Clause 14. Where land is subject to a charge for land drainage or maintenance, it would be suitable to make allowance for such charges. If the Minister will look into that matter again, particularly with regard to Norfolk, I think he will find it is one that needs some special treatment in the Bill. It is difficult for me to understand why there should be a charge of 5 per cent. interest on arrears, which appears rather heavy in view of the fact that only 3 per cent. interest is charged on outstanding instalments of Death Duties, and so on.
I think the chances are that there will not be a continuation of this cheap money year after year until the Tithe Bill runs out. I was glad to hear the Minister say that if the interest went up to 5 per cent. it would mean a reduction of the term of years during which the money has to be paid. I think that the Government could perhaps be more sanguine and give some help to the Church and the tithe-payer at the same time. Before the Bill goes through Committee we ought to envisage exactly what action is to be taken in the event of money becoming expensive. In conclusion, I would like to congratulate the Government on the way in which they have grappled with this subject and on determining, as far as they can, to press the Bill through as soon as possible. I believe that with reasonable Amendments this Bill, notwithstanding the tremendous agitation which is going on, may once and for all eliminate this sore in the Church and agriculture in this country.
Mr Robert Richards (Wrexham)
It would obviously be out of order in this Debate to raise the wider issue which has been suggested by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland). It is impossible, however, not to feel the rumblings of the storm which agitated our country, particularly Wales, 40 or 50 years ago when the question of tithe was discussed. Apparently there is a feeling in certain parts of the House that the question of the relationship between the State and the Church should be thrashed out, but it is obvious that it cannot be dealt with at the present moment in view of the kind of Bill which we are supposed to be discussing. Nor would it be proper here to follow the very interesting historical remarks—to which we listened with great interest—of an hon. Member on these benches; but I would like to point out one thing in connection with the origin of tithes. There is some confusion as to the date on which tithes became operative, but I think it is recognised by everybody that at one time they covered more than the income of the incumbent and the repair of the church. In the earliest times they were usually divided into, at any rate, three parts, one for the income of the incumbent, one for the repair of the church and one for the relief of the poor. It is an important consideration that the State has lost that service of the relief of the poor and has had to assume it itself. Now, of course, the whole of the tithe has been appropriated either for the payment of the incumbent, or appropriated by other lay appropriators.
A significant fact is that we are discussing a question which this House has discussed on an average once every five years during the last century. It is just a century ago that the House undertook to try to regulate the question of tithe, and since that time the question has had to be dealt with every five or six years. We have been told that this Bill finally disposes of this difficult problem, and I am sure that every hon. Member hopes that will be the case, but I am not so sanguine myself. Until we have heard a great deal more about the financial provisions of the Bill, I think it is difficult for anyone, even the Minister, to be certain that the Bill finally disposes of the matter. I would point out that this House is itself responsible, to a very large extent, for the position in which we find ourselves. In 1836 the House commuted the payment of tithe and made it a permanent payment, irrespective of the crops that were grown or the type of agriculture pursued. Consequently, from that time the tithe has had no relation at all to the kind of agriculture pursued, and that is the root of the whole problem.
Whatever we may think about the old system of tithe—that of taking a tenth part of the crop—it is obvious that it was related to agriculture and to crop-growing, and that the incumbent did share in the good times as well as in the bad times. In 1836 the House took 1835 as the standard and decreed that whatever crops were grown in 1835 should for all time be the crops to be tithed. The only departure from that was that the value was to be calculated on a seven-year basis. In doing that the House destroyed any justification that there was for the tithe as it originally existed. It is well known that over a very large area of the country the character of agriculture has completely changed, and a great deal of land which used to be agricultural land has passed out of cultivation, much of it having been built on. Still, tithe is paid.
There is another point with regard to what Parliament did in 1836. We have heard a great deal to-day about the precarious position of certain incumbents in the Church of England. We have to recognise that the Act of 1836 gave the incumbent more or less a fixed income and improved his position economically. He had not the cost of collecting the tithe as he had formerly, and he had not the cost of the storage and disposal of the crop. I do not lay any stress on these figures, but some people say that, as a result of the Act of 1836, the position of the incumbent became 50 per cent. better than it was before. Another unpopularity that attaches to tithe is this. Even with the seven years' average, tithe as it is collected bears no real relation to the prices ruling at the time. That is obvious if we take the abnormally high prices reached by wheat during the years of the War and shortly after the War. For example, we are given a figure in the report of £172 in the year 1922 and £171 in 1923. Everyone knows that agricultural prices had already broken in 1921 and it was rather hard to demand high tithes during the years when the prices were beginning to fall. I think this lack of correlation between tithe and prices is one of the root difficulties of the situation. It is, of course, a. situation that has arisen entirely as a result of the action taken in 1836 which has never been fundamentally altered by Parliament.
We have heard a great deal about the figure at which the par value was fixed in 1925. That, as far as I know, is the only action which Parliament has taken so far to try to stabilise the position. The figure then taken was £105. A great deal of sport was made by the Minister concerning that figure, but I would seriously ask him whether there is any more justification for the figure of £91 which has been adopted as the basic figure in the Bill. It is well known that, had the seven-year average been taken into consideration, the figure at the present time would be about £71, and that is a very important consideration from the point of view of the tithe-payer. For a large part of the century he has been going on a seven-year basis, but when the seven-year basis becomes favourable to him, as it would be at the moment, he is told, "You must not pay on that basis but on a purely arbitrary figure of £91 which is merely the average of the years that have expired since 1836 excepting the years of the War." I think it would have been better not to have taken a crude average but to have made some attempt to discover a more equitable figure.
We are all agreed that it is time we got rid of this controversy. We all recognise its extraordinary difficulties. One tempting feature of the report of the commission is that it suggests a short period and proposes that at the end of 40 years this thing should be done with altogether. It is most regrettable that the Government should have extended that period because it simply means that the same sore will be running for 20 more years. I think the Government ought seriously to consider the impartial report of the Commission and, if possible, reduce the period.
Mr Clement Davies (Montgomeryshire)
I have listened to this Debate with great interest. I remember the debates on this question which took place in the House during the 1906 and 1910 Parliaments, and I am amazed at the way in which the question is now approached compared with the way in which it was approached in those days. Peace may not have descended upon Europe, but certainly
peace seems to have descended upon this House with regard to the question of tithe. I recall acrimonious debates, and intense feeling and bitterness on this question. Only one who took part in the Debates of those days has spoken this afternoon, and that is the noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil). Apparently he has not changed the views which he
I was one of those who strongly objected to the suggestion of the Government contained in the Bill which was introduced in another place. Many of us urged on the Government the necessity of a further inquiry into this matter. An inquiry has been held by this commission—an entirely different commission from that which had to inquire into the circumstances of tithe in Wales. I remember that commission so well. It had a good Press every day. Not only did its members quarrel among themselves but they quarrelled with the witnesses, and things got so bad at one period that three or four of them resigned from the commission. But here we have a commission the members of which have agreed on this point, that the time has come to put an end to tithe once and for all. Apparently everybody in this House, except the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, is agreed on that point.
At one time, to mention tithe was like mentioning the sacred Ark of the Covenant. The merest reference to it was liable to cause tremendous feeling. Now, apparently, this commission has agreed that tithe must go. The Government have agreed that tithe must go. The Amendment of the official Opposition really means that tithe must go. The Liberal opposition agree that tithe must go. The only quarrel seems to arise on the question of the terms upon which it is to go, and the question of terms is not one for the House to discuss on Second Reading but one which will be debated, it may be with a certain amount of feeling and even of fury, during the Committee stage. I rather take the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) in preferring the Minority Report to the Majority Report. I had hoped that the Government would, at least, have accepted the Majority Report but they have not even done that and they have departed completely from the wise advice given by the Minority Report. When everybody seems to be agreed that tithe is an anachronism, why should it be continued for 60 years?
I have often wondered why there should be such a strong objection to tithe. I know the old objections which existed in Wales, based upon the facts stated by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) as regards the origin of tithe and the way in which it was at first used—part for the poor, part for education and only the remainder for the incumbent. One can understand the feeling about those matters but the objection to tithe remains in Wales to-day and I think the real reason is that the tithe-payer feels himself in the same position as the tenant who pays to an absentee landlord. He does not see any benefit from the money which he is paying coming back into his immediate neighbourhood. That is one reason why he grumbles at it and cannot understand it.
That being so, I should have thought that the Government would have seized this opportunity to put an end to it quickly. They might, at least, have followed the recommendations of the majority report. I should prefer them to follow the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough and to put an end to it within the lifetime of the ordinary tithe-payer to have, say, 20 years or 25 years purchase and then an end of it. Now I suppose every existing tithe-payer will have to go on paying it until his dying day. It is unlikely that anybody who is paying tithe to-day will be alive to pay it 60 years hence. He might have a chance if it were 40 years purchase but he would stand a better chance still if it were 25 years purchase.
As to the amount, I think it is much too high. One is apt to forget the difficulties of tithe-payers, especially those who purchased their land 17 or 18 years ago in the days of high prices—of guaranteed prices—and who had to compete in the open market to retain their farms and homes. They paid 30 years' purchase, and as much as 40 years' purchase, and they did not take tithe into consideration at the time. It is easy to say that they ought to have done so. It is easy to say that they have no legal answer. Of course they have not but, in truth and in fact, they never took tithe into consideration. They were protecting their homes; they were buying these farms to continue upon them and they paid these very high prices. Then tithe was stabilised, in 1925, when there was an obviously falling market. The Farmers' Union at that time protested against the amount at which it was fixed. They realised that it was a falling market and that there would be all the time a higher payment made by them than the amount of the produce which they would be getting out of the land and the prices which they would be getting for it. These, however, are matters more for the Committee stage than the Second Reading Debate.
I was glad to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. Haydn Jones), and I only wish we heard his voice more often in this House, but he said one thing which rather surprised me. He said that the Welsh farmer did not mind going on paying tithe because he now realised that the tithe went partly to the county councils and partly to the University of Wales. That is not my experience of the Welsh farmer, which is that he wants to see the end of tithe. He should make his contributions towards education and the county councils in the ordinary way, like everybody else, and not by this special thing which is called tithe. If this Bill did not apply to Wales, you would have this very extraordinary position, that the time would come when the tithe would have been redeemed in England, and the English farmer would no longer be paying it, but the Welsh farmer would all the time be called upon to make this special contribution towards the county councils and the University of Wales.
That is an impossible position to adopt. The Welsh farmer will benefit from this Bill to this extent, that instead of paying, as now, £105, his payment will be reduced to £91 11s. 2d. All the same, I agree with what the hon. Member for Wrexham has said, that that £91 is just as absurd as the £105. It bears no real relationship at all to what the land can produce and the prices which the farmer is able to get. I welcome the Bill, and I welcome the fact that everybody in this House is now at last agreed that tithe has got to finish, and finish fairly soon.
Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith (Petersfield)
I am sorry the Minister is not here at the moment, because I would like to have added my tribute to the way in which he presented this Bill. It has been said that this is about the first Debate on this subject that has not been acrimonious, and I think probably it was the happy way in which the right hon. Gentleman presented the Bill, which deals with a problem that is very contentious, that has prevented any feeling entering into our Debate. I sincerely hope that that state of things will continue. There was one thing which the Minister said that gave me a. little hope, but it also rather puzzled me. He said that the Bill was a step forward to a solution. Could the Parliamentary Secretary tell me whether this Bill is to be looked upon as a final solution or whether, in fact, it is just a step forward to that final solution? It must make a very great difference to our consideration of the Bill. If it is a step forward, then we can think again, but if it is being put forward as a final selection, I am afraid it will not achieve its goal.
We have been told that the Bill is, partly at any rate, the result of certain agitation to which tithe has always given rise and that the gangsters are really coming into their own. I wish that I could think that just by agitation you could get this House to deal with matters affecting agriculture, because I can assure you, Sir, that we could very soon have quite a happy agitation in many other quarters of agriculture, but I do not know that we should have quite so much success, because this is not due to the fact that there has been some agitation in some districts. It is much deeper than that. Farmers do not agitate just for the fun of the thing. The very nature of their calling makes them very peaceful men. It is only when they feel that they have a real sense of grievance that they are prepared to go to the lengths to which they have gone.
We have seen in various districts resistance, and unhappy resistance, but it would be idle to say that in fact it is confined to those districts which are heavily tithed and that therefore you can disregard it. That it has been so confined is, I think, due to the fact that there have been men of very good will who have been trying to restrain their fellow tithe-payers and who have said, time and time again, "Well, eventually Parliament will do justice to your plea." We have had excerpts from letters giving hard cases, so far as the tithe-owners are concerned, but, as you may imagine, I could give a great number of letters on the other side of the question—a great number. I will not weary the House with them, but I hope it will not be thought that just because probably the main area of this country has been quiescent, there is not in fact an undercurrent which could be roused to activity extremely easily.
I shall support the Second Reading of this Bill. I know that in doing that I am going against the wishes of a very large number of tithe-payers, but I believe that in the main the tithe-payers would want the Bill to have a Second Reading, for the simple reason that they welcome the principles which underlie the Bill. The reason for that is not very far to seek, because they know that they have to get some relief as quickly as possible, and this Bill, whatever its defects may be, does in fact offer some relief. Tithe-payers, as I understand it, think the Bill is capable of being made into an acceptable Measure, but it would be wrong for me, speaking from my experience, to pretend that this Bill will form a permanent solution to this problem. Eleven years ago the Government of that day missed a golden opportunity of getting agreement on this problem, when they framed the 1925 Act in such a way that no tithe-payer could possibly agree to it. At that time the Government refused to accept even one Amendment which might have made the 1925 Act acceptable to tithe-payers, and the inevitable result was that tithe-payers determined that they would seek Amendments to that Act as quickly as possible. They pressed and pressed for an inquiry. For 10 years they pressed for it, and now I think we can see that the result of an inquiry has entirely justified all the criticism which was levelled at that so-called settlement of 1925. I would like to make this point quite clear, that tithe-payers never agreed to that settlement and in fact could not possibly have agreed to it as a settlement.
Now the opportunity is here again for the Government to get a settlement by agreement, and I hope they will not make the same mistake over this Bill, because Members on this side are placed in a very difficult position. There are probably few of us who could say that this will form a permanent settlement, but it is something, some relief to those who need relief very badly. It is relief which it is very hard for us to refuse, but if we vote for this Bill, we are only voting—and we know it—for some interim Measure; and for that reason I hope most sincerely that the Government will not adopt too intransigent a position and will, in fact, be prepared to receive Amendments and to meet objections.
I hope that the objections which the farmers, the tithe-payers, are putting up to this Bill will not be thought to be objections against the payment of the clergy. I think it is well known that every farmer in the land would be only too glad to see the clergy living in the state which they know they deserve, and we should be the first to join with those who want to bring about that condition of things so long as we were assured that the responsibility was to be placed upon shoulders broad enough to bear it. At the present moment the shoulders of the tithe-payers are not large enough, and they will not be for some time. It is a responsibility to see that our clergy of all denominations are living in right conditions and the right way of life, but it is the responsibility of the whole State, and should be one which the State should gladly bear. It certainly should not be the responsibility of any one section of the community, because the clergy are not the servants of one section of that community.
Our main objections to the Government's proposals come under two or three heads. They have departed from the main lines of the commission's report, first of all as far as the period of repayment is concerned. It is generally known that the Government are making this 60 years instead of 40, mostly for the purpose of helping the rating authorities. Tithe-payers are unable to see why that responsibility should fall on them. It never has been their responsibility to pay these rates, and they fail to see why it should be now. Forty years does give some chance of seeing some substantial amelioration of their lot in an ordinary lifetime, and the commission made a great point of that. It was on the basis of 40 years that the commission put forward the figure of £91 11s. 2d. and they asked that their report should be considered as a whole and that one or two things should not be just taken out of it. The Government, however, have seen fit to extend that time, and we hear that it was done because the Minister of Agriculture presumably could not get sufficient money out of the Treasury to help.
If we want a final settlement of this controversy, I suggest that the House would be wise to give authority to the Chancellor to find this sum of money in order to try to help over this particular gap. On these lines we have at a later stage to put up our objections. Apart altogether from the period of time, the figure of £91 11s. 2d. is, in the tithe-payers' view, somewhat high. They note that the commission said, when they were commenting on the redemption figure of £105 for the purposes of the 1925 Act:
It will he obvious that the fixing of a stabilised value on this basis involves, among other things, a forecast as to the probable trend of corn prices for a long period of time. It is unnecessary for us to point out the difficulty of making such a forecast. The ability to do this would, enable a private person to amass a fortune.
The commission has fixed the price. I do not know whether the members of the commission are going to amass fortunes because of their ability so to do, but it seems to us that they were not much happier over fixing that particular amount than those who fixed the original figure of £105. We consider that the figure of £91 11s. 2d. involves an unduly optimistic forecast of the probable trend of cereal prices. We hope that we are wrong and that the Minister will do all he can to see that we are.
There is one aspect of this problem about which I would make a special appeal to the Minister. Under the Bill
the tithe-payers are being called upon to accept the payment of annuities as a personal liability. Whatever may be said about that, it is a big thing as far as tithe-owners are concerned, and I do not think that tithe-payers consider sufficient weight is being put on that or sufficient allowance has been made for that security, which is a genuine security. There are still, however, bound to be many hard cases under this Bill. I know that it has been thrown at the National Farmers' Union that they asked for one-third of Schedule B and that it has been conceded, but the Farmers' Union always realised that there always would be hard cases. It was always wrapped up with a much bigger settlement. There will be these hard cases, and there will be no machinery to deal with them other than the Income Tax machinery. I hope that the Minister will consider putting in some new Clause which will establish that very necessary machinery to deal with those who seek some adequate measure of relief where the tithe rentcharge is excessive in relation to the value of their land. If that is done, it will be a tremendous help. I am going to take the responsibility of voting for the Second Reading in the hope—and I think that we can say there are hopes—that in the later stages the Government will, to use the words of the commission,
use every endeavour to put an end to a secular controversy which has had such regrettable social consequences.
Mr Ernest Evans (University of Wales)
I rise for the purpose of inviting the attention of the House to a particular aspect of the question which is involved in this Bill. Tribute has been paid to the work that has been done by the Royal Commission on which this Bill is based. I wish that I could join as heartily in that tribute, but I cannot see my way clear to do that. The chief value of a Royal Commission must depend upon the recommendations which it makes. The chief value usually is that it gives a lot of people an opportunity of saying what they want to say. I venture to think that this commission was an expensive and dilatory machinery for arriving at that result. It is true that the, commission recommended the abolition of the tithe rentcharge, but it did not require a Royal Commission to do that. Ninety-nine per cent. of the population were quite satis- fied with the merits of that policy long before the Royal Commission started sitting. The commission was asked to deal with this problem in a general way. My concern is about Wales, and I was amazed to find the commission saying that in their opinion the terms of reference did not require or authorise them to deal with the question of the internal finances of the Commissioners of Church Temporalities in Wales. I do not see how any body dealing with tithes, so far as it affects Wales, could deal with the matter in an efficient way unless they took that practical question into account.
It is well known to the Minister of Agriculture that under the Welsh Church Act the property of the Church in Wales was withdrawn from the Church and vested in the Welsh Church Commissioners. That property included the tithe, and when that operation took place the commissioners had to collect the tithe on the septennial average applicable to the year 1918, namely, £109 3s. 11d. Under the Tithe Act of 1925 that was reduced to £105, and now, under this Bill, it is reduced to £91. The effect is that whereas under the Welsh Church Act the county councils of Wales and the University of Wales and two or three other organisations which exist for the purpose of promoting the educational and cultural life of Wales are entitled to receive the benefit of the property which was transferred to the Welsh Church Commissioners, they will now have their receipt postponed for about five years. That does not sound a very serious matter, and it is not one to which I should attach very much importance except that it does raise a question of principle of a slightly different kind.
I can quite understand that the hon. Members who sit for the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford find themselves in a little difficulty, because they have to appeal to the Exchequer for a contribution, but in Wales the thing can be done without any additional charge upon the Exchequer. Under the Welsh Church Act the Welsh Church Commissioners had to borrow money from the National Debt Commissioners, who fixed the rate of interest at 5½ per cent. In 1919–20 that was, it may be, a reasonable rate of interest for the Treasury to charge, but seeing that among the claims made by the National Government the chief is that they are providing cheap money, there is no excuse for them still to charge the Welsh Church Commissioners 5½ per cent. If that were reduced by 1 per cent. it would wipe out the postponement which this Bill will put upon the Welsh University and the county councils in their educational and cultural work.
I suppose that the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture will say, "That has nothing to do with us." But it has to do with them. They know very well, from another point of view which it would not be in order for me to raise on this Bill, that it is matter of very practical importance to the educational life of Wales. If the Ministry of Agriculture will only approach the Treasury with the perfectly reasonable proposal that in the present state of the money market the rate of interest ought to be reduced from 5½ to 4½ or 4¾s per cent., they will be able to relieve the University of Wales of the hardships imposed by this Bill. That is not a very unreasonable thing to suggest. Shylock is not a very popular character, but as compared with the existing arrangements between the Treasury and the Welsh Church Commissioners Shylock was a gentleman.
Lieut-Colonel Sir Gilbert Acland-Troyte (Tiverton)
I am afraid that I cannot follow the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) into the case of the Welsh Church Commissioners, but I should like to say that I agree very much with what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Major Dorman-Smith) and my approach to the Bill is much the same as his. I am prepared to vote for the Second Reading, but my attitude on the Third Reading must depend very much on what happens in Committee. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend was a little pessimistic in saying that this could not be a final settlement. It may not be a final settlement of the whole question, but I think it is a final settlement with regard to the tithe-payer and the tithe-owner, and in future any controversy will be between the tithe-payer and the State or between the tithe-payer and his Member of Parliament, and we shall have to face any question that may arise on this Bill when we face the electors. In that respect I hope the Bill will lead to a final settlement.
It has been clear for a very long time that it was absolutely necessary for some steps to be taken to deal with this vexed question of tithe. Recently the collection of tithe has left a sense of grievance and injustice with a great many tithe-payers, and very regrettable incidents have taken place in many parts of the country. This trouble is due, undoubtedly, to the very high rate at which tithe was fixed in 1925 compared with the value of agricultural produce. It caused a great deal of hardship to a large number of tithe-payers during the period of very deep agricultural depression; and we must remember that the only person interested in agriculture who did not suffer from that agricultural depression was the tithe-owner, the person who does least of all those interested in agriculture for that afflicted industry. That is a point we ought to keep in mind.
We are dealing here with a question of very great difficulty, and I am certain that no solution could be found which would suit both sides, unless the Treasury were to produce a very large sum of money with which to make the views of the two sides balance. I think the Treasury are right in declining to produce a very large sum of money, because it would not be fair to ask the taxpayers to provide a great amount, but I think the Treasury might possibly produce a certain amount in order to help to bridge over the difficulties which are bound to arise under the present Bill. When I first read the White Paper I came to the conclusion that the suggestions there set forth would be a fair compromise, although I was certain they would not please either side and might cause a certain amount of hardship to some of the poorer tithe-owners. When those proposals were transferred to this Bill and I had given it careful consideration I began to think that the whole thing was a Treasury "ramp." I am glad to say that the Minister has now put my mind at rest with regard to that, because he has pointed out that whatever extra accrues to the Treasury by way of Income Tax—and I hope I may take it that he meant not only Income Tax but. Super-tax, Death Duties, and the like—will be used for the benefit of the scheme.
He has set my mind at rest on that point but not with regard to Clause 13. That Clause cannot be justified, and is most unfair to the tithe-payer. I wonder whether the House really realises what the result of Clause 13 will be. The effect of that Clause and the Bill in general will be that the tithe-owner will lose £18 a year on every £100 worth of tithe. The tithe-payer's net gain will be £7 11s., and the Treasury, or, now, the scheme, will gain the sum of £10 9s. Therefore, it is fairly obvious that the tithe-payer is not going to get very much out of this. In those figures, which I believe are correct, because I have worked them out in two different ways and have had them checked—though the Treasury do not agree with them, I believe—I have not included extra money which will accrue to the Treasury owing to increased yield of Death Duties, which must increase as the capital value of land rises owing to redemption. Nor have I included anything for Super-tax. It seems probable that the larger Super-tax payer, if he is also a tithe-payer of say, 10s. in the £, will be out of pocket. At any rate he does not gain anything by this change. I hope the Minister will go into that point very carefully and will make sure about it. The Treasury may lose a small amount owing to the reduced income received by tithe-owners, but it will be very small. An Income Tax payer, with a wife and three children and an income of £500 a year, will, I believe, pay nothing in Income Tax. The majority of tithe owners have an income of under £500.
Another way in which the scheme will benefit the Treasury will be in the cost of collection, for which 5 per cent. is estimated. The cost of collection is nearer 3½ per cent. than 5 per cent. under the present scheme, but whatever the cost of collection is now, it is certain that, in view of the powers of the Treasury, it will be considerably less. I hope that the money which will be saved in that way will be used to compensate collectors of tithe. There are a large number of people who act as tithe collectors, and unless they can get an appointment under the Government they will be thrown out of employment. I hope that some compensation may be possible for them in the scheme.
I now come to the question of rates, in which matter the Treasury do not seem over-generous. The period 1935–1936 has been taken as the standard year. It is difficult to see how any other year could be taken, owing to the fact that the Bill will come into force on the 1st October of this year. It is not a very good year, because of the present upward tendency of rates, which was not showing in 1935 but will show itself in the coming year; secondly, the amount of remission of tithe in 1935 was considerably higher than usual. It was something like 15 per cent. as against something like 5 per cent. It is proposed that an annual reduction of 1½ per cent. should be made on the amount which the rating authority collects, but that percentage is too high. It should be left more in accordance with the previous rate of voluntary deduction under Queen Anne's Bounty. It will not cost the Treasury anything. There is no justification for the drop of 8 per cent. in the third year.
I should like to ask the Government why the County Councils Association was not consulted before those provisions were drawn up. The District Councils Association and other bodies, as rating authorities, were consulted, but not the County Councils Association, which has great interest in everything affecting rates. It would have been better if the Association had been taken into consultation. By various Acts of Parliament we are constantly reducing the number of hereditaments on which rates may be collected, and that makes it very much harder for those hereditaments which are left, especially at the rates are constantly rising by reason of Government action, the Departments trying to make local authorities spend more money.
Reference has been made by other hon. Members to Clause 14, which provides for hard cases and allows a reduction when tithes come above one-third of Schedule B. It would be very much better if that reduction were made in regard to Schedule A. That suggestion was put forward by some of those who gave evidence before the Royal Commission, but I believe it is not possible to do so under Schedule A because of technical difficulties. I would suggest that one-seventh of Schedule B would bring this matter very nearly into line with one-third of Schedule A. I hope the Minister will consider the possibility of allowing one-seventh instead of one-third, which is not a very high reduction to meet all the hard cases. When calculating under Schedule B for this matter, such extraordinary charges as land drainage or the maintenance of a sea wall should be brought into consideration. Many tithe-payers are redeeming their tithes by annuity under the 1918 Act, and may I say here that I am taking this course with regard to the greater part of my tithe, although I still pay some under the 1925 Act.
We hoped that our case would be considered by any committee set up under this Measure, and that if some concession were made to tithe-payers in general, a concession would be made under the 1918 Act also. After considering the report of the Tithe Commission, I agree with their view on this matter. We entered into this bargain of our own free will, because we thought it would pay us, and we must abide by it, even when our expectations are upset by Government action. It is right for us to stick to the bargain we made. I would like to suggest, and this suggestion would not affect me personally, that the people who pay their tithe under the 1918 Act should be brought under the operation of Clause 14, so that cases of hardship will be met. I cannot think that very many people are affected, and I am sure that the cost would be very small. I hope the Government will give consideration to that suggestion.
I have tried to speak on this matter chiefly from the point of view of the moderate tithe-payer and not of the extremist, but many more points will have to be considered in Committee. I have made no mention of the period over which the payment will be spread, or of the actual amount which is to be paid. They will probably be considered at a later stage. I have every sympathy with the tithe-owners who may suffer hardship through the operations of the Bill. I hope the loss that they will suffer will be considerably less than they think, and it seems clear, from what the Minister said, that very few tithe-owners, at any rate under £500, will suffer anything at all. It should be remembered, also, that they will receive a Government security instead of their present security, which, we must own, is of increasingly doubtful value, and that they will also avoid much unpleasantness in the collection of tithe, so that the work of the Church will not be hampered by unpleasantness caused in this way. I hope that it may be possible, with good will on both sides, so to amend the Bill in Committee that it will bring about a fair and final settlement of the whole question.
Sir Kenneth Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
My remarks will be brief, because much of what I might have said was said by the Noble Lord who represents Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil). Indeed, I can put them in the form of three comments upon what he said, one in disagreement with him, and two attempts to emphasise agreement with him on specific points. I disagree with the Noble Lord in that I find it possible to support the Second Reading of the Bill. I agree with him, however, in what he said about the vested life interest of the sitting incumbent; but on that question it is not necessary for me to enlarge, because the Minister, in introducing the Bill, did a good deal to meet doubts and difficulties in regard to it, and almost every subsequent speaker has expressed sympathy with that demand. Therefore, I think that anyone may vote for the Second Reading in the hope that, even if it is not clear on the face of the Bill, it will be made clear in later discussions, that the vested life interest of the sitting incumbent will be safeguarded.
The second point that I wish to emphasise is in connection with the length of time that has been taken for fixing the amount of compensation. The Royal Commission was dominated, no doubt, and I do not think it unfair that it should have been, by a desire to get a settlement, and to get it now and be done with old grudges and modern agitations—a desire which is, no doubt, dominant in all our minds. I would point out, however, that the figure of £91 odd arrived at on an 80-years' average would be something over £97, instead of £91 odd, on the basis of the 100 years ending to-day, or of the 100 years beginning with Waterloo; so that, in whichever of these ways the recent century is taken, the figure would not be the figure now arrived at. That figure of £91 11s. 2d. is questionable in another respect besides its origin. Not only did it originate in an average of 80 carefully selected years, but it is an average of tithe income exclusive of any sinking fund for those 80 years.
On the other hand, the £91 11s, 2d. at which future tithe is to stand for the next 60 years is not all by way of income, but includes sinking fund as well as interest. What the tithe-owner, under the Bill, is to get instead of the 1925 figure of £105, is not £91 11s. 2d., as is generally assumed, but that figure minus whatever is the appropriate annual charge for sinking fund. Whether the deduction of the sinking fund charge would bring the amount down to £81, as has been asserted, or whether it would only bring it down to, say, £89, is beyond my competence to tell, but it is essential that the House should be aware that the new figure corresponding to the old one of £105 is not £91 11s. 2d., but £91 11s. 2d. minus something which represents sinking fund.
That brings me to another question, which has not, I think, yet been referred to, namely, the question why the tithe-owner should be charged rates on that portion of the £91 11s. 2d. which is really of the nature of sinking fund, and not in any sense income. I think it could be demonstrated, either on the basis of the Report of the Royal Commission or on the basis of the White Paper, that there is some portion of the £91 11s. 2d. which is not income, but sinking fund, and I should like to know what that portion is, and why, whatever it may be, it should be charged with rates.
An hon. Member below the Gangway said that no tithe-owner would be very materially affected by these proposals. I do not say that the scheme as it stands inflicts upon comparatively rich corporations an intolerable or scandalously unjust burden, but there is no doubt that it does inflict upon educational corporations very serious losses. My own old college of Trinity, for instance, would lose from its tithe income £2,500; that is to say, it would receive £2,500 less than the average amount which, all through the recent difficult years, it has collected. That is a loss of 17 per cent. of the tithe that has been collected even in these difficult times, or 20 per cent. of the total tithe which is due to it, which it has over a great portion of the past collected with ease, and which it might not unreasonably expect again to be able to collect with ease in the not too distant future.
The University, of course, as well as the colleges, loses on its tithe, and, although I do not wish to appear to be counting the same figure twice over, I think it is fair to point out that, in so far as the University subsists by taxing the colleges —and that is very largely how it does subsist—the University, of course, every time a college loses money, loses whatever the Income Tax rate may be. At present it is 21 per cent. I suppose that no one here would regard it as a good result if these tithe losses meant either increased taxation of the colleges by the University, which I suppose nobody wants, or increased grants from the Treasury to the University, which I suppose nobody wants. There are one or two other questions that I might mention, but I hope I have said enough to show why I think the Bill ought to receive a Second Reading, but why, on the other hand, I think it contains some points which it is not unreasonable to question. There are some other points on which I think it might be questioned—for instance, with regard to the independence of the capitular incomes, and with regard to the third Schedule to the Bill; but perhaps these are points more suitable for later discussion than for a Second Reading Debate.
Mr William Spens (Ashford)
Rather more than 1,000 years ago, according to Selden, King Athelstan made an edict ordering that the bishops, thanes and villeins of Kent should pay their tithe, and here we are, in the year 1936, endeavouring to deal with very largely the same problem because of the difficulties which tithe has caused in Kent. I have sat here practically the whole afternoon—I think I am the only Member who has spoken for what one might call a distressed tithe area—and I have listened to many speeches from Members who do not seem to have the very dimmest idea of the situation in the really distressed tithe areas. They have made suggestions which appear amazingly logical and plausible, and which will appeal to all of us who sympathise with anything that the distressed clergy may be going to suffer, but which, if granted, would no more be a settlement than many other attempts that the House of Commons has made in the past 200 or 300 years to deal with the problem. They do not seem to realise that during these past years, rightly or wrongly, there has been a movement of great strength, shared in not only by people who are not members of the Church of England and not merely by tithe-payers, but by people who are and have been firmly convinced that during these last years, as the result of changes from 1836 to 1936, those who have been paying tithe rentcharge have been paying proportionately far more out of the produce of their farms, and the Church and the lay tithe-owners have been receiving proportionately far more than was ever intended by the 1836 Act.
The reason for it is quite simple. In 1836, when tithe in kind was commuted into a money payment, each tithe area had a certain sum of money fixed as being the commuted value of the average of the tithes received during the preceding seven years, and that particular sum was apportioned over the parish in accordance with the state of cultivation of the parish in 1836, and, while the actual sum was made variable in accordance with the price of corn during the preceding seven years, the one underlying fault of the 1836 Act was that it never contemplated great changes in the actual manner of cultivation during the ensuing century. In 1848 the Corn Law was repealed. For a time corn kept at a good price owing to wars, and, as a result, the full force and effect of the repeal of the Corn Laws was not felt until the 70s, but between 1870 and to-day you get some rather amazing figures. They were given me by a partner in a great firm in Kent who knows a very great deal about this subject. From 1871 to 1935 the corn-growing area decreased from 8,000,000 to 4,500,000 acres, and grazing land increased from 11,500,000 to 14,500,000 acres. In 1915 we had 292,000 arable acres in Kent, and by 1933 we had only 255,000 acres—a decrease of 37,000 acres. All those thousands of acres which ceased to be corn growing and became rough pasture land continued to pay the high tithe fixed in 1836. There was no method of changing that. The moment you got the agricultural depression of the '80s. you got a tremendous outcry in exactly the same areas, Kent and East Anglia, for exactly the same reason.
That was recognised in 1891, but what the 1891 Act did to lighten the burden was to make the payment of tithe, which had been generally the burden of the tenant, the burden of the landlord. The tenant occupier was crying out about the burden, and Parliament said the landowner must pay it. They put it on to the broader shoulders of the landowner, who was more interested in the Church and more ready to pay something which all the time he felt was unfair. The next stage came after the War, when we had a huge change in the transference of land. Whereas you had in 1913, according to the same authority, 11.2 per cent. of the agricultural land owned by owner occupiers, by 1935 that portion had increased to 40 per cent. of the whole of our agricultural land; in other words, the land passed from those people who we thought in 1891 had broad enough shoulders to bear the burden to a class of person who has not got those shoulders and cannot bear the burden. The noble Lord and the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) regard this tithe income as having been in the nature of a gilt-edged income. They do not realise that it has been during these last years the most precarious part of their investments and, had it not been for the work done by eminent persons all over the country who understood how serious this movement was, if we had not had the Royal Commission and this Bill, so far from their being able to get what the Bill gives them, they might have had no chance in the next 10 years of getting anything.
That brings me to the provisions of the Bill. The arguments that I have heard from the Liberal Benches are those which I have twice met at elections in my division. The same arguments came to some extent from the right hon. Gentleman who opened for the Opposition. It is suggested that, because the Church has other resources, therefore you ought to limit and qualify what the Church is entitled to receive for the commutation of her right to tithe. They say, organise the other resources of the Church and make it more energetic and, instead of paying them what they ought to be paid, you can pay them substantially less. To my mind that argument is completely unsound and, when one remembers that those who are interested in this tithe question, the tithe-payers, are themselves landowners, I would appeal to them to think twice and three times before they fall for that argument. When we hear from the Leader of the Opposition that the day is coming when they are going to try to nationalise our land, what the argument really means is that, if I happen to have other resources when my turn comes to have my land taken from me, I shall get little or nothing and, if I happen to have no other resources, then they will give me something decent. Those are the arguments to which we have been listening in the House this afternoon, and which we are trying to put across to the landowner tithe-payers, and I would ask them to hesitate long before they fall for those suggestions.
You can criticise the Bill either from the point of view of the tithe-owner or from the point of view of the tithe-payer. It is true that the £91 11s. 2d. which appears in the Bill is taken more or less haphazard and upon no very logical basis, but in answer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) said just now—and I rather agree with him—there must be included in that figure, theoretically at any rate, something for sinking fund. Do not, for goodness sake, compare it with the £105 but with the £109 10s. they are paying to-day. Let us realise that on that basis it means for every tithe-payer all over the country a reduction from £109 10s. to £91 11s. 2d. It is true that in a great number of cases land that was pasture land in 1836 is pasture land to-day, and is, and always has been, lightly tithed. It is also true that the clergymen in these areas say, "Why in the world are you interfering with it at all? It has always been easy to collect the tithe, and why should you touch it?" The answer is that I suggest that the movement against the payment of tithes has been held in check only with very great difficulty, and it is just as true of those areas as of the heavily tithed areas that, if that movement really grew and got a grip of the country, those tithes would be just as much in danger as the tithes in the heavily tithed areas to-day.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not mind my saying that to those of us who represent these heavily tithed areas, it is unfortunate that it has been necessary to extend the period recommended by the commission from 40 years to 60 years. I believe that it has been necessary because it was impossible on account of the difficulties with local authorities and the unwillingness of the Exchequer to find additional money at the present time to carry out the scheme as put forward by the commission. None the less the tithe-payers in the distressed areas say that you have, in fact, passed upon them an additional 20 years of redemption annuities because you find it necessary to make these payments to the rating authorities and the £3,000,000 concession to the Church. I wish it were possible somehow or other to prevent that being the case. I would ask those people who have appealed for an extension of the period to realise how strongly the tithe-payers feel on the extension from 40 to 60 years. If they went into the areas and spoke to them they would realise how certain it would be that the Act would completely fail if you put in an extension beyond the 60-year period. As to the appeal made to the right hon. Gentleman to-night from many quarters of the House to extend the period of redemption annuities, I beg of him to turn a deaf ear to that appeal, for I am certain that the result would be a further state of chaos in certain areas of the country.
I will turn to what, after all, is the great thing in the Bill. Hitherto in this country during these difficult periods we have had the parson himself or an agent of Queen Anne's Bounty going into the parishes and examining and cross-examining the tithe-payers, sometimes accepting, but not always, their answers, orders being made in the county court, then distraints and tithe sales. You have had the Churches in these heavily-tithed areas empty of congregation Sunday after Sunday, and clergy and farmers not talking to each other all on account of these tithe troubles. The suggestion has been made—I do not say that it has not been properly made in many cases—that Queen Anne's Bounty has latterly tried to treat the tithe-payer as generously as it can, but it has always meant a personal appeal on many occasions, helped by a letter from the Member of Parliament, but there has been personal feeling, most unhappy events and most bitter feeling in the countryside. If nothing else comes out of this Bill, at any rate we have finished with the parson or the agent of Queen Anne's Bounty collecting the tithe. It is true that instead we have the Inland Revenue, and in addition—and I do not think that it can be avoided—consequential personal liability.
I believe that the gain of the countryside in getting direct collection of tithe
or tithe rentcharge out of the parish altogether is going to be enormous. I believe that at last we shall have a chance in the countryside of re-establishing the relations which have been desperately impaired by the events of the past years and by what has been said or done, foolishly or in heat, as the case may be. We have a chance of getting back something of the old spirit in the countryside, and I do not accept the view that the only persons you have to consider are the tithe-payers and the tithe-owners. You have also to consider everybody concerned in the matter. It is of the utmost importance that those persons who are inclined to put forward the extreme point of view on behalf of the Church should realise that that gain in the country parishes in those areas is regarded by the vast majority of the clergy in those areas as worth any sacrifices they may have to make under the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) read letter after letter from clergymen all over the country and from lordly tithe-payers. I could equally produce letters from clergy in my areas. I have one here, and I will read the opening lines of it:
The long-looked-for day arrives on Wednesday. If you can possibly do so, will you let the authorities know that the clergy welcome the Bill and hope that it will pass exactly as printed?
That comes from one who has worked during all these years on behalf of the clergy to establish friendly relations in this type of depressed area which I have the fortune or misfortune to represent in this House. I would be one of the first to join those who press for further consideration for the Church if I thought that the result would be for the benefit of the Church. It is just because I am certain that at the present moment it is going to take all we know to get the provisions of this Bill accepted by the tithe-payers in these distressed areas, and that any further concession is likely to cause any amount of trouble, that I beg the House not to allow any alteration to be made against the interest of the tithe-payers in this Bill. If that is not done, then this Bill may indeed bring back to the countryside some of the peace and prosperity which we have been missing for so long in these distressed areas.
Mr Robin Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I come from a different part of the country from my hon. and learned Friend. He has put forward an able and impassioned plea for the heavily tithed areas. The House should not forget the position in other parts of the country, such as the North of England, where the incidence of tithe is varied. If I may I will give an instance from my own parish. A mile from my farm there is a farm of an acreage half the size of my farm with a tithe of £60 on it. On my farm there is not a penny of tithe. This is, you will say, a happy position. Why is it? It is fortunate, because some 60 or more years ago my farm had to pay a tithe and that tithe was this: They had to pay every year to the parson a buck, a roe and a horse gait, and if we had that same incidence to-day I could no doubt give pasturage for the horse but for the buck and the roe I would have to be distrained on.
There is another variation which has not been touched on in the House today. That is the variation in the lot of the parson. You have the parson who, under the Inclosure Act, received glebe land, and you have the parson who has received the customary tithe. The 1925 Act stabilised the tithe at £105. The glebe land was not stabilised. The glebe land went down with other agricultural land, and I think that the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) will agree that the value of glebe land since 1925 has dropped by more than the 20 per cent. proposed in this Bill. If you judge the parson's lot from the point of view of glebe land, then what we are doing by this Bill is to approximate the parson whose living is derived from tithes to the same position as the parson whose living is derived from glebe land.
We in the villages live with and are friendly with our neighbours. The parson, the farmer, the landowner and the land worker are all similarly interested in these problems and have all a sympathy with each other. The 1925 Act stabilised tithe. I noticed that even the most extravagant advocate of the Church, the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), agreed that it was stabilised at too high a figure. We have now got to find a figure that is fair, and the figure put forward by the Minister is £91 11s. 2d. Is that fair? I believe myself that it is on the high side. As the Minister said, on a seven years average to-day tithe would be £80, not £105 and not £91. The average for the years between 1900 and 1914 was £70 6s. instead of £91. If you can say anything about this £91, it is that for the farmer and the landowner it is on the high side.
What does strike me is this, and it is where I see the justice of the claim of those like the hon. Member for Central Leeds. What the Church is receiving is not £91 11s. 2d., but for the Church it is £76 12s. 6d., and there is far too wide a difference between the £91 11s. 2d. and the £76 12s. 6d. Why is it? The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. C. Davies), who has left the House, said how we all agree that tithe should be extinguished. Tithe is extinguished in the terms of this Bill in October of this year. There is no quarrel about that. What we are quarrelling about is how you shall deal with the sinking fund. The 1925 Act was the first to introduce the sinking fund principle into tithes. It provided for compulsory redemption at a cost of £4 10s. per cent. The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir Henry Cautley) on the Second Reading of the 1925 Act said that as to this compulsory redemption "we welcome it; we can afford the £4 10s." To-day it is not £4 10s. per cent. that the Minister is proposing for compulsory redemption, but, according to my calculation, just over 12 per cent., and that is a far different matter, because we are not getting any great advantage for this. I notice that Dr. Mallon, who was speaking at the end of last week, said that in a few years' time we shall be a nation of greybeards. Perhaps that is the reason why the Minister is proposing that by 1996, when all of us who are still alive will have a certain amount of grey in our beards, tithe will be extinguished.
I can see the Minister's difficulty. You cannot have redemption in 40 years without throwing an undue burden on either the. Church, the local authority or the taxpayer. If that is so, had we not better realise that now is a bad time to have compulsory redemption, because through the good offices of the Chancellor of the Exchequer money is so cheap? So long as money is so cheap you will have to deduct a larger amount for the sinking fund. Let us leave the question of com- pulsory redemption until we can see how the money market is going to operate in 10 years or so, and then we can ascertain what is a fair value. We can go on paying annuities through the Exchequer, and in due course, if conditions permit, have compulsory redemption. Meanwhile, those who have the money let them have voluntary redemption. What would that mean? I have made certain calculations, and I find that if the tithe-payer paid instead of £91 11s. 2d. a round figure of £85, without any compulsory redemption we should enable the Church to have guaranteed at any rate the life interest of the present incumbents, and not only those under £500 a year, which would satisfy the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) and those for whom he speaks. It would also enable all classes of tithe-owners to get a far higher figure, although the landowner would be paying a reduced figure from £91 11s. 2d. to £85. Let me give the example of the lay tithe-owner about whom one of my hon. Friends was speaking, who would get under my suggestion, £56 instead of £51 as proposed under the Bill.
This is the true position: The landowners to-day are coming to Parliament and saying: "You have fixed too high the charge for us under the 1925 Act. The prices of our products have been so low that we cannot pay." We in this Bill adopt the peculiar course of saying: "It is true that you cannot afford to pay that amount, but we will allow you to pay a lower sum and indulge in the luxury of wiping it out in 60 years' time." A sinking fund for paying off a redemption is a luxury. All those of us who can afford it would like to get rid of our charges by a sinking fund, but it is wrong for those of us who are landowners to come in the guise of poverty to this House and, with able champions from Members of the Socialist party, to receive this redemption. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh. I listened with amazement to the speech of the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), who said he was a champion of the tithe-payers, the landowners, in this matter, and that he nailed his flag to the mast of the Minority Report of Sir Leonard Coates. He said that he, a member of the British Socialist party, wanted to give the landowners an advantage, and the Church a less advantage, while the ratepayers of the country and the agricultural labourers up and down my constituency he was going to "stick" for an extra £250,000 a year. It is a strange thing to find members of the Socialist party changing round from their attacks upon the landlords to giving subsidies to the landlords at the expense of the ratepayers, as the right hon. Gentleman proposed.
The question of compulsory redemption does require some further thought. The Minister may reply that the report of the Royal Commission, both the majority and the minority report, did not advocate no compulsory redemption. They could not. It was outside their scope. The Minister had given them certain matters to inquire into and one of them was "the method and terms of redemption." They were not asked to inquire whether at this moment we ought to have compulsory redemption or not. There is one small matter concerning compulsory redemption which I must bring to the attention of the House, because it will cause some indignation to the tithe-payer. The ecclesiastical tithe-payers, those who pay to Queen Anne's Bounty, have since 1925, regularly paid their £4 10s. a year contributions for sinking fund, while the lay tithe-payers, who do not pay to Queen Anne's Bounty, have not paid one penny in redemption. I should have thought that after those 10 years of contributions we should have been given full credit for them, and we alone. But that is not so. The lay tithe-payer takes his handful out of the contributions to the sinking fund which the ecclesiastical tithe-payer has paid regularly. It is no small matter, because it means £1,300,000 which will go into the common pool and for which the ecclesiastical tithe-payer will get no special advantage. I hope that the Minister in the Committee stage will deal with the hardship of the case. It is only the equivalent of half a year's tithe, but it is one injustice that will irk us in getting a friendly settlement.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also deal with the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) on the question of Income Tax. It is no good saying that it will hit the large people and not the small people. It is a question of justice. Under the present Income Tax law, you can deduct the annual value of tithe but not the sinking fund contribution. The sinking fund contribution, although it has been increased from 4½ per cent. to 12 per cent, has not been increased to 33⅓ per cent, as Clause 13 of the Bill suggests. If it could be some such figure as five-sixths in Clause 13, we should have a juster Bill.
This is not an easy Bill for the Minister to have to pilot through the House. All of us, however much we may differ in regard to detail, will admire the ability with which he introduced the Bill and the material of the Bill. It is an endeavour at a compromise, and, like all compromises, it attracts hostility; but we all of us, whether we are critics of the compromise or not, can be sure that if we can get a fair compromise, the harmony in the village between the parson, the landowner, the farmer and the landworker will be continued and will increase in the years to come.
Mr Denis Pritt (Hammersmith North)
I think the House has this measure of agreement and common ground that the central problem unquestionably is to get rid of a clumsy burden with what may be called the least inequity to the greatest number. I wish that we on this side of the House could feel that the Bill would achieve its end, because it is a very desirable end if it can be achieved. We have seen something of the sordid squabble for material interests between the landowner and the owner-occupiers on the one side and the churchmen, the educational establishments, and a certain number of ordinary property owners on the other. There may have been moments when we on this side have felt that we might hold the coats of hon. Members opposite while they fought out their respective differences. It was interesting to have the point of view which was put so forcibly and clearly by the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens). He reminded us of the real inequity which has grown up owing to the change in agricultural conditions in various parts of the country in the 100 years which have passed since the Act of 1836.
A good many points of view have, of course, to be regarded, and one point which has to be borne in mind is that of the landowners and farmers who pay tithe. Naturally they have been making a determined effort for some years to shake tithe off their shoulders. Their agitation, like most agitations, has been partly genuine and spontaneous, partly selfish, and partly deliberately worked up by people who desire to shake their obligations off their shoulders. The answer that is made to tithe-payers by many interests is that they are trying to get rid of obligations which must have been taken into account in the selling of land and in valuing land for Death Duties. The retort is partly true and partly untrue. The problem of this Bill is that almost everything in it has some measure of truth and some measure of inaccuracy. The Minister will not claim that it has any real principle behind it. I do not mean to be offensive, but that it is simply an attempt to compromise between the two interests by arranging that in the course of clearing up the redemptions after the abolition of tithe rentcharge, the one who thinks he is paying too much shall pay a little less, and the one who does not want to receive anything less shall receive a little less.
There must be a compromise, but compromises which succeed in satisfying both parties must be rather rare, and this is not likely to be one of them. The Bill transmutes an obligation which has a good deal of psychological and economic injustice and irregularity about it into a specialised tax, which will only be less annoying to the tithe-payer to the extent to which it means less in pounds, shillings and pence. It is true that it is only for 60 years, but if you grant the exceptional optimistic view that our civilisation is likely to last half that time in anything like its present shape, it will not be much comfort to the most altruistic and highly patristic of tithe-payers to know that his grandchildren may be free of it. One fears, from the little one knows of the farming community, that the only actual result will be that they will take what they can get, grumble that it is not enough and will clamour for more.
I can speak of the recent agitation with some measure of impartiality. I did not take part in digging trenches across roads, or hiring fascists to keep off the police. All I did was to appear in a certain amount of litigation on both sides, with equal dissatisfaction to both. Therefore, I am perfectly impartial. I submit that the mere question of the amount, troublesome as it is, is not the greatest difficulty in the Measure. The whole trouble is typical of the trouble which has arisen in so many instances under a dying system. It does not suffer only from the fact that the liability is fixed in the amount of what it would have been in 1836. It suffers also from the fact that a fixed charge is almost bound to become unjust on one side or the other unless all the circumstances remain the same; and all the circumstances never do remain the same.
The Government are trying to make a series of compromises between various claims, nearly all of them good in law, and the real trouble is that the claims have very varying degrees of moral justification. In some cases there is no justification for the tithe-payer hoping to evade one penny of it. People who have inherited land or who bought it at a high price in 1921 because they would have been turned out of house and home if they had not done so, have a strong moral claim indeed. The Noble Lord, who with such distinction and such complete aptness represents what is now known as the Red Flag University, could not see any justification for anything except the exaction of the last penny of legal right, and he described the Bill in so much bad language that I very much fear when he is on this side of the House in a year or two he will run short of epithets. The moral claim of property varies in indefinite degrees. Some people think it is theft and racketeering to relieve the tithe-payer of the payment of excessive tithe, tithe having been originally money paid to the Church for the fulfilment of social services, which are now attended to by the State. Other people think it was right in the sixteenth century to have taken wholesale the property of the Church, which was then giving the social services. Some people, kind and charitable, think you ought not to steal it from those people who are still living on the proceeds of that particular burglary. I think it is much better not to talk about racketeering and save epithets until we on this side introduce some real legislation, and meanwhile to consider as quietly as we can the very varying moral claims of the different people involved.
The law is quite clear, we need not bother about that. I do not suggest that this is not an honest effort to deal with these extremely moral claims. My thesis is that you cannot deal with them, because the matter is much too complicated if you attempt to work it under the capitalist system. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) has been twitted with having tender care for landowners. It is very difficult to be favourable to hon. Members opposite. If we attempt to see their point of view for a moment, that section which does not agree with that point of view at once attacks us, which makes life very hard. We on this side of the House quite recognise that there are some people who may be technically called landowners because they do indeed own land, but they own it because they are trying to cultivate it, and not because they want to exploit other people who cultivate it. Those people often suffer grave injustice, and we try to see their point of view. The only resemblance I can see between them and the dukes to whom the Noble Lord referred—meaning by dukes, of course, the larger landlords and exploiters generally—is that a certain number in both classes, when they cannot get their own way, immediately get extremely angry and pour liquid manure over people, or call them thieves and racketeers.
The one question of principle on which, I think, most of us can probably agree is that a farmer cultivating his land or cultivating somebody else's land as a tenant, should pay a fair rent for it, neither more nor less, and should pay in taxation or quasi-taxation the same kind and amount of taxation as is levied upon other persons having similar obligations, similar property and similar activities, and should not have some special, curious kind of taxation levied upon him. If a farmer is paying a reasonable rent and a reasonable tithe, and between them they do not amount to more than a reasonable levy upon him for the economic advantage of the land he is using, fixed by the value of his land and not fixed by something that happened partly in the eighth century and partly in 1836, that is obviously a desirable thing to bring about. The conflicting interests involved are so numerous that there is really no hope of that being done unless and until the two levies upon the farmer, the tithe and the rent, are in common ownership, so that the conflicting interests can disappear, and there is no possible common ownership that can be envisaged at the present time to achieve that and other desirable ends save the common ownership of the people of England.
It was suggested by one hon. Member who at one time was a Socialist and who really ought to know better for that reason, that our proposals are that we should give in compensation the full value of the land and £50,000,000 as well. The tithe and the rent put together cannot between them form more than the total value of the land, save in the exceptional cases where the tithe itself is so burdensome that it amounts to more than the value of the land, and if the whole of the land and all the interests in it are taken over by the people of England and compensated for at a proper rate, they will be paid exactly 100 per cent. of what is proper and not 100 per cent. of what is proper plus £50,000,000. The tithe will be expropriated, the land will be expropriated, the land will be let to anybody who desires it and is capable of farming it properly, and the Tithe Bill will then be one of the things about which we shall not need to worry further.
There are a certain number of things in this Bill, apart altogether from this question of principle on which it breaks down, which we on these benches welcome very heartily. This Bill, like so many things which the National Government have unconsciously done, provides a most valuable precedent for good legislation on Socialist principles. My desire is that the House should be fully conscious of what legislation it is passing so that it may not hereafter suffer the mortification, when it sees these principles fully and properly applied, of having to say to itself, "Dear, dear, we did not know we were doing this when we passed the Tithe Bill"—or whatever other Bill it may be. In the first place, if I understand it aright, the Bill puts a whole profession right out of business without giving any compensation at all. I do not think that is very good and very just, and I hope that in the course of Socialist legislation we shall never be driven to treat people as unjustly as that; but if we are it will be nice to know that we have a precedent for doing so, a most distinguished precedent coming from that distressed area, the Front Bench. The business of collecting tithes is, as far as I know, a perfectly respectable business, carried on lawfully and with such courtesy that when I pay my modest tithe it leaves no feeling of resentment in my mind at all. That profession is simply to disappear, and there is not to be a pennyworth of compensation for it. It is very useful to know that the House is going to approve that, in case we need it.
There is another thing which it is very useful to study. I do not think I shall be trespassing on. a Committee point in dealing with it, because I think it is a question which is definitely concerned with the principle. It has often been thought that among the many—if I am not using an inappropriate phrase—darlings of the capitalist system, one of the persons most closely watched is the person entitled to compensation. Many distinguished lawyers have built up great fortunes by explaining to intelligent tribunals that pieces of land let at 30s. a year are really worth £458,000 because they are useful for a waterworks, and so on and so forth. The most interesting case of that kind I ever had concerned a piece of land in Canada which was let for a dollar a year and assessed at $287,000. Apparently affection for the person whose property has been taken away from him is one of the links that binds the British Empire together. But this Bill goes back on that, and it is most regrettable to everybody except hon. Members on these benches.
In Clause 5 (3) there is a provision which is rather long, but which I think it is not unfair to say states that if a person who is or may be entitled to compensation is obstinate and recalcitrant about giving such reasonable things as information—and we all know that people hate giving information even if they do not have to put it on a form—his compensation rights shall simply be extinguished. Personally, I think that is the most encouraging provision I have found in any Bill in the short months during which I have been a Member of this House. I hope to find it carried out properly and fully by the next Government, if not by this one. I can imagine that when it comes to nationalisation of one property or another, or one industry or another, we may find the most elaborate provisions being made with the assistance of skilled accountants and Chancery lawyers, to wrap the thing up so that one really cannot discover how little it is worth. If we have a Sub-section (3) which
simply says that the assessing tribunal, if it thinks that the information has been given somewhat costively, can cancel the whole right to compensation without any appeal to a court, I, for one, am indeed most comforted. There is another interesting principle which is not quite new—I think I remember another like it—and which I welcome warmly. It is contained in Clause 20 (6) and notwithstanding that it is in a prospective statute I think it will be intelligible if I read it aloud:
If the tithe-payer satisfies the Committee on a reference to them under this section that his financial circumstances are such as to render it fair and reasonable that a part or the whole of the arrears should be remitted, or that any order made for the recovery thereof should provide for the recovery thereof by instalments, the Committee after giving the tithe-owner an opportunity of making representations, may direct accordingly.
It is a principle which is inevitable if the Bill is to be worked properly, and I make no complaint about it but it is very important.
Mr Denis Pritt (Hammersmith North)
No Saxon has ever understood the Irish Lands Acts, or ever will. I have spent 30 years trying to understand the English Acts, and I have only just begun to do so, but I am glad to know that I was accidentally right when I said that I did not think that this was a new principle. The principle is a very simple one. If I may be allowed to use the word "debt," knowing that it is inaccurate in this connection, it Can be put in this way: "If you cannot pay your debts because you are not rich enough, and if in all the circumstances it is fair and reasonable not to do so, then you shall be told that you need not pay them." The sudden introduction into legal matters dealing with precedent of such a reasonable proposal is something that I welcome heartily. I hope that the principle will be established and that very shortly we shall find the Minister introducing legislation to the effect that poor people who find it difficult to pay their rent may treat it in the same way. Perhaps similar legislation might be arranged at the International Court of Justice if we find it inconvenient to pay our debt to America. The fact remains that, however carefully a tenant has sought to adjust the matter, not on any definite principle, not even on rough justice, but rather on some principle of just roughness, the attempt is bound to fail, because these innumerable problems are insoluble unless you can get the whole of the right to the surplus from the exploitation of the soil into the hands of the people of the country.
There are one or two subsidiary matters. I do not think the Bill deals very satisfactorily with hard cases. As I understand it, the hard case is provided for by saying that if the redemption payment which you owe in any particular year is more than one-third of your Schedule B assessment, you shall have it reduced to correspond. I do not think the Bill incorporates any answer to the criticisms on that point to be found in the minority report. I am sorry if this should appear to be almost a Committee point, but I wish to mention it. One of those criticisms is that if a man improves his land so that his Schedule B assessment goes up, his relief from excessive tithe redemption charge will be correspondingly less. At first sight it might appear that if he needs redemption he cannot be improving the land, because he is too poor to do so, but that generalisation is unsafe and no one in any legislation wants to discourage the improvement of land. Another point which is raised in the minority report is that this is purely a hand-to-mouth relief, year by year. The liability subject to that proviso remains the same and anybody who desires to redeem such annual payment will have to redeem it at its full technical value, although its actuarial value is probably much smaller.
There is a further point which turns partly on Clause 20 (7) and partly on the whole question of legal liability. I deal with Sub-section (7) first. Apparently under it if you seek for some mercy in regard to your arrears, you are deemed thereby to admit legal liability for the payment. That does not seem at first sight unreasonable but it may be a serious penalty. Looking at it from a conservative point of view or looking at it merely as a lawyer, from the legal point of view, if a man, strictly, in law owes nothing but is the owner-occupier of land on which there is a rentcharge with arrears of, say, £100, he has in law a choice which I imagine everyone would say it was lawful and proper for him to exercise.
He has the choice of saying, "I will not pay but I will leave the tithe-owner to his extremly cumbrous resort, first of distraining on somethiug that is not there, and utlimately adopting the even more cumbrous procedure of putting a receiver in or resuming possession of the land himself." Or if he wants to play fair, probably it would be reduced to £70 if he took it to the tribunal and perhaps if it were reduced to £70 he thinks he could just pay it and keep his head above water. But he has to go to the tribunal and say, "I want you to relieve my land of this £70 and, as a condition precedent, I assume, in the dark, legal liability for £100 if you do not choose to let me off the arrears." It is a minor matter, but I think there is hardship from a legalistic point of view. As a matter purely of general comment on this question of legal liability, I humbly agree with hon. Members who have said that it is a very serious change. I do hot want to see anybody saddled with an additional debt, but there was something so sordid, so undignified, and so lucrative to lawyers in the previous system, which has operated so extensively in the last two years, that I think it is a very good thing to see the back of.
Another matter that I should like to mention, which has fallen from many hon. Members and is a good illustration of the difficulty of attempting to deal with a matter of this sort by a Bill of this sort, is the question of land which is now paying tithe quite lightly and yet is by this Bill relieved on a footing which is also intended to be appropriate to the relief of tithe in all the extremely hard cases that come into the question of not being more than a third of a Schedule B valuation. There must be a great deal of tithe in this country running to a considerable sum of money for which there is no moral claim to relief at all, except the psychological objection to paying money which had a historical basis which has long ceased to exist, and it is a pity that the Bill cannot be adjusted to avoid as it were throwing away that money.
With regard to what fell from the junior burgess for Cambridge (Mr. Pick-thorn), whose complaint sounded so reasonable in itself, that the net result of this would be that a University which is now so largely filled by th lower classes that money spent on education there must be really well spent would be short of £2,500 a year, that is capitalism. That is what it does to its people. Wherever you put your money, someone will get it. If you spent it in the safest shipping debentures in the world, it will disappear in 12 months; if you put it in the largest match concern in the world, it will last for three years; and if you put into tithes, it will last, some for 60 years and the rest until this Act comes into force. It is no good thinking that every security ought to be gilt-edged, however you spell the word "gilt."
I want to make one statement in all seriousness—and I hope it will not be regarded as offensive—and that is with regard to the troubles of the poorer clergy. I object to the tacit assumption that everybody who has undertaken, within the fold the Anglican Church, to look after the spiritual welfare of people should necessarily live as, and belong to, one particular minded, or half-minded, section of the community. I cannot see any reason for it, and I think that tremendous assumption is one of the reasons why so many people are now outside all the Churches. The only thing I would like to say before I sit down—and the difficulty of answering the question illustrates the hopelessness of attempting to settle this matter in this way—is this: I will put it interrogatively. This matter was finally settled in 1925; it is now going to be finally settled in 1936; when will this Bill, as it will pass, next finally settle it?
Mr Ralph Assheton (Rushcliffe)
It is always entertaining to listen to the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) giving us anecdotes of his lucrative practice at the Bar, though I must say I find it less attractive when I hear him sneering at his own profession in the way he does, and I find it particularly surprising that he should, as a member of an Inn of Court which owns property of very considerable value, make persistent attacks on property. I support the Bill in its main principles because I believe that it is a genuine attempt to solve a great problem, and that in Committee we can turn it into a workable Measure which will be satisfactory for a great many years. I want to draw the attention of the House to a very serious defect of the Bill. Many Members have stressed the fact that they are anxious to protect the incumbency interests of the present clergy, and I should like to draw attention to the fact that as the Bill stands this is not done. There is, I admit, a considerable concession in the £2,000,000, which is being made available to deal with cases of hardship of the poorer clergy, but the whole of that money will not suffice to deal with incumbency interests on the present calculation. It is a fact that if Queen Anne's Bounty is to apply the money that it will get in alleviating the position of incumbents whose incomes are less than £500 a year, there will still be over 2,000 livings entirely unprotected as to their incumbency interests. There are 2,029 livings which exceed £500 a year, and it is a grave matter for the House to consider whether it should depart so far from precedents which can be quoted—for example, the Irish Church Act, 1869, and the Welsh Church Act, 1914, in both of which cases life interests of beneficiaries were protected.
It is only right to say that the greater part of the Church of England welcomes this Bill in the sense that it is a genuine attempt to bring to an end a long-standing controversy. There have been some parts of the country in which the existence and collection of tithe during the last few years have had a serious effect on the spiritual welfare of those areas. Although the burden of tithe is not heavy in many parts of England and its incidence has been greatly exaggerated in other parts, nevertheless it is the general view of the Church authorities that the sacrifice which the clergy are called upon to make is one which will be justified in the long run. I do not think it is right to call upon the clergy to endure quite as great a sacrifice as they are asked to suffer, and it is not difficult to find additional money with which to meet that position. Under the Bill the term in which tithe will be redeemed is reduced by about 15 years. If the period were 68q years instead of 60 years as proposed the whole of the incumbency interests of the clergy could be protected. That would be an act of justice which this House would wish to perform and I ask the Minister whether he can give us some hope in that direction. There has been a general expression of opinion in the House that incumbency interests should be protected, and I think that I am justified in saying that the landowners themselves would be most anxious to see that this is done. I very much congratulate the Minister on having tackled so thorny a subject. There have been 15 Tithe Bills brought into the House in the last 100 years, and each has been supposed to be final. This one seems to me to have a better chance of being a final settlement of the matter if justice is really done.
Mr Herwald Ramsbotham (Lancaster)
The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), who has just wound up for the Opposition, made a very mild and moderate and, if I may say so, kindly speech in regard to the Bill, so that I am prepared to condole with him on the approaching settlement of a dispute in which he has from time to time taken part on both sides. But having said that, I am bound to point out that, so far as I could gather, his speech had very little reference indeed to the Amendment, which deals with the Bill in very much harsher and more vigorous terms than those used by the hon. and learned Member. I propose to deal with certain of the points raised by the Amendment of the official Opposition and then with the Amendment tabled by the small party below the Gangway opposite.
The Opposition Amendment first of all complains that this Bill postpones the extinction of tithe rentcharge. One of the things this Bill does is to secure the extinction of that charge at the earliest possible moment, on 2nd October next, and I can only infer from the words of the Amendment that hon. Members opposite, if given an opportunity, would extinguish this charge at the cost of a lump sum payment by all those upon whom the charge falls. Such a proposal would cause consternation in the countryside. The Amendment also goes on to complain that the charge cannot be justified under modern conditions. Going back to the period 1929–1931, the term of the last Socialist Government—and we can still call that period "modern conditions"—I find that on several occasions the Socialist Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Addison, was approached by members of various parties with a view to introducing legislation to amend the Act of 1925, and on every occasion he gave an uncompromising refusal. He pointed out in reply to a question in the House that the liability was in existence when the present owners purchased or inherited the land, and said the questioner should realise that relief could only be obtained either at the expense of the tithe-owner or the taxpayer. In answer to another question he said that he did not propose to introduce legislation to relieve landowners of their due liability to tithe rent-charge. Therefore, it does give rise to a certain amount of astonishment that the Socialist party should now come forward with a complaint that this Bill postpones the extinction of a charge which cannot be justified under modern conditions, because a few years ago they themselves made no attempt to remove this charge which they now describe as unjustifiable.
The Amendment says also that the Bill does not adequately relieve the immediate burdens on agriculture. The word "adequately" is always a very useful one. We have heard nothing as to the precise figure, or, indeed, any figure, which the Socialist party have in mind as the correct contribution for agriculturists to pay. I would remind them in passing that the contribution of the agriculturist has been substantially reduced from £109 10s. or £105 to £91 10s., and, more important than that—most important—is the relief the farmer will get by the remission of the excess of the tithe annuity over one-third of the Schedule B valuation for the purposes of Income Tax. I believe that that remission will be found to be of immense value in the majority of cases that can reasonably be described as hard cases.
Then the Amendment goes on to deal with cases of individual hardship. As regards the tithe-payer I have mentioned the remission given under Schedule B, and as regards the tithe-owner the scheme allows now, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, for a lump sum of £2,000,000 to be paid to Queen Anne's Bounty for the purpose of easing the position of the poorer incumbents, coupled with another sum, the result of not applying the reduction to nonagricultural land, the amount of which is perhaps in the neighbourhood of £700,000. To that extent very considerable relief has been found in the scheme for the tithe-owner. I shall deal with that aspect of the matter at greater length in a few moments.
Then we come to the usual kind of phrase from the party opposite:
A comprehensive scheme of land nationalisation.
In that respect the hon. and learned Member did incorporate in his speech something which had relevance to the Amendment. The House will not expect rue to follow him into the merits or otherwise of land nationalisation. The hon. and learned Member thought it would be impossible—I am not quoting his exact words—to do very much with this scheme until land is nationalised. Anybody who expects anything like a speedy determination of tithe or speedy relief for agriculture will fight shy of the Socialist Amendment, because land nationalisation, with the best will in the world, will take a good many years. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member, in making his speech, carried some notion of extinguishing the tithe by nationalisation. I would point out to him that he would not only extinguish the tithe but he might extinguish a good many other things as well. That suggestion reminds me of the policy, attributed to a great nation many years ago, of making a solitude and calling it peace.
With regard to the small party below the Gangway, I was at a loss first of all to understand whether or not they wished to preserve the life interest of incumbents, and no more, or whether their proposal involved the retention of the money for the Church, after the life interest had ceased. I was relieved to learn during the course of the Debate that their proposal, in contradistinction to that of hon. Gentlemen opposite, was not designed merely to preserve the life interest only, but was designed to preserve to the Church the rest of her power to receive tithe. Without any doubt the proposals of hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot be distinguished from disendowment, disestablishment, and confiscation, or whatever term is applied. I understood from the right hon. Gentleman the AI ember for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) that all that his party intended to do was to preserve the life interest for 13½ years and after that, so far as the Church was concerned, the deluge. I understand the policy of the party opposite to involve disestablishment and disendowment or, as some would call it, confiscation, and it is advisable that the country should know that.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough said he was astonished at the action of the Government in substituting a period of 60 years for the period of 40 years recommended by the Royal Commission. That point has been raised also by other hon. Members during the Debate. I propose, therefore, as shortly as I can, to explain the reason. It was set forth at some length in the White Paper issued in February, Cmd. Paper 5102. The commission that reported on this matter did not feel themselves enabled by their terms of reference to deal with two points of very great importance. The first had reference to the local rating position. The commission pointed out that the Treasury might have to deal with the position arising in respect of the losses by rating authorities of tithe rentcharge as a rateable hereditament, and they pointed out that at the present time the local rates on tithe rentcharge amounted to approximately £1,000,000 per annum. The commission did not feel that it was within their province to suggest how this matter should be dealt with, but they realised that a substantial loss might be involved, which would have to be made good out of public revenues, either local or central.
It is perfectly true that, on the commission's proposals and on the basis of a 40-years' annuity, a substantial loss would have been made, and would have fallen either on central resources, that is to say, on the Treasury, or on local resources. Had it fallen on local resources, it would, as I think my right hon. Friend pointed out, have involved certain rural districts of England in a very considerable increase of rates, ranging from 1s. 1d. in Dorset and Essex up to 2s. 9d. in West Suffolk. The House can well imagine the indignation with which these proposals would have been received by tithe-payers if, on the one hand, they had received a remission of tithe, and, on the other hand, a rate demand cancelling out the remission which they received with regard to their tithe. It is inconceivable that the Gov- ernment could allow that position to arise from the point of view of local rates.
From the point of view of the Treasury, it is a cardinal feature of these proposals that, apart from the existing liabilities of the taxpayer—liabilities which have existed since 1918—no further liability should be imposed, and I believe I shall have the sympathy of the House in enunciating that principle, for several reasons. One reason is that the Treasury, very rightly, desires to safeguard the interests of the taxpayer. Another reason is that, while there are some 350,000 or 400,000 tithe-payers, there is a very much larger number of taxpayers, and it would be very unreasonable to ask the larger number of taxpayers to contribute for the benefit of the smaller number of tithe-payers who are benefiting. A further reason is that, had this matter been dealt with out of the taxes, the taxpayers in Scotland and in Northern Ireland might reasonably have felt a grievance at being compelled to contribute to the relief of tithe-payers when neither in Scotland nor in Northern Ireland are there similar difficulties.
Mr Herwald Ramsbotham (Lancaster)
Yet another reason is that it would involve further taxation on a large number of persons who do not belong to the Church or receive tithes. For these reasons I think there is an unanswerable case for maintaining the Exchequer point of view, that no further charge on the taxpayer should arise as a result of these measures, and I hope that that view will be firmly upheld by the House during these discussions. I may add that, if the annuities were payable in 40 years instead of in 60 years, there would be an extra loss to the Treasury of approximately £8,500,000 on a capitalised basis, or £370,000 per annum for 40 years. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members who have not appreciated the necessity for extending the period from 40 to 60 years will appreciate now that a Measure which would involve such a very considerable extra charge upon the Treasury is one which the House should not sanction.
The second point of the right hon. Member for Hillsborough was the question of life interest. In his view com- pensation should have been confined to the life interest of existing incumbents, representing a period of about 13 years. The matter of life interest was later on taken up by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), who proposed to extend the annuity by 8½ years—from 60 to 68½ years. In order that there may be no misunderstanding as to what this proposal amounts to, I should like to ask him whether he would be satisfied with a sum adequate, but no more than adequate, to provide for the life interest of all existing incumbents.
Mr Herwald Ramsbotham (Lancaster)
I was not sure whether I understood the hon. Member or not, but I feel bound to point out that to pay out a lump sum to provide the incumbents with their present net income for 15 years would require only £22,500,000, whereas under the Bill the amount given to Queen Anne's Bounty is a sum of over £50,000,000. I want the hon. Member to be quite clear that, if all he is asking for is a sum which will secure to existing incumbents their life interest and nothing more, that is a very much smaller sum than is now provided in the Bill for Queen Anne's Bounty.
Sir Richard Denman (Leeds Central)
My desire was that the existing provision for existing incumbents should be increased so as to provide for the life interest of the whole lot of them. At present the Bill provides only for a limited number.
Mr Herwald Ramsbotham (Lancaster)
I appreciate now what the hon. Member meant, but during his speech it was not at all clear whether he would be content with a sum sufficient to pay the life interest of all incumbents. The sum of £2,000,000, which will be at the disposal of Queen Anne's Bounty as the result of the scheme, will enable all tithe incomes which do not exceed £500 a year to be protected at the present rates for life. Alternatively—because Queen Anne's Bounty has a discretion under the Bill—all tithe incomes will be protected for a period of eight years, or it might be possible to have a combination of those figures. I would also point out that this proposal brings to the incumbents a measure of security which they certainly do not enjoy at present. At present, as he knows, there are incumbents in whose case tithe is irrecover- able. I am not certain of the correct figure, and I give it with reserve, but at the present moment there is a figure of something like £100,000 to £120,000 of irrecoverable tithe, and that loss must fall upon the incumbents, rich or poor, as the case may be.
When the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament no further difficulties of that kind can possibly arise, because Queen Anne's Bounty will be in the possession of a first-class security and no question of remission or loss of collection can possibly ever occur. My hon. Friend and those associated with him in this matter should give more value to the great importance of the Church having a large sum of money—over £50,000,000—in gilt-edged securities instead of what it has at present, which may or may not be collected, and which from time to time may bring hardship to incumbents because in certain cases it is not recoverable.
The Noble Lord the senior Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) had some rather cutting things to say about the figure which has been adopted by the Royal Commission as the reduced amount of the annuities. This figure was arrived at after long and careful consideration given by five highly experienced and impartial persons. It is quite possible that you might select another five who would in their turn select a different figure. No man can say that this figure is the right figure, and, equally, no man can say that it is a wrong one. It is a practical figure based upon a reasonable calculation. The 1925 figure was a prophecy, and the forecast turned out to be wrong. It may be that this figure, based upon past experience and the average of 80 years, may turn out to be the wrong figure. But unless a figure of this kind is adopted which is divorced entirely from the ups and down of corn prices, any scheme of extinguishment or any scheme by which the Government, as in this case, can lend their credit, will be utterly out of the question. It is absolutely vital for the scheme and for the payment of interest that some fixed figure should be given. Whether or not that figure is a fair one, we must leave to the judgment of the House, but, as far as it was humanly possible, the commission took steps to fix a figure which was reasonable in the light of the circumstances available.
The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University described or likened my right hon. Friend in his dealings with the reduction of the annuities from £105 to £91 11s. 2d. to an American racketeer. I think that the Noble Lord overlooked the point that the Church of England attaches immense importance to securing a better atmosphere and frame of mind in the relations between the farmers and inhabitants of rural districts and the rural clergy. It is common knowledge that the events of the past few years with regard to tithe have to some extent embittered the relations between the laity and the clergy in the districts affected. This scheme will sever the tithe-owner from the tithe-payer for ever, and I am convinced that the clergy generally welcome this scheme and give it a cordial reception, because it will remove from the spiritual sphere a lasting and sore secular dispute. It is for that reason that I suggest to the Noble Lord that the reduction of which he complains so strongly is a reduction that on the whole will make for peace and charity between the Church and its supporters.
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Haydn Jones) raised points in connection with Wales, and I understood him to desire that Wales should be excluded from the scheme. During the Debate I heard the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) voice desires in a completely opposite direction, and I should be loth to intervene in a sort of civil war between two representatives of that great country. But I would point out to the hon. Member that there can be no advantage to the Welsh tithe-payer in being excluded from the scheme. He will contribute under this scheme in exactly the same way as the English tithe-payer and he will get the same reduction. I do not think that if he were excluded it would be possible to arrange any better means for compensating the tithe-owner and arranging for a reduction. Therefore, I recommend him to follow the advice given by the hon. Member for Montgomery.
Mr Herwald Ramsbotham (Lancaster)
I am not quite certain. I will look into that, but such contribution would be a fractional amount. With regard to what was said by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland), he knows as well as I do that where you have a very narrow market it can scarcely be called a market at all, and it is not a fair way of gauging market price. Ninety per cent. of tithe rentcharge can never come into the market at all. It would be most unfair to the tithe-owner to treat the one or two sales of a small part of tithe as any true indication of what the value of that tithe was. There are, as there must be, in an extremely complicated and difficult matter such as this, many points which I cannot deal with to-night. The hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) raised a number of points which I am sure he will forgive me if I describe as Committee points. There are other points of considerable substance with which I have no time to deal, but they can be dealt with on the Financial Resolution. Finance plays a large part in this proposal.
Many attempts have been made during the last 100 years to find a permanent solution of this problem, but for many reasons, particularly, perhaps, because world causes have pressed very hardly upon agriculture, scheme after scheme has fallen down and been shattered. It may be far too sanguine to claim for this scheme any certainty of success, but I do claim that it is a fair and reasonable attempt to meet an extremely troublesome and awkward problem. The Measure is, on the face of it, admittedly, a compromise and, like all compromises, we find assailants from opposite quarters. There has been a frontal attack from the official Opposition and from the small party below the Gangway opposite. There have been flank attacks made by my hon. Friends on this side. I have once
Although there have been other attempts to deal with this tithe problem, so far as I know, no one has received them with acclamation. In the words of a poet:
The sorrow of such days
Could scarcely be expressed,
When he who gets and he who pays
Are both alike distressed.
That is a feeling to which certain expression has been given this evening, but, at any rate, the Bill secures for the tithe-payer a substantial and permanent reduction of liability. The tithe-owner is being compensated on what is, in all the circumstances, a fair scale. He is to receive a gilt-edged security, and special provision is being made for him in hard cases. The State is using its good offices, its administrative machinery and its credit to bring about a settlement of a sore dispute. The tithe-owner is being separated for all time from the tithe-payer, to the lasting benefit of both. The party opposite have their remedy in nationalisation of the land; the party below the Gangway have their remedy, but in view of the proposals of the parties opposite I think the House will be more inclined to welcome the proposals of the Government to put an end to a controversy in which the spiritual and secular spheres have overlapped, and which has embittered the relations between the Church and the laity. Thus will greater peace be brought to the countryside and greater harmony be restored between the Church and rural England.
|Division No. 185.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Bernays, R. H.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Atholl, Duchess of||Birchall, Sir J. D.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Blair, Sir R.|
|Albery, I. J.||Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Bossom, A. C.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Boulton, W. W.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Bower, Comdr. R. T.|
|Apsley, Lord||Baxter, A. Beverley||Boyce, H. Leslie|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Briscoe, Capt. R. G.|
|Assheton, R.||Belt, Sir A. L.||Brocklebank, C. E. R.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Bennett, Capt. Sir E. N.||Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Hannah, I. C.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Bull, B. B.||Harbord, A.||Porritt, R. W.|
|Burghley, Lord||Hartington, Marquess of||Radford, E. A.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Harvey, G.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Butler, R. A.||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M,|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A P.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hepworth, J.||Rankin, R.|
|Cary, R. A.||Herbert, Captain S. (Abbey)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hopkinson, A.||Reid, W. Allen (Derby)|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Horsbrugh, Florence||Remer, J. R.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Channon, H.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'derry)|
|Cobb, Sir C. S.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Hunter, T.||Rowlands, G.|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Cook, T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Jackson, Sir H.||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S.G'gs)||James, Wing-commander A. W.||Russell, R. J. (Eddlsbury)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hon. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Jones, L. (Swansea, W.)||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Courthope, Col. Sir G. L.||Keeling, E. H.||Salmon, Sir I|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Kerr, J. G. (Scottish Universities)||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Crooke, J. S.||Kimball, L.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Leckie. J. A.||Savery, Servington|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Selley, H. R.|
|Cross, R. H.||Lees-Jones, J.||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Crossley, A, C.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Lennox- Boyd, A. T. L.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Lewis, O.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Lloyd, G. W.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Davies, Major G. F. (Yeovil)||Loftus, P. C.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Denville, Alfred||Lyons, A. M.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Donner, P. W.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Smithers. Sir W.|
|Drewe, C.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)||M'Connell, Sir J.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Dugdaie, Major T. L.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Duggan, H. J.||MacDonald, Rt. Hn. J. R. (Scot. U.)||Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L,|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon M. (Ross)||Spender-Clay, Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H.|
|Dunglass, Lord||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Spens, W. P.|
|Eales, J. F.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fyide)|
|Eastwood, J. F.||McKie, J. H.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Srauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Magnay, T.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nalrn)|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Elliston. G. S.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Emery, J. F.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon H. D. R.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Markham, S. F.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (padd., S.)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Maxwell, S. A.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Entwistle, C. F.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Erskine Hill, A. G.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Titchfleld, Marquess of|
|Everard, W. L.||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Train, Sir J.|
|Findlay, Sir E.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Fleming, E. L.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Turton, R. H.|
|Furness, S. N.||Moreing, A. C,||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Fyfe, D. P. M.||Morgan, R. H.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Ganzonl, Sir J.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Wallace, Captain Euan|
|Gledhill, G.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Gluckstein, L. H.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Waterhouse. Captain C.|
|Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Nall, Sir J.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Goldie, N. B.||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Goodman, Col. A. W.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Grimston, R. V.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)||Peake, O.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Gunston, Capt. D. W.||Perklns, W. R. D.|
|Guy, J. C. M.||Petherick, M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hamilton, Sir G. C.||Plckthorn, K. W. M.||Sir George Penny and Lieut.-Colonel|
|Sir A. Lambert Ward.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke||Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Barr, J.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Batey, J.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Apsley, Lord||Benson, G.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Banfield, J. W.||Bevan, A.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Barnes, A. J.||Broad, F. A.|
|Bromfield, W.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Brooke, W.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Burke, W. A.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Ritson, J.|
|Cape, T.||Hicks, E. G.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Cassells, T.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hollins, A.||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|Chater, D.||Hopkin, D.||Rowson, G.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jagger, J.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Compton, J.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Shinwell, E.|
|Daggar, G.||Jones, H. Haydn (Merloneth)||Short, A.|
|Dalton, H.||Kelly, W. T.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Kirby, B. V.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Day, H.||Lathan, G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Lawson, J. J,||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Ede, J. C.||Leach, W.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Lee, F.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Leonard, W.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Leslie, J. R.||Thurtle, E.|
|Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||Logan, D. G.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr, R. T. H.||Lunn, W.||Viant, S. P.|
|Foot, D. M.||McGhee, H. G.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Frankel, D.||MacLaren, A.||Walker, J,|
|Gallacher, W.||Maclean, N.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Mander, G. le M.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Garro-Jones, G. M.||Marklew, E.||Welsh, J. C.|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Marshall, F.||Westwood, J.|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Messer, F.||White, H. Graham|
|Gibbins, J.||Milner. Major J.||Whiteley, W.|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Montague, F.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Morrison, Rt. Hn. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.)||Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Oliver, G. H.||Wilson, G. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Griffiths, J. (Lianelly)||Owen, Major G.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Groves, T. E.||Paling, W.||Woods, G S. (Finsbury)|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Parkinson, J. A.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Hardie, G. D.||Potts, J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Price, M. P.||Mr. Mathers and Mr. John.|
Question put, and agreed to.