§ Lord John Russell
rose, with great anxiety for the purpose of moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the Commutation of Tithes in England and Wales. The first source of that anxiety was the very great difficulty of the question, a difficulty which he had shown that he did not underrate when he stated, on the formation of the present Administration, that it was his opinion that it was not possible for it to frame a measure comprehending the various provisions necessary upon this important subject unless the whole question which it involved were previously referred to a Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Tamworth, had stated an opinion of an opposite kind. The right hon. Baronet said, that whatever might be the plan which Government might think best to propose, it would be far better—and, indeed, he thought it the duty of Government—to frame such a plan, and to propose it to the House, than to leave a question of this magnitude open to the consideration of the Committee, without any plan before them, and without any chart or compass to guide them. On reflection and communication with his colleagues, it had appeared to them, that 186 the country had undoubtedly a right to expect that the Government should propose some plan on this subject. Another source of great anxiety to him, in proposing such a plan, was the very great importance of which the settlement of this question would be to the agricultural interest, and likewise to the permanent interests of the Church. Another source of doubt and anxiety was, that various plans had been submitted to Parliament in the course of a very few years. Although none of those plans could be said absolutely to have failed, yet for one reason or another, either from the urgency of other questions, or from the state of the public mind when, they were brought forward, or else from the dissatisfaction expressed from various parts of the country, none of them had been proceeded with to a completion, or fairly discussed within the walls of Parliament. Indeed, there were two Bills on this subject, proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the other House of Parliament, which had never come to a discussion in that House, at least not to such. a discussion as their importance demanded. There were also two Bills proposed by Lord Althorp, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, and another Bill opened last year by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, which, he believed, had neither been brought in nor printed. One of his difficulties then arose from the circumstance of so many Gentlemen on both sides of the House having proposed different plans, which had never been proceeded with, but which existed at present for the mere purpose of forming objects of comparison with any plan which might hereafter be propounded. But, whatever might be his difficulties, whatever reasons he might entertain for the hesitation under which he laboured, he felt that this was a question on which, at the present moment, it was incumbent upon Parliament to come to some decision. He founded that opinion, not on the abstract objections which existed against tithes, for those objections had been pointed out more than half a century ago by men who had investigated the subject. Tithe was now, as it was then, a discouragement to industry—a penalty on skill, a heavy mulct on those who expended the most capital and displayed the greatest skill in the cultivation of the land. Tithe was now, as it was then, a manner of payment involving very great evils, 187 forcing the clergy to forbearance at the expense of what they deemed to be their Tights, or leading them to enforce those rights at the expense of the influence which they ought to possess with their parishioners, compelling them to lose either their income by their indulgence, or their popularity by, he would not say, the exaction of what the law gave them for the support of themselves and their families. These were not the objections which influenced him, because, as he had already stated, they were as well known half a century ago as they were now. These were not the objections which, in his opinion, made it so necessary for Parliament to come to an immediate decision on this subject. The reasons for that necessity were to be found, he thought, in the growing discontent of the Members of the agricultural interest and of the tithe-payers at this mode of payment, and in the universal disposition of the clergy to say, as they had said in their communications with the Crown, that if any fair mode of commutation could be devised, no set of men would be more glad than they should be to get rid of this objectionable payment. The present state of this country, and he might add of Europe generally, showed that the objections to tithe were felt so strongly, that men were becoming every day more and more unwilling to pay what was legally due, and more and more anxious to see these payments altogether cease. He could not give the House a better proof of this than by informing it, that in Austria—where there was no press, stamped or unstamped, where there was no representative assembly—where there were no popular meetings—the farmers, as he was told, hardly wished for a commutation of tithe, but hoped, by what the hon. and learned Member for Dublin called peaceful agitation, to get rid of tithe altogether. If such were the case in a country like Austria, where there was so little political excitement and dissatisfaction, it was certainly the duty of Government in this country, where meetings were held every day of persons interested in the subject, to endeavour to come to a settlement of it, before it found one side or the other making demands so unreasonable as to render it impossible for Parliament at once to do justice and to give satisfaction. Having made these preliminary remarks, he would proceed to explain what he 188 thought were the principles on which a settlement might be made. There were obviously two parts of the subject —one embraced the principles on which it was proposed to make the commutation; and the other the machinery by which it was intended to carry the commutation into effect. It was evident, that though the principle were the best possible, the machinery might be bad and imperfect, and Jo that case no reasonable man could hope for a beneficial result. On the other hand, if the principle were not sound, the most perfect machinery would not have the effect of making it either better or more capable of producing peace and satisfaction. He would at once state that the machinery which the Government proposed to adopt was the machinery proposed by the right hon. Member for Tarn-worth in his Bill of last year, whereby it was provided that there should be a Central Board of Commissioners, consisting of three persons, for the purpose of arranging the question of commutation, of whom two should be appointed by the Crown, and one by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Government proposed that this Board should have power to appoint Assistant-Commissioners to a certain extent and in certain cases, just as the Poor-law Commissioners had. Adopting the machinery recommended by the right hon. Baronet, he need not enter further into that part of the subject; but would proceed to state the principles which had been laid down as the basis of commutation at different periods, and the objections which had been respectively urged against them. The first principle to which he should advert, was that of taking the amount of the gross value of tithes in every parish, and of giving the owners of land the power of redeeming it from tithes on a scale formed upon the average value of tithe throughout the kingdom. But al-though that plan was simple, he agreed with the right hon. Member for Tamworth in thinking that it was hardly practicable, There were many parts of the country in which tithe was levied in kind—there were some parts in which the composition for tithe was high, and there were also other parts in which it was exceedingly low. In the latter districts, those who paid a low rate of composition would object to any increase in their payments-They would say, that so far from intending to pay an increased, amount, they ex- 189 pected to have a diminution in the payment which they had been accustomed to make; so that if a plan of that kind were adopted, it was quite evident that it would produce dissatisfaction. Government would not be able to carry the Bill satisfactorily through Parliament, and even if it were carried through Parliament, it would throw a germ of dissatisfaction against the tithe-owners in every parish throughout England. There was another principle contained, in the first Tithe Bill of Lord Althorp, to which he would briefly call the attention of the House—that was the principle of taking the payment for tithes universally for the last seven years, and commuting the tithes upon that valuation. There was this objection to that principle, that it gave to those incumbents who had been the most severe in the exaction of their tithes the full amount of what they had received, whilst it would prevent those who had been lenient and indulgent towards the tithe-payers from receiving that augmentation to their income to which they were fully entitled. A gentleman who had paid great attention to this subject had proposed that there should be an account taken of the amount paid for tithe during seven years, that this amount should be spread over the whole country, and that then a general average should be struck for each parish. But he could not help seeing, that if this principle were adopted, it would change the income of every tithe-owner in the country—that it would occasion a great disturbance of interests,—and that, though it might be an equitable arrangement for the future, it would not be becoming in a country like this to produce such a general disturbance. He came now to another principle—he meant that which had been promulgated in Lord Althorp's second Tithe Bill. That principle was, to take the amount of tithe paid in each parish in certain counties, to strike an average for them all, and then to make the amount of tithe bear a fixed proportion to the rent of the land in each pariah, instead of being dependent, as it was at present, upon the produce of the land. He confessed that he was taken with the notion of making tithe bear a fixed proportion to the vent, because, at first sight, it seemed unfair and unequal to calculate tithe upon the produce. But, on considering the propriety, the wisdom, and the justice of making that change at present, 190 he had been struck with one difficulty, which he could not overcome, and that was, that there would be no justice in converting the payment calculated on the proportion to the produce which a man by law was obliged to make, into a payment calculated on the proportion to the rent, which by law he was not obliged to pay, and which he had even not contracted to pay. That had been proposed by a noble Lord in another place, who had fortified his argument by saying, that lands paying the same rent ought all to be put into the same scale. There was, however, an objection to that position, as would be seen by considering the case of two farms paying equal rents, owing to one of them requiring great expense in cultivation, and to the other being, comparatively speaking, non-productive. On these two farms paying the same rent you now had a different amount of tithe payable, for, though the rent was the same, the produce was different, and that farm which produced the larger produce paid in consequence the larger amount of tithe. Now, if you make the tithe dependent on the rent, you are doing an evident injustice to him who is now paying the smaller amount of tithe owing to the smaller amount of his produce. He did not know with what face they could say to that man, "You now pay less, and your neighbour pays more, but we will make an average between you; you shall no longer pay in proportion to your produce, you shall pay in proportion to your rent, although you did not contract to do so, and although the change will throw a heavier burthen upon you." For his own part, he must say, that as such a change could not be reconciled with justice, it ought not to be made unless under the pressure of the most urgent necessity. He recollected that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, last year, after considering the difficulties which surrounded all these various plans, had stated that he was inclined, as the only solution of them, to adopt the principle of a voluntary commutation. He (Lord J. Russell) took the liberty of stating at that time, that he did not consider that principle satisfactory; and his reason for making that statement was his conviction, that in a great number of instances, where the exaction of tithe had been most oppressive, no voluntary commutation, would take place, and thus the old. sores would remain, and be the cause of much ill feel- 191 ing in future. It was open to the House, if they thought that any one of the plans to which he had just been adverting, either that of Lord Althorp OF that of the right hon. Member for Tamworth, was better than that which he was then about to propose,—it was open to the House, he said, to take that plan in preference to his; for he wished that the subject of tithe should undergo a thorough sifting, and that the House should make up its mind to pass the best Bill it could frame on the subject in the course of the present Session. Having now described the plans which had been formerly proposed for the commutation of tithes, and having pointed out the principal objections to them, he should proceed, in the next place to explain the principles on which his own Bill was based. He would say generally, that the object of his Bill was, to produce just as little disturbance as possible in existing interests. His object was not to diminish violently or excessively any income now enjoyed by any tithe-owner; it would nevertheless be his constant endeavour, when this question was arranged, and the different parishes had come to a settlement, to produce, if possible, that similarity in the settlement which would prevent one parish from saying, as was too commonly said in Ireland, that its settlement had been made on premises so different from those taken in the case of its neighbour, that its payment was half as much more as that neighbour's was. His object was, that throughout England and Wales there should be in the mode of calculating and valuing tithe some uniformity. By the present system it was notorious that some parishes paid an. amount of tithe considerably higher than that paid in the adjoining parishes. His object would be to get rid, as far as it was practicable, of the inequalities of the existing system. He proposed, then, having got the machinery, which he had already mentioned, having established a Board of three Commissioners, one of whom was to be the representative of the clergy—he proposed, he said, as the right hon. Member for Tamworth had proposed, that any single owner of land or the tenant, might agree, with the tithe-owner, to commute the tithe, they being all mutually interested in the commutation. He proposed, as Lord Althorp proposed, that the owner of the land having made an agreement with the 192 tithe-owner, should stand to the tenant, not only in the situation of the landlord, but also in that of the tithe-owner. He proposed, further, that it should be competent for the possessor or possessors of one-fourth of the value of the tithes to call a meeting of the owners of land in the parish, at which parties might be represented as they now were in the Poor Law Act. When three-fourths in value of the owners of tithes agreed with three-fourths in value of the owners of land, there would be power given to them to make an agreement binding on the whole parish. If no person, appealed against that agreement within a given period, it would become an agreement binding on the whole parish. If any person appealed against it, it should still be binding upon those who did not appeal. The parties appealing would have to appear before the Assistant-Commissioners, who, on hearing their statements, would make an award, which award, on being ratified by the central Board, would also become binding on the parish. He proposed that if at the end of a certain period—he did not intend to confine the House to time in the Bill he should say six months—no such agreement were made between the tithe-owners and the tithe-payers, it should be competent for any land-owner or any tithe-owner, to ask the Commissioners to make a general award on the tithes of the parish. He proposed that when such a demand was made, an Assistant-Commissioner should be authorized to proceed to the parish, and to examine what had been the amount of tithes, or of the composition for tithes, and what had been the expense of collecting the tithes for the last seven years; that he should then and there declare the amount of tithes so paid for the last seven years, and that that amount should be represented, as he would hereafter explain, by a certain quantity of wheat, barley, and oats. He did not, however, intend to propose that this declaration should be binding conclusively, either on the tithe-owner or on the land-owner. He thought it advisable to avoid that which would produce exorbitancy on the one hand, and a ruinous diminution of the income of the clergyman on the other. He therefore proposed, in case any person should appeal, on the ground that the amount fixed for the tithes, or the composition for tithes, did not fairly represent the value of the 193 tithes, that the Assistant-Commissioner should make an estimate of the value of the tithes for the seven years previous, and that he should ascertain the actual gross value of them for that period. If it should appear that the sum of the tithes taken in any parish during' a period of seven years exceeded seventy-five per cent of the gross value, then it would be competent to the Commissioners to determine that the commutation should amount to seventy-five per cent of the gross value and no more, and they would reduce the sum accordingly; but, if on the contrary, it appeared that the amount taken was less than sixty per cent, of the gross value of the tithe, the commissioners would be authorized to raise the sum to sixty per cent., and to declare that that should be the amount of the future charge. He referred to these numbers of seventy-five and sixty per cent, as a maximum and minimum, not as the sums fixed to be absolutely paid, for the question was open to Parliament to consider and decide, but because they served for the purpose of illustrating the principle on which he proposed to proceed. That principle was, that in no case should the amount of charge for tithe exceed a certain percentage of the gross value of the averages of a certain fixed period, nor fall below a certain percentage. It would occur to every person who was at all conversant with the subject, that many instances would be found on either side of the scale—cases both of excess and cases falling- short. In some cases tithes had been taken to such an extent as ought not to form the basis of a permanent charge, and on the other hand he was well aware there were instances, as had been satisfactorily established by undoubted evidence, of clergymen who did not receive more than forty or fifty per cent, of the amount to which they were entitled. It appeared only fair and just to interfere in those cases, and when they wished to establish a permanent settlement of tithe which was to endure for all future time, he thought it right to fix a sum to be taken hereafter, which should not exceed or fall below a certain amount in proportion to the gross value of the tithe. With respect to the minimum and maximum, which he assumed to be sixty and seventy-five per cent, of the value, if it should appear that the sum hitherto paid was between those two limits, it should be 194 competent to the Commissioners to make such an award as they thought the circumstances and the justice of the case required. He knew it would be said by those who were in the habit of talking of the absolute right of tithe, that no payment less in amount than the absolute value, should be taken as a ground for fixing a permanent commutation, but he did not agree in that doctrine. He thought that tithe was the property of the nation, although participated in by individuals, and that deductions might be made from it in consequence of the very nature of the property. When a clergyman insisted on a sum on account of tithe which had never been previously received, he was immediately at war with the farmers who were his parishioners, and that demand should not in the nature of things be pressed as a foundation for a future permanent commutation or charge. There were certain cases of tithe which might come under a particular rule, and which indeed would require a special regulation to govern them; he referred to tithes on hop-gardens, orchards, and market-gardens, In those particular cases the tithes on extremely valuable crops were high, but they could form no fair average for a general commutation, nor indeed could they be allowed to enter into such an average. He proposed giving the Commissioners the power of taking certain hop districts, in order to ascertain the average tithe of the last seven years, and fix the amount in future. The Commissioners would also have the power of declaring what the tithe of any particular land or property should be, supposing hop cultivation to be abandoned; and it was provided that in cases where land should be brought into hop cultivation anew, it should be subject to an additional payment of 15s an acre on account of tithe. Those interested in hop cultivation had declared themselves ready to come to some such compromise as he had indicated, but they objected to continue to pay tithe on hops after the cultivation of them should have been abandoned. They naturally considered that such an arrangement would be highly injurious to them. With respect to the case of orchards and gardens, he confessed he had not been able to satisfy his mind as to a particular provision on the subject, although he admitted lands thus cultivated to be particularly circumstanced. However, this might be a subject 195 for future consideration. Whatever might be done with regard to orchards and garden-grounds now existing, he felt considerable difficulty in rendering land that might be converted into orchards or gardens in future liable to increased tithes. Orchards were a precarious and uncertain description of property, and frequently did not bear in certain years; and with respect to garden lands, if the legislature allowed the question to be opened again from time to time, it would give rise to incessant disputes. With respect to future payments, he proposed that the average prices, for seven years, of wheat, barley, and oats should be published at certain periods, by the controller of corn returns— that this publication should take place every year, and that the payment of rent-charge made in lieu of tithe should be varied accordingly. He proposed to take the prices of three different kinds of grain for the purpose of ascertaining the value and amount of the charge, so that if an individual were chargeable with 300l. for tithe, one third would be estimated by the price of wheat, one third by that of barley, and the remaining third by the price of oats, which would be giving each a fair proportion in the gross amount. Thus the tithe owner would be entitled to receive every year payment according to the fluctuation in the value of grain, which must be taken to represent the fluctuation in the value of money. There was another part of the subject which he did not propose to include in this bill, though it formed an. important part of the general question, and might be fitly introduced in a separate measure,—he meant the question of redemption. He thought it very proper, after means were adopted by which a rent charge should have been established and agreements made between tithe owners and tithe payers, that a measure should be introduced with regard to redemption, and on a future occasion he would lay a Bill on the Table with that view; but considering the difficulties of this part of the subject, he thought it better not to in cumber it with the additional difficulty inseparable from the question of redemption, and therefore he had omitted the matter in the present measure. He was well aware of all the difficulties and objections connected with the subject referred to; he would now only mention a few of them. According to the plan of redemption which he contemplated, taking a cer- 196 tain scale—say twenty-five years' purchase —a person would have the power of freeing himself from the rent charge by a corresponding payment. If the money thus obtained were to be laid out in the funds, and the interest paid to the clergy, many would object to that as by no means an advantageous arrangement. If the clergy had a certain portion of land assigned to them as the proceeds of the redemption fund, each individual clergyman would be converted into a small landowner, and exposed to the distraction of a new avocation, incurring all the risk and inconvenience of a farmer with his farm-buildings out of repair, and other cares and annoyances inseparable from agriculture. If the redemption money were invested in large portions of land, clerical corporations being created in different dioceses for their management, and to distribute the revenues among the clergy, you would introduce a novel and inconvenient, if not dangerous, description of property into the country—property held by the clergy according to certain principles peculiar in their nature and open to much invidious remark. This species of property, peculiarly managed and appropriated, would, in his opinion, expose the clergy to more danger than could be incurred by fixing tithe as a rent charge on the land-owner, whom he thought most likely to pay it with the least reluctance to the clergy. Without, therefore, entering at present on a detail of all the objections to which the principle of redemption might be liable, he contented himself with stating that he would on a future day introduce a Bill on the subject, and lay it on the Table for the consideration of the House. He should rejoice in being able to meet all the difficulties of the case, if that were practicable; for the present, however, he merely proposed that a rent charge should be created in the way he had already explained, which would produce a certain income to the clergy, without those objections that applied to tithes—a plan that, if it did not settle the question to the immediate satisfaction of all parties, would in a few years leave persons at liberty to cultivate their land as they pleased, and apply their skill and capital to its improvement without any apprehension of an augmentation of tithe—placing the clergy in that situation which they ought to occupy, and providing them with a regular and independent income connected with the land 197 and the land-owners of their parish, and free from the present objections to the collection of tithe. The income of the clergy would ultimately flow from the land-owners, and not from each tenant or farmer; and the clergyman would be relieved from an alternative that now often existed, either of making personal enemies by pressing his demand, or injuring himself by abandoning it. He proposed that the rent charges should be liable to the payment of rates, as tithes were at present. Many of the rates were now diminishing', and it would be difficult to make a deduction on account of them. It would be more satisfactory to the several parishes and counties if, under the new arrangement, the clergy were rendered liable to rates, by which means they would have a common interest with their neighbours in diminishing their amount. He had now stated to the House the plan on which Ministers proposed to settle the question of tithes. He had stated at the commencement of his speech that the subject was full of difficulties, and he was far from saying that the present plan was superior to ail that had preceded it; but he did think, if Parliament would steadily turn its attention to the proposition, that it might be worked out in such a shape as to be productive of great benefit, and next after the settlement of the Poor Laws, to contribute, in the most important degree, to the well-being of the country. He was sure the final settlement of the Tithe Question would be of the greatest importance, and confer the highest benefit on the church, as well as upon the country at large.
§ Sir Robert Peel
asked the noble Lord whether his plan applied to lay impropristors as well as to ecclesiastical incumbents? The noble Lord had omitted to state how the rent charge was to be apportioned on the land; was there to be a valuation of land, and was the rent charge to be apportioned according to the value? Lastly, what remedy did the noble Lord propose to give the church in case of non-payment of the rent charge—how were arrears to be recovered?
§ Lord John Russell
The plan applied to lay impropriations as well as to ecclesiastical tithes. With respect to the second point, which referred to the manner in which the value was to be distributed, of course, in the first instance, the charge would be apportioned in the same manner as tithe was found to be payable for the 198 last seven years; but it would be in the power of any land-owner to demand that any particular part of his estate should be charged with a greater or less proportion of tithe, and that would be settled before the Commissioners. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman's third question, as to what remedy the owner of the rent charge was to have, he replied that his remedy would consist in a distress and entry upon the land, but with this limitation, that the remedy should not apply to arrears of rent charge for a longer period than two years,
§ The question having been put,
§ Sir Robert Inglis
complained of the plan of the noble Lord, inasmuch as it would at once reduce the incomes of the clergy to seventy-five or sixty per cent, of their present amount. Had the plan of the noble Lord been adopted three centuries ago, the church would not have stood in the position in which it now did. The oldest property in England was not more than eight centuries old, while that of the church was at least fourteen. What could constitute a better title? If this title failed, all others might follow. He could not understand the distinction between private property and church property, which was sought to be drawn by the noble Lord; but, in his opinion, the noble Lord ought not to take from tithe property any proportion of its security or value by a compulsory provision.
§ Sir Robert Peel
did not rise for the purpose of urging any preliminary objection in point of form to the present proceeding, but he nevertheless thought it important that the law of Parliament should be distinctly defined and adhered to in the course to be pursued with respect to tithes; otherwise there would be a variety of conflicting authorities and precedents on the subject. The authority of Lord Althorp would be quoted for having introduced his Tithe Bill in a Committee of the whole House.
§ Lord John Russell
Lord Altborp took two courses: he first introduced his Bill, as has been now done, and afterwards moved the House into Committee, and introduced the Bill again.
§ Sir Robert Peel
was aware a mistake had been committed by the noble Lord, who might therefore be appealed to as an authority on both sides, either for proceeding by Bill or Committee, Gentlemen 199 might quote himself as an authority for proceeding last year by resolution in Committee of the whole House, and that precedent might be met by the authority of the noble Lord, who had proceeded at once by bringing in a Bill. Thus there had been four adverse precedents as to the manner of introducing the tithe subject within two years. It would be of advantage, for the purpose of preserving regularity and uniformity in their proceedings, to determine whether it was right to proceed by way of resolution in Committee of the whole House, or by an original Motion for leave to bring in a Bill. He did not say this by way of objection on the present occasion, but because he thought it of importance that the law and practice of Parliament should be settled, and because he considered it an advantage to the public, where a question of importance like the present was to be introduced, that the Bill should originate in the usual form in a Committee of the whole House, for it was obviously of consequence that prejudices and doubts arising from ignorance of the details of a plan should be met immediately by explanations from the individual proposing it, and this could be most conveniently effected in Committee. He apprehended that the noble Lord had made considerable advances towards an agreement with him on the subject of tithes in some important respects. He did not urge that circumstance as an objection against the noble Lord; so far from it, that he thought the noble Lord perfectly rig-lit in admitting the force of objections which, he found to be insuperable, and adopting another plan which he might hope to find more satisfactory than those which he had previously advocated. The noble Lord felt the objections against the mode of estimating the real value, and taking the averages of seven years, as formerly proposed, and he also now felt the objection to Lord Althorp's plan for establishing a certain proportion between rent and tithe, things quite different in their nature, but in respect to which Gentlemen had been deceived by an apparent but fallacious analogy. Tithe was a payment founded on the basis of actual produce, but rent was not; therefore the two charges were incommensurate; and this being the easy, any attempt to establish a proportion between rent and tithe must necessarily end in failure and disappointment. The nominal rent of two farms might be the 200 same, yet afford no criterion of the actual productive value of the land; for in one case a man might pay for farm buildings and superior personal accommodation, and in the other the amount of rent might depend on the superior fertility of the soil. He quite agreed with the noble Lord, therefore, that it was proper to abandon the attempt to establish a proportion between rent and tithe. The noble Lord had adopted the whole machinery proposed to be introduced into his (Sir R. Peel's) tithe bill of last session—he did not complain of the plagiarism, far from it; he wished sincerely that the noble Lord had adopted the whole Bill, and carried out its principle, as well as the machinery, in his own measure. Even now the noble Lord seemed willing to admit of alterations in his Bill, and rather to invite contributions and suggestions for perfecting it. Encouraged by the tone of the noble Lord, he felt almost inclined, if he could find his own Bill of last year, which had never been presented to the House, to ask leave to bring in a measure by which he proposed to effect a voluntary commutation of tithe. That was the principle of the Bill of last Session, and in the present measure the noble Lord did not exclude it. He would not now enter upon the noble Lord's plan of a minimum and maximum of rent-charge, ranging between sixty and seventy-five percent., of the gross value of tithe, because he thought it infinitely better to abstain from any attempt to decide the question, not on the sight of the noble Lord's Bill, but merely on the statement of its author. It would be better for every gentleman to reserve his opinion on the subject of the plan, till he had enjoyed an opportunity of examining the Bill itself. The difference between the noble Lord's proposition and his own consisted in the principle adopted, not in the machinery by which that principle was to be worked out. He (Sir R. Peel) proposed that a commission should be appointed, consisting of a superintending Board, with functionaries acting under it, and whatever principle Parliament might finally adopt as the basis of commutation—whether a compulsory principle, as now proposed, or one of a voluntary nature, as suggested last year, be doubted exceedingly whether, without the aid of such functionaries, the necessary local inquiries and arrangements could succeed, or a satisfactory settlement be obtained. He believed, however, that the noble Lord 201 had adopted the mode of proceeding, waving the principle, proposed last year —the only mode, as it seemed to him, of acting with effect. That plan consisted, as he had said, in the establishment of a superior Central Board of Commissioners, in correspondence with Sub-Commissioners, using their persuasions on the spot, in order to effect a settlement of tithe, affording information to those who required it, and assisting the parties interested with their advice. The difference between the principle of the measure now proposed by the noble Lord, and that formerly explained to the House by himself was simply this—that he had proposed that for a certain period, the parties interested in the payment and receipt of tithe should be invited by one of the travelling Commissioners to meet him for the purpose of considering the question, and attempting to come to a voluntary agreement for a permanent commutation of tithe, while the noble Lord, though he still proposed to allow for the operation of the voluntary principle a certain period—he had mentioned six months—at the expiration of that time introduced a compulsory commutation, and now stated the principle on which it was to be applied. It was true the noble Lord did not seek to bind himself or the House exactly to the space of six months, though he had mentioned that period as the term to be allowed for voluntary commutation; but neither did he (Sit R. Peel) mean ultimately to exclude the compulsory principle, if he had found its adoption necessary. If a voluntary commutation had failed, it was still open to him to resort to a compulsory provision. Meanwhile, the advantage of his plan over that of the noble Lord consisted in this—that, whereas the noble Lord now proposed, without having any experience of the working of the principle of a voluntary commutation, to prescribe at once, in precise terms, the manner in which his principle of compulsory commutation should be exercised; he proposed not to adopt the compulsory provision till he had tried the voluntary plan. He thought it impossible for the noble Lord at this moment to lay down any such principle precisely with a well-founded assurance, that it could be carried into effect; yet, if Parliament were to pie-scribe principles upon which a commutation was to be effected it wag of importance, that the country should understand 202 that those principles would be strictly adhered to; but this, he repeated, was absolutely impossible in the present instance. The tithe payers and receivers would be utterly at a loss to understand how they were to proceed to a voluntary commutation, unless they felt assured, that the principle now laid down would be firmly adhered to in all cases; but it was impossible to be certain of that, for the noble Lord, though he talked of seventy-five per cent as a maximum, and sixty per cent as a minimum, said very plainly that he would not bind himself to that proportion. [Lord John Russell meant to adhere to a progressive scale between sixty and seventy-five per cent.] He confessed he did not think this a whit more satisfactory than the noble Lord's original statement. Parliament would find it very difficult to determine with exactness what the proper proportion should be in all cases. He was glad to observe, that great progress had been made towards voluntary commutation, on the principles of the plan which he proposed last Session; and his firm conviction was, if the parties were once brought to an approximation, under the guidance of impartial persons, able to answer every question of law, and inquiries as to the effect of the system adopted in other parishes, from the moderation and good sense of both receivers and payers of tithes, there would, no doubt, be evinced throughout the country the strongest inclination to adopt the voluntary system. If Government only said, "We will exempt the instrument by which all this is to be ratified from any pecuniary charge, we will exonerate from stamp duty those who avail themselves of the opportunity thus afforded, but, that opportunity neglected, our indemnification will no longer he available," a sense of direct personal interest would greatly facilitate an immediate voluntary commutation. Considering the peculiar nature of tithes—considering not only the great variety of laws on the subject, but also the various circumstances affecting different parts of the country, — the variety of soil, the various ways in which different parishes were subject to that impost; some to rectorial, others to vicarial tithes, and some in which there were various recipients of tithes to different amounts, he could not help thinking this was precisely the case in which a voluntary agreement was most likely to succeed; and, so 203 far as they could call in voluntary agreement, as a substitute for law, no doubt a great advantage would be gained. If the future payers of tithes in any particular parish knew that the arrangement made had been come to by voluntary agreement of both parties, under the superintendence of an impartial man, and that it had not been ratified till the superintending Board in London had given their consent to it, he could not help thinking there would be a greater prospect of satisfaction with their award, than if a Commissioner, according to the plan of the noble Lord, in case voluntary commutation failed, should go down with his proposition of sixty or seventy-five per cent. The experience acquired by voluntary commutation would afford the best indication of what, should be the best principle hereafter to be adopted. There might be some cases in which difficulties would present themselves to a voluntary commutation; but from an ample review of all those in which it had taken place, it would be easy to extract a much more satisfactory principle to regulate compulsory commutation than could well be devised in total ignorance of the subject after only six months being allowed for voluntary commutation. The noble Lord said, he wished every parish to be placed on the same footing; and that hereafter one should not be able to say it was placed on a different footing from its neighbours; but that would by no means be the case. One parish would have to pay only 601., while another, perhaps the immediately contiguous one, was paying 751. per cent, not with respect to the actual value of the tithes, but founded on the payments for the last seven years, and dependent in a great degree on the forbearance of the clergy. The object of the noble Lord being; to secure uniformity as far as possible, equality of payments, on account of tithe in every place where voluntary commutation was not effected, his own Bill would defeat that intention, and present in parishes in immediate juxtaposition a different amount of payment on account of tithe. Whatever plan was to be adopted on this subject, which was so extremely complicated, would be best recommended by simplicity. There were many points connected with the noble Lord's plan, which, he feared, had not been sufficiently explained to make it perfectly intelligible to the House; and probably it could not 204 be well understood until the Bill itself were presented; but, if on seeing that Bill, there should appear great practical difficulty in the way of the adoption of a compulsory principle, or if there should appear to the House good reason to believe, that the experience of an attempt at voluntary commutation would supply much most valuable information how the compulsory principle might be best applied, he hoped he might be permitted to bring in his Bill, so that if, after proceeding a certain way, difficulties were found to present themselves in the noble Lord's plan, the House, without reference to party distinctions, would not feel indisposed to make this Session a fair experiment on the principle of voluntary commutation.
§ Mr. Harvey
doubted whether any history presented an instance of a more rapid conversion than that which the Bill of the noble Lord was calculated to make. He would convert a very permanent body of political opponents into a very ready body of admiring adherents, for there was something in his Bill well calculated to secure the applause of the landed interest, inasmuch as the measure itself proposed at one blow, and by one concession, in all cases to give up twenty-five percent., and in many cases forty per cent, of the property which he had always contended was the property of the public. There was enough in this Bill secretly and silently to secure the support of a great number of Members, but he could not understand on what ground a positive benefit was to be par-chased at so high a rate, because it was admitted on all hands that to commute the tithe, as it was now collected, into a permanent money payment would be to the cultivator of the soil a great and lasting advantage. But why make a concession to those who were to derive this benefit? He knew it would be said why should objections proceed from a party entertaining the sentiments that this was public property? The public would derive no benefit whatever from this concession. The augmentation of tithes was now converted into a fixed and permanent money payment; beyond that where would be the advantage to the tenant of the land? Although it was not to be expected that the noble Lord had developed all the minutiae of the case, yet he did not gather in what way the lessees were to receive the benefit of concessions, of which the land- 205 lords were to be immediately the partakers. If so large a concession was to be made of public property—if the property of the Church belonged exclusively to the Church, on what principle was it that we were transferring from twenty-five to forty per cent, to lay hands, and to that extent denuding the Church. This calculation of the value of tithe was to be made retrospectively for the last seven years, embracing the present year, and the year preceding; two periods in which agricultural produce had been without example as to its lowness. This was' to be the test of the permanent estimate of the value of tithe, twenty-five per cent, was to be taken in most cases, and forty per cent, in many cases of income rendered essentially low by reverting to the average which was to be the standard of calculation. At no distant time you would find that in many of the livings the receipts of the working clergy were reduced to so low an amount that you would be obliged to look to some quarter for augmentation. Where would it be found? Would the landlords of England, the owners of the soil, disgorge the twenty-five per cent.? Would a proposition be made to call on the people for a large money grant to make up the deficiency? It was important that an arrangement so fraught with advantage to the landlords should not be prejudicial to the great body of the people. Last night there was a discussion on the corn laws. If they were seeking to devise some equivalent for the undeniable consequences which any alteration in the corn laws would cast on the landlords of England, he might see some justification in this concession; but that not being the case, how, he again asked, would this abandonment of tithe in favour of the owners of the soil operate to the benefit of the occupier or the people in general? The measure should, of course, be analyzed in all its bearings, but at present he entered his protest against so large a concession of public property unconnected with any corresponding advantage to the people or the occupier of the land.
§ Mr. Hume
, while he admitted that tithes were public property, subject to be appropriated by Parliament, and that it was the duty of Parliament to make such an appropriation of them as might be most advantageous to the public, was still of opinion that the present subject was one 206 which could not be settled without concessions from all parties. He thought it the wisest plan on the part of his Majesty's Government, to settle it at once; and they had a right, having that object in view, to call for the assistance of all parties. Some few years ago—in 1S2I and 1822—he was one of the few who then wished for a final settlement of the tithe question, especially with reference to Ireland. Looking at the results of the delay which had occurred on that point, he hoped his Majesty's Government, with the advantage of experience, would not pause until the object in view was accomplished. It must be recollected that the subject was not one on which a uniformity of opinion existed. One-half of the inhabitants of the country reaped advantage from the tithe, but the other half did not. He took it to be the wisest course, therefore, for Ministers to come forward and make a fair offer of an understanding. Would the clergyman object to the present proposition? He thought not. Would the country gentlemen? A few might but, looking at the contending interests, he did not think there would be any great objection to it. The right hon. Member for Tamworth proposed to substitute, in the present session, voluntary arrangement for the noble Lord's Bill. This he (Mr. Hume) thought would be dangerous. In his opinion, six months would be sufficient to consider the matter, and to fix the amount of the commutation. He confessed, however, that he saw one difficulty in treating the subject. If the produce of the land were subject to the same laws as other produce, if it produced only its just value in the market, if it were out of the reach of monopoly, it would be another thing. But the consequence of the corn laws was that the corn trade had never been free; that it had always been kept in a state of artificial excitement. And yet he believed that at the present moment, corn was at a lower price in consequence of the corn laws than it would have been if those laws had never been passed. He would give his humble support to the measure, knowing the evils that would be risked by leaving the question in its present stale. The hon. Member for Southwark had asked what the public would gain by it? Could any one put that question, seeing the existing inconveniences? Nothing could be more clear than that the public were at present losing to a considerable ex- 207 tent every way. After the passing of the Poor-law Amendment Act, it became of the utmost importance that the largest possible amount of capital should be set free for the employment of the poor. This rendered it the more necessary that no time should be lost in proposing an Act for the permanent settlement of tithes. Many forebodings of coming evils and of diminished manufacturing prosperity had of late been made; and although he did not participate in the fears which were entertained by others on that point, he was still anxious, in the event of capital being thrown out of employment in manufactures, that an opening should be made for its investment in the interests of agriculture, such as would occur on the passing of the present Bill. It was well, he thought, to provide against the possibility of a disadvantageous change in the manufacturing interests, which a commercial country like England, depending much upon foreign demand, most always be liable to, by opening another source for the employment of capital, which could not fail of being highly beneficial to the nation at large. Looking at the Poor-law Amendment Act as one of the most important measures which had been carried through the Legislature during his experience as a public man, he was anxious that every means should be taken of carrying it fairly out. He thought that a measure for the commutation of tithes would contribute much to that end; and by increasing the quantity of capital employed in agricultural affairs, would go far to improve the condition of the agricultural poor. There was, however, one part of the noble Lord's plan to which he feared it would be impossible for him to give his concurrence. He conceived it to be contrary to the general principle of the measure, and on that account, upon further consideration, he hoped the noble Lord would see the propriety of striking it out. He alluded to that part of the plan which related to hop grounds, and to gardens and orchards. His view of the subject might perhaps be regarded as singular; but, upon reflection, he was sure every one would see it was correct. He could not help looking at hop grounds, and at gardens, and orchards, in the same light as manufactures; and for this reason, they were comparatively small portions of ground upon which a very large amount of capital was necessarily expended to make them productive. 208 That being the case, it appeared to him to be highly injurious, as well as extremely unjust, that the produce of such lands— produce obtained by the expenditure of so great an amount of capital—should be subject to a tax in the shape of tithe. For instance, where 300l. had been expended in the construction of a pinery, or where 30l. or 40l. an acre had been expended to bring land into cultivation for hops, was it not extremely hard, and was it not directly contrary to the principle upon which this Bill professed to proceed, that the produce obtained at so great a cost should be subject to the payment of tithe in the same proportion as the produce of lands cultivated at a much less expense. He trusted that the noble Lord would see the necessity of reconsidering this part of the Bill. The only difficulty that stood in the noble Lord's way was the dealing with present incumbents. He certainly did not think it would be fair to pass any law taking from present incumbents the income they enjoyed; but he saw no difficulty in passing a law by which all future incumbents should receive from hop-grounds, gardens, and orchards, only such an amount of tithe as should be equal to what the fair average value of the produce of the soil would be without the expenditure of so great an amount of capital. He trusted, that if the noble Lord did not embody some arrangement of that kind in the Bill, that means would be found of doing so when they went into Committee. In all other respects he thought the Bill well calculated to remove existing difficulties, and to give general satisfaction to the country.
§ Lord John Russell
the hon. Member for Middlesex had mistaken what he stated with respect to hop-grounds. It was proposed that the assessment in all existing hop-grounds should be made on an average of the value of seven years; and that all new lands intended to be brought into cultivation for hops, should pay an additional and fixed sum of 15s. per acre. The hon. Member for Middlesex would at once perceive the distinction which was thus made in favour of the employment of capital. With respect to the point raised by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth as to the most proper mode of introducing a measure of this description into the House of Commons, he would merely observe, that if the Bill contained any project for imposing a tax, it would no doubt be necessary that it should be 209 founded upon a Resolution originally agreed to by a Committee of the whole House, but in a matter relating only to the commutation of a certain payment between individuals, he conceived such a course was not necessary. He had, therefore, preferred the simpler and easier mode of moving for Leave to bring in a Bill. With respect to the plan which the right hon. Baronet proposed last year, and which he said he might perhaps put into the shape of a Bill again in the present Session, he (Lord John Russell) must say that he was still strongly of opinion that it would be better to adopt a compulsory rather than a voluntary measure for the settlement of tithes. He thought that a voluntary commutation would only be very partially adopted, and in all probability that at the end of a five years' trial it would be found much more difficult to effect a satisfactory settlement of the question than it was at present. The House, of course, would adopt whichever course it thought most beneficial; but he was decidedly of opinion that the compulsory system would be found to operate most beneficially,
Sir Edward Knatckbull
was as anxious as the noble Lord, or any other Member of the House, for a satisfactory settlement of the Question of Tithes, and he could assure the noble Lord that some measure upon the subject was most earnestly looked for by the agricultural interest throughout the whole kingdom. He had attended very closely to the statement made by the noble Lord that evening, and although he could not entirely concur in the whole of it, he was most anxious to give the plan proposed a fair hearing, and with that view he should defer urging any objection until he saw the Bill in a more advanced stage. He would only say that with regard to the assessment of hop-grounds, in which he of course was very deeply interested, he much doubted whether the noble Lord's plan would be found to operate impartially.
An Hon. Member
wished to know whether the reduction which it was proposed to make was to be made upon the gross amount of the produce of the land, or upon the amount of tithe actually taken in kind? If the former were the intention, how would it be possible to ascertain what the gross produce of the land had been during the last seven years? He could further assure the noble Lord, that if the 210 reduction were to be made upon the gross produce of the land, it would be considered as no very great boon. He mentioned this with no unfriendly feeling towards Ministers; he merely threw it out for their consideration.
§ Lord John Russell
thought he had sufficiently explained that the reduction was to be on the gross amount of tithe taken in kind. He conceived that there would be no difficulty in ascertaining what the gross amount had been; because the Commissioners would have before them the actual receipts of the last seven years. Besides, the assessment would be made by persons accustomed to surveying for the purpose of ascertaining the value of tithe. With respect to any objection which the right hon. Baronet the Member for East Kent (Sir Edward Knatchbull) might feel in regard to that part of the plan which related to hops, he could only say that he should be most happy to listen to any suggestion which the right hon. Baronet might please to make upon that subject.
§ Leave given to bring in the Bill.