§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 3.
§ (4.10.) MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
In the absence of the hon. Member for Carnarvon (Mr. B. Roberts), I beg to move the Amendment which stands in his name, which provides that in cases where the tithe rent-charge is to be remitted on more than two-thirds of the annual value of the land the rent shall be assessed under Schedule A, and not under Schedule B, as proposed in the Bill. I think that, this alteration will be of great service, especially in those hard cases in which the tithepayers require to be assisted. If the Bill is allowed to pass as it stands, it will give a large advantage to the tithe owner without a commensurate advantage to the tithepayer.
§ Amendment moved, in page 3, line 10, to leave out "B" and insert "A."—(Mr. H. Gardner.]
§ Question proposed, "That 'B' stand part of the Clause."
§ (4.12.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICKS BEACH, Bristol, W.)
I hope to be able to convince the hon. Member opposite that he has not considered the effect of his Amendment. I think that by giving a concrete case I can convince the hon. Member that this Amendment could not be adopted. If a farm is let for £90 a year, after the passing of this; Bill it would, of course, be let tithe free to the tenant. Supposing that the farm were liable to a tithe of £75, there would be a margin of only £15 rent for the landowner—I am taking an extreme case. The assessment to Schedule A would therefore be £15; and under this proposal, by the substitution of Schedule A for Schedule B, the tithe rent-charge could not exceed £10. Supposing another farm also let at £90 a year, the tithe rent-charge being £39, leaving a margin of £51 for assessment to Schedule A; under this proposal 1535 the landlord would have to pay a tithe rent-charge of £34. That will show the injustice of such a proposal.
§ (4.15.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
I would advise my hon. Friend not to insist upon the Amendment; but I do not think the second instance given by the right hon. Gentleman comes within the extreme cases of the proposed clause.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I did not say that it would. My point is, that in such a case the tithe rent-charge payable would, under this Amendment, be more than three times as much as in a case where twice the amount of tithe rent-charge was due.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON
Unless some concession is made by the Government, I think the arguments used against the Bill on Thursday were very forcible. The practical relief, however well it may look in theory, would in numerous instances be nothing at all.
After a few words from Mr. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.), which were inaudible in the Gallery, the Amendment was negatived.
§ (4.20.) MR. C. W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
The object of the Amendment which stands next, in my name, is to provide that the value of farm buildings, when their value exceeds 10 per cent. of the annual value of the land, shall not be included for the purpose of ascertaining the annual value of the land under Clause 3. My contention is that if the Amendment is not agreed to, the clause will work great injustice to the small farmers. I will give an instance of two small farms lying close together, the land of both being of exactly equal quality, but the buildings good in the one case, and old and dilapidated in the other. Where the buildings are old and dilapidated this crumb of relief will be given, but where the buildings are good there will be no relief whatever. I do not think it is possible to defend an arrangement of that sort. The proposal will be a direct premium against spending money on a farm. I admit that, theoretically, relief will come both to small and large farms, but in practice the effect of the clause as it stands will be to give relief in a certain number of cases to large farms, but none to any number of small farms worth thinking of. The tithe, 1536 as now assessed, goes far beyond the intentions of the donors of the tithe. This Amendment will remove what is an undoubted injustice in the clause, and I therefore hope it will be accepted by Her Majesty's Government. As a rule the commutation of land on which buildings stand has followed very nearly the value of the labouring fields. At any rate the tithe upon land on which buildings stood in 1836, certainly never included for one moment the value of the bricks and mortar. Under this clause, however, the value of the buildings will be included. It may be said that I am asking for relief for men who are the proprietors of houses and buildings, and who may, therefore, be presumed to be not very poor men. I have, however, not been influenced by any such consideration. Of course, one would be even more inclined to grant relief to poor men than to rich men, but the question has never been in my mind. I do not care whether the owner of a farm that will be affected by the clause is rich or poor, whether his buildings are good or bad, or whether his farm is well stocked or badly stocked. I simply say that, having shown that the position of the tithe has now gone far away from the intentions of the original donors, or of the Act of 1836, such an Amendment as this is necessary. It is a just and a fair proposal, and if it is not agreed to it will be very difficult indeed to prove that this Bill is one of concession or compromise. We are told that the clergy are anxious to compromise, the agriculturalists in the Eastern Counties have suffered loyally and patiently, and have paid their tithes like honest Englishmen, and, rather than see this clause stamped with the approval of the House as being a fair adjustment between the two contending parties, I am almost sure that, if my Amendment be rejected, I shall, on the Report stage, move that all this clause be set aside.
Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 11, after the word "mentioned," to insert the words—
Exclusive of the annual value of any buildings, unless such value does not exceed 10 per cent, of the annual value of the land."—(Mr. Gray.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."1537
§ (4.34.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I always listen with very great sympathy to my hon. Friend, because I know he honestly and sincerely feels the case he presents to us on this Bill, and his Amendment now is really only intended to benefit the small farmer. But I would venture to submit to my hon. Friend that the principle of this Amendment is really inconsistent with the view on which the clause is based, and which, as far as I have hitherto understood, he shares equally with myself—namely, that the relief to be afforded by the clause should be afforded in those cases where the annual value of the land has been so much reduced in proportion to the tithe, as to make the tithe a burden beyond the point named in the clause. My hon. Friend wants to relieve those cases which really require relief. I would point out to him that the cases which really require relief are not those which would be mainly affected by this Amendment. Compare the case of a farm with the ordinary farm buildings upon it with the case of another small farm on which the owner had erected a large house, and had added by that process enormously to the value of his land, and, therefore, to the security of the tithe rent-charge. The second case is exactly one in which my hon. Friend would by his Amendment give relief, for he would provide that the value of the country house should not be calculated at all, except to the extent of 10 per cent., and, therefore, property which would be far more valuable than the farm property in the first case would be less liable to tithe, as the farm property would not be relieved by the proposals of my hon. Friend. I think my hon. Friend has not considered his proposal sufficiently from this point of view, and I hope he will not press it.
§ (4.38.) MR. H. R. FARQUHARSON (Dorset, W.)
I am sure my hon. Friend's Amendment was intended to apply to agricultural land and not to suburban land, or land used for building purposes. I wish the Committee to remember that if the farm buildings of England have enormously improved during the last 50 years it is because of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836. By that Act the landlords of England were given, to understand that if they laid 1538 out thousands of pounds in improving their properties the tithe owners in the future should derive no advantage from their outlay. Under cover of that Act the agricultural buildings of the country have enormously improved. Now, 50 years afterwards, the House is asked to reverse the policy which has hitherto been pursued. I must say I think that unless this Amendment is agreed to, a very great wrong will be done to the landowners of England, and a very great injustice to the tithepayers.
§ (4.40.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I would suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon that if he would add the word "agricultural" before "buildings" to his Amendment, it would completely meet the objection of the President, of the Board of Trade.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
It seems to me a pity that inasmuch as the House has been treated to Tithe Bills for five successive Sessions, hon. Gentlemen who champion the cause of the tenant farmers have not some figures to submit to show how the Bill will work out, and how it ought to work out in the cases they refer to. I observe, moreover, that the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Chaplin) is on the back of (the Bill, and I should think that since he has been appointed to his important office, he should be in a position to enlighten the House as to the condition of things in the eastern counties. Up to now we have heard nothing save that there is a good deal of suffering there. We on this side of the House, who hold different views from hon. Gentlemen opposite, have had nothing tangible in the shape of statistics put before us for our enlightenment. I have listened to the observations of the hon. Member for the Maldon Division, and I do not suggest that he should withdraw his Amendment. On the contrary, I would ask him to show the zeal he feels in the interest of the tenant farmers by dividing the Committee. No doubt he will be supported by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Farquharson), but for my part I think the argument is altogether against the Amendment.
§ Question put, and negatived.
(10.42.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton) rose to move the following
Amendment: In page 3, line 14, at end of Sub-section (1) insert the words—
And in such case the rent of the tenant, if the land be let, shall be reduced by a like amount.''
§ (10.43.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon, &c.)
I rise to move the following Amendment: In page 3, line 14, after the word "recoverable," to insert the words—Provided always that the tithe owner shall, if aggrieved by any such assessment, have the same right of appeal against the said assessment as the owner or occupier of the said lands now possess.I feel I am right in stating that under the Bill, as it now stands, a tithe owner has no right of appeal against the assessment. He may feel himself aggrieved to the extent of £20 or £30, but he has no right of appeal to the Commissioners. I think this is an Amendment which will recommend itself to the Government and the Committee generally. At any rate, I should like to hear what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has to say about it.
Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 14, after the word "recoverable," to insert the words—
Provided always, that the tithe owner shall, if aggrieved by any such assessment, have the same right of appeal against the said assessment as the owner or occupier of the said lands now possess."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (4.44.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Our view in preparing the clause was that there was no need for the representation of the tithe owner in this way, for anyone who is accustomed to the proceedings of the Income Tax Commissioners knows how excessively keen the surveyors are to keep up the assessment. Well, to do that is the object of the tithe owner, therefore, the interests of the tithe owner are safeguarded without giving him special power of appeal.
§ (4.45.) MR. S. T. EVANS
It is true that it is to the pecuniary interest of the Surveyor of Taxes to keep up assessments: but in the case of the tithe assessment, I doubt if he will have the same controlling power over the Commissioners 1540 as he has in the case of the Income Tax. The Surveyor of Taxes is now directly interested in keeping up the assessment; but we have suggested that the Commissioners may be interested in keeping down the assessment, and it is a question whether the Surveyor of Taxes will in future be stronger than the Commissioners, and will be able to counteract their desire to keep down the assessment.
§ (4.46.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
Should not both the parties have the same power to appeal—the tithe owner as well as the tithepayer?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (4.47.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I now move to insert, after Sub-section 3—If in any case the owner of the tithe rent-charge, or the owner or occupier of the land, is dissatisfied with the annual value so ascertained as aforesaid, either of them may appeal to the County Court Judge of the district in which the lands are situate, who may, on such application, determine such annual value, or appoint a valuer to ascertain the same.My reasons for moving this Amendment are these: I do not consider that the Commissioners are an impartial tribunal in these cases, for the reason that they are Justices of the Peace, residing in the locality and having property in the locality. I happen to know a case in point in the particular district in which I reside. All the Commissioners there are land owners who would be interested in keeping down the value of the tithe, and also the assessment of property. In one case with which I am acquainted, valuable property belonging to the Chairman of the Commissioners, was assessed at £80, whereas a similar property, belonging to a gentleman who was not a Commissioner, but who happened to be a Nonconformist, was assessed at £120. Representations were made by this gentleman to the Commissioners in London. They considered it a strong case, and sent down a Special Commissioner to investigate the matter, and the result was that the Chairman of the Local Commissioners had the assessment of his property raised from £80 to £200. There was another Commissioner who had under-valued his property by assessing it at £70. A Government Commissioner 1541 was sent down, and it was found that the value of the property was £160. Another case was that of a gentleman who was very fond of talking of the predatory characteristics of Radicalism. He assessed his own property at £25; but when a Government Inspector came to investigate the matter, he discovered that the value of the property was £45, so that in two of these cases the Commissioners assessed their property at half its value, and in the other case at nearly half. When we have such facts as these before us, a tribunal of this kind cannot be considered impartial, and there ought to be some authority on the spot to whom the tithe owner can appeal for justice if he thinks he is wronged. I think I am right in saying that in at least two of the Bills introduced by the Government to deal with the tithe question, an appeal—or rather an application—was allowed to be made by the tithe owner to the County Court. The County Court was to have been the authority for inquiring into the value of these lands; and, I must say, it appears to me more in consonance with the proposals of the Government themselves, that the County Court should be the appellate authority rather than the Commissioners.
Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 38, after Sub-section (3), to insert the words—
If in any case the owner of the tithe rent-charge, or the owner or occupier of the land, is dissatisfied with the annual value so ascertained as aforesaid, either of them may appeal to the County Court Judge of the district in which the lands are situate, who may, on such application, determine such annual value, or appoint a valuer to ascertain the same."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (4.52.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER, Isle of Wight)
The Amendment of the hon. Gentleman raises three questions. As to the question of Appeal, as the President of the Board of Trade has pointed out, there is already in existence a machinery for appeal, namely, the Income Tax Commissioners; and we think that that machinery should be adopted. The hon. Member opposite says that in previous Bills we allowed appeals to the County Court, but he must be good enough to remember that different questions are 1542 now raised to those raised under the previous Bills. Under the previous Bill the rents and profits had to be ascertained independently. It was a matter of valuation, and we adopted the tribunal we thought best fitted to deal with it. Therefore, having adopted Schedule B of the Income Tax in this Bill, we have given an appeal to the Income Tax Commissioners. As to the constitution of the tribunal, which the hon. Gentleman objects to, it must be remembered that the Income Tax Commissioners are chosen from the Land Tax Commissioners, and that the names of the persons chosen are sent to the Members of Parliament representing the various localities in which the Commissioners are to act. Objection can, therefore, be taken to the names, and others can be suggested in their place. With regard to the appointment of a valuer, the hon. Gentleman suggests that the Local Authorities should have power of nominating him. That power already exists under Section 47 of the Income Tax Act of 1853, and has, to my own knowledge, been exercised, so that we have already the machinery for bringing local knowledge to bear on the matter which the hon. Gentleman refers to. Lastly, as to the appeal from the Income Tax Commissioners, there is now a ready appeal, and one which does not bear hardly on the appellants. The hon. Member will remember that when a person desires to appeal he asks the Commissioners to state a case, and if they do so the case is disposed of without any considerable expense. On the three points I have dealt with I think the proposal we make is the best, and for that reason we cannot agree to substitute for the appeal given in the Bill an entirely different one.
§ (4.56) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
No doubt the appointment of the valuer is in the discretion of the Commissioners themselves.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
No, it is set forth that it shall be lawful for the appellant as well as the Commissioners in any such appeal to require a valuation to be made.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
It is in the discretion of the Commissioners, however, whether they appoint a valuer or not. They are not bound to do so.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
Very well, then I object that the Commissioners at the present moment are too partizan. For instance, in the locality in which I reside, the Commissioners have been appointed out of one political party and out of one denomination. Up to a recent period the locality was represented in Parliament by men of one Party, and whenever names were submitted to them they naturally favoured men of their way of thinking. I object to this political class of men, believing them to be too partial to be entrusted with these duties. As to the first point mentioned by the Attorney General—the appeal to the County Court given in the first Bills brought in by the Government—I simply mentioned that the Government themselves thought the County Court a competent tribunal for investigating the value of land.
§ (4.58.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I do not think the Attorney General has given sufficient weight to the arguments of my hon. Friend, probably because he does not know the locality in which my hon. Friend resides. Some very strong cases were mentioned, all of which will bear investigation, as they are well founded. My hon. Friend stated a case in which a Commissioner had actually returned the value of his own property at less than half the proper amount, and another case in which a man's assessment was raised £40 because he was a Nonconformist. It is all very well to say that objection can be taken to the persons selected as Commissioners when the names are submitted. We know that, but it is an exceedingly invidious thing to take upon oneself to object to a certain name. I hold it is desirable that this matter should be removed from the region of politics, and that the present method of submitting names to Members of Parliament gives a political colour to the whole thing, nor do I know why the Government adopted the County Court as a Court of Appeal in their former Bills and do not propose to do so now. If my hon. Friend goes to a division, I shall support the Motion.
§ (4.59.) VISCOUNT WOLMER (Hants, Petersfield)
Is the hon. Member for Carnarvon quite sure that the cases he has given are of assesements under Schedule B? Under Schedule A there is room for proceedings such as he mentioned. 1544 I do not see why, in the case we are considering, the attitude of the Income Tax Commissioners in the future should be different from what it has been in the past. I do not see what inducement there is which does not already exist to them to allow Schedule B to diminish and grow small. On the contrary, it seems to me that the machinery is absolutely safe-guarded at present by the rule that prevails in the counties which which I am acquainted, which is that no reduction is allowed unless it can be shown, on the production of accounts, that it is required. The present state of the law, according to my view, prevents the possibility of abuse, and I do not think his proposal is necessary.
§ (5.1.) MR. W. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)
I have listened with some surprise to the observations of my hon. Friend the Attorney General, as to the names of the Commissioners being submitted to Members of Parliament, and I should think other Members have listened with surprise equal to my own. On this point the arguments of the Attorney General appears to me to be somewhat unsatisfactory. The argument in favour of his contention is that we are already provided with machinery, but that existing machinery seems to me insufficient and bad. First, the fact that the machinery exists is hardly sufficient reason for denying such a tribunal as my hon. Friend proposes, when you are legislating exceptionally. Secondly, the existing machinery is shown to be lamentably insufficient. Upon the ground that the County Court has been selected by the Government as the proper tribunal to adjudicate on matters cognate to this, and secondly, as the existing machinery is open at any rate to suspicion, and has in some cases been shown to be guilty of very grave derelictions of duty, I shall support the Amendment.
§ (5.3.) MR. PICTON (Leicester)
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General mistakes the nature of the hon. Gentleman's proposition. It is intended to protect against under assessment as well as against over assessment. At present, I understand, there is a protection against over assessment, but not against under assessment. 1545 I do hope the Government will give the tithe owner the same protection as is accorded the owner or occupier of the land.
§ (5.4.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I think the hon. Member must have made a mistake as to the Amendment we are discussing. I think he is discussing the Amendment which the hon. Member has also placed up on the Paper, giving the owner some such protection as is asked for. That I promised to consider on Report, and I think it would be a good thing to give some protection against under assessment. Sir, I hope the Committee will not make the Judge of the County Court the judge of value. That suggestion, I know, was made by the Government two years ago, and after being made it was more fully considered, and it was felt to be a mistake. I believe the proper tribunal to judge of value is that which is customary in England, and the proper appeal from that tribunal is that which the law already provides.
§ (5.6.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I have given three concrete instances in which the protection of the surveyor of taxes was proved to be grossly inadequate, and the same thing will occur again. At present it is the interest of the Commissioners of Income Tax to keep down the tithe rent-charge as much as possible.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I am sorry I have not got the letter of the Inland Revenue with me, therefore I am unable to quote it. I may be able to do so later in the discussion. It makes no difference whether Schedule A or B is concerned, and it is the interest of the Income Tax Commissioners to keep down the assessment as much as possible. In the cases which I have cited, it has been kept down extraordinarily, and I might point out to the noble Lord that in every instance the balance sheet cannot be employed, for I should say the case is very rare in which accounts of the produce are kept. I certainly hope the right hon. Gentleman will consent to this Amendment on Report.
§ (5.11.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 122; Noes 152.—(Div. List, No. 26.)1546
§ (5.23.) MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
In moving the Amendment I have placed upon the Paper, namely, to leave out Sub-section 5, I suggest that this sub-section is opposed to the policy of the Bill, and is unfair. I also move my Amendment, because it would be impossible for the sub-section to be of any practical effect, and because it would only cause confusion and unnecessary expense. The provision in the Act of Parliament, to which the sub-section refers, is the 58th section of the 6th and 7th of William IV., which provides that it shall be lawful for the Valuers or Commissioners, upon the application of the landowner, to apportion the whole of a rent-charge upon certain land to the exoneration of other land belonging to the same owner and equally liable to the rent-charge. But there is a provision to the effect that no close of land shall be charged with any rent-charge, or share of rent-charge, on account of the tithe of any other land, unless the value of the land charged shall be at least three times the value of the rent-charge. At that time, therefore, the tithe rent-charge did not exceed one-third of the value of the land. Now, if between that time and the present, the land has so depreciated in value that the tithe exceeds two-thirds of the value, surely there is a strong case for relief. The object of the whole section is, that where the tithe has practically absorbed the land, relief shall be given. It seems to me that relief is equally necessary in the case proposed to be excepted; and to put an exception of this kind in this remedial Bill, seems to me opposed to the whole policy of the Bill. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill that there is no evidence existing in the Office of the Land Commissioners which will inexpensively enable the sub-section to be worked. When the apportionments were made (at any rate this is the result of my information upon the subject), the lands specially apportioned under Section 58 of the 6th and 7th William IV. were not distinguished—that is to say, the apportionments did not in terms provide that certain lands were charged to the exoneration of other lands, and therefore, it would be impossible 1547 to give evidence of that, except by a very laborious process. In fact, I do not know how this could be done except by going to the offices of the land agents who acted in the matter, or to the Assistant Commissioners, and raking up the old papers, if they could be got at, endeavouring in that way to make out a case. What will happen under the Bill when a claim is made for remission? Why two documents will be produced. The Tithe Award and Apportionment, showing the amount of tithe charged, and the Income Tax assessment under Schedule B. They will show the relative proportion which the tithe bears to the value of the land. So far the evidence is simple; but if you provide that relief is not to be given in cases where the tithe has been specially apportioned, in reference to which you have no means of showing what was specially apportioned, except by resort to the land agents memoranda, and other similar documents, all I have to say is that you will be introducing a provision that will lead to a great deal of litigation, trouble, and expense. The case may practically be put in this way: The tithe owner sues for the tithe, and the landowner contends that his land has been depreciated in value, and that he is entitled to the benefit of the relief to be given by this Bill. The tithe owner will then say to him: You are not entitled to relief, because the tithe was specially apportioned on the land to the exoneration of other land. The award, however, does not show this. It only shows that the tithe was charged in particular portions of the parish, and does not show what parcels of land were particularly exonerated. In this case the tithe owner will have to give the next best evidence he can obtain, which may be the evidence of the person who made the appropriation, if he is alive, or surveys, plans, declarations, statements or memoranda for what they are worth. Now, I appeal to practical men in this House as to whether that sort of evidence is not of a most unsatisfactory character, especially when it is 40 or 50 years old. It is the kind of evidence you get in right of way cases, and it is of a nature which will cause expense of a serious character. Although I do not go so far as to say the sub-section 1548 will defeat the object of the Bill, yet I do assert it will go a long way towards defeating the benefits intended to be conferred by it. I am satisfied that there is no evidence to be obtained except such as I have mentioned; it will be most expensive to get. It may also give rise to great litigation, and altogether the provision is a most undesirable one. I believe the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate the difficulty of this matter. I appeal to hon. Members to bear me out in what I say as to the practical nature of this objection to the sub-section. I know that there is a rough sort of justice in the sentiment that people on whose land the tithe was specially apportioned should not come under the benefit of this remission; but after all it is of no use, with a view to a sort of sentimental rough justice, to leave a provision of this objectionable nature in the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will agree to my Amendment, which is in no sense hostile to the Bill, but will make it practical by stopping a loophole for endless litigation.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 4, line 1, to leave out Sub-section (5).—(Mr. Thomas Henry Bolton.)
§ Question proposed, "That Sub-section (5) stand part of the Clause."
§ (5.33.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I can assure the hon. Member I feel very much indebted to him for the pains which he has taken in discussing this Bill, and for the way in which he has put his special knowledge of this technical and complicated subject at the disposal of the House and of the Government. I have listened carefully to the objection which he has raised to this sub-section. I had been under the idea that the award showed whether there had been a special apportionment, but the hon. Member with his practical knowledge assures us it does not, and that the tithe owner would have enormous difficulty in obtaining the evidence necessary to prove to the satisfaction of the County Court Judge that there had been a special apportionment. As this clause would only apply to a few cases, and would have a tendency to encourage most expensive litigation, I am bound to say the objections to the retention of the sub-section 1549 are valid, and therefore I do not intend to defend the proviso.
§ (5.34.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether in withdrawing the clause for the present moment, the Government retain liberty to re-introduce it, should it be found not to be beset by such difficulties as the hon. Member suggests. The clause, it will be remembered, was not contained in the Bill of last year, and in the course of the Second Reading Debate I pointed out the injustice likely to arise in cases where there had been a special apportionment. I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend for putting it in this year, and I should be sorry indeed if the practical difficulties were found to be so great as to prevent its object being carried out.
§ (5.35.) SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will adhere to his decision to omit the clause, which is certainly one calculated to lead to endless litigation, as well as to bad feeling.
§ (5.35.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 95; Noes 198.—(Div. List, No. 27.)
§ (5.48.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I beg to move at the end of Clause 3 the addition of these words—Or held by any Corporation or public body, or to any lands other than those used for agricultural purposes.The sole object of this clause, according to hon. Gentlemen opposite, is to relieve those who have suffered by the agricultural depression, and therefore I hold that its benefits should not be extended to land held by a Corporation or other Public Body, which may be very wealthy. Neither should it be extended to land used for other than purely agricultural or pastoral purposes. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has been good enough to show me some words the Government would be willing to accept, but they would cover lands used for the growth of underwood and timber. I venture to submit that there has been no depreciation in the value of timber or underwood, and therefore there is no reason why such land should come within the operation of this clause. Land devoted to this purpose is often used for purely ornamental purposes, and I do not think that the present tithe 1550 owners would be willing that tithe should be remitted in such cases. In order to get an expression of opinion from the right hon. Gentleman I beg to move the addition of the words I have indicated.
Amendment proposed, in page 4, line 15, at the end, to add the words—
Or held by a Corporation or public body, or to any lands other than those used for purely agricultural or pastoral purposes."—(Mr. S. T. Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (5.50.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I certainly do not see why any distinction should be made as to the ownership of land benefitting under the clause. A Corporation or Public Body includes, of course, a College, and I may ask why should land held by a College for public purposes—for educational purposes, for instance—not profit by the provisions of this clause equally with land held by private persons. I cannot think the hon. Member will attempt to defend such a distinction. If he will abandon that part of his Amendment, I shall be happy to limit the operation of this clause to land used solely for agricultural or pastoral purposes, or for the growth of timber or underwood. That would avoid the possible inclusion in the clause not only of land used for building purposes, but also of land which the owner has wasted, and in regard to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington had intended to raise a discussion in Committee. But I must insist on the inclusion of land used for the growth of timber or underwood, because if the hon. Member had happened to be the owner of a coppice or wood, he would have been aware of the great deterioration in value—a deterioration as serious as that which has befallen other classes of land. If the hon. Member wishes to take issue on the first words of his Amendment, I hope the Committee will not agree to them.
§ (5.52.) MR. C. W. GRAY
I am glad to find myself in accord on this point with the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. I think corporations ought to be admitted to the benefits of the Bill. I do not wish to be unfair to the tithe owner, and I think it would be unfair to let the owner of a coal-pit or 1551 mine, who wastes the land by putting slag or rubbish upon it, reap the benefit of this clause.
§ (5.54.) MR. G.OSBORNE MORGAN
Are we to understand the words are to run: "This section shall not apply to any land except that used for pastoral or agricultural purposes, or for the growth of timber or underwood?"
§ MR. PICTON
I cannot quite see what all this means. I thought these conditions were being imposed in the interests of those who have suffered from the agricultural depression, but the inclusion of timber and underwood is going beyond mere agriculture, and therefore I hope my Friend will persist in his opposition to it.
§ (5.55.) SIR J. SWINBURNE
The main value of underwood is that it supplies fencing for the estate; there is now practically no sale for it, its value being so small. When the Tithe Commutation Act was passed a good price could be got for it, as there were heavy Import Duties on foreign timber, but now most of the timber used for building comes from the Baltic and America, and one of the chief uses of underwood is to protect and shelter growing crops and flocks and herds.
(5.57.) MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
There is one strong reason why underwood should not be included. The object of the clause is solely to meet the changed conditions of agriculture. Now the changes have only affected corn lands, and have not affected the land on which underwood is grown. I believe underwood is worth just as much now as it was in 1836.
§ MR. H. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
I should not have interfered in this Debate, had it not been for the extraordinary ignorance of the hon. Member who last spoke. I can corroborate what has fallen from the hon. Baronet the Member for Lichfield, as to the immense fall in the value of underwood. In the hop counties we grow underwood, simply because it is possible to get a supply of poles, and that is its main value. Indeed it is a regular agricultural crop.
§ (5.58.) MR. PICTON
As we here do not possess landed estates, I think we are able to come to an impartial 1552 decision on this subject, for we do not hope to put any money in our own pockets, nor do we desire to benefit our class. It appears to me it is not the poor agriculturist whom you are relieving of the burden of the tithe, but it seems the whole tendency of the Bill is to destroy the security of the nation's property.
§ (5.59.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I will give only one illustration to prove the necessity of including land used for the growth of underwood. Seven years ago underwood for hoops was worth £17 or £18 per acre; now it fetches only £5.
§ MR. STUART RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)
I hope that with regard to the first part of his Amendment my hon. Friend will give way, but as to the latter part I trust he will divide the Committee. Underwood may be used for agricultural purposes, and its value may have greatly depreciated, but such land is not generally occupied by the poorer tenants. It is generally held by the owners of the estate, and there is therefore no necessity to include it in this clause.
§ (6.0.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I am prepared to withdraw the first six words of my Amendment, but I still object to the words "or for the growth of timber or underwood." No answer has been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, to the assertion that these words would apply to lands used for the purpose of growing timber for ornamental purposes. Although many of us on these Benches are not the happy possessors of land, we know something about underwood, as we have been able to show in the course of this discussion. Hon. Members have not advanced any bonâ fide argument in favour of this clause. The sole argument used in favour of the clause is that it is designed to aid those people who are suffering from agricultural depression, and notwithstanding what the Attorney General has said, no case has been made out for a remission of tithe in the case of the growers of underwood, and certainly not for the growers of timber.
§ (6.2.) SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
It is quite evident the hon. Gentleman does not know as much about underwood as about tithe, I have had 25 years experience of the growing of underwood, and during the last five years we have had a depression in the sale of underwood which never before 1553 occurred in the history of that vast produce. The underwood on land which I have had to manage used to yield, for a ten years' cutting, from £1,000 to £1,100 per 100 acres: now, an average crop of 10 years' growth is only worth from £300 to £400. Consequently you will see that when you have calculated the cost per acre—the cost of planting and maintenance—and the rates and tithes, there is less than nothing left for the owner. I could give a thousand instances in the County of Kent which have come under my personal observation during the last five years, which prove that there is a very great depression in the sale of underwood. I can also tell the hon. Gentleman of cases in which Assessment Committees have, within the last two years, reduced the rating of underwood by 60 per cent. Nothing can prove more clearly the truth of what I have said than such action on the part of Assessment Committees. I assure the hon. Member he is entirely wrong.
§ (6.4.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I am obliged to the hon. Baronet for his information with regard to underwood; but then my argument as to timber is not touched at all. I fail to see why a remission should be made in the case of the growers of timber. If I bought silver some years ago, when the price was high, I do not see why now, when silver has depreciated in value, I should have my loss made up out of the public purse.
§ (6.5.) SIR J. GOLDSMID
I should like to point out how extremely inconsistent the Hon. Member is. The other day when the hon. Member for Maldon moved to increase the amount of reduction which was to be given by the tithe owner from one-third to one-half, the hon. Member voted for the Amendment.
§ SIR J. GOLDSMID
The hon. Member voted for the Amendment with the object of inserting the words "one-half." When the hon. Member has had a little more practical experience of Parliament he will know what hon. Members mean when they vote for the omission of words. The other day I stated that I objected not only to "one-half" but to 1554 "one-third," and that I intended to vote against the whole clause. I consider the principle of the clause wrong. But, nevertheless, if you apply it to agriculture you ought to apply it to underwood. If the hon. Member would like information with regard to timber I can give him a little. I have watched the timber market very continuously. About 15 years ago the price of oak per foot was about 3s. Five years, four years, and three years ago the price was about 1s. 6d per foot. There has been a slight rise since then, and now I should say the price is about 2s., or about two-thirds what it was 15 years ago. And oak governs all the rest of the timber trade, consequently you can easily ascertain what the relative values of the different classes of timber are. What I said about underwood is accurate. I will give the hon Member the names of the Assessment Committees if he would like to hear them. Certainly nothing has suffered so much from depression as the value of underwood.
§ (6.8.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
The argument of the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Goldsmid), as indeed all the arguments against the Amendment, have related to timber or underwood regarded as an article of commerce. I can understand there has been depression, but it must be borne in mind that a great deal of the timber that is grown in England is grown for ornamental purposes and for sporting purposes. It seems to me monstrous that timber grown for purely sporting or ornamental purposes should be entitled to the benefit of this remission.
§ (6.9.) MR. H. R. FARQUHARSON
The hon. Member for Glamorganshire says the remission is granted owing to the agricultural depression. I do not understand that to be the case. We were told the other night that the remission is intended as an inducement to landlords to keep their land in cultivation. Such an inducement would apply to underwood with equal force, because landlords who find the tithe very nearly exceeding the total annual value of the underwood, will be apt to cast the underwood on the hands of the tithe owner. As in some cases, 14 years have to elapse before any profit is derived from underwood, I think the tithe owner would be a sufferer if he were to take underwood in hand.
§ (6.10.) VISCOUNT WOLMER
I, like my hon. Friend (Sir J. Goldsmid), object altogether to the principle of the clause. I do not believe any case has been made out for agriculturists to have this remission given them. A great many mythical cases have been presented to us, but not an actual one. But if you admit the principle of the clause, as I understand the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. S. Evans) does, I cannot understand why you should except underwood. Hazel and ash are just as much a crop as oats or barley.
§ (6.11.) MR. S. T. EVANS
There seems to be some misunderstanding as to why I supported the Amendment of the hon. Member for Maldon. My position is perfectly clear. I voted for the omission of the words "two-thirds," and reserved the right of voting as I pleased upon words which might be proposed in their place, and if the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Goldsmid) had taken the trouble to read the Amendments he would have seen I had given notice of my intention to move the omission of Clause 3 entirely.
The hon. Member cannot amend his own Amendment. It would be more convenient for him to withdraw this Amendment and then propose to amend the Government's proposal.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed, in page 4, line 14, to leave out from the word "lands," to the end of the Clause, and insert the words—
Other than those used solely for agricultural or pastoral purposes, or for the growth of timber or underwood."—(Sir Michael Hicks Beach.)
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "or for the growth of timber or underwood."—(Mr. S. T. Evans).
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment."
§ (6.15.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 179; Noes 112.—(Div. List, No. 28.)1556
§ Words added.
§ (6.25.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I now propose to add these words: "Nor to any lands except those occupied by the owners thereof." The object of this Amendment is very clear. It is, in a word, to make the clause a yeomans' clause. It is admitted on all hands that the bargain made by the landlords in 1836 was a good bargain and it cannot be shown why the landlord should be relieved from tithe. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said the other evening that this clause was intended to apply to the yeomanry only. I propose to make it a yeomanry clause and nothing else. The right hon. Gentleman said the owner ought to have enough out of his land to keep it in cultivation. I would not go so far as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton), who says that in no case ought you to make any remission in tithe. If it can be shown that the effect of keeping tithe at its present amount will be to throw land out of cultivation, that is an evil which ought to be remedied, and these words would have the desired effect as far as the land of yeomen is concerned. I claim the support of the hon. Member for Leicester, and that also of the noble Lord the Member for Darwen (Viscount Cranborne), who said the other evening that we ought not to reduce tithe by one penny, except in so far as it would prevent land going out of cultivation. Of course I shall have the support of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Gray), because he speaks merely on behalf of the yeomen farmers. Let me give the Committee a few figures. Take a case in which a farm is worth £150 a year, and the tithe is £125, leaving a margin for the rent of £25. It is proposed by this clause that tithe shall be reduced to £100. The result would be to put £25 into the pockets of the landlord without benefitting anybody else. I think, therefore, the clause ought to be confined to those cases where the owner himself occupies.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 4, to add, after the words last added, the words "Nor to any lands except those occupied by the owners thereof."—(Mr. S. T. Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."1557
§ (6.27.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
My argument was, and is, that there should be a sufficient margin, which is supposed to be allowed for by this clause, for keeping the land in cultivation. The hon. Member does not seem to know what is required in order that land shall be kept in cultivation. It is not merely the possession of agricultural implements or stock, or the power to pay wages; there must be besides, the keeping up of buildings, drainage, fencing, and all the other things which fall on the owner of the land, and not on the tenant. This clause proposes to make the necessary allowance to the owner of land whether he lets or occupies it. The hon Member proposes to make it penal for an owner to let his land. Does the hon. Member wish indirectly to discourage tenant farmers throughout the country? Because that would be the only practical effect of this proposal on the very class which I suppose he desires to encourage. I cannot imagine that he will persist in what would be a gross and unreasonable injustice, and I oppose the Amendment.
§ (6.29.) MR. C. W. GRAY
Of course, I oppose the Amendment, and I merely rise to say that the hon. Member erred in stating that my interest in this question has been merely on behalf of the yeoman farmers. I think I have made it plain from first to last that I have at heart the interests of the farmers generally.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Question proposed, "That Clause 3, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ (6.33.) MR. S. T. EVANS
It is my intention to take a division against the clause, and I hope I may have the support of the noble Lord the Member for Darwen (Lord Cranborne), and others who, in their discussions, have spoken against the clause. The circumstances attending agriculture in this country have not, in any material degree, changed since 1887; and it seems to me that an argument made use of in that year by the Prime Minister in another place, goes directly to the exclusion of this clause. Upon the First Reading of the Tithes Bill introduced in 1887 the Prime Minister said—There was no ground for the misconception that landlords had made a bad bargain in 1836. 1558 The bargain of 1836 was a good one for landowners, and it remained a good one still.Now, of course the Prime Minister would not in any case make a hazardous statement, and it cannot be that he did so in this instance, because he repeated it at another stage of the Bill when he went into the matter more fully. Replying to the Duke of Marlborough, he said—He had a distinct opinion that the landowners had no case whatever. His impression was that if anyone had to complain it was the tithe owner.The noble Lord opposite (Lord Cranborne), it seems, holds a brief for the clerical tithe owner. The Prime Minister went on to say—The whole fall had been in the price of grain, and he very much doubted if there had been any fall at all in the price of green crops or of stock. That made it all the worse for those who came into the arrangement of 1836. If there was any case at all, it was on behalf of the clergy and not against them.Then again on another occasion, when the Bill was in Committee, the Prime Minister spoke strongly on the matter. Replying to an Amendment moved by Lord Brabourne, he said—The settlement of 1836 is more advantageous to the land-owner than if he remained under the old law. The noble Lord did not make out the shadow of a case for re-opening the question of valuation and tearing up the bargain which Parliament made in 1836.''That is abundant testimony from the Prime Minister that landowners have no ground for complaint or reason for altering the bargain of 1836. I have pointed out on another occasion during these discussions that the Government abandons the Tory respect for contracts, and sweeps away contracts that are prejudicial to the interests of the landowners, while it keeps strictly to those which are beneficial to the landowner. Take the case of the lay tithe owner. Of course, on account of the object for which the Bill was introduced, to put down the tithe agitation in Wales—an object, let me say in parenthesis, the Bill will not accomplish—on account of that avowed object, the discussions have proceeded on the assumption that the main part of the tithe is received by clerical tithe owners, but, of course, there are lay impropriators. What happens in that case? A lay impropriator may have bought the tithe only last year, and yet you deduct 1559 33⅓ per cent. from the income of one private individual and hand it over to another private individual. I do not see the justice of such a proceeding, and on that ground, and on the larger ground that no sufficient case has been made out for reduction of tithe, I propose to divide against the clause.
§ (6.40.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 182; Noes 103.—(Div. List, No. 29.)
§ (6.49.) Clause 4.
§ Verbal Amendments made.
§ (6.50.) MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Newington, W.)
I desire to move an Amendment to line 21, as follows:—And any corn-rent in lieu of tithe rent-charge paid by virtue of any Local Act which has not been converted into tithe rent-charge under the Act of 1860.I move this in consequence of an answer I received a day or two ago when I inquired if these corn-rents would come within the operation of the Bill. I was informed by the right hon. Gentleman they would not. Now, there are many parishes in this country in which tithe rent-charge is not levied, but there are corn-rents fixed by Local Acts of Parliament. In one parish where I have a little landed interest tithe takes this form under an Act of 1795, and from that day to this the rents have been readjusted every 14 years. This Bill does not propose in any way to affect the valuation of tithe, it is merely a recovery of tithe Bill, a Bill for facilitating the securing of the tithe. In these circumstances it seems desirable that tithepayers and tithe owners, in a parish affected by a Local Act such as I speak of, should not be deprived of the benefits of the Bill. The tenant should go to the landlord and say, "In future you must pay the tithe," and the rector should be able to recover from the landowner in the County Court. I see no reason whatever why this should not be so, and I see no difficulty in practice why these corn-rents should not be under this Act. It is true that by agreement among the tithepayers and tithe owners in a parish they can come under Section 1 of the Act of 1860, and convert these corn-rents into tithe rent-charge; but in the instance with which I am familiar there seems to be no disposition of payers and owners to 1560 take advantage of that Act, nor is there any reason why they should be compelled to do so. The Bill does not affect the valuation and apportionment of corn-rents in any way, it merely gives facilities which I think ought to be availed of in these cases, and I hope on reflection the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment.
Amendment proposed, in line 30, after the word aforesaid to insert the words—
And any corn-rent in lieu of tithe, by virtue of any Local Act of Parliament which has not been converted into a rent-charge under the Tithe Act, 1860."—(Mr. Radcliffe Cooke.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (6.55.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
There are hundreds of these Local Acts, and it is not too much to say that hardly two of them are identical. The circumstances vary to an extraordinary degree, and though no doubt in principle it is desirable that the same law should govern all these matters, it is in practice impossible to apply it in this way, just as it was to apply other Amendments of the Act of 1836 to all these Acts. The proper way is to take advantage of the first section of the Act of 1860. That Act provides that wherever corn-rents are payable by virtue of these. Local Acts, and such corn-rents are subject to variations at certain periods, parties may apply to the Commissioners, and obtain commutation under the Act of 1836, at any time when the revision of the corn rents takes place, and in some cases this is the way these rents have been dealt with. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment.
§ (6.56.) MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE
I think the right hon. Gentleman has somewhat misapprehended the case. If it be true, as he says it is, that there are hundreds of these cases, then there are that number of parishes where the parties have not availed themselves of the Act of 1860, for some reasons that seems good to themselves. That there are so many cases still extant, shows that neither tithe owners or tithepayers desire to avail themselves of the Act of 1860. I suppose the Government considered these cases when contemplating an amendment of the Tithe Act. I may conclude they 1561 did so, and I should have thought it would have been desirable to deal with them under this Bill, without alteration in the valuation or incidence of the rents. However, as the Government refuse the Amendment, I do not press it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (7.30.) SIR J. SWINBURNE
I beg to move the insertion after the word "pasture" of the words "nor a rent-charge payable to any impropriator or corporation." Last Session the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill gave us a notable account of the poor clergy in Wales and in many parts of England, who he said were practically starving because they could not collect their tithes. Well, I wish to restrict this Bill to the poor clergy. Why should the lay impropriator—and I am one myself—and why should the great corporations have any relief? Colleges and corporations who own enormous quantities of these tithes never lay out one farthing upon the land from which the tithes are derived. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who are now holding enormous quantities of land, to the great detriment of the country, because they do not know how to invest the enormous sums they have in their hands. They do nothing to improve the land, and do not contribute a penny towards drainage or building. As a matter of justice, I do not think the tithe owner should be called on to receive the tithe in a new shape, while the tithepayer should be called on to collect the tithe. At present the tithe owner is spending from 5 to 10 per cant. in collecting his tithes, even in the most peaceable districts. When the Bill passes, he will practically get them collected for him by the landowner, besides having the tithe made the first charge on the land.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 4, line 33, after the word "pasture," to insert the words "nor a rent-charge payable to any lay impropriator or corporation."—(Sir J. Swinburne.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (7.4.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I do not know whether I rightly gathered from the speech of the hon. Baronet that he himself is a tithepayer to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Well, then, this Amendment, if passed, will have the effect of preventing the Ecclesiastical Commissioners from recovering the tithe from him, and compelling them to distrain upon his tenants. I am also a tithepayer to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the view of the hon. Member does not commend itself to me as just.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ (7.5.) MR. H. R. FARQUHARSON
The object of the Amendment which stands in my name is to extend Clause 4. I propose that no notice shall be taken of rents arising from sporting rights. I think we may well ask the Government to accept this Amendment, so as to prevent the tithe owner being placed in a better position, as far as sporting rights are concerned, than he was before.
Amendment proposed in page 4, line 37, at end of Clause, to add the words—
The expression 'rents and profits' in this Act shall not apply to rents and profits arising from any sporting rights."—(Mr. H. R. Farquharson.)
§ Question proposed, ''That those words be there inserted."
§ (7.6.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I cannot think that my hon. Friend has quite considered what the effect of the Amendment will be. If it passes, and the proprietor uses his land as a rabbit-warren, he will free himself of the tithe. That does not seem to me to be a way of meeting the present agricultural depression.
§ (7.7) MR. H. R. FARQUHARSON
I have, of course, anticipated that objection, but my Amendment would only apply to sporting rights, where the land is also let for agricultural purposes. These would only be exceptional cases in which the land would be turned into a rabbit-warren, and I do not think that for the sake of such exceptional cases the tithe owners of the country should be 1563 given a lien upon the sporting rights of the landowners.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5.
§ (7.8.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I beg to move the next Amendment on the Paper, namely, to leave out "becomes payable," and insert "commences to accrue." I do not know whether the Government intend that the Act should be retrospective in its character, but legislation is not often made retrospective where the rights of parties are concerned, and that would be the effect if the clause is passed as it stands. It would be so if tithe was payable on the 28th of February, and the Bill became law on the 1st of March. I hope the Government will see their way to adopt the suggestion I have made, particularly in view of the time it would take to adopt the necessary County Court rules, and to appreciate the changes effected.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 4, line 39, to leave out the words "becomes payable," and insert the words "commences to accrue."—(Mr. S. T. Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ (7.10.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I do not think it would be fair to say that the words of the clause make the Act retrospective. The Amendment which has been placed on the Paper by the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Bryn Roberts) would have that effect, but of course we cannot discuss that now. The Act would only apply as it stands to every sum on account of tithe rent-charge, which first become payable on the half-yearly tithe paying day, which comes next after the passing of the Act. That appears to me to be a fair and proper date for the commencement of the Act. The effect of the Amendment would be to postpone the operation of the Bill for six months. I think that would be in every degree undesirable. The matter has been long before Parliament, and I think every one is prepared for a change. Three months must elapse before proceedings can be taken.
§ (7.11.) SIR J. SWINBURNE
I should like the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that the contract between the landlord and tenant has been torn up, and therefore some reasonable notice ought to be given to the tenant of the coming into force of a new one.
§ SIR J. GOLDSMID
Is it true that tithe rent-charge becomes payable only on the 1st of January and the 1st of July? [Cries of "No!"] I am informed so; and, if that be the case, the supposititious case put by the hon. Member for Glamorganshire would not of course apply. This Act should be brought into force at once and no exceptions should be made.
§ (7.13.) MR. STUART RENDEL
If this Act were simply for the purpose of improving the process of recovery, I think the position of the Government would be one to which we should all give in. But it is really more than that. It is an Act for altering the whole status of tithes in the most complicated way, and no doubt landlords and tenants will require time to reconcile themselves to the new condition of things. It seems hardly consistent with the gravity of the change Parliament is contemplating, that it should come into operation with the suddenness that the Government propose. I hope the decision of the right hon. Gentleman is not final on this point. I cannot help believing that if the matters were more considered the value of the Amendment would be recognized. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reserve this Amendment for further consideration on the Report stage of the Bill.
§ (7.15.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I think the Government can hardly have thought of the great change this Bill will effect in the relations of the parties. If it merely altered the process of recovery, it might reasonably come into operation at once; but, as has been, pointed out, it does a great deal more than that, and will involve readjustments and rearrangements, which cannot be carried out without time being allowed for that purpose.
§ (7.16.) MR. ROUND (Essex, N.E., Harwich)
I think the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Goldsmid) is in error as to the date when tithe is due. For my part of England it is payable on the 1st of 1565 April and the 1st of October. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman (Sir M. Hicks Beach) at what date this Bill will come into operation?
§ (7.17.) MR. S. T. EVANS
The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that the Act ought not to be retrospective in its character; but he has not answered the question I put. As it affects the relationship between landlord and tenant, I do not think the Bill ought to come into operation on its passing. I say that if tithe becomes payable on the 28th of February, and this Bill receives the Royal Assent on the next day, it will be retrospective in its character. I do not think this point has been sufficiently considered by the Government, and I press it further upon their consideration.
§ (7.18.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Of course, any point that is raised will have the consideration of the Government, and I will consider this question further; but I am bound to say I do not at present see any reason whatever for accepting the Amendment.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
(7.19.) MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS
I do not intend to move the Amendment on the same point which stands in my name.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 14, after the word "shall," to insert the words "as respects any sum becoming due after the passing of this Act."—(Sir M. Hicks Beach.)
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 6.
§ (7.20.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I now move an Amendment with the object of excluding Wales from the operation of the Bill. My reason for moving the Amendment is because we are all agreed, and have been, that it is to do away with the disturbances which have taken place in the Principality that the Bill has been introduced. The Government would never have touched the subject at all unless they had been 1566 guided by the so-called agitation in Wales; but the Bill is of such a character that instead of allaying the effects of this agitation it will add to them. Instead of assuaging the ill-feeling which exists it will embitter the relations between the Church and the Nonconformists—and goodness knows they are bitter enough already. What course will be followed in the future by conscientious Nonconformists? Why, they will refuse to pay tithes just as their fathers refused to pay Church rates. The Nonconformists have hitherto refused to pay; they decline to pay at the present time, and in the future they will continue to refuse to pay. What will the Government gain by the 2nd clause, which is the main operative part of the measure? They will be creating litigation where there was none before. As things stand at present the course of the tithe owner is clear. All he has to do is to give his notice and to distrain, but under the Bill he will have to take his parishioner into Court—and surely nothing will tend less to allay ill-feeling between a farmer and his parson than such a thing at that. And what will become of the litigation created by the Bill? When you have gone through all the processes of the County Court you will be precisely where you are now, the only difference being that whereas at present the tithe is collected by the agents of the tithe owner, they will be collected by the officer of the Court. What has happened before would happen now. The person who on principle has hitherto objected to pay will still refuse to pay, and the effect of the measure will be, not to put the Church in Wales on its legs, but to bring discredit on the administration of justice by associating that administration with the maintenance of an unpopular and anti-national Church. For those reasons it seems to me that the Bill, so far as it applies to Wales, is a mistake, and I therefore venture to recommend my proposal to the House. If English Members want the Bill, let them have it, but as to Wales it is not required, either by tithe owner or tithepayer, and fails to effect the object for which it has been introduced. I do not care to go into the matter further, as on Friday fortnight, under the Motion of which the hon. 1567 Member for Merthyr gave notice a short time ago, we shall have an opportunity of discussing the whole question, and of showing on what a frail basis the Church in Wales rests. In the meantime, because I think the Bill will fail in the main object with which it has been introduced, I move the Amendment to exclude the Principality from its operation.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 18, after the word "to," to insert the word "Wales."—(Mr. G. Osborne Morgan.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'Wales' be there inserted."
§ (7.25.) MR. J. L. MORGAN (Carmarthen, W.)
I do not propose to say more than a few words on this Amendment. When the Bill was read a second time I opposed it, and stated my reasons for offering opposition. Those reasons are as strong now as they were then. I ventured on that occasion to point out to the House that the Government in bringing forward the Bill would, so far as Wales was concerned—and I am dealing simply with the question of Wales now—fail in the object they had in view. I ventured to point out that the Welsh clergy when they came to understand the operation of the Bill would oppose it. Since then a large body of Conservatives and clergymen in Pembrokeshire have met together for the purpose of discussing the Bill, and I think I am right in saying that the view they took was hostile to the Bill. I put it to the Government, that in the interests of the the body they are so anxious to benefit, it would be well for them to consider whether it would not be wise of them to accept the Amendment of my right hon. Friend. The clergy in Pembrokeshire came to the conclusion that the County Court was a very unsatisfactory remedy, and one reverend gentleman—a rural dean, I think—expressed a strong feeling against procedure through the medium of the County Court. These clergymen if not very numerous were certainly very representative. They expressed very strong disapproval of the Bill, and I, therefore, put it to the Government that it would be well for them to consider even at the last stage of the measure the advisability of accepting this proposal.
§ (7.28.) THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES, Cambridge University)
I will imitate the example of the two hon. Members who preceded me, and will not detain the House more than a moment from arriving at a conclusion. The Committee has, I think, shown that it regards this Amendment as an exceedingly bad joke, and one that has fallen extremely flat. Anyone with any real sense of humour would, I think, have been unable to put on the Paper such an Amendment; because, really, the only light in which it can be treated is with good-humoured ridicule. The fact is pretty well known, that it was the disturbances in Wales which first called attention to the question of the tithes, and which induced Her Majesty's Government to deal with it. They have taken up the question, and have dealt with it not in a provincial way but on a national basis. They have not confined the Bill to Wales, but have made it a general measure affecting the whole country. The right hon. Gentleman opposite proposes to exclude from the operation of the Bill that portion of Her Majesty's dominions to which it seems certainly to be most applicable, and I am glad that he has shown the country in so plain and unmistakeable a manner the way in which he and his friends are disposed to treat this measure, although I am still charitable enough to believe that he and they are not perfectly in earnest in the proposal he has, at the last moment, introduced. I hope, therefore, that other hon. Members, who have conducted these discussions in a very different spirit, and who have argued the different points brought forward with great moderation, and without any undue animus or violence, will not be disposed to assist the right hon. Gentleman in the course he is pursuing. I am glad, however, that the Motion has been made, because it clearly shows the nature of the opposition the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, are disposed to offer to the Bill, and that when Her Majesty's Government proposed to relieve the occupiers throughout the Kingdom from the payment of the tithe the Welsh Members on the other side of the House desire to exclude from the operation of the measure the occupiers in their portion of the country.
§ (7.29.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly welcome to any advantage he may hope to derive from the course I have felt it my duty to adopt; but I tell him I doubt very much whether he will find a single Member from Wales who will be found in the same Lobby with him when the Division is taken upon this Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman who lives some part of the year in Wales is not himself a Welsh Member; and I think he will find that he is absolutely unsupported by the Representatives of Welsh constituencies.
§ (7.30.) SIR HUSSEY VIVIAN (Swansea, District)
I am glad, Sir, that at last it has been clearly and distinctly stated for the first time by a Member of Her Majesty's Government that this Bill has been in reality launched at the Principality of Wales. We have all known this for some time, but, up to the present moment, we have had no distinct declaration of the fact from the Front Bench opposite. Now, however, the avowal has been made, I quite concur with my right hon. Friend (Mr. G. O. Morgan) in asserting his belief that there is not a single Welsh Member who will vote for this Bill. For, after all, what is the Bill? It is a paternal measure, emanating from the extreme goodness of the English Government, who are endeavouring to impose their own views on the Principality. Has Wales asked for this measure? Have there been any Petitions in favour of such a Bill? I have heard of none, and I doubt whether there has been a single Petition from Wales demanding such a measure. We are accustomed, when other measures of importance are brought forward, to almost innumerable Petitions, both for and against, but in this case there has been no desire whatever on the part of the Welsh people to be legislated for in this mariner, and after this Division has been taken—for I have no doubt my right hon. Friend intends to divide the Committee upon his Amendment—[Mr. G. OSBORNE MORGAN: Hear, hear!]—it will be made quite clear that the unanimous opinion of the Representatives of Wales is against the measure which is now being forced upon their country by the English Government.
§ (7.33.) MR. ABEL THOMAS (Carmarthen, E.)
I should like to say a 1570 word or two on this matter before the Division is taken. I quite concur in what the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment has just stated, and I would add that if the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Raikes), when he next goes down to Wales, is able to find any gentleman who will be affected by this measure in favour of it, he ought to put that individual in a glass case, and bring him up here as a curiosity. In point of fact, no one in Wales desires this measure; it is not wanted by the landlords; the Welsh parson does not want it; and the tenant has no wish for it. The tenant in whose benefit, together with that of the landlord, it is to be passed, says he does not want it, and it will do him no good. If it does affect the tenant in any way it will merely be by preventing him from being able to protest against the payment of tithes, as he has hitherto done. But even then he will find a mode of protesting against this measure. I see no reason why I should alter the opinion I expressed at the time. My hon. Friend the Member for West Carnarvon, and others near me, spoke upon the subject a long time ago; and it seems to me that now, after what the right hon. Member opposite (Mr. Raikes) has said, every Welsh Member in this House will be found voting in favour of the Amendment, and against the entire principle of the Bill.
§ (7.36.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
I only interpose in order to say that I think my right hon. Friend ought to be grateful to the hon. Member who has just spoken for having shown what is the object of the Welsh tenant farmers. He tells us that their object is to continue their protest against the Tithe Bill, I suppose in a manner which, as a general rule, involves a breach of the peace. That kind of protest will be taken away from the tenants by this Bill, and although the hon. Member says the tenants gain nothing by the measure, I think the rest of the House will agree that they will gain at least in the following particulars: First of all, the landlords will be called upon to pay the tithe rent-charge instead of the tenants; next, the clergyman or tithe owner will not be able to distrain as hitherto upon the farmer for non-payment of the tithe, but will apply to the landlords direct; and last, if the 1571 tenant farmer has to pay the tithe under his contract instead of having to do it within 21 days he will have a period of three months. If these are not deemed vantages by the Welsh farmers they must be very differently constituted from other people in the United Kingdom.
§ (7.38.) MR. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
I should like to ask the hon. Member who has just spoken from the Opposite Benches whether if he were asked to give up a portion of his revenues and receive nothing for it, he would be the less ready to protest against that proceeding? The Welsh Members are glad to have it avowed once for all from the Treasury Bench—[Interruption.] If hon. Members who interrupt me only knew what it was to think in Welsh and speak in English, they would be inclined to make more allowances for what I say. I was stating that we were glad to find it avowed from the Treasury Bench that this Bill has been brought forward with special reference to Wales. We thought so long ago, and now we find we have been right in that opinion. We now find that the disturbances in Wales have been the means of obtaining the intervention of the Government in this matter, and I should like to ask the Government in all seriousness whether it is their intention by this Bill to perpetuate as a legal right in our Principality, that which the Welsh people consider to be an extreme moral wrong. That is the difference between the Welsh tithepayers and those resident in the rest of the United Kingdom. They regard the tithe as an extreme moral wrong, because they are compelled to pay that impost irrespective of any benefit they are thereby enabled to derive. The House will probably pardon me for putting before it a few facts as to the real condition of things in that portion of the Principality where the disturbance originated. I will, in the first instance, refer to a report which appeared on the 13th of December last in the Western Mail, which, although a Tory paper, and therefore one which we could not expect to exaggerate on the side of the Nonconformists, is a paper which is nevertheless very fair in its reports on Welsh national questions It says— 1572The condition of the Church in the rural districts of the Principality of Wales is anything but satisfactory.Further on the writer refers to a paragraph hat appeared in a Northamptonshire paper on the 31st of October last, respecting the National Church, and gives the population, the number of the clergy, the number of Churchmen, and the number of churches in eight districts in Pembrokeshire, one of the districts in which the disturbances first occurred. The report then goes on to say that in Bavil Parish, with a population of 140, the living was valued at £104; there were two Churchmen in the parish, the rest of the people having to go to another parish for their religious service. In another parish, with a population of 143, the living is valued at £103, there are no Churchmen at all in the parish, and the 143 individuals have to go elsewhere for religious purposes.
Order, order! I do not see how this can be relevant to the question before the Committee.
§ MR. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
With all due deference, I am endeavouring to explain that the people residing in the districts where the disturbances occurred are compelled to pay a tithe for which they receive no service whatever.
§ MR. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
Therefore, I conclude that Wales ought to be excluded from the operation of this Bill. Receiving no service at all, it is a moral wrong to place these people in a position of being compelled to pay tithes, and to lay them open to imprisonment also.
§ (7.47.) MR. S. T. EVANS
Sir, I will venture to say a few words in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, who, with the two hon. Members behind him, appear to know little about the Principality. The right hon. Gentleman was inclined to indulge in a little prophecy. I also will indulge in a little prophecy. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that this Bill will put an end to the tithe agitation in Wales. It will do nothing of the kind. This Bill will be an exceedingly useful Bill to us when we become the owners of this public property, but the tenant 1573 farmers have nothing to thank the Government for in this Bill. The Government thought to repress the tenant farmers by this Bill, and if the right hon. Gentleman were to go to Wales he would find that he had very little power of persuasion over them. The right hon. Gentleman has gone to Wales on many previous occasions, but he has not been able to bring back one Tory Member to represent the tenant farmers of that country.
§ (7.50.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
The hon. Member for Stockport has said that the farmers, in protesting against the tithes, have committed breaches of the peace. I venture to say that the hon. Member knows nothing about these disturbances, or that he has read the reports of some prejudiced paper. These tithe disturbances have been grossly exaggerated. For instance, there was a tithe disturbance lately in the County of Denbigh; a great fuss was made about it, and the military were sent to quell the rioters. They were sent absolutely without necessity. An inquiry was instituted into the facts of the matter with this result: that it was proved that no violence whatever was offered to anybody, and that the crowd at no period of the whole proceedings exceeded 100, including women and children. Yet to quell that formidable disturbance—that terrible riot—the military were called out. During the Recess I had the opportunity of witnessing tithe sales, and I never saw any disturbance. On the contrary, they were of a most orderly character. The police were represented by a constable and a superintendent, and never for a moment had the superintendent cause to regret his trust in the discretion of the people. At the end of the proceeding he thanked the people, who were protesting against the tithes, for their orderly conduct. These disturbances have been exaggerated in a most monstrous and gross manner; find I believe, as far as they are concerned, there is no necessity whatever for this Bill. Here we have been wasting a fortnight of this Session, after having waited day after day of previous Sessions, while the invaluable time of the nation has been wasted in another place, simply for the purpose of suppressing a few expressions of opinions, a few emphatic protests by the farmers of Wales against 1574 what they consider to be an injustice. Legislation for the benefit of the working classses has been postponed and blocked by a miserable Bill of this kind. This Bill should not apply to Wales, because it does remedy the evils of which the Welsh people complain. Our grievance in Wales is not that the method of enforcing the tithe is not as efficacious as it might be. We have not complained that the costs are not burdensome enough. We have not petitioned Parliament for the County Court process for the recovery of tithe. On the contrary. Our grievance is this: that tithe, which is national property, is at the present moment applied to the purposes of a sect which is the least influential and does the least work of all the religious denominations in Wales.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I submit to your ruling, Sir. I support the Amendment of my hon. Friend because there is absolutely no necessity for this Bill, and because it does not remedy the grievances of Wales.
§ (7.55.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 93; Noes 140.—(Div. List, No. 30.)
§ (8.3.) MR. H. GARDNER
The Amendment which stands in my name is to insert the word "England," and the effect of that proceeding would be to exclude England from the operation of the Bill. I do not know whether the Postmaster General will see in this proposal a secret or recondite jest, but I tell him I mean it in grim and solemn earnest. I take a deep interest in this Bill, which I may point out was never asked for by England. We have had it from the Postmaster General, whose name is on the back of the Bill, that the measure was brought forward to meet certain difficulties in the Principality of Wales, where the collection of the tithe rent-charge had led to most regrettable riots. We did not ask for the Bill in England. The Bill, which is one of a series of many which the Government have endeavoured to pass, was brought forward solely and absolutely in order to put down the riots in Wales. To use the right hon. Gentleman's, the Postmaster General's, own words, it is to facilitate the collection of tithe rent-charge. Why 1575 on earth then has it been imposed upon us? I believe the sole reason for including England was because Her Majesty's Government found it convenient to extend the operation of the Bill to the whole of England, and England has been penalised solely in order that Her Majesty's Government may not be taunted with having brought in a Coercion Bill for Wales as well as for Ireland. This, I repeat, has been done simply for the convenience of the Government. The agricultural classes in this country have for many years past supported the leaders of the Conservative Party, and I am glad that they will be able to see now in what their support at last has landed them. Tithepayers will be subjected to very great inconvenience and loss under the Bill, and it is very doubtful whether they will not be subjected to imprisonment also by the operation of the County Court clause. They certainly are put in a worse position than they were before, because a man who through religious conviction may desire to make a protest against the payment of tithe rent-charge may be subjected to imprisonment as well as fine. Will the Government give us their reasons for including England in a Bill directed against the Principality of Wales? Have there, for instance, been any riots or disturbances in East Anglia, or in any of the counties which are specially protesting against the tithe rent-charge? The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General knows there have not been any real difficulties such as have occurred in Wales in the collection of tithe. Then, why have the Government deliberately made up their minds, after so many years' consideration, to inflict this Bill on the tithepayers of England? I would like to ask the Minister of Agriculture, whom I am glad to see in his place, and who deservedly holds a position created solely to guard the interests of agriculture, what are the reasons which have induced Her Majesty's Government to introduce this Bill? I do not wish to make any charges against the Government, but it seems to me that the only conceivable reason is that it will increase the price of the tithe rent-charge, so that tithe owners may get it redeemed at a higher value than could be done under the Act of 1836. Remember, that 1576 a Commission is to inquire now into the question of the redemption of tithe, and it is unfair to the tithepayers of this country to introduce such a measure when the Government are going to appoint a Commission to do this. If my hon. Friends will support me I shall certainly press this matter to a Division, because the tithe owners ought not at this juncture to be placed in a position to make a better bargain than they could do under the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836. I beg to move, in page 5, line 18, after the word "to," to insert the word "England."
Order, order! The Committee has already refused to exclude Wales from the operation of the Bill, and therefore the Amendment must be proposed so as to refer to England alone.
Then the Amendment will be, in page 5, line 18, after the word "to," to insert the words "England, which expression does not here include Wales."
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (8.13.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON
I think my hon. Friend's arguments might have elicited some expression of opinion from the Government, and that there should not have been simply a conspiracy of silence. What was the point of what he said? His remarks were elicited by a frank avowal altogether uncalled for from the Postmaster General that the beginning and end of this Bill both are to be found in the Principality of Wales. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the tithe disturbances in Wales were the prime cause of the introduction of the Bill. If the Government thought it their duty to extend the Bill to England, why did they not bring in a complete measure instead of so one-sided a proposal? On the contrary, they have rejected every proposal which would widen the measure or render it more fair, with the result, as the Bill now stands, that under Clause 2 it coerces the tithepayers of Wales, and under Clause 3 it deludes the tithepayers of England. Her Majesty's Government are bound to give some reason why, 1577 having decided to upset the settlement of 1836, they have thought it necessary to extend the provisions of their Welsh Tithe Bill to England. Why did they not wait until such an extension was asked for? Cannot they see that conditions which are applicable to Wales are altogether inapplicable to England?
§ (8.16.) MR. C. W. GRAY
Although I have agreed with several of the Suggestions of my hon. Friend opposite, I cannot go with him when he says that this measure will place the tithepayer in a worse position than he has hitherto occupied. The Government are entitled to credit for having carried into effect the wish of the House expressed two years ago by transferring the burden of paying the tithes from the tenant farmer to the owner. So far as that principle is concerned, we must admit that this Bill has fairly carried that into effect, and I cannot, therefore, join in my hon. Friend's sweeping condemnation of it. The tenant farmers of England as a class—and, of course, we cannot expect that they will be unanimous—will, in the great majority of cases, thoroughly appreciate the change which has been made in their position, and we must therefore give the Government credit for having carried out one of the principles for which we have been contending.
§ (8.19.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I do not know that I entirely agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down, that credit ought to be given to Her Majesty's Government for having introduced this particular measure, seeing that the Opposition rather take credit to themselves for having twice defeated the Government Bills on this subject, and for having forced them to introduce the present measure, which in its principle is totally inconsistent with their previous measures for dealing with the tithe, and is in accordance with the principle for which the Opposition have always contended, namely, that of throwing the burden of paying the tithe upon the owner instead of upon the tenant farmer. The Bill of 1889 was a most unjust measure, for it proposed to throw the whole burden on the tenant farmers of England. We, however, opposed it, and were fortunate enough to defeat it. Then came the Bill of 1890, which also 1578 in our opinion contained many provisions which were extremely oppressive with regard to the occupiers, and this Bill we likewise defeated. The result is the present Bill, which, in point of fact, embodies the principle for which we contended, for its 1st clause transfers the liability for the tithe from the occupier to the owner. I cannot consequently vote for this Amendment, because the 1st clause of the Bill makes that transfer, and I have always said that a Bill upon these lines would receive my support. As regards the objections which we entertain to the 2nd and 3rd clauses, I will not now discuss them, for they can be debated on the Report stage.
§ (8.22.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Hitherto I had supposed that Her Majesty's Government were the parents of the present measure, but now I find that it has the paternal blessing of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. In these extremely agreeable circumstances, I do feel disposed to quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby. It is the more pleasant to be able to agree with the right hon. Gentleman, because the right hon. Gentleman is so completely at variance with his distinguished supporter behind him The hon. Member asked why we had extended its provisions to England. I will tell him. We believe that it is a good thing that the owner shall be made directly responsible for the tithe. We believe it is a good thing that the tenant shall be free from liability to distraint for the tithe. We believe that it is a good thing that part of the tithe should be remitted in cases of extreme hardship; and we do not see why the blessings which it is proposed to confer upon Wales should not be extended to England.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
I shall not trouble the House by taking a Division. I wished merely to make my protest, and I now ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (8.25.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
I desire to move an addition to Clause 6 which will limit the operation of the Bill to three years. I do so because there is so much difference of opinion as to the merits of the Bill. I do not suppose it likely anyone will wish to interfere with the 1st clause; but as to the 1579 other clauses, there may be reasons for re-considering them. After all, this Bill does not settle the tithe question, for that probably will not be disposed of until the Church question itself is settled. The Marquess of Salisbury may think that, by getting rid of the Welsh difficulty, he is quieting the whole trouble, and doing away with the odium which must attach to the Church when it puts in a distress in order to get money for religious purposes. But he is mistaken. I need not detain the House at length. I understand it is not unusual for the operation of Bills to be limited in the manner I propose, and I hope the Government will agree to my Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 5, line 19, after "1891," to add words," and shall remain in force for a period of three years."—(Mr. Morton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (8.27.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
It appears to me that the effect of the hon. Member's Amendment might be productive of inconvenience to his Party, because if that Party are to come into Office, as hon. Members opposite say they are certain to within the next three years, the right hon. Gentlemen who are now sitting opposite may not thank the hon. Member for plunging them into a renewed struggle over the tithe question. Should the hon. Member, however, be disposed to look at the matter from a higher point of view, I should like to point out to him that if the Bill is a good one it deserves a longer life than the limited period of existence the hon. Member proposes to give it. It would be absurd at the end of three years to revert to the old system, which we are now condemning. I hope the hon. Member will not press the Amendment.
§ (8.29.) MR. MORTON
Although I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that I am opposing the interests of my Party in making this proposal, I do not intend to press the matter to a Division. No doubt our Party will be in Office in three years' time, and will be prepared to deal with this question at the proper time.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 6 agreed to. (8.30.)1580
§ (9.1.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ New Clause (Power of Appeal,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ (9.4.) MR. RANDELL (Glamorgan, Gower)
I have to propose the addition, of a clause giving an appeal on points of law or equity from the decision of the County Court. This Bill confers a special jurisdiction upon the County Court; but it contains no special power of appeal; and I take it, therefore, that the appellate powers under the Bill will be according to Section 120 of the County Court Act. That section limits appeals from the County Court to actions where the subject matter exceeds the sum of £20, except by leave of the County Court Judge. I maintain that unless in the Bill are provided special powers of appeal litigants will be denied the right of appeal altogether, because the majority of cases that come under the Act will be for the recovery of sums under £20. Of course, I am not speaking of the cases of tithes grouped or consolidated in the hands of large landowners—I allude to small freeholders, of whom there are some 6,000 throughout the Principality. Indeed, throughout Wales cases will not only be under £20, but I might say under £5. In the largest agricultural county in Wales—Carmarthenshire—I take the figures for tithe rent-charge in three parishes, and I find the average in each parish is £3 per annum, £2 15s. per annum, and £2 11s. per annum. Now, I contend that when £20 was fixed as the limit of appeal by the County Court Act of 1888, it was not, of course, contemplated that a large body of tithepayers might come under the operation of the Act; they were not taken into account, because the jurisdiction of the County Court goes up to £50, and the limit of appeal is £20, or less than one-half. The right of appeal belongs, of course, to all classes of litigants, and I hope tithepayers will not be denied that right. There will be very little hope for tithepayers in Wales that they will obtain liberty to appeal from the County Court. Judges. Who are these Judges? I do not wish to speak disrespectfully, but to make a true statement of fact. They are English-speaking gentlemen, and strong Churchmen, without any particular 1581 sympathy with those yeomen farmers in the Principality. Not only so, but there have been tithe actions in County Courts in Wales where leave to appeal has been asked for and invariably refused by the County Court Judges. Notably, there was one case of an action the other day for "pound breach" under an old statute as to which no previous decision had been given for 200 years, and the Judge in that case decided against the defendant on a point of law, and an important point, too, that raised the question of penalties upon the defendant. There was a case in which one would naturally suppose the right of appeal would have been granted, but it was refused, and I may quote this as an instance of what the County Court will do unless the defendant has of right the power of appeal. I have no expectation that the Judges will enlarge the means of appeal under the Bill, and I hope, therefore, the Government will see their way to agree to the Amendment; and if they will not, I am afraid I must press the Motion to a Division.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the following Clause be read a second time":—
If any party in any action or matter under this Act shall be dissatisfied with the determination or direction of the Judge of the County Court in point of law or equity, or upon the admission or rejection of any evidence, the party aggrieved by the Judgment, direction, decision, or order of the Judge may appeal from the same to the High Court, in such manner and subject to such conditions as may be for the time being provided by the rules of the Supreme Court regulating the procedure on appeals from inferior courts to the High Court."—(Mr. Randell.)
§ (9.10.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I am extremely sorry that the hon. Member should consider it necessary to press this clause. The law is perfectly clear, and Section 120 of the Act gives an appeal in any action or matter in which either of the parties is dissatisfied with any decision or point of law, or equity, or in regard to admission of evidence; the only exception is that there is no appeal in any action for contract or tort under £20, and, so far as my opinion goes, this will not be an action of contract or tort; it is a claim against the land. It cannot in any way be treated as a personal debt of the occupier or of the owner; it is a claim against the land which, as this Bill 1582 recognises, is only to be recovered out of the landlord's profits in the case of a tenancy and by distress under Section 2 of the Bill. I was sorry to hear the suggestion; and I must respectfully, but firmly, record my demurrer to it, that County Court Judges in Wales do not give their decisions according to law and the true facts of the case.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
No body of men are less likely to allow their minds to be swayed by sympathy with the Church or want of sympathy with the religious opinions of the parties in an action, and refuse the right of appeal where such ought to be given. In years gone by I practised largely in County Courts and in the Provinces, and I can say that, while there were very few cases for appeal from the County Court, the Judges were ready to grant such far beyond what I thought desirable for the working of the Act. I hope the Committee will agree to leave the power of appeal where it is, and not by this direct intimation invite appeals in small cases. The Bill does not apply to Wales more than to England; the amounts will be the same, in ordinary cases, which will arise in respect to tithe, and the ordinary issues to be raised cannot involve any question of law. I do hope that the Committee will not give by indication what I may call an express right of appeal in all cases, but will leave the matter as it, rests under the Act.
§ (9.13.) SIR W. HARCOURT
If it is clear that there is an appeal in all these cases, of course the Amendment of the hon. Member is not necessary; but that is not clear, and the Attorney General's account of the section was most incomplete. I understood him to say there is an appeal in every case, except in actions, of contract and tort. The Act provides there shall be no appeal in any action of contract or tort, in which the total of any corporeal or incorporeal hereditament shall come into question, or where the debt or damage does not exceed £20; nor any action of replevin in case where the debt or damage to goods does not exceed £20. The category is four times as numerous as that mentioned by the Attorney General.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
I did not refer to the whole of the section, because it 1583 does not bear on the present application.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I understood the Attorney General to say an appeal would apply to all cases except those of contract and tort, and that these cases were neither.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The memory of the Committee must judge whether my statement or that of the Attorney General is most correct. I heard him most distinctly state it could not occur, because in actions at the County Court there was an appeal in every case except of contract and tort, and that tithe was neither. There is no doubt the remedy for tithe under the Bill remains as before—the ultimate remedy of distress—but what I want to know is—everybody knows that legal proceedings in cases of distress are by replevin—is replevin specially reserved; can there be an appeal in action by replevin where the amount of debt or damage, or the value of goods seized does not exceed £20?
§ (9.16.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I think the right hon. Gentleman will find he has not fairly represented what I did say. I was not referring to replevin at all, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman opposite will allow that his argument did not touch replevin. Of course, where there is replevin the rule naturally applies. I was referring to ordinary cases of summons or plaint issued by the County Court Judge. If there was an action of replevin in a case where there was distress—though in regard to proceedings under the Bill I do not think it possible—then in a case of replevin under £20 there would not be an appeal. There is an appeal in all cases except those excepted in cases where the claim is not under £20. The other special exceptions have no application to the case before us. Of course, if the hon. Member thinks that in action of replevin there should be special exemption from the £20 limit that will be a separate argument, but I do not think the Mover of the Amendment will say for a moment that he referred to replevin.
§ (9.17.) SIR W. HARCOURT
Where distress is the main remedy replevin must occur. If that be so, it is quite 1584 plain that in every case where a man is sued for less than £20, and has, or desires to have, an action of replevin, there will be no appeal.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
But if it were brought into another Court it would not be regulated by the County Court Act. I think that in these small cases, unless the hon. Member is satisfied that they would not be brought into the class where there is no appeal, he should not withdraw his Amendment.
§ (9.19.) MR. W. BOWEN ROWLANDS
With all deference to the opinion of the Attorney General, I do not think he has touched the argument of my hon. Friend. The section of the County Court Act excepts from the bringing of appeals, except by way of leave, any action of contract or tort, and then proceeds to specify certain actions which do not come within that exception, and in which there is an appeal. Now, I should have thought my hon. Friend's argument was tolerably conclusive. A new jurisdiction is being given to the County Court, jurisdiction over a subject-matter clearly not previously conceded to the County Court, and which was not in the contemplation of the Legislature in framing the County Court Acts. We now give them jurisdiction in an exceptional subject-matter, and it is a matter involving discussion of nice questions of law, and, therefore, peculiarly fitted for appeals being granted as of right. Whatever may be the capacity, and I have no doubt it is great, whatever the desire to do justice, which no doubt is large among Judges who have given satisfaction by the diligent performance of their duties in County Courts in Wales, it cannot be contended on behalf of any body of Judges, however generally the exercise of their functions may inspire respect, that they will in no case refuse an appeal where such an appeal would be fit and proper. From misconception of the point raised, not fully appreciating its importance, sometimes from a mistaken view of the law, County Court Judges, or High Court Judges either, might refuse an appeal where such should properly be allowed. What we desire is not to enlarge the means of factious litigation, but to secure the rights of the litigant 1585 and we say, having given the County Court jurisdiction in a novel sort of subject-matter, then in no proper case should a litigant be excluded by the action of a County Court Judge from his right of appeal. In giving this we shall follow the precedent set by those who framed the 120th section of the Statute. All actions of a general nature in contract and tort are excluded.
§ MR. W. BOWEN ROWLANDS
Yes, we understand that. And then the Act proceeds to separate from the exclusion, by name, a number of actions. We ask that the same course should be followed here. Exactly the same arguments in reference to the wisdom and impartiality of the Judges apply in either case; but the reasons that induced the Legislature to make exceptions then should control us now.
§ MR. W. BOWEN ROWLANDS
No; but I am showing by analogy why there should be exceptions, and that tithe should be among the exceptions. With regard to the limit, a new question arises. The limit was fixed having regard to the general class of cases in the Courts. Under this Bill, as my hon. Friend has said, the actions in Wales would be of a very small character indeed, and to attempt to class them with actions of contract and tort under £20 would make it impossible to get an appeal at all unless by leave of the Judge. The sum of £50 and the limit of £20 were fixed, no doubt, in reference to the general average of cases in Court; but, having regard to the general average of tithe rent-charge in Wales, by parity of reasoning there should be a right of appeal in actions where a very small sum is at stake. What we desire is embodied in the Amendment—that there should be an appeal on points of law. We do not ask an appeal at random on questions of fact. Every lawyer and most laymen will appreciate the words in the Amendment, "in point of law or equity, or upon the admission or rejection of any evidence." The Attorney General has vouched, and rightly vouched, for the impartiality of the Judges. They are not likely consciously to allow religious or political opinions to bias their judgment in the administration of the 1586 law; but there are cases—and my hon. Friend has cited one—in which a Judge has refused an appeal, and—I assume my hon. Friend has rightly described the case—the decision was there on a point of law. I say, generally speaking, it may be accepted as an axiom when we are giving a new jurisdiction in a new matter involving nice questions of law, it will be for the satisfaction of all that there should be the right of appeal. There can be no harm in following the analogy I have indicated, and it will secure confidence in the working of the Bill.
§ (9.29.) MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
It seems to me some confusion has arisen in the minds of hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite. The principle laid down by the Attorney General is that there would be an appeal under this Act in every case, because it would not be an action of a contract or tort. The other cases raised do not come under the Act at all. What would be the appeal in this case? I do not know of any case that would arise in the nature of replevin except under the 2nd section, Sub-section 2. There is no doubt when an order of the Court is obtained it has to be executed in such a way as executions are always carried out under the principle of distress. When an order has been obtained in the County Court the officer of that Court will execute it much in the same way as if it were distress. What is the appeal? Suppose the officer seizes the goods of the wrong person. Under the order no question can arise upon that point, because the officer's action is justified by the order. Then the point can only arise where goods are seized and no rent is due—a seizure by the distraining landlord in the exercise of his Common Law right. There cannot arise, where the officer is executing the order of the Court, a question as to liability to pay the tithe. If an appeal is to arise at all, it must arise in the order of the County Court appointing the officer whose duty it is to distrain. That comes within the rule laid down by the Attorney General, and there may be an interpleader issue, which is a question of a new action. The question will be not as to liability to pay the tithe, but as to whether the officer in seizing the goods has seized the right goods. There would be a new action as to whether the order 1587 of the County Court Judge should remain. It would not be a replevin at all, and I therefore submit that the contention of the Attorney General is quite correct.
§ (9.33.) SIR W. HARCOURT
If the Attorney General is right, why does he object to this Amendment? If there is to be an appeal in all these cases, why does he object to give it in the Bill? The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down—and whose speeches always satisfy me that the point he contests is well-established—says that in an ordinary distress you may have a replevin; but that if it is made by order of the Court, the doctrine of replevin is ousted. I shall be astonished to tear that doctrine upheld by the Attorney General. The Court may make an order which may turn out to be mistaken. It may turn out that the distress has been wrongfully put in, and I should be much surprised if, by a side-wind in this Bill, the doctrine of replevin in such cases is abolished. But I do not know that any useful purpose will be served by going into these niceties of the law. If the Attorney General says he does not admit that there is any case without appeal, why should we continue this discussion, and why should he not make it clear that there is to be an appeal in all cases?
§ (9.37.) SIR R. WEBSTER
In any of these matters there is an appeal; and as to the exception that ousts the appeal, it can only be in cases of replevin. Those cases are not before us, because, where replevin arises, it can only be after the Judge has given his order, and the hon. Gentleman now wants to give an appeal before even distress is levied and replevin can come in. The point the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby wanted to put upon me was not ad rem, because it deals with proceedings after the appeal has gone. There is not one word in the clause which will make an exception to the ordinary practice. I pledge the Committee that that is still my view, and in that I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have counselled the Mover of the Amendment to withdraw his proposal. I believe these words to be wholly unnecessary, but I have no further objection to offer to them.
§ (9.39.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I will not pursue the matter; I will only say that the real truth is, that the hon. Member who moved the Amendment desires to have an appeal in all cases, not merely on the order, but in all subsequent proceedings.
§ (9.40.) Question put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That the Clause be added to the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Clause added.
§ (9.40.) MR. RANDELL
I beg to move the following new clause:—In any action or matter under this Act it shall be lawful for the plaintiff or defendant to require a jury to be summoned to try the said action or matter.'Under Section 100 of the County Court Act unless a jury is empanelled the Judge of the Court is the judge of fact and of law, and by Section 101 no jury is allowed except in cases where the amount sought to be recovered exceeds the sum of £5. I have explained that so far as all the cases in the Principality are concerned—and it has already been admitted that the Bill is aimed at the Welsh people—the amounts to be recovered will be under the sum of £5. Therefore the effect of the Bill will be to shut out the Welsh people from trial by jury in these tithe cases. I think the power of the Judge to find on the facts is conducive to a certain amount of oppression. In reply to what fell from the Attorney General, I would say that I cast no reflection on the Welsh Judges. What I said was that I did not at all question their decisions, but that the County Court Judges in Wales would not encourage appeals, and there is abundant evidence to show that tithe cases are not without their political significance. Juries, according to the Master of the Rolls in a recent case, by being judges of fact, have contributed greatly to the peace of the country, and they will be valuable in these cases of tithe.
§ New Clause (Trial by Jury,)—(Mr. Randell,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."1589
§ (9.45.) SIR R. WEBSTER
There is an absolute right to a jury in all cases above £5, but not under. That is a very excellent provision, whether it be applied to tithe or any other matter in dispute. It is not reasonable that a litigant should have a right to have a jury in cases where less than £5 is in dispute. Jury trial brings a large number of business men into Court at a great sacrifice of their time and almost without remuneration, for I believe the fee is only 1s. I do not think juries should be allowed in cases where the amount in dispute is under £5, simply because the debt has arisen out of tithe.
§ (9.48.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I confess I have a strong feeling in favour of the Amendment. Under the Bill juries would not be allowed in three-fourths of the tithe cases. I do not say anything against County Court Judges in Wales or elsewhere, but there is one disadvantage in making them judges of fact. I do not know that all of them are Welsh-speaking men.
§ An hon. MEMBER: Only one of them speaks Welsh.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
And it must be remembered that these gentlemen will have to administer justice in cases that touch Welshmen in their dearest feelings. The only protection the people will have will be in juries who understand the language. If there ever was a case in which it is necessary to preserve juries for litigants it is this case of tithe. To the Attorney General £5 seems a small amount, but it is not a small amount to the people of Wales. I confess that in this matter I would go farther than the Amendment. I say again, with the deepest conviction, that the satisfactory working of this measure depends upon your not making the shoe pinch more than you did before; and if it is found that the indirect operation of the transfer to the County Courts is more oppressive than the old law, you will inevitably have a row over the Bill. You will have summary jurisdiction under the Bill, and the deprivation of trial by jury will be very deeply and, in my opinion, very properly resented. You do not pretend to make this Bill a Coercion Bill. You do not pretend that in Wales a, case has arisen for exceptional legislation. You do not pretend that in the 1590 case of tithe you are going to give Resident Magistrates jurisdiction; but if the consequence of the Bill will be that the decisions of the County Court Judges—though upright, as I am prepared to admit—will be received with prejudice, the poor Welsh farmer will ask why, when he had the protection of a jury before, he should not have it now. In my opinion there will be a great deal of mischievous prejudice against your Bill, and though I do not oppose the principle of the measure as I understand it, I have been very anxious throughout every clause to remove anything like an exceptional jurisdiction. I hope the Amendment will be accepted. If it is not, I shall be myself prepared on Report to move an Amendment giving the right of trial by jury to these men in cases where they would have had it before.
§ (9.53.) MR. S. T. EVANS
The question of fees cannot be an argument against trial by jury in the County Court any more than in the Assizes. It is of the utmost importance that no antipathy should spring up between the people and the County Courts, and, therefore, that these questions of tithe should be decided by juries. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said about Welsh juries so far as I know them, and I think the Judges themselves would like to see the cases tried by juries.
§ (9.55.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby two or three times stated that this Bill would take away from the Welsh people a security which they possessed before. The Bill does nothing of the kind. It leaves the right of trial by jury in the County Court exactly where it is now. In cases where the amount in dispute is over £5, a jury can be had by right, and in cases where the amount is under £5, a jury can be had with the consent of the Judge. It is said that politics will be mixed up with these tithe cases; and if that is so, who will be the most likely to give an unbiased decision, a County Court Judge who has nothing to do with the land or the tithe, or a juryman who in all probability will be himself a tithepayer? I say the County Court Judge.
§ (9.58.) MR. ABEL THOMAS
This question will, of course, not appreciably affect England, where the amounts payable 1591 in respect of tithe are nearly all above £20, but it will affect Wales closely. For I will undertake to say that there will not be one case in ten where the amount claimed is £20; and if you divide that into two, for the amount will be payable half yearly, there would not be one farm in 100 in reference to which there could be trial by jury unless you accept the Amendment. I have no doubt that the County Court Judges will decide any case that comes before them fairly; but the question is, what will the Welsh people think? I believe where politics come into question, and especially the matter of Church disestablishment and payment of tithes, Welshmen will not be satisfied unless they have the facts tried by their own countrymen instead of by County Court Judges.
§ (10.0.) MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
Perhaps I may be excused for interfering in the Debate for a few minutes. I cannot forget that this is an English as well as a Welsh Bill, and I think the whole burden of proof lies upon those who desire a change in the law. I know of no reason whatever, so far as England is concerned, why there should be any fear of County Court Judges, in whom we have confidence, whose industry we know, and on whose legal knowledge we can rely. We have no reason to suppose that the County Court Judges appointed in Wales are inferior in character, or that their sense of responsibility is any less than that which prevails among County Court Judges in England. I do not see any reason to suppose that they will have any prejudice on one side or the other. They have to deal sometimes with disputes between employers and employed, and I never heard in England any doubt of the County Court as a tribunal. And I have no hesitation in saying that in Wales the same impartiality will be found among the County Court Judges. I have heard the objection raised that the County Court process will involve long journeys for the residents in Wales, and that severe labour will be caused them in carrying out the provisions of the Bill. If that is an objection it is no less good with regard to the trial of these cases by juries. One reason why trial by jury has more or less fallen into disuse is the labour it imposes upon the jurymen; and I think 1592 Welshmen would find the labour caused by having to serve on juries would be of a severe character. I think the County Court Judges have justified the confidence reposed in them, and I do not see why that confidence should not exist in Wales as well as in England.
§ (10.5.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
The questions raised under this Bill will be entirely different to those ordinarily coming before the County Court Judges. If ever there was an instance in which a jury was required it is in that of the tithepayer; for in three cases out of four the County Court Judges do not understand the Welsh language. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there would be no partiality on the part of the Welsh juries. It is a remarkable fact that in all the cases which have arisen, in my own county particularly, out of these disturbances their verdicts have been characterised by the utmost impartiality. I do not for a moment mean to say that the Welsh County Court Judges—I think I know them all—are not able to deal competently with these matters, or that they are not likely to be impartial. But, of course, they labour under the disadvantage of not being able to understand the witnesses. What you want is not merely right decisions, but that the Welsh people should know and believe they are right. The County Courts in Wales are now exceedingly popular—almost too popular, if I may judge from the great number of plaints I have seen—and the people are generally satisfied with the decisions. I do not want to see any change in that feeling, and I cannot help thinking that three or four decisions by the County Court Judges against the tithepayers would be to discredit the County Courts. It is in the interests of the County Courts that I support this Amendment.
§ (10.11.) MR. W. BOWEN ROWLANDS
I was very much struck with the observations of the hon. Member for Stockport with regard to the prejudices of juries. He supposes that Judges live in a region where they are entirely unaffected by, and are unconscious of, prejudices. He supposes that they are the only persons unaffected by class, religion, or politics. In his various and extensive reading, has the hon. Member ever perused the pages of Hallam, who points 1593 out the prejudices by which Judges, from their age, their training, and their employment, are liable. Take one instance out of many. Is it to be supposed that those who supported Mr. Fox's Libel Act thought the Judges of the High Court were unfit to discharge the duties of their office? No; but the framers of Fox's Act deemed that Judges were unconsciously affected by their training, and thought it wiser to trust decisions of libel cases to juries, in whom the country had confidence, whatever their prejudices, rather than to Judges affected by another and, perhaps, a narrower circle of prejudices. But I would point out that juries are already trusted up to a certain limit. It is inverting the whole argument to say that juries shall be trusted up to £5 and £20, but that they are unfit in other cases, simply because of the smallness of the amounts which are at stake. My hon. Friend opposite spoke of the change in the law. True, it is a change in the law in subjecting tithe to the jurisdiction of the County Court. If this had been within the scope and jurisdiction of the Court before, there might have been something in the argument; but as this is a proposal to bring the matter for the first time within the scope of the County Court Act, I think the suitors have what is the primâ facie right of every man in England—the right to have questions of fact tried by jury.
§ (10.13.) MR. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
The House will pardon Welsh Members for pressing this Amendment. I should like hon. Members opposite to disabuse their minds of the impression that in Wales we have not confidence in the County Court Judges, because they are English Judges. We have confidence in them, but our one great difficulty is that of language. I am told it is a maxim in law that a man ought to be tried by his countrymen. If that is so, I think we have a right to ask that Welshmen shall be placed on a similar footing with Englishmen when they appear before the Courts of Law. We have five County Court Judges in Wales, and I do not think one out of the five knows the Welsh language. Now that the Bill applies to Wales, it is our duty to see that it will work as smoothly as possible. Seeing that the English Judges are not able to 1594 understand the Welsh tongue, I think we have a right to ask that the Welsh people should be tried by jurymen who do understand their tongue. The Judges have accused witnesses of perjury, but I am sure if the Judges understood them they would hold a different opinion. As a miners' agent, I have frequently to attend the Courts of Law, and over and over again I have had occasion to correct the interpreters. It is a well-known fact that the Judges in the West of Wales, where the great bulk of the disturbances have taken place, have sat in cases without understanding a word of the Welsh language. If the Government could only see their way to the acceptance of this Amendment the Welsh people would be really grateful for that consideration.
§ (10.16.) SIR W. HARCOURT
This is one of the most important, if not the most important, questions which have been raised upon the Bill, and I hope the Amendment will be adopted. I remember a Welsh friend of mine telling me that at a Welsh Assize, before an English Judge, he asked leave to address the jury in Welsh, and, when leave was given, he said to the jury, "You have an English Judge who will deceive you, and who will sum up in such and such a manner," which, as he knew how the Judge would in all probability address them, he at once put before them. The result was that when the Judge came to his summing up, and did sum up almost in the words used by counsel, the jury were convinced that the counsel was right, and gave their decision accordingly. This simply shows the consequences of having an English legal administrator among a Welsh-speaking people. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill, as I have already warned him, is not fortunate in his legal supporters, for the men who have done most damage to the measure have been the hon. Member for Harrow (Mr. Ambrose) and the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Gedge). When the hon. Member for Stockport asks the Government to endorse the proposition that Judges and not juries are the best people to determine political questions, he has reached a point of political absurdity which it is impossible to surpass. I do not imagine the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will accept such an argument; 1595 on the contrary, it is absolutely destructive of the case the hon. Member ,has set up, and, in point of fact, is the foundation of the argument for the Amendment. It is admitted that these are cases which, as the lawyers say, "sounded in politics," and in which we ought to be specially careful not to exclude a jury. It has been the unbroken tradition of English Law that, whatever you do in any other case, you must preserve the jury wherever a political question arises. If you allow Judges, however eminent or learned, to determine questions of political libel or sedition, as my hon. Friend behind me has pointed out, or other questions of a political character, the whole liberty of the subject will be gone. It is said that the onus of proof is with those who want to alter the law. Yes, but who is it that is altering the law? It is the Government who demand an alteration of the law, not we. It in because the Government are introducing a new jurisdiction for the recovery of the tithe by means of a Court which has no jurisdiction now, that the difficulty has arisen. I have said over and over again in these discussions that I do not at all object to your using the County Court bailiff instead of the tithe owner's agent for the recovery of the tithe. What I do press on the Government is that they should not import into the determination of these matters the whole body of County Court law, indirectly. It does happen that in the limited jurisdiction exercised under the County Court Acts there are particular restrictions; but you ought not to apply these restrictions in matters that are brought for the first time under the cognisance of the County Court; and, further, you ought not so to treat the Welsh people that, in giving a new jurisdiction to the County Court, you deprive them of the protection hitherto afforded of trial by jury. On these two grounds, first of all in regard to the political character given to the matter, and, in the next place, in relation to the circumstance that the new jurisdiction is to be exercised among the people whose language is not understood by those who administer the law, I urge that the arguments are strongly in favour of giving trial by jury in all cases under the Bill. If you do not allow trial by jury in cases under £5 you might as 1596 well refrain from legislating for Wales at all, because, whereas in England the great majority of cases will be above £5, and therefore triable by jury, in Wales ,he majority of cases will be under that amount, and the right of jury trial will be denied. On these grounds, therefore, I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to meet the views of my hon. friend and those who support him on this side of the House.
§ (10.8.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I regret the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has not answered the question put to him, because I think that if there is any question which ought to excite attention by this House it is that which is raised in this Amendment. Let me point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite that not only does this raise the question of a distinction of treatment as between England and Wales, but that whereas you in England will have in the majority of cases the right of trial by jury, you deny this right to the people of Wales. All your farms, steadings, and holdings in England are large. ["No, no!"] Well, at any rate, that is the case in the proportion of at least three to one. That is to say, you would be able to have a jury in three cases out of four, and to that extent you are doing an injustice to the Welsh people. You have already granted an appeal to the Queen's Bench. On the small cases that arise in Wales there may be a good deal of friction in the different districts presided over by the County Court Judges, and you ought to give the Welsh people an appeal on questions of law. The Attorney General smiles at this; I do not see why he should do so.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
I was merely smiling at what the hon. and learned Member, who has only just come in, has said with regard to the question of appeal. As a matter of fact, the right of appeal has already been given on a previous Amendment.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I am perfectly aware of that, but that is an entirely different question to the one I am raising. Supposing a man is to have a right of trial by jury in questions over £5, what, I ask, is the difference between that and £4 19s. 11¾d., for which the right is denied? I say it is most unfair on the part of the Government that, in dealing 1597 with a separate nationality in which English is not spoken, they propose to reserve to the English people the right of trial by jury, and practically deprive the Welsh people of that right altogether. The hon. Member for Rhondda has already referred to this question of difference of language. I myself have heard in the Irish Land Court men giving evidence in Irish, who, because they happened to be able to speak a few words in English, have been compelled to continue their evidence in that language. The mistakes made under such circumstances are grotesque. I have heard a man use the word "three" for the word "thirty" from his want of knowledge as to English figures. Why, then, in the case of Wales, where the Welsh language is universally spoken and just as universally ignored by the County Court Judges, do you propose to enforce this distinction between the two countries? I would appeal on this account to the Government, if they will not give trial by jury, at any rate to allow an appeal on questions of fact. It is misleading on the part of the Attorney General to suggest that yon have an appeal on matters of fact. That is not the case; and if he asserts that it is so, I deny the assertion. As a rule, County Court trials for sums under £5 are trumpery matters, but trials on this tithe question in Wales are not trumpery matters. They would not want juries in matters of shop debts and cases of that sort, but the case is different when the question relates to tithe. The Government, are now inventing a new jurisdiction, and they will create an intense feeling if the Welsh-speaking people are denied the right of trial by jury. That is practically what it means. A matter which engages the deepest feelings of the Welsh people is thus to be dealt with, The men affected are those who seldom, if over, see a Court. They do not live litigious lives; they reside right away on the mountains, and for a dispute about a wretched, miserable sum of 10s., 15s., 20s., or 30s., they are to be dragged into Court, probably for the first time in their lives, and the case in which they are concerned is to be conducted in a language which they do not understand. I say it is most unfair. You ought to abandon this £5 limit, and you ought to be induced to do this by 1598 the fact that the Welsh Representatives are a minority in this House, and that they are nearly unanimous in demanding this. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who has so far displayed a reasonable spirit, will accede to this request. I object to the doctrine of the hon. Member for Stockport—"Trust in Judges, and distrust juries." I think we ought to cultivate distrust in all officials. Let the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that four-fifths of the cases likely to arise under this Bill in Wales will be affected by this limit, and then I think he will see the desirability of abandoning the position he has taken up.
(10.33.) MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS
The only argument which has been advanced against this proposal is that juries might be affected by political prejudices. But surely it is not likely that every member of a jury summoned to try a case would be of one and the same way of thinking. Two might be one way and one another, and thus prejudices would be neutralised. But if political prejudice exists in a Judge, it is necessarily all on one side, and Judges, be it remembered, are as prone as anyone else to these prejudices. Again, it has been said that the jurymen will be of the same class as the litigants. But that is not so, because, as a rule, the County Court jurors are summoned from among the tradesmen of the town in which the Court holds its sitting, while the litigants come in from the rural districts for miles around. It is notorious that there is not a more impartial tribunal than a County Court jury.
§ (10.35.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I can confirm what my hon. Friend has said as to the class from which County Court juries are drawn. I believe that the Judges would prefer the assistance of juries in settling these tithe cases. They would not care for the invidious task of deciding a case in which so much political animus and religious feeling may be involved. As a rule, a batch of 30 or 40 cases from one parish will come up for hearing at the same time. They will all turn on one particular point, and though the aggregate amount involved may be £40 or £50, in not more than one case, perhaps, will the litigants be entitled to claim a jury. I think that these cases call for special treatment. Why should 1599 a distinction be made between a case above £5 and one under that amount? The wealthy tenant farmer will be able to enjoy the luxury of a jury; the poor peasant proprietor will not, unless this Amendment is agreed to, and if it were only to dispose of the suspicion that, there is one law for the poor and another for the rich, the Government ought to make the concession demanded.
§ (10.39.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 127; Noes 168.—(Div. List, No. 31.)
§ (10.51.) MR. MORTON
I had intended to propose a new clause dealing with the apportionment of the tithe rent-charge among the occupiers. By the advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, I put it down as a new clause; but I still think it would have been better to have added it to Clause 1. I am now quite willing to accept the words which have been suggested by the President of the Board of Trade, and therefore I withdraw the proposal.
§ (10.52.) MR. T. H. BOLTON
I have on the Paper two new clauses, one providing that several cases may be included in one application to the County Court and another dealing with apportionment of rent-charge on land owned by several parties. I understand that the Attorney General has prepared a clause with the same object, and I am willing to accept it. I do not, therefore, move.
§ (10.53.) SIR R. WEBSTER
The hon. Member proposes that this should be provided for in the Statute, but that would be too hard and fast a line. I propose that a clause be inserted giving the Court power to make rules for this particular object.
§ New Clause handed in, but not read.
§ (10.53.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I am always glad when hon. Gentlemen who have proposals can come to an agreement with the other side; but really the House of Commons should have something to say on this matter, or else we shall have all sorts of legislation passed without the slightest idea of what is being done. What is this new clause?
§ (10.54.) SIR R WEBSTER
The Amendment on the Paper proposes that 1600 the tithe owner may include any number of separate claims against separate parties in the same proceeding. That, of course, would enable a claimant to raise all kinds of questions without risk as to cost, because they would be recoverable against one or other of the defendants. I venture to suggest that the proper course would be for rules to be made to meet that object, and the new clause which I have proposed would prevent any abuse of the privilege, which would ensure the saving in costs.
§ (10.55.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I should have liked to have had an opportunity of examining this clause. It appears to me that the hon. Member for St. Pancras has been moving his Amendments mainly in the interests of the tithe owner. I am a little jealous of that proceeding, because my interests in this matter are not so absolutely with the tithe owner as those of the hon. Member. I think that the tithepayer should receive some consideration in the Bill. I do not oppose the Amendment now, but I will reserve my right to examine it on Report, and of seeing what its effect will be. But I do repeat my protest against this method of introducing clauses without giving the House an opportunity of knowing exactly what is being done.
§ (10.57.) MR. T. M. HEALY
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General has refused an Amendment which would give a jury in all cases, and yet he now accepts an Amendment enabling cases to be tried in omnibus. This will enable the tithe owner to strike 40 heads off at one blow. Now, let me ask the Government this question: Suppose a tithe owner has claims against 50 defendants, and, by bringing them up in batches of five, he can keep them all under the £5 limit, will he be at liberty to have them disposed of in 10 batches, and thus prevent any jury being empanelled? Now that the Government have accepted this Amendment, the Welsh Members ought to insist on engrafting on to it the principle of trial by jury. This is an Amendment accepted admittedly in the interest of the tithe owner. The least, then, the defendants can ask in return for the concession is that they should have the defence of the palladium, 1601 that the tithe owner shall only bring one suit, that he shall not have Brown, Jones, and Robinson in one process, and Smith and all the rest in another process. Let him elect which litigants he is going to contest. Let him bring his charges separately against each one, or let him have one process. He should not be able to include four in one process, six in another, and one in another. The interests of men on one side of a mountain may be very different to the interests of men on another side of the mountain. Why are these men to be included in a kind of omnibus legal pill, which they are all to swallow? Of all the principles one has ever heard of this principle approved of on behalf of the patentee by Her Majesty's Government is the most extraordinary. Let us know from the Government what they mean. The very least you can give a litigant is the right to say, "I shall be included in the one process, or I shall not."
§ (11.3.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
We did not anticipate that any objection would be raised to this clause, but I quite agree that it is only fair to the Committee that they should see the clause in print before they assent to it. Therefore, what we propose to do is to ask leave to withdraw the clause now, and bring it up again on Report. I trust that we shall be allowed to conclude the Committee stage to-night.
§ (11.4.) MR. T. H. BOLTON
I am one of those who believe that tithe is public property, and that the provisions of this Bill should be reasonably efficacious in order that that public property should be preserved. If you make the recovery of tithe unnecessarily troublesome and expensive the property will disappear. Many of the tithe rent-charges are very small in amount—some are as low as 6d. and 9d. In one parish in Wiltshire there are 573 tithe rent-charges not exceeding 20s. each, and 371 of them are less than 5s. each. I have a list of tithe rent-charges in another parish, and some of them are as low as 1s. and 2s. If in such cases you are not to allow the causes of action to be grouped, you will make the recovery so expensive that the property will be lost altogether. It was with the view of making the recovery reasonably efficacious and practicable that I put on 1602 the Paper the new clause which stands in my name. The Government have substantially accepted that clause, although in another form. My only desire has been to deal with this Bill in a sensible and practical way, and to make it a useful measure.
§ (11.6.) MR. S. T. EVANS
Before the Amendment is withdrawn, I should like to ask that whatever regulations are made they shall be embodied in the clause, and not in rules. I think there would be the most strenuous opposition on the Report stage if you allow the Judges to make rules governing the question, and so take away the responsibility of the Committee.
§ SIR J. SWINBURNE
I should like to know whether Her Majesty's Government are prepared to give us trial by jury. On the Report stage we shall be very limited in our discussion No hon. Member on this side of the House will be able to speak more than once—[Ironical cheers]—and hon. Members opposite will only be able to speak once. I am sure we shall regret that. We have now a Minister of Agriculture. Cannot he tell us what are the intentions of the Government? Are they going to give us trial by jury when the tithe is under £5, or do they intend to refuse it absolutely?
§ (11.8.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I think it would tend to shorten the discussion if the Government would express their intention with regard to the question of trial by jury. The Attorney General has stated that consolidation of actions shall not take place except in cases where the same issue is involved. Personally, I shall oppose the withdrawal of the clause unless a pledge is given that recourse may be had to trial by jury.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I hope the hon. Member will not divide the Committee against the withdrawal of the clause, which everybody wishes not to proceed with. It is impossible for us to give any pledge, but we will consider before the clause is brought up on Report whether the change that it makes in the law would require any change in the law with reference to the limit of £5. I cannot do more than that.
§ (11.12.) MR. T. M. HEALY
In view of the importance of this matter, I hardly think the right hon. Gentleman has considered 1603 sufficiently the language he has just used. The Report stage, of all other stages, is the most unsuitable for the consideration of a matter of this kind. I feel the force of the remarks of the hon. Member for St. Pancras. Viewing the tithe as national property, it is desirable it should not be frittered away; but litigants have rights as well as tithe owners, and they are entitled to know exactly where they stand. I think hon. Members for the Principality might be content if the right hon. Gentleman will give us the pledge that if it is thought desirable by any considerable section of the Welsh Members to have the clause discussed in Committee, he will re-commit the Bill. The matter is so vital in the interests of the smaller litigants that I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman considers the point he will see it is not unreasonable that the Welsh Members should have the opportunity of discussing the question in Committee.
I asked if it was the pleasure of the Committee that the Motion be withdrawn. I declared the Motion withdrawn before the hon. Member rose. [Cries of "Progress!"]
§ (11.15.) MR. W. P. MORGAN (Merthyr Tydvil)
Having regard to the importance of the clause which stands in my name, and the lateness of the hour, and the fact that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill seems to be rather tired, and that he has not condescended to reply to the arguments urged by Members for the Principality in favour of having their cases tried by jury, I beg to move that you, Sir, report Progress, and ask leave to sit again. The clause standing in my name involves the question of whether or not men who, for all practical purposes, have been law-abiding men, are to have their mouths for ever shut, are not to be allowed to enter their protest against paying what they consider to be an unjust infliction.
§ (11.17.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
We have hitherto, before the interposition of the hon. Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy), discussed this Bill in a businesslike way, and in a way that reflects especial credit upon the Welsh Members, who naturally take a great interest in it, and until now there has not been the slightest trace in the Debate of anything that could be fairly called obstruction. I am therefore utterly astonished at the Motion of the hon. Member to report Progress at 20 minutes past 11 o'clock, when there is ample time for the Amendment which stands upon the Paper in the hon. Member's name to be fully discussed. I hope that the hon. Member will not press the Motion to report Progress.
§ (11.18.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman introduced the invidious word "obstruction." Hon. Members have arrived at a time when I believe they do not desire to discuss the Bill. I never recollect any measure being more modestly discussed than this Bill has been, and for hon. Gentlemen to shout "obstruction," shows what little foundation there is for the charges of obstruction which are made from the Government Benches. I hope, however, my hon. Friend will not press the Motion to report Progress. I cannot altogether acquit the Government of imprudence in having accepted at the end of the discussions on this Bill, an Amendment embodying a new principle. It is in my opinion a most mischievous proposal, and is certain to raise a very strong degree of opposition. Even though the hon. Gentleman agreed to withdraw the Amendment, he cannot be surprised that it was followed by the most vehement protests; protests which were in my opinion absolutely needed in view of the mysterious character of the proposal. You might just as well introduce a proposal that a tradesman should collect all his bills. [Cries of "Order!"] I am doing what I can to help gentlemen opposite.
§ (11.21.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
I rise to order, Sir. I submit that it is out of order, on a Motion to report Progress, for 1605 a gentleman, whether hon. or right hon., to discuss an Amendment which has been withdrawn.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Under the circumstances, it appears that the best thing I can do is to vote for the Motion to report Progress.
§ (11.22.) MR. T. M. HEALY
I am very sorry that gentlemen opposite thought it in good taste to drag in my name as an Irishman, and to wave it as a kind of red rag before John Bull. My intervention in the Debate occupied, I suppose, 10 or 11 minutes, and really I hardly think, considering the importance of the question, and the anxiety that prevailed on this side, it was an unfair intervention on my part. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman (Sir M. Hicks Beach) that I am as anxious as anybody that he should get this Bill through to-night, because an arrangement in which I am interested will be dislocated if any other course is followed. I think it was unfair to say that, because I interfered with reference to the Bill, obstruction must prevail—in other words, that the Irish Members, who are dragged here by the supremacy of this House, are to be subjected to a new kind of disability. It seems that we are not to take part in any but Irish discussions without being charged with obstruction. This comes from the leader of a Party which champions the beautiful principle of a united Parliament. I will not, however, take advantage of the unhappy plight into which the right hon. Gentleman's observations have put him, to retaliate upon him. I think it was a mistake on the right hon. Gentleman's part to treat the Welsh Members with contempt on the jury question, and to refuse to give expression to a single opinion in answer to their appeals. His true course would have been to say he was unable to accept the Amendment, and to ask the House to go on with the next business, inasmuch as an understanding had been come to that we should finish the Committee stage to-night.
§ (11.25.) MR. W. P. MORGAN
I am willing to withdraw the Motion to report Progress, if I can get from the Attorney General an assurance that imprisonment will not be inflicted except 1606 for personal violence, and in that case I will not move my clause. I think the Committee will probably agree with me, that we have already had enough of legal argument on this Bill.
§ (11.26.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I can give no further assurance than I have given already, that the officers who executed a process under this Act will be protected in the same way as an officer executing any other order of the Court. There ought to be no distinction whatever Between——
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
As it seems now in order to discuss on this Motion a future Amendment, I will now proceed to discuss it.
(11.27.) THE CHAIRMAN
A question was asked and an answer was given. There could not be a discussion in violation of the Rules which prevent discussions on the question of reporting Progress.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then I would observe that the answer of the Attorney General is not a satisfactory answer to the question of my hon. Friend, and I strongly advise him to take no course on his Amendment founded upon that answer, because certainly the existing law will enable imprisonment to be given in some cases, which will go far beyond the provisions of the existing law.
§ (11.28.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 112; Noes 163.—(Div. List, No. 32).
§ (11.40.) MR. W. P. MORGAN
I beg to move the following clause:—Provided always, that not withstanding anything in this Act or in the County Courts Act, 1888, contained, no person shall be liable to any penalty or punishment, unless such person shall actually obstruct or assault the bailiff or receiver of the County Court, or his or their assistants, or other officers of the Court, in the execution of his or their duty, or unless a rescue of property, previously legally seized, shall be actually made.I regret very much that there should have been for a moment a suggestion that I was desirous of obstructing the House or its business. I have never yet attempted to do anything of the sort. This Amendment has been on the Paper for something like a week, and I have been in my place day by day watching 1607 for an opportunity of moving it. I think I was justified in assuming that at this hour of the evening there was not sufficient time for properly discussing a proposal on so important a subject. If this clause be not inserted we shall have to all intents and purposes a Coercion Act in Wales as well as in Ireland. A man will not be allowed to knock at the door of a bum-bailiff or to crack a joke with an officer of the Court without rendering himself liable to be brought before the Court for contempt. A man will not be able to speak to an officer of the Court of some injustice that has been inflicted upon him. Indeed, he will have to do what the people of Ireland now have to do, that is, to say nothing at all, unless he is to come within the meshes of the law. We have had sufficient instances in Ireland of the operation of such a law as this, to justify the insertion of such a clause in a Bill which deals with a subject that in some respect excites considerable ill-feeling in the Principality, and I think the Committee would not be doing its duty if it did not insert in the Bill some clause which would have for its object the protection of those of Her Majesty's subjects who have recourse to protests at a sale or a seizure, or who wish to hold meetings so as to bring before the public the grievances from which they suffer. I would ask the Attorney General to consider this matter. I am sure he does not wish to inflict on the people of Wales any particular restrictions in their protests and in their endeavours to obtain redress of the grievances under which they consider they are suffering.
§ New Clause (No person shall be punished except for obstruction or assault,)—(Mr. W. P. Morgan,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ (11.43.) SIR R. WEBSTER
This is not the first time I have had to deal with this question, and I hope the hon. Member will not think I am guilty of any want of courtesy if I make a brief reply to his remarks. The hon. Member proposes that no man shall be 1608 punished unless he is actually engaged in an assault or obstruction. A man of influence may stand by and incite persons to obstruction or to assault without himself actually indulging in violence. Then he proposes that, unless there is an absolute loss of property, there shall be no offence—that is to say, that attempts at rescue shall not be punished. A bailiff may in a scuffle lose his watch, and yet under the hon. Member's clause it would not be possible to prosecute those whose conduct produced the scuffle.
§ MR. W. P. MORGAN
Does the learned Attorney General mean to tell this House that this clause would do away with the Larceny Act, and that the bailiff could not prosecute a man for stealing his watch?
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
If in the course of the scuffle the bailiff's watch happened to disappear, and it could not be proved who was the actual thief, nobody could under this clause be punished.
§ MR. W. P. MORGAN
I would suggest to the hon. and learned Gentleman that he, with his superior knowledge and experience in these matters, should frame a clause which will carry out the object which he says the Government have in view, namely, to punish persons who actually commit assaults or incite others to commit assaults. I am desirous of protecting a man who says, "Three cheers for Gladstone"—words which, in the minds of some persons, might be regarded as inciting people to rebellion. If the Welsh people, who have hitherto been regarded as a law-abiding people, are to be prevented from holding their meetings and making their protests, the Government and the Attorney General must take the responsibility. It is the duty of the Government to maintain law and order, and if they persist in passing legislation which will have an opposite tendency, they must take the consequences
§ (11.47.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The hon. Member used some words which appeared to me to imply his own admission that the clause was open to the objection urged against it by my hon. and learned Friend, and that it would be fair on his part to accept some alterations. I think it would be difficult to frame a clause which would carry out 1609 the views of the hon. Member, and I would appeal to him not to press his clause now. If the hon. Member, or any hon. Gentleman opposite, can frame a clause which will not be open to the reasonable objections which have been urged, and bring it forward on Report, we will do our best to meet them, but we cannot consent to put the officer of the Court in a worse position in these cases than he is in other cases. On the other hand, we are extremely anxious to make it clear that we do not want to place people in these circumstances in a worse position than in any other cases. I do not think gentlemen opposite will lose anything by taking the course I suggest, especially in view of the important Debate that is anticipated.
§ (11.49.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I should be very sorry to join in anything in the nature of obstruction. But may I make an appeal to the best instincts of gentlemen opposite? You are anxious to keep up the Establishment of the Church, and also anxious that the Church should be brought nearer to the people than in the past. If you have imprisonment except in cases of personal violence, there will be no sympathy felt among the people, except for the man imprisoned. If you imprison a man for making a conscientious protest, the first case of the kind will shake the Establishment to its very foundations. I would therefore appeal to gentlemen opposite—although, of course, we must fight on the Report stage—to restrict imprisonment, as far as their own proposals are concerned, to cases of personal violence, and personal violence alone.
§ (11.50.) SIR J. SWINBURNE
I have no confidence in leaving matters over to the Report stage. The discussion on Report is confined to the narrowest limits, and I would certainly advise my hon. Friends below the Gangway not to agree to anything of this sort depending upon the Report.
§ (11.52.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I would point out that the clause is a very fair clause, even as the Bill is framed. It is, of course, absurd to say that if a man picked a pocket he cannot be imprisoned under the present law. I would point out to the Government that we all agreed that the power of the County Court Judge should be restricted to cases of violence.
§ (11.54.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I want to ask the Government whether, in order to enlighten us on this point, they could give us an assurance to the effect that a mere exclamation, or a mere expression of opinion, on the part of persons who feel themselves to be the victims of injustice shall not be a reason for imprisonment? I would remind the Committee that I was imprisoned in Ireland for saying simply, "Three cheers for the Plan of Campaign!"
§ (11.55.) SIR R. WEBSTER
No one could possibly be imprisoned under this Bill for a mere exclamation or cry. If hon. Members will only look at the words of Clause 48 of the Act of 1868 they will see what it is we propose.
MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS
I would appeal to my hon. Friend below me to withdraw the clause now. There was a sort of understanding that we should finish to-night, and in my view my hon. Friend's proposal does not carry the law a bit further than it is laid down in the County Courts Act of 1868.
§ (11.56.) MR. S. T. EVANS
Is the Attorney General willing to confine cases of imprisonment to this one Section 48?
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
I am not aware that I ever said I desired to avail myself of any other section. There is no other section applicable. I have never suggested by one word that there should be any liability except under this section.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (11.57.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend will accept the clause which stands in my name——
§ MR. SYDNEY GEDGE
Not on Report. The clause is very important. It is as follows:— 1611No tax nor rate which shall be levied upon or be payable in respect of any tithe rent-charge shall become due until the person entitled to the same tithe rent-charge has received at least one-fourth part thereof.I would point out that all other classes who have to pay the rates are in occupation of the premises on which the rates are charged. The clause would remove a very gross injustice. [The remaining observations of the hon. Member were inaudible, owing to cries of "Divide!" and "Agreed!"]
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ (12.1.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I wish to express my great obligations to hon. Members opposite for the anxiety they have shown to get through the Committee stage to-night, and I regret that they were not seconded by my hon. Friend behind me. Believing that the House is practically unanimous in the desire to get it through, I will put down the Bill again for to-morrow, with the Amendments for the Report stage, in order that they may appear on the Paper on Wednesday morning.
§ Committee report Progress, to sit again to-morrow.