Skip to main content

New Clause—(Easter Offerings)

Volume 390: debated on Thursday 3 June 1943

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Question again proposed, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I would just like to complete what I was saying. I think that the test in all these cases must be whether the money is really paid in respect of or by virtue of the office which the person holds, or whether it is in fact given to him personally, and apart from that office altogether,

I would like the two points that I raised before the interval to be definitely settled. I do not think the Chancellor quite answered them. My first point was in support of the Chancellor's contention that if Easter offerings are treated by the church authorities themselves as part of the clergyman's income, it seems to me that there is no question that they are liable to taxation. The other was, is there to be a special bar put on the clergy receiving all gifts, apart from Easter offerings? The Chancellor said that he could not exempt Easter offerings and continue taxation on offerings at Christmas or Whitsun. But, as I said just now, suppose a clergyman gives a very able series of addresses in church or lectures in his school house, and a number of his parishioners feel that they would like to make a present to enable him to go to the seaside for a week or for some other purpose. Is that present taxable, because the money is given him in respect of something done in the course of his employment? The Chancellor says that the matter is a plain and well-established one, but I think it bristles with difficulties. It seems to me that clergymen are placed in a worse position than other people. Other officials can have casual gifts made to them without being liable to Income Tax in respect of such gifts. Surely it should be possible to make presents to clergymen not annually, but for good work in their parishes, without those presents being liable to taxation?

Perhaps I might be allowed in a few sentences to express my great regret to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. I. Thomas) that I cannot support this Clause. I suppose I have spent more time than most Members of this House in furthering the material prosperity of the clergy, and I would gladly support anything I could with that object. The reason why I cannot support this Clause is quite simple. The Church would not welcome what would be regarded as special privileges which are not granted to other people. I see much harm to Church work arising from the allegation, however unfounded it may be, that the Church enjoys economic privileges. It would be a profound mistake, by this Clause, to add fresh fuel to that particular fire.

Several hon. Members have referred to the fact that I am myself a member of the Church Assembly. I should like to tell the Committee what my position is. I am a member of the Church Assembly, and was for many years a member of the Central Board of Finance of the Church; so I have a certain amount of experience in matters of this kind. When this Clause first appeared on the Paper I examined the matter very carefully indeed. I am aware that several hon. Members have stated the position very clearly so far as the law is concerned. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) made some point of this: "We all know what the law is; what some of us want to do is to get it altered." It is admitted that this is the law, but the question I want to address myself to is, whether it is just. I think it is just.

In one of the most recent cases the Judge said that he very much disliked to have to decide the case in a way which the decision of the House of Lords forced him to do. I have the case here. It was in 1931.

The Committee will appreciate that I have not had an opportunity of studying the particular reference which my hon. and learned Friend made, but I address myself to the question of whether this law is just. Every member of a congregation who contributes to the Easter offering knows that it is to supplement the income of the clergyman. The next point is this. There is very little doubt that on such an occasion the clergyman is receiving the gift by virtue of his office. He would not be receiving that gift if he were not the clergyman of that parish. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said that the Board of Inland Revenue is putting its hand into the plate and taking out what belongs to somebody else. My hon. Friend went on to suggest that if Income Tax was only 6d. in the £ it would not matter. I do not see the logic of that. If it is wrong to take 10s. in the £ it is wrong to take 6d. [AN HON. MEMBER: "He said that it would matter less."] He said that it would matter less. The Clause suggests that the maximum should be £50 a year, in which case, I suppose, my hon. Friend would suggest that it is all right to put your hand into the plate after £50 had been taken out, but not before. There, I think, my hon. Friend's argument breaks down.

There is no point in the argument as to whether this is or is not a contractual payment. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) made some play with the point, but that has nothing to do with Income Tax. When deciding whether something of this kind is income or not, it does not matter whether it is contractual or not. The barrister who draws his fees receives something which is not contractual. The waiter or hall porter who receives tips is assessed on those tips, and I find it difficult to distinguish between his case and the case of the clergyman who receives a gift from his parishioners. Then there are the other churches. In the Church of Rome there are many occasions when members of the congregation make a voluntary payment to a priest for a Mass. That voluntary payment is a taxable payment, and in fact such payments form the greater part of the remuneration of many priests. I think it would be quite unjust to relieve the Easter offerings of the Church of England—of which I am happy to be a member—and not to relieve offerings made in very similar circumstances.

Surely those are. fees or offerings for quite specific services? They are not a general tribute to the personality of the man.

They are paid to the priest, just as an Easter offering is paid to the clergyman by virtue of his office.

But he receives them by virtue of his office.

I would like to deal with the point of poverty. It has been said by many Members, and it is well known, that the clergy are poor. I would say, in the first place, that it is a great discredit to many of the congregations that those clergy are poor. In the second place, I suggest that clergymen of the Church of England do not want to be exempt from taxation which falls upon them if similar taxation falls upon people with similar burdens. The whole essence of our taxation is that it is so carefully adjusted that it falls upon people according to what they can afford to pay. Look at the anomalies which would result from this Clause. Suppose you have two clergymen in adjoining parishes, each with an income of £400 a year. One has £400 from investments which belong to the living, and the other has £50 from Easter offerings and £350 from investments. Each clergyman has a wife and two children, so that both are in the same position to bear whatever taxation has to be borne. Why should the clergyman who derives £50 of his income from Easter offerings be treated in any way differently from the person who derives the whole amount from investment? The proper way to meet the matter is the way in which the Church authorities are trying to meet it now. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) the views of an Ecclesiastical Commissioner, and I am certain that the views he expressed represent the general views of the Church. The Church would not seek to have some advantage at the expense of the rest of the community. They would take such steps as are open to them.

Does the Financial Secretary suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) was speaking on behalf of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners?

It is important that we should know whether he was representing the views of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

I did not suggest that he had expressed the views of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I do not know them, but I should not be at all surprised to hear that he did.

I used to be an Ecclesiastical Commissioner until about a month ago, but anyhow I have no authority to speak on their behalf. I was only speaking as one who had had a particularly long experience of these matters.

I do not want to put anything into the mouths of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, but it is clear that my hon. Friend has had great experience of these matters, just as I myself have had experience of problems of Church finance. I was saying that the proper remedy was for the Church to see that the clergymen were properly paid, and I am happy to say that the Church is at the present time taking steps in that direction, and I believe that very soon the situation will be better than it is to-day. So far as this particular Clause is concerned, I am satisfied of two things—that, if it were accepted it would not be just, and I am also satisfied that, from the point of view of the Church, it would not be wise. My hon. Friend made that point very well and I ask the Committee therefore to agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that not only was this the law, but it was also common sense.

I am not a member of the Church of England, but I have many friends among the clergy, and I do not think that they will be very pleased about the arguments which have been put up on their behalf to-day. It is said the labourer should be worthy of his hire, and the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) said that he has spent a good deal of his life acting in the interests and prosperity of the clergy, and it must have borne upon him to-day that he has had a wasted life.

Had the hon. Member been more successful and the clergy had a decent living, this question would not have arisen.1s it not suggested that, if they had been provided with decent salaries, they would not have had to do this cadging? [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not cadging."] Is it dignified that a man, once regularly in every year in order that he may approach something like decency, should have to cadge from the congregation?

If the hon. Member will look at the Rubric of the Communion Service he will find that it is the duty of every parishioner at Easter to settle his bills with the vicar.

It also says in the Scriptures that everything shall be done decently and in order. Then let everything in regard to salaries be done decently and in order. Let the people who worship provide the funds. Many friends of mine feel that they have to cadge anyhow, no matter what the interpretation of my hon. Friend is. I listened to the arguments of hon. Friends, and I was impressed, and I was still more impressed when I heard the Chancellor's reply, and I cannot always say that. He certainly tore the arguments to pieces here. I have watched the activities of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), who is supporting this proposal, for some time. His ideas are always flowing in one direction, towards what is known as the Poor Law. A good many of the clergy and certainly those whom I know will be sorry of some of the arguments which have been put up here to perpetuate their poverty by gifts which are given to them out of pity for their poverty.

I apologise to the Committee for speaking in the Debate, not having heard all the arguments, but circumstances beyond my control made it impossible for me to be here before now. I confess that although it may be legal, that this taxation should take place, it seems to me that what we are discussing now is the question of justice towards the vicar. It cannot be common sense, if I send a cheque to the vicar's Easter offering, that it should be taxed, whereas if I meet him in the Street and slip £5 into his hand and say, "This is my Easter offering, but call it a donation for your holiday fund," that then it should not be taxed. It is no argument at all to suggest that the stipends of vicars ought to be greater than they are. Everybody knows that they ought to be greater than they are. I agree with the hon. Member who remarked that the efforts of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) to further the prosperity of the clergy have not been successful. That is why we are now trying to do something to help the clergy. This Easter offering is not part of the stipend. I look upon my donation, speaking personally as a member of the Church of England, as a gift that I ought to give at a certain time of the year, but I do not feel bound to give the same amount each year, nor, indeed, to give it every year.

It is wrong to say that it is only given where the stipend is low. The Easter offering is given whatever the income of the vicar may be. It is also wrong to suggest that circumstances are the same with regard to members of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not so at all. In that case the sums are fees.

They are voluntary offerings for services rendered. As I see it, the incomes are not comparable in the case which the Minister put forward when he said, that if there were two vicars in adjoining parishes, one having £400 a year and the other £350 a year, plus £50 Easter offering, it was right that both should be taxed. I do not think the cases are comparable at all. In the latter the vicar could not know with any certainty in any year that he would have that £50. Although the legal position may be what has been stated in the Committee, in common justice to men who are very hard working, these voluntary donations should be free of tax. It is true that the £50 limit is unreasonable. I would sooner have said that the whole of the vicar's Easter offering should be tax free, but it is a case of

"These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
I agree with other hon. Gentleman, however, that £50 would be a beginning. If this question goes to a Division, I shall vote for the Clause.

I have listened to nearly the whole of the Debate and to the judgment by some learned Judge which was read out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I gather from that that the gift is taxable in virtue of the recipient's office, if it is "normal and continuous." Those are the definite words. How on earth a gift can be "normal and continuous" which is entirely art the option of the parishioners is something of which I would like to have an explanation.

Unfortunately, I was not present to hear the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink), but I want to join issue with the Financial Secretary in his discussion of the question: Is the law just? From my experience I am convinced that the law as it exists at present is not just. Expressions of opinion have been made from all sides of the Committee that this injustice ought to be put right, and I ask the Chancellor whether, between now and next stage of the Bill, he will reconsider the matter. My objection to the present state of affairs is this: The Blakeston case in the House of Lords laid down a hard and fast rule which, of necessity, has been applied by courts of law in matters which have no concern with Easter offerings and which have inflicted untold hardships on recipients who have received gifts from those who are fond of them. I must be careful not to depart from the question of Easter offerings, but as an instance let me give an example from my own experience. A former Member of this House, practising at the Bar, left to join the Armed Forces of the Crown. Being a generous man and having in his employment a clerk nearly 80 years of age who had been with him for many years, he gave him a very substantial cheque simply as a mark of appreciation of their years of service together. What happened? Fifty per cent. of that cheque was taken by the Revenue authorities on the basis of the Blakeston case.

The Financial Secretary talked about a contract having nothing to do with it, but the first thing you look into is to see whether there is a contract. That is the distinction between the Seymour case, in which there was a benefit, and the cases of professional footballers for whom I have appeared. We have got down to the absolute narrow border line with the Income Tax authorities who stand on the Blakeston case. In the interests of our clergy dare I ask the Chancellor to show leniency." Very soon, offerings will be given at our churches at Whitsun for our curates, whose wages in most cases are extremely small. The principle underlying this law is wrong from the word "Go," and I say that we would be failing in our duty if we did not make an appeal to the Chancellor to give further consideration to this matter.

I am interested in this discussion, because it seems to me that the clergymen of this country seem to have very many enemies in this House. There is a Scripture that is worth quoting at this moment:

"Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you."
I am very much concerned about the spiritual standing of the clergy, particularly after hearing the speech of the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), who suggested that when you heard a clergyman make a really good sermon you felt like putting your hand into your pocket and saying, "There you are, my lad." What would the hon. Member consider to be a good sermon? Think of the temptation which will be put in the way of the clergy. I am not concerned about a sermon for soothing the troubled breast of the hon. Member for South Kensington but about those who go into the slum areas of this country and spend their lives helping mothers, the sick and helpless. Nobody ever thinks of making offerings to them, particularly if they go into the pulpit or on to a public platform and say what they think about the rotten system that produces their conditions.

I think the hon. Member is getting rather wide of the point at issue.

Do not be concerned about offerings to the clergy. Do not give them any; they will be all the better for getting no offerings; they will be all the better for doing a little bit of "scrounging" or fighting to get better conditions. Remember the Beatitudes.

"Blessed are the poor."
Nothing is ever said about blessing those who will receive the offerings of wealthy patrons. Then there is the other:
"Blessed are ye when men shall revile you … for My sake."
If Members on the other side would start abusing and reviling our clergy we should feel that the clergy were doing something worth while.

There seemed a little doubt on the Front Bench when I interrupted the Financial Secretary, and I would like to make my point clear. The authorities as I know them do not indicate that there is opposition in high legal quarters to a change in the law. The opposition comes from the Treasury, not from the Judges. May I make a short quotation from a judgment given by Mr. Justice Rowlatt in deciding a case about Whitsuntide offerings? In the case of the Rev. Starkie, in 1931, in the King's Bench Division, he said:

"In my judgment it is quite clear that iu this case the Crown are entitled to succeed. Although it is very unpleasant to have to decide against the respondent, one has to apply the law to the best of one's ability."
There is an indication that in the view of the learned Judge the law needed to be changed. The learned Judge finished his judgment in these words:
"In these circumstances, although I very much dislike deciding these cases against people like Mr. Starkie, I have 'no alternative but to say that I think the Crown are right and that this appeal must be allowed."
I regretted very much to hear the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) saying it was more a question of, "Was this income? "There are all sorts of income which are not taxable. The question before the Committee is whether the whole of this money should be taxable.

The hon. and learned Member suggests that the law is unjust and should be altered. May I point out that the effect of the Clause which we are discussing now is not to alter the law? Whitsuntide offerings will be untouched. It merely says we are to make an exception in one portion of the law, and that is the first £50 of Easter offerings. If the law is indefensible, there is only one thing for the House to do and that is to alter it, and not make a tiny exception.

:I have never known any Amendment to any Bill which made all necessary amendments to the law.

It is with great reluctance that I do so, but there is no question of confidence in the Government involved, and, in view of the inability of the Chancellor to give any reconsideration between now and Report, I must force this to a Division.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 65; Noes, 111.

Division No. 21.


Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.Hill, Prof. A. V.Savory, Professor D. L.
Adams, D. (Consett)Hinchingbrooke, ViscountSchuster, Sir G. E.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.Shakespeare, Sir G. H.
Braithwaite, Major A. N. (Buckrose)Jennings, R.Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Brooke, H. (Lewisham)Joynson-Hicks, Lt.-Comdr. Hn. L. W.Smithers, Sir W.
Butcher, Lieut. H. W.Keir, Mrs. CazaletSouthby, Comdr. Sir A. R. J.
Cadogan, Major Sir E.King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (Northwich)
Cluse, W. S.Lamb, Sir J. Q.Taylor, Major C. S. (Eastbourne)
Cobb, Captain E. C.Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.Thomas, Dr. W. S. Russell (S'th'm'tn)
Cook, Lt.-Col. Sir T. R. A. M.(N'flk, N.)Linstead, H. N.Touche, G. C.
Crowder, Capt. J. F. E.Little, Dr. J. (Down)Tree, A. R. L. F.
De Chair, Capt. S. S.Lucas, Major Sir J. M.Tufnell, Lieut.-Comdr. R. L.
Driberg, T. E. N.Mills, Colonel J. D. (New Forest)Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Elliston, Captain G. S.Morgan, R. H. (Stourbridge)White, Sir Dymoke (Fareham)
Emmott, C. E. G. C.Nunn, W.Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Fremantle, Sir F. E.Ponsonby, Col. C. E.Willink, H. U.
Galbraith, Comdr. T. D.Rankin, Sir R.Windsor-Clive, Lt.-Col. G.
Graham, Capt. A. C.Rathbone, EleanorWinterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Gridley, Sir A. B.Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)York, Major C.
Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)Rickards, G. W.
Hannah, I. C.Robertson, Rt. Hon. Sir M. A. (Mitcham)


Harvey, T. E.Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.Mr. Ivor Thomas and Mr.
Higgs, W. F.Sanderson, Sir F. B.Boothby.


Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)Foot, D. M.Pilkington, Captain R. A.
Adamson, W. M. (Cannock)Gallacher, W.Power, Sir J. C.
Albery, Sir IrvingGibson, Sir C. G.Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton
Assheton, R.Goldie, N. B.Ritson, J.
Barnes, A. J.Green, W. H. (Deptford)Robertson, D. (Streatham)
Beaumont, Maj. Hn. R. E. B. (P'hsm'h)Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.Salt, E. W.
Beit, Sir A. L.Grimston, R. V.Scott, Donald (Wansbeck)
Bennett, Sir P. F. B. (Edgbaston)Guy, W. H.Silkin, L.
Benson, G.Hardie, AgnesSmith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Bevan, A.Henderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N.E.)Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir D. B.
Blair, Sir R.Hughes, R. MoelwynSpearman, A C. M.
Boulton, W. W.Hulbert, Wing-Commander N. J.Stephen, C.
Bower, Comdr. R. T. (Cleveland)James, Wing-Com. A. (Well'borough)Storey, S.
Brocklebank, Sir C. E. R.Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Brooks, T. J. (Bothwell)Kimball, Major L.Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray & Nairn)
Burton, Col. H. W.Kirby, B. V.Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Campbell, Sir E. T. (Bromley)Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.Sutcliffe, H.
Cary, R. A.Leonard, W.Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Charleton, H. C.Leslie, J. R.Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Chorlton, A. E. L.Lipson, D. L.Thorne, W.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.Manningham-Buller, R. E.Thorneycroft, Maj. G. E. P. (Stafford)
Colegate, W. A.McEntee, V. la T.Viant, S. P.
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.Walkden, A. G. (Bristol, S.)
Cove, W. G.Mack, J. D.Walker, J.
Craven-Ellis, W.McKie, J. H.Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Critchley, A.McNeil, H.Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)Makins, Brig.-Gen. Sir E.Watkins, F. C.
Denman, Hen. R. D.Mellor, Sir J. S. P.Webbe, Sir W. Harold
Douglas, F. C. R.Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)Westwood, J.
Drewe, C.Molson, A. H. E.White, H. (Derby, N.E.)
Dugdale, Major T. L. (Richmond)Montague, F.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blaydon)
Dunn, E.Murray, J. D. (Spennymoor)Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Edmondson, Major Sir J.Nicholson, Capt. C. (Farnham)Womersley, Rt. Hon. Sir W.
Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir K. (Woolwich, W.)
Edwards, Walter J. (Whitechapel)Peat, C. U.Woodburn, A.
Erskine-Hill, A. G.Petherick, Major M.
Etherton, RalphPethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.


Findlay, Sir E.Peto, Major B. A. J.Mr. Pym and Mr. A. S. Young.