LORD LOREBURN L.C.
My Lords, I agree with the Court of Appeal. The only question is whether or not a sum given by parishioners and others to the vicar at Easter, 1905, is assessable to income tax as being "profits accruing" to him "by reason of such office."
In my opinion, where a sum of money is given to an incumbent substantially in respect of his services as incumbent, it accrues to him by reason of his office, Here the sum of money was given in respect of those services. Had it been a gift of an exceptional kind, such as a testimonial, or a contribution for a specific purpose, as to provide for a holiday, or a subscription peculiarly due to the personal qualities of the particular clergyman, it might not have been a voluntary payment for services, but a mere present.
In this case, however, there was a continuity of annual payments apart from any special occasion or purpose, and the ground of the call for subscriptions was one common to all clergymen with insufficient stipends, urged by the bishop on behalf of all alike. What you choose to call it matters little. The point is, what was it in reality?
It was natural, and in no way wrong, that all concerned should make this gift appear as like a mere present as they could. But they acted straightforwardly, as one would expect, and the real character of what was done appears clearly enough from the papers in which contributions were solicited.
LORD ASHBOURNE .
My Lords, the question in this case is a short one, and it naturally is of much interest to the clergy and to many who are interested in their welfare.
Are Easter offerings assessable to income tax as profits accruing by reason of the office of vicar? The Court of Appeal unanimously held in the affirmative, being of opinion that they were made to the vicar as vicar.
These offerings had been made for several years to the appellant, the vicar of East Grinstead. They were made in response to a systematic appeal initiated by the bishop and supported by the churchwardens to induce collections to eke out slender stipends. People were urged, it is true, to subscribe as a personal freewill gift, the contributions were wholly voluntary, and the amount given was regulated entirely by the discretion of the subscribers. But in what character did the appellant receive them? It was suggested that the offerings were made as personal gifts to the vicar as marks of esteem and respect. Such reasons no doubt played their part in obtaining and increasing the amount of the offerings, but I cannot doubt that they were given to the vicar as vicar and that they formed part of the profits accruing by reason of his office. The bishop was naturally anxious to increase the scanty stipends of ill-paid vicars. The whole machinery was ecclesiastical - bishops, churchwardens, church collections - and I am unable to see room for doubt that they were made for the vicar because he was the vicar, and became, within the statute, part of the profits which accrued to him by reason of his office. I can sympathize with the Lord Chief Justice in arriving at the conclusion, but I think that the appeal should be dismissed.
LORD ROBERTSON .
My Lords, I am clearly of opinion that this judgment is right.
When the broader facts of the case are remembered, I confess that it savours of paradox to say that this money did not accrue to the appellant by reason of his office of vicar of East Grinstead. The cause of collecting the money was to supplement the legal income of the vicar, and, while this is the ordinary history of Easter offerings, in the present instance the thing is set out in black and white in the bishop's letter and the subsequent notices. The money is collected in church (the offertory being part of the service) and is placed on the altar, the contributions of those unable to attend being handed to the vicar or the churchwardens.
As I have said, the bishop's letter makes quite manifest what without it was sufficiently plain. It is, be it observed, a circular letter, and applies not to the appellant alone, but to each and every incumbent in the diocese. Its avowed object is to make up to the clergy the fall in their official incomes. It bases the appeal on the Christian duty incumbent on the people. While written with every desire to protrude the personal element, with a view to the present question, the letter does not conceal, but on the contrary demonstrates, that it is in virtue of his office that each clergyman is to take the offering which it was written to advocate.
LORD COLLINS .
My Lords, I am of the same opinion.