HC Deb 28 April 1836 vol 33 cc432-7

The Attorney General moved, that the Report on the Edinburgh Poor-Rates Bill be brought up.

Mr. A. Johnston

said, that he should oppose the bringing up the Report on this Bill, which went to take away from the members of the College of Justice in Edinburgh privileges which had been confirmed to them by many Acts of Parliament, both Scotch and British, during the last 300 years, and which had been solemnly sanctioned by a decision of the courts of law in 1790. The law incorporations of Edinburgh were ready to wave their privileges on the condition that the whole subject was brought fully before the House, instead of being thus introduced in detail, and that the question of the annuity tax was finally determined. The Faculty of Advocates had, in 1834, proposed to abandon their exemption from taxation on condition that the tax should be extended to all persons paying a rental of 10l. or upwards. The rental which this measure would affect was about 40,000l. He was convinced a less partial measure must be brought forward for the consideration of the House. He should be extremely sorry to see it interfere with those peculiar and vested privileges which it was proposed by this Bill to destroy, and feeling in the strongest manner the great injustice that was contemplated by it, he would move that the Report be brought up that day six months.

The Attorney General

protested against the grounds upon which this Bill was opposed. About the year 1698 a Bill was passed for the purpose of raising poor-rates in the city of Edinburgh, which were then very inconsiderable, and the members of the College of Justice, consisting of the judges, the advocates, the attornies, the solicitors, all the clerks, and all the officers connected with the courts— certainly a most honourable body—contrived to have a clause introduced exempting them from contributing to the support of the poor. Several successive Bills had been passed for the relief of the poor in Edinburgh, in each of which they contrived to have the same clause inserted. He imputed nothing to the Faculty of Advocates, and notwithstanding the zeal of the hon. Member for St. Andrew's, he could inform him that a very large portion of them were favourable to this Bill; they thought, in fact, that they were placed in a disgraceful position, and were anxious to be removed from it. There were 600 persons in Edinburgh, who called themselves members of the College of Justice, who would not contribute one shilling, although their servants and domestics were frequently supported out of that fund. The exemption, therefore, was entirely one of a personal nature. It was said, wait until every thing could be settled together. But what, he would ask, had the collecting of an annuity-tax for the maintenance of the clergy to do with the relief of the poor? In his opinion nothing. Under these circumstances, he hoped the motion of the hon. Member for St. Andrew's would meet with no sympathy from that House.

Sir George Clerk

conceived, although this was a private Bill, that it involved a great public principle, and ought to receive the deliberate attention of the House. They were called upon to consider, as had been yesterday gravely asserted, whether, in these enlightened days, a measure of general utility was to supersede one of vested interests; but he at least would hope, that that House was not prepared to set aside, without due compensation, the vested rights of any body of men, or even of any individuals, merely upon the ground of general expediency. He was not there to argue the polity of the grounds upon which the privileges in question were granted in 1698. The question hen arose, when poor-rates were for the first time to be imposed in Edinburgh, whether the College of Justice should be exempt or not, and it was maintained successfully that it should, and in all subsequent Bills proposing local assessment no charge had been made upon the members of that college, unless voluntarily on their part; but he could state, that in no instance where any great public improvement was about to be made had this body urged their privilege of exemption; on the contrary, they had always evinced a readiness to bear their share of any assessment to be levied for such a purpose; and in the next place, they generally made use of the powers they possessed for the advantage of the community at large. But the most important point was, that they were ready to wave their privilege on the condition that the question which had yesterday been under the consideration of the House (that of the annuity-tax) should be fairly settled, and religious instruction to a sufficient extent secured to persons of the Established Church in Edinburgh, together with the settlement of the Poor-rates question. The Attorney-General himself objected in the Committee, of which he was Chairman, to have the two Bills separated. When the Municipal Bill for Scotland was presented, the Faculty of Advocates stated their willingness to give up their privileges, if these two objects were kept together, but that if separated, they would not consent to do so. Was the House to deprive them of their vested rights, and of that power which they exercised upon any great question relating to Edinburgh, in securing the introduction of a clause for the benefit of the community at large? Their privileges would have been withdrawn last year, upon securing to the clergy a proper maintenance, and making a provision for the poor. It was, therefore, upon these considerations they justified the continuance of their privileges, at the same time that they were willing to give them up upon a settlement of these two questions.

Mr. Robert Steuart

had heard with surprise the arguments of the hon. Member for St. Andrew's in support of his amendment, and the only one he had used in favour of exemption was the very expensive education which those persons who were exempt had to receive. The House, however, should not infer there from, that any portion of that expense went for the support of the clergy, or for the support of the poor, but went to establish a fund for their own benefit. He really thought it exceedingly unjust that the most influential body in the city of Edinburgh should be totally exempt from contributing to the relief of the poor and the support of the clergy. If the annuity-tax, which bore so hardly upon some, were divided amongst all classes of the community, those on whom it now pressed would be relieved one-fifth. Even supposing there was some ground of objection to the annuity-tax, what reason could they have for continuing their exemption to poor-rates? That he conceived to be one of the strongest parts of the case, and all the present Bill proposed doing, was, to remove abuses, which the hon. Baronet called vested rights.

Mr. Pringle

called the attention of the House to the fact, that the College of Justice had not been dealt quite fairly by, as the Lord-Advocate had not brought forward his promised measure respecting the annuity-tax, while the exemption from payment to the poor only was attacked. If both were introduced, the members of the College of Justice were quite ready to relinquish any advantage they at present enjoyed, for the benefit of their fellow-citizens, and without any pecuniary compensation.

The Lord Advocate

stated, that, as a member of the College of Justice, whose privileges were the subject of discussion, he begged to say a few words. If those privileges could be defended on any just or equitable principle, no Member of the House would be more zealous, and he believed few more interested than he was to defend them. The question relative to those privileges was, whether the Judges, Advocates, Writers to the Signet, Solicitors, and Officers of Court, should be exempted from contributing towards the support of the poor, along with the other citizens of Edinburgh, who were taxed for that purpose. He had not been able to discover any fair or reasonable ground on which they could desire to possess such an exemption. He was bound, therefore, not to oppose, but to support, the Bill. The Faculty of Advocates, to which he belonged, appeared to feel that there were no grounds on which they could directly oppose the Bill; but they stated, that they wished another arrangement with regard to the clergy—a matter of great complexity and difficulty—and that, therefore, they should not be called upon to contribute to the poor, until that separate question was finally arranged. The obvious answer to that argument was, that these were two totally distinct questions, and it was no reason because the matter as to the clergy might remain unsettled, that a Bill should not be passed to regulate the support of the poor. The hon. Member for Midlothian had referred to what passed in Committee last year, but he (the Lord Advocate) had then stated, as he did now, that the questions as to the clergy and as to the poor were separate subjects; and while he then stated his intention of bringing forward this Session a Bill with reference to the annuity tax for the clergy, he had expressly said, that the provisions for the poor would not be included in that Bill, and that that was a subject which he was not called upon, officially, to take any charge of, although he then had a most decided opinion that no such exemption should be continued in favour of the members of the College of Justice. He might shortly state why he had not hitherto introduced such a Bill. He had hoped that the Report of the Municipal Commission for Scotland would have afforded him the means of framing it, but the business was undertaken by his right hon. Friend near him, who went to Scotland, and framed a plan preferable in a great many respects to any other that had been devised. That was unfortunately rejected by the creditors of the city of Edinburgh; and until some other proposal could be brought forward, he was not in a situation to introduce any Bill on the subject of the clergy. That circumstance, however, afforded no ground for delaying for one hour, this measure with regard to the poor. The sooner it was fixed and settled the better; but it was a very extraordinary view indeed that the other measure would be promoted by delaying this Bill, which had no bearings toward it. The Writers to the Signet had taken a most direct and intelligible view of the subject. They did not attempt to mix it up with provisions relating to the clergy, with which it had no connexion, but they maintained, that all existing members of the College of Justice should be exempted during their lives, and that those only who might in future become members, should be compelled to contribute towards the poor. He believed that the House would be of opinion with him, that so far from the exemption being allowed to continue, it had already subsisted too long, and that he was not unduly surrendering the privileges of the body to which he belonged, when he voted that they ought, along with the rest of the citizens of Edinburgh, to contribute to the support of the poor of that city.

The House divided on the original question. Ayes 108; Noes 77:—Majority 31.

List of the AYES.
Astley, Sir J. Hutt, W.
Baines, Edward Jephson, C. D. O.
Barnard, E. G. Jervis, John
Barry, G. S. Labouchere, Henry
Berkeley, hon. F. Leader, J. T.
Bernal, Ralph Lefevre, C. S.
Bewes, T. Lennard, Thomas B.
Bish, T. Lennox, Lord G.
Bridgman, Hewitt Lennox, Lord A.
Brotherton, J. Lister, E. C.
Buckingham, J. S. Loch, James
Buller, E. Lynch, A. H.
Burrell, Sir C. M. bt. Mackenzie, S.
Butler, hon. P. M'Taggart, J.
Chalmers, P. Mangles, J.
Chapman, M. L. Marsland, Henry
Codrington, Sir E. Maule, hon. Fox
Crawford, W. S. Maxwell, John
Crawford, W. Morpeth, Lord
Divett, E. Morrison, J.
Duncombe, T. S. Mostyn, E.
Dundas, J. D. Mullins, F. W.
Evans, George Murray, John Arch.
Ewart, W. North, Frederick
Fazakerley, N. O'Connell, D.
Ferguson, Robert O'Connell, J.
Gillon, W. D. O'Connell, M. J.
Gisborne, T. O'Connell, Morgan
Grote, G. O'Conor, Don
Hall, B. O'Ferrall, M.
Harvey, D. W. Oliphant, Lawrence
Hastie, A. O'Loghlen, M.
Heathcoat, J. Oswald, J.
Heathcote, G. J. Palmer, General C.
Hector, C. J. Pattison, J.
Horsman, E. Philips, G. R.
Howard, hon. E. Potter, R.
Howard, P. H. Poulter, John Sayer
Howick, Viscount Price, Sir R.
Hoy, James Barlow Pryme, George
Hume, J. Russell, Lord John
Scholefield, Joshua Tulk, C. A.
Scott, J. W. Villiers, C.
Seale, Colonel Wakley, T.
Sharpe, General Wallace, R.
Stanley, E. J. Ward, Henry George
Stewart, P. M. Wemyss, Captain
Strickland, Sir G. Wilkins, W.
Stuart, Lord J. Williams W. A.
Stuart, V. Wood, C.
Thomson, C. P. Wrottesley, Sir J.
Thompson, Paul B. Young, G. F.
Thompson, Colonel
Thorneley, T. TELLERS.
Tooke, W. Campbell, Sir J.
Trelawney, Sir W. Steuart, R.
List of the NOES.
Agnew, Sir A., bart. Hamilton, Lord C.
Archdall, M. Hay, Sir J., bart.
Bailey, J. Hayes, Sir E. S., bart.
Baillie, Colonel H. Jackson, Sergeant
Barclay, C. Johnstone, J. J. H.
Baring, F. Johnston, Andrew
Baring, H. Bingham Kearsley, J. H.
Baring, Thomas Knight, H. G.
Barneby, John Lewis, David
Beckett, Sir J. Lincoln, Earl of
Boldero, Henry G. Lucas, Edward
Bolling, Wm. Lushington, S. R.
Bradshaw, J. Mackinnon, W. A.
Bruce, C. L. C. Mahon, Lord
Calcraft, J. H. Meynell, Henry
Campbell, Sir J. Peel, Sir R.
Canning, Sir S. Plumptre, J. P.
Chandos, Marq, Rae, Sir Wm. bart.
Chichester, A. Reid, Sir J. Rae
Cole, Lord Richards, J.
Conolly, E. M. Ross, Charles
Cripps, Joseph Rushbrooke, R.
Darlington, Earl of Shaw, F.
Eastnor, Viscount Sheppard, Thomas
Egerton, Sir P. Sinclair, Sir George
Elwes, J. Smyth, Sir G. H. bart.
Entwisle, John Somerset, Lord G.
Estcourt, Thos. G. B. Stanley, Edward
Ferguson, G. Tennent, J. E.
Finch, George Thomas, Colonel
Foley, Edw. Thomas Trevor, hon. Arthur
Forbes, Wm. Vere, Sir C. B., bart.
Fremantle, Sir T. W. Vyvyan, Sir R. R.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Wall, C. B.
Gladstone, Thomas Young, J.
Gladstone, Wm. E. Young, Sir L. W.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. TELLERS.
Graham, Sir J. Clerk, Sir G., bart.
Hale, Robert B. Pringle, A.