§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. BLACK
; Sir, in moving the second. 2158 reading of this Bill I shall endeavour to state the object of the promoters of it as briefly as I can, and rather than weary the House I will omit some of the statements and arguments which otherwise might have strengthened the case. But, lest any one should imagine that this Bill proposes to remove a mere petty local grievance, such as may be found adhering to many other districts of the country, allow me at once to say that I am prepared to prove that it is the most enormous grievance and injustice left unredressed in this country, much more oppressive than ministers' money in Ireland and church rates in England. I am prepared to show that while it is most oppressive and obnoxious to its victims it is injurious to the Church, to morality, to religion, and to the peace of the community, and in the removal of this vast evil that we propose to impinge on no vested interests, to make no claim on the Consolidated Fund, to encroach on no public property, and to do injustice to no man while we make a suitable provision for the clergy from purely ecclesiastical funds. In any observations I have to make I will confine myself to the case of Edinburgh, with which I am best acquainted, and I will leave my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) to state the case of that town.
In order that the case may be more clearly understood, it is necessary that I allude to the rise and progress of the tax, which was first imposed in 1634 by Act of Privy Council, of Charles I. I am unwilling to trouble the House with reference to Acts of Parliament and shall, as far as possible, avoid quoting, and merely mention the substance; but if my statement is called in question I have the Acts here and can refer to them. I may just quote the reason given by the privy Council for the imposition:—For sa meikle as there is nothing so consonant to equitie and reason than that all such persons that dailie enjoy in plentie that blessing of the word of God and heares the same preached and does participat the benefit of the clergy should contribute to the maintenance of the ministri in these places where they take the fore-said benefit.At this period it appears that the inhabitants of Edinburgh almost universally adhered to one form of religion, and participated in the benefit of the clergy: it was, therefore, not unreasonable that they should be made to contribute to their maintenance according to their ability, and on this principle all the early Acts were passed. The 2159 Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1661 is the regulating Act. By it the magistrates were authorized to levy 6 per cent—on all houses, shops, and warehouses for the support of six ministers. By a previous Act the amount leviable was 19,000 merks, equal to £1,070 11s. From time to time new local Acts were procured as it was found necessary to extend the royalty over new districts. All these embodied or acknowledged precisely the same obligations as the Act of 1661 till the Act of 1809. Here, although Acts of Parliament are but a dry study, I have to solicit the attention of the House to this as it entirely demolishes the arguments constantly harped upon about this tax being the patrimony of the Church—as the provision made by the piety of our forefathers for the support of the clergy and the maintenance of religion—as a sacred property which it would be sacrilege to touch. From the first imposition of this tax till after the passing of the Act of 1809—for nearly 200 years—the magistrates levied the 6 per cent. in the same way as they levied every other municipal tax; the whole revenues were merged in one fund from which all the disbursements of the City, including stipends to the Ministers were made, and during all that period the Ministers were mere stipendiaries receiving such salaries as were considered reasonable at the time, ranging from £138 to £300, whether these should exceed or fall below the amount levied as annuity; and the magistrates were only legally entitled to levy £1,070 for the maintenance of six ministers, In the year 1809 it was necessary to apply to Parliament for a new Act for a further extension of the royalty. But about this time the attention of some of the more inquisitive citizens had been directed to the provisions of the previous Acts under which the annuity was levied, and there were symptoms of a disposition to call the powers of the magistrates in question. This alarmed both the magistrates and the clergy, but especially the latter, and led to anxious consultations on both sides as to what should be the provisions of the new Act, both parties intending to milk that great cow, the public, for their own peculiar advantage—it was "diamond cut diamond." But cunning as the magistrates thought themselves they were completely outwitted by the clergy. With the aid of the Dean of Faculty of the day a clause was concocted among them which, the response of the ancient oracles, seemed to each party to be in his favour, 2160 but either way the public were to be the victims. There was, therefore, great danger, that if the Parliamentary notices had given any intimation of that which had been the object of most anxious solicitude to the promoters, the Bill would have been opposed; but the Parliamentary notice, which ought to have intimated the intention, contains not one syllable on the subject; this, which has ever since gone by the name of "the smuggled clause," is the 17th clause in the Act. As this is rather an ugly transaction I am unwilling to make any statement of it myself, and, in order that the parties might speak for themselves, I had prepared extracts from the written pleadings of the parties before the Judges of the Court of Session, where the magistrates claimed the benefit of the smuggled clause on the ground of uniform custom, and the clergy on the ground that "the clause was introduced solely at the request of the ministers and was written by them." But, although the extracts might appear curious and interesting to us, I was afraid of trespassing on the patience of the House by reading them. lf, however, my statements are called in question, I have here copies of the Parliamentary notices, of the clause itself, and extracts from the written pleadings before the Court—these pleadings fill a volume of nearly 1000 4to pages. No notice having been given to the public of the intentions of the promoters of this Bill, it passed without opposition through all its stages, and the magistrates—good easy men—were congratulating themselves on having safely pulled the nuts out of the fire; but the clergy immediately pounced upon them with an action before the Court of Session, where, to show how dexterously this extraordinary clause had been drawn out, so as to be accepted by both the contending parties, it puzzled even the six Judges who first tried the case, three voting on one side and three on the other; it was three times before the Court and was at last decided in favour of the ministers by a majority of one, and, but for an accident, would have been decided the other way. The House may imagine I have been exaggerating or romancing in regard to these Acts, especially to that of 1809; but I consider it essential to our case to show that the annuity tax in Edinburgh is not an ancient tax, except in a very small proportion, and that in fact it dates no further back than the year 1810, and that we were unjustly saddled with it even then, 2161 For the first ninety-four years the stipends were 2,500 merks, equal to £138 17s. 9d.; in 1783 they were advanced to £160; and from 1795 to 1807 they were advanced from time to time till they reached £330. During all this time the clergy were mere stipendiaries, and it was only in the year 1820 that they got the tax into their own hands and collected it for their own behoof, It will be in vain to tell us now that we are similarly situated with those who have to pay tithes and burdens imposed upon lands centuries ago. Nine-tenths of this tax was not really imposed upon us till five years after I was in business. Am I then to be told that I knew what burdens I was to be subjected to before I commenced in that district? and, therefore, I have no right to complain. Since then a friend who commenced at the same time in the same neighbourhood has extended his premises at a cost of nearly £10,000, all which has been made subject to that imposition, which at the present will exceed £25 a year, or as a capital sum £600, which he considers a fine upon him for benefiting himself and improving the town. If any one should say it would be of little consequence to the payer whether it was paid to the magistrates or to the clergy, if it was paid, I answer that there is this material difference:—if it was paid to the clergy, excepting in the case of members of the Church, it was paid without value received; but had it been continued on the footing on which it had been levied for 200 years before, as a municipal tax, it would have been used for municipal purposes, and rendered other taxes lighter or unnecessary, and, in fact, in the twenty years previous to 1809 the tax was not only sufficient to pay the stipends but left £22,659 for other municipal purposes.
I shall now proceed to show that, independent of its unhallowed parentage, the burden is intolerable, and the grievance iniquitous. It was originally 6 per cent. on all tenants of houses, shops, warehouses, &c., which used to be levied on four-fifths of the rent; but since the new valuation Act, it is levied on the full rent at 4¾ per cent. or 10½d. per pound, which is more than double the income tax. As it is laid not only on houses, where alone there can be cure of souls, but on shops, workshops, and warehouses, it falls with peculiar severity on the trading part of the community. Suppose a shopkeeper renting a shop and warehouses for £250—and a house for £50—and his clear profits £300 a year, his income tax will be £6 5s.; but 2162 his annuity tax is £13 2s. 6d. But it is much more sweeping in its infliction than the income tax, which spares all with less than £100 a year, while the poor labourer and workman is liable to be taxed on his rent of £5 or £10 a year. Even the public buildings erected for the purposes of science and art do not escape the clerical maw. The Royal Institution and the Royal Academy are rated, the one at £1,700 and the other at £1,600 a year, being equal to £140 a year. The Religious Tract Society have to pay £5 2s. If the Members of this House and the country were so impatient of the high income tax, and clamorous for its reduction or abolition, can you expect the inhabitants of Edinburgh to submit tamely to a double income tax, levied not for general but for sectarian purposes, and levied for one locality and not in another; for the only places where ministers' money or annuity tax is levied are Edinburgh and Montrose. What would have been thought of the justice or policy of levying the income tax in Scotland and not in England?—in two towns of Scotland and not in others?—in one-half of a town and not in the other?—on one class of the inhabitants and not on another?
I have said the burden is not only intolerable but the grievance is iniquitous. By the census of 1851 the population of Edinburgh was 160,000, and the burden for providing religious instruction in the established church for the whole City is laid upon the 66,600 inhabiting the ancient and extended royalty. Then, again, the members of the College of Justice, who are the aristocracy of the town and the most general adherents of the Established Church, are exempt, and the burden is mainly borne by the tradesmen. I should consider it very unfair if I were compelled to contribute in equal proportions with the learned Lord opposite to the support of his ministers from whom I receive no benefit. But the case is more aggravating than that—he compels me to pay a considerable sum every year to his ministers while he pays nothing at all himself. By a return prepared by the Town Council in 1843, the total amount of annuity assessment for that year was £10,667 12s. 10d., the whole payable by seat-holders in the City churches was £2,286 9s. 8d., leaving £8,381 3s. 2d. to be paid by those who received no benefit from the churches. The adherents of the Established Church in Edinburgh do not number one-third of the church-going population, and for the 2163 maintenance of the ministers of this one sect all the members of the other churches and those who belong to no church are taxed. But I will show you greater abominations still. There are many who believe this to be a violation of an essential christian principle, and consider that to pay, willingly is like a compounding of felony. The Quakers have never paid otherwise than by permitting the tax-gatherer to take the money. There has been constant resistance to the payment of the tax; and since the clergy took the collection into their own hands it has given rise to tumults and riots with which the police have been unable to cope, and it has been necessary to call in the military and dragoons to protect the auctioneer when selling off the furniture of the recusants. The prosecutions for non-payment are constant. In 1833, 846 persons were prosecuted, numbers had their furniture sold, five were imprisoned, and occasion was given to the most indecent scenes—among others a Rev. Doctor of the Secession Church, one of the most highly respected pastors and probably the most learned theologian in Scotland, Dr. Brown, who entertains strong views of the unlawfulness of this tax, had his furniture distrained and auctioned off for the benefit of brother clergymen of another sect, and ever since he has been obliged to live in the suburbs.
Perhaps the House would pay little regard to my opinion, or to the opinion of any dissenter as to the baneful influence that this tax has upon the morals and religion of the community and the injury it does to the Established Church itself. With the leave of the House I will furnish evidence from ministers and elders of the Established Church and their own agents, which I think must be perfectly unobjectionable. The hon. member then read the evidence of the Rev. Dr. Arnot, minister of the High Church, Edinburgh; of the Rev. A. R. Sonar, and of John Learmouth, Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1832, and an elder of the Established Church; given before the Select Committee of 1851.
I trust, then, I have satisfied the House that this is an evil of enormous magnitude and ought to be abated. Contrasted with the annuity tax, the grievance of church rates, which has been condemned by this House, is but as petty larceny compared with highway robbery; and ministers' money in Ireland, which was abolished and justly abolished by Parliament last year, was but a mitigated annuity tax; the Scotch and the Irish grievances were so 2164 far equal that both taxed the many for the benefit of the few, and the rate per pound in both countries was nearly the same; but in every other respect the grievance in Scotland was aggravated tenfold. In Ireland the maximum rent on which ministers' money could be charged was limited to £60 and the minimum to £10; in Edinburgh there is no limitation of the amount; in Ireland the assessment could never rise above 55s. on any one property; in Edinburgh it sometimes exceeds £30; in Ireland, dwelling-houses only were charged; in Scotland, shops and warehouses are likewise assessed, the sum leviable on the eight Irish towns, with a population of about 480,000, was just about the same in amount as in Edinburgh, with a population of 67,000. In Ireland the houses were valued and the rate fixed; in Scotland, the houses not being previously valued, improvements are prevented by an increase of taxation being incurred. In Ireland the people refused to pay, and the magistrates refused to assess. Was this the reason why Government resolved to abolish the tax? and are the Scotch people to be told that as long as they submit to this unjust law they can have no redress? This is a lesson easily learnt, but no wise Government would teach it. It was said that there is this distinction between Ireland and Scotland—that there were funds in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners which could be used for the relief of the eight towns. But these were as much public funds as the revenues of the Woods and Forests; and if they had been, as they might have been, applied for the support of the Irish schools, they would just have relieved the Consolidated Fund by so much. Parliament, however, in abolishing ministers' money in Ireland, acted wisely and justly; but if justice has been done to Ireland, is it to be refused to Scotland? Our number, no doubt, is small, the population aggrieved only amounts to about 93,000 in both towns; but would it be fair, would it be generous, because we are weak and few in number—because it is only two small towns, because it is only a Scotch grievance, that therefore Parliament, composed chiefly of Englishmen, should disregard our just complaints? I cannot believe that a British House of Commons will only do justice to the strong, but refuse it to the weak. I am prepared to hear some opponent to the Bill harp upon the old fallacy which was vehemently urged when the Bill for the abolition of ministers' money in Ire- 2165 land was under discussion, and argue that the tax of which we complain is the same as tithes or teinds. Now, it ought to be recollected that teinds are a property which may be bought and sold separate from the land; they originally belonged to the Church of Rome, and were seized by the Crown at the Reformation, and were afterwards gifted by the Crown to individuals and corporations. This property of teinds, so gifted to proprietors of lands, was given on the condition that churches should be maintained out of them, and landed proprietors were not required to pay more for ministers' stipends than these teinds afforded; and as soon as the sum necessary for ministers' stipend exhausted the amount gifted by the Crown for that purpose, the landlord was not obliged to pay more;—in short, he only pays out of the gift committed to him for that purpose; he is not called on to pay a farthing from his own property. The annuity, however, is a tax the same as any other tax—the same as the property tax, the house tax, the police tax, and other taxes. To say it is paid by the landlord and not by the tenant is a mere mistake, which could be proved upon the principles of political economy, which dry subject I will not, however, enter upon at present. I have already shown that the annuity tax, at least as far as Edinburgh is concerned, is but of yesterday in its heaviest demands—that it was only laid on in all its rigour by the Act of 1809: that by the very terms of the original imposition, it is distinctly declared to be applicable only to tenants, and that landlords, unless they inhabit the houses themselves, are expressly declared not to be chargeable.
The Act of the Scottish Parliament, 5th October, 1663, declares:—That the said annuity being only payable by the inhabitants and occupiers, shall not affect the ground of the houses and others foresaids; and that the heritors and others having right to the said houses and others above specified, shall not be liable to the same, except they actually inhabit, occupy, and dwell in them themselffe.I have brought forward evidence to show that this tax is partial in its incidence, burdening one part of Scotland and not another; falling heavily on the poor and the middle classes, and exempting the rich; that it is iniquitous in its spirit, oppressing all other sects for the support of one, and that one less than a third of the community, and that it is disastrous in its consequences, encouraging religious strife and rancour, endangering the peace of the city, 2166 and injurious to the interests of morality and religion. There is the evil—the enormous evil unmitigated by a single particle of good; it is upheld for the ostensible purpose of benefiting the Established Church; but even the most zealous supporters of that Church acknowledge that it is its greatest enemy. We demand, then, deliverance from such a pestiferous imposition. If we have proved it to be oppressive and unjust it is enough—we are entitled to relief without providing any substitute for the tax which we claim to be abolished. But we are prepared to offer a substitute which would interfere with no vested rights; we propose to continue to the present incumbents all their present sources of emolument. We do not propose to ask any grant from the Consolidated Fund, or to trench upon any public property, nor to mix up the Chancellor of the Exchequer in any degree with the arrangement. Many attempts have been made to procure a satisfactory solution of this question. In 1833, Lord Jeffrey introduced a Bill, which was opposed and afterwards abandoned. In 1835, the Town Council introduced a Bill, and in the same year a Committee of the Inhabitants brought forward one, but both were lost. In 1836, Mr. Labouchere was deputed to visit Edinburgh, to endeavour to procure a settlement of the embarrassed ecclesiastical and civil affairs of the city. In that year I had the honour of being examined before a Committee of this House in reference to these affairs. At that time the city of Edinburgh was greatly indebted to the right hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham), for his judicious and zealous assistance, as well as to the late Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Labouchere); but as the plan then proposed still continued a part of the tax, it was rejected by the inhabitants. Other attempts were made from time to time to settle this vexed question, but the city continuing to be disturbed by tumultuous opposition to the tax, Mr. Lefevre was deputed, in 1848, to visit the city to examine into the state of affairs and to report, which he did in 1850, and a Select Committee having been appointed by this House to consider the nature and operations of the annuity tax, they reported in 1851. I will just read the following sentence from their Report:—From the Reports and evidence laid before them, your Committee are deeply impressed with the necessity, both on account of the interests of religion and for the sake of the peace and good government of the city of Edinburgh, that an 2167 attempt should be made, and that without delay, to come to some final settlement and adjustment of the question which has hitherto produced results which all must deplore, and which your Committee concur with Mr. Lefevre in thinking must otherwise continue a cause of dissension if not of serious disturbance in that important city.'In 1852, the learned Lord (the Lord Advocate) opposite, prepared a Bill which was printed, but not proceeded with in consequence of the change of Ministry shortly after. In the next year, a Bill in nearly the same terms was brought in by the late Lord Advocate, and warmly supported by Mr. Macaulay, and lost, I believe, by some Members speaking against time; and lastly, the late Lord Advocate (Mr. Inglis) introduced a Bill last year which was only read a first time and then withdrawn; these last three Bills adopted the same principles somewhat modified; but although the last was the most unexceptionable and had the support of Government, the opposition of this House to the abstraction of public revenues for the benefit of the Church and the interfering with the Consolidated Fund was found insurmountable, and the Bill was withdrawn. Thus it appears that since 1833, two Parliamentary Committees have investigated and reported on this vexatious question; two deputations have been sent by Government at different times to examine the subject on the spot. Seven Bills have been introduced into Parliament and abandoned or lost, all showing the intense desire of the inhabitants for deliverance from this galling yoke. In most of these Bills we were willing to have made some sacrifice of principle for the sake of peace, but the experience of all these abortive attempts has proved that a deviation from principle for the sake of expediency is always dangerous; there was something unsound in the bases of all these Bills which gave a power to the opposition we could not overcome. It has been proved that if the tax is continued in any degree, if it is laid upon persons or districts not now liable; if any proportion is made a burden on public funds, it would be contrary to sound principle; this Bill is therefore based on what we are prepared to maintain is perfectly just and honest, though it may grate upon confirmed prejudices. I shall then proceed to show what we propose as a substitute for the present oppressive and injurious impost; and, in doing so, I pray hon. Members to keep in mind that we are dealing with a country in which the simple Presby- 2168 terian forms and habits prevail, and to recollect that what may appear to those accustomed to reverence the persons and ritual of an imposing hierarchy as rude, secular and disrespectful, is considered by the Scotch to be agreeable both to Scripture and common sense. What we propose is quite consistent with the practice and the principles of both Churchmen and Dissenters and no novelty in Scotland. In Edinburgh the Church possesses a considerable endowment besides the annuity tax. This is not mentioned in the Bill, as it was determined not to disturb any vested interests, and we had no right to introduce it; but it is proper that hon. Members should know that the Edinburgh clergy have a vested interest in £2,000 a year from the harbour and docks of Leith. I will not tire the House by any account of the origin and proceedings in regard to this endowment; suffice it to say that it is possessed by ancient gift, by general consent and adjustment, and by recent statute.
From this endowment every minister would draw, in the first place, £111. The other two sources of emolument will require some explanation to those unaccustomed to our methods of providing for public worship. In the Scotch burghs, at least, certainly in Edinburgh, the church seats are uniformly let, and the rents either drawn by the corporation or devoted as a supplement to the stipend of the minister. Let it not be considered by any that this is an exclusion of the poor or strangers from hearing the Gospel; we consider that it is quite reasonable that those who take the benefit of a house and its accommodation, if able, should pay for it, but there are generally seats set apart for the poor, and what I believe is a law of the church, and if not a law, at least a custom, with the power of law. At a certain time, shortly after the commencement of the service, any stranger may take a place in a pew not fully occupied without being invited; not, as in this country, where strangers may be left standing in the passage while pews are half empty. I am prepared to hear it objected to this source of emolument, that it is utterly inadequate, and it may be attempted to be proved by the amount derived at present from all the churches in Edinburgh. This would be a valid objection if the churches were to be left, as at present, under the control of the corporation, and at variance with the great majority of the people. This is no true criterion by which we are to judge; 2169 the proper criterion, when the churches are freed from these adverse influences, and resting on the confidence and affections of the people, will be the amount of similar revenues drawn by churches similarly situated, such as the Free Church and the Dissenters.
At present, the whole church revenues in Edinburgh are merged in one fund, and equally divided among the eighteen ministers. There is no difference between the remuneration to the drone and to the working bee. I find that the seat rents of St. George's, under Dr. Andrew Thomson, were above £1,800 a year; and under Dr. Candlish they were from £1,600 to £1,700. In St. Stephen's, under Dr. Muir, before the disruption, they were above £1,300; and had the church-door collections been on a proper footing these would have amounted to at least £500 or £600. These congregations could have afforded to their ministers from £1,500 to £2,000 a year, and they were entitled to it. The complaint in the Church of Scotland is, that there are no prizes. Several of the Edinburgh churches would be excellent prizes to the able and diligent, and they might 2170 hold out inducements to superior young men to enter the Scottish Kirk, as the hopes of bishoprics induce the higher classes to enter the Church of England. I understand some objection has been made by the Presbytery to the plan of giving each minister the revenues of his own church, which they prefer having collected into one fund, and having equally divided; but in all such arraegements among themselves they may be left to manage their own affairs. I must now make some explanation of the other source of revenue—the church-door collections, as this practice is unknown in England. From the time of the Reformation the Church of Scotland adopted a practice, which has been followed by all the Scottish Dissenters, in obedience to what they considered all apostolic injunction, to lay by, on the first day of the week, their contributions for the support of the poor and religious ordinances; consequently, two of the elders always attend at the commencement of public worship to receive these contributions. For many years—previous to the Poor Law Act—it was from these collections alone that the poor were supported; but after the imposition of poor rates, people considered that there was no necessity for adding to the assessment by giving collections at the church doors, consequently they are now very small; but in the Dissenting chapels the collections were taken for the general purposes of the congregation, and there they have been maintained. Another advantage which is proposed to be conferred upon the establishment is to transfer the patronage of the churches from the corporation to the elders and members of the different churches, so that they shall not have an inefficient minister imposed upon them by a body composed principally of Dissenters. They will thus continue, as decidedly as they ever did, to be the Established Church of Scotland. We have seen what that section of the Church which went off at the disruption have done. They have built their churches, their manses, their schools; and in Edinburgh they maintain their ministers in a respectable condition. The Established ministers send none of their funds derived from the annuity, &c., to their poorer brethren in the country; but the Free Church ministers, from their funds derived from seat-rents and church-door collections, not only support themselves, 2171 but they contribute largely towards their poorer brethren in the country. What the Bill proposes to give to the Establishment is fifteen churches, four of which, within a few years, cost the citizens above £100,000. It proposes to transfer the patronage from the corporation, to continue the endowment of £2,000 a year, and to add the proceeds of the seat-rents and the church-door collections. Thus they will possess, as an establishment, a considerable endowment, and, in addition, all the sources of revenue from which the ministers of the Free Church and the Dissenters are supported. I should consider it a libel upon the establishment were any one to say that, with these superior advantages, when freed from the odium of this tax, and from the thraldom of the corporation, the ministers would be less respected or less suitably supported by their congregations than their brethren of the Free Church. For ten years, although a Dissenter, I was one of the patrons of these fifteen churches, and for five years I was chairman of the patrons. During all that time, and up to the present day, there has been a contant wrangling between the ministers and the corporation, which are like two dogs tied together and dragging different ways, to the great discomfort of both. With the experience I have had, I may be allowed, without presumption, to express it as my conviction, which I do as if I were on my solemn oath, that the adoption of the plan we propose, so far from injuring the Established Church, would confer on it a power, a stability, and a vitality and an influence from which it has been long excluded by its unfavourable position. I know that in making these propositions a spectre rises before the minds of many hon. Members; they cannot discern the form thereof, but it is that dreaded phantom, Voluntaryism. I entreat them to approach a little nearer and examine it; it is only a shadow, a bugbear. Look at it—there is nothing unnatural in deriving rents from the house where the hearers receive accommodation; there is nothing unhallowed in receiving the free-will offerings of an affectionate congregation, rather than contributions levied by threats and compulsion from a disgusted people. Consider the alternatives in the light of common sense, and in the spirit of that holy religion which we profess, whether would it be better to adopt that which will promote peace and good will though it has 2172 a name you dislike, or will you continue that which is the parent of discord and hatred because it has a name you prefer.
ABSTRACT TAKEN FROM THE LATEST RETURNS OF Six OF THE PRINCIPAL ESTABLISHED, FREE, AND DISSENTING CHURCHES IN EDINBURGH:— Established Church. Seat Rents and Church Door Collections. 1. St. Andrew's £709 19 0 2. St. Stephen 602 11 10 3. Greenside 589 12 10 4. Lady Yester's 430 12 7 5. St. Mary's 354 2 6 6. St. George's 394 0 3 £3,080 19 0 Free. Seat Rents, Church Door Collections, and Sustentation Fund for Support of Minister. 1. St. George's £4,364 6 4 2. High Church 2,704 19 9 3. St. Andrew's 1,908 3 11 4. St. John's 2,202 2 4 5. Talbooth 1,627 5 8 6. New North 1,548 10 10 £14,355 8 10 Dissenting. 1. Broughton Place £1,098 7 0 2. Rose Street 1,539 3 9 3. College Street 1,629 5 0 4. Newington 1,056 4 8 5. Lothian Road 970 12 1 6. Nicolson's Street 663 3 7 £6,956 16 1
I am happy to think that the learned Lord opposite, and, I presume, the Government of which he forms a worthy part, agree with me, so far as that this grievance should and must be redressed, for it was in connection with almost the same colleagues that he prepared a Bill for this purpose in 1852, but which, in consequence of the change of Ministry, was not proceeded with. I presume, then, there will be no dispute as to the propriety, or the necessity of removing the grievance and providing a remedy. I have anxiously and long considered this question in all its bearings, and I am persuaded that we have but three courses that we can follow. The first is, to permit the evil to continue and to increase; the second is, to provide a substitute from public funds, at least partly, as was proposed by the learned Lord opposite and by the late Lord Advocate; or the third is, to accept the means pointed out by this Bill. Let us look, then, at the leading features of the learned Lord's Bill. He first proposes, by the 10th and 22nd clauses of his Bill, to continue a permanent tax of 2¾ per cent, and a temporary tax of 1 per cent. He does not propose to remove the galling yoke, but to confirm it, though somewhat lighter. I can assure the House that, so far from satisfying the inhabitants, they would consider this a mockery and petition against it. Secondly, by Clause 6 he proposes to take £6,000 from money paid by the North British Railway Company to restore Trinity College Church. Thirdly, by Clause 8 he proposes to appropriate the revenues of the deaneries of the Chapel Royal. Fourthly, by Clause 14 he proposes that the payment of the stipends of the ministers should form a charge upon the Consolidated Fund. And fifthly, by Clause 3 he proposes to reduce the stipends of the successors of the present ministers, none of which things we propose to make. This Bill had all the vices of the late Lord Advocate's Bill, and a good deal more; yet the opposition of the House against interfering with the public revenues, and against laying any responsibility on the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Consolidated Fund, in the case of the Bill of last year, was waxing so strong, that though favoured by the late Ministry, it was found prudent to withdraw it.
I have said, then, that we are agreed 2173 that a remedy must be found—not a sham but a complete remedy. The learned Lord has given the strongest proof that he thinks a remedy ought to be found in bringing forward a Bill for the purpose. I ask, then, if he still thinks that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take the charge of the ministers of Edinburgh, or if the Chancellor were to be so kind, would this House sanction any dependence of the ministers of Edinburgh on the Consolidated Fund, or would it permit the revenues of the Crown to be diverted to this purpose? But if he has no other means of removing this intolerable grievance—if he can find no substitute for the iniquitous tax but by continuing it partially, and laying the burden on the public funds, then we are left to one or other of the two remaining alternatives; then there is no escape. We may not altogether like the substitute proposed by this Bill, but the question is, whether will you accept a plan which is found efficient and suitable in other instances, or resolve on the perpetuation of religious strife, and tumult, and riot; whether will you promote peace and good will among the inhabitants, or interminable war between the ministers and the parishioners?
§ The hon. Member concluded by moving the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. BAXTER
, in seconding the Motion, said, the hon. Member need not be alarmed by the opposition raised againt his Bill, for the pecuniary considerations and theological feelings involved in the subject were not likely to give way without a tremendous struggle. But he must say that his bold and simple scheme was likely to encounter a far less formidable opposition than mere compromising schemes, which raised up enemies both amongst Churchmen and Dissenters. The Bill was, however, supported unanimously by the ratepayers of Edinburgh and Montrose, and he sincerely trusted they would not be deserted by the Irish Members, whom the Scottish Members had assisted in getting rid of ministers' money. The hon. Gentleman, having explained at some length the operation of the tax as regards the burgh of Montrose, proceeded to say that the only real opponents of this Bill were the clergy of the Established Church of Scotland, Who believe this was a covert attempt to injure that Church; but this was a gloomy anticipation, which was altogether incorrect. Many of the churches in Edinburgh were only half filled, and some others were 2174 comparatively empty; but if the communicants were given an interest in the affairs of their churches, if the patronage were placed in their hands, and the seat-rents and church-door collections were placed at their disposal, he had no hesitation in saying that in ten or a dozen years a larger sum would be collected than was now received from this obnoxious annuity tax. The tax levied in the town of Montrose at 4½d. in the pound amounted to £400, which went to pay the salary of the second minister; and he firmly believed that if the means suggested by this Bill were abolished, the income of the minister would not be diminished. He most cordially concurred with his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh in asking the House to pass the second reading of this Bill. The present law constantly led to riots in Edinburgh, to the most aggravating heartburnings, and was daily adding fuel to the fire of ecclesiastical controversy in Scotland. What had been done for the people of Ireland in the case of ministers' money must be done for Scotland in reference to the annuity tax, for the cases were completely analogous, and the people of Scotland would never submit to a tax which had been abandoned as untenable in Ireland. Her Majesty's Government, he understood, were going to oppose the Motion, but he could not help thinking that if they determined upon such a course they should be prepared to submit to the country some measure of their own which would settle this question, and remedy what all considered a grievous wrong.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. BLACKBURN moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. He would admit, that the hon. Gentleman who had moved the second reading had made out a case in which there was some degree of hardship; but he had very greatly exaggerated it, while he had been very careful to say as little as possible about his own Bill. Now, the real question before the House was, whether this particular Bill was deserving of their support. The case of Edinburgh was this:—The city contained about 160,000 inhabitants, with eighteen clergymen, who were mainly supported out of the annuity tax. Their endowments amounted to £11,000 a year, of which £2,000 was raised from the harbour dues of Leith, and £9,000 from the produce of the annuity tax. The Bill proposed not to abolish the whole of this 2175 endowment of the clergy, but it took away from them £9,000 which was paid by the people of Edinburgh, who received the whole benefit of the ministration of these clergymen, and it retained the £2,000 which was derived from the shippers using the port of Leith, who derived no advantage from it. It had been determined in Liverpool and other places that harbour dues should not be appropriated to other than harbour purposes; and if, therefore, the Bill had proposed to abolish that £2,000 derived from Leith harbour and to raise the whole £11,000 from Edinburgh, many arguments might, he thought, have been urged in support of it. The hon. Gentleman said, the Leith dues were settled by Act of Parliament. Why the annuity tax also was settled under an Act of Parliament. The Bill simply proposed to release the town of Edinburgh from any obligation to support its clergy. Suppose that such a proposition were made with regard to the county of Stirling, or any other large district of Scotland, what would be said? It would not be listened to for a moment, especially when it was remembered that persons had purchased their property subject to this charge, of the existence of which they were perfectly well aware. The fact was, that the advocates of the voluntary system took advantage of local irritation to get rid of this tax; but it would be fairer and more manly of them to raise the question of voluntaryism in an open and formal way. The substitute proposed by the Bill for the tax which was to be abolished was the seat rents and the church-door collections. He did not believe, however, that seat-rents were legally chargeable in Edinburgh; at all events they could not be relied upon as furnishing any settled amount; while the church-door collections were devoted to the sacred purpose of relieving such poor persons as were in temporary distress, and did not like to go upon the rates, and it was a fund, the appropriation of which he should be sorry to see disturbed. Another proposition of the Bill, which however produced no money, was to transfer the patronage from the town-council to the congregations. He did not know whether that might not be an advantageous proposition, and he thought that it would be well if some other patronage which they enjoyed were transferred to a different body. The only sources which were proposed as providing a substitute then, in point of fact, produced little or nothing; and Mr. Shaw 2176 Lefevre, who conducted the commission in 1849, reported that there were no funds available from seat-rents, which, so far as they were leviable, were pledged to the city creditors. He believed that the real production of this Bill was to be attributed mainly to the fact of the exemption of the College of Justice from the tax; but that body, to their honour, had offered in 1835 to forego their exemption, and this alone, as stated by Mr. Lefevre, would reduce the tax on the whole rental of Edinburgh to about 3 per cent, or, as the city had greatly extended of late years, perhaps to 2½ per cent, which, he was sure, would be willingly paid by all classes. That was the kind of settlement which he wished to see attempted; but, at all events, there was no possibility of the Bill, as proposed, passing in the present Session, and he therefore felt called upon to persist in the Amendment of which he had given notice.
§ Amendment proposed to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
§ MR. BUCHANAN
seconded the Amendment, but at the same time he said, he sympathized with the hon. Member for Edinburgh and his supporters, and it was his opinion that it would be very desirable that the exemption of the College of Justice should cease, and that some approach should be made towards readjusting the incidence of this obnoxious tax. He felt, however, that there was a great principle involved in this Bill, and that practically its effect would be the dis-establishment of the Church of Scotland. It was essential that any measure devised for the purpose of settling this question should have something of permanence in it; but he denied that there was a single element of durability in the Bill. The funds derived from seat-rents and from the church-door collections were variable in their amount, depending upon the popularity of the clergyman and many other circumstances which he need not mention, which would readily suggest themselves to the minds of every hon. Gentleman. The question was, were they prepared to sanction a Bill which would reduce the legal provision of the clergy of Edinburgh from £600 a year, to which they were entitled, to something like £110 a year? The inhabitants of Leith objected to paying their £2,000 a year if Edinburgh were to be relieved of its £9,000; and if this Bill were to pass, his constituents in Glasgow 2177 would be immediately in the field with a similar plan. The Glasgow clergy were supported principally by funds derived from the rents of the pews, which was supplemented by a rate upon the inhabitants, which yielded from £1,700 to £2,000 a year. This was a growing rate. It would no doubt, soon increase to £4,000; and if his constituents learned that this Bill was passed for the relief of Edinburgh they would immediately come in and demand a similar boon for themselves. The question of the maintenance of the Established Church ought to be discussed calmly and deliberately and by itself, and he protested against a large and important subject being disposed of by a side wind. He would therefore second the Amendment.
MR. J. B. SMITH
said, that the great objection to the tax was that the clergymen for whose benefit it was levied had nothing to do. It provided about £600 a year each for eighteen clergymen who regularly preached to empty pews. The city of Edinburgh was only obliged to find church accommodation for persons residing in the city or having establishments in it. Well, now, what was the state of the churches with respect to congregations? In the Tolbooth church there were only nineteen sittings let, but only one person was a parishioner entitled to accommodation; so that literally they were paying £600 a year there to a clergyman for the cure of one soul. In the Old Church there were thirty-eight sittings let, but only one person was a parishioner. In Trinity College there were thirteen sittings let, but one person only was a parishioner. In Old Grey Friars there were 328 sittings let, but only four were to parishioners; and in St. John's there were 259 sittings let, but only seven were to parishioners, for whom alone the city was bound to provide. It was then, he contended, a serious grievance upon the inhabitants of Edinburgh of which they had had a just right to complain that they should be called upon to provide stipends of £600 a year for eighteen clergymen for the cure of some three or four souls each. In Ireland, when it was proved that there were more bishops than were required, ten were abolished; and in this, which was an analogous case, he argued that the people of Edinburgh, having no longer any necessity for so many clergymen in the city, should no longer be called upon to pay for them; and his opinion was that the number of clergymen should be reduced from 2178 eighteen to six. He believed the Bill to be founded in justice, and he should therefore vote for it.
§ MR. COWAN
also supported the Bill, alleging that the grievance which it attempted to remove was a highly aggravated and intolerable church rate, which so long as it existed would impede the usefulness of the Established Church of Scotland, and place her at a great disadvantage. He was surprised at the opposition which his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. Buchanan) had offered to this Bill, which was an honest endeavour to remove a purely personal and most obnoxious tax. It was not the mere amount of the impost, but its unjust and partial nature that rendered it so obnoxious. It was a purely personal tax, yet all were exempted who were members of the College of Justice,—a house occupied by any advocate, writer to the signet, or solicitor was exempt. He trusted the conduct of the hon. Member was not to be attributed to the old feeling of rivalry which was said to exist between the metropolis of the West and of the East. In considering this question it was impossible not to have regard to the many changes which had taken place in the ecclesiastical condition of Scotland within the last fifteen years. During the first year after the disruption of the Church of Scotland the sum of £366,000 was contributed by the Free Church congregations for church building, missionary, and other purposes. It was said that when the furor that led to the disruption had passed away, almost the whole of the contributions would fall off; but the very lowest amount contributed in one year since that event was £267,000; and, intense as was the commercial distress of last year, the contributions for the year ending March, 1858, amounted to £331,000. The Free Church contributed £110,000 last year to the support of the clergy, and £80,000 in 1843. This generosity on the part of the Free Church had, it was said, stimulated the zeal of the members of the Established Church of Scotland. It was evident, therefore, that the Established Church need have no fear in relying on the voluntary principle to supply the loss which this Bill would occasion. We had resolved that caste was one of the curses of India, and ought not to be tolerated, and he hoped that the House would tell the clerical caste affected by this Bill that they must henceforth depend on the support of those who listened to their doctrines.
said, he was highly gratified at the statement which had been made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh with reference to the advancement of religion, as far as subscriptions to religious objects were concerned, which had been occasioned by the disruption of the church in Scotland. He did not, however, agree with the conclusions which had been drawn by the hon. Member. This tax had been in existence nearly 200 years, and no dissatisfaction had existed. It was established in 1601 expressly for the purpose of religion; but unfortunately the collection and management of it were entrusted to the Town Council of Edinburgh, who had doled out only as much as pleased them to the support of religion, and applied the rest to secular purposes; and it was only when the Act of 1809 was passed, which compelled them to devote the amount so raised to its legitimate purposes, that the slightest opposition was manifested. The Bill now proposed would lead to a total subversion of church property, and would be a grievous injury to the poor, who would be deprived of their rights to free sittings in the churches. Moreover it would deprive all those who had lent money on the security of the rate of the fund on which they relied. The annuity tax was not analogous to the church rate levied in England, because it was applied to every ecclesiastical purpose. The Bill, therefore, could not be consistently supported by those hon. Members, who, although they were hostile to church rates, were not unfavourable to the maintenance of a church establishment. This was an insidious attempt to subvert the Established Church in Edinburgh, and it would, to a great extent, put an end to that amicable rivalry between the Established and the Free Church of Scotland, which had rendered so much service to the cause of religion in that country. On these grounds he should oppose the Bill.
supported the Bill. The main principle had been so often discussed that he would only detain the House for a short time. The point they had to decide was, whether the State had any right to impose such a tax. He regretted to find so much stress laid on the inequalities of the tax; it should be opposed on the broad principle that no man should be compelled to support a system of religion from which he dissented. He regretted also to find the weight of the hon. Member for Glasgow thrown against the Bill. As far as he could ascertain, he believed the pressure 2180 of this tax on Edinburgh was far greater than that of ministers' money in Ireland, or church rates in England. They were told by passing the Bill they would disestablish the Church of Scotland. The Church had already dis-established itself When it ceased to be the Church of the people. The ministers of the Free Church received from voluntary contributions larger stipends than were secured by law to the clergy of the Established Church.] If the latter appealed to their flock, he was sure they would have no reason to regret such appeal.
§ MR. CUMMING BRUCE
said, that all persons must oppose this Bill who were opposed to a principle of confiscation. The question ought to be discussed upon its merits alone; and it seemed to him that the very extracts read by the hon. Member for Edinburgh furnished the strongest grounds for maintaining the tax, at least to a modified extent,—for he must admit that in many instances the incidents of this tax were very unjust; but that might easily be remedied. Although when in Scotland he was a Dissenter, being a member of the Episcopalian Church, he was always ready to resist any attempt to destroy the Establishment, because he had always found the Established Church the Church of the poor, who could not afford to pay pew-rents or other contributions. He admitted that the Free Church had come forward with great liberality in matters of religion, but not more than the great wealth of its supporters justified; and in his opinion very little faith could be placed in the permanent effect of the voluntary principle. If the principle of this Bill were affirmed, it was clear that Parliament must give up all pretence of supporting the Establishment. The House had affirmed the abolition of church rates in England, but this Bill went much further, and abolished every means by which the Church provided for the instruction of the people in religious truth. The effect of the passing of the measure would be to take from the poorer classes a fund and put it into the pockets of the rich. He was most anxious to see the question settled, believing that there was great room for improvement, and therefore he should give his cordial support to any measure which was calculated to place it on an unobjectionable footing. He believed that no one was more qualified to procure its satisfactory settlement than his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate; but, while he (Mr. C. Bruce) anxiously de- 2181 sired a settlement of the question, there were so many objections to the Bill now before the House, that he felt compelled to give every opposition in his power to its further progress.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, he did not think that this Bill pledged any one to the support of those extreme measures which had created so much alarm amongst a certain portion of the Members from Scotland; but, at the same time, he could not support it in detail. He considered that this tax was a most obnoxious one, and it was one that had already done much injury to the interests of religion generally in Scotland. All the hostilities which now unhappily existed in respect to this question had, he thought, arisen from what be would call the unreasonable views of both of the great parties into which the Church was split up in his country—neither party would agree to the least concession. The proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh was not one quite in accordance with the voluntary principle; but it was a proposition partaking of the character of an endowment to be supplied in lieu of this tax. He was prepared to assent to a modification of the arrangement proposed; but, if there were no middle course, he was willing to take the Bill as it stood rather than assent to the continuance of this tax.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
said, that notwithstanding the tendency of some observations which had been made he should not discuss the principle on which an Established Church was based; on the contrary, he should assume as the foundation of his argument that the Church of Scotland, equally with the Church of England, ought to be maintained in an efficient condition; and in so doing he believed he was only Acting in accordance with the great preponderance of opinion in both Houses of Parliament and among the more intelligent portion of the community at large. Now, proceeding on that assumption, he could not assent to any Bill which took away any revenue from the Established Church of Scotland without providing an equivalent; and the question really resolved itself into this—whether the equivalent proposed in this case by the hon. Member for Edinburgh was or ought to be satisfactory to the clergy of the established Church. As regarded the tax itself he supposed it was agreed on all sides that it was a most unfortunate mode of levying the stipend of the clergy. But hon. Gentlemen must 2182 not forget how this tax came to be levied originally, and how it had happened that, with all its faults and all its injustice, it had remained unaltered down to the present day. One word on each of these topics. As to the origin of the tax, it was an historical fact that at the period of the Reformation the whole of the boroughs of Scotland, without exception, received grants from the Crown of considerable ecclesiastical revenues, and the City of Edinburgh, which was an especial favourite both with Queen Mary and with King James VI., shared very largely in those grants. It was not, perhaps, an absolute condition, but there was at any rate an honourable understanding that these grants should be applied to the maintenance of the clergy of the Established Church; and hence it was that in almost all the burghs of Scotland the clergy were to a certain extent maintained out of the common revenues of the corporation. In Glasgow, Perth, Aberdeen, Paisley, Stirling—indeed the rule might be said to be the general one—with the exception of the first Minister, who was supported by the tithes, the stipends of the clergymen were paid out of the "common good," that was to say, out of the ordinary revenue of the borough; and that was the case with Edinburgh also, until an Act of Parliament was passed to enable them to provide funds for that purpose from other sources. Now, he would admit that the past mode of providing for the stipends of the clergy was an inexpedient mode, and no man would rejoice more than he should at seeing a measure devised which would have the effect of abolishing this obnoxious tax altogether and at the same time providing a sufficient equivalent. His hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh said that not only was the tax objectionable in principle, but the manner in which it had been levied, the way in which payment had been enforced, was one of the causes of its having become so obnoxious. He (the Lord Advocate) was bound to say, as the result of a very long acquaintance with this subject, that that was not the fault of the city clergy. He believed that their conduct in connection with this matter had been most forbearing; that their great object had been to reconcile, as far as possible, their duties to the Church and the maintenance of the benefices which they held with the greatest possible amount of forbearance towards those who were subjected to the tax; and when it was said that the 2183 clergy had always refused to listen to any compromise he was fully prepared to deny that statement. Reference had been made to a Bill which was introduced by a distinguished predecessor of his (Lord Jeffrey) in 1833. That was the first attempt made to settle this question, and it was unsuccessful. Another attempt at a settlement of it was made by means of a Bill introduced in 1835. By whom was that Bill promoted? It was promoted by the town council of Edinburgh and the clergy of that city jointly, and the object of it was to remove those very grievances which, not by the fault of the clergy, but by the fault of those who had made those grievances, political capital, had been continued down to the present day. The Bill of 1835 provided for the extension of the operation of the tax to the privileged classes, so as to embrace within the incidence of taxation all that wealth the exemption of which was now complained of. It was further provided by that Bill that the per centage of taxation to be levied should be considerably reduced, and that even the reduced per centage should only be levied to the extent of providing certain fixed stipends, which where thereafter to be given to the clergy of the city. And what was the amount of those stipends? £500 a year, which he ventured to say was a sacrifice by each of those gentlemen of between £100 and £200 a year. And these were the gentlemen who were represented as having never been prepared to make any concession for the purpose of obtaining a satisfactory settlement of this question. If the measure of 1835 had been successful, they would, he believed, have heard very little more about this grievance; but it was not successful; and how was it defeated? In the first place, the privileged classes appeared by counsel, declaring that they were perfectly willing to give up their privileges, but that, in order that there might be a satisfactory settlement of the question, the stipends of the clergy ought to be fixed at a higher amount. But there was another set of opponents to that measure—the extreme politicians, whom his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh now represented—those who would listen to nothing but abolition without equivalent, or at all events without such an equivalent as would be accepted. The result was, that between the two the Bill was defeated, and the evils which it was intended to remedy were perpetuated from that time to the present.
2184 Knowing the principles of those politicians, he was not at all surprised at the course which they pursued. The moment you mitigated a grievance you took away half its value. If a tax of 4½ per cent. on rents were reduced to 2½ or 2 per cent., the Parliamentary case for further legislation would of course be proportionately weakened. The object of these persons was not to get rid of this grievance, but, through the abolition of the tax, to inflict a permanent and fatal blow on the interests of the Etablished Church. No measure had ever before been submitted to either House of Parliament which in the slightest degree resembled that before the House in its character; no measure had ever before been proposed which did not propose and actually suggest a sufficient equivalent for the tax which it was proposed to abolish. In that respect this measure differed from all its predecessors. A comparison had been drawn between the abolition of this tax and the abolition of ministers' money in Ireland and of church rates in England. That comparison was not a just one; there was the widest distinction between them. As regarded ministers' money in Ireland, did any one suppose that those who received that money were now left entirely destitute? In Ireland, ministers' money was not a substitute for a previous well-established fund for a particular purpose. Church rates also stood in a totally different position from the tax under consideration. They were not a tax on property, or a tax to which the clergy had an absolute right, as was the case with regard to the tax levied for the clergy of the city of Edinburgh; the right to levy church rates was one which was entirely dependent on the will of the vestry for the time being. This tax, on the other hand, was made a permanent burden on the inhabitants of Edinburgh; it was a substitute for that claim on the ordinary revenues of the city which the clergy undoubtedly had before the Act now in operation was passed. An unexceptionable authority on this subject, Sir John Lefevre, said that the tax was one which the State granted to the ministers and their successors, and that the abolition of it would create a feeling of distrust in Scotland which would not be confined to the Established Church. Let the House now consider what were the provisions of this Bill. There was to be an absolute abolition of the tax, and therefore the question arose how the deficiency which would be created in the stipends of the clergy was to be supplied? In the first 2185 place, it was proposed that the sum of £2.000 a year, derivable from the harbour of Leith, should be devoted to that purpose. Now, he could not conceive why it should be less objectionable to make the shipping of Leith pay towards the support of the clergy of Edinburgh than it was to require the inhabitants of Edinburgh to do so; and the people of Leith themselves had petitioned against such a proposal. The next source of revenue on which the hon. Member relied was the produce of the seat-rents of the city churches; that was, he (the Lord Advocate) supposed the seat-rents after the necessary expenses for maintaining the fabric of the churches and the other purposes to which they are applied. That was a proposal of a very grave nature. The statistics of the hon. Member proved a great deal too much—a great deal too much even for himself—for no sooner had he offered what he did than he appeared to become conscious of the absurdity of what he had been doing. He said the statistics of seat-rents proved that in one church there were only thirteen occupants of pews; adding, that out of these only one was an inhabitant, and consequently the Minister of that church was maintained for the cure of one soul. Now, in the first place, the right of the town council of Edinburgh to levy rents for the seats in the city churches was of questionable legality; it was at all events by no means a clear right, nor was it acquiesced in by the people of Edinburgh. Moreover, as far from the rents paid representing in the slightest degre the number of the congregation, they could not possibly appeal to a more fallacious test. He himself happened to know a church in Edinburgh in which there were only thirteen seats let; he supposed it was the very church to which the hon. Member alluded. But what did the House suppose was the extent of the congregation? Why, between 700 and 800. How were those facts to be reconciled? The simple explanation was, that while the corporation took rents from all who would pay them, they had never attempted to enforce the payment of rent for the occupation of a seat. The poorer inhabitants resorted to church apparently without even thinking of paying any rent at all; aye, and let him add that they were encouraged to do so, and he thought most properly, by the clergy, it being of the very essence of the principle of an Established Church that the doors should be open to all. It was eminently necessary that 2186 there should be a church for the poor as well as for the rich. Twelve of the eighteen churches were situated in the poorest localities of the city of Edinburgh, among the most destitute part of the population. At present the labours of the minister were devoted to a great extent to the improvement of the lowest classes of society; whereas, if it were requisite that the seat-rents should be kept up to the highest point, with a view to the maintenance of the city clergy, they would have an interest in devoting all their labours and thoughts to those parishioners who could afford to pay. This was a matter of the deepest importance, and he could not help thinking that in this respect more than in any other the Bill was opposed to the proper working and the efficiency of the Established Church. But there were other difficulties connected with this subject. He had that day presented a petition from the creditors under the City Agreement Act, who objected to the Bill on the ground that, by the Act of 1838, it was provided that the "common good" should be an inalienable security for the money which they advanced, and this Bill impaired that security. What was the amount provided under this Bill as a substitute for the produce of the Annuity Tax? He found that on an average of years the surplus seat-rents amounted to only £1,500. The next source of revenue that was contemplated was the church-door collections. Those collections were in a very peculiar position. Before the passing of the Poor Law Act in 1845, one half of these collections were appropriated to the maintenance of the poor of the parish, and the other half was placed under the superintendence and control of the Kirk Session for Ecclesiastical purposes; but by a clause of that Act the larger portion of these collections were directed to be applied for the benefit of the poor who were not absolutely receiving parochial relief, but who, without assistance, were in the way of speedily becoming paupers. That assistance was very beneficial, not only to the poor themselves but also to the ratepayers, and it was the opinion of the Secretary to the Board of Supervision, who had the best information on the subject, that if the poor were deprived of the benefit of the collections at the church doors, the ratepayers would have an addition to their burdens far exceeding the £1,200 a year which would thus be lost. The aggregate amount of the funds proposed to be given 2187 to the clergy in lieu of the annuity tax was £4,700 per annum: £1,200 of this sum represented the church collections as they stood at present, but there was no security whatever that when those collections were diverted to other objects they would produce the same amount; £1,500 more in the shape of seat-rents; and £2,000 from the port of Leith made up the entire £4,700. This sum, when divided among the city clergymen who had to be provided for, would lower their stipends to a point to which, considering that they had no manses or glebes to supplement their allowances like the rural clergy, no ministers belonging to an Established Church ought to be reduced. The city clergy, moreover, were compelled to live in an expensive city, they had nothing from their benefices besides their allowances, and if the proposed alteration were made, they would be reduced to a state of practical starvation. But it was not merely the amount of the substitute for the tax that was open to objection. With the exception of the £2,000 from the port of Leith, there was an absolute insecurity for the continuance of the sources that were relied upon to make good the deficiency while, in regard to the church collections, there was this additional consideration which ought to weigh with the House—namely, the proposed abstraction of that fund from the highly beneficial purposes to which it was now appropriated. On these grounds he felt it his duty to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stirling. But he was bound to say again that he was no enemy to a Bill for abolishing the annuity tax. He had given evidence of his sincerity on this score by having advocated the commutation of this tax into some other source of revenue. When in office, though not in Parliament, in 1852 he was commissioned by Lord Derby's Government to frame a Bill on this subject; and if that Ministry had remained longer in office they would undoubtedly have proposed a settlement of this question. Even now, if he could only see his way to satisfy all parties who would agree together upon some reasonable proposition, nothing would afford him greater pleasure than to be the instrument, by some legislative measure, for closing this long-vexed and most unfortunate contention. But he would never consent to settle it on the terms propounded in this Bill; he would never settle it on the terms of absolute abolition, giving no return for the product 2188 of this tax—a tax, be it observed, which according to the value of the whole rental of the city of Edinburgh at the present moment yielded £13,000 a year. He could never accept such a mere sham and delusion as was now proposed by the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh.
§ VISCOUNT DUNCAN
said, that in many of the propositions contained in the speech just delivered he entirely concurred, but he regretted that his right hon. Friend did not conclude by pledging himself to introduce a measure on behalf of the Government. He (Viscount Duncan) Was no enemy of the Established Church, but he would appeal to the friends of that Church whether it was desirable to maintain a tax which deserved the description which his right hon. Friend had given of it. Nothing, he maintained, could be more unwise in the interest of the Established Church itself than to move its friends to insist that the maintenance of an obnoxious tax was necessary for the maintenance of that venerable institution. As regarded Montrose, he believed no one could fairly object to the substitute which the town council were willing to provide. With respect to Edinburgh, the great question was, whether the amount levied was actually required. In his opinion it was not. Having lately assisted by his vote in doing away with ministers' money in Ireland and church rates in England, he felt bound to vote for the second reading of a Bill the object of which was to get rid of an objectionable church impost in Scotland.
§ MR. HORSMAN
appealed to the Government, after the admissions by the Lord Advocate that the tax in its present shape was open to great objections, and was unjust and obnoxious, to allow the Bill to be read a second time. It was true, the learned Lord wished the abolition of the tax to be accompanied by adequate compensation for the clergy affected by it, but surely that was a matter of detail to be dealt with in Committee. The Lord Advocate had denied the analogy between the church rates of England and the ministers' money of Ireland. Undoubtedly, the analogy was not complete, but the additional grievance was on the side of those who paid the annuity tax; for that tax was, as to its greater portion, recent in its origin. It Was an admitted fact that a great part of that tax was imposed on Edinburgh so late as 1809. Nor could any one contend that this tax was one 2189 upon property, for in the Act by which the levy of the annuity tax was imposed there was a clause stating that the owners of property were not to be liable for it, but that it was to fall entirely on the occupants. The poorer inhabitants of Edinburgh were liable to this tax; while those who formed the resident aristocracy of Edinburgh were exempt—so that in this respect it contrasted unfavourably with church rates and ministers' money, which were paid equally by all. It was, moreover, a most unfortunate thing that the levying of this tax should be by the clergy themselves, which naturally had the greatest tendency to diminish their influence. Could anything be mere painful than that a clergyman of the Established Church should have to distrain for this tax upon a clergyman of a dissenting congregation who had conscientious objections to pay it? Could any weapon more deadly be put into the hands of the enemies of the Established Church? The question was whether, having admitted the principle on which this Bill depended in the case of church rates and ministers' money—and it having been admitted that there were many grievances connected with the collection of this tax—they should not give the Bill a second reading, deferring to a further stage the consideration of its details, to which he admitted that there might be objections. He agreed to the principle of the measure; he believed there were grievances which the House was bound to redress. He agreed that if seat-rents were to continue it would be much better to divert them to church purposes, instead of, as now, leaving them in the hands of the town council for the payment of their creditors. And for these reasons he should vote for the second reading, and would again appeal to the Government to allow the House to take that course which was consistent with what they had already done with respect to church rates and ministers' money—to permit the Bill to be read a second time, reserving to a subsequent stage the consideration of its details.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 129; Noes 130: Majority 1.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for six mouths.