§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. CUMMING BRUCE
in rising to move the Amendment of which he had given notice, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months said, that the hon. Gentleman who had now for the second time introduced this measure, probably thought that the long speech he had addressed to the House last year was too fresh in the minds of hon. Members to authorize him in addressing to the House a twice-told talc; but he (Mr. C, Bruce) 626 must trespass on the House, though he hoped not at great length, while he stated to them his reasons for opposing the further progress of the measure. First of all he regarded it as a measure of the most unblushing spoliation and robbery ever included in any Bill submitted to the consideration of this House. He had ever considered, and he believed the Legislature has ever considered, the Established Church of Scotland to be one of the most essential and fundamental institutions of the country; and therefore the first act of the Sovereign on ascending the throne was to give a solemn assurance that she will maintain the rights, privileges, and property of the Established Church of Scotland. But this Bill, if it should unhappily pass into law, would go to the direct annihilation of the Established Church as far as the City of Edinburgh, the capital of our country, was concerned. Such a measure could hardly obtain the sanction of Parliament without dealing a heavy blow and great discouragement to the whole Established Church in that country. Now, although he himself was a Dissenter from the Church of Scotland, and was from education and connection attached to that Episcopal Church, which the Presbyterian Church, in consequence of the will of a vast majority of the people of Scotland, had superseded. He was too much alive to the immense benefits which the Established Church of Scotland, by its pure and orthodox teaching of Christian truth, had conferred on his country to witness, without resisting it, any attempt to deal a heavy blow upon that institution. He remembered that the late reverend and pious Prelate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, when some reflection derogatory to the Church of Scotland was made in "another place," said that although he was a most devoted and attached member and minister of his own Church, thinking it the purest and nearest approach to the Apostolic model of Church Government, yet he could not but regard the Established Church of Scotland as "one of the virgins her fellows who bore her company." In the sentiment thus expressed he entirely concurred. But this Bill was an absolute repudiation of the principle of an Established Church, which he believed to be essential to the well-being, the peace, and the happiness of his fellow-countrymen. He opposed the Bill as one of the most positive and flagrant acts of injustice which this House could sanction. It was said that it was a great injustice to tax an in- 627 dividual for the maintenance of a Church to which he did not belong. But it must be remembered that this was a charge which, although it was paid by the individual, attached to him only in respect of the property which he possessed. The money is paid by the individual occupier, but it was in fact a burden upon property within the City of Edinburgh, and is an element between the landlord and tenant in the adjustment of rent. It is merely another form of paying a charge upon property which the State thought its duty to impose for the purpose of securing to all the poorer and humbler classes of the community the consolations and the instructions of religion. He opposed any attempt to interfere in this manner with the Church of Scotland, which he looked upon as being pre-eminently the Chinch of the poor. He did not stand there to advocate the claims of the clergy of the Established Church of Edinburgh; the hon. Member knew that they were strong enough to take care of themselves, and so he had exempted existing interests from the operation of his Bill. If he had not been well aware that they were quite strong enough to take care of themselves, he doubted very much whether the measure would have presented even this deviation from its consistent injustice. But the measure still contained the principle of spoliation as far as regards the future rights of the clergy of the Established Church in the City of Edinburgh; and therefore he for one must unhesitatingly oppose its further progress. The hon. Gentleman did not even pretend to offer any substitute for the tax which he would abolish. He might say that in this Bill he offered two substitutes. Why the Bill still proposed the spoliation of contingent rights and peculiar interests and the paltry semblances of a substitute for the funds which it proposed to substitute were tarred with the same stick as the original proposition. The void created by the withdrawal of the Annuity Tax was to be filled by seat-rents and the collection at the church doors. The remedy was worse than the disease. In the first place if they threw the maintenance of the clergy of the Established Church upon seat-rents, they at once strike a blow against the existence of a Church establishment; because, in that case those only would receive religious instruction from the Church who could afford to pay for it. He had no great faith in the efficacy of voluntaryism pure et simple, as applied to the support of 628 religion. He did not wish to underrate the great advantage which Scotland and England had derived from the operation of the voluntary principle. It had done a great deal; but from the very nature of things it could not afford a sufficient provision for the religious teaching of the poorer class of the people. The Church of Scotland had not shown any dislike of voluntaryism as a principle coming in aid of, and working harmoniously with, the principle of an Established Church; and in these days, they knew that it would have been impossible for the Established Church to fulfil its duties as nobly as it had done, were it not for the voluntary liberality of her members. Within the last year or two a sum of £300,000 —and contingently, he believed, a much larger sum—had been subscribed by members of the Established Church in Scotland for the purpose of supplying a deficiency in the means of ministering to the religious wants of the people. The Established Church, therefore, had shown no indisposition to call into its aid the voluntary contributions of earnest churchmen. He would, however, observe that in large towns and cities were persons had attended the ministrations of a clergyman whose teachings had gone to their hearts and their consciences, it was very natural that in removing to another parish they should wish to remain under the same spiritual advice and direction; and therefore he was desirous that a certain number of church seats should be subject to a rate; so that those parties might be enabled to secure for themselves a continuance of the same spiritual ministration. They could not, however, say, as the Bill of the hon. Gentleman did, that you will throw the maintenance of the whole Establishment on the pew-rents. The hon. Member would, by that arrangement, shut the doors of the church on the whole of the poorer portion of the population, and would dry up the springs of voluntary benevolence. He was informed that, on an average of the last ten years, the sum which the clergy in Edinburgh annually received from this tax was about £10,000; while, if the whole of their claim were strictly enforced, they would have received £13,000. That fact showed they have not acted in a very greedy and grasping spirit. The average sum which each of them receives amounts to very little more than £ 600 a year; but each of them would be entitled to £730 a year if their claim were strictly enforced, as it would have been but for 629 their moderation, their Christian forbearance, and their desire to maintain peace. For the £10,000 a year which they receive, the hon. Gentleman would substitute seat-rents which only realized £1,700 a year. But, besides, these rents were already liable to charges for the decent celebration of public worship. He believed they were further charged with certain debts in Edinburgh; and if he had not been misinformed, a petition had been presented to that House from parties who hold that security against that act of spoliation. They had thus £ 1,700 a year offered as a substitute for £10,000 a year, and those £1,700 are liable to a variety of deductions on other accounts. But that was not the only substitute which the hon. Gentleman offered them in his generosity. He also proposed to give us the church collections. Now, he could conceive nothing more objectionable, nothing more cruel, nothing more unjust, than such a proposal. Those collections were at present vested in the Poor Law Board in Scotland who hand them over to the Kirk Session of Edinburgh for the relief of casual poverty —for the relief of persons who, from sick ness or from any other passing visitation were unable to support themselves out of their own resources, while they were not on the poor roll, and were anxious not to descend into the class of regular paupers —persons who wished to maintain that independent character which used honourably to characterize his fellow countrymen of the humbler classes, but which he regretted to say did not now distinguish them quite as much as it did in former times. These people were peculiarly entitled to consideration and sympathy. The hon. Gentleman proposes by his Bill to take these collections as part of the funds which were to supplement the deficiency between £1,700 and the £10,000 a year which the clergy at present receive. The hon. Gentleman would probably tell them that this would be a very objectionable tax, that it gave vise to much ill-will and controversy, and that there had been cases in which clergymen had abandoned their claim rather than undergo the expense and inconvenience which would necessarily attend its enforcement. But he (Mr. C. Bruce) must say that the evasion of a legal obligation was far more discreditable than any attempt to insist on its fulfilment. He should like to know whether his hon. Friend came into court with perfectly clean hands in this matter. Had he paid all his annuity 630 tax, or had he not? Was it a fact, as he had heard, that the hon. Member, thinking that example was better than precept, had refused during the last few years to pay his quota of this tax? If that were so, all he could say was, that for the first time in his life he should feel disposed to wish that his fate had not fixed him in the Highlands, and that he had been a minister of the Established Church in Edinburgh. In that case he should have felt great satisfaction in going into the comfortable well-furnished house of the hon. Member, into his well-stocked cellar, with its wines worth a guinea a bottle, and fit to be drunk in honouring the toast of "Up with the Council and down with the Kirk;" and then if it were in his power he would have marched him off to the House of Correction—and thus give him an opportunity of quietly reflecting on the injustice of his hostility to a lawful impost. An inquiry has already been instituted into this question. In the year 1849 Her Majesty's Government, of which the noble Lord, the Member for London, was then the head, appointed Sir John Shaw Lefevre to inquire into and report upon the annuity tax. In his Report he said: —Moreover, although the impost complained of is a tax, and not a rent-charge vested in the ministers as an endowment, yet it is a tax which the State has guaranteed to the ministers and their successors for their benefit; and unless the rights even of their successors are dealt with in a spirit of justice and moderation, a feeling of distrust and insecurity will be created as respects other endowments, which will not be limited to the Established Church of Scotland.That was truth and sound sense, and he could not but think that if that House should be unhappily advised to pass this most iniquitous Bill — a Bill setting at nought every principle of justice, everything like respect for the great principle of an Established Church—if the House should be induced to pass such a measure they would inflict a heavy blow against the security of all property. They talked of giving Parliamentary titles to land; but a Parliamentary title will not be worth the paper on which it is printed if they passed this Bill. A mob might one day rise up in Ireland, just as a mob was at present rising up in Edinburgh, to demand the repeal of the Parliamentary title to land, and if they passed this measure they would have a. right to appeal in justification of their claim to your substitution of a nominal £ 1,700 a year for an actual sum of £10,000 a year. How did the title to 631 this annuity tax arise? It was first given by a charter of Queen Mary, and was confirmed by James I. Certain lands were given for the maintenance of the Church in Edinburgh: and he should like to know what the Town Council of that City, who were the guardians of the property, have done with it; for it seemed to have vanished into air. The right to the tax was confirmed by a variety of subsequent enactments; and there was not one of those enactments which was not passed at the request and with the assent of the inhabitants of Edinburgh. It is said that the effect of removing this tax would he to increase the number of the congregation attending the churches; and certainly if it had the effect of filling the churches, it would be an essential improvement. He did not deny that there were circumstances connected with this tax which were important in themselves; and he should be very glad to give his vote and assistance in the passing of a measure which was really calculated to put this question upon a better footing. This Bill, however, did not do so; and, therefore, he could not support it. One of the most crying grievances alleged against the present system was the exemption of a certain privileged class connected with the colleges from payment of this tax, that class being above all others most able to pay it. He would say this much for that class, namely, that they had shown great willingness to give up their privileges, but only on two conditions; the first is, that the number of ministers should not be circumscribed, inasmuch as they conceive the present number to be insufficient, without voluntary aid, to discharge the duties cast upon them as a body; and the other condition was that their incomes should not be diminished below the present amount of £600 or £700 a year; and certainly in a populous city like Edinburgh, where the cost of living is far more than it is in agricultural parishes, it was not too much that in great and expansive cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow they should receive at least £600 or £800 a year. There were claims made upon them for charitable contributions of all kinds, they were subscribers to every fund for the benefit of the poorer classes, and it was to them that recourse was had upon every incidential occasion when assistance, pecuniary or otherwise, was required for the promotion of every good or benevolent object. And well did they respond to the appeal; for he believed there wore not a 632 few instances in which the clergy dispensed a very considerable portion of their income in charity. He said, then, that any endeavour to reduce the clergy of Edinburgh below the present rate of £600 or £800 would not only be unjust and impolitic in itself, but would be a positive injury to the lower and poorer classes of the population, who were so deeply indebted to the pious and estimable men who are called to the ministry in that city. He earnestly pressed upon the House not to pass this Bill, and by rejecting it to uphold the principle of the necessity of maintaining an Established Church in Scotland, not only for the instruction of the people, but for the benefit of the whole Dissenting body.
§ 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. BAXTER
said, his principal object in rising was to make an appeal to the Government for a candid and explicit statement of what they proposed to do with a view to the settlement of this question. In reference to what had been said by the hon. Member for Elgin of the hon. Member for Edinburgh and his refusal to pay this tax, in his (Mr. Baxter's) opinion the hon. Member for Elgin had given most conclusive reasons in favour of the second reading of the Bill. He told them that for the last two years the hon. Member for Edinburgh has refused to pay this obnoxious tax, and that therefore he was in considerable danger of being sent to the House of Correction. Was it not a strong argument in favour of abolishing this tax that a gentleman of influence and respectability was by reason of his strong conscientious objections to the payment of this impost, placed in such danger? It was a direct interference with rights of conscience to insist upon levying a tax so obnoxious as this to the religious feelings of a large portion of the community. He had listened attentively to the arguments of the hon. Gentleman against the Bill, and the first that attracted his attention was that it relieved the rate-payers of Edinburgh from a burden attached to their property, and which they ought to be called upon to pay. But the hon. Gentleman must surely have forgotten the discussions upon ministers' money in Ireland, and he asked, was not this precisely an analogous case? Yet the Legislature had relieved the rate-payers of the towns in Ireland from the payment of ministers' money, by an Act for that 633 special purpose. The second objection of the hon. Gentleman was that the Bill offered no adequate substitute, and this was in fact the only argument which could be offered against the passing of the Bill. Various propositions had from time to time been made fur the settlement of this question. In 1857 the hon. and learned Member for Leith (Mr. Moncreiff) brought in a Bill intended for the settlement of the question; but that Bill, though it was much more of a compromise than the measure now proposed, and much more likely to recommend itself to the hon. Members opposite, was received with no favour in the country, and met with opposition from all quarters, both from Dissenters and Churchmen. The consequence was that having neither friends nor advocates, it was withdrawn. The Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, however, had friends. He was told indeed that it was not a Bill which was very likely to have the approbation or sanction of the House. But he took a very different view. Parliament might perhaps not be immediately disposed to pass a measure settling the question, but the hon. Gentleman opposite should remember that the hon. Member for Edinburgh was supported by the large body of the rate-payers, both in that city and Montrose —of course he would have the support of all the Irish Members whom he assisted to get rid of the ministers' money; and that, above all, there was a growing feeling in the mind of the people of this country that all imposts should be got rid of which tended to make this House the arena of religious controversy. Who were its opponents? The hon. Member for Elgin expressed the feeling of the whole party opposed to the Bill. It was opposed by the clergy and part of the laity of the Established Church in Scotland, who believe that this measure endangered the existence of their Church, and who believed that if it passed into a law no adequate provision would be made for the payment of the salaries of the clergy of Edinburgh, and who always talked as if there were a covert attempt on the part of the voluntaries to deprive the Established Church of its rights. Far be it from him to say a single word against the ministers of the Established Church, for not only did he believe that what had been said in their favour was entirely true, but that it fell very far short indeed of the praise which was their due. Still he conscientiously believed that if they passed this 634 Bill—if they offered to the people the patronage of their churches—if they interested them in the revenues of the Church, by giving them the disposal of the pew-rents and the church-door collections, in a few years the revenue derived from these sources would far exceed that which they now obtained from this most obnoxious tax. The hon. Member for Elgin stated that this Bill would be tantamount to the annihilation of the Established Church, and that it was an attempt to introduce the voluntary principle in place of the present system. So far from that being the case, he (Mr. Baxter) looked upon it as bringing the voluntary principle to the aid of the Established Church. He believed that the Bill was very much one that would promote the union of the two principles of the advantages of which they hoard so eloquent a description the other day from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole) —the union which was no longer a theory in that House, but which had become an accomplished fact. He believed that under the arrangement which was now proposed, men of ability, zeal, and piety, would be far better remunerated than they were under the present system; and surely men who did not answer that description would, instead of being a source of strength, be a source of weakness to the Church of Scotland. For these reasons he had not the slightest hesitation in saying that he should vote for the second reading of the Bill now before the House. But he wished to make an appeal to the Government. There had been many discussions of late upon the subject of church rates, and they had been told on all hands, by the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Trelawny), and by other hon. Members, that the time for compromising the question of church rates had gone by. In that sentiment he fully agreed, but he said that the time for compromising the question now before the House was not yet past—a compromise was now proposed by his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh; and he warned the House and the Government, that if that compromise was now refused, in a very few years the opportunity of compromising the question would have passed away, and they would find it in the same category as the questions of ministers' money in Ireland and church rates in England; it would force itself upon the attention of the House, and the abolition of the tax would be wrested from the Government 635 whether they would or no. He understood that the Amendment would he supported by the Government; but he would ask them whether they were prepared to introduce or to support any measure upon the subject? If they had employed the recess in considering and perfecting a Bill of their own for the purpose of removing this tax, then he could understand the ground of their objection to the present Bill. It appeared to him that the tax was one which was exactly analogous to the ministers' money in Ireland, which had been abolished by an Act of the Legislature; and he held that it would he quite impossible that any Government should he suffered longer to imagine that the people of Edinburgh and Montrose would continue to submit to this impost in its present form. Nor did he believe that any hon. Gentleman would, in the year 1859, get up in that House and defend the principle of the tax. It was admitted, on all hands, that some remedy must be provided; and he wanted to know from the Government what remedy they proposed for the purpose of putting an end to this grievance. He could not for a moment imagine that they are prepared to abdicate the functions of Government, and tell us that though the tax was on all hands admitted to be erroneous in principle, fallacious in theory, and oppressive in practice, it should still be permitted to exist. The Government will do well to remember that although for a long time past peace and quietness had happily reigned in the northern part of the United Kingdom, yet there had been times in the history of Edinburgh when the existence of this tax had led to serious riots. He recollected the time when the magistrates of the City of Edinburgh, and the ministers of every church, were hooted through the streets by an excited populace, whose feelings had been aroused upon this question. It was a tax to which the principal citizens of the town were bitterly opposed. If the Government objected to the present plan of settlement, he was not wedded to any particular plan; and if they would produce a better, he should be perfectly willing to give it consideration. At all events, entertaining the most serious conviction that the time had come when a settlement of this question was imperatively demanded, he was not prepared to dissent from this Bill unless the Government could show that they were ready to submit a better and more effectual remedy for the evils complained of.
§ MR. BLACKBURN
I do not wish that what I may say upon this question should be taken as any expression of opinion on the part of the Government, and therefore I trust it will be considered only that of an individual. The subject has been very forcibly stated by the hon. Member opposite, but as it appears to me the proposition which has been brought forward by the hon. Member for Edinburgh is merely a substitution of another burden in place of entirely abolishing what is admitted to be a grievance on a great portion of the community. Does the town of Edinburgh propose to adopt the principle suggested by the hon. Member for Montrose if it be brought forward by Her Majesty's Government? [Mr. BLACK: "No."] There is this difference, then, between the hon. Member for Montrose and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, that what the hon. Member for Montrose would be perfectly satisfied with, the hon. Member for Edinburgh would strenuously oppose. And let me remind the House that the hon. Member in introducing this question has employed a very considerable amount of caution. He has not stated a single reason to induce the House to consent to his Bill. The Bill itself is a measure of the strongest character. It summarily deprives the Church in one part of the kingdom of property which it has always possessed; yet, nevertheless, the hon. Member has not thought it worth while to assign a single reason why it should be read a second time. He merely moved the second reading as if it were a matter of course. We all know that the silence of the hon. Member arises from no want of zeal in the cause. He has displayed zeal enough on other occasions, and I should therefore like to know how it is that he has not spoken in the same zealous manner to-day as that in which he writes upon the question. Not only does he write himself, but, owing to his intimate connection with literary men and printing offices of all kinds, he has been enabled to get leading articles inserted in various newspapers, calling upon all true voluntaries to come down and support him in obtaining the abolition of the annuity tax. Why was it, then, that he refrained from addressing the House upon the Bill? Is he afraid that his zeal would carry him too far, and that he would commit himself with statements which the House could not possibly support? It appears to me that that must he the reason of his silence, for I can find no other. As, however, he has not 637 thought proper to address the Houses itelf, we must take his Bill, and endeavour to ascertain what it is that he proposes. Now, so far as I understand it, the Bill contains one simple proposition— namely, that as far as the town of Edinburgh is concerned, the citizens shall not in future contribute one shilling towards the support of any Church whatever. [Mr. HADFIELD: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Sheffield approves that proposition, and I can well understand the line he takes, in as much as the hon. Member wishes to abolish the Established Church in both kingdoms, and supports the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh because he considers that it will be the beginning of the assertion of that principle. But does the hon. Member for Edinburgh wish us to regard his Bill in that light? Does he wish it to be considered as the beginning of the disestablishment of all the Churches in the kingdom, and the substitution of the voluntary system? If that is the real object of the measure, I think the broadest grounds ought to be laid down before the House could adopt such a principle. Let us look at the nature of the provisions of the Bill. It proposes the simple disendowment of the Church of Scotland, so far as the citizens of Edinburgh are concerned. The hon. Member for Edinburgh objects personally to contribute to the tax; but if there are any other persons outside Edinburgh who pay it at present, he has not the slightest objection to their continuing to pay it. The inhabitants of Leith may continue to pay it; the harbour dues of Leith may be applied towards it; and the sailors of Leith may pay it; but the payment in Edinburgh is to be discontinued, while the town of Edinburgh alone receives the benefit of it. Is that a principle either of equity or justice? The object of the promoters of this Bill appears to be not only to save their own money and pay nothing, but to take very good care that they keep everything they can get. It there is any property belonging to the Church in their hands they are to be continued in the possession of it. As I have just said, they not only want to pay nothing, but to pocket all they can get. The churches of Edinburgh are, however, to be maintained somehow; for I find in one of the clauses a careful provision that they shall be preserved— that is to say, I apprehended that their preservation shall continue so long as the churches of Scotland exist. Some years ago the Town Council of Edinburgh sold lands which were specially devoted to 638 Church purposes, and having now spent the money they propose that they shall not be required to maintain the churches any longer. Yet the land which they sold was left for the express purpose of maintaining the Church. Hero is another piece of Church property which the Town Council of Edinburgh also wish to keep to themselves. Not so long ago as the time of Queen Mary there was a church in Edinburgh called Trinity College church, of which many of us have heard before. As, however, some Members may not be acquainted with the history of the case, I may mention that a certain railway company, having occasion to erect a railway station in Edinburgh, found themselves compelled to take possession for that purpose of a plot of ground which formed the site of Trinity College church. Their proposals to take the land was, in the first instance, strongly resisted by the town of Edinburgh, on the ground that it was the site of an ancient and valuable church, and that it was still required to provide further church accommodation. The railway company's Bill was bodly opposed in Parliament, and after hearing the evidence of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, the Select Committee came to a decision which compelled the railway company to pay a much larger sum for the land than they would have paid under other circumstances, on the understanding that the money was to go towards the providing additional church accommodation in another part of Edinburgh. Upon the valuation of an architect, a large sum of money was handed over to the Town Council by the railway company, and the Bill was passed; the railway company thinking it perfectly safe to pay over the money to the Town Council, never dreaming that it would be misapplied. The sum to be paid was £17,000. That sum was paid, but from that day to this the Town Council has never rebuilt the church. On the contrary, they have made every effort to keep the money for their own purposes; and when called upon to rebuild the church, they endeavoured to place it in the worst situation which could possibly be found throughout the whole of Edinburgh. Some of the parishioners loudly complained, and applied to the Court of Session to see whether the Town Council could not be compelled to carry out the object for which they received the money. I am very happy to hear that a judgment has been given in the Lower Court by the Lord Ordinary, requiring the Town Coun- 639 cil to apply the money, together with the interest, from the time they received it, to its proper object. The Town Council, however, have appealed against the decision, clearly showing that they are not only not content with the manifest justice of the case and a regular legal decision, but that any quibble they can interpose to prevent the proper application of the money comes quite readily to their hand. And what does the hon. Member for Edinburgh propose in his Bill? Does he propose to apply the £17,000 and interest towards the rebuilding of the church? On the contrary, his Bill will get rid of any obligation to provide for the maintenance of the churches of Edinburgh, and will enable the Town Council to retain possession of the money. We have not been favoured by the hon. Member with the reasons which have induced him to bring forward this Bill; but upon the face of it it is one of the most outrageous measures ever introduced into Parliament, and contains no principle of justice whatever. I say nothing whatever respecting the course which the hon. Member for Montrose is induced to take. That seems to me perfectly unobjectionable, and if the hon. Member for Edinburgh would rise and propose a substitute for this tax in the same manner as the hon. Member for Montrose, I have no doubt that he would be met in a proper spirit. If he will propose that a sum equal in amount to the sum derived from the annuity tax he handed over by the Town Council of Edinburgh, I am satisfied that the Government would meet his views and carry out his intentions. There are exceptions, no doubt; but the difficulty has always been that the hon. Member and those who act with him will consent to take nothing but their principle, their principle being that the property is to be taken away from the church, and no substitute given at all. But let the hon. Member rise in his place and say that he will meet the Government upon the terms which I have suggested, and I have not the slightest doubt that the question will be settled in the course of the present Session. In the meantime, as the Bill at present stands, I have not the least hesitation in saying that I shall give it the strongest opposition.
§ MR. HORSMAN
I must express the disappointment with which I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. Blackburn); and I think the House has great reason to complain of the 640 manner in which the Government have met the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh. The question is one with which we are all acquainted; it is one with the principle of which the House is quite familiar, and with the details of which several successive Governments, as well as several private Members, have attempted to deal. The same Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend in the course of last Session. And how was it met? It was met by my hon. Friend who has just sat down by a Motion which involved the rejection of the Bill, my hon. Friend, who was unconnected with the Government at the time, acting then on the part of the extreme opponents of the measure who entirely dissented from its principle. It was upon the ground of that dissent alone that my hon. Friend then opposed the Bill, and not by a cry which we used to hear in this House ten or twenty years ago, but which happily in the course of this Session has been unknown, and which of late years has been beard less and less every year. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire that I was extremely sorry to hear him put the question upon that low, unworthy ground that it was a pocket question. I sincerely hope that the Government will entirely repudiate that view, and that the House will neither assent to it, nor be led away by the unworthy argument that those who object on religious grounds to the payment of this tax care nothing for their conscience, and have only a regard for their pockets. I think that a Member representing a Scotch constituency ought to be the last to cast such reflections Upon any hon. Member of this House. One would scarcely think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire, who has lately taken office under the Government, can have forgotten that the very Government of which he is a member has, during the present Session, affirmed the principle, that a conscientious objection on the part of a member of one Church to contribute towards the support of another formed a valid claim for the remission of that contribution. I can hardly believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire could have stipulated on joining the Government that this was to be an open question—and would beg to ask what was the vote which he gave upon the question of church rates? The question of church rates is analogous to the question of the annuity tax. The analogy is complete in this way, that in the 641 case of church rates, whether or not a man was a member of the Established Church he must pay the rates for the support of the Church, and the Government resistance to the proposal to abolish so unjust a tax having become fainter and fainter every year from the manner in which the opinion of the country has been expressed upon the matter, the present Government have this year come forward themselves and proposed a measure, in which they boldly avowed that the time has come when the imposition, in the shape of a church rate, should no longer be exacted. I suspect that my hon. Friend, the Member for Stirlingshire, voted for the second reading of that Bill; and I think we have some right to complain that when you lay down a principle in obedience with public opinion, so forcibly exemplified in the case of Dissenters in England, you should refuse to apply the same principle to the case of Dissenters in Scotland. I hope the Government will be prepared to say that the same principle should be carried out on one side of the border as on the other; and I think the House is entitled to expect that the principle of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh should be conceded on the present occasion. Three-fourths of the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Elgin and Stirlingshire were addressed to the details of the measure, and I am sorry that the Solicitor General for England is not hero today. No doubt many who now hear me cheered the admirable speech which the hon. Gentleman delivered last night, and in which he told the House that if they objected to the details of a measure, the proper time to raise those objections was after the Bill had gone into Committee, and not upon the second reading. If my hon. Friend's Bill is allowed to go into Committee, that will be the proper time to deal with the objections which have been urged. I quite agree that there may be objections to some of the details of the Bill; hut, at the same time, considering how that principle has been admitted in the case of church rates in England, I think we are fairly entitled to ask that those objections should he postponed until after the Bill shall have gone into Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh merely asks you, upon the present occasion, to affirm the principle of the Bill. Now, what is really the state of this Bill with regard to the House and the country? We have had various Parliamen- 642 tary Committees upon it; various stages of legislation have been arrived at in reference to it; Bills have been introduced by one Government after another, and in every case they have been introduced with a great variety of attempts at conciliation; but those attempts have always failed on account of the inherent and undeniable difficulties which surround the question. You have had, year after year, complaints in Scotland, and, while you had attempts at legislation here, you have had excitement there. In addition, you have experienced such difficulties in levying this tax that you have been obliged to have the auctioneer protected by the police and by the military; and you have also had an evil which is especially deprecated —namely, the placing of the clergy of the Established Church in Scotland in that most cruel and trying position—a position which makes their case much more severely felt than in England or Ireland —the position of being themselves compelled to be the collectors of the tax. They are the parties at whose instance the executions are enforced; and there have been cases in which the venerated minister of a Dissenting congregation has had his goods distrained upon by an execution at the instance of a minister of the Established Church. I agree with what the hon. Member for Elgin has said as to the feeling of moderation which has existed in the Established Church in reference to the question, and I think that the hon. Member has probably understated the amount of the loss which the clergy sustain from the imperfect collection of the tax. But that only shows the difficulties of the collection, owing to the resistance of the people on the one side, and a natural reluctance on the part of the clergy to enforce their extreme lights on the other. If one party more than any other is interested in the passing of this Bill, I think it is the clergy of the Established Church, upon whom you impose the duty of levying their own tax, and I ask the House whether it is possible to devise a measure by which the clergy could be made more odious, less respected, or more unpopular. Such being the case, I think that the least the House can do on the present occasion is to pass the second reading of the Bill, and so far affirm its principle as to say that it treated of a subject deserving of the most serious consideration. I have heard with very great satisfaction, that the Government themselves contemplate the introduction of a Bill on this sub- 643 ject. The learned Lord Advocate, has perhaps, not been long enough in the House to give to this subject all the attention which it requires. I know the great pressure of public business, and the many measures he has to consider, and therefore I should not be surprised if he does not find himself in a position to introduce a measure which he can hope will prove satisfactory either to himself or to the hon. Gentlemen who are more particularly interested in the settlement of this question. If that be so, and the learned Lord could make a statement that the matter was under his serious consideration, with a view to introducing a Bill on the subject, I am sure such a statement would be favourably received by the House; and it would be most satisfactory, because I cannot for a moment believe that the Government will hesitate to sanction a principle with respect to Scotland which has been already sanctioned in England. I am quite certain that this is a question which will be far better left in the hands of the Government than in those of a private individual, and nobody has ever filled the office of Lord Advocate who is likely to deal with this question in a more dispassionate manner than the present learned Lord. I hope also, that if a statement to this effect is made, the hon. Member for Edinburgh will be prepared to take the course which the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Trelawny) took, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole) announced the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill upon church rates—namely, allow the Bill to be read a second time, on the understanding that it should not be proceeded with until the Government Bill has been introduced. I quite understand the difficulty in which the Lord Advocate must be placed; and if that arrangement which I have suggested be adopted, it will be quite consistent with the course taken by the House this Session in reference to the analogous question of church rates. It would be affirming the principle laid down, that it is wise to settle these questions in a conciliatory spirit, and it would show the desire still exists which of late years has been laudably evinced on all sides of the House, that the discussion of these religious questions should not be accompanied with the same ill-feeling and display of sectarian bitterness which distinguished their discussion upon former occasions. I say, Sir, that the removal of these causes 644 of heart-burnings and heats will be more conducive to the interests of the Church than any advantage which could be obtained from ten times the amount of a pittance paid in violation of conscientious scruples. I believe that the feeling of the House, that the Government will deal fairly in this matter, will not be disappointed, and I can imagine no more satisfactory course than to allow the Bill to be read a second time, with the understanding that it shall not go into Committee until after the introduction of the Government measure.
§ MR. A. STEUART
said, although he had on the previous occasion voted in favour of the abolition of the tax he should not vote for the second reading of this Bill. He believed that neither the Government, nor the hon. Member for Stirlingshire, had shown any indisposition to meet this subject in a fair and conciliatory spirit, and he considered that it was not a question which ought to be settled on the plan suggested by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman) but was one which ought to be dealt with on the responsibility of the Executive Government. If they admitted the voluntary principle only for the support of the church, in respect to the chief town of Scotland, he could not support the measure, and he had voted for it on a former occasion merely in order that some amicable settlement might be arrived at. The House would remember that when the proposition was made by the right hon. Member for Cambridge University to settle a similar question in England, no disposition was shown on the part of the Opposition to listen to the compromise which was offered to them, and he did not see why, believing that if this question were left entirely in the hands of Government it would be satisfactorily settled, he should be called upon to support the second reading of this Bill.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
Sir, I am quite willing to obey the call of the House upon this occasion, and hon. Members may rely upon it that I am not going to insinuate, in the remotest degree, that the opposition to this Bill is anything but worthy of it. I am too well aware of the highly conscientious character of the Scotch to be surprised at the objection which is felt upon the part of many persons to this impost; nor would I for one moment impute that that opposition is an improper one, or caused by motives of which any one could feel ashamed; on the contrary, I believe that the opposition is based upon the most conscientious 645 motives. At the same time, it is impossible to suppose that everybody is influenced by conscientious motives in refusing to pay it; because, no doubt, considerable numbers of the ratepayers take the opportunity of the conscientious objections of others to escape payment of the tax. On the other hand it should be recollected that there are many who pay the tax without objecting to it, or whose objections, where they have any, are confined to the mode of collection. This is a, question which has, on several occasions, occupied the attention of successive Governments. It has been made a subject of inquiry by a Committee of this House; and it has been inquired into by a Commission issued by the Government. Bills have been introduced by predecessors in the office which I have the honour to hold, so wise and so distinguished by their learning and their knowledge, that it did make me timid when I contemplated the necessity of dealing with it. Still it was a question which I felt ought to be settled; and it was impossible, upon assuming the office I now hold, to shut my eyes to the fact that it was my bounden duty to deal with it. With this feeling of the difficulty of the subject I prepared a Bill which is in print, and which I brought with me to London in order to obtain the consideration of the Government upon it; but more recently the measure has been under the consideration of the Government; and I am entitled to say—a statement which will be satisfactory to many hon. Gentlemen—that the general principle of the Bill, which I hope ultimately to introduce, has been all but agreed to, and that ere long I may be allowed to proceed with the Bill. At the same time, as was slated by the right hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Horsman), there are many points connected with the Bill which still require my serious consideration, and, therefore, I cannot very well at this moment undertake to state the principle upon which the Bill will ultimately be founded. However, I can promise this, that I shall endeavour, with due regard to all the important interests concerned, to place matters upon such a footing, that if the Bill of the Government does not satisfy the strong views which I am aware my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Black) entertains with respect to the working of the voluntary principle, that it will satisfy a large portion of the Members for Scotland. And now, Sir, with respect to the Bill which we are here this day to discuss, the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh: I cannot say 646 that I am prepared to assent absolutely and unqualifiedly to the principle upon which that Bill proceeds—namely, to the principle of the total abolition of this annuity tax upon the citizens of Edinburgh; or, in other words, I am not prepared to give a second reading to this Bill without knowing, when we abolish the annuity tax, in what way a substitute is to be provided for it. I say myself, therein quite concurring with the hon. Gentleman, that this tax is levied in a most unpopular way. Still I cannot vote for the principle of this Bill merely upon that view of the case; for I hold the principle of the measure to be completely identified with that which we have yet to consider—namely, the substitute that is to be provided for the maintenance of the clergy of Edinburgh. Without having a certainty upon that point, I should be loath to commit myself to the absolute abolition of the tax. And that brings me, Sir, very shortly to consider the proposal which this Bill embodies. I cannot in my own mind separate the first part of he Bill from its subsequent clauses. Sir, this tax was first imposed in Edinburgh in the year 1661, and previous to that period, as the hon. Member knows, there had been made by the Crown various grants of property to the city of Edinburgh—property which originally belonged to the Church—that is, before the time of the Reformation, Those grants were made for the support of religion, of education, and of hospitals in the city. But, without stopping to inquire how that property was disposed of, some part of it reverting to the Crown, a large part of it allocated to the endowment of the University of Edinburgh, and another part of it continuing to be held by the Corporation, I may state that in he year 1661 the property in the hands of the Church appears to have become insufficient for the support of her ministers. Under these circumstances the statute of 1661 was passed; and I may hero affirm, having regard to the argument which undoubtedly the hon. Member for Edinburgh will use, that the statute of 1661 has a most material bearing upon the question we are now discussing, as showing the groundlessness of his assertion that the Act of 1809 perpetrated something like a fraud upon the citizens of Edinburgh. [The learned Lord then read an extract from the statute of 1661, ordaining that the property of the city of Edinburgh was to be liable to a charge of 6 per cent upon the rental for the support of the 647 clergy, and continued]—Now, Sir, I have to submit to the House—and I request the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Moncreiff), whom I am happy to see in his place—to the terms of this enactment. It appears to me that this 6 per cent was a payment to be made for the support of the ministers of the Edinburgh churches by the whole of the citizens. That, I take it, was the undoubted object of the statute, and indeed it is evidenced by the Report of the Select Committee of 1851 that for 95 years subsequent to the year 1661 the 6 per cent was drawn for the purpose by the Corporation of Edinburgh—that it was insufficient to maintain the clergy—that they were consequently relieved out of other property, namely, the general fund of the town—and that beyond the 6 per cent the clergy received something in addition. However, coming down to a period of about fifty years ago, the Town Council of Edinburgh, in consequence of the great increase in the rents of property, seem to have derived from the 6 per cent more than sufficient to pay the clergy—and for a series of years they went on paying increased stipends to the ministers, so that while in the year 1705 only a stipend of £108 was received, in the year 1809 the stipend had risen to £138; and where, in other instances, only £100 a year was received, the stipend was then increased to £330 per annum. It was certainly true that the clergy of Edinburgh had not during that period called upon the magistracy of the city to pay over to them the whole of the 6 per cent; but undoubtedly had the clergy asserted their right to it, the whole of the 6 per cent must have been paid over to them. Previous to the year 1809, several statutes had passed extending the royalty over other districts, and in that year, in order to remove all doubts, a statute was passed, authorising the levying of the 6 per cent over the whole of the city, comprehending the new royalty. Now, my hon. Friend has stated, and no doubt he will state again to-day, that the last statute imposed certain new burthens in respect to this tax. To my mind, however, the statute of 1809 did no such thing. So far as the 6 per cent was concerned, the object of the Legislature seems to have been throughout, that it should be payable for the maintenance of the clergy. Therefore, the statute of 1809 made no difference whatever in the principle of things. The tax was to be appropriated precisely 648 as before; and certainly it was never for one moment contemplated that the proceeds were to go into the common burgh fund. And although the citizens of Edinburgh may not have paid the same attention to Acts of Parliament in those days which they do now, yet it was an undoubted fact, well known at the time, that the clause of the statute of 1809, to which he had just referred, was adjusted between the clergy and the Town Council; in a word, that the Town Council were perfectly aware of what was being done. Under these circumstances, I think it cannot be said—indeed, in any case it was rather a doubtful argument to use—that what Parliament did in 1809, in extending the tax, amounted to a grievance upon the citizens of Edinburgh. The statute of 1809—to repeat what he had already said—did nothing more than extend the area over which "the tax, as leviable under the original statute of 1661, was to be assessed. Now, if I understand the object of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, as embodied in this Bill, it is to abolish the tax out and out, without the providing of any substitute. I know, however, that there are many hon. Members who do not go along with my hon. Friend in that view. And the principle upon which the defence of the tax must rest is that, should it be abolished, the clergy will be left without a maintenance, save and except the substitute provided by this Bill. Let me direct the attention of the House to what that substitute is. The Bill proposes the seat-rents should be leviable for the support of the clergy. Now, I must entirely object to that principle when carried out to the extent contended for by the hon. Member. In my opinion seat-rents are not leviable at all on the true principles of an Established Church. I do not deny that in towns like Edinburgh—where, as was very pertinently remarked, some of the population are continually migrating from one church to another—certain seat-rents may be levied—but to make an Established Church, or indeed any church, solely dependent on such a source of revenue, was wholly out of the question. To look at actual facts. Take the case of the City of Edinburgh. The City of Edinburgh is composed of two parts, namely, the New Town and the Old Town. Now, the Old Town is densely filled with a poor and squalid population; and supposing that you have a minister there conscientiously doing his duty, and endeavouring to bring the 649 poor to attend his church, what is the result according to this Bill, which declares that every minister is to receive a stipend in proportion to the seat-rents in his church? Why, the minister, conscientious and duty-observing, who goes about among the narrow squalid lanes of Edinburgh to gather in a congregation, is actually impoverishing himselfߞis depriving himself of the means of existence by so doing. In short, under this Bill, if such a man would support his wife and his family, he must do exactly the reverse of that which he is doing, in searching for a congregation amongst the poorest and most squalid of the inhabitants. On the other hand, the clergy will be open to great temptations to court popularity instead of inculcating moral truths; and in the richer parts of the city they might be induced to preach to a certain class. Therefore, upon every ground that proposal of the hon. Member is objectionable. Then, as the other mode by which it is proposed to provide a substitute for the ministry. I am quite sure the House will never countenance that. It has been the universal custom throughout Scotland for the plate to be handed to everybody entering a church to raise a fund for the support of the poor. The statute, the 8&9 Vict., which regulates the provisions made for the poor of Scotland, imposes a tax for that purpose; and it is further provided in the Act that, in any parish where there is an arrangement for the relief of the poor, the church door collections above alluded to shall be placed at the command of the Kirk Session. The collections have to be accounted for to the Board of Supervision, which looks after the interests of the poor, and sees that the fund is appropriated to its proper purposes. The fund, however, docs not go to the use of the parochial poor, but is administered by the Kirk Session; and I believe that no fund allocated to charitable purposes is better administered. From the report of the Board of Supervision, just published, I gather that, at the church of St. Andrew's, Edinburgh, the collections for the last year at the doors amounted to £215 6s 8½d; while the expenditure on the poor consequent thereupon amounted to £215 6s. 6d. From another church the return is £125 19s. collected, and £83 expended; from another £169 6s. collected, and £168 expended; from another £124 10s. 2½d. collected, and £124 10s. 2½d. expended; and so on. Now, Sir, that fund so collected at the church doors 650 is employed for the relief of persons who are not entitled to relief from the poor fund. For, as is well known to the House, the able-bodied poor in Scotland are not entitled to relief. The fund is administered by the Kirk Session, and any one who frequents a church may have it in his power to go to the poor man and relieve him in sickness. And certain it is that in that way an enormous amount of good is done. But, Sir, if the Bill of the hon. Member was to pass, and if it became known that this fund was to be given up to the payment of the clergy, at once the sources of this contribution would be dried up altogether. I think, therefore, that the proposal of the hon. Member is one which ought never to be conceded. But, as I said in the outset, while I cannot accede to the proposal that the Bill should be now read a second time, I would suggest, if it should meet the convenience of the House, that the Bill should be allowed to stand over for a certain time until it is in the power of the Government to state more explicitly the exact remedy which they propose for the relief of the city of Edinburgh.
§ MR. MONCREIFF
Sir, I am much gratified to hear the announcement of my right hon. Friend that it is the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill with reference to this subject. However, I do not rise for the purpose of entering into the discussion of the details of the question, but to make an appeal to my right hon. Friend not to persist in his opposition to the second reading of the Bill, but to allow it to pass on the understanding that the whole question will be more maturely considered hereafter when the Bill of the Government shall be likewise before us. I do not intend by my vote of to-day to bind myself to the details of the Bill; of its principle, however, I do approve, and believe that the annuity tax ought to be abolished; and I have been myself instrumental in introducing more than one measure for that purpose. Now, I appeal to my right hon. Friend, that having this Bill before us, and having nothing to set against it, that we should, at all events, get into Committee on the Bill; for really the only point for discussion is not whether the annuity tax should be abolished, but what is to be substituted for it. Undoubtedly there may be great difficulties under that head, and certainly I for one am not prepared to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh to the full extent of his 651 Bill. At the same time, I cannot forget that every proposition hitherto made has been met and opposed by the Gentlemen occupying the benches opposite, and by the representatives of the Established Church in this House. I heard with regret the observation of the hon. Member for Elginshire (Mr. C. Bruce), which imported that every one who did not coincide with his views in this question was not a sincere friend to the principles of our Established Church. Now, I would beg leave to warn my hon. Friend that those who had taken the same view that I have done of this question have turned out to be the truest friends of the Established Church. And, therefore, it is not in the interests of the opposition to the Establishment, but rather in the interests of its friends, that I would have this question fully considered. My right hon. Friend referred to the Act of 1809, as having been passed by the Town Council representing the people and the clergy of the City of Edinburgh. Now, I do not much care to go into that question, but it is rather a strange figure of speech to say that the Town Council in these days represent the people of Edinburgh. Why, the fact is, they represent nobody but themselves—that they elect themselves, and represent themselves. But I do not deny that, as the Act of Parliament now stands, the clergy of Edinburgh have a right to this payment. At the same time I also think that, looking at the feelings of the people on the subject, and that this question stands exactly upon the same principle as the question of church rates and ministers' money, and without holding that there is anything in the payment of the tax which ought to interfere with the conscientious scruples of any one, yet the fact that my countrymen have their feelings on the matter ought to prevail with Parliament to abolish a tax which is conscientiously felt by people in Scotland to be opposed to their religious convictions. But would it not be better to read the Bill at once a second time, fixing the Committee for a distant day? In the meanwhile, let my right hon. Friend introduce the measure of the Government, not one of the principles or details of which has been as yet indicated, and then lot us try in Committee, and without contention, to come to some arrangement by which the pressure of this tax may be lightened.
§ MR. COWAN
, in the first place begged to assure the hon. Member for Elginshire 652 that, in advocating the abolition of this tax, he (Mr. Cowan) was actuated by no unworthy feelings towards the Established Church. Hereditarily he was not opposed to the principle of an Established Church; and he was satisfied that if there was any body of clergy did their duty, it was the clergy of that Church. Now, his hon. Friend opposite had told them to-day that he was a member of the Episcopalian body of Scotland; but if he (Mr. Cowan) was not greatly mistaken, his hon. Friend had acted some years ago as an elder of the Episcopal Church. His hon. Friend, therefore, must surely he aware that the body to which he belonged used to receive a grant of £1,200 a year from that House for the purpose of enabling the clergy of his Church to eke out their scanty stipends. Well, that grant was repealed some years ago, and what was done? Why, the Episcopalians of Scotland, greatly to their honour, subscribed a capital sum amply sufficient to supplement the miserable endowment which for many years they received at the hands of the State. He was anxious, however, to introduce another precedent upon a larger scale to guide the House in dealing with the question. For a great many years a certain society used to receive from Parliament a large annual grant—he alluded to the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts." Up to the year 1851 it was the custom of Parliament to dispense to the Society no less a sum than £16,000 for the purpose of being applied to the wants of the North American clergy; but he had the authority of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford for saying that it was subsequently arranged by the present Lord St. Germans—then Minister for the Colonies—that the income of the existing clergy should be continued to them for their lives. Now, it was important here to observe that by one of the leading features of this Bill—so far from its being a measure of spoliation—that by one of its leading features it was arranged that every one of the present clergy, during their lives, should be continued in the full enjoyment of their share of the proceeds of the annuity tax. So that the Bill of my hon. Friend and Colleague could not take complete effect for at least twenty or thirty years to come. The right hon. Gentleman further said that the changes which had bean introduced into our system of colonial government had been of infinite advantage to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, inasmuch as it 653 had been the means of creating a spirit of self-reliance in religious as well as secular concerns relating to the Colonies; and in proof of that he stated that whereas at a period anterior to 1856 the whole income of the Society was only £21,000, of which amount £16,000 was made up by the grant from Parliament, their income was then 60,000 a year, He was sure that the experience of Scotland for the last twenty or thirty years was precisely of an analogous description. Thirty years ago the whole income raised by the established church of Scotland, for religious purposes did not exceed more than about 20,000 a year. Since that time, as the Scottish Members were aware, not only the Members of the Established Church but also those of the other Presbyterian denominations contributed liberal sums for the maintenance of the ordinances of religion. The Church had a revenue of £300,000, £100,000, of which went towards the support of the working clergy, who had a larger amount generally from the central fund than was received by the hard-working clergy of the Church of England. The hon. and Gallant Member for Elgin had talked of the measure being one of an outrageous character, and that it was, in fact, a spoliation Bill. He (Mr. Cowan) was, however, glad to find that the Lord Advocate frankly admitted, that the objections to this tax proceeded from pure and conscientious motives. He respected most sincerely the tone the learned Gentleman had evinced upon this question. No man, he was sure, was more anxious to assist in removing that spirit of rancour which at present existed on account of this tax. It occasioned a festering sore which was disastrous to the operations of the Established Church. They would all admit the desirability of healing that sore as speedily as possible. He should wish to say one word more in reference to some observations which had fallen from an hon. Member on another subject—namely, the Trinity College Chinch. He thought it was unfair and unworthy of his hon. Friend to seek to create an unfavourable impression against the opponents of this tax, and thereby to increase the chances of the rejection of the present Bill. He did not stand there as the apologist of the Town Council of Edinburgh, He might, however, observe that, in the steps which they took, they had acted under the advice of the distinguished Gentleman the late Lord Advocate, the Lord Justice Clerk, and another 654 able Member of the Scottish bar. He did not however mean to say anything in justification of the proceeding referred to. It did not appear to him that the question referred to had any precise bearing upon the point at issue; that its only effect could be to create an impression unfavourable to the representatives of Edinburgh, and the agitation that existed in favour of the Bill. He hoped that his hon. Friend will consent upon condition of his Bill being read a second time, to put off the Committee upon it until after Easter, so that in the meantime the Government might have an opportunity of stating their intentions upon the question.
§ MR. H. BAILLIE
Before going to a division, I trust that the House will not allow itself to be led away by the arguments used by the hon. Member opposite, for the purpose of showing that this question of the annuity tax of Edinburgh is analogous to that of church rates. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Moncreiff) did not give expression to that opinion as a lawyer, because nothing to my mind can be more dissimilar than those two questions. Church rates are a voluntary tax, they can only be levied by a parish where a majority has declared in favour of them. This, however, is a tax which has been imposed by Parliament about 200 years ago. It is just as much a fixed and legal tax upon property as tithes are. Now, what would happen, and what would the people say, if an English gentleman came down to the House and said he had a conscientious objection to the payment of tithes, and therefore he wished to bring in a Bill to exempt his own property from the payment of tithes? Now, that is literally and truly what the hon. Member for Edinburgh has done on the present occasion. This annuity tax is a tax imposed upon the city of Edinburgh. The only difference is that tithes is a tax of ten per cent, whereas this is only a tax of six per cent upon the land revenue. In dealing with this question, therefore, the English Members must clearly understand that this annuity tax of Edinburgh resembles not in the slightest degree that of church rates, nor does it resemble the other tax alluded to—namely, ministers' money in Ireland. But the question of ministers' money has been already decided; it has been decided in the manner in which we are all prepared to deal with this question—amely by providing a substitute for it. Ministers' money was 655 not abolished in the manner proposed by this Bill; it was abolished by placing, I believe, the substitute upon the church fund in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in Ireland. We should certainly have been happy if this Bill had been postponed for a fortnight or three weeks. We should be glad if we could possibly avoid going to a division upon the principle of this measure; but the principle of this Bill is to abolish this tax without finding anything like an adequate substitute. For this reason, however, anxious as we are for a satisfactory settlement of the question, we feel we cannot avoid dividing against the second reading of the hon. Gentleman's Bill.
§ SIR WILLIAM DUNBAR
stated, that he did not rise for the purpose of prolonging the debate, as he believed that almost every argument had been advanced which could be brought to boar either in favour of or against the tax. At the same time, he considered it due to himself to state that after the fullest consideration he had arrived at the opinion that he ought to record his vote in favour of the abolition of the tax—reserving to himself, however, his entire freedom of action when the details of the Bill, which he thought objectionable in many respects, should come to be discussed in Committee. He had come to the conclusion to support the principle of the Bill, he might venture to say, from no feeling of hostility to the Established Church, but on the contrary, because he believed that the well-being of the church, no less than the peace of the community affected by the tax, was involved in the immediate extinction of one of the most odious imposts that ever was devised. He felt desirous that the angry feelings which the tax had engendered should be allayed, and he knew of no more likely means by which the Church could contribute to that end, or by which it would do more to regain its position in the affections of the people than by consenting—he would not ask the Church to do so in the spirit of serious self-sacrifice, but of reasonable concession—to some permanent and satisfactory settlement. Now, he was not one of those who believed that the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh would effect such a settlement, but he felt persuaded that if the House should affirm, as he hoped it would, the principle of abolition, the Government would be bound, if they did not feel it to be their duty, to consider the matter, not only with the gravity which 656 its importance demands, and has never received, but with the determination, once for all, to solve the difficulty in which the question is involved by proposing a proper substitute for the tax. It was not his intention to enter into the history of the tax which had been dwelt upon at some length by the Lord Advocate, but he felt bound to say that if it was not altogether questionable in its origin, it was undoubtedly unequal in its incidence and unjust in its operation, and that in his opinion its perpetuation would be an injustice and a wrong. He said an injustice and a wrong because, if there was any value or force in the arguments which had been adduced in favour of the abolition of church rates, which the House had repeatedly affirmed—if the conscientious scruples of the Dissenter were entitled to respect, as some allege on the other side of the House as a matter of favour, but as others on this side contend as a matter of right—if every tax is odious and oppressive which is levied in the shape of a personal exaction for religious purposes, from which the payers of the tax derive no benefit, then he would ask upon what principle the House can continue to declare that to be right and just when applied to the few which they have already declared to be the reverse as respects the many? But without further reference to the church rate question, there is the case of the eight Irish towns where ministers' money was levied. That was an impost identical in origin and principle with the annuity tax, but it was less onerous—less unequal and unjust, and it favoured no exemptions—and yet the Roman Catholic conscience rebelled against that tax—there was an absolute and general refusal to pay it, and the law was powerless to enforce the payment. And what was the consequence? Why, just this:—With the sanction of the Ministry of the day, you abolished the tax, and provided a substitute for it; and shall it be said that Irish importunity and clamour, and, what is more, Irish disobedience of the law, was more powerful to effect a remedy and to assist its claims to justice at the hands of the Legislature than the patient and praiseworthy endurance of a small and comparatively uninfluential community, because it is connected with Scot-laud? But it has just been alleged by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last (the Member for Invernessshire), that the tax is not the same as the church rate; that, in point of fact, it is not a personal tax. Well, if 657 it is not a personal tax, what is it? Is it a tax upon property? It is no such thing. Like the church rate, it is a tax upon the person in respect of occupancy. It is not a tax upon ownership, for a proprietor is not liable when his house is unlet. It is simply a tax upon occupation, and the very exemption in favour of one large class of persons, belonging to the legal profession, is proof decisive of the fact that it is a personal tax and nothing else. Well, now, he would only trouble the House with a single illustration to show the injustice of the tax. He would suppose the case of the successful practitioner at the bar. He makes his thousands per annum, resides in an elegant house, surrounded by all the comforts, and it may be all the luxuries, that money can supply. If he is a Churchman he is bound, above all others, to contribute to its ministrations; and yet, as the law now stands, he does not contribute a single farthing. But if he is a Dissenter he not only saves his pocket, but acquits his conscience under the cover of an unjust exemption. On the other hand, take the case of the poor widow, eking out a scanty subsistence as she supplies one or the other of the necessaries of life; it may be, to one or both the great luminaries of the bar, to whom he had just referred; in her case, if she belongs to the Church, she is liable to the tax; she contributes her few pence, and so far well; but if she be a Dissenter, she can plead neither her poverty nor her conscience in bar of payment of a tax, which he had shown the able and the wealthy escape. Is it possible that such injustice can long continue to exist? Now, only a single word more as to what fell from his hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire. He said that the measure is calculated to undermine, or as he expressed himself, to disestablish the Established Church. Well, all that he (Sir William Dunbar) could say in answer to that observation was, that if the maintenance of the Church depends upon the maintenance of this tax, and if its security is to be based upon the crazy foundations of discontent, dissatisfaction, and a sense of injustice, then, he feared, that the Church could not long be safe. But he entertained no such opinion, and no one would deplore more than himself any such result as the hon. Member anticipates.
§ MR. F. SCOTT
In the few observations I am about to make, I shall not be led into the different details with regard to the history of the annuity tax, or to the 658 exemption which has been, I think, unfairly allowed. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that this tax is unequal in its imposition, and that it is desirable some kind of substitute should be provided. Both parties in this House having so far agreed as to the desirability of abolishing this impost, the question for our consideration now is whether the substitute now proposed affords such a means of support and maintenance for the clergy of the Established Church of Scotland as is just in principle, or as ought to be adopted by this House? The right hon. and learned Member for Leith (Mr. Moncreiff) has requested that this Bill may be allowed to pass through its second reading, in order that we may have an opportunity of considering the Bill of the Government which we have been promised, and of considering the principles of both measures at the same time. Now, I, for one, am most anxious to see an amicable adjustment of this question upon fair, and just, and equitable principles. But, at the same time, whilst expressing that sentiment—whilst I admit that the opposition raised to this tax is of a conscientious character—nevertheless, I cannot acquiesce in this Bill as a settlement of this question, and, therefore, I, for one, cannot allow it to pass through a second reading without recording my vote against it. The great principle involved in it I cannot affirm, because I believe it is one that is founded upon the grossest injustice. Now, what is that principle? The principle of this Bill is, in effect, to abolish that which has existed for a period of 200 years. The mode by which the clergymen are to be supported under this Bill is this:—After depriving them of their legal provision, it provides as a substitute that they shall take the seat rents of the parish church, and the amount of the collections made on the Sabbath day in the parish church. Now, for what object are these contributions made? In the first place, I would ask any English Member to say whether they consider that the parish church ought, in principle, or according to law, to be disposed of in this way? I ask you whether you are of opinion that the seats in the church are to be let off according to a fixed rent? I believe that no matter has been more distinctly settled in the English law than this—that no particular person has any right to I special scat in the parish church. The very object of a parish 659 church is, that the means of religious instruction should be afforded fairly and freely to every inhabitant in every parish throughout the kingdom. I believe I am making a statement which no man will attempt to controvert—namely, that the parish church must be free to all. But a different custom has unhappily prevailed in Edinburgh and other towns in Scotland to a great extent; and in the particular case before us it has prevailed to this extent that the seat-rents, by Act of Parliament, are made applicable to a certain debt incurred by the city of Edinburgh. What, then, are you going to do? Why, that which I conscientiously believe to be illegal in principle, you propose to enact by this Bill. This measure proposes to appropriate those seat-rents and collections to a particular purpose altogether foreign from that to which they were originally applied by statutory enactment. I presented a petition this very day to the House in which the creditors of the city of Edinburgh come here, and call upon you not to pass this Bill in its present shape, because they have entered into a composition with the city of Edinburgh for the debt it has incurred to them, and thereby they have acquired an absolute statutory right over the seat-rents in those churches as a security for the sum they had advanced to the city of Edinburgh. But then I am aware that the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill has stated that these creditors, in giving up their security, shall have another security afforded to them. Now, what is that security? It is a security on certain dues and market tolls levied in Edinburgh, which, by statute, are really declared inalienable from the purposes to which they have been up to the present time applied. And yet, forsooth, we are called upon to affirm the principle of the Bill, and we are assailed as unreasonable beings because we call this measure one of confiscation and spoliation. I never wish to use harsh words in a debate, but I must say that when hon. Gentlemen come forward with a Bill of this character, and call upon us to affirm its principle, they are acting in a manner inconsistent with the principles of justice and fair play. It is for them to show that the principle which they advocate is founded upon justice, and that they are giving creditors whom they are depriving of their just claims another security equally good and responsible. If they are really desirous of providing another security for 660 the creditors of the City of Edinburgh, I think they should in the first instance have obtained the assent of the creditors. Any change of security which they may propose ought not to be persevered in unless it receives the special approbation of the creditors. They have not only not done that, but they really have not moved a step in the matter. They have left a statute which gives security on the question unrepealed, and they attempt to alienate funds and devote them to a purpose different from that to which they are already applicable by statutory enactment. When hon. Gentlemen come forward with a measure year after year ad nauseam, and appeal to our consciences in support of it, I think it is their duty to show that the measure they advocate is characterized by justice and fair play, and that it is also consistent with the religious principle involved. I could urge many more objections against this measure on the ground of religion, but I know I should be met in this House by the cry, "Why is religion at all introduced into the concerns of Parliament?" I am inclined to think that this Bill will not approve itself to the judgment or the consciences of hon. Members, or to their sense of justice and equity. Unless the advocates of the Bill show that they have provided a substitute for the tax which they propose to abolish, and that they also provide another security for the creditors of the City of Edinburgh, I do not think that it would be wise, or proper, or just, for us to entertain the question at all as coming from them. The late Lord Advocate, whom I do not see in his place, seems to say that he and his friends are better supporters of the Established Church than we who oppose this Bill. I am not prepared to admit the justice of the assertion that we are not disposed to receive a settlement of the question. I wish and believe that all on this side of the House, as well as every Scotchman interested in the question, are equally anxious for a satisfactory adjustment of the matter. We have had for some years annual debates in this House upon this question, and it appears we are fated to have more. We all want a settlement of the matter which shall be just, fair, and reasonable. The late Lord Advocate said that he had brought forward a measure with which we ought to be satisfied; but the hon. Member for Edinburgh found great fault with the hon. Member for Stirlingshire for introducing the question of the Trinity College church, which, he said, was calculated very much 661 to create a prejudice against the Bill. It is not unnatural that a warm feeling should have existed against a Bill which we consider one of injustice and spoliation when it can be shown that it takes away funds amounting to £13,000 which have been given to the Town Council for the support of the church, and applies it to a different purpose altogether without providing any substitute. The hon. Member for Elgin said that the amount was £17,000. No doubt that was the sum paid by the railway company at Edinburgh to the Town Council to be appropriated to a particular purpose. They appropriated only £4,000 of that money to the building of a church when they ought to have appropriated the whole sum to that or similar purposes. What would be thought of trustees who had received £17,000 for a particular object, and who, having expended only £4,000 of the sum in the execution of the trust, pocketed the remainder? But what would be said if such parties came down to the House and said, we are anxious, for the sake of religion and justice, to pass a measure entitling us to appropriate 74 per cent of the money so given to us in trust for purposes altogether different to the intentions of the original donors? The hon. Member for Stirlingshire has been found fault with for bringing forward what has been termed an element of discord in alluding to the question of the Trinity College Church, but I beg to remind the House that it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leith who first introduced that question, and not the hon. Member for (Stirlingshire. It was the late Lord Advocate who first introduced this element of discord by making it a portion of the Bill which he introduced. Now, I do not think that we can be considered enemies to religion, to justice, or to honesty if we are found opposing such a misappropriation of the 74 per cent of the funds entrusted to these parties, when we know that they have only applied 26 per cent to the purposes for which the money was originally granted. So far then for this point. Let us now proceed to some others. The other funds from which we are to draw are funds that are dedicated to the interest of the poor—that is, the church-door collections and the alms that are given there, which should be employed exclusively for the benefit of the poor, and for the purpose of clothing the children of the poor—in a word, supplying all their wants. Let me tell you, Sir, that throughout the whole of 662 Scotland there is no more beneficial fund, both as regards givers and receivers, than that portion of the church-door collection which is applied to the purposes of the poor. The effect is equally good both as respects the poor who receive the fund and those who contribute the charity that is solicited. And yet this is the fund upon which we are called on to rely for the maintenance of the ministers of religion. I should like to know what would be said in Scotland, or in any other part of the United Kingdom, if we were every day to have a poor-box going round in order to support the clergy of the Established Church in every parish. Then an hon. Gentleman tells us that these church-door collections are very poor. Why then, I ask, do you want to make them poorer? The hon. Gentleman told us that the collections of the Established Church wore in fact only one-sixth part what they really are. The amount of the collections, he said, was £1,000 a year, instead of £6,000 a year, as they actually are. The hon. Gentleman was only wrong in this particular to the extent of five-sixths of the whole amount. If, however, the amount is so small, why make it still smaller by the proposition now before us? We diminish the fund for the relief of the poor and apply it for the maintenance of the clergy, instead of the amount to which they are legally entitled. Well, if this be not a Bill of spoliation or confiscation, I will tell you what it is. It is a Bill for permitting you to put your hands into the pockets of the poor—to rob the poor in order to give money to the rich. That, I am sure, Sir, is not a principle which this House will ever adopt or recognize; but in order to bring over English Members to his side, the hon. Gentleman says that the question of the annuity tax is in its nature analogous to church rates. Now, no greater fallacy than that could possibly be imagined. There is no analogy whatever between the two cases. Church rates, as the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Baillie) has stated, are a voluntary assessment; but they are more than that—church rates are a legal assessment, levied by each parish on its own inhabitants. Now, the annuity tax is a statutory enactment—a statutory imposition, imposed for a period of two hundred years. Again, church rates are imposed for the maintenance of the fabric of the church; while, as all hon. Members know, the annuity tax has been imposed for the support of the ministers of religion, in the 663 same way that tithes were formerly imposed. Well, there is another great difference between the two cases. There is still less analogy as regards the positions in which they relatively stand. We are perfectly aware that the opponents to church rates rest their opposition mainly upon the assertion that these rates, when they were originally proposed, were for a different purpose to that for which in later years they have been appropriated. There is not much misappropriation of funds in the case now before the House. No complaint of the misappropriation of the annuity tax has of late years been made. The hon. Member last year told us that he was born some years before this tax was imposed. Why, the statute imposing this tax was passed in 1661, nearly 200 years ago. I do not know exactly the age of the hon. Gentleman, but I should rather say that he is not quite so old. This tax has been levied by the Town Council, and they have appropriated it to the purpose of paying the stipends of the clergy. But in 1809 it was discovered that it was not fair, or just, or according to the Act of 1661. The hon. Gentleman calls this a smuggled clause in the Act; but the real contrabandists, the real smugglers, are those who, in later years, misappropriated the funds. In 1809 the clergy found out that the whole assessment belonged to them and not to the Town Council. When, in 1855, the Town Council had dared to audit their own accounts and to administer their own funds, the clergy had been exceedingly forbearing in respect of this assessment. They are, generally speaking, most anxious that some alteration should be made in regard to it. They feel as the English clergy felt before the Act for the commutation of tithes. They felt a sort of regret that the tax should be a source of heart-burning between the Commissioners and themselves, and accordingly they ask for a substitute. There is one point which I wish now to observe upon. The hon. Member for Edinburgh has thought proper to resist the payment of this tax for two years. I believe that no one who knows the character of the hon. Gentleman could for a moment suppose that, in adopting that course, he has been actuated by any other than a conscientious principle. He objects, as a Dissenter, to contribute to the support of a church to which he does not belong. But what does he do in the 7th clause of his own Bill? The case there is not one 664 of transfer; but the principle of the 7th. clause of his Bill is, that it imposes a municipal tax, and to which a portion of the public money is to go to pay the clergy of each parish belonging to the Established Church, to which he himself does not belong. Now, after that clause, I contend the question is no longer one of principle; because there is here a direct provision for payment out of public money of a clergy from whom the hon. Gentleman differs in religious matters. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head at this; but if he could shake the 7th clause out of his Bill I should be more disposed than I at present am to believe in his conscientious scruples. It is true that the sum which he proposes by this clause to levy is only one halfpenny in the pound. Now, however small that sum may be, the same principle is involved in it as if the amount was half-a-crown in the pound—that is, the principle of paying for the maintenance of a church which the hon. Gentleman himself refuses to recognize. The hon. Member cannot, therefore, rest this question on the ground of principle. These are the grounds upon which I for one cannot adopt the principle of any Bill of such a nature as this—a Bill which I consider to be framed to relieve the rich by what is taken out of the pockets of the poor. By this Bill it is proposed by way of a substitute to defraud the body of creditors of that just security given them by Act of Parliament. On this ground also, amongst many others, I say "No" to the second reading.
§ LORD ELCHO
Sir, one word will explain the vote I intend to give on this question. I am one of those who think it desirable that this question should be settled satisfactorily. It is a question that has long occupied men's minds in Edinburgh, and which has led to great heart burnings and much discontent. I think, therefore, it is for the interest of the people of the Scotch metropolis and of the Church generally that this question should be settled in a satisfactory manner. I fully believe in the conscientious scruples of the hon. Member for Edinburgh; I fully believe that he rests his objection to the payment of these taxes on principle, and that he is anxious to have the question settled. But the question to consider now is, how can it be settled on fair and reasonable grounds—but I confess that in the Bill brought in by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, I cannot see any such just or amicable settlement. The Government, speak- 665 ing through the learned Lord Advocate, have announced their intention of bringing in a Bill—indeed, I believe that Bill is already in print—and, therefore, I think it much better to wait till we see that Bill before we come to a conclusion on the question. There is unquestionably one provision in particular in this Bill which I cannot accept, however anxious I may be to see this question settled. The principle involved in that provision I know not how to describe, except one of unblushing spoliation; for it takes away the whole means by which the clergy of the Established Church of Scotland are supported in Edinburgh. I have before me an extract from the report of Sir John Shaw Lefevre, who had been sent down to inquire into the bearings of the question in Scotland. He says that this tax is not a rent charge, but a tax given to ministers and their successors for their benefit, and that unless the rights of these ministers and their successors are upheld by means of another Act of Parliament, you cannot abrogate the tax. The hon. Member for Edinburgh does not deal with the subject in that spirit of justice and forbearance; but he cuts away the moans by which the clergy of the Established Church in Edinburg are maintained. I for one disagree in to from such a principle; and if a division is taken, I am prepared to vote against the second reading.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Sir, I owe an apology to the House for taking any part in a debate which seems particularly to interest Scotch Members; but some years ago, as a Commissioner appointed for the purpose of investigating certain matters in Scotland, I had occasion to look into the state of affairs in Edinburgh. They were then in a state of great difficulty and confusion, and my attention was necessarily directed to this annuity-tax. At that period great excitement existed on the subject, and I believe discontent and excitement have continued up to the present time, although they have not broken out into actual violence. I believe, Sir, that this state of things is grounded upon well-founded dissatisfaction; and I do not think it is wise or proper to neglect this important question merely because the grievance has hitherto been borne with patience, or that a body of lawyers should be exempt from a contribution to which all other classes of the community in Edinburgh are subjected. Such a state of things must naturally create discontent in that city. I am sure the House will feel 666 that it is desirable to put an end to such a cause of dissatisfaction. I think that this question, notwithstanding what has been said to the contrary, bears a much closer analogy to ministers' money than to church-rates. I think it stands precisely upon the same ground as does ministers' money in Ireland. I think it would be unjust to abolish the tax without finding some substitute for it. But, Sir, I hold that the question which we have now to consider is that of abolition, and not that of substitution. I do not think it will contribute to the proper solution of the question of abolition if we mix it up at the present time with the question of a substitution. Let us in the first place, as we are all agreed on the desirability of abolishing this tax, assent to the second reading, which, as I said before, involves only the principle of abolition. Then, when we go into Committee on the Bill, we shall be more properly able to consider the question of a substitute. The question now before us is as to whether this tax should be abolished? My opinion is that it should; and therefore I am prepared to vote for the second reading of the Bill. The question of a substitute I am prepared to consider in its proper time—when we are in Committee. I heard the statement of the Lord Advocate that he is prepared to offer a proper substitute for this tax, which he proposes by his Bill to abolish. The House will of course carefully consider the proposition of the Lord Advocate when it comes before them; but I own that I am not quite satisfied if, as I understand, the substitute which the Bill of Her Majesty's Government will give is to be merely a temporary one. I think there are great objections to taking away that particular fund to which he refers from its original purposes, and applying it in the manner which that Bill proposes. I am of opinion that it would be a very inadequate substitute for the amount of this tax. With regard to the question raised by the hon. Member (Mr. F. Scott) as to how the substitute will affect the creditors of Edinburgh, undoubtedly the House is bound to inquire into that subject. I do not think, however, that the interest of those creditors will be in any manner affected. I have looked into the question, and I do not believe that those creditors have any lien upon this tax. I am of opinion that they have rather a lien on the seat-rents. If the Government would allow us to go into Committee we should have an opportunity of considering the points involved, and we 667 should no doubt arrive at a just and satisfactory settlement of the whole matter. I am quite sure, from the expression of opinion which we have heard from both sides of the House, that there pervades a general desire amongst hon. Members to first abolish the annuity tax, and then to find a substitute for the impost so abolished.
§ MR. MACKIE
I agree with what has been said by those who preceded me in the debate, that so long as this annuity tax remains, so long will it continue in the city of Edinburgh the demon of strife and hatred and malice. I therefore, I need not say, should rejoice to see the tax abolished; but I must also say that I wish, as a matter of justice, before this abolition takes place, to see a substitute provided. It has been said that this case—the case I mean of the annuity tax—is analogous to the case of church rates, and therefore as the House has expressed its wish for the abolition of the rates, it will also desire to abolish the Edinburgh annuity tax. With all due deference to the hon. Gentleman who maintained this argument, he is altogether mistaken in supposing the existence of any analogy. In the case of church rates you have no character of fixity. The House of Lords, the highest Court of Appeal in the land, have decided that church rates are dependent on parochial majorities, and therefore they appear to amount to little more than a parish subscription. The analogy, therefore, is not correct between church rates and the annuity tax. The annuity tax is a fixed charge depending on the value of property, therefore it appears to me that those who advocate the abolition of the tax without a substitute, relying on the analogy of church rates, have not the best of the argument. But a very close analogy has been drawn, and may still be drawn, between this case and the case of ministers' money in Ireland. It was not the abolition only that convinced the House of Commons, for there was pointed out in that case a safe and sufficient substitute. So, it appears to me that if you can find a substitute for the annuity tax, it will be quite a right and proper thing to abolish it; but, as there is no substitute provided, it appears to me to be altogether wrong to abolish the tax. What are the substitutes? The church-door collection is already appropriated by statute—by act of Parliament; and the other substitute suggested, I mean the substitute of pew-rents, is already secured to the city corporation, and the city corpora- 668 tion have never agreed to give up the security, so far as I know, or so far as I have heard asserted. To agree to the second reading of the Bill would, then, be an act of injustice; it appears to me to be an unjust mode of arriving at a conclusion on a religious difficulty to do an unmitigated act of spoliation.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I think the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Black) would do wrong if he yielded to the suggestion which has been made to him to withdraw the Bill. It appears to me that the best mode of carrying a thing in this House is not by withdrawing it. We have had an example this very Session of what is to be expected from the Government with reference to a kindred subject, the abolition of church rates in England, and the example does not convince me that they are likely to introduce a measure which will settle the annuity tax in a satisfactory manner. The tax has been described as having introduced and kept alive in Edinburgh the demon of hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness. I have not said anything so bad of it as that. If it be true, as we learn from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, that there is an enormous majority in favour of the measure, not only a majority of the inhabitants of Edinburgh, but of its educated classes—I am almost afraid to say anything about population simply—I must, adopting the phraseology of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Colonies, say, the "cultivated intelligence" of Edinburgh. I will venture to say that the "cultivated intelligence" of Edinburgh is as five to one in favour of the proposition of the hon. Member for that city. There is no matter of doubt about it; not the slightest. Then why is it that in a city where the population is so attentive to all their religious duties, their ministers cannot rely on the same sources of income as the Free Church and the United Presbyterians? If the hon. Gentleman wants to find sources of income, they are to be found in abundance. There are scores of stipends in the north of Scotland, in parishes where there are no congregations. If the Parliament would sanction it, there would be no difficulty in amalgamating the parishes, and then adequate ministers' incomes would he provided for the minister of the same Church in Edinburgh or anywhere else where they are required. I do not recommend this; I only say that there is such a source if you are driven to have recourse to it. But 669 should we go on, Session after Session, discussing this matter as the House discussed the question of church rates and the question of ministers' money, to come to only one result—just like this House, there is one door in and one door out of it—discuss it for years, and you will come to the proposition of the hon. Member for Edinburgh. I have lately been in Edinburgh, and I do not misstate that there is scarcely any difference of opinion as to the necessity of settling the question, and as to the justice and the propriety of settling it on such terms as are now proposed. Therefore I hope the hon. Gentleman will not preclude himself from proceeding by the notion that the Government will bring in a measure likely to be satisfactory, or if they do that it will pass this House, but that he will press forward his measure, and I will undertake to say that, like church rates and ministers' money, we shall find this annuity tax question also be settled, and that "the demon of hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness," will be exercised from the city of Edinburgh.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
believed every Member of the House had come to the conclusion that the annuity tax in Edinburgh must be put an end to, and the question therefore was, whether that object could be satisfactorily effected by the present Bill. The hon. Member for Birmingham advised the hon. Member for Edinburgh to persevere in his Bill by referring to the example of what had occurred with regard to church rates; the truth being that that hon. Gentleman did not agree with the propositions of the Bill itself, because the Bill proposed to afford, although inadequate and inexpedient, some substitute for the tax to be abolished, while the hon. Gentleman wished to abolish the tax without equivalent and without substitute. [Mr. BRIGHT: No.] I understood him to say that, in a rich and intelligent city like Edinburgh, there are plenty of sources whence the income of the ministers ought to be provided. But on what ground does the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Labouchcre) proceed? He says, "I shall support the second reading, but I shall in Committee propose Amendments." I understand him to say that he does not agree with the provisions of the Bill, but he considers that in Committee differences of opinion may be arranged. It is clear, therefore, that neither does he approve the provisions of the present measure. We all of us 670 agree that it Is desirable to get rid of this tax, and the only question between one party and the other is this—In what manner shall we do it? On this side Gentlemen say the provisions proposed are not only highly unjust but altogether incommensurate with the object, and it is not an individual that says it is, but it is the Lord Advocate, speaking on authority; and the learned Lord expresses his intention of introducing a measure which he thinks, without being unjust, will be much more satisfactory than the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh. Why, then, should that hon. Gentleman persist in pressing on the second reading of a Bill many of the provisions of which are not approved of by hon. Gentlemen who have declared their intention of voting for it? He will lose nothing by postponing it for a fortnight. The House will then have an opportunity of considering the measure of the Lord Advocate. The hon. Member, perhaps, fears that the Lord Advocate's measure may be such as strengthen the objections to his own Bill; but I ask the House to wait and see what the Lord Advocate's Bill is.
MR. E. ELLICE
(St. Andrew's) said, that having taken a prominent part in the discussions on this question for eight years, he wished to offer a few remarks. He believed that the good people of Edinburgh desired to relieve themselves at the expense of the Consolidated Fund. Four or five Bills had been presented to the House, all of which were applications to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to supply means for relieving the tax-payers of Edinburgh from payments which they thought were rather unjustly extracted from them. He should vote for the second reading of the Bill before the House, inasmuch as there was no such proposition involved in it; and he hoped the Lord Advocate, if he should succeed in defeating the Bill, would not have recourse to the old expedient of applying the public funds to relieve the objections of individual tax-payers. He only threw in these few words in order to put the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his guard, that whenever Bills came from the north they were generally attended with such an application for the public money.
§ VISCOUNT DUNCAN
said, there appeared to be but one wish on both sides with regard to the abolition of the annuity tax. He believed there was no difference of opinion on either side that the tax must be abolished. But he rose to suggest to 671 Her Majesty's Government the following question. He would very much like to know what were the principles of the Bill alluded to or about to be brought in by Her Majesty's. Government. On this side of the House they were in this difficulty, that they did not know what the principles were that were contained in the Bill which the Lord Advocate had stated to the House would shortly be brought forward. Her Majesty's Government had this advantage, that they knew the principles of the Bill now before the House. He cordially concurred with what had fallen from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, that it was absolutely necessary that this annuity tax should be got rid of. But he was in this difficulty at that moment, that being most anxious to get rid of the tax he could see no other course to adopt than to vote in favour of the Bill now before the House. They were not responsible for the other Bill not being brought forward. But, considering all the circumstances of the case, he would suggest to the Government that they should assent to the second reading of the present Bill on the understanding that when they introduced their own Bill it should not be objected to by the supporters of the measure now before the House, and then that both Bills should go into Committee and be there taken into consideration together.
§ MR. BLACK
said, that seeing that the House was impatient, he would not take up their time for more than a minute or two. He begged, however, to remind them that at the opening of the debate he had not made a long speech, although he was fully prepared to do so, and to show that this annuity tax was regarded as an intolerable burden, that it was contrary to the principles of religious liberty, that it was unjustly saddled on the inhabitants of Edinburgh, that it had led to nothing but tumult and riot and all kinds of confusion in the city, that it was injurious, not only to religion and morals, but to the Church of Scotland itself. Pew persons had inquired into the question as much as he had done. He had searched diligently in every quarter in order to ascertain whether he could find any legitimate substitute for the tax that was likely to be received by this House. He knew very well the Bill to be brought in by the Lord Advocate would trench upon some of the funds of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he believed that, though the ministers of Edinburgh were exceedingly anxious to get rid of the tax, their longing eyes were towards 672 the Consolidated Fund, and he knew that if any charge on the Consolidated Fund were proposed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not submit to it. The hon. Member for Kirkcudbright had said the existence of the annuity tax introduced envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitable-ness. Whether that were so, and whether, by the abolition of the tax, the "demon of hatred, malice, and uncharitableness," would be laid in the Red Sea, he could not say, but you are reduced to this alternative, you must either accept of this substitute, though it should not be so ample as you would like, and with it the affections of the parishioners, or you must continue to submit to the demon of hatred and malice. His principal objection to the annuity tax was, that it violated the principles of religious liberty. It was held to be the inalienable right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience; it was persecution to compel any man to adopt the creed of another, it was no less persecution to force him under threats of prosecution to support the creed of another. He had paid the tax, when compelled to do so. He did it on the same principle as the farmer of Lochlomond paid black mail to Rob Roy. If he were not forced to pay by threats of prosecution, of arrest, or imprisonment, he said at once he would not pay it. He paid every other tax as soon as the paper was presented, but with regard to this annuity tax, he entertained a strong conscientious objection to it.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now,' stand pert of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 216; Noes 176: Majority 40.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday next.