§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. M'LAREN
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it was the same as a measure which, in 1871, passed by 121 to 76. The Government promised to deal with the subject in the following Session, and also in the succeeding one; but, owing to the pressure of business, that was not done. In the present Session 132 Petitions had been presented in favour of the Bill, many of them being from town councils and other corporate bodies; one being from the Convention of Royal Burghs; one from the General Assembly of the Free Church, and one from the Synod of the United Presbyterian Church. In that way the House would see there had been a general expression of opinion in favour of the Bill. There had been Petitions against it; but nearly all of them had come from Courts of the Established Church. He had good reason to believe—and the absence of Petitions corroborated his opinion—that the members of the Established Church, other than the Church Courts, would be delighted to see some measure passed to remove the grievances which existed. There was one Petition of rather an important kind, from the landowners of the county of Aberdeen, as Commissioners of Supply, in favour of the Bill, and the question, he might state, was growing rapidly in Scotland. Now, it was only necessary to explain the principle of the Bill, and he did so, merely for the information of hon. Members who might not have been in the last Parliament, and who might not have given attention to it. By the law of Scotland, as it then stood, every Church which required repairs had to be repaired at the expense of all the landowners of the parish, and if a church was so dilapidated that a new one was considered necessary, a rate was laid on for its erection. Again, if the minister's house, which they called the manse, required repairs, a rate had also to be laid on for that purpose. Unlike the clergy in England, the Scotch minister was not bound, except in special cases, to keep the house in tenantable condition; and 1283 if he thought it too small, or in a state requiring repairs, he applied to the Sheriff. The Sheriff appointed an architect to report on the subject, and the architect, as might be expected, usually reported that it was better to build a new manse, than to repair or alter the old one. A new manse had accordingly to be built, and a rate levied on the landowners to pay its cost. The rate was laid upon every Dissenter in the parish, and even the ministers of the Free and United Presbyterian Churches were themselves rated on the value of their manses to build a manse for the minister of the parish. In regard to glebes, these cases rarely occurred, and it was not necessary to say much about them; but any addition to a glebe, or any new glebe, would require a similar rate. The Bill before the House was just a transcript of the English Church Rate Abolition Bill, that was arranged by consent of all parties in that House; and was now the law of the land. That Act did not abolish church rates. It allowed them to be laid on, as they had been from time immemorial; but it did away with the legal enforcement of payment. In that way it became a voluntary rate instead of being compulsory. Now, the Bill which he had the honour to introduce was copied verbatim from the English Act, with the exception, that the necessary alterations were made in the phraseology to make the wording of the English Act apply to Scotch usages and Scotch law. But substantially all that the Bill proposed was to assimilate the law of Scotland to the law of England. The working of the law in England had been of a most satisfactory character. Thousands of people now paid the rate voluntarily, because there was no compulsion brought to bear on them, who did not pay it before, and the consequence was that plenty of money was so obtained without the harassing proceedings which formerly took place. He admitted at once that the law was not the same in Scotland now as it was in England before the passing of the Church Rates Abolition Act; but it was a great deal worse. It was a great deal more vexatious and a great deal more unjust to Nonconformists. There was no option in Scotland as to laying on the rate. Besides, there was no law in England requiring a rate to be laid on for providing or repairing a house for the 1284 parish clergyman. There was such a law in Scotland; and thus, the laws of the two countries were dissimilar, but they were dissimilar so that the grievance was greater in Scotland; and they had a stronger claim for redress. On those grounds, he thought the House would do a wise thing to pass the Bill. Let him refer now for a moment to what was said on the former occasion when this question was before Parliament, and the promises that were then made. The then Lord Advocate (Mr. Young) said—With the object which my hon. Friend (Mr. M'Laren) has in view, I hope I have expressed my entire sympathy, and also my resolution on the first opportunity which may he afforded me of attempting to deal with it by a measure introduced into this House.The Lord Advocate further said—By taking the course, however, of offering no opposition to the second reading, I hope L shall give some additional emphasis to the regret I sincerely feel at my inability to attempt myself to deal with the subject in the course of the present Session."—[3 Hansard, ccvii. 1182–3.]He hinted at what he thought would be a right kind of measure, and it went considerably further than his (Mr. M 'Laren' s), because it contained a proposal to abolish by Act of Parliament these imaginary congregations which existed in the Highlands, without any hearers belonging to them, and for which, nevertheless, charges were made to the amount of £120 for each on the Exchequer. His right hon. Friend the present Lord Advocate also pointed out a way of his own by which he thought the grievance could be, to some extent, remedied. He said—There was some grievance as regarded a portion of the assessment, and he concurred in the view which had been thrown out in course of the discussion that there would be considerable relief in a more equal distribution of the liability. At present, the assessment occurred at uncertain intervals, and if it were converted into a small fixed amount, benefit would result to all parties."—[Ibid, 1183.]The hon. Member for St. Andrews (Mr. Ellice) also expressed his opinion very strongly, that the subject should be dealt with, and said—His hon. Friend (Mr. M'Laren) alluded to a large area in Scotland—one-third of the whole—where, he said, 'a caricature of the Church exists.' he (Mr. Ellice) feared he must concede the justice of that expression."—[Ibid. 1179.]Again, the hon. Member for Bute (Mr. Dalrymple) twitted the Lord Advocate 1285 with not dealing with the question himself. He was reported to have said—Still he had some sympathy with the hon. Member (Mr. M'Laren), who had, at least, proposed to remedy a grievance—but he had not a word to say for Her Majesty's Government, whose policy seemed to be on this as on other occasions—' We cannot pass a measure ourselves, and we are resolved nobody else shall.'"—[Ibid. 1178.]The Notice for the second reading of the Bill was placed on the Paper in the first week of the present Session of Parliament, and it seemed to remain unopposed until within a few days ago, when Notice of his Amendment was given by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayrshire (Colonel Alexander), setting forth that it was neither wise nor expedient, without further inquiry, to exempt land from burdens incidental to its tenure. Now, it might be remarked that the difficulty of exempting land from its burdens did not seem to have been discovered until two years ago, when it was exempted from the burdens of maintaining the parish schools of Scotland. They willingly threw that burden on the ratepayers, and no protest was made against it from the opposite side he did not see, therefore, what was the reason for their opposition now. The Amendment admitted there was a grievance; then why not deal with it? The hon. and gallant Member said, in his Amendment, he was not unwilling to consider any equitable proposal for relieving feus in Scotland below a fixed amount of annual value from assessment for the erection and maintenance of ecclesiastical buildings. Well, how could the House consider any equitable proposal, unless the hon. and gallant Member would allow the Bill to pass its second reading? Why did he not bring forward his equitable proposal? Why not let the Bill go into Committee, and then make the equitable proposal there? The hon. and gallant Slember's opinion of an equitable proposal was to relieve feus below a fixed standard from assessment. That view had often been discussed. It was referred to by the late Lord Advocate in the debate he had quoted from, and that hon. and learned Gentleman then gave it, as his opinion, that it would be a very difficult operation. He (Mr. M'Laren) was not, however, going to argue against it. One argument might be used in its favour. Originally, only 1286 the large owners paid these rates. They were levied under the old Valuation Act, which came into existence about two centuries ago. Twenty years ago an Act was passed, introducing a modern system of valuation. It contained a clause intended to prevent any burdens being imposed on persons not previously liable to them, or the burdens being extended on those who were liable; but there were other clauses in the Act which seemed to make it imperative that every burden should be levied according to the new Valuation Act. He was not sure whether those apparently contradictory clauses were ever judicially decided on, but in paractice these burdens had since been levied according to the modern valuation, and the effect had been to include small feuars who were formerly exempted. He mentioned that parenthetically, for the encouragement of the hon. and gallant Member, in order that he might be induced to submit clauses in accordance with his views. Unless something of that kind were done, the Amendment could only be considered a mere evasion of the question—a mere putting it aside without any real intention to do anything; because if there was such an intention, the opportunity now existed, and there was no time like the present. If some such clauses were proposed, and obtained the consent of the Lord Advocate, the Bill could be passed within a very short time. The Amendment went on to say that—This House is of opinion that, without further inquiry, to exempt the land generally from burdens incidental to its tenure would be neither wise nor expedient.It did not absolutely say that it would not be wise or expedient; but only that it would not be wise or expedient without further inquiry. Was the hon. and gallant Member prepared to move for a Royal Commission, or for a Committee of that House to get that further information? If he was, then there was something tangible to be dealt with; but if he had no such proposal, it seemed to him (Mr. M'Laren) a mere evasion of the whole question to say that, without further inquiry, it would not be wise or expedient to do anything. The Amendment seemed to apply that if the inquiry was made, it might be very wise and expedient, and that was an additional reason for making the inquiry. It seemed, therefore, to him to be incum- 1287 bent on the hon. and gallant Member to get the inquiry instituted, and he hoped the hon. and gallant Gentleman would show his sincerity in the matter by moving for a Commission or a Committee. But even if that plan were followed, he (Mr. M'Laren) submitted that it would be wise and expedient, meanwhile, to pass the second reading, and allow Amendments to be introduced in Committee. He could not conclude without saying that the result of making the rate chargeable only on large feuars, would be to increase the burden on them. It would not diminish the sum to be paid. Suppose £4,000 to be required, and one-fourth of the property to be occupied by small feuars, if they exempted them from the payment of £ 1,000 they just increased the share that had to be paid by the large feuars. Now, he thought that would be a questionable hind of legislation. He doubted if it would be altogether according to strict justice; but if the Lord Advocate, or some other hon. Gentleman, would show that the laying of the burden on the small feuars was not intended by Parliament on the passing of the New Valuation Act, and that the burden was originally inherent on large properties only, it might be right to restore the small feuars to the position they occupied before the Act was passed. With these remarks, he begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. M'Laren.)
§ COLONEL ALEXANDER
, in moving as an Amendment—That while not unwilling to consider any equitable proposal for relieving feus in Scotland below a fixed standard of annual value from assessment for the erection and maintenance of ecclesiastical buildings, this House is of opinion that, without further inquiry, to exempt the land generally from burdens incidental to its tenure would be neither wise nor expedient.said: My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Sir, has risen for the third time to try and induce the House to read a second time what he is pleased to entitle "a Bill for the Abolition of Compulsory Church Rates in Scotland" and on every occasion he has professed the Bill to be conceived in the best interests of the Church itself. Well, Sir, there is a quotation, somewhat hackneyed, perhaps, but for that reason not the less true, 1288 about the fear which certain people inspire, even when they come bearing gifts in their hands; and when I recollect that only last year my hon. Friend cordially and eloquently seconded Mr. Miall's Resolution in favour of dis establishing and disendowing the Churches of England and Scotland, I may, perhaps, be excused for regarding with some mistrust the gift which he this day proffers for the acceptance of the House. Nor can I forget, Sir, that on former occasions my hon. Friend has used expressions towards the Church scarcely consistent with the interest he professes to take in its welfare. My hon. Friend has applied to the Church the expression "Caricature of a Church" and other terms of endearment to which I need not more particularly allude. My hon. Friend has always professed his readiness to change the title of his Bill, but somehow or other he has never done so, and I think we are, therefore, entitled to assume that he has some special object in not acting up to his professions. But, indeed, from his point of view my hon. Friend is quite right, because having assumed the title of the English Bill of 1868, it is of course his object to prove that Church rates in England were in all respects identical with Church assessments in Scotland, and if he fails in establishing this fact to the satisfaction of the House, then, I submit that his case has utterly and entirely broken down. Now, Sir, I will ask the House to give me its attention while I endeavour to shew that there is no analogy between Church rates as they existed prior to 1868 in England, and the assessment levied on land for the erection and maintenance of ecclesiastical buildings in Scotland. Sir, I will not enter into the subtle distinctions which my hon. Friend draws in connection with the incidence of a tax. I am ready to assume, if he likes, that the ultimate incidence of a tax rests rather on the owner than on the occupier of the soil. My point is that in every other respect there is no similarity whatever between the English Church rate and the Scotch assessment. In the first place the English rate was imposed by the will of the majority—that is to say, that if the half plus one of the occupiers agreed to impose a rate, they could enforce their will on the reluctant minority—certainly not a desirable state of matters, because 1289 you might thus have a rate compulsorily levied in one parish, whereas the adjoining parish might possibly never be rated at all. I need not stop to point out that no such rate is ever taken in Scotland. Then again, Sir, whereas a rate might be imposed annually in England, in Scotland an assessment—as the hon. Gentleman himself once pointed out—an assessment might recur, perhaps, once in sixty years. Once more, the English rate might be applied to the petty repairs and cleaning of the Church, whereas in Scotland these expenses are defrayed by a collection made at the Church door. My hon. Friend boasts that his Bill is in all respects the same as the English Act; but where, let me ask, is Clause 5 of the English Act, which with permission of the House I will read?—This Act shall not affect any enactment in any private or local Act of Parliament under the authority of which Church rates may he made or levied in lieu of or in consideration of the extinguishment or of the appropriation to any other purpose, of any tithes, customary payments, or other property or charge upon property, which tithes, payment, property, or charge previously to the passing of such Act, had been appropriated by law to ecclesiastical purposes, as defined by this Act, or in consideration of the abolition of tithes in any place, or upon any contract made, or for good and valuable consideration given, and every such enactment shall continue in force in the same manner as if the Act had not passed.Now, I am sure, Sir, every hon. and learned Gentleman in this House will say that this is a saving clause introduced for the purpose of exempting from the operation of the Act any tithes previously devoted to ecclesiastical purposes. But my hon. Friend urges that the Scotch assessment is a personal tax. He says, and says truly, that Duncan is a great authority, and he has sometimes quoted him largely in support of his view. Yes, Sir, Duncan is a great authority, and with the permission of the House, I will quote him too, but in a sense altogether different from that of my hon. Friend. Duncan says—That from the time of the Reformation down to about 1690, the parichiners or parishioners were held liable for maintaining two, and the parson or titular of the teinds the third part or choir of the parish church, and in 1685, that is five years before the abolition of patronage, the Court of Session decided that the teinds might be devoted to the repair of the choir or parson's third of the church.But in 1690, when the teinds were given 1290 to the patrons, parsons were abolished, and the duty of upholding the parson's share of the church devolved on the parishioners. Now, Sir, who were these parochiners or parishioners? Duncan says, the term was taken to imply heritors. In the words of Lord Monboddo, when giving judgment in 1781 in the Crieff Case—From the days of Alexander II. to 1563, the expense was laid on the parishioners, afterwards it came to he laid on the heritors. The expressions contained in the Act of Privy Council are consistent with this view, because it directs the stent (these words are very important) to be levied by way of a property not a capitation tax.And Duncan says, "this construction of the word parochiners has been adopted ever since." But I have not yet done with Duncan. The following passage strongly supports my view in opposition to that taken by my hon. Friend. He says:—The execution of the repair operations required in a parish church, although not a burden which recurs at stated or regular periods, is one which is permanent as opposed to temporary in its nature. Assessment is imposed in respect of the ownership of heritable property which yields, or is capable of yielding a permanent revenue as opposed to a casual return or profit derived not from the fruits or produce of the subject, but from a disposal of part of the subject itself. And in 1805, it was ruled in the Inveresk Case that no part of the expense of rebuilding the church was assessable on an owner of coal mines qua; proprietor thereof, the profit being in the nature of casual profit, rather than permanent rent.Only one more instance, Sir, and I have done. Duncan says:—The heritor cannot dispose of his seat (in church) separately from his lands. It is annexed to and cannot be dissevered from them.Now, Sir, I ask, and ask confidently, what becomes of my hon. Friend's argument that church assessment in Scotland is in the nature of a personal tax? I submit I have conclusively proved that no similarity exists between church assessment in Scotland, and church rate in England. Sir, many people imagine that these unhappy differences between heritors and feuars date from very recent times, or at least not further back than what is known as "the Peterhead Case" in 1802. That is a complete fallacy. Doubtless, complaints have increased in consequence of the growth of towns and villages, of the multiplication of feus, and by the passing of the Valua- 1291 tion Act of 1854, which, though not a taxing Act, established a uniform valuation of lands, and thus gave greater facilities for arriving at their real value. Previous to the passing of the Act, the valuation made in the time of Cromwell was the only authoritative basis or standard upon which to estimate the value of land in Scotland. That valuation was known as the Valued rent. But, Sir, disputes between town and country as to the incidence of assessment are nearly two centuries old. The first dispute of this nature occurred in 1685, concerning the expense of repairing the manse and church of the parish and borough of Kirkcaldy, when the Court found the heritors of the landward parish and borough proportionally liable for the reparation of the body of the kirk. Again, in 1761, the Court ruled that the church of a certain place should be repaired by heritors landward and borough in equal proportions. Once more, in 1781, the inhabitants of Crieff contended that all the expense of building a new church should fall on the country or landward heritors according to their valued rents. But the landward heritors pleaded that a very small church would be necessary to accommodate them and their tenants, and that it would be hard to subject them to the expense of building so large a church, when it was to be principally occupied by the inhabitants of the town. The Court concurring in this view, held that the landward heritors should pay according to their valued rents, and the feuars according to their real rents. Then followed in 1802, the famous "Peterhead Case," in which the Court of Session gave the same judgment as in the Crieff Case; but the judgment was reversed to this extent only, by Lord Eldon sitting with Lord Thurlow in the House of Lords, that heritors as well as feuars were ordered to be assessed on their "real rents." Lord Eldon upon this occasion laid down the principle that every feuar was a heritor, which the late Lord Advocate has since capped by saying, not only that every feuar is a heritor, but that every heritor is a feuar. Sir, I do not wish to weary the House; but I will allude to one more case which occurred in my own parish in 1837, and of which, the details, so far as they are not given by Duncan, were sent me only a few days ago by an old and valued 1292 friend, the minister of the parish, who has since, I grieve to say, been suddenly taken away from his sphere of usefulness. A new church was to be built in Mauchline, and the majority of the heritors agreed to assess themselves according to the invariable practice of the parish on their valued rent, excluding purposely the feuars. But one heritor objected. The collector obtained a judgment against the heritor in the Sheriff's Court, who appealed, and the Court of Session, following the judgment in the Peterhead Case, decided, in 1837, that heritors and feuars must pay according to their real rents. The Lord President, in giving judgment, said—It is quite clear that every feuar is liable to assessment in one shape or other, and whether a feu is worth £500 per annum to the feuar, or only £5, the feuar is equally a heritor, and every heritor must be assessed,But I have it, on the authority of my late lamented friend that, in point of fact, the feuars of Mauchline were never required to pay at all. "Well, Sir, this feeling between town and country has become intensified, now that it is easier than formerly to arrive at the real rent of every feuar. One grievance is specially brought forward by the feuar—namely, that the assessment operates unfairly, because it is imposed, not on the agricultural value of the land, but on the building on the land. I fear, this cannot, however, be avoided, because, as the late Lord Advocate once pointed out, there are feuars and feuars; one may own a cottage, with a garden, and another a villa, worth some hundreds a-year. My hon. Friend has, undoubtedly, adduced some cases of genuine hardship where the assessment presses heavily on very poor feuars, and, indeed, from inquiries I have made, there exist some such instances principally in the North, although I can never forget a harrowing tale, brought forward by my hon. Friend, of an old lady in Forfarshire, 90 years old, who received, as he stated, a threatening letter, which I, at first, imagined must have been sent by Rory of the Hills, or some other individual equally unscrupulous; but my sympathy was, I confess, diminished, when I found she had merely received a missive, informing her that, in common with all other old ladies, she must obey the law. I have inquired, Sir, into the practice of every Presbytery in Scotland, which I find varies very 1293 much, according to the locality. There are, let me say, 84 Presbyteries in Scotland, each Presbytery containing a greater or less number of parishes. I have entered into communication with the clerks of these Presbyteries, to whom I cannot sufficiently express my obligations, and the House will, I hope, so far indulge me as to allow me to condense the substance of the replies of these reverend gentlemen, because they form an important element in my opposition to the Bill of my hon. Friend. Within the Presbytery of Aberdeen only one case of assessment has been known, seven years ago. In Aberlour, such a thing as assessment has never been contemplated. At Abernethy, the landward heritors have hitherto borne all expenses, without demur, and the feuars are never assessed. At Abortarff, the same custom obtains—and I pray the attention of the House to the very important communication I have received from Aboyne. Although there are several villages within the bounds of that Presbytery, as Aboyne, Banchory, Kincardine O'Neill, Ballater, and Tarland, and though, within late years, new churches have been built at Strachan, Tarland, Kincardine O'Neill, and Ballater, and though the manses of Aboyne and Banchory have been repaired, the feuars have never been assessed. When the church at Strachan was built, there was some talk of assessment; but as the heritors thought the feuars might raise objections, they assessed themselves for the whole cost. Afford Presbytery enjoys the same immunity from taxation, and in the Presbytery of Annan, the only assessment levied is in the parish of Annan. In that place, the heritors met on the 17th of last month, and allocated their portion of the church according to the valued rent, and it was left to the burghal heritors or feuars to pay their portion; but then, I am informed, in the general meetings, heritors of every kind, large and small, have claimed and exercised the right of speaking and voting, and, therefore, no hardship exists. In Arbroath, assessment has been imposed in three instances. In Auchter-arder—ever to be remembered in the annals of the Scotch Church—I have only information as to the parish of Dunning, where, however, a new manse has been recently built, for which the feuars were not assessed. Within the 1294 Presbytery of Ayr, assessment has been imposed in Riccarton. In Biggar, there has been only very partial assessment; but, in Brechin, assessment has, undoubtedly, been the rule. In Burravoe, there are no feuars. In Cairston—as the hon. Member for Orkney knows—there have been assessments, and I need scarcely add, complaints. But the clerk of this Presbytery, the Rev. David Johnstone, to whom I am deeply indebted for very full information respecting the ecclesiastical condition of Orkney, which contains three Presbyteries, assures me that the grievances complained of are very much exaggerated. Except in Kirkwall and Stromness, there are but few feuars, and the land is parcelled out among a great many small landowners or heritors, who certainly appear to be very indifferent men of business, from the accounts I have received. A great deal has been said by my hon. Friend and others, respecting the new manse recently built at Harray, for the united parishes of Harray and Birsay. The lowest estimate, that accepted by the Presbytery was £1,195 5s., and as the late Lord Zetland contributed £1,169, the House will see that the heritors, of whom there are about 100, if they had concurred with the Presbytery, need only have been assessed for £26 5s., but they so mismanaged matters as to build a new manse at a total cost of £1,699 17s. 9d. Still the payment made by Lord Zetland was so largo, that notwithstanding this mismanagement, the sum to be made good was comparatively small. But what can you expect in Orkney? It must be one of the most benighted places in the United Kingdom I hope the hon. Member who represents it so well, read The Scotsman of Monday; if he did, he saw that a Free Church does not tolerate a free Press, for at a meeting of the Free Presbytery there, it was proposed to denounce a newspaper called The Orcadian, the editor and publisher of which are Free Churchmen, because it advocates the Bill for the abolition of patronage at present before this House, and against which the Presbytery had petitioned. Milder views however prevailed, and a deputation was appointed to expostulate with the two unhappy and misguided men. Sir, when I come to the Presbytery of Chanonry, I find assessment to be entirely unknown. In 1295 Chirnside, an assessment was imposed about 30 years ago for a new manse in one parish, and in another, a proposal was made to tax feuars, but abandoned because it was thought they might possibly prove troublesome. In Cupar, feuars are free. In Dalkeith, Inveresk alone enjoys the unenviable notoriety of assessment. In Dingwall, where many feus have been granted by the Duehess of Sutherland as Lady Cromartie, feuars are never taxed. In Dornoch, which may be said to be under the same beneficent sway, there is as might be expected, no assessment. Within the Presbytery of Dumbarton, as my hon. Friend who is going to second this Amendment probably knows, there has been partial assessment. That is to say, in the parish of Dumbarton, feuars are taxed, but in other parishes of the Presbytery voluntary contributions are made; and notably in Old Kilpatrick the Kirk Session has agreed to relieve the feuars. In Dumfries, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the county will be glad to hear, feuars follow their avocations in peace. In Dunbar—this is a very strong case—there are many feuars, but the heritors purposely exclude them, and abstain from assessing even that powerful corporation, the North British Railway. Dunblane is only stained by one instance of assessment, and in Dundee, it is little more than nominal—in three places, where it has been imposed, but not enforced, the amount having been defrayed by voluntary contribution. In Dunfermline, only one instance is recorded, and Dunkeld rejoices in absolute exemption. On the other hand, in Dunoon, assessment is about to be made for the erection of a new manse. Dunse is however free, but Deer is not quite so fortunate, assessment being imposed in Fraserburgh and Peterhead. In Edinburgh, assessment is imposed in the the landward and burghal parishes. In Elgin there is an absolute want of uniformity. In 1826, 1839, and 1854, an assessment was levied in Elgin; but on the other hand, within the bounds of the same Presbytery in the parish of Duffus, containing three large villages, there is no assessment. In 1841, a new manse was built in one parish of this Presbytery, but feuars were exempted from contributing; and again, in 1869, when a new church was erected in Duffus, the large heritors took upon themselves the 1296 whole burden, with the exception—and this is something to be proud of—of a sum of more than £500, which the minister of the parish paid out of his own pocket, and the expense of some stained glass windows which the congregation voluntarily defrayed. I am really sorry, Sir, to take up the time of the House, but I want to convince it, and if possible, even the hon. Member for Edinburgh, that there are two sides to a question, and that the Old Kirk of Scotland is not so grasping as he would make it out to be. In Ellon, there is no assessment. Of Fordoun, I have no certain information; in one of its parishes there was some idea of assessment, but the minister states that the amount to be raised would have been so small as "not to be worth stirring a hornet's nest for," and in another parish, Montrose, the magistrates paid the cost of an addition to the manse. In Forfar, where the old lady lives, assessment is certainly not unknown, and complaints are only too well known. But in Forres, on the other hand, no instance of such a tax is to be found. In Garioch, again assessment is imposed, and the same may be said of the Barony parish in Glasgow, where the expense of collection is, its minister informs me, very great. But, again, within the bounds of the same Presbytery, in the parish of Cathcart, including the populous burgh of Crosshill, only 22 heritors are assessed, and on the old valuation. From Glenelg also, I have very full and satisfactory information; in eight parishes, six of which contain feuars no assessment has ever been even talked of. In Greenock, between 30 and 40 years ago, the feuars were assessed for the building of the West Church; but sittings were assigned them which they were empowered to let, and the expense of repairs is met by a voluntary contribution. In the Presbytery of Hamilton, assessments have been levied in two parishes—Cambuslang, in 1841 and 1842, for the church—and in 1846 and 1847, for the manse. Before the former year there had been no assessment, but the feuars insisted on taking part in heritors' meetings, and they were warned by the Duke of Hamilton's factor, that if they did so, they must pay for the luxury; in short, that there could be no representation without taxation. Bothwell is the other instance of taxation for church purposes 1297 in this Presbytery. In Haddington, feuars in the parish of Prestonpans only are assessed, and the minister writes, "the cost of collection equals in ordinary the relief to the landowners." In the Presbytery of Inverary, in one parish of which a new manse has been built, and the church extensively repaired, no feuar has been assessed. In Inverness, however, an assessment is levied in burghal parishes. This is also the case in Irvine, where some complaints, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire knows, have been made. In Jedburgh, assessments are made, and I am bound to confess, complaints also; but in Kelso, on the other hand, a very satisfactory state of things prevails, and still better in the Presbytery of Kinross, as the clerk informs me, "within the memory of man no feuar has been assessed for the erection or repair of churches or manses." In Kintyre, too, including the populous borough of Campbeltown, feuars are exempt. In Kirkcudbright, a manse was built last year, feuars were assessed, but the magistrates paid for those living within the burgh out of the common good. In Kirkcaldy, there are two instances, but in one—the borough itself—the magistrates discharged the assessment on the feuars out of the burgh funds. In Kirkwall, the House will not be surprised to hear, as the name of the hon. Member for Orkney appears on the back of the Bill, that assessment exists, and great complaints have been made. Coming clown to another part of Scotland, Lanark, I admit that feuars are assessed, but as a set off, in the Presbytery of Langholm, the practice of assessing feuars is unknown. From Lauder, I have no reliable information. Once more I find myself in the domain of the hon. Member for Orkney, and it is therefore scarcely necessary to add, that in Lerwick an assessment is imposed, and my intelligence from Lewis will please the hon. Member for Edinburgh, for feuars there are invariably assessed; but I certainly expect the vote of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgowshire, for in the more civilized regions which he represents, the feuars have been relieved by the heritors, and let me add to their honour, by the incumbents. Lochmaben is not less satisfactory, and the noble Marquess, who represents Argyleshire, will certainly 1298 vote with me, for the Presbytery of Lorn comes out of the inquiry with clean hands. In Meigle, in 1859–60, an assessment was levied on feuars for a new church; but Mull is innocent of taxation for ecclesiastical purposes. In Nairn, a similar happy state of things obtains, and my letter from Northmaven, illustrated by a beautiful view of the minister's manse, says that although in Olnafirth Presbytery there is a partial assessment of feuars, the heritors in 99 cases out of 100, take the burden on themselves. Let me tell my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, that he ought not to vote against me because the clerk of the Presbytery of Paisley knows no instance of ecclesiastical taxation, and my hon. Friend the Member for Peebles will perhaps say why the parish of Inverleithen is an exception to the happy freedom from taxation which otherwise prevails in his domain. Penpont is wholly untaxed, as are 24 out of 25 parishes contained in the Presbytery of Perth. Of Selkirk I am unable to speak positively, but I am under the impression that there feuars are not assessed. In Skye it appears that although all, or almost all, the Free Church buildings are erected on feus, they are not forced to violate their conscience by supporting what they consider an Erastian church. In the Presbytery of Stirling, in four parishes out of 13, the feuars are, assessed, one of the four being St. Ninian's, to which my hon. Friend called attention on a former occasion; but I find my revenge in travelling to the West, for Stranraer is not assessed, and perhaps for that reason returns a Conservative—or rather two—to Parliament. In the Presbytery of Strath-bogie—which bears, like Auchterarder, an historical name—the parish of Huntly only was taxed, about 1 2 years ago. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Andrews is not here to rejoice with me that no cry of oppressed feuar disturbs the tranquillity of that interesting and venerable place. The Presbytery of Tain is equally happy, and I rejoice in the assured support of the noble Marquess the Member for Suther-landshire, for within the bounds of the Presbytery of Tongue, where the Duke of Sutherland reigns alone, no one ever heard of a feuar being assessed. In Turriff one case of assessment is recorded. In the Presbytery of Weem the difficulty 1299 is solved by the happy absence of the feuar, his place being exceedingly well supplied by the leaseholder, who may be defined as an unassessable individual. The hon. Member for Wick will be happy to learn that that place got rid of assessments 80 years ago; and perhaps the hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness will explain why Thurso is not equally fortunate. In Wigtown it is unusual to assess feuars; and Uist brings my long list, and, I fear, the patience of the House, to a close. The islands of that Presbytery must be the very Paradise of feuars, for in them ecclesiastical assessments are unknown; and I ask the House, Sir, whether my hon. Friend has not made a mountain out of a mole-hill—more than half the Presbyteries being wholly unassessed, and most of the others very partially so. The hon. Member for Edinburgh has declared that the landowners are generally anxious to relieve themselves from assessment upon the land, and has pointed to the Education Act of 1872 as an example of what he means. But I totally deny that the landowners of Scotland want to be relieved from assessment. The passing of that Act was not their doing, but that of the late Lord Advocate and of the late Government. The landlords have constantly remonstrated against relief from taxation, and I am quite sure that the great majority of them never wanted it. It was an unhappy clay for Scotland when the interest which the landlords took in the schools was to some extent removed. My hon. Friend asks me why I do not bring in a Bill on the subject; but to do so on the 8th of July would be a mockery, and, moreover, any measure, to have a chance of success, must be introduced by Her Majesty's Government. Sir, my Resolution pledges the House to consider any plan which the right hon. and learned Lord may introduce for exempting from assessment for ecclesiastical purposes feus below a fixed standard of annual value; and I ask the House to say it is not unwilling to consider such plan, not because feuars are not legally liable to assessment, but on economical grounds, because in many cases the sums obtained from them are not worth the cost of collection, and perhaps also because direct taxation presses most heavily on the very poor. But, Sir, I do not ask for any special exemption from taxation in favour of Dissenters. I assume the 1300 House is not prepared at present to disestablish the Church, and this measure, if it passes, will tend largely to disendow it. My hon. Friend says Dissenters have petitioned largely against this Bill. Of course they have, because they ardently desire the disendowment of the Church. Sir, the late Lord Advocate pointed out that in the great majority of parishes the money provision in the name of stipend would be altogether insufficient to maintain the ministers, and consequently many of them would apply to the court for augmentation of stipend in those places where the teinds were unexhausted. Sir, I have the greatest respect for Dissenters, but in the name of the poor of the land—who know that the Dissenting Presbyterian Churches do not differ practically either in form or doctrine from the Established Church, and who, therefore, desire to worship God in the old kirk of their fathers, without money and without price—I ask the House to reject this Bill. I ask for its rejection because it appeals to the lowest passion of our nature, because it holds out to the landlords of Scotland a direct money bribe—a bribe which, in their name, I venture scornfully and indignantly to refuse—because it seeks to relieve them from the obligation of maintaining a Church which they love—an obligation which, nevertheless, they cheerfully accept, and which, I am persuaded, they will continue faithfully to discharge.
§ MR. ORR-EWING
seconded the Amendment. After the able and eloquent speech of his hon. and gallant Friend, he had little more to say on the subject. He was sure that all who had listened to the speech must be convinced that no grievance now existed to justify the introduction of the Bill. His hon. and gallant Friend admitted that there might be a grievance with regard to the feuars in Scotland, so far as to justify an inquiry; but he did not admit that feuars had a right to be relieved, as the land belonged to them permanently, and they enjoyed the same position as freeholders in England. As to leaseholders, they were not subjected to taxation for either churches or manses. Indeed, the hon. Member who brought forward, the Bill admitted that the landowners of Scotland never asked or desired to be relieved from this taxation which had been imposed on them for centuries, 1301 and therefore they did not desire the passing of the Bill. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill had brought forward many Bills, which had all the purpose of injuring the Church of Scotland. In those dulcet tones of which he was master, he always endeavoured to make the House believe that he did it for the interest of the Church, which, in fact, he wished to damage and destroy. He formerly brought forward a Bill under the name of Ministers' Money, a name which was unknown in Scotland, and now he brought forward the Bill in question, under the title of Church Rates, things which were equally unknown there. The hon. Member said, the church rates in Scotland were analogous to the church rates which formerly existed in England, but that was not the case. The church rates in England were not compulsory. It depended on the majority of the district as to whether any assessment should be made, and it was on occupancy and movable property, as well as land. That was not so in Scotland, for the burden lay on owners of heritable property. Moreover, in Scotland land-owners bought their property subject to the burden. The amount which the rate produced did not belong to them, and they could not compare the church rate in Scotland to the church rate in England. Still the hon. Gentleman tried to mislead English Members and he was sorry to say that he had so far succeeded in his attempt as to induce some warm supporters of the Church of Scotland to put their names on the back of the Bill. He had misled Scotch Members too. What did The Scotsman say on this subject?—The abolition of heritors' assessment in Scotland would he the relief of a certain species of property from a burden it has always borne, of an uncertain sum which the present proprietors of the property neither bought nor inherited. In other words it would be making a present to the landowners of a property or revenue which belonged to the State. In principle, it is the same as if in disendowing the Irish Church, the tithes had been given to the Irish landlords, instead of being applied to good uses by the State to which they belong.In the spirit of that he cordially agreed, and he should like to know how hon. Members opposite could support a Bill of the kind? At whose instance was the Bill brought forward? Was it brought forward by those who were as- 1302 sessed? Certainly not. The landlords of Scotland acknowledged the burden that was placed upon them, and did not ask to be relieved from it. In truth this was a Bill which had been brought forward at the instance of the Liberation Society of England, for the purpose of by degrees disendowing the Church of Scotland. He was a proprietor in three parishes, and in all those parishes till the last year, they never thought of asking one farthing from the feuars. In two of the parishes, the assessment was placed on the old valued rental, and there was not a single farthing taken from the feuars; but in another parish last year it was changed, and what was the cause of the change? There was only one heritor in the parish who desired to make a change. It was not to save the pockets of the owners of the land; but it was done for no other purpose except for the purpose to bring the Church into discredit with the feuars of the parish. As he had observed before, he would not admit that feuars had any legal claim to exemption; but he was ready to support an inquiry into this subject, and after inquiry legislation might take place at some future time if Her Majesty's Government thought proper to propose it; but he should certainly give his strenuous opposition to the Bill.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "while not unwilling to consider any equitable proposal for relieving feus in Scotland below a fixed standard of annual value from assessment for the erection and maintenance of ecclesiastical buildings, this House is of opinion that, without further inquiry, to exempt the land generally from burdens incidental to its tenure would be neither wise norexpedient,"—(Colonel Alexander,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, they had listened to what had been characterized as a short account of church rates in Scotland, and of the history of the church rates as they formerly existed in England, and they had had the exposition of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who submitted the Amendment confirmed by the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire, to satisfy the House that the church rates levied in England prior to 1868, were different in their incidence, and the pur- 1303 poses to which, they were applied, from Church assessments in Scotland. He (Mr. Ramsay) was rather surprised that that challenge should have been thrown out, as the investigation he had given to the subject had satisfied him that in their nature, in the purposes to which they were applied, and in their incidence, the church rates which were formerly levied in England were exactly the same, except in the point of the extent to which they could be levied, as they were in Scotland. All these assessments were levied by law for the support of ecclesiastical buildings, and even if the law of England had differed in its origin or nature from the law of Scotland in relation to the assessment, he thought there could be reasons adduced why persons possessing small property should be exempted from such rating. But the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire had not submitted any such reasons. He (Mr. Ramsay) should, however, take leave to state to the House some of the information on which he had relied, to show that the statement of the law of England made by the hon. Member was not in conformity with the opinions of gentlemen who had studied the subject. The year before last the House, by a majority of 100, intimated their opinion that it was not desirable to restrict the area of local rating, but it was desirable to widen the area. If properties of small annual value in Scotland were to be exempt, they would alter the law in that particular without any corresponding advantage. He was a small feuar himself. He held of the Crown 50,000 acres of land, and for that he paid £121 a-year. He had had a good deal of experience in the management of land, and the experience of the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire differed from his, if he had not heard great complaints as to the present mode of levying the assessments for the maintenance of ecclesiastical buildings. A good deal had been made of the title given to the Bill, by the hon. Member for Edinburgh. In the old Acts the word used was stent, and stent meant rate. The hon. Member for Edinburgh might have called it a Church Assessment (Scotland) Bill, and that would mean the same thing. He (Mr. Ramsay), however, thought the hon. Member did not act unwisely in selecting the designation he did, and he 1304 thought the hon. Member who addressed them last was not correct in his statement as to the law regarding church rates in England. He (Mr. Ramsay) understood that it had never been determined in the Courts of Law that the ratepayer could in all cases refuse to levy an assessment for the maintenance of ecclesiastical buildings. On the contrary, it was held that it was necessary to levy a rate in certain cases, and the church rates in England were dependent, not on statute law, but on immemorial custom. On that point he would quote from the Report of the Poor Law Commissioners on Local Taxation, dated 17th August, 1843, in that Report, it was stated, that the church rate in England was unquestionably the most ancient of the present local taxes. It said—Legal writers and judicial authorities generally agree in referring it to the period when the intervention of the inhabitants in assessing the rate first becomes apparent in our judicial records, the earliest of which is contained in the 'Year-Book' of the 44th year of Edward the Third's reign (1369–70), and refers to a custom in a parish which would carry the practice back to the reign of Richard the First—that is, to the year 1189.Now, no evidence could be adduced to show that at that period there was any statutory authority for levying rates. Prior to the Reformation the churches and ecclesiastical structures of the country were usually maintained from the Church property, which was then held by ecclesiastics throughout the land. The same authority which he had quoted stated that—The rate being thus of considerable antiquity, and raised under the common law, modified merely in some particulars by statute, and being also for the most part within the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts, the law with regard to it is perhaps neither so strictly defined, nor so readily ascertained as the legal provisions applicable to other rates.They went on to say—The principal purposes of the rate are of two kinds, and may he classed according as they relate to the fabric, or to the service of the Church. Under the common law, the rate is intended to keep in repair the body of the church, the belfry, and all public or common chapels within or adjoining to the church. The chancel is usually repaired by the parson, but sometimes by the parishioners.Under the Acts of 58 Geo. III., c. 45, and 59 Geo. III., c. 134, and the 3 Geo. IV., c. 72, the rate was made available for the enlargement and im- 1305 provement of existing churches and chapels, and the purchase of sites for and the erection and future repair of new churches and chapels in populous places.Under the common law also, the rate is to furnish all those things which are required directly or indirectly in the service of the church—a communion table, and the bread and wine, 8 font of stone, a reading desk and pulpit, a Bible and Prayer-Book, a Book of Homilies, the Ten Commandments, and other chosen sentences on the walls: and a chest for alms.Again—The burden of repairing the church, originally the duty of the Bishop—and by the Canon Law imposed upon the rector or other recipient of the tithe and other ecclesiastical revenue of the parish, was, so far as that part of the church is concerned, which was appropriated to the use of the people, cast in very early times on the parishioners, while the part of the church appropriated to the priest—the chancel—was generally left to be repaired by the parson, though this also is sometimes by custom transferred to the parishioners. The rate is, as to most of its purposes, and entirely as to its present mode of imposition on property and persons, founded on immemorial customs. Whatever may be the abusive application of this rate in practice, legally it still remains applicable only to purposes strictly connected with the fabric and service of the Church.With regard to the persons liable to be assessed, in England it was laid upon the parishioners, and in Scotland the same expression was used. Indeed, persons living out of the parish were not assessed in respect of lands held by them within the parish. [Mr. ORREWING said, the word he had used was occupancy.] He should have something to say upon the subject of occupancy before he concluded his remarks. In the Committee of the House of Lords appointed to inquire into the laws relating to parochial assessments, Sir George Cornewall Lewis gave evidence with respect to the incidence of the poor rate, and showed that it exactly corresponded with that of the church rate. After reading the Act of Elizabeth, on which the law of rating turned, Sir George Cornewall Lewis was asked, why the rate was not charged upon the owner instead of the occupier; and his answer was, that it was charged on the owner instead of the occupier, for the facility of collection; but there was no doubt that the rate fell ultimately upon the owner. He (Mr. Ramsay) urged that the extracts he had read to the House proved conclusively that in the opinion of the highest authorities the church rate 1306 by the law and practice of England was more ancient in its origin than the assessment levied for the maintenance of ecclesiastical buildings in Scotland; but that the purpose to which it was applied was the repair and maintenance of the churches and chapels of the Establishment, and that all lands and properties were liable to be assessed for that purpose. As a matter of practice, stock-in-trade was not assessed; but the church rate was levied on the same basis as the poor rate, and upon no other. The police rate, the county general assessment, and the lunacy rate were all levied on the same persons and the same property. Prior to the Reformation, there was no evidence to show that there was any statutory authority for levying assessments in Scotland for ecclesiastical purposes; but the buildings were usually maintained by the clergy from ecclesiastical property. By a canon of the Provincial Councils held in Perth in 1242 and 1269, it was ordained that manses should be provided, a burden which had not been imposed in England at all. In Scotland the obligation to provide and keep the manses in repair was entirely founded on statute law, and was not incident to the tenure of land. He had certainly never heard it proposed, when the income tax was reduced, for example, that the property of the country should be bound to commute and make a payment to the State in respect of the reduction. Nor had such a principle been enforced in regard to any other tax which had ever been imposed on the land. In the year 1563, by an Act of the Scotch Parliament, the Lords of the Council made an order for the repair and upholding of parish churches and churchyards; and by an Act made at Stirling in the same year, it was provided that the parson should pay one-third, and the parishioners two-thirds of the expense—every one being taxed according to his circumstances. The words of the English law were "usage, or according to their ability," while in Scotland the common phrase, but which meant exactly the same, was "means and substance." In 1572, it became necessary, as the public were found to be slow in imposing taxation upon themselves for the maintenance of ecclesiastical buildings, to pass an Act of Parliament to enforce upon them their duty in this respect. These Acts were the only legisla- 1307 tive enactments for the collection of the assessments to which the Bill referred, and if Parliament would consent to repeal these Acts, the supporters of the Bill would be quite satisfied to take their chance, without asking for the passing of the measure, because there would then be no law by which the assessments could be enforced. But they did object to the practice of taking funds from the pockets of those who had churches of their own to maintain, for the purpose of maintaining structures which they never used. A great deal had been made of the fact that in many of the parishes of Scotland the assessment had not been levied on the feuars who lived in the parish. He was himself owner of two parishes, and he had a considerable interest in another. In each of them he had paid considerable sums, but he had never asked one of the persons who were legally liable, to pay a farthing towards the assessment. At the same time, he did not consider that that was any reason why the law which rendered it possible to enforce against him the payment of an assessment for a purpose of which he did not approve should continue to remain upon the statute book. With regard to manses, the Act was a very simple one—namely, that where they were not already built the heritors should build them, but the cost and expense was not to exceed £1,000 Scots, or £73 6s. 8d.; he, however, had heard instances in which a manse cost £1,700. The custom now appeared to be that the persons who were liable to this assessment should provide the sum necessary for the erection of a competent and suitable manse, the Act not being as strictly construed as a criminal statute would be. In conclusion, he would observe that there was nothing whatever in the enactments proposed by the Bill which would interfere with the liberality of any person who wished to continue his support to the maintenance of the church, &c. The Established Church in England had made no complaint of the abolition of church rates, and so far from being dissatisfied with the result of that measure, he believed that the people generally throughout England had expressed a feeling of satisfaction at being relieved from what was so long a subject of irritating controversy and dispute. He trusted that hon. Gentlemen would not only refuse to entertain the vague 1308 Amendment which had been proposed, but that the Bill should be read a second time, and become law before the end of the Session, and relieve many persons from a tax which ought never to have been imposed upon them. By so doing, the House would show the people of Scotland that they were desirous of remedying a substantial grievance.
§ SIR GRAHAM MONTGOMERY
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had confined his remarks to a comparison of the law of this country with that of Scotland in regard to Church rates. He had listened with attention to the quotations given by the hon. Member, but he had failed to hear in one of them anything to induce him to believe that Church rates in England were not a voluntary assessment. Supposing that a Church rate had been refused, was there anything previous to 1868 to compel the parishioners to repair the parish church? He believed, in regard to the fabric of the church, that there were no means of compelling the parishioners to do the necessary repairs, unless they were willing to do so. Perhaps some other hon. Member would show the House how the case really stood. His own impression was, that when repairs were required, the incumbent called a meeting of the parishioners, and if they were willing to impose a rate by a majority, then an assessment was made; but if they were unwilling, then the fabric of the church must be allowed to remain in a state of dilapidation. That, however, was not the case in Scotland, for if a church was permitted to fall into a bad state of repair, it was competent for the Sheriff to make an order for the necessary repair to be made. He did not know in whom the ownership of the parish church rested in England; but in Scotland it rested with the heritors, and there was an obligation cast upon different classes of property to repair the building. The heritors could not escape from that burden. It was part and parcel of their obligations, and was always a matter of consideration when arrangements were made for the purchase of land. Every intending purchaser made it a special point to ascertain what the obligations upon the land were, and in many cases it formed a ground for investing in property that the church and manse had been recently repaired he certainly did not understand why, by passing the Bill, a present of the sums 1309 now paid should be made to the heritors. They had bought the property, knowing that it was subject to this obligation, and why should they be relieved from it? Why should Parliament be called upon to relieve these gentlemen from the obligation to repair the churches and manses of the parishes in which their properties were situated, especially when it was well-known that the great majority of the heritors did not wish to be relieved from it, but were perfectly content with the law as it stood? It had been asserted that if the clergy were deprived of their manses and the churches were allowed to get out of repair, it would be open to the ministers to apply to the Court of Teinds for an increase of their stipends; and if this were so, those who were anxious to be relieved from the present burden would find that the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh would afford them no real assistance. At the same time, he should be glad if Her Majesty's Government would attempt to devise some plan in the way of commuting the amount to be levied according to the moans of the persons who had to bear it, by which an end could be put to the disagreeable feeling which undoubtedly did prevail in Scotland in regard to this assessment, and he thought there was no man in the House more competent to deal with it than the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
desired to express, on behalf of a large and influential section of his constituents, their acknowledgment to the hon. Member for Edinburgh for his long continued efforts to bring this question to a settlement. His constituents were pecuniarily interested in the question, and he was in a position to say that the levying of the tax had created great dissatisfaction and discontent among the feuars. He wished to refer particularly to one of the cases which had been brought before the House by the hon. Member for Edinburgh. In the town of Aberdeen, with which he (Mr. Barclay) was connected, the levying of the tax had caused much heart-burning. He had no desire to express any special interest in the welfare of the Church of Scotland, since such expressions seemed to be offensive to hon. Members opposite, who appeared to think that it was their special duty to guard the Church; but he was entitled to say, that clergy- 1310 men of the Established Church had been placed in an awkward and disagreeable position from the necessity of levying this assessment from the feuars of the parish. He, therefore, thought it would be a great advantage to the Church of Scotland to have the matter settled in some way, so that they could get rid of what at present constituted an undoubted grievance. He had some difficulty in dealing with the able and eloquent speech of the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment. The first part of the speech was devoted to answering? arguments which the hon. Member for Edinburgh had never used, and the next portion related exclusively to the historical aspect of the question. The information conveyed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman was no doubt interesting, but it was not applicable to the real point under the consideration of of the House, and his statistics showed to his (Mr. Barclay's) mind, that on the part of the feuars there was a tangible grievance—so much so, that in only a few of the Presbyteries did the heritors proper think it advisable to enforce the payment of the tax from the feuars. He strongly condemned the tax as it applied to the feuars, for he agreed with them in thinking it was very hard that they, while quite willing to pay the sums assessed on the land, should be obliged to pay the tax on the houses they had built on the land. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Member that the land should not be relieved from any of its due liabilities. The impression on the public mind of Scotland was that this liability of the heritors to maintain the ecclesiastical buildings was very much in the nature and position of the teinds. In city parishes, ecclesiastical buildings were maintained by the town councils, who were the same persons who paid the ministers' stipends. He quite agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for South Ayrshire in deprecating any relief to the land proprietor from the tax, and, as he opposed the Bill, he thought a duty devolved upon him or the Government of introducing some measure to settle the question in a more satisfactory manner than the Bill under notice would do. In the meantime, he should vote for the second reading of the Bill, not that he considered the proposal made by the hon Member for Edinburgh the best solution 1311 of the question, but as a protest against the existing system, and to show that he thought it ought to be redressed as soon as possible.
§ SIR WILLIAM EDMONSTONE
said, that the Bill of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. M'Laren) was another stone thrown at the Church of Scotland, and he believed if it were to pass, that many manses and churches in Scotland would fall into disrepair. He opposed the Bill entirely on principle, and he called upon the Friends of the Church of England, as well as the Friends of the Church of Scotland, to resist the Motion.
§ MR. LAING
said, he would not have troubled the House if it had not been for the representations which had been made by the hon. and gallant Member for South Ayrshire in regard to the position of Orkney in reference to the question. He could assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that in Orkney the operation of the Church rate caused a great amount of hardship and exasperation, and yet he asserted with confidence that there was not a single county in Her Majesty's Dominions which approached, or at all came up to it, in educational standard or attainments. As regarded the speech of the hon. and gallant Member, and several other speeches which had been made, they had one great fault—namely, that they were made on the wrong side of Westminster Hall. Had the Speaker been sitting in Banco, or at Nisi Prius, a great many of the arguments which had been used, based upon precedents from Duncan, and on Acts of Parliament two centuries old, would have been exceedingly valuable and useful; but in that Assembly what they had to discuss was, he apprehended, not what the law was, but what the law ought to be. That was the broad, national issue upon which the question as it affected England was discussed in that House. He would ask them whether in Scotland, where certainly everybody must admit the principle of an Established Church was weaker than in England, they were to apply principles which they had not ventured to apply when this question was brought to a test in the sister Kingdom of England? When hon. Members talked of throwing a stone at the Established Church of Scotland, he would like to ask whether a stone was thrown at the Established Church in England 1312 by the consideration of the subject by Parliament, and the conclusion arrived at—that these were small matters, which it would be well to leave entirely to the voluntary principle—or whether the position of that Church was now more or less secure than it was when in most of the large towns in England there were violent contests occurring, and large numbers of the population were being trained up in feelings of animosity to the Church? Everyone knew that the principle of the endowment of the Church of England was not shaken in the slightest degree by that measure. That was a question depending entirely upon far larger considerations—it was a question for the future. But for the present the Established Church of England was stronger in consequence of the abolition of Church rates. Now, in Scotland the case against the Church rates was infinitely stronger than it was in England, because while in England the Established Church was the Church of the majority, in Scotland no one claimed the majority for it. He would illustrate it by one case which had been referred to by the hon. and gallant Member who had moved the Amendment, and upon which his information as to matters of detail was as incorrect as it was upon the general educational position of the Orkneys. The parish of Arran was subdivided amongst a number of very small proprietors. There were upwards of 150, he (Mr. Laing) thought, of these small feuars. The whole annual value of the parish was somewhere about £2,000 a-year, and of that Lord Zetland had a large portion. A very simple arithmetical sum would show that the average annual value of the other heritors was something like £15 a-year, and, in fact, many of them averaged below £10 a-year. Was it not a hardship to come down on these men, of whom not one in five belonged to the Established Church, for an assessment about equal to one year's income? In many parts of Ross and Inverness-shire, where the Free Church or other Dissenting Presbyterian congregations congregated, that was a case of constant occurrence; and was he to be called an enemy of the Established Church because he did not wish to perpetuate that state of things? The real enemies of the Church of Scotland were those who provoked discussions year after year in that 1313 House by their persistent refusal to remedy anomalies in the law which were absolutely indefensible. He could not help feeling that the Bill which had been debated the other night was the first nail in the coffin of the Establishment in Scotland, and the maintenance of Church rates would be a second nail driven into that coffin. If he were an enemy of the Establishment, he would counsel the House to reject this Bill. He was not, however, an enemy of establishments, and he therefore desired to see that injustice removed, which pressed so heavily on the population in many parts of Scotland, and the Church put on the same footing that it had been put in the wealthier sister Kingdom of England for these reasons he should give his hearty support to the second reading of the Bill.
, as an Irish Member whose Church had been disestablished, was determined to oppose the introduction of the thin end of the wedge for the purpose of disestablishing the other two Churches in the United Kingdom. He did so, also, on the ground that the lands were held subject to the rate in question, and that it was no reason for relieving people from a tax, because they did not like to pay it. There was a stronger reason for maintaining the charge in Scotland, than there had been for upholding church rates in this country; because in Scotland, people all professed the same faith, and the members of the Free Church would not object to join in the services of the Established Church. If the Bill were to pass, those who in Ireland were paying a charge somewhat similar to the Commissioners of the Church Temporalities of Ireland would ask to be relieved from it, on the ground that what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, that before he heard the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for South Ayrshire, he had asked himself the question, whether the Amendment was meant to be hostile to the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, seeing that it admitted to a certain extent, that there was a grievance, and expressed a willingness to inquire into it. But after the speech which the hon. and gallant Gentleman had made, he thought there could be no doubt that the Amendment 1314 was one of direct hostility to the Bill, and he could, therefore, advise his hon. Friend who had charge of the Bill to accept it as such. The Amendment did not touch the religious grievance, which that House ought not to treat lightly. It would leave as strong as ever those objections which applied to the existing law, arising from the uncertain and onerous nature of the obligation which was thrown upon proprietors in Scotland, who were called upon to pay in a manner which imperatively called for redress. There was a suggestion thrown out by his hon. Friend the Member for Peebles, which he was very glad to hear, because it would remedy in some respects the grievances complained of. He (Sir Edward Colebrooke) made a similar suggestion some years ago, when the question was before them, and if the right hon. and learned Lord could see his way to act upon it, and provide commutation for the burden upon land, at the same time that he limited it in such a manner as to fall only upon those whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Amendment said were willing to bear it, he wished him well in that undertaking; but he saw no means of arriving at that solution of the question, and at the same time of giving that relief which he thought the Dissenters were fairly entitled to, without the right hon. and learned Lord adopted the proposal of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, and reduced this tax to a voluntary tax, as was the case in England. He must, however, disavow in the strongest manner, the charge that in supporting the measure they were acting in hostility to the Church of Scotland. That was an old argument which they had heard for the last 10 or 20 years. They were then told that church rates were one of the bulwarks of the Church of England; but he was happy to say, that the public mind advanced year by year in the direction of relieving the Dissenters, and in the end a large body of the clergy and laity of the Church of England combined with the Dissenters in pressing upon Parliament to get rid of this tax. He did not despair of those opinions making their way in Scotland; because he was quite sure, that when the question was fairly inquired into, it would be found that they had a claim to equitable relief. He should dismiss in a few words the argument that that was 1315 a charge and not a tax. He could only understand by a charge upon a land, something of a distinct nature, which, if taken from one person, might be handed over to another; but was that the case with that burden? Could the right hon. and learned Lord contend that if Parliament were to decide upon abolishing the tax, the proprietors could be called upon to pay the money into the Exchequer? Not at all. The history of the tax showed clearly the contrary. It was a statutory tax, imposed in general terms upon the parishioners of Scotland for the purpose of maintaining ecclesiastical edifices, and in that respect, it did not differ in any important particular from the state of the law as as it existed in England. The Common Law obligation of England was, that everybody was bound to maintain the Church, but the law was a very imperfect one. If the parishioners met in vestry and refused to do so, they might by an Act of Mandamus be called up to the Court of Queen's Bench and ordered to make a rate; but if they held up their hands for a farthing rate, which was not worth collecting, there was no remedy at all. The law in Scotland, moreover, was absolutely one which, in the first instance, was limited to those who possessed inherited property; but afterwards came the question of distributing the burden by bringing in other classes of property; and, lastly, in many parts of Scotland all property under the Valuation Roll was brought under it. Now, was that a just law, and should it be maintained? With regard to the burden on property, if they could separate in any way the larger proprietors and those willing to bear it from Dissenters and those on whom it became an onerous burden, he for one should not be disinclined to accept such a solution of the question. But even supposing the Bill should be passed, the moral obligation on him would be the same, for he had no desire to avoid the tax; and he believed the proprietors would continue to maintain the Church as before; that they would have better churches than they had at present; and that they would receive more liberal treatment than they did under the existing law. It had been said that the proprietors cheerfully bore these burdens. He denied that they might do so generally, for occasionally there came extor- 1316 tionate and most unreasonable demands on the part of the clergy, which led to very strong resistance, not from Dissenters merely, but from the Church. He had had several instances of the kind in his own neighbourhood. He mentioned that to show the fallacy of the argument that it was a fixed burden, the nature and amount of which anybody could calculate for himself beforehand. It was a most uncertain and indefinite one, which might fall upon poor heritors as well as rich, and upon whom a claim might be made amounting to one-half their income in one year. He thought that was unjust. The case of the small proprietors was one which deserved consideration; because if the large proprietors combined together, the former were hopeless, and could make no resistance, for there was no power, as was the case under the law in England, of deciding in vestry what should be the amount. Then there was the religious aspect of the case, and out of that a great hardship arose, which was well deserving of the conside ration of the House. It was said that the land was bought subject to this tax. Was that the case in regard to the Free Church and the United Presbyterian manses? They were built by the freewill offerings of the members of the congregations, and then the Kirk of Scotland came and made a grab at some portion of that, in order to build manses of their own. He thought that was most unjust, and no sophistry or reasoning that might be used would reconcile the people of Scotland to any act of that kind. He, therefore, wished to impress upon the Government most seriously that if they took the settlement of this question in hand, they must be prepared to deal with that part of the grievance. There was one other aspect of the case which had been only slightly alluded to, and that was the repair of the manses. In England, there was no obligation to keep manses in repair, but there was a correlative obligation on all incumbents to keep their manses in repair; but in Scotland, whatever repairs were required to be done to manses fell upon the heritors; and the consequence was, that they were allowed sometimes to fall into such a state of dilapidation as to cost double and treble what they would have cost if they had been repaired in proper time. But the question now was, whether it was expedient or in the interest of Scot- 1317 land to raise an alarm about disestablishment, and to endeavour to maintain stringently a law, which was unjust and uncertain in its operation, and pressed hardly, as he had endeavoured to show. That was an ancient endowment, and he thought the Church of Scotland might stand well in the position of a Church which was doing active duty in the country, and throw herself wholly upon the property of the country. He thought that if it did so, the property of the country would not be unmindful of its duty. He had only one word more to say before he sat down. He thought it was a most fortunate circumstance that this discussion should have come in between the debates on one of the most important questions connected with the Church of Scotland—namely, the question of patronage. He was sorry to have seen by the action of the General Assembly and tone taken up in that quarter, that there was a disposition in any alteration of the law with regard to the management, to narrow the constituency of those who would have a share in its management. He thought that, holding the views they did on this subject, there was an inconsistency in their conduct, and that in the interest of the Church of Scotland they ought to take a larger and more liberal view of their position on this and other matters tending to the security and welfare of that Church.
§ SIR WILLIAM CUNINGHAME
said, he should hardly have ventured to take any part in the debate but for the picture which had been drawn by the hon. Member for the Orkneys (Mr. Laing) of the small proprietors in the parish of Arran, who, he said, might be compelled to pay an assessment for the repair or building of a church which might amount to a half, or even a larger part of the annual value of their property. But it should be remembered that at the time these properties were acquired by them, either by purchase or by succession, they were fully aware that the charge was borne by the property, and he could not himself see that there was anything unjust in calling upon them to discharge an obligation into which they entered when they became possessed of their property. With regard to the Bill, there was one point connected with it which afforded cause for satisfaction, and he had hardly expected that the hon. Member for Edin- 1318 burgh would have taken so just and liberal a view of the question. The hon. Member proposed to relieve landed proprietors, great and small, of a large charge upon their properties, without requiring them to convey the value to the State, for the purpose of being applied to the support, perhaps, of lunatic asylums. He trusted that when the fatal day of disestablishment with which they were threatened arrived, that principle would be remembered, and that the teinds would be handed over to the proprietors, to be applied in aid of such purposes as they might choose to apply them. He trusted that the principle would be considered as established for Scotland, in spite of the unfortunate precedent afforded by the case of Ireland. Should it so occur, he had no doubt himself that in the majority of instances, the teinds would be handed back to the Church for the support of public worship in the country. He had listened with a great deal of profit and admiration to the eloquent speech of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Ayrshire in introducing the Amendment; but he should have been glad if, instead of proposing an Amendment of that description, his hon. and gallant Friend had moved a direct negative to the second reading; because he felt that the Amendment was liable to produce a certain discordance in the opinions of hon. Members who might be disposed to vote a direct negative to the Bill. He would suggest that the Amendment should be withdrawn, in order that the Bill might be dealt with by a direct Aye or No. The merits and demerits of the measure had been so thoroughly canvassed already, that he only desired to repeat that in his opinion it was neither unfair nor unjust to expect proprietors, whether large or small, or feuars, to fulfil the obligations which they undertook when they came into possession of their properties.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, that judging by a paper which he had received that morning, it might be supposed that that was a great party question. If it was intended to be made a great party question, then hon. Members on the other side must for once consent to receive him as a convert, because on that occasion he disagreed entirely with the hon. Member for Edinburgh. He altogether agreed with the Amendment so ably 1319 proposed to the House by the hon. and gallant Member for South Ayrshire, and he could not forbear from complimenting him on the great industry which he had displayed in getting up the very interesting statistics which he gave to the House on the subject, and which certainly went far to show that if there were any grievance at all, it was but a very small one. His (Mr. Anderson's) reason for disagreeing with the hon. Member for Edinburgh was, that he had been unable to satisfy himself that that was in any degree a tax resembling the obnoxious tax called church rate in England and Ireland. The tax in the two last countries was, as he understood, entirely a personal tax; that so-called tax in Scotland was in reality a burden upon land, which proprietors had inherited subject to it, and it was of a permanent character. On the point, what had struck him as most remarkable was, that he was quite sure if it came ever to disestablishment and disendowment, the hon. Member for Edinburgh would be the last man in the House to propose to hand over the teinds to the landed proprietors who had been hitherto accustomed to pay them, for, judging from precedents, when they were discussing the question of school rates, the hon. Member was decidedly against handing them over to the proprietors. Again, one of his (Mr. Anderson's) hon. Colleagues, whose name was on the back of the Bill, said he would not hand the money over to the proprietors; but, if so, why did he support the Bill, when that was its principle. That Bill, which had for its principle to hand over all this property to the landowners, though they did not ask for it, he was at a loss altogether to understand. Nor could he understand that the burden was so uncertain in its character that it could not be valued. Several hon. Members had proposed a system of commutation, founded on average of years, and a number of parishes, and he had no doubt that if the matter were put into the hands of any actuary, he would be able to arrive at a proper solution in that direction. He altogether opposed the Bill as being calculated to commit a great injustice, and ultimately to lead to the disestablishment of the Church of Scotland, and he should therefore support the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member.
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
said, that he should vote for the Bill, and begged to thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh for having brought forward a measure, the object of which was to give freedom where it was at present wanting—to those who did not belong to the Church of Scotland. He recognized the great services which that Church had performed in times past for the good of the country at large, particularly in the matter of education; and as to the dissensions which had broken it up and impaired its usefulness, he acknowledged that they were due, not to the action of the Church itself, but to measures passed by an arbitrary Government. But they must now take the various Presbyterian Bodies as they found them, and it was high time to put an end to the existing strifes by giving relief where it was needed. With regard to the matter now under discussion, the pecuniary interests involved were so insignificant, that he believed the difficulty would be settled by a voluntary arrangement of the Church of Scotland itself, if only it had an opportunity afforded to free those who had separated from the Established Church, from the legal necessity of contributing to support a Church to which they no longer belonged. As to teinds, about which the hon. and gallant Member for South Ayrshire had had a great deal to say, and had said it well, it would, no doubt, soon become necessary to inquire into the nature of their origin. It seemed to him (Sir George Balfour) that their original object had been to maintain the Church, to promote education, and to assist the poor, and that they had been intended to benefit the people of Scotland at large. The manner in which they had latterly been appropriated was, however, not at all in accordance with the original purpose. Instead of being used for the public advantage, the teinds had unfortunately been taken possession of by landed proprietors and men in powerful positions, and used by them for their private purposes. The least he hoped for or expected, was an assurance from the Government that they would make an effort to arrive at an amicable solution of the question.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, he had on former occasions, when that Bill was before Parliament, voted for it, with the reservation that he did not wish to relieve the 1321 land from the burden, but only to exempt feuars from a tax which, as applied to them was of very recent origin. It had been maintained that a heritor was equivalent to a feuar, and a feuar to a heritor, and on that point, he confessed, he had some difficulty; but it seemed to him that a solution of the difficulty was afforded by the speeches they had heard from the hon. Member for Edinburgh and the hon. and gallant Member for South Ayrshire. The feuars began to be taxed at a time when a large proportion of them had ceased to belong to the Church of Scotland, and it was no wonder that they felt it to be a great grievance and injustice to be called upon to pay that church rate, at a time when they had been spending largo sums of money to build manses and churches of their own. In the parish to which he belonged, it had been the general wish of the heritors to bear the whole burden themselves; but one of their number unfortunately insisted that the feuars also should be assessed for the purpose, and as a resolution had to be passed in accordance with the demand, much heart-burning and much litigation ensued. The result was, that the heritors who had desired in the first instance that the feuars should not be called upon to pay, took the burden of the latter upon themselves, and paid their share. Pretty much the same thing had occurred in another parish with which he was acquainted. Those feuars were very differently situated from the old heritors. The hon. and gallant Member for South Ayrshire was in favour of putting the burden on the latter class, and declared that they were willing to bear it, and that being the case, they might congratulate themselves on seeing daylight through the difficulty. The hon. and gallant Member had pressed the Government to undertake the settlement of the question at some future time; but that was most indefinite, and it was to be hoped that Government would promise to take action in the matter next Session, and if they did so, he had no doubt the hon. Member for Edinburgh would withdraw the Bill. In any case, he hoped the question would be satisfactorily disposed of next Session.
I have no reason whatever to complain of the way in which the discussion on this subject has been conducted. The question is a 1322 most difficult one, and it is, I believe, for the interest of the Church of Scotland itself, that there should be a satisfactory settlement of it. I therefore have the satisfaction of saying that it shall be my endeavour to bring in next Session such a Bill as will meet, if possible, the difficulties which have been stated in the course of this discussion. I wish it to be distinctly understood, however, that I do not agree in the view that the system of assessments for building churches and manses in Scotland can be regarded as similar to the system which has existed with regard to church rates in England. In the former case, the rate is a burden upon the land, and it seems to me that, in the interest of the Church itself, that burden should be imposed in the least oppressive manner possible. In that view there are, undoubtedly, persons, such as Dissenting clergymen and others whom we should wish to see relieved from the charge. I do not know that I need address the House farther at present. I undertake to introduce next Session a measure which will, at all events, meet some of the difficulties. If it does not give complete satisfaction, I hope it will at least approach that result. Under the circumstances, I trust my hon. and gallant Friend, to whose industry and information we are so much indebted, will not press his Resolution, and that the hon. Member for Edinburgh will withdraw a Bill which in any case could not usefully be proceeded with during the short period that remains of the present Session.
§ MR. M'LAREN
, in reply, said, it had been argued that English church rates were voluntary. They might be voluntary in one sense, but they were not in another. For instance—if there were 200 people assembled at a meeting for laying on a church rate, and 101 voted in favour of the rate, and 99 against it, that could not be a voluntary rate as regarded the 99. He did not doubt the law which had been laid down by his opponent; but he denied that it was either equitable or just, and he believed that its operation was productive of more harm than good to the interests of the Church of Scotland. Everyone who had travelled in Scotland must have noticed that the great majority of the churches were more like barns than places of worship—so little money was laid out 1323 upon them. It was his firm belief that if this law were abolished, and the heritors and other parishioners were left to erect their own churches without any compulsory law, many of these barns would be pulled down, and handsome churches erected. After the candid statement of the Lord Advocate that he would bring in a Bill—and he knew he did not make promises without intending to fulfil them—he should be quite content to leave the matter in the hands of the Government, because he admitted that it was a question which ought to be dealt with by Government rather than a private Member.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave; withdrawn;—Bill withdrawn.