§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. M'LAREN
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said: Some exception has been taken to this course on the ground that the Bill which has been introduced by the Lord Advocate respecting ecclesiastical assessments in Scotland relates to the same subject. Certainly, I do not know of any difference in meaning between the two terms, and if the Bill of the Lord Advocate was to turn out to be a good Bill I should be quite pleased to take it with its new title. All legal burdens on land in Scotland are commonly called "assessments," while in England legal burdens laid on land for local purposes are called "rates." The meaning of both terms is precisely the same, and I do not quarrel with new name if the Bill be good in other respects. Church rates are laid on in Scotland for building and repairing churches and manses, or parsonages; and for pulling them down where a new one is thought to be needful. These burdens are very onerous, amounting in many cases to large sums. I have known rates as high as 10s. per pound of real rent to have been levied upon the rental in one year in a particular case, and very often they are as high as 2s. 6d., 3s.,and 3s., 6d. I have a whole bundle of letters, which would enable me to give to the House a great deal of information on the subject of church rates if I thought it were needful, and would materially affect the question before us. But I do not think that any information of that kind which I could give would materially affect the question, because I desire that it should be treated as one of principle, and not as one respecting any oppressive burden in a particular case. In Scotland there is no power to refuse to lay on a church rate 9 as there was in England. In England the church rate was required, not for the very extensive purposes for which, as I have mentioned, it is required in Scotland, but for smaller ones, and requiring only a small expenditure. Moreover, before that rate could be laid on it was necessary to get the consent of the majority of the ratepayers, and in many instances that consent was refused, and consequently the payment of church rates practically came to be a nullity in many portions of the country. Therefore the grievance in Scotland is much greater than it was in England, and of course the necessity for its removal is there urgent. Church rates in Scotland apply to every kind of property—to cottages of £4 rental, and even to those of smaller rental, if the local authorities choose to to impose it upon them. The assessment of the smaller properties has been aggravated by an Act passed 25 years ago, called the Lands Valuation Act. There had been no general valuation made since the time of Charles II., and these ecclesiastical assessments were laid on property according to the value at which it stood at that period. But the Lands Valuation Act requires a strict valuation of all lands in Scotland from year to year at the actual rack rent, and all assessments are laid on in accordance with that valuation. Hon. Members from Scotland know that previous to the passing of that Act the small properties were in practice exempted, though it is a question amongst lawyers whether they were not legally liable. I do not, however, enter into that question; but it was not the practice to assess them, and in some parishes they are not assessed even at the present time. But that same Act, which required all rates to be laid on according to the new valuation, contained a very important clause, which provided that no new burden should be imposed by virtue of that new mode of assessment which was not exigible under the former state of the law. It is difficult for a non-legal person like myself to see how this clause, although balanced by one of an apparently opposite nature, should have been so completely overridden by the other, as it has been in practice. The effect has, however, been that hundreds and thousands of small properties are now charged with rates for building and repairing churches and manses which were not formerly 10 so charged. These rates are in principle condemned by public opinion in Scotland, and are regarded as a violation of civil liberty, as imposing charges for the benefit of a small and favoured section of the community at the expense of the many. For example, the ministers of all other denominations are charged with a rate to build a house for their brother parish clergyman, who may be living within a few hundred yards of them; but when a Dissenting or Episcopalian minister wants a manse or parsonage, he and his congregation must find the money themselves. I do not mean to say anything at all disrespectful of the Established Church. I wish to state the case fairly, and wholly apart from the question of Disestablishment. Personally, I am in favour of Disestablishment; but I confess I do not think the present measure will tend to produce that result. On the contrary, I think it will rather tend to delay it, inasmuch as it will put the people in a better humour as regards the Established Church of Scotland. I am not going to calculate or assert how many Church people or how many Dissenters there are in Scotland, because I do not think the numbers can be accurately stated. You can, however, make a very good approximation to the relative proportions by taking into account the number of ministers of each denomination in Scotland. I have not referred to Church publications on any side; I have referred only to The Edinburgh Almanack, a valuable statistical work of great authority for accuracy. In that work, however, no summary is given of the total numbers of ministers of the different denominations, but only their names, and I have consequently had to add up the numbers. Any mistakes made must be trifling, and they will be mine. I thus find that in the Established Church of Scotland there are 1,340 ministers of all kinds, but of these there are only about 1,000 who are endowed from public sources, and fewer whose churches and manses are maintained out of church rates. About 340 of these ministers, taking the round numbers, have what are called quoad sacra churches or chapels of ease. These churches and chapels have, it may be said, to the credit of the Church of Scotland, been in most cases erected through voluntary exertions, and also endowed to a small extent out of moneys 11 raised by the denomination. Still the fact remains that the number of ministers and churches and manses with which my Bill is connected is about 1,000. The measure does not affect the others at all. The Free Church and the United Presbyterians have 1,480 ministers between them—that is, they have 140 more ministers than the Established Church has. In form of worship and everything about them these Churches are identical with the Church of Scotland. [Mr. ORR-EWING: Will the hon. Member separate the two Churches? They are separate Churches.] The number of the Free Church ministers is about 968, and the number of the United Presbyterian ministers is about 512. There are above 100 United Presbyterian churches in England connected with Scotland, but I do not take them into account. Then there are three smaller bodies of Presbyterians professing the same creed; they have 140 ministers, making 1,620 unendowed Presbyterian ministers, against the 1,000 who are endowed. Besides these 1,620, there are the Congregationalists, Baptists, and Wesleyans, with 220 ministers, bringing up the number of unendowed Protestant ministers in Scotland to 1,840. Then we come to the Episcopal Church of Scotland, which has a different form of worship. There are 195 Episcopalian ministers in Scotland. Thus we have got 2,035 Protestant ministers preaching substantially the same doctrines, and maintaining the Gospel ordinances for themselves in all things at home and abroad without aid from the State, to compare with the 1,340 ministers of the Established Church of Scotland. I said at the outset that I would not attempt to state the number of members of the different sects in Scotland. I offer these figures as an approximation to the true proportions, and as undoubted facts; and each hon. Member may, for himself, infer from these facts what are the proportional numbers of the various Protestant bodies in Scotland. Lastly, there are the Roman Catholic clergy, 210 in number, making in Scotland altogether 2,245 non-Established ministers of religion. I take that as the best comparison that can be made without counting heads; but if you are to consider the particular point raised by the Bill now before the House, as to how many obtain a benefit and how many sustain injury, you require to deduct the 12 340 quoad sacra churches and chapels of case from the 1,340 belonging to the Church of Scotland, and you require to add them to the 2,245 non-endowed ministers; and thus you make up 2,585 ministers who have no connection with the 1,000 favoured churches; and all these 2,585 ministers are assessed for building, maintaining, and repairing churches and manses belonging to the 1,000 endowed ministers. I do not, however, hold these figures to be an exact test of the comparative numbers; indeed, I do not think they are quite fair to the Established Church, for two reasons. In the first place, some of the other Bodies have two ministers to one congregation, and this is the case especially in the Episcopalian and Roman Catholic Churches. To that extent the figures taken literally would place the Established Church at a slight disadvantage. Another reason is, that in some of the smaller sects which I have enumerated the congregations are extremely small. This, however, is not altogether peculiar to them, because the congregations of the Church of Scotland in the Northern counties, and in different parts of the Highlands and islands, are so small as, in many cases, to be almost invisible. The officers are there, but the men are wanting. This circumstance may therefore, I think, be set against the small numbers of certain dissenting congregations, but, of course, hon. Members may make what deductions they please on account of the two reasons I have referred to. Having regard to these circumstances, I think hon. Members will see that the time in which we live, when all parties in the State profess their desire to do justice between man and man, nothing can be said in favour of levying rates on the Nonconformists of Scotland, and on the Episcopalians and Roman Catholics and all other Dissenters, for the support of a comparatively small number of ministers of the Established Church. As to the nature of the present Bill, I may say that it is a moderate one, and is exactly the same in all respects, as far at least as Scotch legal phraseology will allow, as the English. Church-rates Abolition Bill which was passed several years ago. By that Act church rates were not expressly abolished. They may continue to be levied, but any person who disapproves of the payment is at liberty to say— 13 "I decline to pay them. "Well, this Bill for Scotland contains the very same provisions, and I do not see how what is right for England can be wrong for Scotland. It is said that many of the large landowners do not object to pay. I admit that. But they will not be interfered with by the Bill, because the receipts will be sent to them for payment after the passing of the Bill just the same as at present. I have, however, been informed privately of the names of many large landowners, including several Members of the other House of Parliament, who are very friendly to the abolition of these rates, and who would, in fact, be delighted to see them abolished. With regard to this point, I may mention that a question of a kindred nature arose when another Scotch Bill was passing through Parliament. There was a rate which had been levied for more than a century to make the land of every parish pay for the support of a school and a schoolmaster. These rates were established by various Acts of Parliament, which required the work to be done, and I was one of those who thought that this burden—not created by mere usage and technicalities, as the church rate has practically been, but established by various Acts of Parliament requiring the work to be done—should be allowed to remain. I stated my views, and gave Notice of an Amendment on the subject, but it was dropped for want of support. It was stated at that time that many of the landowners did not wish to be relieved from the rate, but the Bill was passed without any reservation, and all the landowners accepted their share of the £50,000 a-year from which they were relieved, being, no doubt, very glad to get relief. The same thing will occur in the case of church rates in the event of the Bill passing into a law. The Established Church people ought to keep their churches and manses in repair as all the other sects do, more especially as they are relieved from any obligation to support their own ministers—a burden imposed on all the other Churches. The Free Church, as I see from their authorized publication, paid last year, £210,000 for ministers' stipends. The amount for the Established Church, paid by the public, is much larger; and I could show, if needful, that it is above £300,000. The Established Church congregations, being relieved from this payment for the sup- 14 port of their ministers, ought to be much better able than the other religious Bodies to maintain their own churches and manses. Within 33 years, besides maintaining the Gospel for themselves, the Free Church have erected about 900 places of worship at their own expense, and nearly as many manses. They have also erected a large number of schools and four colleges, and they have done a great deal in promoting the Gospel abroad by sending missionaries to various parts of the world. I mention these things, not for the glorification of the Free Church, but to show how much better able the Established Church people ought to be to maintain their own buildings than the members of the other denominations are. Having referred to the stipends of the Free Church ministers, I may mention that I have been informed on good authority that their stipends are larger on the average than the stipends paid to the ministers of the Episcopal Church, although that Church contains a large proportion of the principal landowners in Scotland. I may say the same of the United Presbyterian Church, whose ministers' stipends are as large in proportion as those of the Free Church. And now I have to say a few words about the history of this Bill. When it was first brought in it was very much pooh-poohed. It was at first opposed by the Liberal Government, but in another Session it was accepted by them, and carried by a majority on the second reading. That Government promised to take up the question, but they brought in no Bill. When the present Government came into power the same Bill was being pressed to a second reading. The Government opposed it, and the Lord Advocate, after promising that the Government would be prepared to deal with the question in the next Session, begged that I would not press my Motion to a division. I consented to the request on that undertaking, and accordingly withdrew the Bill. In the next two Sessions, however, the Government did not fulfil their promise; but I am very glad that this year they have brought in a Bill connected with this subject, because it is an admission that a grievance exists which ought to be remedied. I was presented with a copy of the Lord Advocate's Bill as I was entering the House, and I have just glanced through it. I admit that as far as it goes it will effect some im- 15 provement. It will be putting things pretty much in the same state as they were in before the passing of the Lands Valuation Act. It will keep the smaller feuars out of the assessment roll, and thereby remove their grievance. The land which is worth 1s. an acre for feeding sheep is frequently feued, along the Clyde, at £30 an acre for building on. This is a great advantage to all the other landowners in the parish, because it diminishes the rate they have to pay. There is no moral right to assess the house built upon the land any more than there is to assess a ship, and so far this part of the Bill will be a relief to all such feuars. As to the proposal for raising an assessment by money borrowed for 20 years, I have great doubts of the wisdom of such a course, because I think that when an assessment of this kind is imposed on anyone he likes to pay and have done with it at once. I do not wish to say anything now against my right hon. and learned Friend's Bill, nor do I wish to commit myself generally in its favour, except that it goes a certain way towards mitigating evils which exist. I have pressed my Bill to a second reading because it is a Bill for the total abolition of the rate, and because I believe, in common with the great majority of my countrymen, that the rate is unjust in principle. If the strength of the Government should throw out my Bill, as I have no doubt it can, then their own Bill will come before the House for discussion, and my efforts shall be directed to making it practically useful. I now beg to move, in conclusion, that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. M'Laren.)
§ SIR WILLIAM CUNINGHAME
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that the difficulties of the task he had undertaken were considerably lightened by the fact that almost everything which could possibly be said on the question had already been said in recent times, and, therefore, the House was well acquainted with the merits of the case. Very few words on the true position of the question—now perhaps a little obscured by the plausible form in which it had been presented by the hon. Member 16 for Edinburgh—were all that would be required in opposition to the Bill, which was simply a proposal to enrich the landowners of Scotland at the expense of the National Church. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, in his Bill, proposed to abolish what he was pleased to call church rates. He (Sir William Cuninghame) did not quarrel with the term, though it had been objected that "rates" was not the legal name in Scotland for these charges, and the only object he could conceive he could have in using the term was to disguise, if he could, the fact that church rates in Scotland were charges of a very different character from church rates in England. The hon. Member proposed to abolish these charges for one reason alone, as far as he understood him, or at all events for one reason alone which lay on the surface—that was to benefit the Nonconformists of Scotland. That was the only reason that could be clearly proved, but he could not resist the suspicion that the desire to injure the Established Church, to undermine one of her props, and to accelerate the arrival of the time so ardently desired by her enemies, when she would be cast out like Hagar into the wilderness, disestablished and disendowed, had a good deal to do with the present movement. He (Sir William Cuninghame) did not accuse the hon. Member himself of being actuated by that motive, but he had little doubt it entered largely into the ideas of those who pushed him forward to undertake this crusade. The hon. Member considered it very hard that Nonconformists should be called on to pay out of their own means towards a Church from which they dissented, and if the hon. Member's premisses were true it would be difficult to resist his conclusion. But he (Sir William Cuninghame) entirely denied that there was any question of making the Nonconformist landowner or feuar or anybody pay money out of their own pocket for the benefit of the Church. The hon. Member's proposal was based on an erroneous assumption. These payments were not made out of the pocket of the payer, but were of the same character as tithes, permanent rent-charges, permanent burdens settled by the State in favour of the Established Church. They were, in no sense of the word, the property of the proprietors of Scotland, but, on the contrary, were the property of 17 the nation for the benefit of the Church. They were imposed at the Reformation, and had ever since been paid by landed proprietors, and enforced by law when necessary. It seemed to him that it was impossible to view the liability in any other light than as a permanent burden on the landed property of the country, arranged by their pious predecessors, whose pride it was to devote part of their wealth to the upholding of the worship of God. Under this burden, as well and in the same way as under other burdens, properties had been bought and sold and received by inheritance; and it seemed to him out of the question that the temporary owner could now be allowed to lay violent hands on that part of his estate, which did not belong to him, and contend, when he paid it, that he was paying his own money to the fund, instead of, as was the truth, merely handing over part of that which he held in trust for the benefit of the Church. It made, to his mind, no difference whatever whether the proprietor was a Nonconformist or a Churchman; he was merely, to the extent of the amount of his burdens, a trustee for others; and because he might be a Dissenter, that was no reason that he should be allowed to put into his pocket money which belonged to somebody else. It was, of course, quite true that church rates had always been imposed in very uncertain amounts and at very uncertain intervals; and that might, perhaps, be one of the reasons which had persuaded people that they differed from other burdens; but that was a peculiarity by no means confined to church assessments. Many other rentcharges—notably fines on succession—were similar, but nobody ever dreamt of calling them less of a burden on that account. He contended then, that these charges were a burden on the land, and were in no sense the property of the owner of the land, but were the property of the State and the Church. If that argument commended itself to the acceptance of the House, what became of the grievances of the Nonconformists? Was it a grievance to give up that which was never your own? And how did the proposal of the hon. Member look? Was it not an invitation to annul a trust in favour of the Church, and to make a handsome present to the landowners of Scotland? He wanted to know what the landowners of Scotland had done to be treated so 18 generously? They were very excellent people, no doubt, as a class, but he could not see why Parliament should be asked to bestow on them, of all people in the world, any part of the public property. If this property must be taken from the Church—and he for one could see no reason for it—let it be devoted to some useful national object. It was objected that it was unfair that owners, who had built houses on their land, should be assessed upon the improved value which they had given to their property by building upon it. He wished he could accept that view, as it seemed to offer a basis for a reasonable compromise. He could not, however, see any difference between improved property and any other proprietors. The law of Scotland was very explicit on the point, and had decided that all property should pay, not on its original but on its improved value. He thought it a misfortune that superiors should have been allowed to split up the charge and pass it on to the feuars; but the feuars knew their liability when they made their bargains for their feus, and improved their properties with the distinct knowledge that their improvements would be liable to the charge. It had been urged that it was especially hard on them, as they only began to be generally assessed after most of them had left the Church—that was to say, after the Disruption of 30 years ago. But that was a complete error. The law long before that made feuars liable. Indeed, he believed the first decision to that effect was given two centuries ago, and the same view was taken in several legal decisions on that point during last century. They had always been liable, they were still liable, and he could see no reason for making all feuars a handsome present and relieving them of the charge. In making these observations in regard to the feuars, he did not forget the desire expressed last year by himself and others in favour of relieving the smaller feuars from the burden. He saw many difficulties in the way, but would be glad if they could be overcome, and if the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate, who had now a Bill before the House dealing with the question with that object in view, succeeded in producing a satisfactory measure which would relieve the poorer classes without sacrificing principle, he would be glad to 19 vote for it. He now desired to allude for a few moments to the argument which had always been a prominent one in this controversy, and used with great effect by those who advocated this change to impress the minds of those who were not thoroughly acquainted with the case—he meant the comparison which had been drawn between the case of Scotland and the case made for abolition of church rates in England eight years ago. He alluded to it only to dismiss it as not being a parallel case. He quite admitted to his hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Ramsay), that the two assessments were alike in their antiquity, in their incidence, and generally in the objects to which they were devoted. But they were unlike in the most important point of all—the assessment in Scotland had always been a burden upon the land, while the English arrangement was a mere personal voluntary contribution on the part of the parishioners. The one could not be abolished without an Act of Parliament; the other might have been abolished at any moment by the wish of the majority of the parish. The one—the Scotch plan—had in it an element of perpetuity; the other—the English plan—had to be renewed every time money was wanted for these purposes by popular vote. He contended that no parallel could be drawn between cases so different. In England, church rates could be abolished without touching any vested interests whatever, because none could be created where the subscriptions were entirely optional; whilst in Scotland these charges could not be abolished without interfering with a perfectly legal burden, deliberately settled by law, and which could not be abolished without setting a precedent which would shake the security of all settled property for the future. The security of all property depended upon the law, and the respect which the House of Commons had hitherto paid for the most part to the law. If that respect was withdrawn, the security of all property came to an end. The abolition of English church rates only deprived the majority of the power of coercing the minority; but the abolition of church assessments in Scotland would sweep away a right of property which had existed in that country for centuries. Under these circumstances, it was unnecessary to follow the argument that the English Act had worked 20 well—though possibly a good deal might be said on the other side. He thought the House would see that the proposal of the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) to annul this settlement in favour of the National Church of Scotland, in order to put the proceeds into the pockets of the landed proprietors, was simply disendowment so far as money went, and disestablishment so far as it severed one of the ties which through the land bound the Church to the State—disestablishment and disendowment advocated not on broad intelligible principles such as persuaded the House to disestablish and disendow the Irish Church, but advocated on the very narrowest principles of plunder and division of the spoil. He was persuaded the House would not listen for a moment to such a proposal. If, indeed, it were willing to entertain a measure of disendowment, it could never for a moment consent to apply any part of the proceeds for the benefit of the landowners, and he took it that when that was thoroughly known the popularity of the proposal would be greatly reduced. He did not wish to say that the great mass of the Nonconforming Bodies deliberately and knowingly desired to take the Church property in order to put it into their own pockets, merely because it would benefit themselves; but human nature was human nature, and he did not doubt that the fact that it would benefit themselves had produced many supporters of the idea. He trusted they would now be undeceived upon that point; and then when they advocated a reduction of Church provision they would have a stronger position than they had now, for they would not be open to the imputation of seeking self interest. When that time came he trusted that those who, like himself, admired the Old Kirk of Scotland, and believed that she had been a blessing to the country in the past, would have much to say in her favour, which now he would not touch on; for the attack was so hampered by its own inherent weakness that at present it was not necessary to make a complete defence. It seemed to him that there never was a less opportune time for diminishing the resources of the religious Bodies, when demands for increased church accommodation were heard in all quarters—when all the cities of Scotland were rapidly increasing, and the resources of all the three great 21 Churches were unable to keep pace with the demands made upon them. It was said that there were 600,000 inhabitants of Scotland who belonged to no Church: Was that a time to diminish the power of any Church to labour for their benefit. Who could tell what change might not be effected if greater church accommodation were provided? He, therefore, appealed not only to Churchmen, but to Nonconformists also to remit this proposal, and to join in saying that this act of spoliation should not take place. He appealed in full confidence of a generous reply from all; and whatever might be the case in that House, he doubted not that, through the length and breadth of the land, many a conscientious Nonconformist would support his views. He was himself a Nonconformist in Scotland, but he was none the less anxious to see the Established Church upheld. He appealed to both sides of the House to vote against the Bill, but especially to those on this side of the House, for a generous and thorough-going support of the Established Churches in both countries was emphatically the true Conservative policy.
§ Amendment proposed to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir William Cuninghame.)
§ MR. BAXTER
said he was glad to see that the question had entered on an entirely new phase. It was only two or three years ago that they were told if a grievance did exist it was of the most infinitesimal character. What had now occurred afforded ample justification to his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh for having in this and previous Sessions introduced his Bill into this House. That there was a grievance had now been abundantly admitted by his right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate who had now presented a Bill to remedy it. He trusted his right hon. Friend's Bill, whether large or small, would settle the question for a long time to come; and he should have great pleasure in taking the course which his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh had himself promised to take—namely, to give every assistance to the Lord Advocate to make his measure acceptable to the people of Scotland. He was surprised that the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayrshire, who had admitted the grievance, had 22 not himself suggested some sort of remedy. [Sir WILLIAM CUNINGHAME said, he had denied the existence of a grievance in any sense of the word.] Well, they might dismiss that point from their minds, as they had a distinct promise from the Government to deal with the subject. The hon. Baronet dismissed in a very short manner the question as to the similarity between ecclesiastical assessments in Scotland and church rates in England, and he (Mr. Baxter) would admit at once that in certain respects they were not analogous. The circumstances and the statutes of the two countries were different, and therefore, when they came to take the cases in detail, no doubt they offered points of contrast as well as points of resemblance. But his contention was that the principle was the same, and that the results had been the same. He advocated this Bill on very wide grounds. The grievance complained of was, that people who dissented from the Established Church, and never attended its worship, were compelled to provide money for the Church's buildings; and the results had been discontent, and distraints and sales of persons' goods—results very much to be deprecated. The hon. Baronet thought that this was a measure which was calculated to weaken the Church of Scotland, and had repeated a great many arguments in regard to the burdens of property which were very familiar to old Members of this House. In how many discussions had they not been told that if church rates were abolished in England, the Church of England would be seriously injured? Well, they had been abolished, and so far from the Church of England being injured, he believed that it was at that moment stronger than ever, and that the abolition of church rates was a measure very much in the interests of the Church itself. What had taken place in England he believed would take place in Scotland too, and in every other country where people were required to provide money for the support of a Church which they did not approve. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh was to be congratulated on the persistence with which he had brought this question before the House. He hoped they would not hear the existence of that grievance denied again. He should be very glad if the Lord Advocate's mea- 23 sure could be made satisfactory to the country; but if the hon. Member for Edinburgh went to a division on this Bill, he would certainly give him his cordial support.
§ MR. A. KINNAIRD
said, he should, on the same grounds as those put forward by the right hon. Member for Montrose, vote for the second reading of this Bill. The hon. Member for Edinburgh was to be congratulated on his success in having compelled the Government to admit the existence of a grievance; and if the Lord Advocate proceeded with his measure, he trusted that all parties would unite in endeavouring to settle a controversy, which, so long as it was kept open, must weaken the Established Church.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said he could not abandon the opposition which he had for some years offered to this Bill. He had no hesitation in saying that if in England church rates had been a burden on the land they would never have been abolished; or if they had been as regarded the Church, they would not have been handed over in gift to the landed proprietors of the country. That, however, was the principle which underlay this Bill, and therefore he strenuously objected to it. He, at the same time, admitted that there was a grievance, and so far as he had succeeded in calling attention to it, and getting the Government to deal with it, the hon. Member for Edinburgh deserved their thanks. His reason for opposing this Bill was that he could not agree with the mode in which the hon. Member (Mr. M'Laren) proposed to remedy the grievance. The grievance was principally in respect of feus, which the House would understand were similar to building leases in perpetuity. When the feuar took a piece of ground he was liable to his share of what was in this Bill erroneously called the church rate. There was no grievance in that; but when the man put a house on his piece of ground the tax was put on the house also, and it was that double levying of the tax which constituted the grievance. An easy way of getting out of it was this—that when a feuar took a feu of this kind, he should pay his share on the ground value, but nothing for the house he put upon it. The Lord Advocate's Bill was only introduced very late last night, and it was a pity it was not in 24 the hands of Members prior to this discussion; but, having glanced over it very cursorily, he believed it would effectually abolish the grievance on the lines he (Mr. Anderson) had sketched out, and that being so, he trusted the hon. Member for Edinburgh would be satisfied with such a settlement and withdraw this Bill.
§ MR. LAING
must add his testimony as to the existence of a very serious practical grievance throughout Scotland—not only in the large towns, but in many of the rural districts. In the Highlands and in the districts he represented the land was frequently divided among a number of exceedingly small proprietors—perhaps 100 or more, where the valuation of a whole parish was not above £2,000 or £3,000 in all. Many of these proprietors were persons who had, from conscientious motives, left the Established Church, and belonged to the Free or the United Presbyterian Churches. In the latter capacity they were taxed heavily for building churches and manses for their own communion, and for supporting their own ministers, and therefore it came hard on them to have to pay also to support another Church with which they had nothing to do. The church rate was there objectionable because it was not a fixed yearly charge, but was imposed at irregular intervals, and when it did come, came with crushing weight, sometimes amounting to half the value of the whole revenue of the parish. That was a practical grievance which it was not the interest of the Church of Scotland to perpetuate, as it led to the creation of bad feeling towards the Church, even among its own members, and therefore he supported this Bill.
§ MR. DALRYMPLE
said, the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) had exercised a wise discretion in disassociating his Bill on the present occasion from any notions of disestablishment, because if there had been any allusion to disestablishment in connection with the measure it would have aroused much stronger opposition. It was most unfortunate that whenever any measure was introduced which was in any degree of the nature of a reform in regard to the Church, the cry of "disestablishment" should at once be raised; and he thought that hon. Members who sat on his side of the House might for once imitate the example of the 25 hon. Member for Edinburgh. The hon. Member had remarked on the absence of any reliable figures as to the number of persons belonging to different religious Bodies in Scotland; but he (Mr. Dalrymple) must remind the hon. Member that it was owing to those with whom he acted that there were not more reliable statistics—because it was well known that it was the Nonconformists and their representatives who opposed anything like a religious Census some years ago. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter) had referred to numerous and remarkable Petitions in favour of the present Bill. That was a statement which it was supposed would weigh with the House; but it was worth mentioning, that at all events with regard to the present Session, Petitions were absolutely nil. There had been two presented, one against and one in favour of the Bill. He was far from saying that the absence of Petitions showed that the question should not be dealt with by Parliament. He sometimes thought that when Petitions stopped was the time when the House could best deal with a question, because it had then passed out of the region of agitation; and that was the case on the present occasion. He (Mr. Dalrymple) had always admitted that there was a grievance, and had regretted that the subject had not been dealt with by the last Parliament. Although he could not approve of the present Bill, yet if the Government had not promised to deal with it at once, he should have felt ashamed to vote again against the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh. He should oppose the Bill for this especial reason—because it proposed to handover the money to persons who had never asked for it. It had been said that there were some noble proprietors of land in Scotland who wished to be relieved of the burdens connected with their land. That statement would not weigh much with him, because he could not forget that the distinguished individuals who desired to be freed from these burdens were the same as those who opposed that most popular measure, the Act for the abolition of patronage in the Church of Scotland, and in the most unpatriotic manner availed themselves of their right to put into their pockets money which belonged to the Church. He regretted very much that so many persons availed themselves of their right of compensa- 26 tion. It was an undoubted right, but in availing themselves of it, they had acquired money which was the property of the Church. With regard to the present subject, he hoped that the feuars and the ministers of bodies other than the Established Church would be relieved under the measure introduced the day before by his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. He believed that the great body of landed proprietors did not wish to be relieved of the burden of these ecclesiastical assessments. As that measure was one which seemed likely to remedy admitted grievances, he thought the hon. Member for Edinburgh would do well to withdraw his Bill and leave the matter to be dealt with by the Government.
MR. E. W. DUFF
said the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr had imputed to those hon. Members from Scotland who sat on his side the House that they were inclined to support the Bill because it would relieve them from a personal burden. It was perfectly true that the rate was a burden upon land, and he also recognized the fact that it was a burden imposed by Parliament; and if he chose to take that line of argument, he might say that as Parliament had imposed the burden, Parliament had the right to relieve the people of the burden. But he would not take that ground, because, speaking as a landlord, it might seem selfish to take it. The only true basis for a settlement of this question was commutation. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) had stated the grievance to be the imposition of the rate on a man who built a house, say, at an expense of £3,000; but where was the logical difference between the landlord spending £3,000 for that purpose and the feuar spending it? The hon. Member for the Ayr Burghs said it was a pity to give up the rate, because it was the only tie between the land and the Church. He (Mr. R. W. Duff) was surprised to hear that statement. Was not patronage a much stronger tie between the land and the Church? Yet the Government had swallowed the camel of abolishing patronage, and they now strained at the gnat of a church rate. Yet when it was proposed to abolish patronage and compensate the patrons, the patrons gave up patronage and put the compensation into their pockets. No landlord, he held, ought to put the compensation for 27 patronage into his own pocket, but should give it for some national object, such as education. This question was treated as one of ecclesiastical policy by the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were always afraid of disestablishment. They would insist upon putting this rate on all the feuars and Dissenters of Scotland, because they were afraid of Church disestablishment. He was a Dissenter, but he wished to make no capital out of the Church. So long as it maintained its hold on the people, he would therefore say to the Government, you have already weighted the Church heavily by your policy of abolishing patronage—do not weight it further by this obnoxious church rate.
§ SIR GRAHAM MONTGOMERY
said his main objection to the Bill was to the statement in the Preamble that it was to assimilate the laws of Ireland, England, and Scotland in respect to church rates. When they came to find out what church rates meant in the Interpretation Clause of the Bill, they would find church rates were to be made to include many things which were not included under that definition in England and Ireland—such, for example, as repairs of manses, and repairs of the walls of burial grounds. Parliament never sanctioned that in England the parsonage houses of the clergy should be left to voluntary assessment for their repair. Therefore, the Bill was misleading in being called a Bill for the abolition of Church Rates. Church rates in England never were in any sense a charge upon the land; while in Scotland nothing could be more clearly pointed out than that church rates were a charge upon the land. The land was liable for them, and why should the landed proprietors of Scotland be relieved from the burden? The hon. Member for Edinburgh said that many landowners in Scotland wished in their hearts that his Bill should pass. He begged to differ from the hon. Member in that assumption. He did not believe the great majority of the heritors did wish the Bill to pass. [Mr. M'LAREN had not said that the majority, but that a great many of the landowners in Scotland wished his Bill to pass.] He maintained that the large majority of the landowners of Scotland did not wish to be relieved of this burden. If the proprietors did not do their duty in this respect, they could be compelled to do so. One great argu- 28 ment of the hon. Member was that the Church of Scotland was in a minority in respect to the population of the country. But there had never been any authoritative ecclesiastical statistics upon this point in Scotland. The hon. Member, who was an admirable statistician—statistics were his hobby—had gone for his figures to the Edinburgh Almanack, which was one of the best that was published. But he (Sir Graham Montgomery) could not admit that the facts found in that book were to be taken exactly as leading to the conclusions which the hon. Member wished should be drawn from them. He believed the Registrar General recommended the number of marriages celebrated as forming the best index of the numbers of each religious body. Well, the marriages taking place in the Church of Scotland were equal to those of all other sects put together. The hon. Member for Banffshire (Mr. R. W. Duff) was in favour of commutation; but even if any satisfactory plan could be discovered on which it could be effected it would be highly objectionable, because it would destroy the only connection left in Scotland between the land and the Church. The Bill of the Lord Advocate would, however, relieve the feuars who had always made a great grievance of these Church assessments, but the hon. Member for Edinburgh had made out no good case for his Bill, and he should, therefore, vote against it.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, he had hoped the Bill introduced by the right hon. the Lord Advocate would have been such as to satisfy the reasonable demands of those who objected to Church assessments; but it appeared to him that while the right hon. Gentleman recognized that there was a grievance he had taken care in his Bill that it should not be removed. Therefore, instead of concurring with hon. Members opposite, he should be glad if the hon. Member for Edinburgh would persevere with his Motion in order that Dissenters might have an opportunity of showing whether they were satisfied or not. They might be defeated:—it was well to be defeated in a good cause: they had a good cause; they deserved success, and that was better than success itself when the cause was bad. The hon. Member who had just sat down had spoken as if places of worship were 29 provided for the benefit of the soil or the land of the country. He had always understood that places of worship were provided for the assembling of human beings for Divine worship. If so, he could see no reason why occupiers should be exempt from the rate, while owners of the soil on which the houses stood should pay it. It seemed to him that, if reason were to be found in anything relating to the measure of the Government, it would be that occupiers of houses should pay, and that owners of land who did not derive any benefit from places of worship should be exempt. He did not concur with some who said that the great majority of landowners did not desire to be exempted from the burden. On the contrary, a great many landowners of his acquaintance were in favour of the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh as it now stood. The difference noticed by the hon. Baronet between the law of Scotland and that of England was that it imposed a heavier burden on land in Scotland than it had ever borne in England, for the law in England made no provision for the maintenance of the manses, except at the expense of the incumbent. The hon. Member for Bute (Mr. Dalrymple) had spoken of the sordid desire of some proprietors to save their pockets; but if proprietors wished to pay the assessment, they were not interfered with by this Bill—they were at liberty to give such assessments to the Established Church as they thought fit to do. What he complained of was that persons who were not members of the Church were made to pay this tax. Regarding the system of supporting manses by those who were not members of the Church as immoral, and believing that the opinion of minorities was entitled to respect, he should support the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh.
§ MR. ORR EWING
I desire to know what is the grievance complained of which it is supposed this Bill will meet? There is no grievance complained of by landowners, who pay by far the largest portion of this burden. The complaint is from parties who have feued a certain portion of land, and their complaint is that by the Valuation Act of 1854 they are assessed for the maintenance and renewal of churches and manses, which they had previously been exempted from. The hon. Member first 30 brought in this Bill on account of those feuars, because he did not then pretend to represent any other portion of the community. He had then no pretensions to represent the landowners of Scotland. To-day he has, however, gone a step further, and he has stated, though without giving his authority, that from private conversation he has had, he has reason to believe that many noble Lords, Members of the other House, are favourable to the abolition of church assessment in Scotland. That is new to me, and I do not think that the House will be led away by such statements as that unvouched by authority. What does the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) propose? He says—"I think it unjust that the burden should be solely on land. I think it ought to be on houses. I see no reason why houses built on feus should be released of a burden which I think should be put on houses rather than land. "Well, if we were now legislating on the subject for the first time there might be force in that, but the law has long arranged it otherwise. It has been provided centuries ago that the assessment for churches and church buildings should be on land. The hon. Member for Falkirk evidently would not deal so liberally with the buildings on feus as would the Lord Advocate, but would leave the festering sore arising out of their overvaluation to fester still. The hon. Member for Banffshire (Mr. R. W. Duff) objected to the Bill of the Lord Advocate, and said that he should support this one. One of the objections he had to the Bill of the Lord Advocate was, that he could not see why buildings on farm-steadings should be assessed, if buildings on feus were not. The hon. Member said the only way to settle the question was by commutation; but no system of commutation would benefit the landlords of Scotland, unless by a system which was intended to and would rob the Church. Why should a person commute a burden if he was to receive no benefit? I do not believe that if a Commutation Bill passed in a voluntary shape, a single parish in all Scotland would commute A great objection to commutation is, that if you commute this burden on the land which has existed for centuries, you make a total separation between the Church and the landowners, which I do not wish to see as long as we have an 31 Established Church in Scotland. But, says my hon. Friend opposite, why object to that when you passed a Bill in 1874 which made a far greater breach in the relations between the Church and the land? I deny that. I call his attention to the small number of landlords who were patrons at the time of the Church Patronage Act to show how fallacious such an argument is. There are not in the whole of Scotland more than 80 patrons. Has he considered what proportion 80 patrons bear to the whole number of landowners in Scotland? That Act did not, in fact, speaking broadly, interfere at all with the connection between the landowners of Scotland and the Church. At the same time it gave an enormous advantage to the Church of Scotland. Every one must admit that the abolition of the law of patronage has had a great effect in strengthening and consolidating the Church of Scotland. I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) on the very moderate speech he made in introducing the Bill. I expected as much from him, but my surprise was that he made any speech at all. I thought, if I understood his object, it was more than satisfied by the admirable Bill of the Lord Advocate—[Mr. M'LAREN: No, no!]—and I was inclined to hope that when I came down to the House to-day he would have said that he was so well satisfied with that Bill that he would withdraw his own, and support that of the Lord Advocate; but my hon. Friend is always strong in his statistics, and I am only sorry that he has not gone to are reliable source than he has resorted to on this occasion. I must say that he did not give credit to the Church for the full number of churches belonging to her, which are, I think, nearer 1,400 than 1,340; while he increased the number of Free churches to the same extent. The hon. Member said that he did not wish to say a word on disestablishment; but the whole gist of his speech was directed in that way. The Established Church was established because it is endowed. If you weaken the endowment you impair the established character of the Church. You must admit that the Church is endowed, and on this point I should like to read what fell from a greater authority than I pretend to be—the right hon. Lord Advo- 32 cate Young, Lord Advocate under the late Government in 1870. That right hon. Gentleman then opposed this Bill in the most firm and decided manner, and threw it out by a great majority. He said—In point of fact, the Church, of Scotland now existed as an Establishment, and was endowed as an Establishment, and there was no question before the House about disendowing either altogether or partially. But he thought he should make it clear to demonstration that the Bill now before the House, if it were passed into an Act, would disendow the Church of Scotland to a very material extent.….To deprive the clergyman of his manse, which it was the object of the Bill to do—to deprive him of his glebe, which was the purpose of this Bill to do, was simply to transfer to that extent the incidence of the burden of making provision for the maintenance of the Established clergy from one quarter to another."—[3 Hansard, cxcix 1598–99.]This was in the year after the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, and I cannot think that such language would therefore have been used without the greatest consideration by the Lord Advocate of a Liberal Government. We on this side of the House desire to maintain that Church, not to maintain ascendancy over other Churches, but because we believe that it is essential to the maintenance and establishment of sound religion. For that reason we oppose this Bill with all our hearts. The hon. Member for Edinburgh asks why, if this injustice has been dispensed with in England, it should not also be dispensed with in Scotland. The reason is obvious. The church rate in England was not a compulsory burden imposed on the land, but a rate dependent upon the vote of the parish. It was not paid by the owners of lands and houses, but by the occupier, and it was not confined to houses or landed property, but extended to moveable property, stock-in-trade, &c. What did Lord Advocate Young say on this—"There is no resemblance in this Bill to the case of England. "And yet it was a church rate Bill. He quite admitted that there might be grievances in exceptional cases, but there were few if they took the whole of Scotland into consideration. If asked if he saw any reason for believing that the church rate in Scotland was like the church rate in England, he would oppose it, but the action of the existing law in Scotland was quite satisfactory. Now, the Bill of the Lord Advocate carries 33 out what the Liberal Lord Advocate said in 1870 that he wished to see. The hon. Member for Edinburgh said that although this Bill was thrown out in 1870, it was carried in 1871 by a large majority. Why? Because Lord Advocate Young had intimated in his speech in 1870 that there was a grievance, and that he would endeavour to remove it in the way that the Bill of the Government does. When the Bill came before Parliament in 1871, he said that such had been the pressure of the business of the Government that he had not been able to draw up a Bill to remedy the grievance he admitted, and therefore he would not oppose the Bill on the second reading; but that this was only to be understood as an admission of the existence of a grievance, and that the hon. Member would not proceed with it further. This is a question, in point of fact, which but for the persistency of my hon. Friend would have been set to sleep many years ago. But I am glad the Government have brought in a Bill which will settle this grievance, and which places the burden on the same class of property on which it lay before the passing of the Valuation Act in 1854, and which had always been carried out in Scotland up to that time, and which is now carried out in nine parishes out of 10. It was, in fact, only in conformity with the invariable practice throughout Scotland, except in districts where railways have been constructed, and which form so large a part of the valuation of these parishes in Scotland, but which are most unjustly taxed by the new system of valuation. The Bill of the Lord Advocate will remove this injustice from them, and cause them to be assessed according to the value of the land, on which, indeed, the assessment ought to be made, and I believe it will give satisfaction throughout Scotland.
§ MR. YEAMAN
said, he would detain the House with a very few remarks, but he did not wish to give a silent vote on this Bill. In the first place, he must say that the title of this Bill was misleading to the people of England, who were not well acquainted with our Scottish Establishment. This was not a church rate. A rate was levied year by year for certain purposes, but this was an ecclesiastical assessment which did not take place from year to year—it might not be assessed once in 10 years, 34 or once in 40 years. It was for the purposes of restoring and repairing the ecclesiastical edifices and the manses of the Scotch Establishment, and he held that it was fairly the property of the Established Church. A great deal had been said in regard to the numerical strength of the different denominations of Scotland. The hon. Member for Edinburgh had summed up a large number of Dissenters, and with the aid of quotations from The Edinburgh Almanack had made them equal to twice the number of the Scottish Establishment. He (Mr. Yeaman) would remind the House that strength of numbers did not always signify strength otherwise. From his knowledge of the Scotch Establishment, he believed it to be at this moment imbued with greater life than it had shown for the last 30 or 40 years—and although he did not belong to the Scotch Establishment himself, but to the Voluntary system starting from the Disruption of 1843, he still held the principles of the Established Church. Although a Voluntary, he was so by compulsion, and not by choice. Therefore he was glad to see the Church of Scotland growing into vigorous life, and he would do nothing to undermine either that or the English Establishment. It had been stated that this ecclesiastical assessment was by Parliamentary authority. If it was so, it was one of very long standing, and for centuries had become a fixed obligation towards the Church of Scotland on the land itself. But he maintained that this was not a rate on the landowners at all, it was a burden which the land carried along with it, and which was either inherited by those who succeeded to the property, or was assumed by any new incoming proprietor, who acquired his land at a less cost on account of the burden. He thought the Bill which had been shadowed forth by the Lord Advocate was an equitable one, which would adjust those difficulties and grievances which had arisen owing to the change of circumstances since the system of assessment was first introduced. He should therefore support the Amendment, and vote against the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
said, the speech they had just listened to would surely have the effect of showing to hon. Members on both sides the truth of the case—that this thing which was com- 35 plained of was not a rate but a burden on land. He wished English Members particularly to note that in Scotland this was a charge upon property, whilst in England the church rate used to be charged on individuals. It had been stated by the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs that the proprietors in the West of Scotland were anxious that this Bill should pass, but in that part of the West of Scotland, with which he was connected he had found no such feeling to exist. He had thought the hon. Member for Edinburgh would have withdrawn his Bill on receiving the just and equitable measure proposed by the Lord Advocate; but as he had not thought proper to do so, and if the House should refuse—and he saw no symptom that they would accept—this sweeping measure, he did not see what better step they could take than that embodied in the Lord Advocate's Bill, which took the just view that this charge should still be regarded as a burden on the land. Two years ago the hon. and gallant Member for South Ayrshire (Colonel Alexander) in an able speech showed the House very clearly that although there was a certain amount of grievance, it was quite local in its character, and chiefly affected Orkney and the Shetland Islands. But granted that there was a certain amount of grievance, in practice it had been reduced almost to a minimum, for in many parishes there had not been assessments for 20, 40,and even 60 years. A great deal had been said about the hardships of inflicting any tax whatever on persons who were not of the same religion as that for which the tax was raised; but it was impossible to get such perfect religious equality as the holders of that view wished for. He would remind them of the great struggle in that House in 1873, when the Scotch Education Act was passed. What was the consequence of that Act? In the first instance, it was put as far as possible out of the power of the school boards to teach any religion. The people of Scotland, however, would not have that arrangement at any price, and now it had been altered so that the majority in any parish could have taught whatever religion they preferred at the Public expense out of the rates. He trusted the majority of the House would join with him in voting against the second reading of this Bill in consequence of the satisfactory 36 measure brought in by the Lord Advocate.
§ SIR ROBERT ANSTRUTHER
said, that in the few remarks he should offer he would endeavour to imitate the very admirable example set to them all by the hon. Member who moved the second reading, in the extremely moderate and temperate speech he made in advocating his own measure. He was not sure whether his hon. Friend intended to appear in the new part of advocate, defender, and supporter of the Church of Scotland. [Mr. M'LAREN: No.] His hon. Friend said he desired by his Bill to strengthen the Church. If his hon. Friend was to appear in that rôle he should cordially welcome him, and would co-operate with him to the utmost of his power. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, in advocating the second reading of his Bill, said it was immaterial to him whether it was called a church rate or an ecclesiastical assessment. He (Sir Robert Anstruther), however, distinctly took exception to the use of the word church rate, for it had been clearly shown that there was no connection whatever between the former church rates in England and what he called church rates in Scotland. He took exception, also, to the title of the Bill introduced last night by the Lord Advocate. He did not think that this was an ecclesiastical assessment. It was neither a church rate nor an assessment. It was, as had been conclusively shown in this debate, neither more nor less than a burden on land, and had been on the land since 1560, and as a burden on land, whether the House chose to approve of it or remove it, could it alone be considered by this House. His hon. Friend said—and this was the strong point of his speech—that the effect of the Valuation Act of 1854 was to bring under this burden a class of property which had never been brought under the burden before. That was admitted. The Valuation Act of 1854 not only brought the feuars under this burden—and for argument's sake it might be said that the feuars were never under it before—but it brought them under the burden in a much more severe manner than those who had been assessed before the passing of the Act. The great landed proprietors had been taxed by this burden upon their valued rent— 37 valued rent being far under the real rent. But the feuars were brought under the burden upon their real rent, so that, in point of fact, the poorest people paid the most. He would frankly own that if the Government had not undertaken to deal with this question in a thorough manner, he would have given his vote for the second reading of this Bill—not because he approved of all its provisions, but because a grievance had been shown to exist so unmistakeably that it could not be resisted. It appeared to him, however, that the Government had introduced a Bill which almost exactly met the grievance. Whether his right hon. and learned Friend's Bill, however, did not seriously interfere with the Valuation Act of 1854, whether it was not rather a backward step so far as the system of Scotch valuation was concerned, he was not prepared to say. It appeared to him that the Government Bill erred in that respect. He thought it also erred in the fact that it separated the valuation of the land and the burdens to be imposed upon it from the valuation and burdens of the buildings erected on the land. Up to the present it had always been held that the land included the buildings on the land. He also had doubts whether it did not err in another particular—he meant that clause of the Bill which freed all ecclesiastical buildings, manses, and glebes, whether occupied by clergy of the Established Church or by Dissenting ministers, from all taxation. He doubted whether it was wise to make that distinction, and he commended that matter to the attention of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay), who had a Bill to bring the clergy of the Established Church for the first time under the poor rate and the school rate. Beyond doubt there were two good points in the Bill of the Lord Advocate. It relieved the pressure in the precise direction in which everybody admitted it was most felt, and it allowed the money to be paid for the repair of churches and manses to be spread over a much longer period. The great weakness of the present Bill was this—it proposed to take this burden, which had laid on the land since the time of the Reformation, and put it into the hands of the heritors. Would any man on this side of the House get up and defend a transaction of that kind on Liberal principles? He had not 38 heard the shadow of an argument in favour of such a proceeding. It was in the power of Parliament to deal with the burden as it thought fit, and to regulate the manner in which it was imposed, but not to remove it altogether, and allow the landed proprietors to put the money into their pockets. Even the hon. Member himself was an authority against this proceeding, for on the second, reading of the Scotch Education Act of 1872 the hon. Member protested against the heritors being relieved from the rate for schools—which was on all fours with the church rate. But while the heritors on that occasion were relieved of the burden resting on them, a new one was levied upon them in the shape of a school rate. Here the hon. Member proposed no equivalent. He simply took the money from the Church and put it into the hands of the heritors. In Committee on the Education Bill, the hon. Member renewed his opposition to the heritors being relieved of the school rate. He said he considered the money national property, and he moved an Amendment that—The assessments authorized and required to be imposed and levied by the said recited Acts, or any of them, shall continue to be imposed and levied upon the heritors in all time coming according to the provisions of the said Acts."—[3 Hansard, ccxi. 2023.]Now, the two burdens were exactly on all fours, and he (Sir Robert Anstruther) wanted to know why the hon. Member should remove one and desire the other to be continued for all time coming. It might be because the one object was one with which he had sympathy, and the other was not; but the House could not be expected to legislate in accordance with personal sympathies. What he called the church rate was as much national property as the school rate, and if Parliament said it should be applied to a different object, the Church of Scotland would acquiesce. He (Sir Robert Anstruther) admitted that there was a grievance which ought to be removed, but he thought it would be removed by the Bill of the Lord Advocate, and therefore he could not vote for the second reading of this Bill.
§ MR. ELLICE
said, that after the pointed allusion made to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Fifeshire he felt himself, in justification of the 39 course he intended to take, bound to make a few remarks. He entertained now the same opinion as to the liability of heritors as that he expressed on the former occasions referred to by his hon. Friend. Undoubtedly the obligation to contribute towards the maintenance of churches and manses was a settled burden upon land:—he was sure the heritors had no wish to escape from that burden, in order to transfer the money into their own pockets. That, at least, was the last thing he contemplated. But this sort of assessment was very unpopular in Scotland. Although in many essential respects it differed from the English church rates, it was, rightly or wrongly, looked upon very much in the same light:—its unpopularity had been yearly on the increase, and a feeling existed that in the interest of the Church itself it was very desirable to remove it. The moderate outlay of former years did not satisfy modern notions of architectural comfort and display, and the inordinate demands that were now constantly made for what was termed "restoration" rankled in the minds of Scotchmen. All these considerations led him to the conclusion that all such assessments ought to be got rid of. In his opinion, the matter would be best settled upon the principle of commutation. The Church would thus get what was fair and reasonable under the circumstances, and all questions of variable assessment would in future be put an end to. He differed, therefore, from the details of the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh. But he intended to support the second reading as a protest against the existing system. The Government measure seemed only to narrow the area of assessment available under the existing law. It did nothing to put an end to the feeling upon the moral subject that existed in Scotland, and he was convinced that no partial change would effect a satisfactory settlement of the question.
§ MR. E. NOEL
said, the hon. Baronet the Member for Fife had stated that if it had not been for the Bill of the Government he would have felt himself bound to vote for the second reading of the Bill before the House. He desired to ask—was it fair to ask them to reject the Bill because of a measure which was only introduced at half-past 12 that morning, and which few hon. Members had had an opportunity of considering?
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, if the hon. Member had listened to the discussion he could not have failed to have had a very good idea of what the Bill of the Government was. He would recommend the hon. Member for Edinburgh to withdraw his Bill, though the name of church rates was one not known in Scotland. The charge in question had existed in Scotland since the time of the Revolution settlement, and if this Bill were carried the churches and manses of Scotland would be allowed to fall into disrepair unless they were voluntarily maintained. He protested against the Bill, the object of which seemed to be to secure disendowment and disestablishment by a side wind.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE
I am not one of those who would say that the object of this Bill is disestablishment, but the hon. Member for Edinburgh stated candidly, and I suspect the summons to hon. Members opposite indicated sufficiently clearly, the principles on which the issue was to be taken. I do not say the question of Disestablishment is raised by this Bill, but undoubtedly the question of Disendowment is raised. That was distinctly brought out by the late Lord Advocate, Lord Young, in his statement, on a former occasion, of the object of the Bill, and I read from his statement because I think that on the other side of the House his opinions will, perhaps, have more weight than anything I could say. The late Lord Advocate said distinctly that—The operation of the existing law was entirely satisfactory. There was an assessment upon small proprietors in respect of their houses and gardens, and sometimes even upon clergymen of other denominations for the support of the Established Church. He would like to see the law limited in that respect. It was only in that way that the law had any operation which might be considered analogous to the church, rate of England."—[3 Hansard, cxcix. 1602.]The Bill which I have obtained leave to bring in is one which affects the real grievances complained of. It has been clearly shown that this is a burden on land, and the hon. Member for St. Andrews (Mr. Ellice) admitted that, and very properly; and, as I would have expected of him, said that he would altogether despise the idea of the assessment being put in the heritors' pockets, and said that would not be his object in voting for the Bill, which 41 he supported simply as a protest against the system which, was described by the late Lord Advocate as quite satisfactory. I venture to submit that it is going far in the way of a protest against any existing grievances to say that the House should vote for a Bill to altogether repeal obligations. This Bill would altogether repeal the assessments, without making provision for an obligation to which the heritors are undoubtedly subject, and which makes no provision whatever for the application of the money. Therefore, I venture to submit that the hon. Member is not very consistent in voting for this Bill as a protest. I repeat that I expect my Bill to remedy most of the existing grievances, and if it does not do so to the satisfaction of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, he can state his objections in Committee. The hon. Member has brought forward his Bill for four years in succession, and if it is thrown out now he can renew his case in connection with the Bill of the Government.
, in reply, said, that a man who was so busy at the Bar as Lord Advocate Young was, would not have much time to see how the system of church rates worked. But whatever respect they might have for him, certainly no opinion could be more at variance with the facts than his opinion as just quoted. Although Lord Advocate Young opposed the Bill one year, he afterwards promised that if the motion for the second reading were withdrawn, the Government would bring in a Bill on the subject, which was an admission that the system did not work satisfactorily, and he afterwards spoke to the same effect in Edinburgh. The hon. Baronet the Member for Fifeshire thought he (Mr. M'Laren) had taken an inconsistent part as between this rate and the school rate. This he denied, and thought that on this particular question there was here a great principle involved. The hon. Baronet said that he objected to put into the pockets of the landowners of Scotland the £50,000 which they had paid for 150 years, and he read some of his (Mr. M'Laren's) remarks to that effect; but the hon. Baronet did not notice what he had himself said or done when he (Mr. M'Laren) wished to take a division. He appeared to have taken no trouble in opposing the clause, but got a cheap popularity by expressing the opinion he 42 had just given utterance to, and afterwards accepted his share of the money. So far as he could see the argument of the hon. Baronet was all in his favour, for the £50,000 at issue in the former argument had been swallowed up by the landowners, although it had not been given for schools for the members of the Established Church, but for schools for the whole of the parishioners, and the Bill then before the House was to abolish church rates, levied not for the benefit of the whole parish, but for that smaller section which belonged to the Established Church. He could not withdraw the Bill, as had been suggested.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, with regard to the question whether it was the intention of the Government to go on with the Bill which they introduced yesterday, and, if possible, pass it into law this Session, that if it had not been the intention of the Government to pass the Bill, he would not have been a party to its introduction. He must enter a respectful but firm protest against one observation made by the hon. Member for St. Andrews. The hon. Gentleman said nothing was further from his intention than to vote for a measure which should relieve the landlords from the liability which the land was under, and put the money into their pockets, and he said he did not approve of many of the details of the present measure, and should wish to see it amended. But what was a detail? The sole cause of this Bill was to take away the liability from the landlord and to put the money in the landlord's pocket. For that reason, on the part of the Government, he (Mr. Assheton Cross) was strongly opposed to it.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 155; Noes 210: Majority 55.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.