§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. M'Laren.)
§ MR. MARK STEWART,
in moving that the Bill be read a second time upon this day three months, said, that the principle of the measure was one which had often been discussed in the House, and on which there was no new light to be thrown; still, he regretted that the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) had not thought fit to address the House in explanation in moving the second reading. He (Mr. Stewart) was himself heartily hostile to the principle of the Bill; still he felt that the question was one which ought to have been settled before this time—he thought the Government should have brought forward some proposal which would have been satisfactory to the people of Scotland. There was a great amount of exaggeration on this question, and on previous occasions hon. Members who had come down to vote on the Bill had not had their attention specially directed to some essential points, and failing to understand had voted somewhat blindly. The very title of the measure was misleading —because he would undertake to say that the people in Scotland did not know what church rates were. There was the greatest difference between church rates as they were formerly levied in England and what were termed church rates in Scotland. In England they were levied on the inhabitants of the parish in respect of property, for the repair of the fabric of the church and the maintenance of the churchyard. In Scotland, for very many years, there had been an "assessment"—that was the proper word to use—on the owners of land which was applied to the building and maintenance of the church, and the repair of the manses and church property. The burden was one which had been borne in Scotland from time immemorial, and one which the proprie- 1131 tors were not unwilling to continue. It was, as it were, a permanent debt on the land, and as the proprietors had purchased their lands subject to this assessment, it could not be considered a matter of hardship. The church rates used to be levied in England every year; but that was not the case in Scotland, for there the assessments were only made once in GO or 80 years. There were, no doubt, some cases of hardship, for the ministers of rival denominations were called on to pay for the repair of churches and manses belonging to the Established Church; and a feuar who had bought a small piece of land and had built on it might on an emergency, where a church or manse had to be built, be called on to pay on many times the value of his holding. But these were hardships which could be met without abolishing the Church assessment throughout Scotland. All the petty repairs done in the interior of the church and to a churchyard were executed at the expense of the heritors and out of the collections made at the church doors; whereas in England this, and a great deal more, were paid out of the church rates. In 1563, at one of the sittings of the Scotch Parliament, confirmed again at Stirling in the same year, it was decided that a clergyman of a church should pay one-third towards upholding the church and the churchyard, and that the heritors or parishioners should pay the other two-thirds. In 1685 it was held that the heritors and persons who paid assessment towards the Church should be proportionately liable. In 1781, in the Crieff case, it was held that the heritors should pay on the valued rent—which rent he might explain was fixed by an Act of Parliament dating so far back as the time of Cromwell. In 1802 there was the Peterhead case, in which the Crieff case was upheld; but on an appeal it was held that both the heritors and feuars should pay on the real rent, and that every feuar should be considered in the eye of the law as a heritor. Up to 1854 the heritors had paid on the old valued rents for maintaining the churches, manses, and glebes in Scotland. In 1854, however, the Lands Valuation Act for Scotland was passed, and as that valuation was based on the present rentals of property, no doubt a vast number of persons, considering the increase in rents which had taken place, were called on to pay who had never 1132 been called on to pay before, and it I might be a hardship to call on them to I contribute unduly towards the payments required. He would readily consent to any reasonable proposal for their relief; but he considered it most unjust that the Established Church of Scotland should be deprived altogether of the rates upon which it depended for the religious accommodation of the people. He was happy to say that in the district in Scotland in which he lived there were no cases of dispute, nor could he now remember one having occurred. No doubt in some places there were cases where ministers demanded more than the heritors thought they were entitled to; but with regard to the assessment on the feuars he did not remember any difficulty occurring. He thought these grievances might be removed without going to the extreme of sweeping away the whole of the rates; but it was a question with which the Government should deal. It was useless to press this measure, for it was plainly impossible that the Bill opposed as it was could be passed into law this Session. Although the lion. Member for Edinburgh had stated over and over again that he was not hostile to the Church of Scotland, and that he was its truest friend, yet a glance at the names of the hon. Members on the back of the Bill would be enough to assure the House that, though they might be earnest in their endeavours to promote the interests of Scotland, they were not friendly to the Church. The Government, he believed, were aware of the desirability of settling this question, and he hoped to hear from the Treasury Bench that they would bring in a measure next Session. Last Session the Lord Advocate (Lord Gordon) brought in a Bill (Ecclesiastical Assessments (Scotland) Bill) which would have settled the matter if it had not been withdrawn. And in passing the Valuation Act of 1854 it was the intention of the Government to put the feuars in very much the same position as they were placed in now. That was that the feuars who paid nothing then, in all probability would pay little or nothing now. There was another view which had been put forward—namely, the proposal of commutation. He knew that some hon. Gentlemen conceived that that was a fair and equitable mode of settling this question. On the other hand, however, it was argued that if 1133 they admitted the principle of commutation, they would sever that interest which had hitherto existed between the heritors or landed proprietors and the Church of Scotland. If this Bill was a child of the Liberation Society, he thought the sooner they knew what that Society was going to do for the Church of Scotland the better. He maintained that the Church of Scotland worked well, and was doing a great and good work; and they had no such difficulties to contend with in Scotland as the Dissenters had to contend with in England—such, for instance, as the burials question. He asked the Government to give some pledge that they would take up this question, and do their best to settle it.
§ SIR GRAHAM MONTGOMERY
Mr. Speaker, I do not propose to take up the time of the House at any length in seconding this Amendment, so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigtown. I have on previous occasions expressed my opinions on this Bill, and I quite agree with what has been said by the hon. Member who preceded me. I think that the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) should certainly have favoured the House with his views on the Bill before waiting for the opportunity of replying to the debate; and I cannot help thinking that he is not so earnest about this matter as he used to be, for if we look at the Bill itself he does not seem to have taken much trouble with reference to it. According to one of the provisions, patrons are to be the parties to appoint trustees. Now, we know that patronage has been abolished. If my hon. Friend has one remarkable characteristic, it is that of being accurate, and that he should produce his Bill without taking the trouble to make that alteration seems to me to show that he is less in earnest than he used to be.
§ MR. M'LAREN,
interposing, remarked that patrons would still have the power, being now the communities.
§ SIR GRAHAM MONTGOMERY
There is no doubt my hon. Friend will be able to give a satisfactory explanation of this when he comes to make his reply; but I think I am justified in pointing to that clause and drawing the inference that he has not taken trouble with regard to other matters. The hon. Member for Wigtownshire has pointed out the difference between church rates in Scotland and in England, remarking that 1134 there was no such thing as church rates in Scotland properly so called. In England the rates were imposed by a vote of a majority of the inhabitants; but in Scotland the church assessments are laid on the land, and no one can escape from them. In England it was only the fabric or body of the church that was maintained by a church rate, and the clergyman had the onus resting upon him of maintaining the chancel of the church, and had to pay for the repair of the parsonage and glebe house, which we all know was a grievous burden. A Committee sat on this question last Session, and made a valuable Report on the subject, to which I purpose to allude. No one will deny that there are grievances and difficulties with regard to church assessments in Scotland. One thing is the uncertainty of this rate, and that is especially the case with regard to new churches. When a new church is built it is a grievous burden to have to pay down a large sum of money, and I agree that in the case of a new church the assessment should be spread over a period of 20 years. That is one of the things which ought to be done. The heritors are not protected as they might be from injury. I have often seen, when a vacancy has occurred in Scotland, and consequently a manse has been shut up, that all the windows have been broken, and when a new clergyman was appointed the heritors had to make the injury good. Now, although the Established Church has certain rights, I do not think it right to abolish assessments without giving the Church some compensation. It has been suggested that we should have commutation. I observe that the Committee which sat upon the Dilapidations Acts of 1871 recommended that all the parsonages and glebe houses in England should be put under the Charity Board of Queen Anne's Bounty. It occurs to me that something of the same kind might be done with regard to Scotland. We might have an Ecclesiastical Board, which would take charge of the repairs of churches and manses in Scotland. I think, therefore, we ought to wait and see whether there is to be any legislation with reference to parsonages in England before we commit ourselves to the abolition of church rates in Scotland. Before I conclude, I wish to join in an appeal to Her Majesty's Government to take this question into consideration. I think it is one well 1135 worthy of their serious attention. 11 am not one of those who are much in favour of the Bills proposed on the churches and manses assessment during the last two years. I am in favour of altering the incidence of taxation in reference to those matters. The Lord Advocate, I hope, will turn his attention to the subject, and there is no man in Scotland better able to do it justice. I trust the Government will find some means, without robbing the Church of its rights, to settle this question in a satisfactory manner.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Mark Stewart.)
§ MR. BAXTER
said, the case against the Bill had been most lucidly and candidly explained by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, and he must confess that in a great many of the statements which they had made he altogether concurred. It could not be denied that the church rates which had been abolished in England were not in all respects analogous to the payments which his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) in the present Bill proposed to render in Scotland voluntary instead of compulsory. He would, however, point out to the House that if the title given to his Bill by the hon. Member for Edinburgh was correctly described as "misleading," so also might the title of the Bill introduced by the Government last year; because those sums due for building and maintaining the parish churches and manses in Scotland were no more "assessments" than they were "rates," and therefore those who opposed this Bill on the misnomer ground, and at the same time supported the Bill which was introduced last year, in his humble opinion had not a leg to stand on. He entirely concurred in the statement of the Mover of the Amendment (Mr. M. Stewart) that these payments were burdens on the land. Now, what he wanted to put before the House was, that it by no means followed that it was proper and right and wise to continue these burdens when the circumstances had entirely changed, and when the Church of Scotland no longer claimed a majority of the population. The hon. Member for Edinburgh favoured the House last year with statistics on this 1136 head. His hon. Friend was well known for the accuracy of his statistics, and he had himself gone carefully through them, and found that, if anything, the hon. Gentleman had understated the case. He pointed out that the Established Church had between 1,300 and 1,400 congregations; but of these, only about 1,000 were endowed from public sources—the rest—between 300 and 400—were purely voluntary; they paid their own ministers, and built and repaired their own edifices. With these this Bill had nothing to do. On the other hand, the hon. Member showed that the different denominations in Scotland other than the Established Church numbered 2,600 congregations, and the hon. Member said that the Church of Scotland was no longer the Church of the majority, and he advanced that as a reason why these payments should no longer be made. This had been fully sustained by subsequent inquiries. Last year, as was well known, The Glasgow Daily Mail appointed persons to count the number of persons who attended the various churches in that city, and the result they gave was that 71,850 attended the Established Church, and 149,993 attended other places of worship. A similar census was taken in Aberdeen, and it was found that 9,308 attended the Established Church, and 18,845 attended other places of worship. There were a great many parishes where the congregation was less than a dozen; there were a few where no service was held, because there was no congregation at all; and so absurd was the state of things that a Bill was brought in that no clergyman should be appointed to any parish where there would be less than 50 communicants. It certainly never was the intention of their ancestors that the religious accommodation of the people should be provided in the present manner—nevertheless, in relieving the land of these rates, he would not leave them in the hands of the landed proprietors, but would make them national property, and devote them to some useful object in connection with the education and improvement of the people. If that were not done, then in those parishes and counties where the members of the Free Church were in the majority it would be but only justice that they should be transferred to them. Another reason why a settlement of this question was desirable was, that the landed proprietors of Scotland were be- 1137 ginning to find that the burdens were really much more onerous than they used to be, owing to the great fact that the people of Scotland were no longer content with the barnlike churches they formerly had, but wanted something of a more ornate description. Consequently, the charges were such as never were contemplated by those who laid these burdens on the land. It used to be said that there was no grievance at all in these church rates. Now, the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment had not only admitted the grievance, but had very forcibly stated what that grievance was. The Act of 1854 raised complaints from all the small feuars in Scotland; Petitions were sent to that House, and finally the Government admitted the grievance by bringing in the Ecclesiastical Assessments Bill of last year. It was true they did not press that Bill, but it answered the purpose for which it was intended by putting a spoke in the wheel of the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh. He did not believe that the temporary expedients that had been proposed had in them the elements of success. The hon. Member for Edinburgh might not carry his Bill this year—indeed, he (Mr. Baxter) doubted if he would ever carry his Bill—because the question must be settled on a different basis; but the course taken by the opponents of the measure, in refusing to redress the real and prime grievance in Scotland, had greatly strengthened the hands of those who did not desire to see the Church of Scotland more popular than it was, and who thought that the time was approaching when the State ecclesiastical endowments in Scotland must be fully and fairly considered by Parliament. Anything more unsatisfactory, unreasonable, and almost absurd than the arrangements of the ecclesiastical government of Scotland could not be conceived, and whatever happened to this Bill, the effect would be that before many years elapsed the whole subject must be considered by the British Parliament.
§ MR. VANS AGNEW
said, it seemed extraordinary that a Bill should be brought in for the abolition of church rates, when it was admitted on all hands that church rates did not exist in Scotland. The hon. Member for Edinburgh found it necessary to define in the Interpretation Clause what was meant by the title of his Bill. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Baxter) had 1138 said that if the Bill were to pass and the burden of maintaining the ecclesiastical buildings was to be removed from the land of Scotland, the result would not be that the proprietors of the land would be benefited to that extent, but that the increase of value gained by the remission of the burden should be considered national property. That was the argument of the Liberation Society —that the property of the National Church was not the property of the Church, but the property of the State. He did not think that argument would find favour in that House. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that the members of the Established Church were not the majority of the people of Scotland. He joined issue with him on that statement. At least, it might be said was that there was no other denomination that was so numerous as the Church of Scotland. Putting together all that belonged to other denominations, they did not equal the number of members of the Established Church. There was a large residuum that did not belong to any Church, and it was always held that where an Established Church existed it was bound, in return for its endowment by the State, to endeavour to reclaim and bring into its fold all persons in that position. Therefore, if they did not profess to belong to any Church, they must be considered as belonging to the Established Church; and if that were so, it gave that Church a decided majority over all the other religious Bodies of Scotland put together. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that there were 1,300 Congregations in the Established Church, but that only 900 of these were endowed by the State, and he claimed the remaining 400 as supporters of the Voluntary principle. But these 400 Congregations, by defraying the whole of their own expenses in connection with, and as members of, the Established Church, proved their attachment to it, and that they held the very opposite principle to that which the right hon. Member asserted. "When the right hon. Member said there were 900 Congregations of the Established Church, and 2,600 other Congregations, which must include 400 belonging to the Established Church, he did not state the number in each Congregation—the proper test was the number of communicants and adherents, and in this respect the Established Church need not be afraid 1139 of comparison with the other Churches of Scotland. Admitting that the great bulk of the population in certain counties left the Established, and joined the Free, Church, they did not go out on the Voluntary principle, but they joined at the time of the Disruption on a question of Church government, still holding that it was the duty of the State to maintain an Established Church. That was still the feeling among members of the Free Church in the Highland counties of Scotland. This had been proved since the passing of the Patronage Act, and the right hon. Gentleman would find, in the course of a few years, that the great bulk of those who left the Established Church solely on account of patronage would now, when this was abolished, return to the Established Church. On what ground, he asked, should the money taken from the Established Church be given to the Free Church, as he had suggested? "Would it not be an Establishment if it received an endowment from the State? A more extraordinary argument he could not conceive. He regretted, however, that the Government had not brought in a Bill this Session which would have settled the question. He admitted that there was a grievance, but he did not think the hon. Member for Edinburgh had gone the right way to remove it, and therefore he must give his vote in opposition to the Bill. It seemed to him that the intention of the Bill was to confiscate the property of the Church, and to give it to the landowners who did not want it. It would be an act of spoliation, and on this account he should vote against it.
§ MR. M'LAGAN,
while agreeing with much that had been said on the opposite side, intended to vote in favour of the second reading of the Bill. He did not agree with all the details of the Bill, but he thought the grievances of the present system had been so strongly stated by those who moved and seconded the Amendment, that he need not enter into further particulars. The legal obligation to contribute to the maintenance of the ecclesiastical buildings of Scotland fell upon the landed proprietors—or heritors, as they were called. He did not wish that they should be relieved from it; but he did agree most heartily that the feuars, who were only called upon to pay by the Act of 1854, should not continue saddled with it. So far as they were concerned the tax was unfair, unjust, and; 1140 unreasonable. The assessments might be commuted into a gross sum, and from that fund the repairs of the ecclesiastical buildings might be kept up, and whatever else was wanted should be supplied by the voluntary subscriptions of the people. If more confidence were shown in the people, he felt convinced that a much larger sum would be got—that there would be more comfortable manses for the clergy, and better churches for the people, and he trusted the time would come when this arrangement would be made. The resistance now made to the rates in some parts of Scotland was so much against the progress of true and vital religion that the sooner the Church looked to it the better. Since the abolition of patronage the Church of Scotland had shown a vitality she had never shown before, and year after year new churches were springing up to be supported on the voluntary system. He did not blame the Government for not bringing in a Bill this year, seeing how difficult it was to get forward the measures in hand; but from what the House had seen of the Lord Advocate, he trusted he would bring in a Bill on the lines of that of last year, which would give satisfaction to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, and would settle the question under the existing system. Still, he thought the Government had done wisely in having another discussion of the subject this year, for the further it was probed the more the injustice appeared, and he hoped that in another year the Government would bring in a Bill on the subject. In the meanwhile, he should vote in favour of this Bill, as a protest against the existing system.
§ MR. ORR EWING
I agree very much with what has fallen from my hon. Friend who has just spoken. I think his arguments are to a great extent the arguments which I myself used upon a previous occasion in urging upon the Government the course which I thought they ought to pursue; but they led me to a very different conclusion from that at which he has arrived upon this matter. I think the hon. Member's statements were a little inconsistent. He says—"I do not wish to relieve the landlords of Scotland of one farthing of the burden which is now put upon them;" yet, at the same time, he says—"I wish to have a scheme of commutation, to be supplemented by voluntary contributions." Now, what does that point to? Does 1141 it not point to this—that by this system of commutation the Church is to lose something, but she is to be compensated by voluntary contributions? The hon. Gentleman than goes on to describe the energy at present manifested in the Church of Scotland. I admit it; but I say that all that energy is required to supplement the provision that is already made by endowments and establishments. But the hon. Member says— "Because you do so much in the voluntary way, why do you not go a step farther, and give away a little of what you just now received by law from the land?" I admire the Church of Scotland, and I believe everyone must admire the great energy with which she is carrying on her work; but I say that is not a reason for impairing what she is entitled to by law. In fact, I think that this constant nibbling at the Church of Scotland by small measures brought in by the hon. Member for Edinburgh and the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay), whose hostility to the Church of Scotland, not only as a corporate body, but to the individual members of that Church, is well known, is unworthy and discreditable. If you wish to destroy the Church, do it as a whole, but do not nibble at it in this way. Endeavour, if you will, to get a sufficient number of the members of the community and of the Church to agree with you that the Church should be disestablished and disendowed, and its property taken for educational purposes; but do not by such a Bill as this take away money that belongs to the Church and put it into the pockets of the landowners, to whom the Church is as much entitled to look for the maintenance of the churches and manses as she is to the possession of the glebes. The right hon. Member for the Montrose Burghs (Mr. Baxter) admitted the fallacy of this Bill. He admitted that the money did not belong to the landowners; and he also gave statistics as to the members of the Church of Scotland; but I do not think that a matter of any great consequence —the statistics put before the House by the right hon. Member for the Montrose Burghs can have no effect in determining whether the burden of the maintenance of church buildings ought to be removed from where it now rests. Besides, had the right hon. Gentleman any reliable authority for those statistics? He had none whatever. Why is it that he and 1142 his friends on that side of the House—or, at least, those of them who are hostile to the Established Church—refuse to give information upon these subjects when the Census was taken in 1861 and 1871? Did not that prove that they felt sure that the real statistics would by no means bear out their argument? But I say it is unfair to argue that the members of the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Church, and the other Nonconformist Churches of Scotland are against the Established Church, though they belong to Dissenting Churches. We know that in the Church Courts, and especially that of the Free Church, the question of disestablishment has been brought forward this year, and has been carried by a large majority. But the General Assembly of the Free Church is packed by majorities in the Presbyteries, who send men up there for the purpose of carrying these extreme views. We know also that there are very large minorities in the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church who are opposed to disestablishing. I do not hesitate to say that there are very large minorities of the laity in those Dissenting Churches who are in favour of the Establishment, and who, differing from her as they may upon matters of Church government since the Patronage Act was passed, have no wish to see the old historic Church of Scotland injured, but rather strengthened. If there is one part of Scotland where the Free Church is strongest it is in the Highlands, and I do not hesitate to say that nine-tenths of the people in the Highlands are opposed to disestablishment. Everyone must admire the pertinacity of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, who is thoroughly in earnest in everything he takes up. I remember reading lately that a certain right hon. Gentleman opposite said that Radicalism is synonymous with earnestness, and I must say that my claim, as far as being earnest in the maintenance of the Church of Scotland goes, to be considered a Radical in that sense, is as strong as that of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, for I am as earnest for the maintenance of that Church—believing it to be for the interest of the country—as the hon. Member is for her destruction. Although he has brought in this Bill year after year, he has not yet succeeded in convincing the House of the justice of his proposal. The late Government opposed 1143 it, and I think one of the best speeches ever made upon the subject was made by Lord Young, who was then the Lord Advocate, in opposing the Bill, carrying with him a large majority. He proved to demonstration that church rates do not exist in Scotland. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, however, had not thought it right to change the misleading name which he has given to his Bill. This charge is a burden upon the land, and therefore it is unfair for the hon. Member, year after year, to bring in this Bill to abolish church rates when no such rates exist. At the same time, I do not complain of the hon. Member for persisting with this measure this' year, because I do think there was a pledge given by the Government that they would take up this subject and settle it. That pledge was given by Lord Gordon, when he was Lord Advocate, and I regret very much that the matter was not undertaken by the Government. I hope they will bring forward a measure upon the lines of the Bill introduced last year, as that is the only way, in my opinion, in which this question can be settled. I believe that a grievance does exist; but it would be removed by such a measure as that of last year, which would relieve the feuar upon the building he had erected, but not his land. That, I think, would be a just and equitable way of settling this question, which I am as anxious as anybody to have settled. I shall, however, certainly oppose this Bill of the hon. Member. It is wrong in principle, and it does not dispose of the money in the way in which it ought to be disposed of. I do hope that the Government will give an answer to the hon. Member and the House that they will deal with this subject in the same way as they proposed to do last year, and that the hon. Member will not trouble the House to divide upon his Bill.
§ MR. RAMSAY
supported the second reading. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Orr Ewing) had declared the title of the Bill to be a misnomer, because, he said, there were no church rates in Scotland; but the hon. Gentleman had forgotten that for the last three centuries there had been ecclesiastical assessments in that country, and he should have liked to have heard explained to English Members what constituted the difference between an assessment and a rate. He was not aware of any difference. Ecclesiastical assessments 1144 in Scotland were in all respects the same as ecclesiastical assessments in England, and were identical in their nature and incidence. Church rates for the repair of the fabric of the church were levied on lands and houses, and any person who did not reside on his property was liable to the assessment on his property in the parish where that property was. When it was said that the owners of land were willing to bear the burden, he must say that the experience of those who made that assertion was different from his own. He believed the owners of land in Scotland were just as anxious to get rid of it as the proprietors of real estate in England were, and he should be glad to see them receive the same justice. The law that was good for England should be obtained for Scotland. On what principle they were to maintain a different law on this subject between the two countries he could not see. As far as he was concerned, he had no objection to commutation; but, then, commutation should be so arranged as not to fix the minority with the liability of the majority; but if the only way to remove existing grievances was by disestablishment, the sooner the Church was disestablished the better. No one had ever heard him advocate disestablishment, but the wrongs that existed in some of the Highland parishes were such that a remedy was urgently required. He, and those with whom he was in unison on this question, were desirous that the law of Scotland should be the same as the law of England; and he thought, in the spirit of fair play which was the characteristic of England, that the views of those who opposed this Bill should not be agreed to by the House. For his part, he heartily supported the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, the object of which was to remove an excrescence from the Established Church of Scotland, and to place all on a just equality.
§ SIR WILLIAM CUNINGHAME
said, it appeared to him that some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Ramsay) were of a rather inconsistent character. The hon. Member first stated that the church assessments in Scotland and the church rates in England were identical, then pointed out many respects in which they were not identical, and finally ended by expressing a hope that they would hear no more of the difference of identity be- 1145 tween the two forms of contribution. Now, for his part, he (Sir William Cuninghame) thought the difference between the two contributions was so conclusively proved and decided on previous occasions that it was hardly necessary to go into the matter again. But he might be allowed to point out to the hon. Member that in England the church rates were always voluntary, whilst in Scotland they were involuntary. ["Oh!"] An hon. Member had cried "Oh!" but it was a fact. If the majority of the parishioners of any particular parish in England chose to refuse a church rate, there were no means of compelling them to vote one—therefore, whether they would pay or not was entirely in their own option, whilst in Scotland they had no power to refuse. That made a considerable difference between England and Scotland. Nobody could contest that there was any question of a voluntary rate in Scotland, as the landed proprietors in Scotland were compelled to pay the rates, and had no voice in the matter. He would say no more on that subject, and only alluded to it because the hon. Member had again brought forward the often exploded theory that the two charges were identical. It had been said that considering that the Government had made considerable admissions that grievances did exist, and no doubt did make three years ago a promise that the matter should receive their attention, and had not yet taken the subject in hand, they were bound, if not to accept the Bill of the hon. Member, at least to treat it with much more consideration than if those promises had not been made, to which proposition he partly assented, but to the further proposal he rather demurred, that the Government should bring in a Bill to deal with the question at as early a period as possible. He fully admitted what had been stated, that the promises and engagements of the Government two years ago had, to a certain extent, "placed a spoke in the wheel" of the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh; but he thought that that hardly supplied a reason for urging the Government to undertake the question. He considered that promises and engagements of this character should be considered as subject to certain qualifications—for instance, there was one excuse that would certainly be generally allowed, "want of time," 1146 which—if the Government had employed it—would certainly have been admitted as a plea for postponing or dropping the matter altogether. There was another qualification, that of possibility, in this case a very strong one. The late Lord Advocate (Lord Gordon) made promises that he would bring in a Bill, and he made great exertions to keep his word— he prepared several measures—certainly three or four—he held numerous meetings on the subject of Scotch Members, and, in fact, took a great deal of trouble; but, having done that, he found that it was utterly impossible to prepare a Bill that would be accepted generally, either in the House or in the country. It was found impossible to fix a point up to which those friendly to the Established Church would go, which would, at the same time, be accepted by the other side as even a temporary settlement of the question; and, under those circumstances, the attempt was given up. He thought the late Lord Advocate had no reason to be mortified at failing to effect a solution of the question, which he thought was impossible from the first. That being so, it was not surprising that he differed from those who thought the present Lord Advocate should step into the shoes of Lord Gordon, and grapple with these difficulties. If one of the Government Bills had been pressed last Session, he was ready to have sunk his own particular views in order to have supported it; but he could not at present help feeling a considerable amount of satisfaction that matters were as they were. From the first he had disliked the compromise proposed, for after all they were little better than robbing Peter to pay Paul, and taking a burden off one class to put it upon another. Besides that, he thought it was better that the Conservative Party should stand on the defensive in the matter, and support and uphold the interests of the Church. If injury to the Church was to be done— and he supposed it would be done in time —he thought it better it should be done wholesale and completely by the Party that sat opposite, and on their responsibility, rather than that it should be done piecemeal by the Conservative Party conniving at what he would almost call spoliation. With regard to the point that had been raised as to the position of "feuars" as distinguished from other proprietors, he did not 1147 agree with his hon. Friend who had just spoken. Upon the broad principle of right and wrong he was utterly unable to see why, if it was right for proprietors to pay these charges, it was not also right that feuars should be called upon to pay them. He could not see that there was any solution of the matter possible by separating the feuars from the proprietors. He thought that the best solution would be that exemptions should be made of smaller proprietors—feuars and all—on account of their poverty, and not on account of their right. This charge on the land should be looked on as national property; and looking on it in that light there could be no doubt, if the Legislature considered that the sum of money was either improperly used or might be better applied, they would be perfectly justified in making an alteration; but he was not prepared to admit that that was the case. The Established Church of Scotland appeared to make a very good use of this property; and therefore they were fully entitled to retain it. It did not appear to him to be a matter of very much consequence whether it was the Church of the minority or the Church of the majority— it was the national Church, and he thought it was very well worth while for the nation to allow it to retain this fund for the purposes of religion. At any rate, it would be wrong to take the property from the Church for the purpose of giving it to private persons. He believed that these views were shared by many, who, like himself, were Nonconformists, in Scotland.
§ MR. LAING
said, it appeared to him that the question had been argued too exclusively upon legal grounds. It had been made too much a question of what the law was, and not what the law ought to be; and it had been left out of view that there was a large amount of practical hardship and a great amount of irritation involved under the present system. There was in his county a parish of about 2,000 inhabitants, the whole rental of which did not exceed £2,000. When the old clergyman died, the new minister required a new manse to be built, and after a litigation that cost between £300 and £400, the manse was built, the total cost being some £2,000. This fell with crushing severity upon the poor feuars; but, in addition, they built a Free church for themselves, 1148 and paid a minister of their own, and built him a manse—while at the same time they were compelled to pay £2,000 to a Church to which they did not belong. He asked whether that was a state of things which, looking at the existing law of church rates, ought to continue? He considered that the result of the abolition of church rates in England had been to strengthen rather than to weaken the position of the Church of England, and that Church was farther now from disestablishment than it would have been if there had been a resistance to the demands of a strong body like the Nonconformists. If he was arguing in the interests of the Nonconformists, he would ask the House to let matters remain as they were in regard to these rates, because he was sure that it was by such grievances that in course of time would arise a feeling which would go a great way towards the disestablishment of the whole Church. He considered that by adopting the voluntary system of church assessments they would be conferring a great advantage, not only upon the proprietors, but upon the Church itself. The question could not be settled by giving the money back to proprietors to put in their pockets; but there would not be the same feeling against the assessment if the money were to be applied to some great national object, such as education, in which all the inhabitants of a parish might have a share; and he considered that the Government, having promised to take up the matter, might bring forward some just and equitable compromise of the sort he had suggested. In any case, he thought it was desirable that in this matter there should be an assimilation of the law of Scotland to that of England, with a view to the removal of an admitted grievance which pressed heavily upon many people to whom the assessment applied.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
opposed the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, the effect of which would simply be to put the proceeds of the rates into the pockets of the landowners. The most extraordinary argument which had been advanced by the supporters of the Bill was that of the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay), who had told them that the church rates in Scotland were in all respects identical with the church rates in England before 1149 the latter were abolished. But the hon. Member could not have resided long in England in a house of his own, or he would have known that church rates in England were levied on personal property as well as on real property—which was not the case in Scotland.
§ MR. RAMSAY
What I said was that there was a rate levied on real estate for repair of the fabric of the Church distinct from the rate levied on persons, which personal rate was applied for the services of the Church.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
It had been urged that this Bill should be read a second time because many of the proprietors in Scotland concerned in this matter were Episcopalians; but that was rather a surprising argument, as these were not at all the people who wished to get rid of this assessment. They were, in fact, the very last who were likely to think of such a thing. It must be borne in mind that, though unfortunately in Scotland there were differences of opinion with regard to Church discipline, there was no difference whatever with regard to the Church itself. All adopted the same profession of faith, going to the Established Church, the Free Church, and the United Presbyterian Church alternately. That was what he wanted to encourage, and he set his face resolutely against anything which tended to encourage hostility on the part of one denomination as against another. With regard to the statistics of the right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), it was quite true that there were places in which those who were not members of the Established Church had increased much more largely than those who adhered to it. That was true; but the places where this had taken place were the cities and large towns; and he would point out that more than one-half of the income of the Free Church was derived from two Presbyteries alone— those of Edinburgh and Glasgow— where the wealthier classes were generally to be found. But it was equally true that those who adhered to the Established Church had increased in the rural districts; but the system which this Bill proposed to destroy was chiefly for the benefit of the rural districts. He could not vote for the Bill for another reason— because he believed it would be most injurious to pass such a measure at the present time. There had been a great move- 1150 ment for the disestablishment of the Scotch. Church, and the question now raised could not be separated from that of disestablishment. It was a singular thing that since the question of disestablishment had been raised in Scotland the Free Church appeared to have abandoned the original principle on which they left the Establishment, and to adhere to the principle which Dr. Chalmers held in 1843, still clinging to the principle of Establishment, and having left it only until they could return to it on a better footing. He had lately taken a good deal of trouble to ascertain the feelings of the three denominations in Scotland upon this subject, as regarded both clergy and laity, and he believed that there was a great desire to bring this question to an issue, in order if possible that Scotland might cease to have three Churches advocating the same principles and yet trying to destroy each other. He hoped to see some settlement of this question arrived at in a few years, and he should be very much inclined next Session, if the Government did not bring in a measure early, to move for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into ecclesiastical matters in Scotland in order to see whether a settlement might not be brought about.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he had spoken so often against this Bill that he did not propose to say much now, but he should like to make one or two observations in reply to some remarks which had fallen in the course of the debate. The hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) had laboured to show that the church rates in Scotland were exactly analogous to those which used to be levied in England; but the hon. Member's argument convinced him that they were utterly different things. This assessment was a burden upon the land. In England a church rate was levied upon the occupier, and not the proprietor, and it was levied by a majority in the parish upon the minority; and by the law as it formerly stood the majority was enabled to compel the minority to pay an obnoxious rate; nay, he understood that by the law, a minority could impose the rate on a majority, and all the majority could do in such a case was to modify it. That rate had no analogy with the one in Scotland, which was purely a burden upon the land. He did not understand the political morality of 1151 hon. Members who voted for a Bill which they avowedly disliked as a protest against something else which they disliked. Every Bill ought to be judged on its own merits, and by what it intended to do itself. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. M'Lagan) denounced the Bill in every sentence of his speech as one which would relieve the proprietors of the soil of a burden which was upon it at the time they acquired their property; and yet he was going to vote for it by way of protest against a different thing. He did not know how the hon. Member could arrange that with his political conscience. He admitted there was some grievance; but he maintained that that Bill was not the proper mode of dealing with it. The Government had already had the subject before them, and he had no doubt they would have it again. He should oppose the Bill on the present occasion, and he should continue to do so as long as it was brought before the House.
said, that as an English Member of Parliament, he must protest against the assertion that there was any similarity between the church rates in England and what were termed church rates in Scotland. Many hon. Members, in coming down to this discussion, would imagine that these so-called church rates were similar to those in England, which had now been abolished; whereas they were totally dissimilar, and the title and Preamble of the Bill, therefore, he characterized as being deceptive. He did not believe there was a single landed proprietor in Scotland who objected to this assessment; and the relations between the Dissenters in Scotland to the Established Church were quite different from those of the Nonconformists to the Church of England. But the Bill was skilfully designed to catch English votes, because English Members would naturally think that what was fair for England must be fair for Scotland also. He would give statistics of two parishes with which he was concerned. In one parish there were 100 proprietors, of whom for many years only five were assessed, though now ten were assessed, the remainder—small feuars—were not assessed at all. If this Bill were to pass, the assessment would rest on two persons. In the other parish there were six larger proprietors, of whom only two belonged to the Estab- 1152 lished Church, one of the two being a non-resident, so that the assessment for that parish might fall on a single individual. According to this Bill the money now paid by the other proprietors would go into their pockets, which, he thought, would he most unfair. But the most important distinction between church rates in England and this assessment in Scotland laid in the entirely different origin of the two things. In 1871, when the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) brought forward his first Bill on this subject, the late Lord Advocate Young was called upon to give his opinion. He said he was totally against compulsory church rates anywhere. He further said—But it is a wide step from the abolition of compulsory church rates in England to the measure which is now before the House. The assessments with which this Bill professes to deal are applicable, according to the interpretation of the Bill itself, to three distinct purposes —first, the building and maintaining of churches; second, the building and maintaining of manses; and, third, for providing or enlarging any glebes —that is, the land given to the clergyman as a part of the provision for his maintenance. For all these purposes, the laws of Scotland, from an early period, have made provision. Churches, according to law, are built and upheld by the parishioners—an expression interpreted by very old decisions, and always understood to mean the heritors or landed proprietors of the parish. Manses, in the same way, are provided and upheld as part of the provision of the minister by the same commissioners—namely, the heritors. Glebes in like manner are, under the compulsion of the same law, provided for by substantially the same parties. The law of Scotland, therefore, with respect to churches, stands in very obvious contrast with the law of England. The law of England makes no compulsory provision for building or upholding of churches, with the exception only of the chancel, the burden of upholding which was upon the proprietor of the tithes. As to the body of the church, for the maintenance of that the parishioners, or a certain number of them, were authorized, if they pleased, to impose a church rate, to be levied upon all the occupiers of land and houses in parishes, and that was the only church rate which might or might not be imposed, in the discretion of a certain number of the parishioners, and which, when imposed, was levied upon the occupants of all lands and houses in the parish, and was applicable to keeping in repair the body as distinguished from the chancel of the church. That was the rate for the abolition of which the Act was passed in England. The present Bill is a reproduction or transcript of the English Church Rates Act; but it would take away from the parish clergy their manses and their glebes, these being matters with which the English Church Rates Bill had no concern."—[3 Hamsard, ccvii. 1180–81.]This ought to be conclusive that the two 1153 charges were entirely dissimilar in their origin, and therefore the argument that because church rates had been abolished in England they should be abolished in Scotland fell to the ground. He was sorry the hon. Member for Edinburgh had not opened the debate, so that they might have heard from him some further reasons for passing this Bill, for what he (Captain Home) had heard from other supporters of the Bill had not convinced him at all. The right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), for instance, said there had been great complaints among the proprietors about this burden on land; but the right hon. Gentleman did not propose that they should be relieved from the burden—what he proposed was that the burden should still be imposed not only on the proprietors, but on the feuars, the money was to go to the State. He (Captain Home) joined with the other Members who had expressed a hope that the Government would deal with the grievances that admittedly did exist in Scotland with regard to this matter. In parishes with which he was connected it was considered a very great grievance that the small feuars had been brought in as they had been by the Valuation Act of 1854. Before that date the feuars were legally liable, but it had been practically impossible to levy the tax, and he, therefore, thought the feuars should be excluded from the assessment, either as an act of grace by the larger proprietors, or —what would be still better—through the action of that House. There were many instances of their exclusion; but if a single heritor objected to the feuars being left out, they had to be brought in. The tax was most unpopular, and he hoped that the Government would deal with the question early next Session. But with regard to the Bill before the House, the Preamble was deceptive, and he thought the principle radically wrong. He was not afraid to use the word "spoliation" with regard to it. On one occasion the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. M'Lagan) said that to pass the Bill then before the House would be an act of sacrilege, but in spite of that he had hitherto voted for the Bill, and was going to vote for it now. For himself he (Captain Home), thought that so long as the Church of Scotland did its duty, it would be an act of sacrilege to take away a farthing of what 1154 was its just due. He should vote cordially against the second reading of the Bill.
THE LORD ADVOCATE
said, many arguments and topics had been introduced in the course of the debate, but he should confine his observations to the Bill before the House. It appeared to him that there was quite sufficient in the principle of the Bill to ensure its condemnation. He would first ask what the Bill proposed to do; and, secondly, whether its proposals were entirely consistent with the rights and interests of the parties concerned? What the Bill proposed to do was to convert a compulsory into a voluntary rate—to enable those to pay who chose to do so, and to enable those who did not choose to pay to keep their money in their pockets. The Bill proposed no other object. There was no provision for exacting the money from those who were liable to pay the assessment, nor any application of the proceeds to the purposes of the State, or any other purpose; but, on the other hand, there was no abolition of the tax. The only operative clauses in the measure were these—the tax was to be levied as heretofore, by those who had been accustomed to levy it, upon those who had been accustomed to pay it, with the simple qualification that those on whom it was levied need not pay it unless they liked; and permission was given to parties under restriction, such as factors, trustees, and others, to make voluntary payment if they saw fit to do so. He had not had the honour before that day of hearing a debate on the subject in that House; but he ventured to say that any casual student of Hansard since 1870 would have no difficulty in culling from that source every argument that had been advanced that day on either side—with the exception, he thought, of the arguments of the right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter). Unquestionably the suggestions that fell from the right hon. Gentleman were based on principles of disestablishment pure and simple. One of his propositions was to take these funds from the Church, to divert them from the purposes to which they were at present applicable, and to apply them for the future to some worthy national purpose. He (the Lord Advocate) should be quite ready to meet the right hon. Gentleman in argument whenever such 1155 a measure was proposed in the House; but he objected to a proposal to convert a Bill which had one distinct object and purpose into a Bill founded on a totally different principle, and having a totally different purpose in view. They might by changes of detail often convert one Bill into another; but they could not affirm the principle of the measure which was indicated by the right hon. Member for Montrose, and at the same time retain the principle of the Bill of the hon. Member for Edinburgh. The two were essentially different—and to turn one Bill into the other they must alter the principle as well as the details. He could quite understand that when a general assent was given by the House to the principle of a measure, the details might be changed in Committee, and very extensive alterations introduced for the purpose of carrying out and giving effect to the principle on which the Bill proceeded; but that could not be done in this case—for whereas the principle of this Bill was to put into the pockets of landed proprietors money not applied to other purposes, leaving those who chose to do so to give it for its present purpose, they would, if they followed the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, convert the Bill in Committee into an Act for taking away money from the heritor and from the Church, and for giving it to persons who were neither named nor indicated in this Bill. Therefore, it was idle now to discuss the merits of such a measure as the right hon. Member for Montrose suggested, for to give effect to the principle which he suggested involved, upon the plainest principles of common sense and logic, a direct negation of the Bill with which the House was dealing and of its principle. After what had been said as to the character of these assessments or payments—and they were more in the nature of irregularly recurring payments than of rates or assessments—he did not think their character admitted of doubt. It had been very fairly admitted on all hands that for a period of something less than two centuries—since the Union— this had been a parochial burden, and a burden upon land; and he ventured to say that, with very few exceptions, if they were to investigate the transmission of landed estates in Scotland from one proprietor to another, they would certainly find that those who held land now 1156 to the largest extent, held it on the footing that they did not pay the full value the property would otherwise yield, because of the burdens placed upon it by the law of the land. It mattered not whether this was Statute or Judge-made law, it had been an inherent part of the land laws of the country for two centuries. The payment was a burden on the land, and if they removed it they would be making a present of it to the proprietor, not merely relieving him of a tax. This being the case, he was bound to say further that so far as he was personally concerned he entirely agreed with what had been said on both sides with regard to the incidence of that burden in more recent years. He had always thought that the incidence of the burden upon feuars had been exceedingly severe, and not what was contemplated by the law, or what was thought to be right even by the majority of those who had borne the burden during the time that it had existed. They knew very well that it had not been always exacted from feuars. Heritors had acted very handsomely in that matter. He quite admitted that the legal liability of the feuars did not admit of dispute—the question was how to adjust the burden. In recent times the word "feuars" had a very different meaning from that which it bore in times past. A feuar now was a person who acquired a portion of a heritor's property for commercial purposes unconnected, with the occupation of the land; and universally the feu rent was greatly in excess of the agricultural value of the land at the time the impost was first made. What was admitted practically by the heritors to be a grievance was that when a man had built business premises or a house, such premises were subject to that old assessment, and paid in many cases more than the land itself. It was also well known that throughout the time the impost had existed it had not been exacted except in rare cases on such property; and it was an undoubted fact, which had been referred to again and again in these debates, that the passing of the Valuation Act of 1854, which gave the value of every one of these properties on the register, had led to the exaction of the tax from that class of feuars. He believed that but for the passing of that Act, which was a most valuable and useful measure, they never 1157 would have heard of this grievance at all. But, because a grievance existed with regard to that class, were they to make a present of the tax to the owners of land?—because they would take advantage of the Bill just as well as the feuars. The practical effect of the Bill would be to confer on the landed proprietors of Scotland a boon which he thought the great proportion of them were not in the least desirous of having. Personally, he believed that the incidence of this burden had been hard on the class he referred to. He made no reference to attempts which had been made—he believed in a perfectly fair and honest spirit—to meet and satisfy that grievance. He was bound to say that, acting under the authority of the Government, he should be delighted to make every effort or to co-operate with others for the purpose of settling this question; not only because he believed that there was something which required to be redressed, but because as a member of the Church he believed it would be greatly to her advantage that all cause of complaint should, if possible, be removed. But, while he was not alleging this as an inducement to those who approved of the principle of the measure to vote with the hon. Gentleman who had moved that the Bill be read three month's hence, he would express his willingness to undertake as far as he could the duty of endeavouring to produce a measure that would meet the case, with the assent and assistance of the Members for Scotland. But he opposed this Bill, because, although it was well meant, and was intended to effect a fair settlement of the question, it could not, in his opinion, possibly have that result.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, that at so late a period in the afternoon he would not long detain the House, but as so much had been urged against the principle of the Bill, he felt bound to endeavour to meet the objections. In the first place, he must disclaim a compliment that had been paid him by the hon. Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Mr. Stewart), with reference to the effect of this Bill being intended to defer the period of disestablishment. He was proud to say that 40 years ago he discovered, and publicly denounced, the injustice of Church establishments, and now agreed with what had been said by the right hon. Member 1158 for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), and other hon. Members, who had referred to that question. The hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire (Sir Alexander Gordon) said he had gone into the statistics of the Free Church for the last year, and was prepared to state that a very large proportion of the income of the Church was derived from the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. [Sir ALEXANDER GORDON: Presbyteries, not cities.] He (Mr. M'Laren) had the accounts for the last year, and he found that out of a total revenue of £560,000, the Presbytery of Edinburgh contributed £70,000, and the Presbytery of Glasgow £94,000, making £164,000 altogether. Now, seeing that these two Presbyteries contained about 1,000,000 of persons, or nearly one-third of the whole population of Scotland—and by far the richest third—he thought that in place of their contributing an undue proportion of the funds of the Church, they had contributed less than their just share. The House would thus see that the hon. and gallant Member must have been misinformed on these points. He could not agree with the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir William Cuninghame) that, although the Government had last year promised to legislate upon the subject, they were under no obligation to perform their promise, or to attempt to do more than they had already done. He would respectfully recommend the hon. Baronet to read that chapter in Paley's Moral Philosophy, which he (Mr. M'Laren) had read very many years ago, on the sense in which promises were binding; and, after doing so, he felt satisfied the hon. Baronet would never again venture to hold or express the loose moral principles to which he had given utterance in this debate. It had been admitted by nearly every speaker, including both sides of the House, that the present state of things was unsatisfactory; and there had been considerable unanimity in calling upon the Government themselves to introduce a measure to settle the question. To that appeal he cordially said Amen. He had often urged the same thing, and he had stopped his own feeble efforts to legislate, once for the late and once for the present Government. The latter brought in a Bill a year ago; but bringing in a Bill was one thing, and pressing it forward, with the view of carrying it, was another. He did not blame the late 1159 Lord Advocate for what happened then; but he could not fail to remember that the measure was distinctly introduced on the authority of the Government. It really met with no open opposition— it was strangled by private backstair influence on the part of the Friends of the Government, without being discussed in any manner whatever in the House. Unless a distinct understanding with the Government was arrived at, he saw no reason why he should not persevere with the present Bill; for nothing could be more cautious than the way in which the Lord Advocate had promised on the part of the Government to make another effort to settle the question, and therefore not much could be looked for from that promise, considering what had previously taken place. Great stress had been laid upon the name of the Bill, and an attempt had been made to prove that the church assessment in Scotland was not equivalent to the church rate in England. The Lord Advocate had very truly said that it was of little consequence what the impost was called, as they all understood what was meant. It seemed almost childish to argue on the difference of words. The Bill itself removed all doubts as to the meaning by defining church rates thus—In this Act 'Church Rate' shall mean any rate or assessment imposed or laid on for the Building, rebuilding, enlargement, or repair of any parish church, or assistant church, or manse, or for providing or enlarging any glebe.He did not think they would find the words "poor rate" anywhere in Acts of Parliament relating to Scotland. It was always "assessment for the support of the poor," and was payable one-half by the owner, and the other half by the tenant; whereas, in England, it was always called "poor rate," and wholly paid by the tenant. But would any man, with any conception of logic in his head, get up and say that the poor rate was different in England and Scotland, because in the one country it was called a rate and in the other an assessment, and because the incidence was supposed to vary from this difference in the mode of payment? Everybody in Scotland knew that poor rate and poor assessment were identical, and so he held that church rate and church assessment were identical. Compulsory church rates had 1160 been abolished in England, and church cess had been abolished in Ireland. In the latter case there was no outcry about money being put into the pockets of the landlords, and the substitute fund was made up by the suppression of sinecure church livings. When these things were done in England and Ireland, why should Scotland be subject to this rate? Seeing that the House had passed a law making church rates voluntary payments in England and utterly abolishing them in Ireland, why should it not pass a law on the same lines for Scotland? The injustice had been generally admitted, even by those who denounced this Bill, and the Lord Advocate himself said he was of opinion that a remedy was called for. The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick (Captain Home) had quoted the speech of Lord Advocate Young, in order to prove that this Bill was an exact transcript of the English Church Rate Abolition Act. But he could not comprehend what bearing that had upon the matter, except to show that Parliament would not be justified in refusing to Scotland that which had been conceded to England. The Church of Scotland got £350,000 per annum of endowments from the heritors, and the Exchequer; and it enjoyed this additional advantage even over the Church of England—that if the stipend of any of its ministers was below £150 the deficiency was made up by the Exchequer. The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick was by no means justified in asserting that not a single landowner supported the Bill; for, even in this House, the hon. and gallant Member must this day have heard two large landowners—one of them possessed of at least 50,000 acres—support the Bill by their speeches, and they would, no doubt, do so by their votes; and other large landowners had supported it in former years. [Cries of "Divide!"] He hoped the House would not be impatient, because he avoided speaking in introducing the Bill in order that time might be saved. The injustice of the present state of things was generally admitted, but he would not dwell upon that. He simply maintained that the Church of Scotland was itself able to meet the expenditure for which the rates were levied. The great advantages which the Church enjoyed as compared with other sects ought to make its ad- 1161 herents reasonable on this question. Churchmen were themselves getting to see the injustice which was complained of, and becoming anxious to have it removed. He would now proceed to state a few facts respecting the different religious bodies in Scotland. To begin with the Established Church—it appeared from the able and interesting Report laid before the last General Assembly that it had altogether 1,334 churches and chapels. Returns were obtained from 1,246 of these, and the total sum collected at those places of worship, for all purposes, was £384,000, including about £50,000 from pew rents, and also including collections for infirmaries and other such benevolent objects. This sum was equal to an average of about £308 for each congregation. The exceptionally favourable position occupied by the Church should enable it to subscribe for religious objects more largely than other denominations; but, as a matter of fact, it subscribed a great deal less. As regards the United Presbyterian Church, nearly 100 congregations in England last year separated from the Scotch body, and formed a Synod of their own in England. The amount collected by the remaining 526 churches in Scotland from congregational sources, was £316,000; and in addition to this, £62,000 was derived from legacies and special donations, making a total of £378,000, or an average of over £700 for each congregation. This was nearly double the average of the Established Church, although the United Presbyterian Church was a much poorer body. This was proved by the fact that 150 congregations of that body were unable to pay a reasonable stipend to their minister, and that other congregations made up the stipend to £200 in all of these cases.
Now, going to the Free Church there were 1,028 congregations, all of which had been formed since 1843. Their income from all sources was £565,000, or at the rate of £550 from each congregation. Besides this, the Free Church had £600,000 of capital invested for special purposes, and had the property of all the churches, manses, colleges, normal and other schools, and the Assembly Hall. These two Nonconformist bodies, holding the same doctrines, and observing the same forms of worship as the Established Church, a few years ago entered on negotiations for an incorporated 1162 union. It was not then successful, but there could be no doubt that the union would not be delayed for many years. In such circumstances, the fair way to deal with the Established Church was not by comparing it with each of these bodies separately, but with both of them united, as if they formed one body. The comparison would then be fair to all parties. He would, therefore, with the permission of the House, state the results of such a comparison. The Established churches and chapels numbered 1,334, and the Free and United Presbyterian churches 1,554, being a majority of 220 in favour of the two Nonconformist churches. Comparing their pecuniary contributions in the same way, the results were still more startling. And, in order to do the Established Church justice—and more than justice—he would assume that each of the 88 churches which did not send in returns raised as much on an average as each of those which did send returns—an assumption, however, contrary to all experience; for those who had much to show were generally fond of showing it, while those who had little to show often kept their want of success in the background. Proceeding, then, on this assumption, the 88 non-reporting congregations might, for the sake of illustration, be held to have raised £27,000, thus increasing the total contributions of the Established Church to £411,000. But the two Free Churches raised £943,000, thus exceeding by more than £500,000 a-year the sum raised by their endowed competitor. The average sum assumed to be collected by each Established Church congregation was £308, while the average sum collected by each congregation of the other two bodies was £606. It would thus be evident beyond all dispute that even if the Church were deprived of this paltry £30,000— being the generally assumed amount levied annually for church rates—it could easily make it up, and yet contribute far less than was done by the two Free Churches. These comparisons showed conclusively that the Established Church of Scotland must be in a considerable minority, even as compared with the two Free Churches which he had named; but when all the other religious bodies were taken into account—the Episcopal Churches, Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Evangelical Union, the Roman Catholics, and the smaller 1163 bodies—the members and adherents of the Established Church must be in a very decided minority of the people of Scotland, and hence the injustice of these church rates was all the greater. He might state, in this connection, that since the year 1843, the period of the Disruption, the Free Church had collected £12,000,000, and the United Presbyterian Church £7,500,000 for Church, and missionary, and educational purposes. This was a remarkable fact, apart from any question of church rates. He considered, under the circumstances, that the claim for the abolition of these vexatious rates, was irresistible, and, as he had said before, the Church people themselves were beginning to admit it. He did not base the claim so much upon abstract principles as the existence of a real grievance. Speaking in the General Assembly, in seconding the Motion for the adoption of the financial Report, which had been referred to, Professor Charteris, a man universally respected, said—Was it not a somewhat remarkable fact that one never saw in social life that the Dissenter, who gave much more towards his Church, looked poorer than we were? He who was paying much more largely than the attender on a parish church was not thereby a poorer man.There was a discussion in the Town Council of Forfar last month, when Mr. Craik, a member of that body, said that as the parish minister—in making certain claims on the Town Council connected with these church rates—had meddled with the Council, he would tell him his duty, adding—These requests brought them nearer disestablishment, and brought out the injustice to the Dissenters, who, besides paying their ministers and upholding the fabric of their churches, were thus called upon to pay for upholding the parish church of Forfar. Although a member of the Established Church, he regarded this as a gross injustice to the Dissenters.It was a mistake to imagine, as had been assumed, that the burden of the rate was less than formerly. As a matter of fact, it was greater. Although he had not said all he had intended, he hoped he had said enough to justify his appealing to the House, and asking them to assent to the second reading of the Bill, with a view to removing these unjust and irritating imposts.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 143; Noes 204: Majority 61.—(Div. List, No. 230.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for three months.