HL Deb 26 July 1836 vol 35 cc569-72
Lord Hatherton

, in moving the second reading of the Edinburgh Poor-rates Bill, observed, that under particular statutes certain bodies in Edinburgh, namely, the Faculty of Advocates, the College of Justice, and the Writers to the Signet, claimed exemption from the liability to contribute to the Poor-rates of that city, and the present Bill was intended to cure that defect in the existing system. He believed that the members of those bodies were not opposed to the principle of contributing to the relief of the poor, but that they rested their opposition on entirely different grounds. He was informed that they felt and admitted the necessity of affording relief to the poor, but that they opposed the measure with reference to the alleged expedience of settling other matters connected with the general affairs of the city, especially that of making some suitable provision for the clergy. They founded their opposition on a Report of the other House of Parliament, in which he believed nothing was said about the poor, but which related to the situation of the clergy. Petitions had, it should be observed, been presented in favour of the Bill from the Corporation of the guildry of Edinburgh, from the convenery and heads of the incorporated trades of Edinburgh, from the Lord Provost and magistrates of Edinburgh, and from several members of the College of Justice. Those parties all agreed that the bodies alluded to ought not to be allowed to claim exemption from contributing to the support of the poor. Under these circumstances, he trusted their Lordships would allow the Bill to go to a Committee.

The Earl of Haddington

said, he had presented petitions against this Bill from the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, on behalf of the faculty, from the Society of Writers to the Signet in Scotland, and from members of the College of Justice. So much, then, for the friendly feeling which those bodies were said to entertain towards this measure. The Bill he considered to be singularly unjust in its provisions, and to have been introduced at a singularly unseasonable period, when an effort was making to heal certain differences which had long existed in Edinburgh, and which the parties who opposed the Bill were anxious to see brought to a conclusion. A statute of the Scottish Parliament, in 1532, established and conferred on those bodies the exemption which it was the object of the Bill to wrest from them, without any equivalent. It was said that those parties did not wish to adhere to this exemption. Upon that point all he felt himself justified in saying was, that perhaps they were willing that the exemption should be put an end to, on proper terms, if such a proceeding were necessary to secure the peace and tranquillity of the city. The parties interested would probably consent to forego their right on equitable terms—namely, that the question of the support of the clergy, as well as the maintenance of the poor, should be finally settled. Until the former question was entertained, they certainly would adhere to their exemption. The Committee of the other House had naturally taken into consideration the present situation of the clergy of Edinburgh; and they recommended in their Report that the annuity tax should be abolished, and that a sum, payable half-yearly, should be supplied by the city of Edinburgh for the subsistence of that body; and they stated that the exemption from the assessment for the relief of the poor was not likely to be insisted on, if any satisfactory adjustment of the claims of the clergy were adopted. Now, the petitioners against the Bill had certainly the right to insist on that point. They were not unwilling to share the burden of their fellow-citizens in providing for the poor, but they wished that other questions should also be settled. He conceived this to be an unseasonable measure, because the Report which was before the other House contained suggestions which, if acted on, would bring the whole of the disputed questions to a satisfactory arrangement. No case, he contended, was made out for the second reading of the Bill, which involved a violent invasion of absolute rights, without the consent of the parties to whom they appertained. Hereafter an arrangement might be made every way beneficial to the public interest, under which proper provision could be made for the poor. He should, therefore, move as an amendment, that the Bill be read a second time this day three months.

The Earl of Minto

said, the noble Earl had designated this measure as unjust and unseasonable. It did not appear to him to be unjust that those individuals should contribute towards the support of the poor; and it was not unseasonable, inasmuch as some measure was absolutely necessary to enable the inhabitants of Edinburgh to provide for their poor. If this Bill were not passed there would be no provision for them. He believed, that the parties who opposed the measure were not so anxious about retaining the right of exemption as they were to procure the settlement of another and a distinct question, which had no connexion whatever with that which was immediately before the House.

The Earl of Rosslyn

said, that a more unjust measure—a measure of greater spoliation, with reference to the rights of individuals, was never introduced to Parliament than that which was now proposed to their Lordships. The individuals who opposed the Bill were ready to give up all pecuniary advantages for the public good, but they resisted the attempt to wrest from them those rights which were as much their property as the estate of any individual was his. Those rights were granted to them by the Scotch Parliament, they were confirmed by the Court of Session, and they were recognized by acts of the English Parliament since the accession of the House of Hanover. It appeared to him, therefore, to be one of the most arbitrary and unjust propositions that ever were submitted to Parliament when an attempt was thus made to take away those rights without the consent of the parties. Under these circumstances, he should certainly vote for the postponement of the second reading of the Bill. It was useless to send it to a Committee, because nothing was to be proved, and nothing could be said there that was not known already. A proper arrangement might be come to in the next Session.

Amendment agreed to. Bill put off for three months.

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