HL Deb 28 July 1845 vol 82 cc1135-7
The Duke of Buccleuch

, in moving that the House do now resolve itself into Committee, adverted to the Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry on this subject, detailing the present state of the law and its administration. It was well known that the present provision for the relief of the poor in Scotland was very inadequate; an inadequacy not arising from any want of charitable disposition among the people, but from the defects of the machinery created for carrying out the law. In providing for the more effectual relief of the poor, it was not intended to alter the principle of the present law; the Bill was framed in accordance with the evidence taken before the Commissioners, and he believed was regarded with general favour in Scotland.

Lord Campbell

allowed that there was in the Bill much that was good; but still thought it might be made better; he would, therefore, suggest that it should stand over, so that it might be improved during the recess. He admitted that the state of the Poor Law in Scotland was most objectionable, and, above all, that part of the law with reference to pauper and criminal lunatics. That most important portion of the Bill having reference to the medical relief of the poor, he greatly approved of. He was satisfied that it was for the interest of the poorer classes that there should not be too lavish a measure of relief for the destitute poor, for by so doing, a strong stimulus to exertion was removed. There were some persons who thought that every ill affecting humanity could be removed by the Legislature; but this was merely chimerical. To offer inducements to a young man and young woman, without any means, to marry at an early period of life, and to bring into the world as many children as their fecundity would furnish, was a principle which was most objectionable, and to which he never could give his assent. These early marriages had been productive of one of the evils under which Ireland suffered, and any checks to so great an evil must prove salutary. There were some of the clauses of the Bill which he was satisfied would give rise to considerable litigation, and would cause an enormous expenditure. Those parts of the measure having reference to the Law of Settlement were also open to objection. Some parts of the Bill, also, would fall rather heavily on English persons taking up a temporary residence in Scotland. Voluntary assessment formerly existed to a considerable extent in many parts of Scotland; but they might depend upon it, under the operation of this Bill, that they would be got rid of altogether. It might be held that all property liable to the Property Tax ought to be made liable to this tax also; but at present they had no rule whatever. The noble Duke was wrong in supposing that this Bill would not alter the existing law, as there were to be three new modes of assessment introduced under it, and there would be agitation and disunion produced in every parish in Scotland, in fixing on which particular mode they should select. One of the most gross instances of injustice which the Bill would inflict, would be in cases where Englishmen had a temporary residence in Scotland. In every such case, all the property which the individual possessed in any part of the world would be liable to assessment in the parish in which he resided. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would introduce some provision to guard against this injustice. Having stated these objections, he would not, for the present, detain their Lordships with any additional remarks. His principal objection was to the clauses regarding assessment. They were calculated to produce infinite litigation, and unless they were altered, it would, he thought, be much better to withdraw the Bill altogether, and to wait for another year before legislating on the subject. If persevered in as it at present stood, he had no difficulty in foretelling that the Bill would be hereafter called the curse of Scotland.

House in Committee.

Lord Campbell

said, he had some Amendments to suggest as to the Assessment Clauses, and also respecting South Leith, which he would bring forward on the bringing up of the Report.

The Earl of Haddington

wished to observe, in reference to what had fallen from the noble and learned Lord who had just sat down, that the principle of assessment to which he objected was the principle of the old law, and was also admitted in various local Acts. It had been tried for a long period, and he never heard of its having created any of the litigation or difficulty which the noble and learned Lord seemed to apprehend. He could not understand why any Scotchman who, as was sometimes the case, made a large fortune in England, should not be taxed when he returned to reside in his native country. Besides, he believed it did not happen that means and substance were rated in England.

Lord Campbell

said, the noble Earl had entirely misunderstood him. He by no means objected to the principle of means and substance being taxed, as he believed it to be perfectly just and proper; but what he wanted was, that there should be a definition of the term given in the Bill.

The Lord Chancellor

said, he did not understand the Bill to introduce any new principle in the law. The courts of Scotland would decide on the construction of the term means and substance, in accordance with their usual mode of proceeding; and if that was not thought sufficient, he should wish to hear the noble and learned Lord himself try his hand at a definition.

The Earl of Dalhousie

said, the law existed in Scotland for 300 years, and, to his own knowledge, was constantly acted upon.

Bill reported without Amendment.

House adjourned.