§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, that its object was to simplify the mode of raising the assessment for the relief of the poor in Scotland. It was proposed to abolish the assessment upon "means and substance" in those parishes where it was now in force, and to substitute on assessment upon rental according to the classifications proposed in the 8 & 9 Vict., the Poor Relief (Scotland) Act—the election of classification to be determined by the parochial boards, subject to the approval of the Board of Supervision. He believed that the assessment on "means and substance" was universally condemned. It was levied under an ancient statute which provided no means of ascertaining the income of the persons to be assessed, and no penalty for false returns. The consequence was that the assessment was raised very much at hap-hazard, and while rich manufacturers could make what terms they chose, the burden of the rate fell on persons of limited incomes. It also gave rise to a great deal of gossip about people's private means, which was at times not only an annoyance, but an injury. Some of the parochial boards were in favour of the existing system; but he denied that they represented the ratepayers. There were between 8,000 and 9,000 signatures to the petitions in favour of the Bill presented to the other House, and only 486 to petitions against it. The mode of assessment proposed in the Bill was already in operation in many parts of Scotland, and wherever it had been tried it had been found to work satisfactorily.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.
§ THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
said, the Bill affected the assessment of the poor-rate in every parish in Scotland, and proposed to levy the tax in many cases in a manner different from that in which it had 583 hitherto been levied. He had the greatest possible respect for the abilities of his noble Friend who had introduced the Bill into this House, and for the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), who had introduced it into the other House of Parliament; but he thought legislation on a subject of such magnitude should have been at the instance of the Government, as was invariably the case when Bills were brought in which affected the working of the Poor Law in England or Ireland, and not by a private Member of either House. Again, no important change had hitherto been made in the Poor Law of England and Ireland without its having been preceded by careful inquiry, and previous to the great alteration in the Poor Law of Scotland in 1845 the Government of the day appointed a Commission, and after they had taken evidence in every part of the country the Bill which was afterwards passed was introduced, embodying the recommendations made by those gentlemen in their Report. In the present instance, however, no such inquiry had been instituted or asked for. The present mode of assessment in Scotland had been adopted after mature deliberation. Some sixteen or seventeen parishes had not given up the old system of assessment by "means and substance;" but this Bill would make it compulsory on the majority of a parish to give up that principle, although they might be sincerely attached to it. The Bill did not apply any remedy to the defective constitution of the parochial boards, or contain any provision for the more economical collection of the rates. The Bill stood in this unfortunate position in their Lordship's House, that being a money Bill it was impossible to amend it, and he therefore hoped that, on their Lordships refusing to assent to it in its present crude state, the Government would determine to institute proper inquiry into the whole working of the Poor Law in Scotland, which was indeed absolutely necessary after the statements that had been made regarding it by a high authority, before the Irish Poor Law Commissioners. If there was one subject more than another which required the attention of the Government to be directed to it, it was this one of rates, and at all events they ought to pause before dealing with a portion of it by a small Bill containing only a single clause.
THE EARL OF EGLINTON
concurred with the noble Earl opposite that the Bill 584 did not go far enough; but it was no reason because the Bill did not hit every blot in the system that the blot it did hit should not be removed. The noble Earl disapproved of assessing by "means and substance," and thought that there ought to be some inquiry. Inquiry would, however, in his opinion, only prove that "means and substance" ought to be abolished. The boards were, for the most part, not composed of persons of great intelligence, and favouritism and injustice prevailed to a great extent. He knew of one parish where the inhabitants of villa residences and other persons in easy circumstances were not assessed at all, while the artizans were assessed on their hard earnings. At Ayr there was the greatest injustice done. There could be no doubt that the system of assessment on rental had worked extremely well, and although the Bill proposed to leave the classification optional, and, therefore, in his opinion did not go far enough, for he thought there should be one uniform system established all over Scotland—he should give it his support.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, he had no personal connection with any parish in which that most unfortunate, and as he deemed it, most unjust assessment, by "means and substance" prevailed; but he strongly objected to it on principle. It was, in fact, an income tax without any machinery for ascertaining the amount of any one's income. The late Lord Campbell having purchased some property in the south of Scotland, had actually had a demand made upon him for a rate, founded not merely upon his property in the parish, but his property in the funds, and even upon his salary as Lord Chief Justice of England. His learned Friend, however resisted the charge with his usual perseverance, and in the end was successful. It was true that the Bill was not a Government measure, but it had received the sanction of the Board of Supervision, the present and the late Lord Advocate, and he believed every Scottish Member of the other House. The consequence of the present system was that those who possessed the smallest amount of property had the great majority, while those who paid the largest sums were in a minority in the parish. He could not admit that because the Bill was limited to one point it should not receive the sanction of their Lordships—no doubt the Scotch law required amendment in some other particulars. At all events this was 585 an admitted evil, and he had not heard anyone advocate the system of assessment on means and substance, which was in point of fact an assessment on income not derived from the parish. If his noble Friend (the Earl of Airlie) divided the House, he should give him his vote. There were, he understood, some objections to the Bill on points of detail, but he should certainly, on the second reading, support this measure.
THE EARL OF DALHOUSIE
agreed that this mode of rating on means and substance was to a certain extent very objectionable. But the object of the Bill was to give a minority the power or over-riding the decision of a majority in the parish, and that, he thought, was a strange principle to be adopted by their Lordships. The fact was that the mode of assessment now objected to was dying out, and he thought that the parishes in which this system prevailed might be allowed to give it up at their option, as other parishes had done. By the present law there were three modes of assessment which could be adopted by any parish, subject to the Board of Supervision in Edinburgh; but according to this Bill that Board would have not only the power of disallowing the arrangement made in the locality, but the power of taxing the locality in the mode it thought proper, which he thought was a power that ought not to be given to a Board of that description. He confessed that he should be glad to see the Bill postponed, and made a part of some general measure on this subject.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, a similar principle to that contained in the "means and substance" mode of assessment prevailed in England with regard to the assessment on stock in trade. True that was not carried out in practice; but the principle subsisted and was suspended only by Bills passed periodically for that purpose. And, in like manner, he would suggest that the system should not be given up absolutely in Scotland.
§ LORD KINNAIRD
denied that the Bill proposed to give to the minority the right of over-riding the majority. On the contrary, it would carry out the wishes of the large majority of those who were the real ratepayers. Year after year there had been repeated attempts to get rid of this mode of assessment, and he trusted, therefore, that their Lordships would agree to the second reading of this Bill.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.