HL Deb 16 April 1875 vol 223 cc1077-81

, in asking Her Majesty's Government, Whether they intend to introduce a Bill or to propose the appointment of a Commission or Committee of Inquiry, or to adopt any other means for ascertaining, adjusting, and fixing with greater precision than the existing law admits of, the pecuniary liability of the lands in the various parishes of Scotland for the maintenance of the Established Church, said, that the subject was one of considerable importance. In the matter of tithes, to which his Question related, Scotland had anticipated England by nearly two centuries and a-half, for in the time of Charles the First a measure was passed for the commutation of tithes in that country, which had operated with much greater benefit than people were aware of. Only a few days ago he had read in the columns of The Times a letter from Mr. Clare Sewell Read on the subject of agricultural legislation, in which he stated that no Act of Parliament had been so beneficial to agriculture as the Tithe Commutation Act passed for England some 30 years ago; and he (the Earl of Minto) believed that Scotland was equally indebted to an Act passed more that 200 years earlier for the commutation of tithes in Scotland—based upon the same statesmanlike views that produced the Tithe Commutation Act for England—for the present flourishing condition of agriculture in Scotland. The great principle of the Scotch Act was to abolish the system of exacting tithes from the cultivation of the soil in proportion to the amount of his produce, which checked in a greater or less degree the increase of the production of the land; and it enacted that tithes should be commuted in Scotland at a fixed amount, on the principle of assuming that one-tenth of the produce was represented by one-fifth of the rent. Further, it enacted that all landed proprietors might redeem the tithes on their land by the payment of a sum of money fixed at a certain number of years' purchase. From a very early date this power was largely taken advantage of in Scotland, and in due course in Scotland all the tithes were commuted, and a great and undoubted improvement took place in agriculture in consequence. It was, however, unavoidable in the nature of things that in the long course of years which had since elapsed many defects and abuses should have crept in which it was desirable to remedy. Among other defects, were those relating to the stipend of the ministers. The parochial ministers of the Church of Scotland were to have a stipend of a fixed and moderate amount allotted to them out of the tithes, and they were now entitled to an augmentation periodically of stipend in the event of any fresh tithes being discovered which were not exhausted by the existing amount of the stipend. He (the Earl of Minto) did not deny that this might be a proper provision to make for the clergy; but he could not conceal the fact that it led to a great deal of heartburnings, and to many of the difficulties which had occurred in recent years. In Scotland, as their Lordships were aware, when this Act was passed about 200 years ago, land was worth comparatively little. Since then there had been an enormous increase in its value, and land which was then valued at a sum which would bring in £200 a-year would now bring in at least £2,000. But nevertheless it would be burdened to no greater extent than was imposed by the old Act or one-fifth of the then rental—that was to say that land that was rented at £200 a-year at that time and produced £2,000 a-year now, would be valued for tithe purposes at no more than £40. The result was an enormous inequality in the burdens thrown upon the land, and very much litigation was caused. Those who were interested in discovering that the tithes of parishes had not been exhausted had frequently made out their case, and so invalidated the valuation that had been hitherto in force. In many cases this pressed most cruelly and unjustly. They might easily conceive a case of this kind, where a minister making an investigation into the state of the tithes, with a view to claim an augmentation, might fail in the case of nine out of ten proprietors, and succeed in the tenth: the result would be that the one individual whom he succeeded against would have to bear the whole cost of the augmentation of the stipend. Could anything be more unjust or more likely to lead to litigation? The expense incurred in making the investigation was something beyond conception, and he had known cases where the augmentation was only £60, and the agent's charges amounted to between £300 and £400. Sometimes the records of the valuation of a parish were destroyed through accident or otherwise, and then no one could tell with any certainty what the value of the parish in respect to tithes was. A remedy ought to be found for this state of things. He would not trouble their Lordships with details, but would just state some extracts from the evidence which was taken before the Courts of Law Commission upon the subject of the teinds in Scotland. Mr. Logan, Clerk of Teinds, said— Some of our old valuations are in a very bad state. Some of the frailest I do not allow to he inspected except under ray own eye. … they are like tinder; the very air that blows upon them carries off hits of them, and very often very essential pieces. Of late a kind of crusade against the validity of valuations has been made. Mr. Clarke Brodie— Thinks it a great discredit on our system that we have questions depending on what has taken place more than two centuries ago, ending, as they not unfrequently do, in the inversion of a possession which has existed during all that period. Mr. J. M. Duncan— Litigation is increased of late. Questions in connection with valuations, which for a long time lay dormant, have been stirred—questions as to whether in the old valuations the minister had been called, as to the identity of the lands, and whether certain names applied to certain lands known formerly by other names. Seventy years' litigation had taken place for an augmentation of stipend of £40 or £50. In Haddington parish an interim apportionment of the burden of stipend was declared by the Teind Court, and was acted upon for a couple of generations, until 1808, when the Court decided that the following proprietors had been overcharged, and must be repaid by those who had been undercharged:—Sir Robert Stephenson got back £1,804, the Earl of Hopetoun £2,630, Lady Susan Bourke £1,481, Sir T. B. Hepburn £1,103, and the North British Railway £3,003. The following having been undercharged had to refund:—Lord Blantyre had to refund £5,197, the Earl of Wemyss £7,466, the Estate of Monrig £4,018, &c, &c. In a certain parish there were five proprietors whose burdens were as follow:—No. 1 property, valuation £2,038, stipend £65—£1 for each £30 rental. No. 2 property, valuation £1,784, stipend £127—£1 for each £14 rental. No. 3 property, valuation £1,050, stipend £19—£1 for each £52 rental. No. 4 property, valuation £927, stipend £14—£1 for each £61 rental. No. 5 property, valuation £652, stipend 15s.—£1 for each £870 rental. In Auchterarder parish six large proprietors, having a joint rental of £8,075, paid£140 stipend, being £1 for every £57 rental. Six small proprietors, with a rental of £90, paid £22 stipend, being £1 for every £4 rental. Common agent's expenses for an augmentation of £56 were £344, being at the rate of £6 of expenses for every £1 of augmentation. These cases would show how urgently the law required amendment, and he trusted that answer which he should receive from the noble Duke would be such as to lead him to hope that the subject would be dealt with this Session.


, in reply, said, that the noble Earl had entered so fully into the history of the question of teinds in Scotland that it was not necessary for him to add anything to it. No doubt there was a great deal in the arguments which he had brought forward to show that a necessity existed for the revision of the existing system. He had also shown conclusively that a good deal of inconvenience and possible injury was occasioned by the mode of procedure in the Teind Courts of Scotland. These matters were very distinctly brought forward in the Report of the Law Commission of Scotland of 1870. His right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate had at that moment under consideration the question as to whether he could adopt any improved mode of procedure in the Teind Courts so as to do away to a certain extent with the grievances which the noble Earl complained of. At the present moment, however, he was unable to say that any Bill was in contemplation on the subject, nor could he hold out any hope that the Government would be able at any early period to bring a measure on the subject before Parliament.