HL Deb 29 July 1881 vol 264 cc103-7

in rising to call attention to the position and prospects of the question of reform of the Law of Teinds in Scotland; also to move for a Return for each county in Scotland of the name of every parish in which an augmentation was made of ministers stipend and of allowances for communion elements respectively during the period that has elapsed since the 20th March 1876; also the name of each parish in which there are unexhausted teinds, and the amount applicable to the augmentation of ministers stipends, &c. in each such parish (in continuation of former Return, No. 242, 1876,") said, my Lords, I am always reluctant to occupy even a few minutes of your Lordships' time in this House; but the aban- donment by Her Majesty's Government of a somewhat important Bill, under the pressure of strange influences, ought not, I think, to be passed over quite without notice. I shall not enter upon the general subject of Teind Law, and beg only to mention that Teind Law constitutes a part, and a very ugly part too, of the Land Laws of Scotland, and that in every transaction relating to the buying or selling of land careful investigations require to be made, sometimes with very uncertain results, relative to the state of the teinds on the property concerned, and in the parish in which it is situated. I must also mention that teinds, in the present signification of the words, is something very different from tithes, as formerly understood. In point of fact, there are no tithes in Scotland now, as they were commuted into a rent-charge about 250 years ago. The teinds of Scotland may now be concisely and correctly described as being that portion of the gross rental of Scotland which is appropriated to the payment of the stipends of parish ministers, or is liable at a future time to be so appropriated. In the early part of this Session Her Majesty's Ministers introduced a Bill called the Teinds (Scotland) Bill, which was read a second time some weeks later without opposition. The Bill sought to place on a clear and intelligible basis the liabilities of landed property in respect of teinds. It sought to place the relations of proprietors on the one hand and parish ministers on the other—namely, the payers and receivers of stipends—upon an easy and amicable footing. It sought to put an end to the expenses and litigation which the present law promotes, and almost necessitates. It sought to effect these objects by the drawing up of an inventory for the information of all concerned, as an authoritative exposition of the state of teinds in every parish of Scotland. The Bill was absolutely and carefully unpolitical in its character, and was totally unconnected with the question of Establishment or Disestablishment. Perhaps the best exposition of the purport and character of the measure is contained in the pointed note prefixed to the Teinds (Scotland) Bill, which I shall, therefore, read to the House— The Bill has been prepared at the request of a number of landed proprietors representing the counties of Scotland. Its object is to complete the valuation of the tithes of Scotland, and to make up a roll of tithes in each parish under judicial authority. The want of such a roll has been the cause of a great amount of litigation and uncertainty as to the extent of the liabilities of proprietors of estates to the Church. The Bill does not provide for commutation of tithes, nor does it increase or lessen the liability of owners, or shift the incidence of the burden of the tithes in any way. It is purely executive, and aims only at ascertaining the rights and liabilities of parties interested, according to the existing law, in a more summary and inexpensive manner than is possible under the existing statutory procedure. Now, I venture to assert that the only two classes of men who are directly interested in the simplification of the Teind Laws were virtually agreed in supporting the principle of this Bill. But it has always been said in Scotland that there is one powerful class—the Legal Profession—who are interested in maintaining the present system in consequence of the harvest of litigation that it engenders. But, in point of fact, the most zealous and most efficient Teind Law reformers are members of the Legal Profession of all grades—Judges, Sheriffs, agents, solicitors, are all of one mind in condemnation of the existing law. They feel it as a reproach to Scottish law that so barbarous a state of things, and so ruinous to their clients, should be suffered to continue. But if all these classes—heritors, ministers, and lawyers—unite in condemning the present Law of Teinds, to what influence is the obstruction due which has proved fatal to the Bill of the Lord Advocate? The answer is clear and simple. The influence which has been so efficacious was a purely sectarian one. The word has been passed from high sectarian authority that, in the interests of the question of Disestablishment, all legislation for the reform of the Teind Laws must be opposed at all hazards. The worse the condition of these laws, the greater will be the unpopularity of Church institutions, and the greater will be the popularity of an agitation for Disestablishment. Expensive litigation, and plenty of it, between heritors and ministers, and between heritors inter se, seems to be the aim and prayer of the enemies of the Church. The spirit which animates the opponents of all reform in the Law of Teinds may be seen in the following resolutions of the United Presbyterian Synod, agreed to on the 1lth July. They resolve— … That the working of the system of the Established Church, which is invariably wrong in principle, and its exactions in the matters of church and manse rates, augmentations of stipends and otherwise, have not been more offensive or injurious for a generation than they are at present; and that disestablishment, and nothing short of it, as the only legislative redress to the non-established churches and great body of citizens, and the sole remedy of the religious scandal, ought not to be delayed without urgent cause.… That they have learned of the withdrawal of this objectionable measure (the Teinds Bill) on the 4th July. That they have since heard with astonishment of a proposal of the Lord Advocate to re-introduce the Bill on an early day. That they resolve, in the event of an attempt to resuscitate the Bill, to take such steps as they see cause for its prevention, and for raising the whole question of disestablishment in connection with it. I think it is desirable that these things should be known and appreciated as regards the past; but I, for my part, would have passed them over in silence had it not been my belief that the same influences which have prevailed this Session against the cause of reform will operate with even greater force in future, as the time of a General Election approaches. I conclude by moving for the Returns of which I have given Notice.


My Lords, every part of the noble Earl's statement, so far as my knowledge goes, is perfectly and entirely accurate. The Bill introduced into the other House of Parliament dealing with the subject of teinds is a useful measure, and well calculated to effect the object in view. In the discussion in the other House of Parliament, so far as I am aware, no successful attack was made on the principle of the measure. It was desired extremely by the landlords and clergy of Scotland, and it was opposed by those who are very zealous for the immediate or approximate Disestablishment of the Church of Scotland. The Bill was dropped in the other House in consequence of pressure of Business, and owing to the opposition it received from a certain section of the Liberal Party. There is no chance of that measure being introduced this Session, and I am not able to make any promise with regard to next Session. The matter is receiving the consideration of the Government; but they were unable to state when the matter could be dealt with. There is no objection to give the Return moved for.

Motion agreed to.

Address for— Return for each county in Scotland of the name of every parish in which an augmentation was made of ministers stipend and of allowances for communion elements respectively during the period that has elapsed since the 20th March 1876; also the name of each parish in which there are unexhausted teinds, and the amount applicable to the augmentation of ministers stipend, &c. in each such parish (in continuation of former Return, No. 242, 1876."—(The Earl of Minto.)