HL Deb 29 June 1900 vol 85 cc5-8


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which has already passed the House of Commons, I shall not detain your Lordships for many minutes. The Bill is designed for the removal of a grievance of old standing, one which is perfectly well known to noble Lords from Scotland, and if the House passes the Bill and it becomes law I believe that in practice it will effect its object. I do not propose to go into the history of ecclesiastical assessments in Scotland. I believe that history is perfectly familiar to noble Lords from Scotland who are interested in the question, and I am not sanguine enough to suppose that I should be able to interest noble Lords who do not belong to Scotland in a subject of this kind. The position of matters is this. The obligation to provide Church accommodation, a house for the Minister, and a burial ground for the parish has been for a great number of years a burden upon the Land of the parish. If there is anything in the argument, of which we hear a good deal sometimes in other connections, that such and such a rate is an hereditary burden upon property, then this burden is one out of which the landowners in Scotland have no title to escape. So long as a parish remains purely rural in its character I think that even at the present time no one can make out that any grievance exists; but it is different when the character of a parish has changed from rural to urban, when a good deal of building has taken place, and when that system of allotting land for building, which in Scotland is known as feuing, has proceeded to any considerable extent. By a series of legal decisions, and by the operation of the Valuation Act, passed in 1854, two distinct systems of raising ecclesiastical assessments are now in practice. In rural parishes the assessment is, speaking generally, laid on what is known as the old valued-rent, and in parishes where much building has taken place very often the real rent has been substituted for this purpose for the old valued-rent. At the present time it is possible for any one valued-rent heritor to insist that the real rent shall be brought into practice. The object of this Bill is to provide that if at a meeting of valued-rent heritors a majority of two thirds in value of the valued - rent heritors prefer to retain the old system they shall be at liberty to do so, and, if not, then the parishes will be assessed for this purpose on the real rent. The main part of the Bill is contained in the clause which provides for the case of parishes in which the real rent either has been brought in in the past or will be brought in in the future. In those cases a grievance does press upon those heritors who are feuars and those of small amount, and the object of the Bill is to make legal a transaction which is very often carried into effect at the present time. It is proposed in this Bill to effect the exemption altogether of heritors under £50. But there is this condition attached, that the authorities of the Church in the parish shall be prepared to pay the amount which would have been raised from those exempted under this Bill. By this Bill the Church is not asking anything for herself but is only asking Parliament to permit her to relieve ratepayers from certain charges which are now levied upon them by legal sanction, but which are sometimes imposed under conditions which involve practical hardship. The Bill is only to make legal a method which is often at the present moment arrived at as a private compromise, but which in practice is liable to be obstructed by a small minority of individuals, for the purpose not of relieving themselves of the burden, but of making as much difficulty for the Church as possible.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)


My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than a few moments in referring to the statement the noble Lord has just made—the Bill is of too small a character to warrant me in doing so. In Scotland at this moment we have in full blast a system of supporting the Church by tithes and Church rates, both being charges upon the land. The Church rates are used, as the noble Lord has stated, for the building and repairing of churches and manses and the provision of burial grounds. These charges have always been willingly paid by the landowners, but a difficulty has arisen in collecting them from the smaller landowners in different parishes. To meet that grievance, surely one of two courses would have been proper—either the Church rates should have been abolished altogether and the duty of building and maintaining church fabrics and manses thrown upon the congregation attending them; or, if you are not ready to take so heroic a remedy as that, at any rate, to meet particular grievances you should have said that landowners below a certain valuation should not be charged at all. This Bill proposes to do neither of these two things. On the one hand it says that the larger landowners may hold a meeting of their own, and that if two-thirds, reckoned by valuation, of those landowners are in favour of relieving the smaller landowners altogether they may do so, and levy the amount on themselves, by which there is always a possibility of a certain number of the landowners in the parish having; thrown upon them extra burdens to which they have not assented. This seems a doubtful way of dealing with the matter. On the other hand, it is pro-posed that, where the whole of the landowners in the parish are to be retained in the assessments, then, if the kirk session is willing, it may cause a certain amount to be struck off the valuation of all the landowners of the parish, providing the deficiency is made up by the kirk session. I have never heard of a kirk session being a body which had very much money to dispose of, and I should like to know where they are to get the money from with which to do this. I suppose they will have to rely upon voluntary contributions or bazaars. This is the first time I have heard a proposal in an Act of Parliament that rates should be assisted, with the sanction of Parliament, by voluntary contributions. I do not think the noble and learned Lord will say that I have misinterpreted the provisions of his Bill, which seems to me to be founded neither on good principle nor on courageous opinions. In practice it will be of little importance, for in many parishes the principle is already adopted by the consent of the landowners. I shall, therefore, content myself by saying not content when the question is put from the Woolsack.

On Question, agreed to. Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Thursday next.