HC Deb 27 February 1834 vol 21 cc868-74
Mr. Ewing

presented a Petition from 32,000 inhabitants of Glasgow, on the subject of lay patronage in the Church of Scotland. He believed that, with one exception (a petition from the ladies of the empire, on the question of slavery), this was the most numerously signed petition which had been submitted to the present Parliament. It emanated from a public meeting, called by regular advertisement, and composed of the most respectable, intelligent, and influential classes. It stated that the appointment of Christian pastors was a spiritual privilege; that patronage was contrary to the avowed principles and constitution of the Church of Scotland; that it was declared by the Scottish Parliament to be unlawful, unwarrantable, and opposed to the rights and liberties of the Church; that the Act of Queen Anne, establishing the system of patronage, was an injurious infringement on public rights, contrary to the Articles of Union, and productive of manifold discontent and divisions; and, therefore, praying that this Act might be repealed, and the election of ministers (according to such rules as might be prescribed by the General Assembly) should be a sufficient title to any benefices. He was happy to hear that the Government intended this evening to accede to the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the state and effects of patronage. He should, therefore, abstain from now entering into the general question, and would merely say, there was no subject on which the Scottish community felt a deeper and warmer interest; and that, after Parliamentary and Municipal Reform had both been granted, he trusted that ecclesiastical improvement would not be denied.

Mr. Sinclair

would not let that opportunity pass without saying a few words. He rose more for the purpose of expressing the encouragement he felt from the presentation of the petition, than with any view to support its prayer. A petition so numerously and respectably signed, and emanating from the city of Glasgow, which was superior almost to any other in intelligence and independence, required no support from him. There was no question on which the people of Scotland felt a deeper interest, and to which they were more opposed, in consequence of unpopular ministers having been inducted in to many parishes. He would, on that point, mention an instance or two. A correspondent wrote to him:—' in 1823. towards the close of that incumbent's ministry, there were 347 families in the parish, consisting of 1,852 persons, and of these 111 families, consisting of 602 persons, remained attached to the Establishment; the rest (with a few exceptions, belonging to the Reformed Presbytery), belonged to the Secession. A subsequent event has not only blasted a fair prospect of the return of many of the Dissenters to the bosom of the Church, but still further inroads have been made on the Establishment, by a fresh desertion to the ranks of the Secession. And the first meeting-house having been found far too small to accommodate the individuals of this denomination, a new one has been lately erected of nearly double the size, which is completely filled. And it is a melancholy fact, that those persons who first dissented, or their descendants, who ought to have, and would have, in other circumstances, rallied round the Church for her defence, are all placed in hostile array against her, crying, "Down with establishments; raze her, raze her." Another case of a violent settlement, in the adjoining parish, took place almost immediately after that to which I have alluded, and was attended with the same melancholy result; the late incumbent there having been literally settled at the point of the bayonet, the Presbytery being protected by a military force; and during the minister's incumbency, which lasted sixteen years, the Church was all but deserted.' Such reckless acts of tyranny deeply injured the cause of true religion; and, in consequence of no redress having been obtained, those who were formerly most strenuous in support of the Church Establishment were now arrayed against it. The system was not peculiar to Scotland; he would also show how it worked in England; and he would read a few words from a charge lately delivered by the Bishop of Exeter, and they would hear what the right reverend Prelate said relative to the law of patronage. The hon. Member read the following extract:—'I once (says his Lordship) had occasion to seek advice on this point from a very high authority, in the case of a populous and important parish, where the clergyman presented to the living, besides being very deaf, was utterly unable to move without assistance; yet, as his mind was sound, and he could read the service, the great lawyer whom I consulted told me, that he could not advise me to refuse to admit him. An aged and paralytic clergyman has been presented to another very important parish; and as he, too, can read the service, and is in possession of his intellect,—though he trembles in every limb, and is unable to perform with efficiency any one of the offices of the Church, he could not lawfully be refused. There is a third instance of a rich parish, including a large town, with a population of near 4,000 souls, to which a superannuated clergyman was presented, who, being utterly incapable of discharging any of the active duties of the parish, was, of necessity, suffered, immediately after his institution, to retire for ever, leaving his house and flock to a curate. Now, in two, at least, of these cases, the patrons had avowedly selected individuals, not for their fitness, but for their unfitness; that unfitness arising from causes which implied the probability of a speedy decease, thus enabling them to dispose of the next presentation to greater advantage.' The hon. Member concluded by expressing a hope, that the grievances complained of by the petitioners would be speedily redressed.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that, though he was not prepared to go the length of breaking down all ecclesiastical establishments, either in England or Scotland, he would give his support to the general statement, that there ought to be a change respecting Church patronage. He thought that a measure ought to be introduced which would give parishioners a voice in the election of their clergymen. Such a measure he would most heartily support; but he declined being a party to the destruction of the Established Church in Scotland, to which that country owed so much, and to which, he was sure, the great mass of the people were firmly opposed.

Petition ordered to lie on the Table.

Mr. Gillon

presented a Petition, very numerously signed, from the Provost, Town Council, and Burgesses of Ayr, in the county of Ayrshire, praying for the abolition of the system of Church patronage in Scotland. He could not allow this opportunity to pass, without respectfully, but distinctly and unequivocally, denying the statement of the hon. member for Kirkcudbright, that only a small fraction of the members of the Church of Scotland were opposed to the connexion of Church and State. A large majority of them were opposed to that union, and they looked upon it as unjust, unchristian, and impolitic. It was not the Established Church only to which they were opposed, but the compulsory assessment imposed by a dominant and privileged sect on all other persons in the State. He was a member of the Establishment, and it was putting the Church in an invidious situation to say, that it was not sufficiently strong to maintain itself, without imposing a compulsory and obnoxious tax upon other branches of the community. His constituents felt the objectionable manner in which Church patronage had been latterly abused, and were induced to call loudly for the repeal of the present law.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

would not contradict what the hon. Member had stated, but he would say, that his (Mr. Fergusson's) information was very different, and that he believed it to be correct. The hon. Member said, he was a member of the Church of Scotland, and yet wished for the destruction of that establishment, which by the universal voice of the people succeeded the Roman Catholic religion, which had been approved of by their forefathers, and venerated from that day to this. The desire for the destruction of this Establishment was a thing of yesterday; there was a large body of men who thought it necessary to separate from the Establishment, in consequence of the manner in which the ministers of the Establishment were appointed. But to say that a member of the Church of Scotland wished well to that Church, and yet wished for its destruction, was language which he could not hear without entering his solemn protest against it. As to the obnoxious nature of the payment alluded to, he would say, their estates had descended to them charged with that payment; that they had purchased their estates under that charge; and that if they attempted to pocket that sum, it would be, in his opinion, an unprincipled proceeding, as it would be robbing the Church of Scotland of a payment which had been allotted to it in lieu of tithes, for which now they gave no consideration. He would take that opportunity to say, that there were broached in Scotland doctrines respecting Church and State, to which he for one would never give his support. Principles were carried to an extreme that would soon put an end to all Government. The first attempt was made upon the Church, the next would be an attack upon property; and he hoped that Scotch Members would never give their sanction to any proposition, which in any way tended to the destruction of the Church of Scotland.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

was greatly surprised at the observations of the hon. Member. He could say, that the voluntary principle was not so general in Scotland as had been asserted. Out of a population of 2,300,000, about 500,000 were dissenters; so that the majority of the people of Scotland were in favour of the Establishment. He wished that hon. Gentleman would deal with facts, and not in general assertions. Whenever he brought forward the question of voluntary support to the Clergymen, he should be prepared to meet the hon. Member.

Mr. Roebuck

said, that when he had stated on a former occasion, that he was opposed to the Church, what he meant was, that he was opposed to a compulsory assessment for its support; but he denied entertaining any desire to witness the destruction of the Church. The hon. member for Kirkcudbright must know that the Church consisted of the people,—that it was not the edifice or the Clergy, but the congregation. What he wished was, that the principle should be carried from politics to religion, and that no money should be paid except where services were rendered. It was of great consequence, that those Members who entertained opinions similar to his own should not be misapprehended, or misrepresented. There was an assumption of sanctity by certain hon. Members on the other side of the House, when any suggestions were given on the Reform of the Church, and they arrogated to themselves a kind of superiority, as though they contained in themselves the whole religion of the House. Surely, hon. Members might be very religious on that side of the House, and yet entertain particular opinions on the Church Establishment. He thought, in such extraordinary zeal for the Established Church, instead of evincing that Christian charity peculiarly inculcated by the doctrines they professed, he observed a spirit of narrow and bigoted intolerance.

Mr. Finch

was surprised to hear the hon. member for Lanark say, that the union of Church and State was unscriptural and unchristian; and that the people of Scotland were opposed to the compulsory maintenance of them. He must deny both these statements. He denied that the payment of Church dues was a compulsory payment, in the proper sense of the word; it could not be said to be a compulsory contribution, to require men to pay that which was never theirs. As to the connexion of the Church and State, he contended that it was both Christian and Scriptural. That question had been fully discussed out of doors, and he (Mr. Finch) would say, that those who were opposed to the Established Church, and to what they called a compulsory payment, had not come out of the controversy with much credit to themselves.

Mr. Gillon

totally disapproved of the sentiments which had been expressed by the hon. member for St. Andrew's. He agreed with the hon. member for Bath, that it was most unfair to assume, that hon. Gentlemen who were in favour of voluntary contributions, were opposed to the principles of the Church of Scotland. For his own part, he begged distinctly to state, that he did not consider that he was entitled, nor did he desire to put into his own pockets the money which his lands were subject to. Previous to the Reformation, this property belonged to the Roman Catholics, and from the period of the Reformation, he considered the Church property was vested in the State, and that it should be appropriated as that House should think fit.

Mr. Johnston

must beg leave to reply to the charge of arrogance or assumption of exclusive religion, which had been urged against him by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The observations which he felt it necessary to offer on this subject, were spoken by him as an elder of the Church of Scotland; as such, he felt that the subject of religion should not be adverted to but in a grave and becoming manner; and he did not think that because he had adopted this course, he should be met by the taunts and sneers of the hon. Member opposite.

Petition to lie on the Table.