HC Deb 01 April 1835 vol 27 cc540-4
Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

presented several Petitions from Kirkcudbright, and other places in Scotland, in favour of the extension of the Church of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman said, that while no one could wish more than he did for the extension of the Church of Scotland, he must say, that all efforts towards that end would prove abortive without the settlement of the law of patronage, and giving to the people of Scotland an efficient share in the selection of their pastors. If the Legislature did that, and if, in endowing new churches in Scotland, they gave the selection of the pastors to the inhabitants of the parishes themselves, he was sure that there would be little to call for in the shape of a grant of public money for the purpose of building churches, as voluntary contributions would then pour in from the people to defray the expense. So small, indeed, would be, he was confident, under such circumstances, the advance required for that purpose from the public exchequer, that he was sure the Representatives of England, and the people of England, would not object to it. While he gave his assent to the principle of such a measure, he did not mean to bind himself to any of the details of the plan which might be brought forward by Ministers on the subject. He, for one, would contend that, to render any such plan for the extension of the Church of Scotland effective, the present system of Church patronage in Scotland should be extinguished, and he should like to know if any measures had been taken to have the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown in reference to an overture that had been agreed to on that subject by the general assembly of the Church of Scotland last year.

Sir George Clerk

said, that as he had presented many similar petitions on this subject, and as he had several others to present, he might take this opportunity to say a few words in reference to them. He believed that a very erroneous idea prevailed as to the extent to which it would be necessary to call on the Treasury for providing for the extension of the Church of Scotland. In proposing any plan on the subject the Government would be anxious to assist, not so much by affording aid in the building of Churches, as in providing permanent endowments where Churches had been already built. In several places in Scotland Churches had been erected for the accommodation of the people, but there was a great chance, that unless some security should be given for the permanent endowment of those Churches, the intentions of the pious individuals who had built those Churches would be frustrated. It was then proposed by Ministers, and such was the intimation in the Speech from the Throne, that wherever by the exertions of individuals additional churches or chapels of ease had been provided for the accommodation of the people, an endowment should be given in aid of them out of the funds of the State. It was obvious that as long as the support of the clergymen officiating in such churches or chapels of ease was left to depend on the rents of the seats, that support where the population was a poor one, must be extremely precarious. The only way, therefore, that the State could assist the poor under such circumstances in obtaining church accommodation was by paying for their religious instruction. The State would thus stand in loco parentis towards the poor, procuring for them that religious instruction for which they could not themselves afford to pay. The right hon. Gentleman, in reference to lay patronage in Scotland, had asked if any measures had been taken to consult the Law Officers of the Crown with respect to an Act passed by the general assembly of the Church of Scotland last year upon that subject. To take any such step at present would be premature. It was better to wait to see what the effect of the decision of the general assembly would be. The general assembly, it was true, did pass a resolution on the subject last year, but that would not have the force of law until it was sent round to all the Presbyteries of Scotland for their concurrence. They were now in the course of giving their judgment on the principle of the measure, and in six weeks hence it would be submitted to the general assembly, and they would then have to decide as to the best way, not for the abolition of lay patronage in the Church of Scotland, for that he (Sir G. Clerk) did not desire, and he was sure the people of Scotland did not wish for it, but for putting it under such regulations as should prevent its abuse. In the course of a few weeks he was sure that they would have petitions from every parish in Scotland similar to those which had just been presented by the right hon. Member for Kirkcudbright.

Lord Dalmeny

said, that as the Representative of a Scotch constituency, he could state that there was no measure better calculated to increase the great unpopularity already possessed by his Majesty's Ministers in Scotland than a measure, the object of which would be out of the public purse to increase the endowments of the Church of Scotland. There was a decided feeling in Scotland against such a measure, and instead of increasing the goodwill there towards the Established Church, or strengthening its foundations, it would defeat any such object, and be productive of a great deal of harm. If there was so strong a feeling in Scotland in favour of the extension of the Established Church, why did not its friends keep up their own endowments? Why should England and Ireland be taxed for such a purpose?

Mr. Wallace

observed, that if the present system of patronage should be continued, it would be productive of the utmost dissatisfaction throughout Scotland. The first step of the Government should be to relieve themselves from its abuses. Church patronage in Scotland had been abused by all Governments, whether Whig or Tory, and perverted to political purposes. He intended to move for a return of the members belonging to the Established Church and Dissenting congregations respectively in Scotland, in order that it might be seen whether it was necessary that any sum should be granted or not for the purposes specified in those petitions and he would reserve his opinion with regard to any such measure until those returns were produced. He had no expectation that the General Assembly would by any regulation put an end to the abuses of lay patronage. Some legislative enactment was absolutely eecessary to destroy that political engine.

Mr. Wilks

had received many communications from Dissenters in Scotland on this subject, and he was justified in stating, that if not a majority, at all events a very powerful minority in that country, entertained the strongest opposition to any plan for extending, at the public expense, Church accommodation in Scotland, for the members of the Established Church there. It was extraordinary at this period of our history, to find a demand made upon the empire at large, to contribute a tax for increasing the Church accommodation of a peculiar religious party in Scotland. Such a demand partook of a degree of infatuation and injustice, that astonished him. He was sure that the Dissenters of the empire would firmly resist any such proposition.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that whatever plan should be adopted, it was essential that Church accommodation should be provided for the poorer classes in Scotland.

Mr. Hume

said, that if the poorer classes of Scotland were to have Church accommodation provided for them out of the public purse, he did not see why the poorer classes of England and Ireland should not have an equal right to make a similar demand. [Mr. Cutlar Fergusson: I admit it]. He would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to support similar grants to every individual sect in England, Ireland, and Scotland.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that because he supported the principle of making such a grant to the people of Scotland, it did not follow that he would deny the right of the people of Ireland, or the people of England, to a similar grant.

Mr. Hume

would oppose all such grants, whether for the Church of Scotland, or for any other Church.

Mr. Finn,

as a Roman Catholic, begged to disavow any claim on the public purse, for the purpose of giving support to the religion of 7,000,000 of people, a great portion of whom were much less able to provide Church accommodation for themselves, than the people of Scotland were.

Mr. Hindley

said, that the Established Church of Scotland, having first increased the number of Dissenters in that country, by its system of lay patronage, now called on Parliament to aid it in building Churches for the purpose of bringing back those Dissenters to its fold.

Petition to lie on the Table.