HC Deb 03 April 1835 vol 27 cc782-4
Mr. Gillon

presented a petition from the inhabitants of the parish of Ayton, in Berwickshire, against the proposed additional endowment of Churches and Clergymen of the Established Church of Scotland. This petition had been signed not by Dissenters only but by many of the Churchmen themselves. It had been agreed to, also, at a public meeting called for the purpose of considering the question, not like the petitions in favour of the endowment, which had been carried about from door to door by the Clergymen themselves and their Elders. The manner in which these petitions had obtained signatures was little creditable to the promoters of them. All sorts of devices had been resorted to; the names of children, of very tender years, had been affixed, and of women who could not write their own names. Persons had been told that they were signing petitions for the spread of the Gospel and of education, and even that, without this, they could not expect to be freed from the Corn-laws, or to feel the benefits of a system of free trade. This was the sort of deception employed. These petitions originated from a circular issued by certain members of the General Assembly in which the grossest misstatements were embodied as to the amount of Church accommodation in Scotland. He would give but one example, in a place with which he was well acquainted. He meant the town of Hamilton. In the circular of the General Assembly the accommodation was stated thus:—

Population. Necessary Accom. Present do. Deficiency.
9,513 4,750 800 4,200
In this statement the whole of the seats in all dissenting places of worship were kept out of view, and those in a Church lately built, in connexion with the Establishment. The real state of the case was this:—
Necessary Accom. Actual do. Surplus.
4,101 5,800 1,396
He could only characterize such statements as these as attempts to obtain money under false pretences; and he could not sufficiently express his astonishment, considering the quarter from which they proceeded. This was an attempt to put down the Dissenters, to whom we were indebted for keeping alive the flame of pure religion in the country, during a long period, in which the members of the Church had been sunk in a species of lethargy. They were called upon to contribute to the suppression of those Churches which they had built at their own expense, and maintained so much to the public advantage. Cases might be made out in the Highlands and islands, where there might be a want of spiritual instruction, but, if any assistance was to be given, let it be given indiscriminately to all who established a case of necessity, without reference to party or sect. The fact was, that most of the ministers of the Established Church were of the Tory party, and the present Government, knowing how unpopular they themselves were, backed the clergymen in their demands, in order to obtain in Scotland a partial support. Great meetings, however, had been held at Glasgow and Paisley, from which petitions had emanated against this grant, and a similar course was likely to be adopted all over Scotland; and he doubted not, that when the Table of the House should be loaded with these petitions, and the true state of the Church accommodation should have been laid before them, in answer to certain returns which were about to be moved for, a case would be made out against this most unjust and unnecessary demand, such as no Government or party would be able to resist.

An. Hon. Member

stated, from his own knowledge, that there were several parishes in the vicinity of Hamilton, without sufficient Church accommodation. In the Highlands it was well known that there were parishes twenty miles long with the Churches often placed at the extreme ends of them. It was necessary, therefore, that the poor of Scotland should be provided with Church accommodation, and this ought not to be made a political or party question.