HC Deb 03 August 1835 vol 30 cc1-7
Sir William Rae

, on presenting a petition from Kincardine for support to the Scotch Church, took occasion to advert to the Commission lately issued to inquire into the subject of the Church of Scotland. From what had already passed, the country expected that the Commission would be of a character to carry with it universal confidence, and least of all was it expected that it would be founded upon party principles. It was therefore not without considerable surprise that he had read the list of the names of the Commissioners, by which it appeared that out of eleven persons, some paid and others honorary, ten were decidedly adherents of the present Government; so that only one individual could be considered an independent Member. If he had succeeded in the Motion he formerly made for a Committee to investigate the question, what would the noble Lord opposite and his friends have said, had he suggested that ten Members should be taken from one side of the House and only one from the other. It would be recollected that his Majesty, in his speech from the throne, had noticed the Church of Scotland, and the late Government intended to follow up that notice by the grant of an additional endowment. When the present Government came into office nothing was done until he had moved for a Committee, and then a Commission was accorded. If Ministers were honest and sincere in their intentions with regard to the Church of Scotland, they would have taken the utmost care to appoint persons who were free from all party feeling, and he well remembered that his right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcudbright (Mr. C. Fergusson) had admitted the propriety of such a course. He had other objections to the Commission. In the first place he generally disapproved of paid Commissioners, and they were quite unnecessary in Scotland, where, until lately, nothing of the kind had been known; and not the least difficulty had been experienced in finding men of high character and qualifications ready to undertake the duty without emolument. Such were the Law Commissioners, and such the University Commissioners, who had patiently and gratuitously investigated the affairs of the Universities of Glasgow, St. Andrew's, and Aberdeen. When the selection was made with no expectation of payment, it was usually more pure, since nothing was to be gained, and it was rather a favour conferred upon the Government than upon the individuals. With the exception of one or two, the Commissioners were men at the Bar of only a few years standing, who had shown no peculiar qualification for an inquiry into the state of the Church, and the majority of them might be considered hostile to that Establishment. One of them, in particular, had not only been the avowed champion of the Dissenters, but he had even published a treatise against the Church of Scotland. If he were wrong upon this point he could easily be set right, and he asked whether a person who had so mixed himself up with the adversaries of the Church, ought to belong to the Commission? He had understood that the name of Mr. Colquhoun, late Member for Dumbarton, had been suggested, but withdrawn. He had been informed also, that an individual who had been very active against the Established Church in Edinburgh was to be Secretary to the Commissioners; and if this were true, how was it possible for the people of Scotland to have confidence in such an inquiry, or to look to the result with any satisfaction? These were the parties who were to take the evidence for the investigation, which would necessarily embrace the statistics of the various parishes. It appeared to him as if the appointment of a Commission was merely a means adopted by Ministers to get quit of the subject; but he trusted they would adopt some means of adding to the Commissioners persons of independent principle, who would act as a counterpoise to the persons already named. After this public notice, they would at least see the necessity of reconsidering the construction of the Commission.

Lord John Russell

did not mean to enter into the merits of the individuals, especially as he was not acquainted with some of them, in consequence of their residence in Scotland, and practising as advocates at the Scotch bar. He would say generally of them that they had been chosen with a view to fairness and impartiality. Neither did he think it any impeachment of that fairness and impartiality to say that the majority of the Commissioners were of his way of thinking on political questions, because not a few of those in Scotland who agreed with him in politics were the warmest and steadiest friends of the Church. Some were most anxious that a grant of money should be made, and others did not see sufficient grounds for refusing it. He would not make up his mind one way or the other on the subject, but as to any party bias in the Commissioners he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman was totally mistaken. What objection could be made to the noble Earl who was one of the Commissioners—a man of great ability, great knowledge, and as great impartiality? The same might be said of Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone, a gentleman of whose aid any Government would be glad, and he believed that he had been more than once solicited to take office. Other members were known to be firmly attached to the Church of Scotland. The procurator of the Church was also one of the Commissioners, and the brother of two hon. Members, who had so far taken part with the right hon. Gentleman as to have voted for the Committee. It was fair to presume, therefore, that there existed among the Commissioners no feeling unfavourable to the Church of Scotland. With regard to the individual who had printed his hostility to the Church he had understood from those who were anxious for an investigation of the subject that it was only fair that some person attached to the Dissenters of Scotland should belong to the Commission—that it would be taken by the Dissenters as an evidence of impartiality, as far as they were concerned. They would naturally be anxious to show the nature and means of religious instruction among them. The right hon. Member might be one of those who thought that dissent should be suppressed, but that was not the opinion of the distinguished men who had lately attended in London on behalf of the Church of Scotland. Therefore it seemed proper and judicious, with a view to all parties, that some member of the large Dissenting body should be included in the Commission. Other Commissioners were advocates at the Scotch bar, who had been represented as well qualified for the task by knowledge and assiduity, and he did not consider it any proof that they were inimical to the Scotch Church because their politics were rather of a liberal than an illiberal cast. He did not look upon the subject at all as a party question, and he believed that the Commissioners would act fairly and impartially under the same impression.

Sir George Clerk

said, the way in which the Commission was filled up had given general disappointment. He admitted that many of the Commissioners were friendly to the Church of Scotland, but then, with one exception, their politics were the same as those of the Government. The unpaid branch of the Commission was above all suspicion, but the others were Barristers, not in high practice, some rather known for the active part they took in party politics, and others against the Church of Scotland. The people of Scotland were serious in their habits, they were attached to the Church, and could not be pleased to see such important interests left to the care of young men, whose talents at the same time he did not mean to deny.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, the hon. Baronet who spoke last endeavoured to impress the House with an idea that the friends of the present administration could not be friendly to the Church of Scotland. Now he was a supporter of the Government, and there was no man more friendly to the Church of Scotland. He had no means of ascertaining what were the merits of the paid Commissioners, but the unpaid were above all suspicion. If the former were not in extensive practice so much the better, because they could devote all their time to the inquiry. When first this Commission was proposed, he said the appointment should be made without party considerations, but he could not admit that it was sufficient objection to any appointment, in such a case, to say that the individual was of the same politics as the Government. Friendship to the Government did not imply enmity to the Church of Scotland, and the conduct of Ministers showed that they were not hostile to that Church. If there were not one or two members of the Commission to represent the Dissenters, Government would be justly liable to the charge of partiality.

The Lord Advocate

was surprised to hear the junior Commissioners spoken of as political partisans and young Barristers. The very youngest of them was of four years' standing, a period which would entitle him to the situation of a Judge. One of them, certainly, took part in an election; but surely that did not constitute him a political partisan. It was not uncommon, however, to have political partisans raised to the highest situations. The Gentleman alluded to stood as high as any man at the Scotch bar for honour, integrity, and talent. The other junior Commissioners had been from eight to ten years at the bar. He had heard no objection to Lord Minto, to the Member for Dumfries, or to the Procurator of the Church of Scotland. The other members were well known for their attachment to the Church of Scotland. Perhaps it might be better if it were possible to select men to whom no suspicion of political bias could attach; but he did not see how it could be done. It was but fair that the Dissenters should have at least one Representative on the Commission. It was not, in fact, a party question. Politics had nothing to do with it, and no Commission was ever more impartially selected.

Mr. Pringle

said, he had various communications from Scotland, disapproving of the manner in which the Commission had been filled up. There was one of the Commissioners who had shown himself to be deeply and zealously connected with the voluntary principle, and the Secretary was known for entertaining such opinions on the Church of Scotland that it was impossible he could give satisfaction. The better course would be to revise the Commission.

Mr. Baines

said, instead of complaining that the Dissenters, friends to the voluntary principle in Scotland, had too large a number of members on a Commission, which had for its object to make provision for all religious denominations in Scot- land ["No, no!"]—Gentlemen might say no, no, but he contended that the object of the Commission was to inquire into the means of religious instruction and pastoral care afforded to the people of Scotland—that is, to all the people of Scotland without distinction of sect—and how far those means are available for the religious and moral improvement of the poor, and of the working classes. It was not fair that ten out of the Commissioners should be of the religious denomination of the Established Church. From the explanations that had been given it appeared that this great inequality existed, and he must therefore expect that so far from there being any well-grounded complaint against the Ministers for placing one Dissenter upon the Commission, the real ground of objection to the appointment was, that the friends of the voluntary principle in Scotland was not more adequately represented by the Commission.

Mr. Fox Maule

begged to state that if he had understood the Commission to have been appointed in the sense attributed to it by the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) he would not have voted for it.

Petition laid upon the Table.

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