HC Deb 27 July 1840 vol 55 cc1057-65

On the vote, that a sum not exceeding 5,000l. be granted to her Majesty for defraying the expense of building a new hall for the general assembly of the Church of Scotland,

Sir R. Peel

gave his entire concurrence to the vote. He would take the opportunity of saying, that he deeply regretted the dissensions in ecclesiastical matters which had taken place in Scotland. He had had opportunities of standing in close relation towards that Church, and he felt as strongly as any member of that Church could do, that the public acknowledgments were due to that Church for the services it had rendered. He considered it as one of the most important and useful instruments in propagating true religion, suited to the country in which it was placed, with reference to the past history and present social condition of that country, and calculated to maintain those principles of order and tranquillity which were insecure unless based on a sense of duty. He regretted that a portion of that Church had placed itself in opposition to the State on a question of civil right. The supreme tribunal of Scotland had given its decision, and an appeal had been made to the House of Lords. Upon a question which involved the interpretation of a statute, there could be no authority to act in defiance of a statute law of this country so interpreted. He saw that in Scotland, in reference to this case, allusion had been made to the division of authority which had taken place between the House of Commons and the Court of Queen's Bench. But the cases were quite different. The House of Commons asserted its right upon constitutional principles to interpret its own privileges. This question, which arose in Scotland, was on the interpretation of a statute, and there was no power to place an interpretation on a statute at variance with the regularly established tribunals of this country, and still less to reject a law which had been passed by the three branches of the Legislature. He regretted that the Church had come to a determination, not only to disregard the decision of the House of Lords, but to place a contrary interpretation on it, and that they had not felt the pre-eminent obligation of setting an example to all the subjects of her Majesty in Scotland of paying implicit deference to the law after it had been so interpreted. The Session ought not to pass over without an attempt to reconcile this difference. It appeared to him that the civil right of presentation was unquestionable, and that the right of the Church of Scotland to judge of the qualification of the party presented was as unquestionable. An attempt had been made in the course of this Session by a noble Friend of his (the Earl of Aberdeen) to compose these differences by the introduction of a declaratory act. He was exceedingly sorry that that bill so introduced into the House of Lords, which had received the sanction of that House by a large majority, on the second reading was not to receive the sanction of the Legislature. He was exceedingly sorry that the Church of Scotland did not take an active part in promoting the passing of that bill, If it had come to that House of Parliament, however unpopular it might have been, that bill should have had his cordial support. He was told that it was decidedly for the Conservative interest, that he should hold himself in favour of the spiritual authority to which the Church of Scotland laid claim. If he had thought that authority just and legal, no one would have more readily supported it: but if he believed that that ecclesiastical authority so claimed was unjust and illegal, he would not, for the purpose of conciliation, give his support to it. But he did not feel, that exemption from the force and operation of the statute law of the land could by any possibility advance the interests of any Church establishment, and he earnestly hoped that public opinion in Scotland during the recess would become more moderate, and that the Church of Scotland would look forward to an early settlement of these unfortunate differences through the intervention of Parliament, or by some other mode. He saw an indication of the disposition of the country to accede to the principle laid down in the bill introduced in another place by his noble Friend, from the petitions in its favour which he had presented to this House. He found that 250 ministers of the Church of Scotland, and, if he was not mistaken, upwards of 1,000 office-bearers in that establishment, had, in a declaration drawn up in most moderate terms—a declaration which afforded to him a sanguine anticipation that early next Session a conciliatory measure would pass—expressed an opinion to the effect, that the measure of Lord Aberdeen would accomplish every thing that the Church of Scotland could reasonably desire. Such was the substance of the declaration which had received the powerful support and the signatures of men of the highest eminence in the Church of Scotland. At present the question was left in a most perilous situation; the judgments of the courts had been pronounced—ministers of the Church had been suspended, and menaces had been held out that the law, as pronounced in Scotland, and recognised by the House of Lords, would be disregarded. He trusted that those menaces would not be acted on. He regretted that the bill of his noble Friend had not this Session received the sanction of both branches of the Legislature; he regretted that some portion of the Church had taken part in the opposition to that measure; but of this he was certain, that no bill containing terms more favourable to the Church itself could ever pass into a law. The objection in this House to that bill would have been that it was too favourable to the Church. Here there would have been exhibited a wish to curtail the Church of its authority, and speaking of ecclesiastical authority, he could conceive a bill introducing a more popular election in the choice of Ministers, but he was satisfied no bill could pass more favourable to the Church than the measure of his noble Friend. He wished to say nothing that could at all prejudice a conciliatory settlement of this question, but he had thought it necessary, as one who viewed the Church of Scotland with feelings of respect and regard, to say that he could not support the claims preferred by that Church against the law laid down by the proper tribunals of the country. The best evidence he could offer to the Church of Scotland of his regard and respect for it was, to take this opportunity of inculcating upon its authorities a strict obedience to the law; and, above all, 16 express a hope that the obligations imposed upon them would induce them to set an example to those in communion with that Church by their own acts of deference and obedience to that law, as laid down by the constitutional authorities of the country.

Mr. F. Maule

was satisfied that his countrymen would be well pleased that the right hon. Baronet had been pleased to express his attachment and regard for the Church to which they belonged. If that Church had set itself up against the law of the land in matters of civil rights, he would be the last man to stand up in its defence. But the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland had over and over again declared, that so far as civil rights were concerned, it would bow implicitly to the decisions of the law; but so closely was the possession of benefices bound together with the induction to the cure of souls, that it was scarcely possible for those not acquainted with the constitution of the Church of Scotland to draw a line of demarcation between those two rights. But to those who knew the constitution of the Church, the line was clear and distinct, and to them it was apparent that all the Church and the General Assembly had done was to say, that while on the one hand they obeyed the law as to benefices, still they owed a duty to a higher authority than man, when they inducted to a portion of their Church any individual who had a cure of souls. On this point it was, that the General Assembly had maintained the constitution of the Church of Scotland, and had recognized and upheld—as he trusted they would ever recognise and uphold—the principle of what was called non-intrusion. He and they held it to be a principle of the Presbyterian Church, that no minister should be placed over a parish contrary to the will of the parishioners. If he were, he would be intruded contrary to the principles of the Established Church, and if the right hon. Baronet opposite thought that the bill which had been introduced by a noble Earl into the other House would tend in the slightest degree to remove the difficulties in the way of the settlement of this question, he must tell the right hon. Baronet that he had been misled and misinformed upon the subject. Those who had opposed that bill, had neither shown themselves disposed to seek for further ecclesiastical power, nor to shrink from the duties they owed to a loving and affectionate people. What the General Assembly had contended for was, the right of the people to approve of the minister called to preside over their spiritual interests, and what the bill introduced into the other House of Parliament would have done was, to enable the presbytery veto to override the popular veto. The right hon. Baronet opposite had alluded to a declaration in favour of the measure signed by certain Ministers and office-bearers. Now, before that bill had been introduced, two other measures had been framed, in favour of which another declaration had been signed, but not put forth, by 2,600 ministers and elders; and a minute of the Assembly, dated May 13th, 1840, spoke of one of those measures being calculated to bring about peace and harmony, and to effect a real and permanent adjustment. This document he found in the newspapers that had been received from Scotland that morning, and the names were printed of every member of that body who signed it, and he found affixed to it the signatures of not less than 383 ministers and 2,254 elders, making together upwards of 2,600 officers of the Church of Scotland. He was anxious to repudiate the use of violent or intemperate language in the discussion of this question, but he could not help feeling that much that had occurred on the part of the Church had arisen from the attachment of many of the members of it to popular rights. He did not, and he was sure that those who signed the declaration he had just referred to, did not wish to maintain any exclusive power, but he was satisfied that the general feeling of the people belonging to the Church of Scotland on this subject had arisen from their belief that the popular rights were mixed up in the exercise of the veto as they were mixed up in other institutions. The right hon. Gentleman expressed a hope that the ministers of the Church of Scotland would show to their respective flocks an example of devoted obedience to the laws of the country, and that they would induce them not to persist in their present opinions. He had no doubt that those clergymen would preach peace and good will to men, and would induce their flocks duly to observe all those matters which they were bound to obey; but if the right hon. Gentleman meant to say that those persons who had gone through so much obloquy, and been exposed to so much difficulty for the conscientious declaration of their opinions, should desert those points which they had contended for with so much zeal and ability, and thus abandon what they sincerely believed to be their sacred duty, he (Mr. F. Maule) felt bound to say that he could not concur in that expectation, He could not help comparing the bill introduced by the noble Earl elsewhere to that which had been passed in such an objectionable manner in 1711, and having reference to the same subject; for the Act of Lord Bolingbroke made a most serious inroad in the Church of Scotland. He could not forget how that act was passed and by what unfair means it was hurried through Parliament. It was carried through that House; and although at the bar of the other House counsel was heard against it, it was read a second time, committed, reported, and read a third time, all in the course of a week. That Act of 1711 had occasioned more secession and dissent from the Church of Scotland than all other causes together, and had been productive of the greatest evils. If, then, that measure had caused such a mighty rent in the Church of Scotland of that day, he hoped that he might be allowed to caution the right hon. Baronet and the House against following the course that had been adopted with regard to the patronage bill. Let the right hon. Gentleman take care what course he took on this subject, for he might occasion a more severe rent in the Church than was caused by the former bill, and might pull down the establishment. The best means by which the Church of Scotland could be maintained was, in adhering as nearly as possible to its original constitution. He feared, if they adopted the feelings of what was called the moderate party in the Church, and again endeavoured to give them the ascendancy, by means of an Act of Parliament, and thus cause the dissent of a majority in the assembly, the result would be that the knell of the Church would be wrung. He believed that the question in the next Session must come before the House. He believed in another place that on this subject there was little sympathy with the great body of the people of Scotland. It was almost impossible that at the present time this question could be properly settled, but he trusted that by the time that it came before the Members of this House they would have proper grounds on which to proceed. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman, that during the recess, nothing could arise in reference to this subject which the present law was not strong enough to deal with.

Mr. Hume

said, that the question before the House was, whether 5,000l. should be given for the purpose of building a hall for the use of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and he could not help complaining that neither the right hon. Baronet, nor the hon. the Undersecretary for the Home Department, had addressed themselves to it, but had diverged into a totally different matter. He could not help expressing his surprise at the General Assembly persisting in resisting the law, and it was a matter of astonishment to him that the Government should come down to ask for such a vote for such a body. Was not this conferring a reward for acting in defiance of the law; and after the question had been so often decided by the courts of Scotland as well as by the House of Lords, it was impossible that they could plead ignorance of the law. These persons called themselves men of God forsooth, but were they not creating and encouraging a resistance to the law? His hon. Friend said, that he was a supporter of non-intrusion, so was he, but he would tell his hon. Friend that he probably was not aware that by the mode in which he was supporting his opinion he was rendering the greatest support to the voluntary system. If this body wanted a hall to assemble in, the proper persons to be called upon to build it were the town council of Edinburgh. He objected, however, to building the hall, because the Church did not include more than half the people of Scotland. If the right hon. Baronet was as consistent on that subject as he was on most others, he would join him in resisting the vote, and he should certainly take the sense of the House against it.

Sir R. Peel

said, that there was one question which he wished to ask the hon. Under Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman had given his opinion, that the civil law would be sufficient to put down all differences on the subject of the Church. Now supposing certain ministers were to obey the authority of the House of Lords, and that their functions were therefore suspended; was there any mode of affording them redress?

Mr. Fox Maule

said, it was not fit for him to answer that question. He had no hesitation in re-stating what he before asserted—his opinion that the civil power would be found amply sufficient for the vindication of the law. The ecclesiastical court might have power to visit with its censure any disobedience to its law; but if it departed from its province, the parties affected would have their own remedy.

The Lord Advocate

was sure that the right hon. Baronet did not expect that he should enter on the discussion of a question of such magnitude as that which he alluded to on such an occasion, and at such an hour as the present. He could not help saying, however, that to charge the clergy as rebels arose from the grossest misapprehension of the case. The Ecclesiastical Court of Scotland never questioned the supreme rights of the civil courts in all civil cases, and their consequences; but then came the pinch of the question—shall the civil court have the power of compelling the presbytery to receive into orders any person who may be offered to them? The Auchterarder case did not go nearly to that extent; and he believed the majority of the judges on that occasion would repudiate such a construction. The conduct of the clergy could not be considered so reprehensible as it was described, when they bore in mind that their view was sanctioned by an able minority of the judges, and by a large portion of the profession. He believed that no measure would give satisfaction to the people, or alleviate the political disorder, which he deeply deplored, that did not give popular control. The late bill did the very reverse of this. It gave the Church the power due to the people, and which they had been taught to expect ever since the Reformation.

House divided on the question that the vote be agreed to:—Ayes 72; Noes 12—Majority 60.

List of the AYES.
Attwood, W. Greenaway, C.
Baines, E. Grey, rt. hn. Sir G.
Bannerman, A. Grimsditch, T.
Baring, rt. hn. F. T. Handley, H.
Bellew, R. M. Hodges, T. L.
Bernal, R. Hodgson, R.
Blackburne, I. Hogg, J. W.
Blair, J. Horsman, E.
Bramston, T. W. Hoskins, K.
Broadley, H. Howard, hn. C. W. G.
Brooke, Sir A. B. Ingestrie, Viscount
Brownrigg, S. Irton, S.
Bruges, W. H. L. Jones, Captain
Burrell, Sir C. Labouchere, rt. hn. H.
Campbell, Sir J. Lockhart, A. M.
Clay, W. Lushington, rt. hn. S.
Cochrane, Sir T. J. Morpeth, Viscount
Dalmeny, Lord Morris, D.
Dalrymple, Sir A. Muntz, G. F.
Darby, G. Nicholl, J.
Dunbar, G. Palmerston, Viscount
Eliot, Lord Parker, J,
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Pechell, Captain
French, F. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Gordon, R. Pigot, D. R.
Gordon, hon. Captain Praed, W. T.
Goulburn, rt. hn. H. Price, Sir R.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J Rawdon, Colonel
Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A. Stuart, Lord J.
Sandon, Viscount Style, Sir C.
Sanford, E. A. Tennent, J. E.
Scholefield, J. Tufnell, H.
Seymour, Lord Vere, Sir C. B.
Sheil, rt. hon. R. L. Wilde, Serjeant
Sibthorp, Colonel
Smith, R. V. TELLERS.
Somers, J. P. Maule, hon. F.
Stanley, hon. E. J. Steuart, R.
List of the NOES.
Baldwin, C. B. Thornley, T.
Brotherton, J. Vigors, N. A.
Duke, Sir J. Wakley, T.
Evans, Sir De L. Wood, B.
Hawes, B.
Hobhouse, T. B. TELLERS.
Hutton, R. Hume, J.
Norreys, Sir D. J. Warburton; H.

Vote agreed to.

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