HC Deb 02 March 1847 vol 90 cc679-707

rose for the purpose of moving— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether, and in what part of Scotland, and under what circumstances, large numbers of Her Majesty's subjects have been deprived of the means of religious worship by the refusal of certain proprietors to grant them sites for the erection of Churches. The hon. Member began by referring, in terms of eulogy, to the manner in which this subject had been brought before the House on a former occasion by the late Mr. Maxwell Stewart. He considered that the claims for redress which that hon. Gentleman had advocated, and which he (Mr. Bouverie) now brought forward, were entitled to be heard, and, though he was a member of another Church, he strongly felt the injustice of the refusal. He interceded for the Free Church of Scotland, and was willing to grant to that Church what its members would be willing, if necessary, to grant to his Church. A great body of persons had left the Church of Scotland, influenced by a sense of duty—a call to assert a great principle, the assertion of which was essential to the welfare and prosperity of the religious body—he meant the independence of the religious society of civil control. He considered the right of self-government in matters ecclesiastical to be the true and right principle. He believed that the Church of England owed much of its inefficiency to the absence of this principle. They were about to discuss in that assembly, composed of members of all religious bodies, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Unitarians, and members of the Church of England, and other denominations, the propriety and advantage of adding a certain number of bishops to the English Church—a Church which was not the common Church of the Members of that House. Certain it was, that a large and influential body of persons in Scotland had thought it their duty, in compliance with their principles, to go out of the pale of the Church of Scotland; and events connected with the Free Church had proved that the expectations of those who thought the schism would be temporary, had not been well founded. That church had, in less than four years, collected for ecclesiastical purposes no less a sum than 1,254,000l. It had built 630 churches, and established a vast number of normal and other schools. These simple facts showed that those who had expected the healing of this great schism of the Scottish Church, were sure not to have their anticipations realized. This body, if they asked for a favour at the hands of the House, were entitled to ask it; but they asked no more than the justice to which they were fairly entitled. If they came to seek an addition to their means of promoting religious education, they would be justified in asking for inquiry, and had a right to a hearing from the House; and more especially when, in the deep and deplorable calamity of famine which prevailed in Scotland as well as in Ireland, he laid a special claim for consideration for the body whose case he brought forward. It was this body who were amongst the first to take steps to investigate the state of distress, to ascertain its nature, and to make efforts to relieve it, in Scotland. A reference to the papers which had been laid before the House on the subject of the distress in Scotland, would furnish the best proof of this fact. [The hon. Member read from page 212 of the printed correspondence a letter from the Lord Advocate to the Secretary of State, dated December 10, 1846.] He repeated, that if this body were seeking for a favour at the hands of the House, they had laid a good foundation for it; but they did not ask any such thing: they asked for simple justice—they claimed the full exercise of their religious rights and religious liberties, but not beyond what every subject of Her Majesty enjoyed. They alleged that their rights had been interfered with; that they had been prevented from the exercise of their religious worship; that they had been prohibited from building churches for that purpose. This was the grievance they urged upon the House; and they wished the House to inquire into the subject; and they claimed redress at its hands. It was his duty to urge upon the House three or four cases; and he would first call their attention to cases in which the property of the Duke of Buccleuch was concerned. In entering into this statement, he was not going to discuss the motives of individuals. He should abstain from every thing which could fairly give cause of offence to individuals. He was going only to deal with the public conduct of individuals; and, certainly, he could speak only with respect of the Duke of Buccleuch. He believed that the conduct of that noble person, in the performance of the important duties which belonged to his rank and position, had been most exemplary. But the Duke of Buccleuch was a man for all that; and he could not forget, that such persons as Archbishop Cranmer, and Calvin, had indulged in persecution. There were two cases in which the body had been interfered with upon the Duke of Buccleuch's property; one at Canobie, and the other at Wanloch Head, on the borders of Lanarkshire. At Canobie, the Duke of Buccleuch had been repeatedly applied to to grant a site for a church; and the conditions he had attached to his consent, amounted to nearly a prohibition of public worship altogether. At Wanloch Head, the population—mostly miners belonging to the lead mines—was about 700 persons, and seven-eighths of the whole belonged to the Free Church of Scotland. There the congregation had been compelled to meet in the air. They were, it was true, able for some time to erect a tent and meet there; but he believed that, for weeks, the tent having been damaged by the weather, they had, on Sundays, when the weather permitted, met in the open air; and on other Sundays they had been prevented from meeting for religious worship at all. The clergyman, who had left the Establishment at the time of the secession, and who was, like others, hardly allowed a resting place, his family residing thirty miles from the scene of his ministry, occupied a room nine feet square. The hon. Gentleman read a long extract descriptive of the great hardships endured by the congregations at these places, and went on to say that these were the two cases in which the Duke of Buccleuch was concerned. The Earl of Aberdeen, a Member of the late Government, however, had acted differently, and though an individual who at first was much afraid of encouraging this movement, yet when the movement had taken place he was one of the first to grant sites for churches to congregations of this persuasion. The Duke of Buccleuch, who was a dissenter, had erected, if report were correct, a chapel at Dalkeith, where he had the service performed in the strictest conformity with the liturgy of the Church of England. Now, he (Mr. Bouverie) could not help saying, that while the noble Duke was sitting in that chapel and listening to the service, if the noble Duke were but to contemplate the liberty he was then enjoying, he could not for a moment refrain from granting the request of the poor people of Canobie and Wanloch Head. This referred to the lowlands; he would now come to the highlands. In the lowlands it was well known that in very few cases one individual possessed large tracts of land; but in the highlands it was very different, for the majority of the proprietors there were proprietors of very large tracts of land; and if the Free Church did not get sites from these proprietors, they were practically prohibited from getting sites at all. On a large property belonging to Lord Macdonald, the noble Lord—for reasons best known to himself—had thought fit to refuse sites to these people. In a neighbouring district — in the district of Ardnamurchan, belonging to Sir J. Riddell, a property forty miles long and proportionally broad, where a large proportion of the population of the district, upwards of 1,100, belonged to the Free Church—Sir J. Riddell had refused, and still refused, these people, his fellow-countrymen, the means of building churches. In a large district on the other side of Scotland, in the vicinity of Strathspey, a similar refusal had been given. Also in another district, in the district of Harris, on the extreme west of Scotland, where some 4,000 people belonged to the Free Church, they had been obliged to perform their public worship in the open air. There was also another district in the island of Mull, the hardships the people of which had to undergo in the performance of their religious ceremonies, the hon. Gentleman read an account of. The hon. Member then resumed by stating, that these were some of the cases of the grievances of which he had to complain; and he trusted that the House would assent to his proposition, and that there were just grounds of complaint. But what were the consequences of this state of things? In the first place, a large body of the people were practically prohibited from meeting to worship their God according to their consciences; and, in the next place, there were all those exasperations which such treatment necessarily excited in the minds of those who were refused. He could not see any objection to granting sites, or divine the reasons for refusing them, more particularly as Lord Stair and others who had granted sites had never had reason to complain of disrespect from the people to whom they had so granted them. In most of the cases to which he had referred, the most fearful destitution existed; yet in those very districts where the poor people were undergoing severe suffering, they were practically prohibited from meeting together to ask God to alleviate their distress. All he asked for was a Committee of Inquiry, and he trusted he should then be able fully to substantiate the statements he had made, so as to give the greatest satisfaction even to the most minute particular. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Fox Maule) had proposed that compulsory power should be given in order to enable them to go before some judicial authority to obtain sites of land for churches; but he (Mr. Bouverie), only in the present instance, required a full inquiry. There were instances and precedents of the Legislature interfering in cases of this kind; for instance, the Legislature had interfered in the case of railways, concerning which the only reason given for taking possession of lands was, that "the public convenience requires it." Yet it was not in all cases the convenience of the whole commonwealth, but merely of a comparative few. But there were also stronger precedents even than these, which were cases where compensation was obliged to be given, cases which he could only denominate as being "damnum sine injuriâ." He found, in an Act of Parliament passed two years ago, the "Metropolitan Building Act," a clause to the effect, that from and after January, 1846, it would not be lawful to let out any room of less dimensions than therein specified, or any room or rooms, being cellars, for the purpose of lodgings; and in which case no compensation was thought of, though every one knew that a large amount of property at that time was vested in cellars. In the same year there was also passed another Act, the "Enclosure Act." relative to which it was stated that the public health, the public advantage, and the public weal were concerned in having places of recreation for the population of towns; and a clause was inserted in that Bill, to the effect that when any common was enclosed, a part should be reserved for the amusement and recreation of the people. The question now came—since places had been found for the amusement and recreation of the people—were they not to find places for their education and religious worship? He would only mention one other instance, and that strictly in point: he did not pretend to an accurate knowledge of the laws of Scotland, but he believed that, on the formation of new parishes in Scotland, the Court of Session had the power of granting authority to reserve in some cases four acres of land upon which to build a manse for the clergyman of the parish. Now he could not see how any just distinction could be drawn in this matter; but, as he said before, he would not enter into the question of what was to be done; and he only trusted that in stating what he had to the House, he had done so calmly and succinctly. The hon. Gentleman concluded by submitting his Motion.


rose to second the Motion. He thought his hon. Friend had amply proved the existence of a grievance. It was no less a one than this, that a large portion of the subjects of Her Majesty in Scotland were deprived of the means of religious worship. If that were not a grievance, he did not know what they could call a social grievance. The next question was, whether by the Motion which his hon. Friend had made, he was likely to go any way in diminishing that grievance. Had his hon. Friend moved for leave to bring in a Bill, as had been done by the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary at War, it might have been objected to by hon. Gentlemen, and it might be said, "You are at once interfering with property;" but his hon. Friend had two objects—the one was to inquire, and the other to expose. Now, inquiry and exposure were the objects of Parliamentary Committees. He would support the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock, for this reason if for no other, that the inquiries of the Select Committee would attract attention to the proceedings of such of the landed proprietors of Scotland as were disposed to push their authority to an undue extent. Some good would probably result from this, for they would be thus shamed into a toleration of religious freedom, which their too scrupulous tenets might otherwise prompt them to refrain from. Believing that the Motion was founded on the principles of justice and tolerance, he had great pleasure in seconding it.


said, the subject to which his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock had that evening invited the attention of the House, was one which on two former occasions had been brought under their consideration, and he had hoped that the discussions which took place on those occasions, and the opinions which had been expressed, would have produced such a beneficial effect as to render it wholly unnecessary for those who now applied for an inquiry, to make any further appeal to the Legislature for relief. He had hoped that the proprietors in Scotland—few in number — who refused to grant sites for churches to members of the Free Church, would have been influenced by the advice which was given them by persons whose opinions were deserving of the highest estimation, and that they would have been convinced of the propriety of no longer persevering in the course which formed the subject of complaint. He alluded particularly to the opinions which had been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the late Secretary for the Home Department. When this question was first brought forward by his lamented Friend, Mr. Patrick Stewart, the right hon. Baronet declared his sorrow at hearing the statements which, on that occasion, were made, and expressed a hope that if, unhappily, they should prove to be true, some speedy remedy would be applied; and when, on the second occasion, the matter was brought before the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Perth, who obtained leave to bring in a Bill on the subject, the right hon. Baronet, though declaring himself unfavourable to direct legislative interference, again emphatically repeated the opinions he had previously expressed. The whole spirit and tenor of his observations went to this point, that whatever course might have been justifiable in the early days of the secession, now that that secession had become clearly of a permanent character, and that all hope of a reunion had passed away, the continued refusal of proprietors who held in their hands extensive estates and large tracts of country in Scotland, to grant sites for churches to congregations of the Free Church, was a circumstance deeply to be implored as being directly opposed to the true principle of Christian toleration. In these sentiments, he entirely concurred. Time and reconsideration, he was glad to say, had had their effect on the Scottish proprietors in some instances. The cases of refusal to grant sites were certainly of less frequent occurrence now than they used to be. He was sorry that there were any cases of refusal at all. He could wish that there were none; but statements which had been made in that House and in the public journals, and which never had been contradicted, made it so evident as not to admit of dispute that there were still too often cases where congregations in connexion with the Free Church found it impossible to obtain sites on which to erect their places of worship. Though all hope of a reunion had long since passed away—though it was clear that the secession would be of permanent duration—and though many thousands of the population of Scotland were irrevocably attached to the principles of the Free Church, there were still extensive districts in which, owing to the continued refusal of certain landed proprietors, it was found impossible to erect an edifice wherein to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences. They were exposed to annoyances and grievances such as no other denominations of Christians dissenting from the Established Church were subject to. In this painful position his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock came forward to apply, not for direct legislative interference, but for the appointment of a Select Committee to ascertain whether the statements in respect of this matter were well founded, and to inquire into the circumstances under which the complaints had originated. It had been asserted, on former occasions, not that sites had not been refused, but that there were excellent reasons to justify the refusal. If the fact were so, this was a point into which it would be the duty of the Committee carefully to inquire. It was much to be regretted that all proprietors in Scotland had not acted as the Earl of Aberdeen and others had done, who, opposed to the principles of the secession, no sooner saw that it was inevitable, than they yielded a ready compliance to any applications made to them for sites on the part of members of the Free Church. If, however, there were any good grounds for a contrary course, this would be ascertained by the inquiries of this Committee. It could not be questioned but that there were cases where members of the Free Church found it impossible to obtain sites for their places of worship; and it was only right that those who laboured under the imputation of giving unreasonable refusals to such applications, should be afforded an opportunity, which they would have by the appointment of a Committee, of showing, if they could, that they were justified in the course they had adopted. For these reasons, he, for one, was perfectly prepared to accede to the Motion of his hon. Friend. He did not think it necessary to express any opinion as to the ultimate legislative remedy to which his hon. Friend had adverted, nor to the analogy which the cases he had alluded to might be supposed to bear to the subject of his present complaint. It was enough for him that grievances were said to exist, affecting the religious liberty of a large proportion of the community in Scotland, possessing strong feelings of attachment towards their own religious community. It was enough that those grievances had been alleged and not denied, and that the inquiries of the Committee might result in a remedy for a state of things which must be admitted to be exceedingly distressing. He had hoped that religious bitterness and sectarian animosity were disappearing, under the genial influence of opinions more enlightened and feelings more generous. At first there might have been proprietors who could not bring themselves to believe that the secession would be of an enduring character, and who were (perhaps not unnaturally) unwilling to impart to it a permanent duration and prolonged vitality, by being too ready in giving sites for churches; but that expectation must have long since passed away. He did not wish to enter then into the discussion of whether the secession was necessary or not; they were not there to analyse or contrast the doctrinal principles of either of the Churches in Scotland. This much, however, he might be permitted to observe, that the secession was unquestionably a remarkable event, and a disinterested proceeding on the part of those engaged in it, and that therefore it could not fail to enlist sympathy even in quarters where the conviction of its necessity was not admitted. But there was one circumstance to which he must allude. Look at the time at which this Motion was brought forward. There was a very large district of Scotland which Providence had been pleased to afflict with a severe visitation. Want and destitution prevailed to a great extent in the western and northern parts of that country; and it was to be recorded to the honour of the very men who now applied to that House for relief, the members of the Free Church, that they knew no differences amongst their fellow-countrymen in this season of emergency, but joined heart and hand with Scotchmen of all denominations to mitigate the calamity under which their common country was suffering. At the meeting recently held at Edinburgh, they came forward with the most praiseworthy alacrity, and offered to put into a common stock the funds they had already collected amongst themselves of their own body. The happy consequence was, that there was now an united people in Scotland, and that men who differed widely on matters of church government, now met together for the first time since the secession, and co-operated zealously one with the other to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to arrest the progress of famine and disease. At such a moment as this, therefore, the House should not refuse to listen to the statements of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, or to attempt to remove a remaining source of discord and estrangement. He trusted that this year would not pass away without this cause of bitterness between the Established Church and the Free Church of Scotland having disappeared.


said, he should be unwilling to enter on the general subject without stating, in the first place, what he believed was the united feeling of the House as to the manner in which his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock, in bringing forward this Motion, had contrived to combine most temperate, with, at the same time, a most feeling statement. He said this the more willingly, because he could not concur in the general object proposed by his hon. Friend, though he was compelled to admit that no proposition to which he had always been opposed, had ever, in his hearing, been brought forward in a manner more calculated to conciliate and disarm all opposition; but he must say that this was a very different proposition from that which was made to the House on this subject last year, by the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary at War (Mr. Fox Maule). He did not object to the manner of the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion; but his object was totally different from that of the hon. Gentleman that evening. Hon. Gentlemen had dwelt upon the conscientious feelings of the members of the Free Church; but some regard ought to be paid not merely to the consciences of the members of the Free Church, but to the consciences of the members of the Established Church. His hon. Friend had talked of persecution, and attributed, indirectly at least, persecution to certain individuals whom his hon. Friend had named; and as he (Sir R. H. Inglis) knew one of those individuals to be perfectly incapable of doing anything unworthy of a Christian proprietor, he would assert that so far as he knew of his Friend, Sir James Riddell though he had been dragged before the House as the proprietor of an immense tract of property in Scotland, he was a man who would be ready to give his tenants every facility not inconsistent with what he considered a proper discharge of his own duty, for worshipping God in their own way. This it was the apparent object of the hon. Member to oblige the Scotch proprietors by law to do. The House would recollect that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. Maule), in his Bill of last year, gave not only to the members of the secession Church, but to every body of Dissenters whatever, the power of demanding a site for a place of worship, from a proprietor on payment of the full value of the land; so that the Church of Rome, might, under his Bill, have had the right of building chapels wherever it was convenient. His right hon. Friend (Sir G. Grey) had intimated that, in a great many instances, the proprietors in Scotland had withdrawn their opposition to granting sites for these churches; but he (Sir R. H. Inglis) asked whether that was any reason for coercing the remaining proprietors into parting with their land contrary to their consciences? One reason for the opposition that was still kept up on this head, perhaps, might be the behaviour of the Free Church in several cases. Unless he was much misinformed, the Free Church had frequently been built so near, or rather in such juxtaposition to the Church of the Establishment, that the same clock and the same bells served for both. ["No, no!"] He was so informed. He held in his hand a list of places, in which he was informed that this was the case, namely, Corstorphine, Browton, Cramond, Libberton, Kirkliston, and Kinross. He had his information from those who had local knowledge, and he believed that his information was correct; that in these parishes the Free Church was placed almost in juxtaposition, and, at any rate, near to the place of worship of the Established Church. His hon. Friend who had introduced the question said that the Duke of Buccleuch and Sir J. Riddell, being dissenters from the Established Church of Scotland, ought to have been more liberal. But the question again recurred whether they, the House of Commons, were at liberty to compel a man to consent to the erection of a place of worship in which doctrines directly hostile to his own feelings and opinions, might be preached, on his own property. Though he had admitted that the proposition before them was less objectionable than that of last year, still he had experience enough of that House to know that a Committee of Inquiry was seldom moved for without a foregone conclusion. He doubted not that his hon. Friend would admit that he believed the object for the consideration of which he had proposed the Committee, would be granted. If so, the proprietors of Scotland would be compelled to devote, for the purposes of spiritual instruction, ground which they believed in their consciences ought not to be granted for such a purpose. It was a thing unprecedented in this country, and he would oppose any such proposal, not only on the grounds of the rights of property, but also on the rights of conscience. Of his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch he had not that knowledge which would justify him (Sir R. H. Inglis) in speaking in his favour; but he did not believe that the Duke of Buccleuch had been actuated, in refusing these sites, by any feeling that he was ashamed to avow. With regard to his friend, Sir J. Riddell, he believed that in his refusal he had been actuated by no other motive than that of a Christian conscientiousness. Regarding this proposition in much the same light as the Bill proposed last year by the right hon. Member for Perth, he did not feel himself at liberty to accede to it.


I have need to ask the indulgence of the House for addressing them at this period of the debate; but perhaps the House will allow me to say that, it having been my painful duty to address the House more than once upon this distressing subject, I have nothing to retract or to add to what I then stated. I then expressed, and now express, my regret that this refusal of sites should have taken place in Scotland, even in the few instances that it has taken place in; and I have also before now said, and now repeat, that my opinions would not lead me to refuse a site for a Free Church if I had property where a site was required. But I think with my hon. Friend who spoke last (Sir R. H. Inglis), that this matter is, after all, pretty much a matter of conscience; but I differ from my hon. Friend in thinking, that this course of the inquiry is better than the course that was taken on this subject last year by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fox Maule), and I consider that this matter is better adapted for settlement by means of direct legislative interference, than by an inquiry before a Committee of this House. It appears that the facts of the case are not disputed. Some proprietors in Scotland, acting from a sense of duty, have refused sites for building churches to the members of the Free Church. No new facts have been brought forward on this occasion. The hon. Gentleman, who introduced this subject in a spirit which it is not possible too much to commend—because, though the subject is an exciting subject, he has discussed it with calmness, clearness, and perspicuity—has brought forward no new facts. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman into the case of the Duke of Buccleuch, which has been twice before this House; and I think that the case of Sir James Riddell has been mentioned on former occasions. There have been only two additional cases now noticed, that of Lord Macdonald in the Isle of Skye, and that of Lord Seafield on the opposite side of the coast of Scotland. These are the four cases on which reliance is now placed; but, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department has announced to the House, as the result of his inquiry, and confirming what I had myself anticipated, that in the lapse of time, and without any direct interference of the Legislature, the change has been progressive, and that the weight of public opinion has operated upon those proprietors who had refused sites; that they are now few in number, and that they already form exceptions to the general rule. These are the facts which are admitted; and with these facts, what can be the object of the inquiry? The object was not announced by the hon. Gentleman who moved for this Committee; but the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion admitted that exposure was the object. Now, I cordially concur in the eloquent sentiments which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, at the close of his speech. I cannot forget that we are discussing this subject at a time when the most solemn feelings are operating in our breasts; that we are in the midst of a great calamity which is enough to humble the pride of man; and that in a large portion of Scotland, the poor, at the present moment, are suffering the severest pressure; and I do agree that this is an occasion upon which all angry passions and all party feelings should be buried in silence, and, as far as can be, all the bitterness of religious animosity should be assuaged. I would ask then, if these are the sentiments which ought to pervade this House, as they do pervade the public in this country, whether it is a legitimate object—when all the facts are admitted—whether it is desirable to expose certain individuals for the conscientious exercise of their rights, and to discuss the motives which seem to have swayed them in their denial of sites? and whether the institution of such a Committee, instead of allaying animosities, will not tend, in the strongest manner, to excite them? If, therefore, there were no other ground, I should for these reasons be prepared to resist the present Motion. But just let us see the nature of this discussion, let us see its inevitable tendency. With all the discretion of the hon. Mover of this Committee, are we not involved in a debate on the political opinions of the Duke of Buccleuch; on the attachment of the Earl of Aberdeen to the Established Church of Scotland; and on the faith and practices of Sir James Riddell? Is it to be tolerated that such discussions are to be entered upon in this House? I lament the refusals which have taken place, and I think that they will not be continued; and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has told us that they are diminishing, as I think, wisely and most rapidly, so that they are already the exception, and not the rule. Again, I say, therefore, that there is no room for inquiry; the facts are admitted; and if any change be required, distinct legislation ought to be adopted. I certainly entertained great objections to the Bill introduced into Parliament last year; I retain those objections, and I think we should be entering upon a dangerous course of legislation; but I think also that if the refusal of sites for places of religious worship at variance with the Established Church is to be dealt with, it ought to be by direct legislative interference; but the question which we are now discussing is of a different kind. I do not deny the competency of the Legislature to interfere; but if there is to be an interference it must be on the general principle of religious toleration; it cannot be confined to the Church of Scotland, but must include all denominations. If it shall be necessary to bring in a Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. Maule) by his Bill admitted, it must be complete for the whole of the United Kingdom, under certain modifications and rules. The proposition must be not that it is for the benefit of any sect, but that it is for the benefit of the community to give sites for building places of religious worship. This is a grave and a great question, and it must be debated on the ground of general policy, with reference to the events of the particular time. I adhere to the opinion that no necessity did exist, and I think that no necessity exists now. I say that legislation, if there is to be an interference, is the proper course; but I altogether dissent from the propriety of appointing a Committee. I am unwilling further to detain the House upon a question which has been so often discussed; but if this Motion be pressed to a division, it is my firm determination to vote against it.


entirely concurred in the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorchester (Sir James Graham); and said, he could not help observing that the principle adopted by the hon. Gentleman opposite was that of making "the voluntary principle" compulsory. They were called upon to give to the Free Kirk of Scotland the power of obliging those who differed from her in religious opinions, and were unwilling to give sites for churches, to grant those sites whether they would or not. The hon. Gentleman distinctly stated that he was prepared to go the same length as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary at War, and was prepared to give a power to take the land for sites for churches, if the landlords should be unwilling to give it up. He thought that a most dangerous principle of legislation, and one to which the House of Commons ought not lightly to consent. On these grounds alone he should follow the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and vote against the appointment of this Committee. With one accord, every Gentleman who had spoken had praised the moderation with which this proposition had been introduced to the House, and he (Lord G. Bentinck) was as willing as any one to admit the moderation; but with all that suaviter in modo, he thought there was somewhat of the fortiter in re, when speaking of the Duke of Buccleuch. Notwithstanding the great, the high, and the distinguished virtues, both domestic and public, which the hon. Gentleman admitted, he said that the noble Duke "was not unwilling to indulge in a little private persecution of his own." He thought that all who knew that noble Duke, must be aware that a love of persecution was altogether repugnant to his character and feelings. A more generous man than the Duke of Buccleuch did not exist; and therefore they had good right to assume that there must have been great provocation to have induced him to refuse to these parties sites for their churches. Although he had had no communication with the Duke of Buccleuch on the subject, he had been given to understand that the most violent and indecorous attacks had been made on the private character and personal conduct of the noble Duke by some preachers, because he had refused these sites for churches. There was one other nobleman whose name had been mentioned, Lord Macdonald. Much had been said, and justly said, in praise of the charity so creditably exercised of late by the Free Church of Scotland, in relation to the distress now pervading the Highlands; but had not that House, throughout the Session, been brought greatly to admire the conduct of Lord Macdonald in relieving the distress upon his estates? Had they not often heard that he had forestalled his entire income for the relief of the people in the Isle of Skye? And if his conduct in regard to the Free Kirk of Scotland was to be thus questioned, they ought to recollect his general conduct and character, and rather to take it for granted that he must have received some provocation for refusing to certain ministers sites for their churches, before they thus condemned him unheard. If the House went to a division, he should concur in a vote refusing inquiry into the conduct of these individuals, whose private conduct in the control of their own property was no fit subject for inquiry by a Committee of the House of Commons. If they thus gave sites for the Free Church of Scotland, what was to prevent the Roman Catholics of Ireland, and of this country, who might be refused similar applications, from demanding to be put upon an equal footing, and also exercising the same right of building churches wherever they might think fit to erect them? He understood that in Scotland in many cases where the Free Church were refused sites, they had sought to build their churches on sites offensive to those who held the land, and close to the neighbourhood, or opposite to the site, of the Established Church. He was neither for the Established Church of Scotland nor for the Free Church. He held property in Scotland, and individually had always readily consented to grant accommodation to the Established Church or to the Free Church of Scotland; but this was quite different from giving the members of the Free Church a downright authority to obtain sites against the wishes of the owners of the land; and as he thought that to grant a Committee to inquire if it might not be expedient to pass a law to make the granting of sites for the building of Free Churches in Scotland compulsory, was most objectionable in principle, he should vote against it.


said, that having been engaged on this question last year, and having been the author of a legislative measure on the subject, he trusted he should be excused if he took the great liberty of asking the House to listen to him instead of to his noble Friend, who so worthily held such a distinguished place in that House; but after the speeches of the noble Lord who had just sat down, and of the right hon. Gentleman who preceded him, he thought that, without entering fully into the general argument, he could establish, out of those two speeches, the proof that it would be right to go into this inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham) said, that there was no new fact, and that all the facts were admitted; whilst the noble Lord brought forward assertion after assertion, believing them to be true, but every one of which he would undertake to prove before a Committee of that House had been misrepresented, and were capable of the most easy contradiction. If the granting of a Committee were for the purpose of inquiry into the motives of individuals, he would be one of the last Members to ask the House to grant a public Committee; but this was a Committee which, in his opinion, was asked for to inquire into a great national grievance—into a grievance affecting an integral portion of this nation, and extending over nearly one-half the whole community—into a grievance which had been stated in that House, not once or twice, but upon three separate occasions. The statements of those who brought forward the subject had been doubted; and he must say, that the time was now come when he thought the House was entitled—and not only entitled, but bound—to have an official inquiry into these matters. How were they to arrive at a just conclusion? It could only be by a Committee of that House investigating the case as it was stated on both sides. It was not the Free Church who were pressing them; she was driven to this alternative, and those who were in communion with her were left no alternative. If the Free Church ministers had pursued conduct unworthy of Christian ministers, let that fact be made patent before the Committee, as the fact with respect to the refusal of sites would be made patent. He wished to protect nobody; he wished to expose neither party; he sought only an investigation of such a nature as would establish the facts, and he was glad that it had received the official consent of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The noble Lord opposite had asked why four or five individual cases had been brought forward? They had not been brought forward with reference to the individual names with which they were mixed up, but they were brought forward with reference to the districts. These individuals were sole proprietors of large districts, where there was no other opportunity for the Free Church to gain relief by applying to other parties. Let the noble Lord recollect what course had been taken, and what had been the result of the Free Church acts in the Isle of Skye itself. The distress was universal; there was almost starvation among a considerable portion of the people, and they were driven to desperation. In their want of food the threats of these poor people were, that they would be driven to apply to their own sustenance the sheep which were wandering on the mountain side. There and then was preached from the pulpits of the Established Church, and in the gravel pits to which the Free Church was driven, the doctrine of obedience to the law in the midst of all temptations and all sufferings. Those appeals were successful, and these 4,000 men, who had no place to worship but in the open air and under the canopy of Heaven, had abstained from every act of aggression; and through the influence of their clergy they had not meddled with anything belonging not to themselves, and had not appropriated to their own use any of the property of others. And was it to be borne, and would the House submit, that men who had acted in this manner, should be denied the privilege of worshipping together on the Sabbath-day, in a covered, though humble place of worship? He believed that if the House refused an application of this kind, the poor population so situated would be driven to desperation, and that the Legislature would run the risk of turning them from the habit of public worship at all; and then what would become of them? It was in vain that his hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University said, that there was room in the Established Churches; but they differed from the doctrines which were there taught. He said, advisedly, that they differed, because the discipline and the doctrines of the Established Church were now mixed up, and what was called the rule of discipline was looked upon as incorporated in the doctrine of the Established Church. But into that question he would not go; it did not form part of the subject before the House, and he would speak only of the general acts of the proprietors in refusing to the people the means of meeting for the purposes of religious worship. But there was one case which showed the use of a Committee. The noble Lord had alluded to the motives which had influenced the Duke of Buccleuch in refusing sites. The noble Lord had stated, that there had been gross denunciations against the noble Duke uttered by those to whom he had refused sites; the same thing had been stated over and over again; but the Duke of Buccleuch himself had said, after receiving further information as to the statements on which he had founded his belief, that they were not well founded, so that the noble Lord would see that this argument against the appointment of a Committee had not any foundation. The only motive which seemed to induce the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorchester (Sir J. Graham) to oppose the Committee, was, that he had adroitly seized a word which fell from the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart), in which he said that the Committee was intended for exposure. Now, the right hon. Gentleman admitted that he would himself urge the grant of site, and would give as an advantage to the Free Church the weight of public opinion; but how was public opinion to be a guide, unless there were a knowledge of the facts; and what after all was a knowledge of the facts but exposure? He conceived that there was no other way in which public opinion could be formed, except on the facts. Whenever an expression of public opinion had occurred, it had been after a diligent search into every fact; without it there had never been a great political change, and upon every amendment in legislation, previous inquiry had brought public opinion to bear. He said, then, that it was a fit subject for inquiry to bring public opinion to bear, when the House would find that half a nation were suffering persecution on account of their religious opinions, and many thousands were deprived of a roof over their heads in their public worship. The right hon. Gentleman said that these instances were decreasing rapidly; and it was true that, since the discussion last year, there had been a change for the better; but the House would hardly believe that there were still thirty cases of refusal of sites; and he held in his hand a table of the districts of Scotland in which these cases occurred. He trusted that the House would pause well before it refused to grant this Committee. They had heard the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck), the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir R. H. Inglis), and the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Graham)—who might almost be called a Scotchman, so nearly did his property adjoin that country—opposing this Motion; but they had seen no Scotchman get up and follow the same course; and he earnestly trusted that he should hear no Scotchman speak, and that he should see no Scotchman record his vote, against the inquiry for which he asked. He could not think without regret of what would happen in that country, and of the feelings that would be excited, if the House of Commons rejected this Motion. The House would recollect, that all they asked was for a Committee of Inquiry: let the faults of the case—if faults there were—be laid before the Committee; let the proofs be laid bare, and then they would see whether the complaints upon this subject had been founded in caprice or injustice to a large body of people in Scotland, who, he maintained, had been most unjustly refused the right of every freeman in a free country, viz., an opportunity of following out their religious opinions according to their conscience in quietness and peace.


thought that the friends of this Motion might regret that the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken should have abstained, immediately upon his accession to office, from using that influence which, as a Member of the Government, he might possess, and have allowed the hon. Member for Kilmarnock to bring forward this subject. He thought the matter of such paramount importance, that if anything were done upon the subject, it was the duty of the Government to undertake it. What was a Committee to ascertain which was not at that moment within the reach or knowledge of the Government? The facts of the case were established and notorious. The right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to put the Scotch Members in a very invidious position; for he said that he trusted he should hear no Scotch Member contend against the Motion. He would not yield to the right hon. Gentleman, though he was a member of the Free Church, in his admiration of the great body of the Scotch people; nothing could be more admirable than the readiness with which they had submitted to the sacrifices they had made; nothing more praiseworthy than that conduct to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded: but, his objection to this Motion was, that he thought it most unkind and unfortunate: and with deep regret had he heard the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, and the announcement that the Government were about to consent to this Motion; not because he dissented from the principle of toleration the right hon. Baronet had enunciated, nor from the object he had in inducing landed proprietors to grant sites to members of the Free Church; but because he believed that, in appointing this Committee, they would be taking the course calculated to frustrate, or at all events to postpone, the object they had in view. It was because he thought it interfered with the principle of toleration, and because he believed it would be irritating anew those feelings which were in the course of settlement, and that it would greatly retard the object they had in view, that he was opposed to this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of half the nation belonging to the Free Church; and in the petition of the General Assembly of the Free Church, it was stated to consist of one-third of the people of Scotland. Now, there were about 1,100 parishes in Scotland, and how many congregations were there actually established? 831—congregations exercising all the rights of freedom and religious worship. There were 640 churches actually built, and 27 in progress; making, together, 667. According to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, there were thirty cases in which refusals had been made; and that the cases had been falling off since last year. [Mr. F. MAULE: I said the cases had diminished from last year, but that thirty cases still remained.] He had stated the matter rightly, if he had not been misunderstood; but he said that last year there were more cases, aud that they were now reduced to thirty cases. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke on this subject last year, he mentioned the name of the Earl of Cawdor. It appeared that that noble Earl and others had acted upon the principle alluded to by his hon. Friend behind him, and had given sites of their own accord: and in that manner the number of cases had become diminished, not because they had interfered by legislation, but because they had allowed the expression of public feeling in that House to have its effect upon those proprietors. He heard with great admiration the reference of the right hon. Gentleman to the conduct of members of the Free Church on the western coast of Scotland. He was anxious to express with the right hon. Gentleman his admiration of such conduct; but how could he treat it? He would allow it to have its effect upon those very proprietors who had refused sites; let them see that this young Church, separated as it was from the Established Church, and perhaps at present too much excited, and endeavouring to excite religious animosities wherever it went, was exercising the right office and duties of a Church, viz., in the performance of works of charity, and endeavouring to do all the good it could amongst the people, and he could not but hope, and confidently foreseee, that within a short space of time, unless they interfered, those proprietors who had hitherto refused would grant sites. The right hon. Gentleman had mentioned the Duke of Buccleuch. There was no man in that House who knew anything of that noble Duke but would concur in the just eulogiums which the noble Lord the Member for Lynn had passed upon him. But what had prevented that noble Duke hitherto granting sites? Within a very few yards from that spot where they were assembled, the noble Duke had avowed the cause to be that strangers, ministers, and laymen coming from a distance, had preached against him. [Mr. F. MAULE: I deny it.] If he could have advised the Duke of Buccleuch upon that subject, he would have said, "Despise these attacks; look upon the principle of this great movement, and give sites;" and he believed that, if the sites had been given in the case of the Duke of Buccleuch, as in every other, the mischief would have been prevented. But were their proceedings such as to produce that effect on the mind of the Duke of Buccleuch? Was he to be told, "You shall be exposed, and compelled to do that you are unwilling to do?" And if they voted for this Committee, what would be the consequence? That they would again revive the animosities that were beginning to subside. Upon that ground did he object to it. The right hon. Gentleman knew well, that in the course of last year nearly 500 petitions, with nearly 60,000 signatures, were presented to that House. They were then told to leave things alone, and gradually they would get better. And what was the consequence? That no fresh petition had been presented; that there were only thirty cases now; and that they were daily diminishing; and he believed that if the subject were left alone, they would all be relieved. It was because he wished that to be the case, without increasing the present animosities and difficulties, that he thought they were taking an unwise course. If a division took place, he should certainly divide against the Motion, for he did not believe it could lead to any practical result. What were they to gain by it? What course was to be pursued? Was it the course mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman last year, viz., compulsory legislation? If they took such a course they must grant the same thing to all sects and to all religions: they must give it to all or none. That was a course which he believed that House or the Legislature were not inclined to accede to; and if that were the only object or end of the Committee, he asked once more what was to be gained by it?


said: Sir, if I was anxious to address the House before my right hon. Friend the Member for Perth (Mr. F. Maule), it was because if I take part in favour of the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), I do so from no partiality for those in whose behalf the Motion has been made. I was one of those who strongly resisted their claim to be heard by this House, and to have a legislative decision in their favour, before the unfortunate secession in the Church of Scotland had taken place. I was one of those who could see nothing to justify the great body of ministers who had been the leaders of that secession, and the large number of people who had followed them. But that secession having taken place—great numbers of the people of Scotland having conscientiously followed their ministers who abandoned their houses, their incomes, and their means of livelihood, in order to follow the dictates of their strong religious convictions—I am no less persuaded that everything which this House can do to enable those ministers to preach the doctrines in which they conscientiously believe to their followers, who eagerly crowd to listen to them—I am no less persuaded that everything which this House can properly do for the attainment of that end, ought to be done. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorchester (Sir J. Graham), put his case in a way so smooth and round, that if no one had followed him in the debate, his speech might almost have concluded all argument upon this subject. The right hon. Gentleman said—"Here are facts that are undisputed—facts that have been completely ascertained; there is nothing to inquire into. Either propose a remedy, or abstain from interference in this matter. But, as for a Committee of Inquiry, that is unwise and inexpedient." But the right hon. Gentleman had no sooner concluded his speech containing these assertions, than up rose my noble Friend the Member for Lynn, who with regard to the facts of the case took for granted one thing, assumed another, and presumed a third; and all these facts were contradicted and disputed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Perth. My noble Friend assumed that these ministers had been entirely in the wrong; he took it for granted that they had made violent personal attacks against those proprietors who had been asked for sites; and he presumed that they had acted in a manner so offensive that it was impossible for the proprietors to accede to their requests. Now, all these are facts which have been taken for granted by my noble Friend, but which have not been ascertained. In order, therefore, to know what the facts of the case really are, I think it is desirable that we should have a Committee to inquire into the subject. It is desirable, in order that we may see whether there is in the statements in question that degree of truth which would make these refusals justifiable. Here is, it must be confessed, a very considerable grievance. We have congregations in one place meeting on the moor and on the moss exposed to the violence of the winds, drenched by the pouring of the rain, while listening to the performance of divine service, without any shelter, reminding us of those times of the Covenanters when persecution was established by law. We have in another place people obliged to leave the main land in boats, in order to find the ministers who only can give them that religious doctrine and that spiritual instruction which they are prepared to receive; and we have these things justified on the ground of the rights of property. Now, I must say, that with regard to a legislative remedy for these things, I am, on the one hand, very unwilling to adopt any legislation upon a subject so difficult, and touching so nearly the conscientious opinions of many. But, on the other hand, if it should be proved to me by facts—if it should be proved to me by inquiry—that these grievances are suffered, and that there is no sufficient redress for them—that these are not special and peculiar cases in which the proprietor's personal character was attacked, and in which he found it quite impossible to grant sites without sowing dissensions among the people living on his estate; but that these are refusals on the ground that this is a religious sect of which he disapproves, and that in thirty cases these refusals still existed, and in thirty cases people are obliged to listen to divine service without a roof over their heads—I must say if, after a patient inquiry, and after hearing both sides, these facts should be established, I should not be indisposed to agree to a legislative remedy. Therefore, I say, that this is a case for inquiry. It is not a case in which the House ought at once to interfere, because it is a case in which you may have to establish a great principle; for I freely admit, that if you establish the principle for the Free Church of Scotland, and if there should hereafter be any similar complaint from the Roman Catholics of Ireland, or from the Society of Friends, or any other religious society, the principle must be universally applied, and what you do in one case you must do in a like case. But, Sir, that does not convince me that you ought not in an extreme case to assent to a legislative remedy, because there is nothing which the House ought to hold more sacred than allowing every individual in this country to worship God according to his conscience; and if these obstacles are interposed, you do not permit that freedom of worship. I do not want to touch upon the character of the individuals who have refused to grant these sites. I am ready to admit that many of those persons who have been mentioned as having refused to grant sites, and with whom I have myself the honour to be acquainted, are persons of the kindest disposition and of the highest character. That I am ready to admit. But in subjects of this kind, I know very well to what extremes persons have gone, who, in their general character, show the utmost kindness and benevolence. Why, even this evening my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir R. H. Inglis), than whom I know no man of a kinder disposition, or of a more benevolent regard towards all his fellow-creatures, has shown that in subjects connected with religious liberty, he cannot appreciate the strong feelings of others. He told us, very calmly, that, with regard to one of these parishes, there was accommodation in the place of worship of the Established Church. That shows that my hon. Friend thinks it sufficient that there is a church open; and he does not take into his consideration what are the feelings, what are the doctrines, and what are the opinions of those men who come to us as petitioners in this instance for our protection. Now, I should like to know what my hon. Friend would think, if, when he asked, in a Roman Catholic town, in a Roman Catholic country, for a Protestant place of worship, he should be told, "There is plenty of room in the Roman Catholic church. You have no need of any place of worship of your own; there is room, not only for you, but for hundreds of other Protestants in the Roman Catholic place of worship. Go there, and you will be always well received." Even the kindest and most benevolent persons, therefore, may be unable to enter into the feelings of others on religious questions; and although the principle of forcibly appropriating sites for places of religious worship may be a dangerous one, yet, considering that in our legislation we already violate the rights of property—and that, for the promotion of the public health, for the construction of a road or of a railway, or for the purpose of beautifying a square or ornamenting a town, we have no hesitation in telling parties that they must give up their property at its fair value—I do think that there may be a case in which the propriety of interference by the Legislature for the purpose of obtaining sites for churches may be inquired into. I have been glad to find that almost all those who have spoken in the course of this discussion, have said that they lamented the refusal of those sites. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last said, that in giving his vote against the proposed inquiry, he considered that he should be acting more in furtherance of the object of the Motion, than if he were to vote in its support. I am glad to see the opinion which prevails generally upon the subject in this House; and I hope, that whatever may be the decision of the House on this occasion, those who hold, on what I have no doubt is a mistaken notion, the firm conviction that they are right in refusing sites for Free churches in Scotland, will yet change their opinion on seeing what is the general feeling upon this subject of those whom they most respect; and that the members of the Free Church of Scotland will have the means of worshipping God according to their own consciences and belief.


was disposed, after all that he had heard upon both sides of the question, to give his vote against the appointment of the Committee. The question should be viewed in its twofold character: firstly, as it regarded the private characters of individuals; and, secondly, as to the effect it was likely to have upon the religious feeling of the people at large. If he were to consult the wishes of individuals—at least if he were to consult the feelings of one of the individuals whose character had been assailed—he should be compelled to give his vote in favour of the inquiry. The Duke of Buccleuch, he believed, would like nothing better than to have an opportunity, such as the appointment of the Committee would afford him, of stating fully before it his reasons for refusing sites for the places of worship which he had refused. So likewise, he believed, would Lord Macdonald. He well remembered the manner in which Scotland was convulsed, a short time back, by the dispute between the Churches, and the strong feeling which had arisen between the clergy of the Established and the Free Church, when they were in the habit of preaching against each other from their respective pulpits. But when he saw those acrimonious feelings subsiding—when he found that the number of cases in which sites for places of worship were refused, reduced, in the year 1847, to thirty—was he not, he would ask the House, bound to believe, that if they had not thus again stirred up those subjects of acrimony—not again brought forward that bone of contention, there would not, in the year 1848, be twenty places in which the same subject of complaint would be found existing, and that by the year 1850 there would not be a single subject of complaint? He had feelings of the sincerest respect for those who differed from him in their religious views; and he agreed with the noble Lord the Member for London, when he said, that it was desirous and necessary to legislate in a case of existing grievance which was not likely to remedy itself. But he differed from the noble Lord in considering the present to be such a case. He thought that the grievance was being redressed; and he felt convinced, that in five years time from the present, they would be able, if they did not interfere, to congratulate Scotland upon having no single cause of complaint or dispute upon the subject. Believing that the proposition would have the effect of exculpating those whose conduct had been hitherto sought to be inculpated, he was glad that it had been brought forward; but, believing that it would renew and widen the schism which already existed, he regretted that the Motion had been made.


would record his vote in favour of the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock. The question was scarcely one which fell within the limits of Parliamentary legislation; but, at the same time, he thought that an inquiry ought to be instituted relative to the obstructions placed in the way of obtaining sites for the Free Church. A case of grievance had, in his opinion, been made out; and, under those circumstances, it was his intention to vote for the Motion of his hon. Friend, with the distinct understanding that he did not thereby pledge himself to any particular line of conduct upon the question subsequently.

The House divided:—Ayes 89; Noes 61: Majority 28.