HC Deb 22 July 1890 vol 347 cc538-40

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 6.

(6.24.) MR. SOMERVELL (Ayr, &c.)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 22, after "age," to insert "religious profession." I have no intention of reiterating the arguments which have been used in the discussion on a similar Amendment to the English Bill, but I desire to point out that the question of taking a religious census occupies totally different ground in Scotland from what it does in England. The numbers belonging to the various denominations in Scotland is a subject of discussion both inside and outside the House, particularly since the relation of the Established Church to the State has been brought into prominence by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone). If this opportunity of discovering with some degree of accuracy the numbers of the different denominations is lost, there will be no certainty upon the subject when the momentous question of Disestablishment may be submitted to the country, and statistics of a misleading character may influence the House in coming to a decision. The House has received Petitions from the Kirk Sessions of almost every parish in Scotland in favour of inserting a column of this kind. There is a very strong feeling indeed among the majority of the people of Scotland on the subject, and Scottish Members untrammelled by office on this side are unanimous in its support. If the Government accept the Amendment they will be giving effect to a strong popular desire, and will obtain valuable information on a question which is most keenly interesting to the people of Scotland, and which they consider of vital importance to them. I can hardly hope that the Government will on this question be induced to give an absolutely free hand to those who sit behind them, and also to the Members who occupy the Treasury Bench. If, however, the Government can see their way to recognising this claim I would press the matter to a Division, but I have no intention of wasting the time of the House either by prolonging my remarks, or by forcing a Division, if the Government do not see their way to refrain from making this a Government question.

Amendment proposed, in Clause 6, page 2, line 22, after "age," insert "religious profession."— (Mr. Somervell.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


I am sure my hon. Friend has stated his views with great clearness and moderation, but I must say at once that we must assume, on this question, the attitude the Government took upon the English Bill; we are unable to assent to the Amendment. It is superfluous for me to dwell on the reasons; they have been adequately stated by my right hon. Friend, and I think they, in an equal degree, apply to Scotland. I do not deny the value that such statistics would have, but they could only be obtained by a census carried out with the assent of the country, and it is quite obvious, from what has passed here to-night, that that assent is not likely to be obtained. I must say, with reluctance, but quite distinctly, that we cannot accept the Amendment.

*(6.31.) MR. HOZIER (Lanarkshire, S.)

I trust that everyone will clearly understand that those who are in favour of disestablishment, and actually claim to have the people of Scotland at their back, are those who are afraid of the results this census might disclose. For our part, we on this side of the House are keenly anxious to have the information, so that we may know exactly where we are.

*(6.31.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

I am very unwilling to continue this discussion, for I think the answer of the Lord Advocate ought to be satisfactory to every Scotch Member. I am really surprised that the two hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from the other side of the House should not be satisfied with the statistics their Party have gathered up in regard to the denomination to which they adhere. We have been told that these statistics have been proved and tested by ministers and elders, and are vouched for on the faith of their church and religion, and yet now they come here upon this Bill and say these statistics cannot be relied on and that they must have State Authority for them. ["No, no !"] Well, I think the statement of the Lord Advocate is conclusive that a large number of people will not furnish these religious statistics. This is really a manoeuvre of the Church Defence Association, with a political and ecclesiatical purpose, and I think the Government act wisely in not giving countenance to it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses up to 19 agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.