HL Deb 17 August 1835 vol 30 cc576-9
The Earl of Haddington

was sorry to interpose; but he rose to call the attention of the House and of his noble Friend, the Viscount at the head of his Majesty's Government, to a subject of very considerable importance, which indirectly had a very important bearing on the subject they were about to discuss. It would be in the recollection of their Lordships, that three or four times in the course of the discussion of the Municipal Corporations' Bill, his noble and learned Friend opposite (Lord Brougham) had referred to the triumphant manner in which the Bill for the Reform of the Scotch Corporations had been carried through that House two years ago. The discussions of that measure certainly were not very numerously attended. Himself, a noble Friend below him, and a noble Marquess, whom he did not see in his place, but might venture to name—he meant the Marquess of Bute—were the three heroes who appeared against the Bill; his noble and learned Friend alone encountered them, and, as their Lordships would very readily believe, gained an easy triumph over them. The ground on which they opposed that Bill—at no stage of which were there more than thirty noble Lords present—was, that his Majesty's Ministers had issued a Commission of Inquiry into the whole state and condition of Scotch Corporations: but that the Ministers had afterwards thought it more convenient to legislate first, and inquire afterwards. The noble Lords who opposed the Bill were overpowered, however; the Bill was passed, and Scotland was now reaping the enormous benefits derivable from it. He understood now that the Report of the Commission—which had been issued more than two years ago—was made, and unless he had been misinformed, it furnished a strong proof that it was better to inquire first, and legislate afterwards, especially in a case where the complicated interests of no less than seventy boroughs were involved. Most of their Lordships were probably aware that every Corporation in Scotland possessed very great and highly important patronage. The Corporation of Edinburgh nominated the Clergy of the Established Church of Scotland in the city of Edinburgh, and, consequently, the leading portion of the Presbytery. About three-fourths of the professorships in the University of Edinburgh were, also, he believed, in their hands—if he were not mistaken, they nominated to all the Clinical Chairs, and the Corporation of Glasgow exercised a similar power over the University of that City. Now the Commissioners were, he believed, all Whigs, and some of them were Whig lawyers at the Scotch Bar; and yet he was informed that it was distinctly stated, either in the body of the Report, or in the evidence, that the patronage, vested by the Act of his noble and learned Friend in these popular and annually elected bodies, ought not to have been so vested in those bodies, and was not fairly exercised by them. His object in moving, therefore, was to receive from his noble Friend an official assurance that the Report had been made, and should be forthwith laid before the House. There was no reason why the members of these Town Councils might not be Dissenters—indeed, he believed many of them actually were; and connecting with the circumstance of their having this church-patronage at their disposal, the other fact, that a Commission was now sitting, or about to sit, to inquire into the Church of Scotland, under the guidance of a noble Earl opposite, many members of which were not only Dissenters, but advocates of the voluntary Church principle, he did think it was high time that their Lordships should know what was really the opinion of so very respectable and competent a body of persons, in every respect, as these Commissioners of Corporate Inquiry in Scotland undoubtedly were. He should not have risen on that occasion had he not felt that the Question had a direct bearing on the English Corporations' Reform Bill. There were many Dissenters in the English Corporations, and, at all events, they had very important patronage, Church and otherwise, at their disposal, with which the interests of the Established Church were materially connected. He, therefore, thought it their duty to consider, before they came to that part of the Bill, the manner in which an analogous provision had worked in Scotland. It was with this view, and for the purpose of drawing their Lordships' attention to the subject, that he had taken that particular opportunity of putting the Question to the noble Viscount.

Viscount Melbourne

said, that various opportunities would occur in the course of the Committee for discussing the Question to which the noble Lord had referred. However, he did not shrink from it. He had only to say, that the Report had been received; that it had not been received until about the 8th instant; that it would be immediately laid on the Table of the House; and that measures would be taken for placing it in the hands of noble Lords.

Lord Brougham

said, that, according to his confident anticipations and belief on the subject, the noble Lord would find that the Report of the Commissioners afforded no grounds for the supposition he had stated. "What a lucky thing it is to be a Scotchman," was a very old saying; and it was well known that the answer of a person who had done the State some service, to Lord Melville's proffers of reward was, "Why, if your Lordship could only manage to make me a Scotchman, I should be perfectly satisfied." A new discovery had been made, however; it was a great thing to be a Scotch Commissioner. Every act of an unfortunate English Whig Commissioner was mistrusted and found fault with; he sacrificed everything to his politics, and his Reports were mere waste paper. But when a Scotch Whig Commissioner took the field, his Reports were absolute perfection. They were without appeal, and were to bind the Legislature irrevocably. He hoped, as he had said thus much for his noble Friend's countrymen, that his noble Friend would say as much for the English Commissioners, and admit that they were entitled to equal deference and respect.

The Earl of Minto

said, that out of eleven Commissioners, constituting the Church Inquiry, eight were members of the Church of Scotland, one was a Dissenter, and two were supposed to hold opinions not favourable to the Church; but he believed that every one of them was a conscientious and upright man, who would do justice to the subject he was employed to inquire into, whatever might be his political opinions.

The Earl of Aberdeen

expressed his decided opinion that what had hitherto occurred was only the commencement of a feeling of discontent against the decision of the Commissioners, which, unless means were taken to remove it, would diffuse itself throughout Scotland. It was perfectly correct that some members of the Commission who had been referred to were friendly to the voluntary principle. These Commissioners were armed with unprecedented powers, and it was highly important that they should be so selected as to give satisfaction to the country.

Viscount Melbourne

had always foreseen that the composition of the Commission would be a very difficult matter, and that in consequence of the violent party-feeling which, he regretted to say, prevailed both on the one side and on the other, it would not give perfect satisfaction; on that account alone, and not from any defect in the composition of the Commission itself, with reference to the subject which had been referred to, he had no hesitation in saying that he thought it great imprudence in the late Ministry to bring it forward in the speech from the Throne. He was not personally acquainted with the merits of the several gentlemen who composed this Commission, but he begged to say, that to disqualify a man from being a member of any Commission, it was not sufficient to say he entertained a particular opinion with respect to the connexion between Church and State. It very much depended on the manner in which he expressed that opinion, and the extent to which he carried it. Suppose a man in the course of cool and calm argument expressed a doubt whether the voluntary principle was not sufficient for the instruction of the people, it was not a sentiment in which he concurred, but at the same time he must say, that thus expressed it was not sufficient to disqualify a man from being a member of such a Commission. He was extremely sorry to find that this Commission had not given entire satisfaction in Scotland. He should give it his fullest consideration, and if any means could be taken of rendering it more satisfactory, without impairing its efficiency or injuring its character, he should be most happy to adopt them.

The Order of the Day was read, and the House resolved itself into a Committee.