HL Deb 03 July 1837 vol 38 cc1746-51
Lord Belhaven

had to present a petition from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, praying for the extension of Church accommodation in Scotland. In the prayer of this petition he cordially concurred; and he was exceedingly gratified to learn that means would soon be taken of disposing of this subject in a manner that would afford general satisfaction.

Viscount Melbourne

had been glad to observe, that the discussion at the meeting of the General Assembly from which the petition proceeded was characterised by good temper, great candour, and abstinence from the topics which at former meetings had been urged with great hostility of feeling. He was glad to find that it was no longer said that his Majesty's Government had taken an erroneous course on the subject. He was glad to find that there was no longer any condemnation of the manner in which the Commissioners had executed their duties. Undoubtedly many observations had been made on what was supposed to have fallen from him in that House in discussions on the subject. It had been supposed that he had made a severe attack on the clergy of Scotland; that he bad charged them with using their pulpits for the purpose of attacking his Majesty's Government, and for political objects. Now, he did not know whether any thing had actually fallen from him which warranted the statement that he had made so general an accusation. If it had, it certainly was not justified. The fact had been distinctly denied; and one individual particularly, of high character, Dr. M'Leod, had challenged him to show a single instance in which such practices as he had imputed to the clergy of Scotland had obtained among them. All he could say was, that he hoped Dr. M'Leod was borne out in his statement by the fact. The assertion certainly differed from the information which he had received, but he should be much more happy to find that he had been in the wrong, and that the charge was wholly unfounded, than that it should prove that the charge was true. He would not, however, pursue that point further; he accepted with pleasure the entire disavowal of the practice by the clergy of Scotland, and their condemnation of it. He undoubtedly thought that the subject of extending Church accommodation in Scotland was one which Government ought to take into speedy and serious consideration. At the same time, it was undeniable that the question was not a single one, or a question which could be considered abstractedly. Care must be taken that the measures adopted were measures calculated to remedy the evil. They must be certain that the neglect of public worship and of pastoral instruction in Scotland arose from a want of church room before they proceeded to the extension of church room as a remedy. He could scarcely help thinking that if a man in Scotland were really desirous to go to Church, he would not find any difficulty in finding a church to go to. But he was ready to consider the subject. He was ready to go further. He would promise the assistance to the object of the petitioners which had before been promised, if the property which was the property of the church was now at the disposal of the down and Parliament—the hereditary revenues. He would be ready to consider whether these funds were not available for the purposes in view, and whether these could be effected in the manner in which it was now supposed they could. If these funds were found insufficient, and it was reported to be wise and expedient, then he for one would go farther upon the subject, and say that the subject ought to be immediately taken up and receive serious consideration.

The Earl of Aberdeen

was very sorry that the noble Viscount had not said a little more upon so important a matter. He had now only repeated, nearly word for word, what he had said three years ago. For when he was pressed upon the subject at that time, the noble Viscount had declared that it should receive the immediate and serious consideration of his Majesty's Government. What the noble Baron who presented the petition could mean by speaking of the great gratification which he felt at what was going to be done, he was at a loss to conjecture. All that the noble Viscount now said was, that if the measure should be found wise and expedient (on which the noble Viscount gave no opinion himself), he would be disposed to look at the funds derived from the bishops' rents and teinds for the purpose of carrying the desired object into effect. He wished, however, to press upon the noble Viscount's attention, that in the recent discussions at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, it was held that those funds were inviolable. He could assure the noble Viscount that there was no political feeling on this subject. It was a question on which all parties in Scotland were unanimous. The General Assembly, it must be recollected, was not composed entirely of clergy. A great part of the body consisted of laymen, and of laymen whose constituents were favourable to the political opinions of the noble Viscount, for they were the reformed town-councils of boroughs. When the General Assembly, therefore, unanimously pressed this subject upon the attention of Parliament, the noble Viscount must admit that the opinion was an impartial one. He begged to remind the noble Viscount, that by her oath her Majesty was bound to preserve and protect the Established Church of Scotland. He had had the honour to see her Majesty take and subscribe to that oath. It depended upon the noble Viscount whether that oath should be kept in spirit and sincerity. For that, as well as for other matters of great importance, the noble Viscount was responsible. Under those circumstances, and when it was evident that the people of Scotland were unanimous in their opinion on the subject, he trusted that the noble Viscount would do something more than declare that the matter should be taken into serious consideration; and that, if it were found wise and expedient, the people of Scotland should enjoy the great favour of having their wishes attended to. He believed that the noble Viscount would find the extension of Church accommodation in Scotland desirable even as a question of economy. There was no doubt in that country that there had been a great increase of crime of late years, in consequence of a deficiency of spiritual instruction. Five-and-twenty years ago, the whole annual expense of criminal prosecutions in Scotland was 5,000l.; it was now 30,000l. He trusted the noble Viscount would be induced to take a more favourable view of the question, for he must say that the statements which the noble Viscount had just made, did not satisfy him.

The Earl of Camperdown

said, the question was one which required their best consideration, not only from the weight of a petition coming from such a body as the General Assembly, but also from the great importance of the subject. He agreed with the noble Earl opposite, that the people of Scotland took great interest in it. He knew that the question occupied the attention of all classes in that country, but he was chiefly anxious to express his opinion respecting it generally, because his opinion differed from that of the noble Earl opposite. Attached as he was to the Church of Scotland, in which he had been born and bred up, he would say, if her Majesty's Ministers had shown any negligence or remissness with regard to its interest, he would have been the first to come forward and reprobate such conduct. But he did not think the Government was chargeable with either remissness or negligence. The question was one of a local nature. It related entirely to the Church of Scotland, which was an establishment altogether different from the Church of England and Ireland, and he could not see the expediency of taking a sum out of the Consolidated Fund for the support of that Church, because they would thereby lay a burthen on the whole country. He could not, therefore, see how his noble Friend would be justified in calling on the other House to grant money for that purpose. But, besides, in his opinion, it had not been made out that a grant for the endowment of churches would do away with the evils complained of, and Government would not be justified in doing any such thing. If the question were to be taken up, it must be taken up as a general question. Having read the Report with attention, he was sorry to say, (and it was impossible to deny the fact) that great numbers of the inhabitants were not in the habit of attending the Church, and therefore great doubts arose as to the necessity for additional Church accommodation. It was a fact stated in the Report, that at present there were 25,000 seats unappropriated. Denying the propriety of going down to the other House for a grant, he thought the noble Viscount had pursued the only course open to him, by recommending the Commissioners to investigate other sources for supplying the deficiency in Church accommodation. From a memorial laid on the table three years ago, it appeared that there was an annual income from bishops' rents of 2,717l., and it was therefore right to call the attention of the Commissioners to that subject. It had been stated, that politics were mixed up with the question; and he was sorry to find that such was the fact. Such was not in general the character of the Scotch clergy. The Scotch clergy had formerly abstained from politics, and devoted themselves to the sacred duties of their office, thereby setting an example worthy of imitation by the clergy of other parts of the country; and though some had come forward in support of episcopacy, which in that country had passed away, yet there were others who conducted themselves better as clergymen, who did not mix themselves up with politics, and thereby secured the love and affection of the people.

The Earl of Haddington

said, that his noble Friend had done the clergy of Scotland much injustice in his remarks upon their conduct, which he felt bound to justify. He denied that they had pursued a political course. They had felt it their duty to come forward, perhaps in consequence of the impolicy of supporting an establishment by heavy blows and great discouragements. The clergy of the Church of Scotland had not sought for the franchise, before it had been conferred on them, and had distinctly abstained from all interferences in political matters. The Legislature, however, having granted them the franchise, thereby imposed upon them a duty, in the discharge of which they should necessarily vote at elections for boroughs and counties; and this they had done in order to maintain an establishment which they conceived to be essential to the peace and well-being of the country. He thought, therefore, that the attack which had been made on them had come rather ungraciously from one who professed himself to be a zealous and sincere member of the Church of Scotland. As to the want of Church accommodation in Scotland, he thought there could be no doubt, Two years and a-half ago this subject had been laid before the two Houses of Parliament in the speech from the Throne, and strongly recommended to their consideration. A Commission had been appointed, who had made their first Report to Parliament in the following Session, and the sum of 50,000l. had been voted for the Church of Scotland, which was a new admission of the want of accommodation. Another sum of 50,000l. had been voted by the House of Commons for churches in other parts of Scotland. The people of Scotland themselves, who were not very fond of unnecessary subscriptions, had subscribed 150,000l. for the same purpose, and they had done so upon the representation of the clergy that this destitution existed. He held in his hand a copy of the memorial which had been presented on this subject in 1834, so that it was now three years since there had been laid before her Majesty's Ministers the most conclusive evidence of the want of Church accommodation, and as yet nothing had been done. He, however, was ready to take as an earnest what was proposed by his noble Friend, and he hoped it would be the beginning of great and important benefits to the people of Scotland.

Petition laid on the table.

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