HL Deb 19 May 1837 vol 38 cc881-98
The Earl of Haddington

rose for the purpose of putting a question to his noble Friend at the head of the Government with respect to the Report of the Commissioners on Religious Instruction in Scotland. The question related to the intentions of his Majesty's Government, growing out of that Report, and he was more especially anxious for an answer, considering the length of time that had elapsed since the Report of the Commissioners had been presented, and no steps taken by the Government in consequence of that Report. He could have wished to have moved, under other circumstances than those which existed at present, a resolution to which he should have asked the sanction of that House; but noble Lords would see by the votes of the other House that the subject had been mooted there, and that the House of Commons, by an inconsiderable majority, had come to a different conclusion from that which would have been embodied in his motion. He did not wish that that House, on a question of this kind, should adopt a resolution which would appear like a determined difference with the decision of the other House. He therefore, on that accasion, would only put a question to the noble Viscount. If he had proposed a motion he should have entered into an analysis of the Report of the Commissioners, although he doubted whether he could have done so in anything like a satisfactory manner. He said this in consequence of the very complex nature of the Report, which, indeed he was aware must be the case from the very nature of the inquiry, and he did not intend to cast any blame on the Commissioners in saying this was the character of the Report; for at the same time it contained some very curious and interesting information, and also some very awful matter. As he did not intend to call upon the House to come to a decision on the subject, he should merely state his view of the Report in a short, and, he trusted, candid manner. He was sure that there was no person acquainted with Scotland who must not be aware that within the last few years the increase of the church accommodation for the bulk of the people of Scotland had not been anything like equivalent to the increase of the number of the population. This was so perfectly notorious, that he did not think that it was necessary for his Majesty's Government to have referred the subject as a matter of inquiry to a Committee of either House, and still less to appoint a Commission to investigate the subject. He did not mean to underrate the value of the services rendered by the voluntary subscriptions of the people of Scotland for the building of churches in places where there was an obvious deficiency of the means of religious worship; on the contrary, he thought those who had promoted these subscriptions were entitled to the highest credit, for he believed that within the last few years not less than forty new churches had been built, in places where they were most required, by such means. But admitting this, he was convinced that if anything had ever been decidedly proved, it was that the voluntary system was altogether inefficient, compared to the demand for the means of attending religious worship. At the same time he admitted that in several places voluntary subscriptions had prevented, to a great extent, the mischief which would otherwise have arisen, though it was ineffectual as a cure. The voluntary principle disclaimed all public aid; the clergy consequently, who ministered in the churches thus erected were paid by means of seat-rents, which were thus necessarily high, and the result was, that the seats Were occupied by the rich, and the poorer classes of people in Scotland were excluded from them, and thus in many places were prevented attending divine service. The observation of this state of things in Scotland had operated so strongly on the minds of the clergy of the established church there, that they had exerted themselves to procure petitions to Parliament and the tables of both Houses had been covered with petitions, and in consequence of this, great attention had been directed to the subject. In addition to this, the clergy had exerted themselves with the view of remedying the evil, by getting up subscriptions, which now amounted to 150,000l., and which was likely to be largely increased. These facts were stated in the petitions laid before Parliament. The consequence was, that the attention of the Government was directed to the subject, and at the commencement of the Session of 1835 his Majesty, in his Speech from the Throne recommended to both Houses their earnest attention to the condition of the Church of Scotland, and to the means by which it may be enabled to increase the opportunities of a religious worship for the poorer classes of society in that part of the United Kingdom. A change of government took place at about the completion of two months; and it did not appear that there was the same readiness on the part of the present as of the previous Government to attend to the prayer of the people of Scotland on this subject. Whether this arose from paying undue attention to the prayers of the petitions of the Dissenters in Scotland he could not say, and he certainly had no wish to underrate the prayers of that or any other class of persons, because he thought that Parliament were bound to attend to the petitions of all; but when the Dissenters, in a manner and spirit so subversive of the religious system in Scotland, objected to Parliament giving aid to the established church of that part of the country, and endeavoured to prevent the prayer of the members of the established church being conceded, he had no hesitation to declare, that they did not deserve much attention. The present Government, however, instead of proposing a grant of money for the purpose stated in his Majesty's speech, apparently let the subject drop. After the lapse of some months the subject was brought before the other House by a right hon. Friend of his (Sir W. Rae), who moved that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into and report how far it was necessary to build and endow places of worship for the moral and religious instruction of the lower orders of the people of Scotland. In consequence of the subject being thus taken up, Lord John Russell moved as an amendment that a Commission should be issued to inquire into the subject; and on that occasion he stated, in reference to the voluntary principle, that he did not agree with those who said that religion would never flourish so well as when left to the voluntary support of those who might be influenced to attend divine worship. He then proceeded to say-" On that question of principle I do not wish to enter, for I can give but one principle, I can hold but one doctrine on that subject, namely, that a Church Establishment affords the best means of diffusing and promoting religious instruction. I think it our duty, as a Government, to maintain that principle and to uphold the Church Establishment which is founded on it." Nothing could be more satisfactory than the declaration of the noble Lord. Towards the end of his speech, and with reference to the character of the Commission, the noble Lord said, "It may be urged as an objection that the Commission might extend its labours to an inconvenient length, but that will be obviated by arranging that they shall report from time to time, that their reports shall be laid before Parliament and that as soon as Parliament and the Government shall have considered them, and ascertained that a remedy is required, and settled the nature of that remedy, they shall proceed at once to act upon them." Now, the first Report of the Commissioners had been laid before Parliament at an early period of the present year, and in consequence of the Government making no proposition founded on that report, Sir W. Rae again brought the subject before the other House, and made a motion, which was discussed at great length; and on that occasion Lord John Russell said "that he had heard within the last few days that the Commissioners had made inquiries respecting the town of Glasgow, and they had also made various inquiries respecting teinds, and he hoped within a short time to place another report on the table of the House, Therefore, he said, it was better to wait until they had more Reports before them, before any further steps were taken on the subject. The Commissioners had not suggested any remedy that Government should adopt, and it was requisite great caution should be exercised in the selection of a plan. The consequence was, that it required the utmost consideration before any decided step was taken." To state that the matter required the utmost consideration was the observation made on the appointment of the Commission, and on the motion of Sir William Rae; and therefore to repeat the observation at the present day appeared to be a lamentable falling off from the former statements of the Government. It appeared to him that the matter was then perfectly ripe for legislation, and, above all, as regarded the city of Edinburgh; he therefore, wished to know whether the Government really intended to do anything on this subject. From the Report of the Commissioners, it appeared that the population o the city of Edinburgh was 162,292. The clergy of the church of Scotland employed some individuals to make a census of the population of Edinburgh and the neighbouring parishes, dividing them into classes descriptive of their several religious denominations, From the calculations thus made, it appeared that out of the 162,292 inhabitants of Edinburgh, 76,630 belonged to the Established Church of Scotland; 71,271 were Dissenters belonging to all the various denominations; and, to make up the whole number of 162,292, it appeared that there were 14,391 persons who belonged to no denomination of religion whatsoever. This, he thought, was a circumstance which imperatively called upon the Government and Parliament of this Christian country to apply an immediate remedy. The Dissenters also made a census of the population, with a view of obtaining returns of the number of Dis- senters and of the Established Church; but the survey was not so extensive, nor did it embrace portions of the population so varied in character as to enable them to found on it so extensive a classification into denominations of the whole inhabitants, as that which he had previously referred to. According to the survey of the Dissenters, there were 76,330 persons belonging to the Established Church; there were 76,571 belonging to all other denominations; and there were 9,391 not known to belong to any denomination. It should be remembered however, that the dissenting investigators had gone over a space extending hot more than one-half the population and had taken the result of this survey and adopted the same proportion as applicable to the whole city and its vicinity. According to both these returns, it appeared that there was a very large portion of the population of the capital of Scotland that belonged to no denomination of Christians. He would ask, therefore, whether it was hot the duty of Parliament to afford the means of religious instruction to those who, it appeared, did not attend divine worship any where? If the Parliament did not do so, it would be grossly negligent of its duty as a Christian Legislature. It appeared also, from the report of the Commissioners, that accommodation provided by the churches belonging to the establishment, was 36,001 sittings; and the number of sittings in places of worship of other denominations, was 42,705, thus making a total of 78,706. Deducting this amount from the number of the inhabitants of the city of Edinburgh, it appeared that there were no less than 83,586 totally unprovided with the means of religious accommodation. According to other returns, it appeared that 74,795 persons were in the habit of attending some place of worship or other. The Commissioners, in their report, stated "that it is universally admitted in the evidence that there is a large number of persons capable of attending who habitually absent themselves from public worship. This number cannot be less than from 40,000 to 50,000, according to the age at which children may be supposed capable of attending church." The Commissioners conclude this part of their report, by saying, "It appears to us, as the result of the whole evidence, that from whatever cause it proceeds, whether connected with their extent or nature, the opportunities of public religious worship, and the means of religious instruction and pastoral superintendence at present existing and in operation, are not adequate to the removal of the evils complained of." He contended, therefore, that a strong case had been made out to justify calling for aid on behalf of the population of Scotland. Quite a distinct case had been made out for the people of Scotland from that of other parts of the country, for they had distinct pledges held out to them on the subject. The noble Lord in the other House, told them, that the Reports of, the Commissioners should not be delayed, but should be made from time to time, and that it should not be requisite that they should all be laid before Parliament before anything was done. Such was the understanding in which the statement of Lord John Russell was taken when he opposed the motion of Sir William Rae, and moved that the Commission should be appointed; and it had occasioned great disappointment to the people of Scotland that so long a time should be allowed to elapse, and then to be told that the subject was one for mature consideration. It was not for him to propose any specific plan—that was not his duty, and it might appear presumptuous if he did—but he would shortly state what the people of Scotland asked for. They did not ask the Government to build churches, for they had already subscribed 150,000l. for that purpose. All they wanted was, that the Government should endow the churches already built, as well as those to be hereafter built, by the voluntary subscriptions of members of the establishment. By acting in this manner, they would confer a greater service on the poorer classes than by operating for the same object in a different manner. If the Government would consent to give the minister of each of these churches a moderate endowment, the result would be, that the seats would be let extremely low, and, as he understood, at such a moderate rate, that all those who would object to receive seats gratis in the church, would be enabled to obtain them. A moderate sum to each clergyman would be amply sufficient, and the bestowal of which, he was sure, would be productive of the most beneficial results. Even as a matter of economy, this subject should not be disregarded, causing, as it necessarily would, the diminution of crime, which was a matter of consideration independently of the temporal welfare and the eternal happiness of the persons whose interests were so deeply involved. The neglect of religious instruction led to the indulgence in dissolute habits, which were the parents of crime; and the country was put to an enormous expense in endeavouring to check it by punishment. He was not prepared to go into a lengthened detail of figures to show the great increase of crime that had taken place in Scotland within the last few years, but he would merely refer to the Returns laid before Parliament every Session, showing the expense of criminal prosecutions; and from these returns, it would appear, that the expense of these prosecutions were extremely great now in comparison with what they were some few years ago. This state of things would be materially altered, if the people had churches, and active and zealous clergy, from whom they would receive the best description of instruction. The saving that would result from the diminution of crime, would make a grant such as he suggested, a measure of great economy. There had been much misrepresentation of the opinions given by that eminent divine, Dr. Chalmers, before the Commissioners. It had been said, that he had delineated the zeal of the missionaries as ample for the ends required. Dr. Chalmers did not say anything of the kind; for he said, however zealous the exertions of the missionaries might be, there would be little use in sending them out without building and endowing churches which all classes could attend. The great bulk of the people of Scotland were, and they well might be, from their hereditary predilections, attached to the church of their country, and they were looking with the utmost anxiety to the Government for a remedy of those evils of which they justly complained. The poor people of Scotland thought they had a right to have attention paid to their religious condition. He concurred with them; and he called upon his Majesty's Ministers to do justice to Scotland. He would now put the questions to which he was desirous of obtaining answers from the noble Viscount. He wished, in the first place, to know from the noble Viscount, whether he was prepared positively to state that it was the fixed inten- tion of Government to apply an efficient remedy to these admitted evils; secondly, whether he could inform the House what course his Majesty's Government intended to take in consequence of the Report of the Commissioners; and thirdly, whether that course was intended to be adopted immediately with respect to such portions of Scotland as had already been reported upon, or whether the whole matter was to be delayed till a general measure could be devised?

Viscount Melbourne

Before he answered the questions put to him by the noble Earl, begged to make a very few observations on the preliminary matter with which the noble Earl had introduced those questions. The noble Lord had correctly stated, that if he had attended strictly to the course of Parliamentary proceeding, it certainly would have been necessary, in order to produce a discussion upon the subject, for him to have made a motion rather than to have put questions. Great latitude, however, was given by their Lordships to the practice of putting questions, and he must say, that if the noble Earl had thought proper to make a motion, instead of putting a question, he could' not have prefaced it with a larger or more elaborate speech. The noble Earl had stated, in the first place, that this matter took its origin in the King's Speech in the commencement of the Session in the year 1835, when it was recommended from the Throne, that the Parliament should pay its attention to the state of the Church of Scotland, with a view to the people receiving religious instruction, and with a view to the poorest classes of the population of Scotland having more frequent opportunities of attending divine worship. At the time that Speech was delivered, or shortly afterwards, he stated, that, in his opinion, that was a very ill-considered recommendation. He still entertained the same opinion, and felt quite certain, that if the Government of 1835 had continued in office, and had attempted to carry into effect their views by the mode to which that recommendation was supposed to point, namely, by proposing to the other House of Parliament a grant of the public money, they would not have been able to succeed. He did not say this with reference to the number of their supporters. They would have been met by the reason of the case. It would have been said to them, "Do you mean to propose this grant, without previously knowing what is the actual state of the Scotch Church; or without knowing anything about what is the accommodation at present given in that Church, and in the other places of public worship?" And being met with these interrogatories, they would have been driven to precisely the same course of inquiry as that which his Majesty's present Ministers had adopted. He would not say, that it was the intention of those who concocted that Speech, or of his noble Friend, who had brought this question forward just at the time of the meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and at the moment when there was a great popular election pending in that country—most certainly he would not say, that it was the intention of his noble Friend, because he believed that his noble Friend brought the subject forward as the advocate and well-wisher of the poorer classes of the community, and upon those higher and more exalted notions which he entertained of the necessity of upholding the great cause of religion and morality, which he had shown to be so intimately connected together: he did not, therefore, believe that it was either the intention of his noble Friend, or of those who acted with him, because it would not be fitting, it would not be becoming of a great political party to be bidding against their antagonists with the public money for the favour, support, and interest of the General Assembly, and of the ministers of the Church of Scotland in the elections, and for the great political power which they were at present wielding and exercising, as he understood, without much scruple in this country. He knew, therefore, that it was not the meaning of his noble Friend, or of those noble Lords who dictated the King's Speech, that that Speech should have that effect;—but though that was not the meaning and intention of the Speech, yet, nevertheless, it had had the effect of procuring for those noble Lords throughout the country, the name of "Friends of the Church;" and of enlisting on their side, all the clergy of the Church of Scotland, who had made their pulpits resound with the denunciation of those whom they supposed to be the enemies of and opposed to that Church. He would repeat, that such was not the meaning of his noble Friend, nor the sense in which his noble Friend's ques- tion ought to be received. The subject was one of a higher and of a graver nature; and ought to be considered with reference to its own great importance, and to the object which it had in view. It was a question of very great importance in itself, and with respect to the religious feelings of the people of Scotland. It was a question, also, of great importance with respect to its moral character. It was a question not only of importance with respect to Scotland, but of very great importance as considered with reference to England, and with reference to the whole empire. Because, however great the destitution of the means of religious instruction might appear to he, upon the authority of the Report before their Lordships, with respect to Edinburgh, or from any subsequent Report with respect to any other part of Scotland, it was also very well known, from documents of equal authority, and from inquiries made under the direction of the right rev. Prelate who presided over this metropolis, that a case of as great destitution, and of like inequality of the means of religious instruction, was to be furnished with reference to the people of England, as had been produced with respect to the people of Scotland. But, moreover, it was a question of very great importance with respect to the feelings which at the present time prevailed among the people. The noble Earl had stated, that there was sufficient evidence! upon the face of this Report, and had characterised it in a manner from which he certainly did not altogether dissent, to show that there was a pretty strong controversy existing between what was called the voluntary principle, and the principle of an establishment. Indeed, the noble Earl had, with reference to this part of the subject, put his case rather less strongly than ha might have done, because he seemed to consider that all Dissenters were the friends of the voluntary principle, but that was not true. He was himself a decided friend to a religious establishment; it was not, how-ever, necessary to argue that question at present, because it was not before them. But he considered an establishment necessary for the religious and moral instruction of the people, and not only for the religious and moral instruction of the people, but for upholding and preserving a standard of religious truth and purity, and saving us from the dangers of enthusiasm and fanaticism on the one hand, and of infidelity on the other. Experience, however, had taught them that the best-devised measures had not always the effect expected from them. They knew that establishments had often received a serious blow and sustained great injury, and had even been subverted, by the very measures which had been intended, and which had seemed to be the most advantageous to them, and the best calculated to support and maintain them. When, therefore, they were called upon to give an accession of power and wealth to an establishment, it behaved them to take care that whatever step they adopted, should be wisely and prudently taken, and that it should not be calculated to defeat their own ends, and weaken instead of strengthening and confirming. The noble Earl had certainly very correctly stated, that the Commissioners were to report from time to time and that if it were thought fitting that any measures should be taken upon those partial reports, it undoubtedly was the intention that such measure should be adopted. But it was not, and could not be intended, when those partial reports were evidently imperfect, and when further inquiry was absolutely necessary with respect to other portions of Scotland, which might be in the same situation with those portions of the country to which such partial reports referred, that they should take any hasty, rash, and precipitate steps, and thereby bind themselves to follow up and apply the same principle in any case which might appear afterwards to be similar and analogous. He must acknowledge that he had not studied the report before their Lordships with so much care and attention as his noble Friend had done, but he had read it sufficiently to see very great reason why their Lordships should take time to consider what course ought to be pursued with respect to the matters it treated of. It certainly was an alarming fact, that there should be in the city of Edinburgh, so many persons who did not attend public worship at all. It was undoubtedly necessary to inquire to what cause that fact was to be attributed. It appeared that there were in Edinburgh 20,000 sittings unlet, 11,000 of which were in places of worship belonging to Dissenters, and 9,000 in places belonging to the Established Church. When their Lordships considered this fact, it must be perfectly obvious that at least 20,000 of those persons, who did not at present attend any place of public worship, might do so if they thought proper. He knew that there were reasons given for this apparent inconsistency, which might appear to some to have a great deal of weight and force, but the fact of rent having to be paid for the sittings was not one of those reasons, for there actually existed a prejudice in Scotland against free sittings. Dr. Chalmers slated this in his evidence, and declared that he himself did not approve of free sittings. Neither was it the high price of the sittings that was felt as a pressure, because some of the seats were let at an exceedingly low price, indeed it was stated that the low-priced seats let the worst. It was quite clear, then, that all these facts required great consideration, and much careful reasoning, before any steps were taken respecting them, lest they should take a step in a wrong direction, and defeat their own object rather than advance it. With respect to the questions which had been put to him by the noble Earl, he had no hesitation in saying that his Majesty's present Government were as anxious to carry the recommendation of the Commission to effect the objects the noble Earl had in view, and to encourage religion generally in that part of the country to which the Commission referred, and particularly to extend as far as was fair and just, the influence of the Church Establishment in Scotland, as the noble Earl could be, or any one of those who acted or thought with the noble Earl upon this question. His Majesty's Ministers were ready to take every step that was necessary for those objects, but undoubtedly he did not see how it was possible that they could safely, prudently, or wisely, take any single step cm a report which related only to the city of Edinburgh. It appeared to him necessary, knowing what was the state of the city of Edinburgh, to know also what was the state of the other great and populous towns in Scotland. One thing would be absolutely necessary, be-fore they could recommend anything like a grant of the public money, namely, to inquire very accurately whether there were not other resources and means at the disposition of the Government which ought to be applied in the first instance, before they had recourse to that which had been pronounced by a very high authority in the Other House of Parliament, to be al- ways a "very vulgar expedient," namely, a grant from the consolidated fund. A memorial had been addressed to him by persons who were not only well informed upon this subject, but who felt a warm interest in the welfare of the Church of Scotland. In that memorial he found matters referred to, which demanded the attention of those who were about to propose a practical measure on this subject. The memorialists did not pres me to point out what resources ought to be resorted to, but "they must (they stated) venture to mention one fund, the application of which to the uses of the Church of Scotland, appeared to them to be peculiarly appropriate. This fund consisted in the tithes and rents which belonged to, and were administered by, the Bishops of Scotland, prior to the revolution. On the abolition of episcopacy in Scotland, these tithes and rents were resumed, and, up to a recent period, had been administered by the Crown. The annual amount of these tithes and rents was 2,717l., and the memorialists had reason to believe that, under a more economical arrangement, the annual proceeds would nearly satisfy all immediate demands." Before, therefore, the Government proposed to Parliament to grant a sum of the public money for the purpose advocated by the noble Earl, it would be necessary to inquire whether there was any foundation for the opinion expressed by the memorialists, that this sum would be sufficient to meet the object which the people of Scotland had in view. There was also another fund which it appeared more natural to resort to than to that "vulgar expedient"—a grant from the consolidated fund—he meant the unappropriated tithes in Scotland—the teinds for which the land in Scotland was still liable. This fund was a natural and tangible source to meet the necessities of the Church. Of course he knew it would be levying a tax upon the heritors of Scotland, to which they were not at present liable, but he had no doubt that their anxiety and zeal for religion would make them not only contented and satisfied, but anxious to render their contributions towards whatever would promote the welfare of that Church, the good of which they had so much at heart. But still it was the duty of Government to consider all these subjects very maturely, and obtain every information respecting them, and as the General Assembly was now sitting, there would be no indisposition on the part of the Government to make those inquiries which might expedite the course, which it was their anxious wish to take upon the subject. The noble Earl's second question was, whether his Majesty's Government intended to adopt any immediate legislative measure upon the report before their Lordships. Undoubtedly his Majesty's Ministers were not prepared to act upon that report, for the reasons which he had already stated, namely, because they were anxious not to establish a principle which they might not afterwards think proper to act upon. These were the general views which he entertained upon this subject. The Government were as anxious to forward the object which the noble Earl had in view as much as possible, but they were of opinion that it was their duty to proceed with caution, because it was a question much larger, and more extensive in itself than one relating only to the city of Edinburgh, because it was one of very great delicacy and difficulty, and which ought not to be decided without very considerable caution; and finally, because they were not at present in possession of sufficient information to enable them at once to adopt any legislative measure on the subject.

The Earl of Aberdeen

could not help expressing his regret at the very distant and uncertain prospect of any satisfactory measure being adopted by his Majesty's Ministers upon this subject. The noble Viscount had said that it was necessary to wait for the opinions of the Commissioners with respect to the state of religious instruction in other parts of Scotland before acting upon their recommendations with respect to the city of Edinburgh; but the composition of that commission was such, that though they might make a report upon statistical facts, he would defy the noble Viscount ever to get the expression of an opinion from them. The commission was so constructed as to make it quite impossible that they should ever agree in recommending any course whatever. At the time of the formation of the commission, two years ago, he recollected urging strongly upon the noble Viscount the inutility of appointing a commission of that description, because, if ever there were any subject upon which an unanimous opinion was entertained, it was upon the insufficiency of church accommodation in Scotland. No commission was required for obtaining any information which his Majesty's Government might not already have possessed. When the deputation from the Church of Scotland represented that such a commission as the one which was proposed to be appointed could only lead to interminable delay, they were met by the statement that the Commissioners would report from time to time. The object of that representation must have been to persuade those reverend persons that there would be no delay; and they no doubt thought that measures would be taken upon each case as it should be reported by the Commissioners. Therefore he thought it might be fairly stated that there was a want of good faith on the part of the Government to decline to act on these partial reports when thus made. That this was the course originally intended to be pursued might be collected from the concluding observations of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in his letter of instructions to the Commissioners, where he said, "I trust that in the course of six months the greater part of your task will be accomplished." He thought, from the experience which his noble Friend had had of the vitality of commissions, he ought not to have entertained any such expectation. This commission had lasted two years, at an expense of 20,000l.; so that while the Government were debating, and hesitating, and considering whether they would give a beggarly endowment to those churches which were already built, and the demand for which was so urgent, they were expending very nearly as much as the endowment would amount to. The noble Viscount had said, that further inquiry was necessary to ascertain whether the Crown was in possession of certain funds which might be rendered available in this matter. If there were any such funds, in no way could they be better employed. But what had the Commissioners been about all this while? In one week all the information required by the noble Viscount as to the Crown property might have been furnished. The noble Viscount had talked about applying certain teinds to the purposes of the church; but it was clear that the noble Viscount did not understand the nature of the property of which he spoke. It was neither more nor less than a proposal to apply a tax to any gentleman's estate in the kingdom, which was just as liable to be appropriated by the noble Viscount as those teinds. The teinds were certainly liable to be called upon for the support of a single minister of the parish, but beyond that they formed as much apart of the private estate of the heritor as any other portion of his property. If the noble Viscount had not thrown this out somewhat hastily, and rather as an obiter dictum, he should say that it was calculated to excite much alarm among the proprietors of Scotland. However, he presumed that the noble Viscount did not speak with a full knowledge of facts. If the noble Viscount were prepared to act on a partial report, which must have been the original intention of the Government, he never could have one more complete than that which embraced the case of Edinburgh and its neighbourhood. If the noble Viscount declined to act upon this report, it was clear that it was not intended to act at all until the whole inquiry was concluded, and that was calculated to excite suspicion as to the motive for appointing the commission, and to induce the belief that it was only intended to set aside a pressing difficulty of the moment. He would recommend to the noble Viscount, if it were his wish to do anything to increase the efficiency of the established Church in Scotland not to shrink from the attempt from an unworthy apprehension, which he had no cause to entertain, of the effect of any measure which the report on the table would justify. The noble Viscount had said, that they must take care and not set a bad precedent; but had they not already set a precedent by making grants in support of the Church of England? Had they not voted 100,000l. a year for many years, without opposition, for the purpose of augmenting the Church Establishment in England? But the noble Viscount contended that further inquiry was necessary. He (the Earl of Aberdeen) hoped the noble Viscount did not put this forward as a pretence for delay. The destitution of the Church of Scotland being known, it would be very hard if, under the guise of taking time to make further inquiries, a grant for the purpose of removing that destitution should be denied.

The Earl of Roseberry

was quite willing to afford assistance to the Church of Scotland by a grant of the public money, if it should be made to appear that the destitution which existed could not otherwise be remedied; but he trusted that his Majesty's Government would not suffer themselves to be hurried into a decision in favour of such a step by any observations that had been made by the two noble Earls who had addressed their Lordships. Would it be fair or wise, having only information with respect to one city in the kingdom, and that not the largest, to proceed to lay down a principle which they would be bound to apply to every other town in Scotland? If they were to do so they might be adopting a precedent the existence of which they might afterwards lament; and instead of supporting and advancing the object they had in view—namely, the welfare of the established Church—they might, in the present fevered state of the public mind in that country, materially deteriorate its condition. Upon these grounds he hoped that the Government and Parliament would not come to a premature decision, but would wait until they had full information, and could see clearly what ultimate measure ought to be adopted.

The Earl of Haddington

, in explanation, said, that with respect to the vacancy which had occurred in the representation of a populous town in Scotland, he begged to assure the noble Viscount that it had been his intention to bring forward this question long before that vacancy took place. As to the fact of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland being sitting, he was willing to admit that that circumstance had had great influence with him in calling the attention of the noble Viscount to this matter, because he certainly thought that so important a body as the General Assembly ought to know what were the intentions of the Government with respect to this subject.

Subject dropped.

Back to