HL Deb 10 July 1840 vol 55 cc593-6
The Earl of Aberdeen

would take the opportunity of answering a question which was addressed to him by a noble Duke on the cross bench the other day, and which he could no longer defer answering, although he perceived the noble Duke was not then present. The question referred to the future progress of the Scotch Churches Benefices Bill, and, upon the best consideration which he could give to the subject, he had come to the conclusion, although very reluctantly, that it would not be expedient for him to press the third reading of the bill during the present session. Their Lordships were aware that this measure was opposed by the majority of the General Assembly on the ground of its unwarrantable interference with the spiritual independence and proper jurisdiction of the Church, and indeed he (the Earl of Aberdeen) had been described in consequence of having brought this bill into Parliament as the enemy and persecutor of the Church. Their Lordships were also aware that out of the Church of Scotland the only reason assigned for offering any opposition to the measure was, that it conceded too large powers to the Church, and recognized an extent of jurisdiction that was quite unjustifiable. Now, he had endeavoured to show, and he thought had shown, that an opinion of this kind was without foundation, but he would admit, that if he had erred at all, it was undoubtedly on the side of a too large and liberal concession to the Church of Scotland. The pretensions of the General Assembly were so manifestly unreasonable and preposterous, that if the bill had passed into a law he might safely have hoped for the acquiescence of a large body of the clergy and a majority of the laity of the General Assembly, from whom he had received several communications stating their approbation of the measure. Unfortunately, however, her Majesty's Government had thought proper to oppose the progress of this bill. Now, the measure was intended to promote peace, and he was unwilling to do anything which could deprive it of that character, more especially as he was sure that if any measure could be carried into effect which should tend to the pre- servation of the welfare and the interests of the Church it must be one which took for its basis the bill which he had proposed. The objection, however, which her Majesty's Ministers took to the bill, although perfectly different from those entertained by the majority of the General Assembly, still arriving at the same conclusion and practical result, he feared that the evils which he had hoped to obviate by the passing of the bill, would not be removed if he carried it in opposition to her Majesty's Government. The noble Viscount had cautiously abstained from expressing any opinion upon the merits of the bill itself, but the noble Viscount's colleagues entertained objections to the bill in consequence of the great powers which it gave to the Church. As both objections, however, agreed in their practical conclusion, he was led to fear, that at the meeting of the General Assembly next month, the same intemperate course which had already been pursued would be adopted, and the same illegal opposition offered to the law. In withdrawing this bill for the present session of Parliament, he was aware that he should excite great dissatisfaction on the part of a very numerous body in Scotland, and cause great disappointment. It was only this morning that he had received a letter from a minister in the west of Scotland, who had heard a report of his intention to withdraw the bill, and who said, If this be so, I can only assure your Lordships that you will disappoint nine-tenths of the people in this district, and, I believe, in the whole of Scotland. He had received similar letters from many other quarters, and if the noble Viscount had not thought it his duty to oppose the bill, he believed that a great proportion of the people of Scotland who had opposed the measure would have acquiesced in it. The gentleman to whose letter he had referred said, It is the opinion of very many, and it is decidedly my own, that many of the clergy and elders who opposed the bill in the present Assembly would be glad of an opportunity of retracing their steps if they could do so. He believed, that a great number of the rational and orderly members of the Church were in favour of this measure. He had been unwilling, for the reasons which he had stated, to complicate the difficulties which existed, or to create any fresh difficulty, which would rather provoke opposition than conciliate obedience, and, therefore, he should leave the Jaw in the state in which it was before he undertook this measure, and which he begged the noble Viscount would recollect he did not undertake until the noble Viscount had said, that he would not bring forward any measure on the subject. A large party in the Church had cast in their lot with the suspended ministers, and had determined to support them in their obedience to the law of the land, which had led to the sentence of deposition. It was for the noble Viscount and the Government to consider whether such a state of circumstances as this should be permitted to continue. He must also observe, that several parishes had been vacant two or three years, and it was, he apprehended, the duty of the State to see that these parishes were filled up. He would fain hope that, although no measure had been passed in the course of the present Session, the discussions which had taken place upon this bill might not be altogether without their use. He did not inquire what had induced her Majesty's Ministers to take the course which they had chosen. It was needless to add, that the subject was one of great urgency, and he hoped that the noble Viscount would turn his best attention to it, and endeavour if possible to restore peace to the Church.

The Earl of Haddington

could not help expressing his unfeigned sorrow at this issue of his noble Friend's disinterested exertions. Although no doubt his noble Friend was the best judge of the propriety of withdrawing his bill, he could not help expressing his conviction that this good, at least, would have resulted from discussions upon the bill in the other House of Parliament—namely, that the vehement and imprudent leaders of the dominant party in the Assembly would have plainly seen that few, indeed, were the individuals who opposed the bill upon the ground which they themselves had taken. He could not help thinking that the Ministers of the Crown had taken upon themselves a very serious responsibility in opposing this measure. He did not say, that Ministers ought to have given the measure a full and plenary approbation, but they need not have offered it any opposition, and might have left the responsibility with his noble Friend, in which case, in his firm opinion, many impending evils would have been averted. His noble Friend had been made the subject of much abuse and misrepresentation with regard to this question. But if there were anything more plain than another it was this, that the principles which he had laid down at the commencement were contained in the present bill, and that in no other way could he have fairly carried out those principles. He would add that he considered the country deeply indebted to his noble Friend, and he felt quite assured that those who had raised this opposition against him would never from any other quarter get anything so favourable as the provisions of this bill.

The Earl of Camperdown

entirely concurred with all that had fallen from a noble Earl who had spoken last as to the conduct of the noble Earl who had introduced this bill.