HL Deb 30 June 1840 vol 55 cc222-6
The Marquess of Breadalbane

said, he rose to present a petition relative to the bill then before their Lordships, having relation to the Church of Scotland. He begged leave to call their Lordships' attention particularly to this petition, not only on account of the extraordinary interest which the subject had excited in Scotland, but also with reference to its own intrinsic merits. The prayer of the petition was, that the parties concerned might be heard at the bar of the House on points respecting the Church of Scotland Benefices Bill, and the petitioners, who represented the general assembly, were directed by every legal means in their power, to obstruct the measure in its passage through the Legislature in its present shape and form. The petitioners were deputed by the general assembly to watch this bill; and they now came forward with this petition, in order that the Church of Scotland might have an opportunity of being heard at their Lordships' bar before their Lordships agreed to this measure. The General Assembly wished that the principles on which the Church proceeded, should be fully and fairly unfolded, in order that their Lordships might see how far its principle and constitution were injuriously affected by the bill of the noble Earl opposite. He thought that their Lordships would hardly refrain from agreeing to the prayer of this petition, being as he conceived, a proceeding not only of expediency but of justice. He believed, that with respect to hearing counsel at the bar, their Lordships did not act on any very strict rules or principles? but, judging from particular cases, it appeared to him that their Lordships would rather throw their doors open, when petitioners wished to be heard, than wholly or even partially close them. On this point it was scarcely necessary for him to remind their Lordships, that they heard counsel on the English Corporation Bill, that they heard counsel against the Irish Corporation Bill, that they even heard counsel with respect to private and particular interests connected with those bills. And if further precedents were necessary, he could cite that of the Church of Scotland itself, which was heard by counsel at their Lordships' bar against a bill affecting the interests of the Church, which was introduced into their Lordships' House in the year 1712, in the reign of Queen Anne. That, in his opinion, was a case in point, and therefore, he felt that it would be at once unnecessary and injudicious for him to take up more of their Lordships' time. He hoped, however, that their Lordships would permit him to perform the duty which he had imposed upon himself, that of reading the petition at length. The noble Marquess accordingly read the petition, which was from the Convener, the Secretary, and other members of a committee appointed by the late General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to watch over the progress of a bill recently introduced into your Lordships' House, entitled 'an Act to remove doubts respecting the admission of Ministers into benefices in that part of the United Kingdom, called Scotland,' or any bill relative to that subject, and which prayed that the bill might not pass into a law, and that they might be heard by counsel at the bar against it.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, he would now take the liberty of stating, that it was his intention to move, that the House should go into Committee on this bill on the day after to-morrow. As to what might be the pleasure of their Lordships, and how far it was consistent with the orders of their Lordships' House to hear counsel on a bill of this nature, and in this stage he would leave it to their Lordships to determine. In all the cases mentioned by the noble Marquess, when counsel were heard, the bills were in another stage. But he confessed, that, notwithstanding, he was very anxious that that these petitioners should be heard by counsel; because he wished their Lordships to hear those who spoke the sentiments of the prominent part of the General Assembly state distinctly what their real pretensions were, and what they really expected to be done? As to the petition itself, a great part of it was against the law of patronage, established by the Act of Queen Anne in 1712—and the complaint connected with that, was, in fact, at the bottom of the whole of these proceedings. The rest of the petition was against the judgment of their Lordships' House, declaring and establishing that law. The bill introduced by him was objected to, because it fully recognized the judgment of that House, as declaring unequivocally, the law of the land on this subject. He wished to hear counsel on this question, because pretensions were put forward, which he was sure, unless their Lordships heard the parties at the bar, they never would hear advanced in that House. He, for one, was anxious, therefore, that the prayer of the petition should be complied with. He could desire no better recommendation for the bill then before their Lordships' House than the arguments and objections urged by these parties against it. Therefore, if it were consistent with the order of their Lordships' proceedings to hear counsel, or if their Lordships were called on to decide whether the petitioners should be heard by counsel or not, he would be the last man to offer any opposition to their being so heard. If, however, in this case, the application of the petitioners were complied with, he doubted whether hereafter they could ever refuse to hear any petitioners against any bill whatsoever, and in any stage of any bill. As to the bill of queen Anne, to which the petitioners referred, it was calculated to alter the system of the Church, as the rights of parties were affected in a very great degree; but the present bill repealed no law, interfered with no law, and meddled with the ascertained rights of no parties. Therefore it was of a very different description from the other measure. Those gentlemen who called themselves a deputation of the committee of the General Assembly were, no doubt, all very respectable individuals, and no doubt, had a claim to be heard before their Lordships. But it should be observed that they were persons named and appointed by the General Assembly (who had not themselves petitioned the House) to watch the progress of this measure, and as their Lordships had been informed, to obstruct it by all the means in their power. They had thought proper, after the bill was read a second time, to present a petition to be heard by counsel against the bill, and he (the Earl of Aberdeen), for one, should certainly not object to it.

Lord Brougham

entirely concurred with his noble Friend opposite in hoping that it might be possible for the petitioners, consistently with the forms of the House, to be heard at their Lordships' bar, and his reason for wishing it, was the same as that of his noble Friend—that he was confident the more they were heard, and the greater opportunity there was given for bringing forward their opinions, wishes, feelings, and intentions, the stronger would be the impression, if any thing could strengthen the impression now existing both in that House and the country at large, of the conduct—he would use no harsher epithet—of those whom the petitioners professed to represent. He hoped and trusted, that during the period of the residence of the deputation in London, the persons with whom they were in communication, would have the honesty and the good sense to tell them how little, how very little, support or countenance, in any respectable quarter here, either in that House or in the other House, or in the country, those who had been the authors of proceedings which all deplored—he would not say, which all disapproved—were likely to obtain.

The Marquess of Breadalbane

would only allude to one of the observations of the noble Earl opposite, in which he said, that the gentlemen who had united in this petition were to be considered only as private individuals. He could not but think that their Lordships should consider them as representing the Church of Scotland. The noble Earl knew, that the General Assembly had by a large majority, come to a decision directly at variance with the principles and details of his bill, and that this committee was deputed by the General Assembly to watch over the progress of the bill, and take measures to oppose it. He was sorry to hear the noble Earl assume, that those gentlemen who had been appointed by the majority of the General Assembly, were not to be considered by the House as representing the Church of Scotland, but merely as unauthorized individuals. As to the remark of the noble and learned Lord below, concerning the support which the Church of Scotland would find in that House, he could only say, that whether or not it might be supported by any great portion of the inhabitants of this division of the empire, it would be supported by the people of Scotland.

Lord Brougham

could only say, in answer to what his noble Friend had just declared, that he neither hoped nor believed, that the General Assembly would be supported in its present proceedings by the people of that country.

The Earl of Camperdown

did not believe, that the General Assembly would be supported in its present course by the people of Scotland. He knew that a great number of petitions on this subject had been got up, but he believed they had been got up under the influence of those very persons who wished to bring counsel to their Lordships' bar to be heard against the bill. He so entirely coincided with the noble Earl opposite, in what he had said, that he would not attempt to weaken the force of his remarks by adding to them.

Petition laid on the table.

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