HL Deb 05 March 1840 vol 52 cc897-900
The Earl of Aberdeen

said, that he had three petitions to present on the subject of non-intrusion, all of which had the same prayer, and yet all meant something perfectly different from each other. Their Lordships had recently heard a great deal on the subject of non-intrusion, and were probably destined to hear a great deal more. He thought, that in five minutes he could explain to their Lordships what were the views of the several portions of the Church of Scotland on this subject. There existed now, and always had, in the Church of Scotland, a numerous body of persons who regarded the very existence of patronage as a grievance, an abomination, a cursed thing, a hateful thing, which ought to be abolished as speedily as possible. With this class non-intrusion meant, the total abolition of patronage. The next great division was comprised of those who did not advocate the abolition of patronage, but who insisted upon the right of the people to pronounce an absolute veto on the presentation of any minister, without assigning any reason for their veto. That was the law of the Church, of the Veto Act of 1834, which their Lordships had, however, declared to be illegal, and beyond the powers of the General Assembly to effect. That was the opinion held by many members of the Church of Scotland, by the majority of the General Assembly of that Church, and by the majority of the Presbyteries throughout the country. With this class non-intrusion meant the right of the people to reject any presentee who might be disagreeable to them, absolutely and without assigning any reason for such rejection, but it must always be in a conscientious conviction of his unacceptableness. The third class consisted of those who agreed that the people had a right to make any objection they might think proper to a presentee, either with regard to his moral character or his literary acquirements, or to make any objection, such as, that they were of opinion that they could not be edified by his ministry—anything, in short, which led to their conviction of his unacceptableness; and that the Church Court had a right of deciding arbitrarily on those objections, and of rejecting the presentee, even although the objections could not be legally valid against his character or his acquirements. This class also constituted a large proportion of the Church of Scotland. The last class consisted of those who thought that only such objections could be sustained as went to the qualifications of the individual or minister, and which could be legally sustained against his character, his literature, or his doctrine. This was the most limited class. These were the four great divisions into which the Church, was divided upon the subject, although, there might be other shades of difference. When he mentioned that division which prayed for the abolition of patronage, he ought to mention that they did not wish the people generally to have the election of the minister; they limited the election to the persons who were in full communion with the Church—nay, not even so far did they pray for; for their prayer limited the election to the heads of families in full communion with the Church. That was an arbitrary limitation, the reason for which he was unacquainted with. He saw no good reason why the communicants, not heads of families, should be deprived of the right. The manner of dispensing the holy sacrament was different in Scotland from what it was in England. The people there were not allowed to go up to the table indiscriminately; only those were admitted who were considered qualified to partake of the holy rite, and that after examination by the minister and elders. Therefore, to a considerable extent, that gave a certain guarantee of the moral character, the feeling, and disposition of the persons called upon to exercise the privilege. The petitions he had to present were all in favour of the principle of non-intrusion, but one was in favour of the abolition of patronage, and ought to have prayed for it, inasmuch as it proceeded upon the allegation of the great grievance of patronage; another ought to pray for the legalizing of the Veto Act, because it proceeded upon the excellency of that Act; and the third was a general petition in favour of the principle of non-intrusion. While he was on his legs, he had a word to offer to the noble Viscount opposite. He knew that the noble Viscount was much pressed from many quarters to bring forward a motion upon the subject, and that the Government were much blamed for the delay which had taken place. He was more afraid of hesitation than of delay. He earnestly called upon the noble Viscount to consider the subject most calmly—to deliberate maturely upon the nature of the measure he proposed to bring forward. The Government never had a more difficult subject tinder consideration—or one deserving and demanding more calm deliberation. Above all, it required honesty of purpose. The measure, if left to the unbiassed judgment of the noble Viscount, might be a wise one, but he was not quite sure that it would; he did believe that it would be an honest one. From what he saw passing upon the subject, he was perfectly aware of the immense difficulty of the question, and he most earnestly called upon the noble Viscount not to bring in the proposed bill until it was fully and deliberately considered and carefully prepared. The noble Earl then presented three petitions from places in Scotland in favour of the non-intrusion of ministers.

Petition laid on the Table.

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