rose to put a question to her Majesty's Ministers, of which he had given notice—namely, whether it were their intention to bring in any measure with the view of settling the disputes that at present unhappily disturbed the Church of Scotland? Rumours were abroad that her Majesty's Government would perhaps bring in a bill on the subject, and it was of importance that it should be known whether there were any foundation for those rumours, for if false expectations were entertained, mischievous consequences might ensue.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
said, there had lateiy been a decision of the Court of Session respecting what were called the quoad sacra parishes, and an appeal against that decision had been sent up to the House of Lords. Until that appeal had been decided, it would be impossible for her Majesty's Government to determine whether or no they would propose a measure on the subject to Parliament. Should that decision be confirmed, Government were of opinion that inconveniences might arise with respect to Church-extension; and, therefore, would feel disposed to originate some measure to meet the inconvenience. With respect to the second part of the question, he meant the question of what was generally called Non-intrusion, her Majesty's Government had lately laid down their views on the subject in a letter which had been made public, and to those 1152 views it was their intention strictly to adhere.
said, it would certainly be inexpedient to pronounce any opinion, or to take any legislative step, while the quoad sacra question was pending before their Lordships. But that question, it should be observed, had no connexion whatever, had no reference whatever, had no bearing whatever, let the decision of their Lordships' House be what it might, on the question of non-intrusion. He was glad, therefore, to hear the declaration of the noble Lord, that the Government intended strictly to adhere to the principles laid down in the very able, luminous, judicious and learned argument of his right hon. Friend, the Secretary for the Home Department. He had read that argument with the greatest satisfaction, and in every word of it (with the exception, perhaps, of one passage, which he regretted, because it might be misunderstood and leave room for some vain expectation that the question would be opened again) he entirely coincided. The question had been argued in the civil courts, and it had been brought before their Lordships; and the decision in each case was directly opposed to the claim that had been set up by the church. The law, therefore, had been declared to the church of Scotland by the highest authority—by the only authority that in this kingdom could declare what the law truly was. He was deeply grieved that a part of the church—he was afraid a majority of the church—that is of its pastors—rejected that decision, and adhered to their own willful and pernicious errors. He was sorry that those who were the representatives of the church of Scotland, and who ought to appear in the character of peacemakers and ministers of the gospel, who should in that character set an example to their fellow-subjects of willing, prompt, and complete obedience to the law of the land, had adopted an opposite course, and placed themselves in a position of discreditable resistance to it. They insisted upon the right of deciding on all spiritual questions, and nobody grudged them that right; but the intolerable claim they further set up was, that on each question they should be the sole judges whether it was a spiritual or a civil question. In other words, they assumed to themselves a jurisdiction which was contrary to the law, and went to set all law aside. 1153 No well-governed country—no civilized community—no properly-established Government could exist—if within its limits, there was an authority greater than the law, and vested with power that went beyond those even of the Legislature itself. He was exceedingly glad that the Government intended to act in the manner which had just been announced. They would thus put an end to, and cut off all the hopes of these parties who thought that, by holding-out longer against the courts of law, they would finally prevail not only over the authority of the law, but over the Parliament itself. It would show them that they had no chance whatever of accomplishing what they wished—of having their vain and extravagant claims recognized and submitted to. As to enacting new laws— as to framing new acts of Parliament—as to sanctioning new statutes, for the purpose of settling this question, it would be only giving these parties another opportunity of flying in the face of the decision of the courts—of refusing to acquiesce in the opinion of the Legislature; it would be giving them new laws to break before they submitted to the old ones; and it would, therefore be an entirely vain, and, in his opinion, a wholly undignified course.
The Earl of Minto
expressed his entire satisfaction at the answer which had been given to his noble and learned Friend, and he was sure that that answer would give great satisfaction to a larger portion of the people of Scotland inasmuch as it would tend to put an end to that state of uncertainty which, more than anything else, had been the means of keeping up the agitation on this subject, and it would procure for the Government a degree of support from the Church and the country in that kingdom, which, perhaps, noble Lords opposite were not prepared to expect. Numbers had hitherto withheld their support, in consequence of the doubts entertained as to the course which would be taken by the Government. He understood the answer of the noble Lord precisely in the same manner in which it had been received by the noble and learned Lord who had just sat down, and he repeated the expression of his perfect satisfaction with that answer.
said, that feeling the great importance of the subject, he was not without a hope that even such an humble individual as himself might pos- 1154 sess some influence in bringing this controversy to a settlement. He did not blame the church of Scotland for passing the veto law. Great abuses had existed in the exercise of patronage, and that law had been passed with the fair and laudable object of correcting those abuses. He did not blame the church of Scotland for acting on the veto law, until that law had been declared by their Lordships to be illegal. The church had a right to take the opinion of the court of the highest jurisdiction in the kingdom on the subject; but he did severely blame the church of Scotland for continuing to act upon that law after it had been declared to be illegal. There had been two decisions of their Lordships in the two Auchterarder cases, and both those decisions left the spiritual jurisdiction of the church of Scotland unimpaired. But now it was said, that patronage ought to be abolished. Why, patronage had been made a condition of the establishment of the church of Scotland. It had been expressly stipulated, that the rights of lay patrons should be preserved, and those very persons who now made a claim for the abolition of patronage, had themselves entered the church upon the presentation of patrons. He would next allude to the demand to which his noble and learned Friend had referred about jurisdiction. It was, that an act of Parliament should be passed, entirely preventing the civil courts from questioning the decisions of the Ecclesiastical Courts. This demand arose from the clergy misunderstanding the grounds upon which the courts of Scotland had proceeded. What these courts had done, had been done upon just and legal grounds. If a Presbytery had sought to depose a minister because he was unlearned, heterodox, or immoral, then the Civil Courts would not interfere. But if it sought to depose a Minister on frivolous grounds, such, for instance, as that he was six feet high, or that his hair was of a particular colour, why then there being no good or substantial reason for his deposition, the court would interfere, because such a proceeding would be a nullity. It was not interfering with the spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts to examine the grounds of their decision. In England, the distinction was familiar to every lawyer. If the Ecclesiastical Courts proceeded to depose a clergyman because 1155 his conduct was immoral, no court in Westminster Hall would interfere with the decision. But if the Ecclesiastical Courts should proceed to deposition without just and legal grounds, the courts of common law would grant a prohibition; and if the parties proceeded in spite of that prohibition, it would be followed up by the attachment and imprisonment of the person so offending. The demands made by the church of Scotland were wholly inadmissible, and had very properly been rejected by her Majesty's Government. He might, however, be allowed to express a hope that a reasonable view would still be taken of the question, and that the calamity might yet be avoided of a secession of nearly half the clergy from the church. He looked to the consequences of such a secession with grief and apprehension. Not that he sympathised with the leaders in the movement. The éclat that they would acquire would secure them against any serious inconveniences, even if they should renounce their connection with the church. But it would be very different with the poor clergymen in obscure parts of the country, and it made his heart bleed to think of the situation in which they would place themselves and their families. Their Lordships might be aware that there was a fund for the widows and orphans of the ministers of the church of Scotland, which was of the greatest benefit, but the advantages of which would be lost by the families of those ministers who seceded from the church. He hoped, however, there was still time for reflection, that the secession would not take place, or that it would be found to be harmless, and that the church of Scotland would still retain her motto—nee tamen consumebatur.
§ Subject at an end.