HL Deb 12 May 1843 vol 69 cc235-8
The Marquess of Breadalbane

having presented two petitions, complaining of the interpretation put on the laws as they concerned the Scotch Church, said, that what had been lately stated by his noble Friend (the Earl of Aberdeen), as to the intentions of the Government, in respect to legislating for the Church of Scotland—was of such great importance to the people of Scotland, and it was so desirable, that the principles on which the Government meant to legislate, should be correctly known, that he wished to state what was his understanding of the Ministers' plan, as stated by his noble Friend. His understanding, then, of what Ministers meant to do was this: that the Government was willing, and intended to bring in a bill, founded on the principle of giving to the congregation of every parish full power to object to any presentee, and refuse an immediate call for any reason whatever; and, as he comprehended it, they were not to be called on to assign any reasons for rejecting a presentee, other than their con- scientious conviction, that the man was not likely spiritually to edify them. He also understood that the Government was prepared to give the presbytery the power of deciding on the rejection by the parishioners, and judge of that without being subject to any interference by the civil courts, and subject only to the approval of the General Assembly as a court of appeal. The power was to be given to the presbytery, to judge and decide without stating their reasons, and to judge not only of the general fitness of the presentee, but of all the circumstances regarding the election. If he were correct in the understanding of the statement of his noble Friend, it would not only establish the just rights, but grant to the Church what ought to satisfy the Church and the people of Scotland. Another point was the quoad sacra Ministers, regarding whom his noble Friend had not stated his views, and that was a most important subject in the present state of the Church of Scotland. He hoped, that his noble Friend and the Government were prepared to legislate for the quoad sacra Ministers, so as to give them a status in the Church, on the Presbyterian principle, that no Minister of that Church should be greater than another, and that all should be on a footing of perfect equality.

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, that his noble Friend had rather closely and repeatedly questioned him on this subject. He desired to give his noble Friend every reasonable degree of satisfaction, but he could not help suspecting that this repetition of questioning did not depend so much upon any want of explicitness on his own part, or of obtuseness of comprehension on the part of his noble Friend, as upon the desire entertained by some persons to extort from her Majesty's Government at the last moment some declaration beyond that which in their deliberate judgment they had approved of. He had, however, no objection to repeat the principles of the measure which her Majesty's Government was prepared at a fitting time to bring forward. It was, undoubtedly, intended to give to the congregation the unlimited power of objecting to the presentee, and the presbytery were to have the power of deciding and judging of the whole case, without the control of the civil courts. The reasons, however, must be stated, and in all cases the ground of the judgment must be recorded. He abstained entirely from slating the modifications with which those principles would be accompanied, because he perceived how liable those modifications would be to give rise to cavil and misrepresentation elsewhere. It was the determination of the Government to support such measures as would give satisfaction to every reasonable person. His noble Friend professed himself satisfied, and he anticipated the best effects from the resolution of the Government. He knew how hopeless it was to expect to satisfy certain persons, whom experience had taught him could even pervert the provisions of a bill into a meaning opposite to that they were intended to convey. He would do no more than state the general principles, in conformity to the declaration often made by the Government, and on which they meant to found a legislative measure. He had never before seen an occasion when it was thought necessary, after declaration had been made, to inquire into the details of a measure. The general assembly was to meet next week and then it would be seen whether those who proposed to secede from the Church, would wait to see what were the legislative measures proposed, and ascertain if they met the merits of the question. If, they should secede at once, or if, after that measure were brought forward, they should think it necessary to secede, he could scarcely think that they would be able to appeal to the God of truth, or answer at the last day for their declaration, should they persist in asserting that the persecution of the legislature had driven them from the Church. With respect to the quoad sacra ministers, he had only to repeat what his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department had stated, that the Government would take the subject into its consideration, with a view to propose what would be most beneficial.

Lord Brougham

said, that if his noble Friend's announcement were understood in one sense, it would be an utter, a total abandonment of the claims of the civil courts; and would be calculated to excite much alarm. Taken in another view, it was quite consistent with sound doctrine civil rights, and did not touch patronage. He hoped the former was not the true sense, as it would give the Church an absolute triumph, and the right of patronage would be destroyed. It would not be transferred, as by the Veto Act, to the congregation, but far worse, it would be placed entirely in the hands of the ecclesiastical authorities of Scotland. He objected to the plan of asking questions of the Government as to what it meant to do as to legislation. It was not, in fact, the Government which legislated, it was the Houses of Parliament; and to ask what the Government meant to do as to making laws, was to make the Legislature a sinecure.

Lord Campbell

thought, the presentees might be objected to on account of being unfit persons, but if they were objected to on account of some civil reasons, such as not contributing to a non-intrusion fund, it would establish a most certain and odious tyranny. As to the quoad sacra ministers, he did not object to the Church providing for the wants of the people, but he protested against it having the power of increasing the number of ministers without limitation, and to increasing the number of members of the presbyteries of the General Assembly. The power to divide the parish into two should be reserved for the supreme court.

The Marquess of Breadalbane

said, if their Lordships were aware of the great importance of the subject to the people of Scotland, they would only think he was doing his duty by bringing forward the question. He thought it was quite consistent with the usages of the House to ask questions of Ministers, and he was surprised at the objection of the noble and learned Lord, who had, in his time, been one of the most stringent questioners of the day.

Lord Brougham

denied, that he had ever, on any occasion, put a question to Ministers as to the details of any legislative measure. He had asked on what day a certain measure would be brought forward, but he had not asked as to any details.

Petition laid on the Table.