§ The MARQUESS of BREADALBANE
presented certain petitions complaining of the refusal of sites for building Free Churches in Scotland. The noble Marquess proceeded to say, that the number of petitions he had presented upon this subject amounted to 296, which had been signed by 39,781 persons. The general prayer of these petitions was that—Whereas many congregations of professing Christians are now prevented from building churches by the refusal of the proprietors of land to grant sites in any suitable places, or on any terms for that purpose; may it therefore please 1356 your honourable House to devise means for enabling such congregations to rent or purchase ground on reasonable conditions for the erection of buildings for the worship of God, and to pass a Bill for compensating proprietors, and securing accommodation to congregations in such circumstances, or otherwise to do in the matter as to your wisdom may seem right.Their Lordships would have seen that there was a pretty general feeling and anxiety prevailing in Scotland upon this subject; and would, he hoped, agree with him that, however desirable it might be to support the Established Church in that country, now that a great body of the people of Scotland had seceded from that Church, no hindrance should be given to the free power of exercising their religious worship according to their own particular principles and tenets. It appeared to him, that the rights of property should be exercised consistently with the principles of the Constitution; and that proprietors could not be justified in acting in opposition to those principles. He did not question the motives of the proprietors who refused sites; they might think they were justified, as members of the Established Church, in endeavouring thus to strengthen that church; but did their Lordships think that any one creature was justified, by the accidental possession of influence, in endeavouring to restrain the religious opinions of his fellow men by such means? Grant this principle, and they opened the door to persecution. Was it not the paramount duty of the landed proprietors to knit together, as far as they could, all classes of Her Majesty's subjects; and could it be, by refusing the means and opportunities of religious worship, that they were endeavouring to effect that great object? He would ask their Lordships whether such conduct was not calculated to create great discontent and dissatisfaction on the part of persons thus (he would not say persecuted, although it almost amounted to that), prevented from exercising their religious worship; and whether it was not calculated to alienate the affections of those conscientious seceders from the Establishment? He would remind them of a great and noble saying of a most excellent man, who held high office in the sister country, that in the possession of property there were great obligations incurred as well as rights to be enjoyed, and no man fulfilled his duty as a proprietor unless he observed those obligations to the letter. Such proceedings were, in short, an endeavour to establish a mental slavery more degrading than that of the body, and 1357 which might lead to consequences still more serious. As a matter of policy, the subject was worthy of consideration. The Free Church was now a strong and vigorous body, calculated to promote the religious and moral improvement of the people; and it should be the policy of the Legislature, and of the Government, and of the landed proprietors in Scotland, rather to encourage than to discourage it. The noble Marquess then read a statement of facts respecting the Free Church of Scotland, showing that the number of congregations was 816; of ministers, 662; and of communicants, upwards of 200,000; that the number of churches already erected was 600; of manses built, or authorized to be built, 171; that funds had been subscribed for the erection of a college, besides schools; that a total sum had been subscribed to the funds of the Free Church since the disruption of 1,140,000l., all of which, except 150,000l., had been paid up. Their Lordships were, perhaps, aware that a right hon. Friend of his had introduced a Bill into the other House of Parliament to remedy the evils of which these petitioners complained. That Bill he thought defective, as it gave too large a discretionary power; and it might have been improved by making it more general. It merely granted sites to religious bodies of the Christian persuasion, whereas he thought it should comprehend all religions whatever. It also confined the application to Scotland; but he thought it should be general throughout the country, for the evil existed in this country to a considerable extent. It would be most satisfactory to the people of Scotland if his noble Friend, who was the organ of the Government, were to declare his regret, on the part of Government, that any portion of the inhabitants of Scotland should be thus hindered in the free exercise of their worship according to their own forms. He trusted that their Lordships would take into consideration the case of the petitioners, and would be able to provide some means of remedying the great evil and grievance of which they now complained.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said, that although he had not the least objection to the reception of the petitions, he was not prepared to say that he thought any Parliamentary means could at present be devised by which the petitioners and others could be enabled to acquire a right to erect churches wheresoever they thought proper, independent of the will of the pro- 1358 prietors of the land. At the same time, he would express a hope that there might be no necessity for any such interference. He trusted, that upon a full consideration of the circumstances, and after what the landed proprietors must have observed of the growing importance of the numerous body from whom these petitions emanated, there would be a disposition on the part of all, but more especially on the part of those great landowners on whom so much depended, to give that reasonable degree of accommodation which they were entitled to ask for the purpose of public worship in conformity with their own creed and opinions. It was very natural that at the period when the disruption first took place, there should have been very great hesitation to give to the seceders the opportunity of establishing their church; but from the moment it became clear that a large proportion of the population had formally adopted, and were disposed to adhere to, the new principles, there could not be any rational objection on the part of landowners to afford every proper facility. He certainly believed that the unwillingness which had originally existed was every day diminishing; and he hoped that it would diminish to such a degree as to bring about mutual goodwill, and the satisfaction of the claims of those petitioners, without placing Parliament under the necessity of adopting the remedy referred to.
The DUKE of BUCCLEUCH
thought that the noble Marquess had fallen into a mistake as to the state of the case. It would appear, from the statement of his noble Friend, that harshness and tyranny had been displayed by the landed proprietors of Scotland towards the professors of the principles of the new church; but the fact was, that they enjoyed equally with other Dissenters such facilities as it was in the power of landowners to afford in obtaining sites and accommodation for building their churches. The petitioners demanded these sites; but, was it to be said, whether a proprietor liked it or not, that they might seize hold of that site, though not without compensation, which might be most convenient for them, without any reference to the convenience of the owner of the land? That was what was asked. Whatever was said to the contrary, the hostility to the Established Church had not at first even been attempted to be concealed: prudence and discretion had now somewhat moderated their tone; but until it was moderated very great good could 1359 not be expected from those who had been so frequently attacked. He need not go very far back for proofs of the hostility of which he spoke; he had only to refer to the files of their own organs—their own newspapers, which were filled with diatribes against the Established Church and its members; and it was not very long since one of the Free Church preachers had openly declared that the Church of Scotland was a great moral nuisance—one which ought to be swept away from the face of the earth. He (the Duke of Buccleuch) did not deny that he had refused many applications for sites; and his reason for so doing was, that he had considered the applications unreasonable. What he complained of was that persons having no earthly connexion with the parish, or even with the district, came on to his estates, exciting the people, raising up for them imaginary grievances, and thus encouraging and inciting ill-feeling against the landlord. Religious distinctions were made the means of severing the interests of employers and employed; and when he found regular relays of ministers of this class of Dissenters coming down to preach doctrines and principles of which such was the effect, when he found them accompanied or followed by laymen from a distance, whose object it was to keep alive the "spirit," as they called it, he could not but desire their removal and their absence. He protested against any interference on the part of any man or any body of men between himself and his tenants and labourers; it was a question between himself and them, and not between him and strangers, who knew nothing of the parish, and who were only there to foment bad feeling. He entertained the same hope expressed by the noble Marquess, that there would be found no difficulty in arranging matters; but the facility could not be increased so long as he (the Duke of Buccleuch) was made the object of attack, and held up to ridicule and execration from the pulpit. [The Marquess of BREADALBANE: That was denied.] It was only denied in part, and the fact was, he thought, as he had stated. The demand which was now made for legislative means to enable them to take sites wherever they pleased, was, in his opinion, most unjust. It was a demand which would never be tolerated in any country or for any sect. Were such a demand made, even for the Established Church, it would be repudiated and treated with scorn in either House of Parliament; 1360 and he, for his part could not see that this body in particular of Dissenters were entitled to ask for powers which could only be deemed unconstitutional.
§ The MARQUESS of BREADALBANE
would ask the noble Duke if, on a part of his property, the members of the Free Church had not met for worship on a moor; if the noble Duke had not taken legal means to drive them away; whether they did not, at length, take refuge in the public roads; and, whether the Lord's Supper was not about to be administered on a cross-road, when the noble Duke, greatly to his credit—sensible of the inappropriateness of the place—interfered, and allowed them a tent to worship in? Why, knowing these facts, the conduct of landed proprietors amounted almost, if not entirely, to persecution. The possessions of the noble Duke were so vast, that unless he consented to give sites, the Free Church would be unable to obtain sites at all. In the parish of Canobie the noble Duke had offered, instead of what was asked, a site which, if accepted would compel the members of the Free Church to go a distance of five miles to worship; and he (the Marquess of Breadalbane) would ask their Lordships, was that reasonable or just? On the western coast of Scotland, sites for churches had been obstinately refused, and the inhabitants had at length built and launched an iron church, which was now anchored in one of the bays of the coast. What was this? It was nothing but persecution, for it was a direct interference with the free exercise of religious worship by men who entertained their opinions conscientiously, and whose only fault it was that those opinions were not identical with those of the proprietors of land. Those proprietors had no moral right whatever to exert their influence in such a manner.
The DUKE of BUCCLEUCH
said, that it was perfectly true he had refused to grant sites for the Free Church in the parishes of Canobie and Sanquhar; and he could not see why, in those parishes, the Free Church people could not be contented with the terms offered to and accepted by other Dissenters. The real truth of the matter in one of those parishes was, that the minister of the place had been particularly unpopular, and as it was understood he was going to remain in the Established Church the people seceded, but, to their great horror, he followed them.
§ Petition read, and ordered to lie on the Table.