HL Deb 15 August 1853 vol 129 cc1712-20

Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee read.


, in moving that the House do go into Committee, said he was aware that a portion—a considerable portion—of the Church of Scotland was hostile to this measure. This was a quarter from which, undoubtedly, he regretted that any such feeling with respect to the Bill should come; and he would at once say, that if he thought it would in any way interfere with the just rights and privileges of the Church of Scotland, he would be no party to it. But, believing that nothing of this kind could take place, he confidently recommended the Bill to their Lordships' favour. He confessed that he considered valueless all tests of this description. With regard to tests which were imposed on the conscience, he thought every day afforded evidence of their being either valueless or pernicious. The test, however, by which it was proposed to regulate the future admission of lay professors to the Universities of Scotland did not establish any abstract principle; it was not brought forward with any such view, however wise and expedient such a proceeding might be; but it was to remove a great practical evil—an evil that was felt at this moment, and which would be greatly increased hereafter unless some such remedy as this was adopted, for wherever the present test was not altogether disregarded, it was accompanied with great inconvenience and hardship. The truth was, that it was now only effectual in cases in which the framers of the test themselves would most anxiously have avoided imposing it, for it was applied to those very persons whom the framers of the test would have most desired to admit into the Universities of Scotland. This was no doubt singular; but before he proceeded to that point he wished to observe that the Universities of Scotland were not eeclesiastical institutions, nor under the control of the Church. The Church was generally incompetent to impose any tests whatever on any persons; and not only could the Church impose no such test as this, but the students admitted to the Universities were of all sorts and of all persuasions, without any question whatever as to their religious belief. Then, the professors had no authority over the students without the lecture-room in which they discharged their duties; the students were there perfectly independent of the University authorities; and, as he had observed, these institutions were entirely open to the whole world, being in that respect essentially different from the constitution of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The Church, which was always in connexion with the Universities and the theological chairs, which would, by the present Bill, be under the necessity of taking the test required of them, would remain connected with these chairs, as at this moment. It was not intended, however, to apply the test to professors occupying chairs of literature and science, which required no such theological test as was now asked of the theological professors. It was true that a Commission, of which he had the honour to be a member, something more than ten years ago, made a report, in which, seeing the diversity which prevailed in the different Universities, they recommended that the practice should be uniform, and that the test should be administered in all the Universities of Scotland. But a great change had taken place since that time. One half of the kingdom had now rendered itself unable conscientiously to take that test. At that time no Free Church existed, and it was against the members of the Free Church that the test now operated, and they alone were exposed to the hardship which it created. The test itself, as at present existing, was framed in 1707, just before or at the point of the discussion on the subject of the Union between the kingdoms when an Act of Security was passed which was embodied in the Treaty of Union. The object to which the Act was directed was against the admission of episcopal professors, and the test was framed against episcopacy and against that alone. Great apprehensions were felt, and among others equally groundless, much alarm prevailed at the notion of a Parliament of which bishops were members interfering with matters affecting the Presbyterian Church of Scotland; and this was a species of Scottish test directed against Episcopalians, like the English test which at that time existed with respect to Dissenters. This test against Dissenters had been done away with, and he thought that would have been the proper time to get rid of the Scottish test, also directed against Episcopalians. That this test was framed exclusively against Episcopalians was shown by its being required not only that persons taking it should declare their adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith, but that they should also declare their adherence to it as the confession of their own faith, and also declare their adherence to the worship and their obedience to the discipline of the Church of Scotland. Now, the members of the Free Church, who were the very persons who suffered under the test, were perfectly ready to take it on all matters connected with the doctrine and faith of the Church, but they now could not conscientiously declare their adherence to the discipline and government of the Church of Scotland. It was the fact, however, that some Episcopalians were willing to take this test. They thought, he supposed, that they might conscientiously take it in a general sense; but, however that might be, some of the most eminent professors who were Episcopalians, had taken it as it existed. Others, however, found an insuperable difficulty in doing so; but, nevertheless, many of the most eminent professors were now Episcopalians, because in the University of Edinburgh they had had the good sense never to attempt to impose the test. Such was the state of matters, however, at which they had now arrived, that whether from a feeling of hostility, or from whatever other motive, persons were required to take this test, not only prospectively, but retrospectively. Thus any professor might be compelled now to take that test in the University of Edinburgh, though twenty years ago, perhaps, he might have entered it without being required to do so. This appeared to be such a hardship, and so unreasonable, and so much opposed to the uniform practice of the University of Edinburgh especially, that there seemed to be no cause why it should not be changed. Circumstances that had recently occurred had tended to bring this more prominently forward at, the present moment—he alluded to the election of a member of the Free Church to the professorship of Moral Philosophy, in connexion with which a difficulty had occurred which it seemed but reasonable to correct. The members of the Free Church were not only ready and able to take the test as it existed with regard to doctrine and faith, quite as much as the members of the Established Church, but, perhaps, still more, because since the framing of the test a change had taken place in the circumstances of the Church, which was against and in opposition to the tenets and opinions of the persons who framed the test, and entirely in accordance with the opinions of the members of the Free Church—he al- luded to the law affecting church patronage, which had been changed, and changed in a sense which the members of the Free Church could not but object to—therefore they were, in fact, more in conformity with the feelings and opinions of the persons who framed the test, than those who belonged to the Church which now insisted on retaining it. As he had before stated, it was not proposed to make any change as to the professors of the theological chairs; but with regard to the lay professors an alteration was loudly called for, and the declaration which it was proposed to substitute in the case of lay professors would be quite sufficient to secure all the rights which the Church could possibly claim in regard to them. There seemed to be no reason why the Professor of Latin, for example, should believe all the points of the Westminster Confession of Faith still less that he should be subject to the discipline and government of the Church of Scotland. He felt satisfied that, by making such a relaxation as was now proposed, they would most materially promote the efficiency of those institutions that had hitherto proved so beneficial to the country by extending the admission to their chairs to all persons most competent to fill them, without distinction of religious opinions. He had said that there was a recommendation from a Commission some ten or twenty years ago on this subject; but that was before the existence of the secession in the Church of Scotland, which had created the necessity for a change on this question. This was a crying grievance, so far as it applied to that body, and he was convinced that if not remedied it would be a great misfortune to the Universities, and injurious to the respect which they had hitherto enjoyed, and which, he believed, the passing of this Bill would still preserve. He knew it was said that the Act of Security and the imposition of this test on all professors, were embodied in the Act of Union with a solemnity and stringency which rendered it undesirable for Parliament to interfere. He admitted that a case of actual necessity should be established to warrant interference with any Act of that solemn description; but that Act, like all other Acts, had been modified; and, in this instance, it was urgently called for as a remedy for an existing grievance. He thought, therefore, that, with all due respect to an Act of that description, it ought not to stand in the way of adapting this question to the generality of the people of Scotland. He regretted to think that a considerable portion of the clergy of the Established Church were opposed to the Bill. At the same time he was satisfied that the great mass of the enlightened community of Scotland were in favour of a measure of this description. It was of essential importance that the Bill should pass, and he was satisfied that it would not interfere with the due authority and influence of the Church. He sincerely hoped, after the many attempts which had been made in the House of Commons to carry a Bill, but which had always been rejected by small majorities, that at last, when, by means of an understanding arrived at by the different parties, it had been carried by a majority of five to one, and when he believed only one Scottish Member had voted against the second reading, the measure would receive the assent of their Lordships—that they would take advantage of the progress which had been made in public opinion on this subject, and put an end to a state of things which if not changed now would be a source of endless vexations and mischief.

Moved—"That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee."


said, this was a question on which the people of Scotland felt very strongly, and it was one which they considered involved an alteration of the Act of Union between the two countries. He thought it was exceedingly undesirable that a measure of such a character should be brought before their Lordships at this period of the Session, and especially when there was hardly a Peer connected with the northern part of the kingdom in the House. He hoped, therefore, the noble Earl would consent to with draw the Bill for the present Session.


would agree to postpone the Bill until another Session, if he thought it probable that he would get anything as good in the next Session. He was by no means satisfied with the Bill, but he looked upon it as a progressive measure, which afforded some security for the establishment of a more perfect religious test hereafter. The negative test comprised in the declaration in the present Bill was a better practical security to the Church of Scotland, than any general religious test would be without the declaration; and he believed if that result was not provided by legislation, it was the intention of the clergy of the Established Church of Scotland to establish a college of their own, which should be presided over only by members of that Church, and where the students might be educated in its doctrines and discipline. The noble Earl said he should propose some Amendments in Committee.


said, that he had been intrusted with a petition against the Bill emnanating from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; but he was bound to inform their Lordships, that he did not concur in the prayer of the petition; and he would state some of the grounds on which he so differed. It was gratifying to find that the noble Earl who spoke last, although not approving altogether of the Bill, admitted the necessity of legislation on the subject, and this was a preliminary objection he made to the prayer of the petition. The petition with which he had been intrusted, was recommended by a statement carefully drawn up by a Committee of the General Assembly, to which he must request their Lordships' attention. The first paragraph of the document contained a statement to this effect:— The tests may be said to consist generally in the necessity under which every professor elect is laid, by the existing law, of making, before his admission to office, a solemn declaration of belief in the truth of Scripture. Now, in reality, the test went much further, and therefore it must be taken as evidence of the weakness of their case, that the General Assembly should give this imperfect description of it. The last paragraph of the statement contained, he was sorry to find, a declaration of uncompromising hostility to the Bill. It was as follows:— With reference to certain Amendments that were proposed in the Bill in the House of Commons, the Committee have to state that they were not suggested by them, nor can they reconcile it to their duty, and to the terms of their appointment by the General Assembly, to take up any ground but that of uncompromising opposition to any Bill which infringes to any extent the guaranteed rights and privileges of the Church. The present test required from the person taking it a declaration of belief, not only in the Scriptures, but in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and, further, a pledge of conformity to the worship and discipline of the Established Church of Scotland. No one could read the words of the test, without seeing that it was the intention of those who drew it up, that every professor should be a bonâ fide member of the Established Church. His noble Friend at the head of the Government referred to the large secession which had recently taken place from the Church of Scotland as a reason for not retaining the test. It, however, had been found impossible to enforce the test even before the secession referred to had taken place. His noble Friend had also correctly stated that, as regarded the University of Edinburgh, the test had for some time been in abeyance. It was, indeed, notorious that Episcopalians had constantly taken the test in a general sense, and without the slightest notion of precisely conforming to it. Let their Lordships observe the existing state of the University of Edinburgh, and consider how a strict adherence to the test would affect them. The chair of Natural Philosophy, from which the institution had derived the greatest renown, was filled by Professor James Forbes, a man whose advanced knowledge in many departments of science had acquired for him a European reputation. Professor Forbes was a member of the Episcopalian Church—that very Church against which the test was specially directed. The Professor of Metaphysics was Sir William Hamilton—a worthy successor of the great men who spread the fame of the University towards the close of the last and at the beginning of the present century. Sir William Hamilton was also an Episcopalian. The Professor of Medicine was Mr. Simpson, a man also of European reputation, whose talents added fresh lustre to a school already famous. Professor Simpson was a member of the Free Church. All these eminent men would be shut out from the University, if the test was rigidly enforced. The main ground taken by the General Assembly in support of the tests was, that they were the guarantees of an ecclesiastical right appertaining to them as a Church. This ground, however, was untenable. The question had recently come before the courts of law in Scotland. The town-council of Edinburgh, being the patrons of a professorship in the University, appointed a member of the Free Church. The Presbytery opposed the nomination, and brought an action in the Court of Session to inhibit his induction, on the ground that he had not taken the test. Although the fact of the refusal to take the test was clearly established, the Court refused the application, being unanimously of opinion that the law which imposed the test did not confer a right on the Church as a Church, but as a civil institution. The University of Glasgow had expressed their dissatisfaction at the declaration proposed by the Bill, on the ground of its not being of a sufficiently positive character. It should, however, be borne in mind that the declaration was not proposed in the nature of a test. What he understood by a test was something put to a man in order to ascertain what he was and what he believed. Now, all that the declaration proposed in the Bill did was simply this:—it bound the person taking it not to inculcate certain opinions or do certain things. If the Government had undertaken to devise a new test of a positive character, the measure would never have obtained the concurrence of the House of Commons. The Government had thought that the best plan which could be adopted, considering the impossibility of imposing any new test, was to require a declaration to be made by every person admitted to the lay chairs in the Scotch Universities, that he would not attempt to exercise any influence in his professorial capacity contrary to, or in derogation of, the rights and privileges of the Established Church of Scotland. He had heard with great regret the intimation which had fallen from his noble Friend, that much irritation had been produced in the minds of the clergy of the Established Church by the present measure, and that it was proposed by them to erect a new college, in which they could educate youth according to their own system. He felt convinced that no course could be adopted which would prove more detrimental to the interests of the Church, and the interests of the Church were identified with the interests of the community at large. He felt satisfied that the declaration required under the new Act would secure the professorial chairs being occupied by men of moral and religious character, and he should much regret to see the foundation of any separate establishment. He felt deep interest in the welfare of the Universities of Scotland, and he had viewed with a feeling almost akin to jealousy the large number of natives of Scotland educated in the Universities in this country, and he should be most happy to see a larger proportion of the youth of the high and middle classes of Scotland entering the Universities of their own country. The present system was of that nature that a first-rate man might very possibly be deterred from accepting the position of a professor, and that circumstance could not tend to elevate the character of the Universities of Scotland. With regard to the technical objection which had been taken to the measure, that it was a violation of the Treaty of Union, he could see no force in that argument; for, if it was to be maintained, it must also be maintained that no change of any description whatever ought to be made, but that rather an attempt should be made to oust from their professorial chairs those eminent and distinguished men to whom he had alluded. His noble and learned Friend on the woolsack had pointed out that by an especial clause in the Act of Union, it was provided for the continuance of heritable and legal jurisdiction; but it had been found necessary subsequently to abolish that system. He rejoiced to say that the measure had received the full consideration of the other House of Parliament; and, although he regretted that the Bill should be introduced so late in the Session, the delay had arisen from the efforts which had been made by the Government to procure the assent of the Members from Scotland. It was well known that Scotch affairs were generally settled in a Scotch Parliament, and that was perhaps the reason that they were not heard so much of as the affairs of the sister kingdom; and he was glad to be able to say that the present measure had received, with, be believed, one exception, the assent of the Scotch Members. Under these circumstances, and with the utmost respect for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, he hoped that their Lordships would agree with him that the time had arrived to remove the existing tests, and to require nothing more than a declaration from those persons appointed to fill the lay chairs in the Scotch Universities.

On Question, agreed to; House in Committee accordingly: Amendments moved and negatived: and Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.

House adjourned till To-morrow.