HL Deb 03 July 1862 vol 167 cc1327-9

House in Committee (on Re-commitment), according to Order.

Clause 1 (When a Libel found relevant against a Minister, Presbytery may require and enjoin him to abstain from the Discharge of his Functions).


said, that no explanation was given of the objects of this Bill on the Motion for its second reading. Yet it was a Bill which seemed to him to he one of the most extraordinary proposed within his experience. It was in every respect a most objectionable measure. In the first clauses it applied for powers purely spiritual, and in the latter for clauses purely civil. Individually speaking, it was of little moment to him whether they established courts of justice with spiritual powers or not; but he altogether protested against the application for temporal powers. As the law now stood, if a clergyman was guilty of any fault for which a charge, or what in Scotland was called a libel, was brought against him, the presbytery to which he belonged, if they considered that a primâ facie; case had been made out for carrying that libel to a prosecution, could do so; but they now asked Parliament to give them power to suspend him from the exercise of his spiritual functions pendenle lite. It might be that they had such a power already; but if such a power was not already vested in them, it was a question with which they had no right to interfere. It touched nothing temporal; it was a spiritual proceeding, and therefore the Established Church had the power of improving herself in this respect without coming to Parliament. He was astonished that the Established Church should have so far forgotten its own dignity, and he believed its own power, as to come to the Legislature on a subject like this. If there was any chance of healing the unhappy religious division which existed in Scotland, such a proceeding as this was enough to put an end to such an expectation. Then the Bill proposed to invest the Established Church with a power which had never yet been intrusted to her. From the time of the Reformation in 1560 to the present day, all matters in controversy before the Church courts had been carried on by witnesses who appeared there voluntarily and spoke as their consciences dictated. If they refused to appear, their scruples had heretofore been respected. But now, by the 4th clause of this Bill, the attendance of such persons as witnesses, no matter what might be the conscientious objections, was made compulsory. If the Church of Scotland still remained what it formerly was, the Church of the great majority of the people, there might have been some ground for asking that this power should be given to her courts. But it was not so; the Established Church of Scotland did not number among its adherents one-third of the people of Scotland. To compel witnesses belonging to other sects to come into her courts was not the plan the Established Church should adopt to reconcile herself to the people of Scotland. He did not make these remarks from any hostility to an Established Church, for he did not believe that Scotland would thrive unless the Church was to some extent patronized by the State, but because he believed the Bill was one which would not promote peace, but enmity between the Churches. He should have opposed the second reading of the Bill had he been present when it was moved.


said, it was indispensable to the conduct of judicial or quasi judicial proceedings that there should be a power of compelling witnesses to attend. If witnesses were to appear at all, they should come forward in a legal and proper way.


said, that his noble Friend partly admitted that with regard to the first clause of the Bill the power already existed, and yet he complained that the Established Church now came to Parliament to ask for such power. It was more than doubtful whether any legal action would arise if it was exercised now. The members of any body who were governed by rules and regulations, if dealt with unjustly according to those rules, could have recourse to the civil law, and that applied to the Free Church as well as to the Established Church. With regard to the power of calling witnesses, there was no doubt that as the Presbyters were a legal tribunal, it was right they should have the ordinary powers of ascertaining facts. He questioned whether it was worth while to persevere in the opposition to these clauses. There could be no doubt that they did not confer upon the Church courts any civil power.

After some remarks from Lord POLWARTH and the Earl of DALHOUSIE,

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to: Amendments made: The Report thereof to be received To-morrow; and Bill be printed, as amended [No. 153].

House adjourned at a quarter past Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.