HL Deb 15 June 1877 vol 234 cc1826-9

, in rising to call the attention of the House to the Return presented to the House (Paper No. 5 of the present Session) relative to the composition of the Parochial Electorate for the appointment of parish ministers created by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland under the provisions of the Church Patronage (Scotland) Act, 1874, and to the insufficiency of the information afforded therein, said, he must commence by reminding their Lordships that by that Act a totally different system of regulating the government of the Church of Scotland had been introduced, and that the General Assembly were thereby empowered to make regulations by which the appointment of the ministers should vest, not in the parishioners simply, but in the congregation. Under the joint legislation of Parliament and the General Assembly two classes of electors had been created —namely, First, all persons on the Communicant Roll, without distinction of sex, age, or residence, became, ipso facto, electors; secondly, all such other persons being parishioners of full age as have claimed to be enrolled, and . . in regard to whom there appeared to the kirk.session to be no reason for refusing to admit them to the communion if they should apply. He thought that the effect of having these two classes of electors might be, in some cases, to introduce the element of' electioneering strife into the appointment of a minister—and it was to be noted that, under the regulations, the claims for admission to the electoral roll were neither to be made nor considered until the very eve of the election, when, perhaps, the heat attending a contested election had already begun to be manifested. But what he particularly wished to point out was the peculiar result that the passing of the Act had had in giving the preponderance at elections to the female element in the congregation; and his object in moving for the Return last Session was to see how far his anticipations in that respect had been verified; and he found that they had been verified in a remarkable degree. He would not trouble the House by going into details, but he found that, with the exception of one parish in the Presbytery of Dunbar, the female communicants greatly preponderated. He found that altogether in the 75 parishes embraced by the Return, the number of electors was 40,000 who qualified as communicants, and of those 16,309 were male and 23,691 female, giving to the female electors a majority of 7,382. That was the general result, and with only one or two exceptions—one being a case in which there was an actual tie—there was a great preponderance of females over male electors. He would only mention one or two isolated cases to show how great this preponderance was. In St. Stephen's, Edinburgh, for instance, there were 1,924 communicant electors, of whom 1,394 were females and 533 males. In the parish of Blair-Athole there were 236 female to 157 male electors; in St. Andrews, 1,135 females to 605 males; and in Montrose only 930 male communicant electors to 1,927 females. There was no doubt, therefore, that the female element vastly preponderated. It might be defended perhaps, but it was rather a remarkable thing, and it certainly seemed to him to be contrary to the spirit of the old Reformers that women should possess so large a power in the government of the Church; and their Lordships would remember that John Knox was not very complimentary upon this subject, designating them as "the monstrous regiment of women," and demonstrating that women from their qualities both of mind and body should be assigned over to the dominion of men. It was for this reason that he moved for these Papers last year. At the same time, he considered the Return as produced somewhat deficient, giving no information as to the number of the electors below 21 years of age, and not saying whether they resided in the parish or not. It seemed to him that the number of electors who were non-parishioners ought to be returned; but upon that point they got no information at all. It was very desirable to have more information respecting the age of the communicant electors, because they knew very well that young people, especially women became communicants long before they attained the age of 21, and therefore they might have a very much larger proportion of female than of male electors under the age of 21. He would not detain their Lordships any longer. The noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond; had always shown himself most courteous in furnishing information, and no doubt he thought that that which had been furnished was sufficient — and in fact he had said that the other information he desired was unattainable; but inasmuch as by the General Assembly's own regulations no one was an elector of the second class, unless he or she was a parishioner "of full age," he could not understand the alleged impossibility of procuring precisely similar information in regard to communicants voters as was required in respect of non-communicant voters. He would conclude by suggesting that in some respects the free action of the Church might advantageously be enlarged. In a recent debate in the General Assembly, it had been broadly laid down by the Procurator of the Church, that it was incompetent for the Church to carry out any essential modification in the tenor of a certain formal document then required to be signed by Elders on taking office. He would, therefore, suggest whether it would not be well to give to the Church greater power of self-government than it at present possessed.


said, he would not follow the noble Earl through all the details into which he had entered. He was somewhat at a loss to understand to what particular point in these Returns the noble Earl had called attention to. The noble Earl seemed to desire some further information; but he assured the noble Earl last year, and he assured him again now, that that information could not be obtained—for the reason that it did not exist—the electoral roll contained no information as to how many male or female communicants there were under the ago of 21. The noble Earl complained of the insufficiency of the Returns, but they contained all the information for which he had asked. The noble Earl seemed to think that the number of lady voters was an objection; but he carefully avoided drawing any comparison between the lady of John Knox's time and of the present time, and unless the noble Earl could show that the lady of the present time was something worse than the lady of the time of John Knox, he did not think he could allege the number of lady electors in the Church of Scotland as an objection. If he recollected rightly, the question with respect to the lady voters was discussed on the passing of the Bill, and their Lordships did not favour the proposal to exclude them, and the principle of election which was adopted had the sanction of the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Argyll). In his opinion it was premature to propose any amendment to the Act, or to interfere in any way with the constituent body who were to have a vote in the election of ministers in the Church of Scotland.