HL Deb 22 June 1888 vol 327 cc942-56

, in rising to call attention to the composition of the electorate to which the appointment of ministers to vacant parishes ill Scotland has been entrusted by Parliament under the authority of the Church Patronage (Scotland) Act, 37th and 38th Vict., chap. 82 (1874); and to move— That a Select Committee be appointed for the purpose of considering the provisions of the Church Patronage (Scotland) Act, 1874, and whether some part of the responsibility for the appointment of ministers to vacant parishes in Scotland might not properly and advantageously be extended to the parochial public by means of the heritors of the parish (being Protestants) and the elders,' or the heads of families, or committees of the ratepayers, or otherwise, said, that although this subject might be uninteresting to their Lordships, he felt more than justified in asking them to listen to him for a few minutes, and to consider whether certain provisions of the Patronage Act of 1874 were not faulty and did not call for amendment. That was a disfranchising or disabling measure, as well as an enfranchising one. The system of patronage existing at that time was then abolished, and a new system substituted by the creation of a totally new body of patrons or electors. The Patronage Act was, he contended, based on principles utterly unprecedented in Scottish parochial history. It furnished the first instance of any Protestant patrons or electors being placed under statutory religious disabilities in the nomination of ministers to the congregation of a vacant parish. For the first time in history it enfranchised females wholesale, and, also for the first time in history, it bestowed the franchise on minors. When he affirmed that these things were novel and unprecedented, he meant unprecedented not only in Acts of Parliament, but in Acts of the General Assembly also. Church membership was the basis of the new electorate. It began at about the age of 15. It signified in its very nature religious disabilities. Outsiders of all sorts and kinds were kept at arm's length, though many of them were deeply interested on their own account, and in behalf of the parish, in the appointment of the best possible man for the place. Under this Act, the electorate consisted, first, of all persons, without regard to sex or age, who were on the Communion roll; and, second, adherents above 21 years of age. An electorate built on these foundations naturally presented strange results. The Scottish population, as shown by the Census tables in 1881, was 1,799,475 males and 1,936,098 females, being a female preponderance of 136,623. The Return of communicants in Scotland in 1874 showed 197,592 males and 262,074 females, or a female preponderance of 64,482. From a House of Commons' Return in June, 1874, it appears that there were in Ayrshire 12,644 male and 16,661 female communicants; in Bute the respective figures were 201 and 413; in the county of Edinburgh, 15,504 and 23,714; and in Forfarshire, 16,933 and 24,644; the total showing a female preponderance of 20,150. A House of Lords' Return, issued in 1877, of communicants and adherents in parishes in which elections had taken place under the Act of 1874, showed that there were in these parishes 14,505 male and 23,019 female communicants, and 1,055 male and 688 female adherents, giving a female preponderance of 8,147. The juvenile portion of the electorate—those under 21 years of age—were, perhaps, 10 or 15 per cent of the whole, and the female element preponderated here also, in consequence of the early age at which girls received the Communion. The history of the two franchises was curious. As to the female franchise, he was unable to trace the origin of the idea. The fathers of the Scottish Church and of the Free Church had no such ideas. Dr. Chalmers wished the "male heads of families in full Communion with the Church" to be electors. The General Assembly of 1842 made male communicants of full age electors for the appointment of elders. As to the minor franchise, it was the result of accident or oversight. He proposed in his Motion some modification of the principle of exclusiveness, and he had authority for that in the Act of 1690, establishing the heritors as the electors—the only condition being that they were Protestants; and he had also the authority of the General Assembly, who petitioned in 1874 that the legislation of the year should proceed on historical precedent, and that the heritors ought to be among the constituent bodies who were to elect the minister. Moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed for the purpose of considering the provisions of the Church Patronage (Scotland) Act, 1874, and whether some part of the responsibility for the appointment of ministers to vacant parishes in Scotland might not properly and advantageously be extended to the parochial public by means of 'the heritors of the parish (being Protestants) and the elders,' or the heads of families, or committees of the ratepayers, or otherwise."—(The Earl of Minto.)


said, he wished to say a few words upon this question before the noble Marquess the Secretary for Scotland replied on behalf of the Government. When he first saw the Notice on the Paper he had grave doubts whether it was intended as a proposal for serious discussion, but as the noble Earl had brought it before their Lordships he supposed it must be treated seriously, and that some considerations should be placed before the House upon the other side. It was, however, somewhat remarkable that, so far as he could learn, there was no one but the noble Earl himself who was in favour of the proposal, and in a letter written to a newspaper a few weeks ago the noble Earl himself admitted that the proposal would be opposed by the friends of the Church, by those who wanted Disestablishment, and that the general public were absolutely indifferent in regard to it. If that were so, he should like to know in whose interest the proposal was really made? They would also notice that the Motion had been somewhat ingeniously altered since it first appeared on the Paper. As it originally stood it was "the heads of families or committees of the ratepayers or otherwise, "but it had now been altered by the addition before the words "the heads of families" of these words, "the heritors of the parish (being Protestants) and the elders." Anyone who knew anything of the question knew that those words were a quotation from the Act of 1690, which was known in Scotland as the Revolution Settlement. From the Notice and some parts of the noble Earl's speech the House would be led to believe that the heritors (if Protestant) and elders had power to appoint ministers; but that was not so. The only power given to elders and heritors was that they should propose a person for the parish, who should be approved or disapproved by the congregation. The noble Earl had raised the question whether the electorate in those days was composed of men or women or both. He supposed in those days the congregation was composed of females as well as males, and, therefore, they had a right to assume that the object of the Act of 1690 was to put the power of appointment into the hands of the whole congregation. That system worked well while it existed, but it was disturbed by an Act of Queen Anne passed in 1712, imposing patronage on the Church of Scotland. He would tell their Lordships that for nearly a century the Church had never ceased to protest against the passing of that Act and the manner in which it was passed, and claimed the restoration of what they regarded as the right of the Church in the appointment of ministers. His contention was that the Act of 1874 introduced no new principles whatever into the election and appointment of ministers, but simply restored to the Church what it had, from the time of the Reformation downwards, always claimed to be her simple birthright. The idea which lay at the root of the organization of the Presbyterian Church was that its government was a government by the whole body of its members for their own benefit. The election and appointment of ministers was only one part of the government of a Church, and there had always been in the Presbyterian Church three conditions in the election of a minister—first, the examination of a minister's qualification by the Church; next, the election, or, at least, approbation, of the people amongst whom he was to minister; and, thirdly, the admission of the minister by the Courts of the Church to the benefice. Any system outside that was always regarded as alien to the idea of the Church. One essential condition upon which so much store was set by the Church was that the gentleman who sought to minister to the people must have the approbation of the people to whom he was to minister. He thought the idea embodied in the noble Earl's Notice was simply an attempt to revive the law of patronage in another form, and in a form which possessed all the disadvantages and none of the advantages, such as they were, of the previous system of lay patronage. There were still some parishes in Scotland in which there was, if not a majority, at any rate very nearly a majority, of Roman Catholics. He thought it quite likely that their good sense and good feeling would lead them to abstain from interfering in this matter, even if they were let in under the head of ratepayers; but he was afraid there were some people in Scotland, perhaps a small minority, who were so keen to do all they could to harm and injure the Church that they would make use of the power which the noble Earl would give them for the simple and sole purpose of bringing in confusion and increasing the difficulties of the Church. But the point he wished to bring before their Lordships was that if the heritors of the parish and the heads of families showed any desire whatever to be connected with the Church, and to attend to its ministrations, they had the simple right to qualify themselves as adherents, and nobody could say them nay. The definition of adherents was, he thought, as wide as it could be made, and he had never heard any complaint of the way in which it had been carried out. The roll of the electors for the appointment of ministers included all communicants, and it also included as adherents only such other persons being parishioners who were not 21 years of age. If heritors and heads of families did not wish to be connected with the congregation, he was at a loss to know why they wanted to deal with the election of a minister. When they talked of admitting ratepayers, he would like to ask the noble Earl if he had ever heard of a church membership founded on what might be called a ratepaying qualification? The noble Earl knew as well as he did that the Church was not merely a mob of people who were supposed to hold certain doctrines. It was an institution and organized society with certain conditions of membership; and he ventured to say that it was absolutely impossible to impose upon a Church any purely secular terms for making qualification for membership. To do that would be absolutely intolerable to any Church which had a particle of self-respect; and he ventured to say that there was hardly a Presbyterian in Scotland, whether belonging to the Established Church, the Free Church, or the United Presbyterian Church, that would not scout the idea embodied in this Motion. He believed the noble Earl was perfectly friendly to the Church, and that he thought this would make it more comprehensive; but he ventured to tell him that if this proposal was to be carried out, however little prospect there might be of Presbyterian union at the present time, he would certainly relegate it to a dim and distant future. He understood the noble Earl to complain that the electorate was largely made up of persons under age. He thought the noble Earl greatly overestimated the number of those persons. Communicants under 21 years of age in any congregation must be a very small proportion indeed, and adherents must be over 21 years of age. He submitted that no case had been made out for disturbing the existing arrangements, which had worked extremely well for the past 14 years.


My Lords, I waited to see whether any other Member of your Lordships' House connected with Scotland would interpose before the reply of my noble Friend who represents the Scottish Office. The somewhat languid interest which this House has shown in the speech of my noble Friend who brought this subject forward shows how little the consciences of most of your Lordships are aroused to the great principles which are at stake in this Motion. It may seem to many of your Lordships a mere local question affecting Scotland; but it affects principles which some day at least—perhaps sooner than many of your Lordships expect—may be discussed with regard to the Church of England. It affects the largest and deepest principles touching the nature and constitution of the Church of Christ; and the terms on which it is lawful for that Church to become connected with the State. What is the history of this question? So far as I know, during the Middle Ages there was no difference between the practice in England and the practice in Scotland in regard to the lay patronage in the Church. The origin of the lay patronage of the Christian Church is closely connected with the origin of tithes, and those who originally endowed the Church acquired the privilege of nominating to the priesthood in many cases. There was no difference, so far as I know, up to the Reformation between England and Scotland in that respect. The Reformation, your Lordships know, was in the nature of a democratic movement rather than of an aristocratic and legal one. The movement was from below and not from above; and from the beginning of the movement in Scotland in 1560 up to the present time the spirit of the Reformed Church of that country has been to invest the government of the Church as a whole in the great body of its own people, which at that time might be assumed to be the great body of the nation. Early after the Reformation a great feeling arose in Scotland that lay patronage ought not to be unlimited. By the Act of 1500, the principle was clearly established that the stipend belonged to the State and the appointment of ministers belonged to the Church. Such was the state of the law down to 1712, when, under a very reactionary Government, it was determined to restore lay patronage to the Church in its full vigour, without any reference to the congregation. This was a monstrous violation of the feelings of the people of Scotland, and a departure from the revolutionary settlement. Then came 1832, with a great movement in the minds of men which was not merely political, but also religious and ecclesiastical. That movement was spread over the whole of Europe and gave rise to the French Revolution, and, later on, to the Oxford movement. At last the General Assembly took a step on its own authority—the General Assembly is a body not composed of ministers and clergy alone, but representing, to a large extent, the whole body of Scotland—and enacted that the presbytery in every case should take the opinion of the people where a presentee was presented, and that if the people vetoed the presentee he should be rejected. This was appealed against in the Civil Courts, and it was decided that the veto was ultræ vires. At the last moment, after the secession took place, an Act, called Lord Aberdeen's Act, was passed. It was a confusing and bungling piece of legislation, and no human being could tell whether under its terms the mere dissent of the congregation could be accepted as a veto on the appointment of a presentee. I have myself the honour, or the misfortune, to be—with the exception of Lord Orkney and the Crown—one of the largest and most extensive patrons in Scotland, and I have had some experience of the working of Lord Aberdeen's Act; and before the year 1874 I had come to the conclusion that it was full of dangers to the Church. Nothing could be more objectionable than the state of things under it. Every man in the parish was encouraged by law to come forward and state objections to the personal qualifications of the candidate. They might object that they thought his manner was stiff, that his language was not strictly scriptural; and, of course, the best men in the Church gradually became unwilling to face such an ordeal. The objections were stated against them before the presbytery, which could not tell how far they could give effect to them or not. The result of my experience was that it was hopeless to present a man to a parish who had not the approval of a large portion of the population; and my practice habitually was to ask the congregation to appoint a committee, and when the congregation were likely to agree upon a man, unless I saw there were great objections to him, I presented him. The system was one of popular election by the members of the Church, subject to the veto of the patron. The system could not go on. There were repeated attempts to bring the question again before the Civil Courts, and great dangers arose lest, under an adverse decision in the Civil Courts, the Church should again be bound hand and foot and fettered by the State. It was under these circumstances that the Conservative Government of the late Lord Derby came to the conclusion, in which I entirely agreed, that it would be wise to make a new law giving that power to the congregation, recognizing that popular right which practically they now hold in their hands, and which, if they were violated, would probably bring calamities on the Church. The Conservatives of that day thought they were in this taking a conservative step; and I fully concurred in their determination, and I avow my share with my noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond) who is not now present, in the drafting of that Bill. I understand that the noble Earl's present Motion is intended chiefly for the purpose of bringing in to the election of ministers men who are not members of the Church at all; but a grea part of his speech was against women.


I did not say so.


No; that is what I object to. Great part of the noble Earl's speech was directed against women, and yet his Motion does not propose to exclude them. Are we to gather from his speech that women and young communicants are to be excluded? The question arose in drafting the Bill of 1874 whether Parliament should define the constituency by the terms of the Statute, or leave it for the Church. It was proposed at one time that the constituency should be specified by the Act of Parliament to be the communicants. I myself had and have an insuperable objection to Parliament attaching qualifications to the taking of the Holy Communion. We all now look back with wonder and amazement at the fact that a very few years ago not only Conservatives, but a very large part of the Liberal Party, were willing to maintain a system in England by which partaking of the Holy Communion was made a necessity for civil office. I have an insuperable objection to Parliament re-entering on that course of legislation. It is not our business to interfere with who does and who does not take the Communion. That is the business of the various officers of the Church, and, therefore, I suggested to the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) that, instead of taking the word "communicants," or, in addition to that word, we should put in the word "adherents" I did so because in the old documents connected with the Church of Scotland the word used was never "communicants," but "congregation." Of course, it was assumed in former days that all the congregation were communicants; but "congregation" was the word; and the nearest approach to that that we could make was that we should say communicants and adherents. A large number of patrons in Scotland were members of the Episcopal Church, but many of them attended, and still attend, the services of the Established Church of Scotland. They are almost universally warm friends of that Church and generous and liberal supporters of it; and I wish to leave the authorities of the Church free to consider them and other persons of a like character to be adherents of the Church, even though they be not communicants. So far from departing from the ancient principles of the Church of Scotland as my noble Friend represented, that Act was passed strictly in consonance with those principles. If he asks me the question whether I do not think that at times there are instances in which it may be a failure—whether there has never been a minister appointed whom I myself should never have voted for, I cannot deny the fact that this may be so; but what has that to do with the case? Under any possible system you would have some black sheep. Under the whole system of patronage you would have plenty of drones, and the popular party complained that the majority of the ministers appointed by the patrons were drones. That was an exaggeration; but under any system there will be men appointed by an electing body of whom my noble Friend or I myself would not approve. One may take a very narrow and insular view of this matter. It may seem to many Members of this House almost absurd that ministers of religion should be appointed by their people; and I dare say that many Members of this House think it would be inconvenient, and perhaps almost absurd, to give parishioners in England the power of appointing their clergymen. Yet there can be no doubt of the fact that in the early Church that was the general and universal practice. Nay, not only pastors, but the highest dignitaries of the Western Church, have been elected in the great assemblies of the people. We all remember the celebrated case of one of the greatest names in the hierarchy of the Christian Church who was elected by a great popular assembly, and that, too, at a time when he not only was not a priest, but was not even a baptized member of the Church, but was a Roman soldier. I remember one Member of the Episcopal Bench, and one of its most admirable members too, who, not many years ago, was a military officer, but who afterwards became a priest and a valued minister in a great parish, and whose administrative powers are well known. When Ambrose was elected a Bishop there was no such experience in regard to him; yet he was nominated in a great assembly at Milan; and yet this is the man whose words we hear every Sunday in one of the noblest hymns of Christian worship when we sing the Te Deum Laudamus. I can tell my noble Friend that during recent years we have come to have new ideas in respect to the powers and qualifications and rights of women; and I challenge him to bring forward a Motion to refuse to women the rights enjoyed by male members of the congregation. Women are more pious and more disposed to reverence than men; and I should trust the opinions of many women in such matters better than those of men. Then I come to another point. My noble Friend, in substitution for this constituency, which I maintain has acted fairly, would introduce—whom? The ratepaying class. My noble Friend has not told us to what Church he himself belongs, and I have no right to ask him. I believe that he is a supporter and in a high and good sense an adherent of the Church of Scotland. I believe that he wishes to strengthen its foundations; but he evidently does not believe in the existence of such a society as the Church of Christ. I can understand the view of our excellent friends the Quakers, than whom no section of the Church has ever carried more sincerely into the combat of life and into politics the great doctrines of Christianity. But it has no settled ministry and no settled service. I can understand the view of the Congregationalists, who say that a unit of the Church of Christ is a separate congregation, and that they have a right to appoint their own ministers and to conduct their own service. I can understand the Presbyterian view, which is a parity of pastors, but a subordination to a common law. I can understand the Anglican view, which is a parity of Bishops, although not of pastors. I can understand the Catholic view, which denies parity to pastors and Bishops too, subordinating the whole to one central government representing the supposed authority of Christ. All these theories I can sympathize with and understand to a certain extent; but the view of my noble Friend I cannot understand—that the Church of Christ consists of the same men who select the surveyors of roads and inspectors of nuisances. I tell my noble Friend, as a member of the Presbyterian Church, that if the proposition to elect ministers by the ratepayers were carried to-morrow I should immediately go for Disestablishment and Disendowment. I should be ashamed to belong to any spiritual body which pretended in such circumstances to represent any portion, any branch of the Christian Church. That, I am sure, would be the feeling of the great majority of this House, who think of the possibility of the application of such principles, such degrading principles, to the Church of England. In conclusion, I will only repeat that my noble Friend speaks, as far as I can understand, as a solitary individual. This is a crotchet of his own. There is no party in Scotland, there is no section of the Presbyterian Church, there is no section of the Episcopalian Church, which would venture to make such a proposal; and I trust that this House will never consent to appoint a Committee even to consider so preposterous a proposal.


said, he hoped the Government would not grant a Select Committee. He regretted that the late Lord Panmure had said that the abolition of patronage would not lead to the union of all Presbyterian Churches. In fact, all communicants, from any portion of the Church, including women, might occasionally take the Sacrament and vote for a minister in the Established Church, and all the clergy exchanged pulpits occasionally; and in Haddington the minister of the first charge had first been appointed by a patron to the second charge, and since 1874 had been chosen for the first charge by the vote of a majority of the communicants. It was absurd to complain of Church and State, for Kings and Queens might, according to Scripture, be nursing fathers and nursing mothers of the Church of Christ; and where there was no difference of doctrine all Christians should unite, and show that the Church was one.


I think your Lordships will not be surprised, after the eloquent speech to which you have just listened, if I reply at once to the noble Earl that Her Majesty's Government do not see their way to grant the appointment of the Committee asked for. I must express regret that the noble Earl has placed his Motion on the Paper, because he seemed to be unaware of the delicate ground on which he was treading; and if a Committee was granted, results of a more far-reaching character than the noble Earl appears to anticipate would follow. But after what has occurred, I do not regret that the Motion has been made, as it has afforded the House an opportunity of knowing what the real causes were which led up to the Act of 1874, and the part which the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) took in the framing of that Act. I carefully considered the terms of the Motion, and I confess that, after reading it over, I was at a loss to understand what the direct object of the noble Earl was; and, even after listening attentively to his speech, I am still at a loss to understand what object would be gained by the granting of the suggested Committee. The main object of the Motion appears to be that no one under the age of 21 shall be entitled to have a vote for the election of a minister of a parish, and that the Select Committee shall take into consideration the inequality between the sexes in Scotland. Those, I think, are the two principal points; but there is the further question of allowing heads of families or committees of the ratepayers and others to take part in the election of ministers. These two points, I think, were sufficiently dealt with by the noble Duke, so that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not go into the matter in detail. It is proposed to extend the right of election in various ways. First, that "the heritors of the parish (being Protestants) and the elders" should take part in the election, which means that those who are not members of the Church should have the power to vote in the election of a Minister. The same remark applies to the "heads of families," as they already have the power of voting if they are connected with the Church. I will not go into this matter further. I must point out, however, that there has been no dissatisfaction whatever expressed with the working of the Act of 1874. There are about 1,300 parishes in Scotland, and in over 700 of these elections have taken place since the Act came into force; and, generally speaking, the working of the Act has been extremely satisfactory. Of course, in some cases the ministers appointed were not, perhaps, exactly ideal parish ministers. But, on the whole, my opinion is—and I believe it is also the opinion of Scotland—that the Act has worked extremely well, and no injustice has been done. What the noble Earl seems to desire is really the appointment of a Committee to reconsider the settlement of 1874. But if any dissatisfaction had been shown with the working of the Act it would be in the power of the General Assembly to consider the subject. The regulations under which the elections are now carried out were framed by the General Assembly in 1883; and within the limits of the Act it was in the power of the General Assembly to make new regulations, should it become necessary or expedient to do so. I feel certain that if the Government were to grant the Committee asked for the noble Earl would find that not only would the results be different from what he expects, but they would inflict a great injury on the Church of Scotland, which I am certain my noble Friend does not desire.


said, his object was simple in the extreme. It was to endeavour to take steps whereby the Church of Scotland should not be treated as a close Corporation, and that those outside the Church should not be entirely excluded from all management in its affairs. The Church of Scotland, in his opinion, made a great mistake when it tried to draw the lines within such narrow limits. The true policy of the Church of Scotland was to make itself more comprehensive than it was, and to trust people outside the Church much more than was done at present. He disagreed with the opinion that there was any danger likely to result from the course he had suggested.


, replying to a question by the noble Earl (the Earl of Minto), said, that minors who were interested and were upon the Roll of the Church ought to have a vote in the election of a minister.

On Question? Resolved in the negative.