HL Deb 05 May 1898 vol 57 cc349-51

My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Parish Churches (Scotland) Bill. I need occupy but a very few minutes of your Lordships' time in explaining the provisions of this short Bill. The principal object which we have in view is to adapt the ecclesiastical arrangements of parishes in Scotland to the changes which have taken place, and which to a considerable extent are still taking place, from time to time, owing to the large extension of towns, and to the migration of the population from one portion of a town or district to another. In some towns of Scotland the divisions of parishes, and the sites of the churches which belong to them, have become extremely unsuitable to modern requirements. I think perhaps the most conspicuous instance of this is to be found in the city of Edinburgh. At the Reformation I believe the population of Edinburgh consisted of 50,000 persons. Even in the middle of last century the whole area of the city, which was comprised within the city walls was not more than half a mile square, but that small area was divided into ten parishes, each parish having a church. All but one of these churches still remain, that one having been not very many years ago removed under a special Act of Parliament to an outlying district to which the population had gone. Under Clause 2 of the Bill it will be competent, as opportunity arises, to remove some of the churches in the Old Town to localities to which the inhabitants have removed. The same thing is true, although not to so great an extent, of the city of Glasgow. There are at least five churches in districts which were at one time residential, but are now occupied almost entirely by warehouses and business premises. These churches might, with great propriety, under proper regulations and restrictions, be removed to the districts to which the population has gone. The third clause of the Bill provides for the case of parishes quoad sacra, the endowments of which have been provided from funds subscribed voluntarily in recent times. I am afraid I cannot say that many of these churches possess much architectural beauty, and their loss would not be severely felt. Some of them are in districts from which, owing to the working out of minerals or other cause, the population has either already removed or is likely soon to do so. It is proposed to give power, where a church is no longer required in such a place, to remove the endowments to another locality, within the same Presbytery, or adjoining thereto, so that endowments given for the benefit of the district will not be removed to a distance. Provision is also made for consulting the wishes of the original subscribers to the endowments. The last clause of the Bill deals with those few churches in Scotland in which there still exists a most peculiar arrangement which is known as collegiate charges. That means that in the parish there is a church in which two ministers preach—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In fact, they are joint ministers of the parish. Human nature, being what it is, this is not an arrangement which usually leads to harmony, and the only matter for surprise in regard to this arrangement is not that we should now propose to seek power to amend it, but that it should have continued so long as it has. There are 21 of these collegiate charges, and it is proposed that upon each occasion of a vacancy occurring in a collegiate charge the arrangements may be revised in the interests of the church and parish. The machinery for carrying out the provisions of the Bill is partly to be used at the discretion of the ecclesiastical authorities, but under the final decision of the Courts of Teinds. I cannot conceive that there can be any real objection to the proposals contained in this Bill, which I now move be read a second time.

Bill read a second time.