HL Deb 09 March 1899 vol 68 cc249-54

Order for Second Heading read.

Motion made and Question proposed— That this Bill be read a second time."—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which is practically the same Measure that passed your Lordships' House during last Session, but failed to become law mainly owing- to the pressure of business at the conclusion of the Session in another place. The principal object of the Bill is to adapt the ecclesiastical arrangements of the Church of Scotland in certain parishes to the present needs both of those parishes and of the Church. As your Lordships are aware, towns and cities have extended their boundaries, and the population have migrated from one district to another, and are consequently, in many places, now dwelling at an inconvenient distance from the sites of the old parish churches which they attend. The Bill in its structure is entirely domestic to the Church of Scotland, and is not intended as an attack upon any other religious community. We have this year carefully revised it, and have done so with a view of meeting many of the objections which were raised by political friends of the noble Lord opposite. The noble Lord (Lord Tweedmouth) warned me last year most courteously that this was a Bill which would probably be opposed in another place, and that. my Lords, is one of those prophecies which those associated with the noble Lord are, of course, able to fulfil. I have carefully studied the report of the discussion on this Bill in another place, and, as I say, we have endeavoured to meet all the objections which we possibly could. I am afraid we shall never be able to meet the objection of some of those who took part in the discussion and who said that nothing-would satisfy them except the disestablishment of the Church altogether. But, my Lords, apart from objections of that class, I think your Lordships will see, and those who take an interest in the Bill in another place will see, that every effort has been made to give effect to the objections which were then made. We largely, but by no means exclusively, rested the case for this Bill upon the present state of matters in the City of Edinburgh, and it was alleged that so far as Edinburgh was concerned the case for the Bill had entirely broken down. Statistics were produced showing that in all the city churches there was such a large number of communicants that it was ridiculous to suggest that the site of any one of the churches could be changed with advantage. Now, my Lords, that was not an objection which it was easy beforehand to anticipate, but the explanation is simple in the extreme. There is no doubt that there are communicants upon the rolls of these churches. But the explanation is this, that only an infinitesimal minority of those communicants reside within the bounds of the parishes and districts attached to the various parish churches. I do not wish to go at length into the figures, but the whole of that branch of the subject has been carefully examined, and with this result. Taking the eight city churches of the old town of Edinburgh, it is the case that there are on the rolls of those churches 6,500 communicants. That does not give an average of 1,200, which was stated last year, but it gives an average of 806 communicants to each church. But out of the whole of those 6,500 communicants there are only 193 resident in the districts attached to the respective churches. That is an average of about 24 to each, or about 3 per cent. of the whole. The object of this Bill is to give power, on proper cause shown, and on a proper consideration in detail of the circumstances of any one of those churches which it might be thought desirable to remove, to consider the cause and to give a power which does not now exist to remove the church to a district which would be more convenient for the population I should be the last to suggest that all, or even a majority, of those churches should be removed. But surely this is a power which ought to be possessed, and one which is for the benefit not only of the churches, but of the population of the City of Edinburgh. One clause to which some exception was taken last year was the clause dealing with the endowments of quoad sacra churches. These churches are omitted from this Bill. I do not say this is not a power which, in some cases, it would be desirable to have, but it is not nearly so urgent as the other matter, and as objection has been taken to it I have omitted that clause in the hope that it will diminish the opposition to the Bill. There are some minor changes in drafting of the Bill, but I should not allude to them in detail at this stage. In case the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite (Lord Tweedmouth) thinks I have broken faith with him in regard to one amendment I excepted last year, I will point out that the drafting of the clause has been changed, and the heritors, whose cause the noble Lord championed, are now included in the general term "persons interested." That term will not only include heritors, but magistrates and town councils. For the sake of simplifying the Bill we have deleted the detailed description of persons interested, and have described them in the one term, "persons interested," which is wide enough to cover both classes to which I have referred. There are one or two other changes in the Bill, but I hope it will be more for the convenience of the House that any detailed explanation of them should be delayed till a further stage, and explanation be asked for. I now beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.


My Lords, I must say that the noble Lord who has just spoken has made a gratuitous attack upon myself. I stirred up no opposition to this Bill. I told him I thought opposition might arise in another place, but I can assure him I was in no way responsible for it. On the contrary, with the object of this Bill I am entirely in sympathy. Whilst I frankly confess that I think the Church is much better untrammelled by the State, and that the State is much better relieved from the responsibility of the Church, at the same time I have never been one of those who attempted to frustrate legislative effort to improve the condition of the Established Church. As a matter of fact, I have always thought that as long as we have an Established Church it is our duty to make that Church as valuable an instrument for the benefit of religion and the people as possible. I thoroughly support this Bill, which is to give power in certain circumstances to move churches from one place to another within the same presbytery, to give power to sell the sites of the churches for the benefit of the new churches that are to be erected, and to alter the bounds of parishes. But I would ask your Lordships to consider whether in this Bill the interests of the different parishes are sufficiently safeguarded. There are three bodies who-are principally inter-concerned in the churches of Scotland. There are the heritors, there is the congregation, and there are the poor of the parish. Now, last year the noble Lord was good enough,. at my instigation, to accept an Amendment on the Bill which made the heritors the consenting party to any change proposed under the Bill. Not only was the consent of the presbytery of the bounds necessary, but also the consent of the heritors. The heritors are, as your Lordships know, the persons in whom are vested the property both of the church and the manse, and the land on which those fabrics stand. They are also the persons who provide the friends for the support of the church. They are the defenders of the interests of the lay portion' of the parish, and I do think that they should be consulted, and that they should give their consent to any proposal to change the site of a church or to apply the proceeds from the sale of the site of a church to a church in another part of the parish. Then there comes the question of the congregation. The noble Lord last year pointed out that in the eight city churches in Edinburgh, and in the five churches in Glasgow, the congregations were very small. He, himself, to-day has admitted that the congregations are very large in the Edinburgh churches, and that they have an average of 806 communicants. A church that has a congregation of so large a number of communicants has a very much larger congregation than 806 people, so that these churches are, therefore, used by a considerable number of people. Since the passing of the Patronage Act the congregations have become more important than they were before, for they have assigned to them now the right of choosing a minister, and I do say the congregations of these churches should have the opportunity of being consulted and of putting forward their case and their views before such a question as this is decided, whether it be done through the votes of the congregation, or by the Kirk-Session of the congregation consisting of the elders and the minister of the particular church. I now come to the question of the poor of the parish. The poor have always been considered in Scotland to be especially the care of the Established Church. It has always been recognised that one of the first duties of the Established Church was to take care of the poor of the parish, whether they belong to the congregation or not; and whatever may be said about these parishes in the great cities of Scotland one thing-is practically certain. There has been no such denudation of population in the great cities of Scotland as there has been in certain areas within, say, the City of London. We should carefully consider if sufficient attention has been given to the poor persons who dwell within the limits of the parishes to be affected by this Bill, whether they belong to the congregation of the Church of Scotland or not. In either case they should be under the care of the minister of the Established Church. Then, my Lords, there are other matters to which I do not think any attention has been paid. What, for instance, are you going to do with the site of the church and the manse when you have pulled the buildings down? These churches and manses are within crowded parts of the city. Are you to allow the sites to be used for any purpose whatever? Are they to be put up and sold to the highest bidder, and used for the purpose of warehouses, manufactories, and so on? Are not open spaces greatly needed in these crowded districts? And are the claims for open spaces to be thoroughly set aside in this matter? No provision is made in this Bill with regard to this question at all. Then there comes the question of the preservation of the architectural beauties and historical interests connected with these important churches. Are any provisions to be made for securing that these interests shall be cared for and preserved for the benefit of the inhabitants of the city? I have no doubt the noble Lord will say that all these are matters which will be dealt with by the Court of Tiends. Well, that to me is not sufficient! It seems to me that the questions which I have raised should be dealt with by Parliament itself, and not be left to anybody outside the Houses of Parliament. I have not got the least intention to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, but I do most earnestly hope that the noble lord will give his attention to the points I have raised, and himself endeavour to amend the Bill in the direction I have indicated in Committee.


If I gave the noble Lord the impression that I had intended to make any attack upon him, I must say that I expressed myself very badly. I certainly had no such intention, and I hope that when he sees my words in print, as possibly he may, he will see that there was no real attack made.


The noble Lord said that the prophecy I made was one which I and my friends could secure the fulfilment of in another place. I deny having done anything to secure the fulfilment of that prophecy.


The noble Lord has stated that the interests of the poor populations in these parishes have not been sufficiently present in my mind. I think it is sufficient to remind him that even if one or two of these churches were removed the population would not have far to go, and that the districts would not be too large for the care of the ministers that would remain. There is not one of these eight city churches which is half a mile away from any other, and it is a fact that there have been large changes of population in Edinburgh, notably by the reconstruction of the Waverley Station, and by the number of buildings which were formerly dwelling-houses, but which are now warehouses in the central part of the city. I will carefully consider the points which my noble Friend has raised, but I can hold out no hope of meeting his suggestions. I will certainly do my best to meet those of them for which I think a reasonable case can be advanced.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.