HC Deb 17 April 1834 vol 22 cc873-4
Mr. Hardy

, in moving for leave to bring in a bill to repeal the Act of 52 Geo. 3, c. 155, in so far as it related to the assembling of twenty persons, besides the family, for the purpose of religious worship in a private house, said, that in the year 1812, at the request of the Wesleyan Methodists, an act was very properly passed, the 52d Geo. 3rd, repealing the 13th, 14th, and 17th of Charles 2nd, and also the 22nd Charles 2nd, commonly called the Conventicle Act. The second clause, however, of the Act of Repeal restricted the number of persons assembling in a private dwelling-house for worship, exclusive of the family, to twenty. That clause of the Act was continually violated; more especially in districts where there was a want of public accommodation for the purposes of religious worship. Persons assembled in a greater number than twenty, were rendered liable to the penalties prescribed by the act,—penalties serious in amount, and one-half of which would go to the informer, and yet there were many places where the violation of it was necessarily habitual. What he wished to do was, to restore to every man the right and privilege which he possessed by the common law of the land, to assemble as many persons as he pleased in his dwelling-house for the purposes of worship and religious instruction. The House was not to imagine that this part of the act had been allowed to lie as a dead letter. In some instances it had been very improperly, and with great impolicy, carried into force. It had been enforced, for instance, against Lord Barham, who had religious worship performed in his servants' hall by more than twenty persons. Under the existing law, the minister might talk as long as he pleased to a congregation so assembled—the congregation might, if they pleased, talk sedition or blasphemy with impunity; but the moment that he and they committed an act of worship or adoration, they were liable to the penalties prescribed by this act of Parliament. He concluded by making his Motion.

Lord Althorp

entertained great doubts as to the policy of passing such a bill as that now proposed by the hon. Member. He would not, however, oppose its being brought in. He must, at the same time, say, that it was a measure which would, at a future stage, require the serious consideration of the House.

Mr. Wilks

begged the House to bear in mind, that this was not a measure for the relief of the Protestant Dissenters, but for the relief of the members of the Established Church. He would not give it any opposition. It was for the House, however, to consider how far it was expedient to put an end to the regulation in question. He would frankly state, that the Methodists and Dissenters of England did not complain of it. The operation of the proposed bill would be to relieve the members of the Church of England from a regulation of their own Church.

Mr. Hardy

observed, that the bill was intended for the relief of all parties. There would be a provision in it, reserving to bishops and other ecclesiastical authorities, the spiritual powers which they at present possessed in reference to all assemblies of members of the Church for the purposes of religious worship.

Leave was given.