HC Deb 11 June 1834 vol 24 cc360-4

Mr. Hardy moved the third reading of the Religious Assemblies Bill.

Mr. Wynn

said, that having already expressed his disapprobation of this measure, he would not trouble the House by repeating his objections to it at length. The Bill would enable any person to preach, without having received licence to do so from the clergyman of the parish, or from the Bishop of the diocess. Now, to such an enactment he had great objections, for he thought that the members of the Church of England were bound to conform to the discipline of that Church. If this Bill passed, individuals representing themselves to be clergymen of the Church of England might, if they chose, preach doctrines directly at variance with the doctrines of the establishment.

Mr. Hardy

thought the Bill would prevent the evil anticipated by the hon. Gentleman. It was only designed to allow lay members of the Established Church, in situations where they were destitute of the means of public worship, to read a portion of the Liturgy, and perhaps a sermon, in their houses, or in the servants' halls, and to allow the presence of their poor neighbours. According to the 71st Canon of the Ecclesiastical Law, no licence could be granted in such a case without a licence for the performance of the whole Church service. He only wished to secure to members of the Church of England the same privilege that Dissenters enjoyed. He did not see why the privilege should apply to Dissenters only. Undoubtedly, an equal privilege ought to be extended to the members of the Established Church. The latter, undoubtedly, might meet and read a chapter out of the Bible; but the moment they attempted to explain the importance of it, or to address themselves to the Almighty in prayer, they were bound to ascertain, that there were not more than twenty of them assembled together. The members of the Church of England laboured under an inconvenience in this respect. There were not Churches calculated to accommodate more than a fifth part of the population of the members of the Church of England; and why should not a gentleman, a member of that Church, be at liberty to assemble his servants and neighbours in his hall for the purpose of social worship? He was quite sure, that if the right hon. Gentleman who had addressed the House was only made once properly aware of the nature of the proposed plan, he would no longer object to it. It was a plan proposed upon the suggestions of many clergymen, all of whom were anxious that every facility should be afforded to it. They were persuaded, that it would strengthen the Church of England, and not draw members away from it. Neither they nor he advocated the encouragement of fanaticism. This Bill would have no such effect; and he did hope it would be allowed to pass, that the country might know the House approved of its principle.

Mr. O'Connell

would not detain the House many minutes. He thought, that the more they were assembled together to worship their God the better, whilst they did not interfere with others. They could not create a riot, as the Bill contemplated worship in private houses; and why people should not pray as much as they liked, or why that House should discourage prayer by making it a crime, he could not understand. It was against all principle. Persons were allowed to lecture upon astrology, theology, every art and science, and even upon materialism; but the moment they prayed to the Deity, if more than twenty were present, their conduct became criminal. Such an absurdity ought not so long to have remained on the Statute-book, and the sooner it was expunged the better. It was their duty to make conscience free, for true piety and genuine religion could only prosper by having the utmost latitude. The more families attended upon private worship, the more it would be a means of bringing down God's blessing upon the country.

Mr. Halcombe

thought, that the privileges of domestic religion were already sufficiently extensive. By the present law, any gentleman might assemble a congregation of friends in his house to the number of twenty, exclusive of his family and servants, for the purposes of private worship. If it passed, any person who disliked his clergyman, could set up a preaching place in his own private dwelling; and there would be as many chapels as there were different grades of opinion. He should give it his most strenuous opposition.

Sir Daniel Sandford

supported the Bill, for the reason the hon. Member opposed it. When clergymen were not favourites, he believed they would meet with some rivalry, which would be a good method to make them attend to their duty.

Mr. Wilks

considered, that every individual in the country ought to be allowed, either in his own house or the contiguous premises, to assemble his friends for religious worship. Persons were permitted to assemble to any number for any other purposes, without any licence; and he did not see why they should not be allowed to assemble for religious worship.

Mr. Plumptre

hoped, that the Bill would be allowed to pass. He was not ashamed to say, that he had himself, at his own house in the country, often assembled a number of persons for the purpose of religious worship; although, as the law stood, he was subject to a penalty for so doing; and if he could not do so in future according to law, he feared he should be disposed to violate the law again. He really should wish to see every law of this nature erased altogether from the Statute-book, as they were a disgrace to the country. He hoped the House would support the Bill.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

said, that although he was the friend of religious liberty and toleration to as extended a degree as most Members of that House, yet he could not give his consent to the passing of this Bill, chiefly because it would have the effect of converting Members of that House, if they so pleased, into preachers. The hon. member for Cambridge had lately introduced a Bill to turn preachers into Members of Parliament; and the object of the present Bill, seemed to be to turn Members of Parliament into preachers. He did not wish to make religion a mere by-word in the mouths of those who were not immediately connected with its Ministry; and on these grounds, therefore, he should move, that the Bill be read a third time that day six months.

Sir E. Knatchbull

seconded the Motion.

Mr. Strickland

was anxious that the Bill should pass; but he should be glad to have the protection that was intended to be given to rooms or other places attached to private houses more satisfactorily explained than it was in the Bill.

Mr. Hume

could not at all see why Members of Parliament, if they happened to be properly qualified for the duty, should be prevented from being teachers of religion any more than other persons. He should be very glad to see the system of granting licences done away with altogether, as far as it extended to religious instruction. It was one of the last remnants of intolerance, and ought to be abolished. He should give his cordial support to the Bill.

Sir George Grey

said, that he thought the time had passed away for continuing an Act of Pains and Penalties such as the Conventicle Act. That Act was designed to prevent meetings for seditious purposes under the pretence of religious instruction; and, as there existed no longer any dread of seditious meetings, the law was no longer called for. He should give his support to the Bill.

Mr. Fleetwood

hoped, that this Bill would receive the support of the House, as it certainly should his own most cordially. He particularly called for the support of the Irish and Scotch Members on this occasion, as they had ample opportunity of seeing in those two countries the advantages that arose from unrestricted religious institutions. The Bill only went to establish religious toleration; and he hoped there were not many Members in that House who would object to that principle at the present day.

Earl Jermyn

objected to the Bill, on the ground that it would trench upon the fundamental principles and regulations of the Established Church. He should wish to have the discussion on the Bill adjourned until some of his Majesty's Ministers should be present, as he was very desirous of hearing what their sentiments were on a subject of such importance to the religious instruction of the country, and to the Church of England Establishment. He should like very much to hear what the Attorney General thought of the Bill. He should support the Amendment that had been moved by the hon. member for Newcastle.

The House divided on the Amendment: Ayes 33; Noes 88—Majority 55. The Bill read a third time and passed.

List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Evans, W.
Agnew, Sir A. Ewing, J.
Attwood, T. Faithfull, G.
Baines, E. Fenton, J.
Balfour, J. Ferguson, Sir R.
Baring, F. T. Fielden, J.
Barnard, E. G. Finch, G.
Beauclerk, Major Forster, C.
Bellew, R. M. Gaskell, D.
Bernal, R. Gillon, W. D.
Bish, T. Gisborne, T.
Blamire, J. Godson, R.
Bowes, J. Grey, Sir G.
Briggs, R. Gronow, Capt.
Briscoe, J. Heathcote, G. J.
Brotherton, J. Hornby, E. G.
Buller, C. Howard, P. H.
Campbell, Sir J. Hume, J.
Cayley, E. S. Langdale, Hon. C.
Chapman, M. L. Lefevre, C. S.
Chaytor, W. R. C. Lennard, T. B.
Childers, J. W. Littleton, Rt. Hon. E.
Colquhoun, J. C. Lloyd, J. H.
Curteis, H. B. Methuen, P.
Davies, Col. Morpeth, Viscount
Denison, J. E. Morrison, J.
Dundas, Hon. T. Murray, J. A.
Dunlop, Capt. J. O'Callaghan, C.
Elliott, Captain O'Connell, D.
O'Connell, M. Staunton, Sir G.
Oswald, R. A. Staveley, T. K.
Parker, J. Strickland, Sir G.
Pease, J. Tennent, J. E.
Phillpotts, J. Thomson, P. B. R.
Plumptre, J. P. Todd, R.
Poulter, J. Torrens, Col.
Price, Sir R. Tracy, C. H.
Pryme, G. Tynte, C. J. K.
Richards, J. Walker, R.
Rotch, B. Warburton, H.
Sandford, Sir D. Wilks, J.
Scholefield, J. TELLERS.
Sheil, R. L. Hardy, J.
Stanley, E. J. Fleetwood, H.
List of the AYES.
Astley, Sir J. Lushington, Dr.
Barham, J. Mangles, J.
Biddulph, R. Miles, W.
Blamire, W. Mullins, F. W.
Colborne, R. O'Reilly, W.
Conolly, Col. Palmer, C. F.
Durham, Sir P. H. Ramsden, J. C.
Fancourt, Major Sandon, Lord
Gaskell, J. M. Smith, T.
Gladstone, W. E. Stormont, Viscount
Graham, Sir J. Tyrell, C.
Halcombe, J. Vyvyan, Sir R.
Halse, J. Williamson, Sir H.
Henniker, Lord Wrottesley, Sir J.
Hornby, E. G. Wynn, Rt. Hon. C.
Houldsworth, T. TELLERS.
Jermyn, Earl Knatchbull, Sir E.
Lemon, Sir C. Ridley, Sir M. W.