HC Deb 11 June 1834 vol 24 cc354-60
Sir Robert Peel,

on presenting a number of Petitions, praying the House not to pass the Bill to give Dissenters a right to admission into the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which were also all unanimous in their prayer, that the House would give its sanction to no measure that would tend to the subversion or injury of the Established Church,—observed, that he had heard with great pleasure the manly declaration that had been made that morning by the hon. member for Frome, with respect to the Dissenters. The hon. Gentleman had stated, that he had, on a former occasion, given his vote in favour of the admission of Dissenters to the Universities; but that, in conse- quence of the subsequent declarations which had been made by the Dissenters with respect to the real objects at which they were aiming, he was induced to declare, that he felt it to be his duty to withhold from them the support he had promised. He thought the hon. Gentleman had properly and justly retracted his promise. He begged to call the attention of the House to a declaration published in the newspapers, which had been put forth on Monday last, of a meeting of the representatives of the united committee of Dissenters. This declaration, the House must consider, had not been made hastily in the heat of debate, or without consideration, but was deliberately put forth at a meeting specially convened by a body of Dissenters, forming the united committee, delegated by the Dissenters generally, and, of course, representing the sentiments of that body. They stated, that their object in putting forth the declaration was, to rescue themselves from imputations which had been made against them of an attempt to overthrow the Established Church. The charge against them was, that they designed the total destruction of the episcopal form of worship, and that they were desirous to enjoy the secular advantages that would result from a separation of the Church from the State. Those Dissenters positively denied the assertion. They did not wish to overthrow the Church, or to interfere with the episcopal form of worship, nor did they desire that the emoluments of the Church should be appropriated for the purposes of their own religion; but they did declare, that they wished to withhold from the Established Church the support it received from the State, and to apply the revenues of the Church to secular purposes. They did not wish it to be given to them—true, but they wished it to be taken from the Established Church, which was nothing less than a separation of Church and State. All they disclaimed was, any interference with the ecclesiastical discipline of the Church; but as they (the Established Church) had never expressed any desire to interfere, or attempted any interference, with the form of worship adopted by the Dissenters, much gratitude was not due to them for that disclaimer. The Dissenters prayed, that there might be a total severance of the alliance between Church and State, which amounted to a declara- tion that there should be no Established Church within these realms. After that declaration, which had been put forth so lately as Monday last, it became the duty, as it was the undoubted right, of every hon. Gentleman in that House, to consider the questions that were pending in that House, with respect to the Church, not on their abstract or isolated merits, but how they bore upon the avowed objects of the great body of Dissenters. Entertaining such views, he thought the hon. member for Frome was perfectly justified in retracting the promises he had given to the Dissenters. He must also give the Dissenters credit for having acted an honest and manly part in refusing to receive the advantages which had been intended for their own relief, without boldly declaring what their ultimate object was. To the petition which he presented he gave his cordial support. When these manifestations of public opinion were daily taking place, he considered it the duty of his Majesty's Ministers to take an early opportunity to explain candidly, and without reserve, what were the views they entertained on the subject.

Mr. Baines

had not seen the declaration alluded to, until it was shown to him by the right hon. Baronet opposite. He believed the principles of the Dissenters were unchanged, and to be embodied in the resolution alluded to by the right hon. Baronet. If the principles of dissent were properly understood, the very circumstance of a man being a Dissenter was a declaration that he could not agree to the union between Church and State. ["No"] He was as well acquainted with the principles of the Dissenters as hon. Members who cried "No," and that sentiment, he believed, was entertained by them. He did not deny the right of the Church to hold that union, and to cultivate it by all possible means; but every Dissenter, if consistent with his principles, must be opposed to the alliance. With respect to the appropriation of the revenues of the Church, the right hon. Baronet had supposed, that the Dissenters desired to participate in them.

Sir Robert Peel

had not so stated. What he said was, that the Dissenters did not desire to interfere with the ecclesiastical discipline of the Church, and as the Church of England had not attempted any interference with the free exercise of the form of worship adopted by the Dis- senters, he thought the disclaimer was of no great importance.

Mr. Baines

had understood the right hon. Baronet also to have intimated, that a desire existed among the Dissenters to participate in the revenues of the Church establishment. ["No," from Sir Robert Peel.] It could not be said there was any thing selfish in the applications of the Dissenters: they did not come to the House and say, "Here are large revenues appropriated to the support of the Church, we wish to partake of those revenues;" but they said, "We hold these revenues to be public property." They did not wish them to be appropriated among themselves; if they were applied to any other purposes than those of the Established Church, they distinctly stated that they wished them devoted to those purposes in which they, as a sect of Christians, possessed no individual interest. He saw a smile on the faces of hon. Members, as if they doubted that expression of disinterestedness. If an examination were made into the manner in which these revenues originated, it would be found that one party had as much right to them as the other, and they belonged as much to one denomination of Christians being his Majesty's subjects, as to another. It would, therefore, not be unreasonable for the Dissenters to say, that "whereas at one time you, the Church of England, were no more entitled to these revenues than we; therefore, now that there is a difference in our form of worship, we do not think we shall be asking anything unfair, when we seek to partake of those revenues;" but they asked no such thing. With regard to the Universities, they considered the Church of England exclusively held these fountains of knowledge, and that the Dissenters were equally entitled to the advantages of those institutions for the education of their youth. He believed, with respect to the other grievances of Dissenters—such as the celebration of marriages, the burial of their dead, and a system of registration of their own—that no member of the Church seriously objected to them. The Dissenters looked for the hostility of those who supported the connexion between Church and State, considering it conducive to their interests and the interests of the religion they professed. If the time should ever arrive when the people of England should think the objects of religion would be better advanced by a separation of Church and State, than by the Church remaining an integral part of the State, then, and not till then, should a separation take place. The Dissenters ought never to carry their point, except by the progress of public opinion, and supported by public justice.

Mr. Shaw

complimented the hon. Member for the candour of his avowal. He had stated, that the Dissenters desired a separation of Church and State, but that they wished the revenues of the Church not to be appropriated to their own purposes, but to some secular purposes. The hon. Member had also stated in that House, that the object of the Dissenters in endeavouring to obtain admission into the Universities, was not confined to taking degrees morely, but that they also sought to participate in all the advantages the members of the Episcopal Church enjoyed with respect to fellowships and other benefits arising out of the Universities; but he was sure the hon. Member would not contend, that if the Universities were once opened to Dissenters in the manner he desired, it would be impossible to preserve the ecclesiastical mode of education at present adopted at those institutions. He concurred in the opinion of the right hon. Baronet, that at the present important crisis, it was most important the House and the country should be made fully acquainted with the views which were entertained on the subject by his Majesty's Ministers. He believed it had now come to the simple question of whether there should be a Church or no Church, and he thought, as that was the case, it was most desirable the Government should not entertain one opinion in that House and a different opinion in another; but should distinctly state what opinion his Majesty's Ministers, as a Government, entertained with regard to the Church.

Mr. Locke

was one of those who had said "No," when the hon. member for Leeds stated that the Dissenters all desired a separation of Church and State. He did so, because he had that morning presented a petition from the Dissenters of Devizes, in which they stated they had no desire to interfere with the connexion of Church and State. He had supported the petition on that very ground.

Mr. Methuen

regretted he had not been present to give that petition his support. The right hon. Baronet seemed to say that the Dissenters generally desired a separa- tion of Church and State. For his own part, he did not think so. The hon. member for Leeds was not justified in answering for the Dissenters in every part of the kingdom, because he was acquainted with the opinions of those of a small portion. The hon. member for the University of Dublin had talked of the danger in which the Church stood. The great danger to the establishment was from those who were termed its friends—from those who upheld pluralities and non-residence—from those who were making the country ring from one end to the other with the cry of "the Church is in danger." As a representative of the people, and a real friend to the Established Church, he felt, that he should not discharge his duty, if he did not call on the people of England not to be misled by these miserable party attempts — for such in his conscience he believed them to be—which were not so much intended for the support of the Church as the support of that party who thought they upheld the Church by upholding its abuses. It was for the support of that party, who were the worst enemies of the Church of England, of civil order, and good government, and he should be guilty of a dereliction of duty, if he did not warn the people against their misrepresentations. The observations of the right hon. Baronet on the conduct of the Ministry, who were liberal, honest, and candid in their views, were uncalled for. It was to the present Government that, in the temper of the times, the country must look for the completion of those salutary measures of reform which had been so beneficially commenced. He thought the House was bound to support them in carrying into effect those reforms, now that the Cabinet had purified itself from that which was a clog to its progress, and he had no doubt that the country and that House, to which such an appeal had been made, would look up to them with increased confidence.

Mr. Finn

thought the House ought to see what the Government intended to do before its confidence was extended to them. He must see what they meant to do with the Church of Ireland. There were twenty parishes in the county he had the honour to represent, in which not a single Protestant was to be found. Sinecures in the state were much to be reprobated, but what could be so disgraceful as sinecures in the Church?

Mr. Finch

said, the Government, who ought to stand forward as the bulwark of the Church, were now endeavouring, by a number of measures, to conciliate the Dissenters. The cause of religion was too sacred to be affected by the agitation of the present times, but it was nevertheless the duty of every friend of the establishment to stand forward in her support.

The Marquess of Chandos

said, that, having presented many petitions to that House from Dissenters who did not desire a separation of Church and State, he felt it to be but justice to them to state, that neither the assertion of the hon. member for Leeds, nor the declaration read by the right hon. Baronet, applied to all the Dissenters. He thought that those Members who had retired from the Government, considered in their own minds that they had purified themselves by the secession. They had retired with great credit to themselves, and the country would justly appreciate the motives by which they were animated.

Earl Jermyn

said, the evidence of every day proved it was the imperious duty of the Government, to declare the views they entertained toward the Church and the Dissenters. A new writ had yesterday been moved for, in the case of a gentleman recently appointed a member of the Cabinet, (Mr. Abercromby), who when he was called upon to give his opinion on the subject of a separation of Church and State, said, that it was a new question, and one that required very serious consideration. He thought, that not only the individual opinions of the members of the Government should be stated, but also what were the views of the Government, of which Mr. Abercromby was now a member.

The Petitions were laid on the Table.

Back to