HC Deb 11 March 1834 vol 22 cc2-9
Dr. Lushington

said, he was anxious, in presenting the petitions which he held in his hand, to occupy as little of the time of the House as possible, conceiving that the demands upon their time were numerous and important; but he also conceived, that it was part of his duty to state who were the petitioners who had signed the present petition; for, though it was a matter very familiar, yet it was of the greatest importance to that House and the country, and especially to those Gentlemen who took an interest in the subject, to know what it was that the petitioners required. The petition was signed by the general body of Dissenting Ministers of the three denominations residing in and about London, composing a body of as respectable and intelligent persons as were to be found of any denomination in the kingdom. They did not pray for a separation of Church and State; though they avowed their conviction that the union between them was not beneficial to the cause of Christianity. With this proposition he did not agree, and, except in a case of absolute necessity, he thought it would be better to abstain from discussing it. The petitioners also stated what they considered the principal practical grievances under which they laboured, viz. a want of general registration, the difficulties in the solemnization of marriages, the difficulties in the burial of their dead, their exclusion from the Universities, and their liabilities to the payment of rates and other compulsory levies for the maintenance of the Established Church. His view of the case was, that these grievances should all be taken up by the Government in one comprehensive measure. In fact, those grievances were so connected, that one could not be remedied without remedying the other. When the subject should be regularly brought forward, he trusted that both sides of the House would unite most heartily in their endeavours to co-operate in one common object; and not allow themselves, however strong their feelings might be, to be led away, but to effect that desirable conciliation which was necessary both for Churchmen and Dissenters.

Mr. Harvey

said, the subjects treated of in the petition were of very great importance to a most respectable and valuable part of the community. It was important that the House should understand what were the feelings of the non-conformist body; but, at the same time, should not attach more weight to a petition coming from their apparently authorised representatives than it deserved. Certainly those Ministers could not be held to speak the sentiments of all the Dissenters, when they said, that they did not desire the separation of Church and State. When they said that the Dissenters did not desire a separation of the Church and State, although they spoke of the union as not being necessary towards the support of Christianity, he must protest against such a speculative dogma; for so it was, and no man could regard the union as an article of faith. He fully concurred in the desire to obtain for the Dissenters a redress of all their practical grievances, and he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite would lend them his support.

Mr. Wilks

said, that having the honour to be acquainted with many of those individuals who signed this petition, he felt that he should not do justice to them, if he did not express the high sense he entertained of their learning, influence, and piety. His hon. friend, the member for Colchester, had spoken of them in terms of respect which no one who knew them could avoid; but he was apprehensive that the House would not understand, from the manner in which his hon. friend had adverted to them, the real weight of their opinions. The whole non-conformist body were scattered throughout this empire, and had been in existence nearly two centuries; the petitioners were composed of the Dissenting Ministers of the Independent, Baptist, and Presbyterian, denominations of this Metropolis, and within ten miles of London. They were not only entitled to respect on account of their individual intelligence, but, he would take the liberty of saying, that when it was recollected that every one of them had been educated for the Christian ministry, and selected for that office by a large and respectable body of the community, such men, after meeting together, and discussing, did not merely express their own opinion, but gave expression to the sentiments of the vast, he might say, innumerable, body of intelligent, wealthy, and influential Protestant Dissenters in this Metropolis; therefore, whatever sentiment they expressed, might be considered as the expression of the body at large, and, whatever grievance was complained of by them, the House might rest assured, would be universally complained of by the whole body of non-conformists, and, therefore, entitled to the consideration of the House. Much as he respected the manly spirit of the hon. member for Colchester, whose love of liberty might lead him to consider that the severance of Church and State ought to be effected, he begged to say, the Dissenters of the Metropolis did not t wish to make that a prominent subject of discussion now, but rather to confine themselves to practical grievances. He concurred in many of the observations made by the learned Civilian who presented the petition, and the petitioners having committed it to his hands, he being connected with the Church, showed that they did not desire what the learned Civilian could not support, while they were confident of the justice of their claims. This subject would require extensive consideration; and he regretted to observe, that vacillation perplexed the House, and created dissatisfaction amongst the Dissenters out of doors. He was sorry to find that a Member of the Administration had brought forward a measure which he was sure would meet with universal disapprobation. He regretted also, that another subject had been taken out of his hands, by a proposition for a universal National Civil Registration. He was also sorry that the question of Church-rates—another vital subject—was postponed to so late a period in the Session. These questions were all intimately connected with each other, and ought to be discussed in continuity and at once; and he feared, that the manner in which they were treated would cause much trouble to many Members of the House, and occasion his Majesty's Ministers to lose much of that attachment which Protestant Dissenters had hitherto evinced towards them.

Mr. Ayshford Sanford

considered that the petition presented by the hon. Member should be considered as an official representation of the opinions of the Dissenters. The grievances under which they laboured were very great; and he hoped the House would apply a remedy. Those disabilities disunited the Dissenters from the Established Church, and it was the duty of the Legislature to remove them. He was anxious for one general discussion upon that subject: taking it by piecemeal was not productive of advantage. He heard, from every part of the country which he represented, that the Bill to be introduced for the relief of Dissenters gave no satisfaction.

Mr. Baines

did not think, that the union of Church and State was one which the petition considered as an important point: he imagined that it was merely a theoretical opinion, and not one which was urged upon the Legislature as requiring an immediate consideration. He had a petition in his hand in which the Dissenters declared that they were favourable to a separation of Church and State, but they reserved the discussion of that question for a future time.

Mr. Langdale

begged leave to make a few observations upon the question before the House. Without pretending to know all the details of the measure which the noble Lord had introduced, he could assure the House, that it was not at all satisfactory to the feelings of the respectable body to which he belonged. The noble Lord was not perhaps aware of the vast number of Roman Catholics inhabiting the county of Lancaster. In the town of Liverpool there were 60,000 Catholics, and in the town of Manchester there were upwards of 40,000. The greater number of these were persons who had come over from Ireland, where they were in the habit of having the marriage ceremony performed according to the rites of their own Church; and it was utterly impossible to persuade them to go through the form of the ceremony again, in order to legalize their marriages. If he properly understood the measure of the noble Lord the Paymaster of the Forces, there would be an interference on the part of the Established Church on that point. The very publication of bans, to the omission of which he believed some penal enactment attached, would not be submitted to by these people. They were of the poorer class, and their prejudices were invincible. He did not think that when a measure of conciliation was brought forward, it should be clogged by any clauses which would defeat the object of the boon. He hoped the Bill would be amended in Committee.

Mr. Sheil

thought it was a remarkable circumstance that, notwithstanding the petitioners stated they did not at present pray for any separation, they at the outset of their petitions, laid down that abstract doctrine, and appeared to attribute all their grievances to the connexion between Church and State. Although they abstained from calling for separation, it was quite manifest that they called the attention of the House to the source of the evils under which they laboured. The Dissenters would not be contented with the Marriage Bill of the noble Lord, the Paymaster of the Forces. If the Dissenters were relieved from Church rates, why should they not be relieved from tithes? If they could not be legally called on to raise the edifice, why should they be required to support the minister who performed service in it.

Mr. John Stanley

considered, that the question of a separation between Church and State affected the members of the Church of England as much as the Dis- senters. He would say, that the Dissenters would be right in attributing the evils under which they laboured to the existence of a dominant Church, if they saw the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) who had been their constant support through the whole of his life—if they saw that he withdrew his measure of relief in deference to the Church of England—if they saw their just demands thus resisted by the Church, and relief rendered incompatible with the existence of the connexion between Church and State—they would be right, he would repeat, in attributing their grievances to this connexion, and calling upon the House to put an end to it as incompatible with the liberties of that country. But if the Government and the House relieved the Dissenters from the disabilities they prayed to be relieved from, then it was clear that the union of Church and State was not incompatible with the rights and just demands of the people of England. They ought to accede to those demands whilst they could do so, and not, by putting off the relief to the last moment, render the Dissenters the irreconcileable enemies of the Establishment.

Colonel Evans

begged leave to say, that the body of Dissenters was extremely dissatisfied with the nature of the Bill brought into that House by the noble Lord the Paymaster of the Forces. His constituents concurred in the prayer of the petition, and he would only express a hope that if the noble Lord should be prevented from bringing in a Bill that would satisfy the claims of the Dissenters, that the hon. and learned Member (Dr. Lushington) would take upon himself the important duty of proposing a Bill that would be satisfactory to that numerous and enlightened body.

Sir Richard Vyvyan

expressed his regret, that so many opinions as had been expressed this morning upon so important a subject, should have been allowed to pass without having been replied to. He rose for the purpose of answering an observation of the hon. member for Cheshire (Mr. J. Stanley). That hon. Member had said, that if the members of the Church of England would not give way, and assent to the removal of the grievances under which the Dissenters laboured, then the connexion between Church and State ought to be abolished. He begged leave to say, in reply, that even if the members of the Established Church refused to give way, that was no argument for the dissolution of the connexion between Church and State. The principles of the connexion had long been admitted and recognised, and had descended to us from our forefathers, as part of the established law of the land. He deeply regretted, that in the present petition the Dissenters had avowed their future intention of attacking that connexion. Almost all the gentlemen who advocated the removal of the specific practical grievances used the wards "at present," and "now.' If the present practical grievances were removed, what guarantee had the House, that next Session the Dissenters would not come and apply for a separation of Church and State?

Mr. John Stanley

, in explanation, said, he had only said, he considered the mention of the connexion of Church and State as a mere speculative opinion; and, with regard to their separation, he had merely said, it would only be required when it should be proved, that the existence of the connexion was incompatible with the obtaining for so large a portion of our fellow-subjects their reasonable and just rights. If upon the removal of the specific grievances, there should exist no other practical grievance, then he could not agree to any speculative measure for dissolving the connexion.

Mr. Sinclair

said, the hon. Member opposite had faithfully pointed out what the real object of the Dissenters was, and proved to the House, that nothing else would satisfy them but the separation of Church and State. It was true, they did not demand that now—they were too prudent—they wished to put it off, and to content themselves with some minor matters. But why did they act so? Because they knew they would not succeed at present; and because they required those other things as so many stepping-stones to the other object.

Dr. Lushington

said, in reply, that the Dissenters had a right to maintain their opinions; and if they conceived that the connexion between Church and State was hostile to the interests of Christianity, they were perfectly justified in coming forward and stating that. He would repeat, that nothing short of a proper and general system of registration would satisfy the Dissenters, and he regretted that the measure of the noble Lord, the Paymaster of the Forces, was not likely to satisfy them. With respect to what had fallen from the hon. and learned member for Tipperary, he would observe, that the question of tithes was not introduced in the petitions of the Dissenters; and he trusted, that such a question would not be raised on the present occasion.

Petition laid on the Table.

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