HC Deb 13 July 1838 vol 44 cc191-9

The House went into Committee on the Prisons (England) Bill.

On Clause 10,

Mr. Langdale

moved, by way of amendment, a proviso to the effect, that in cases where the number of prisoners in a gaol not belonging to the Established Church, amounted to fifty, an assistant-chaplain should be appointed.

Mr. F. Maule

thought the proposition not unreasonable.

Sir C. Knightley

remarked, that if the hon. Gentleman's principles were acted upon in its full extent, there might be as many clergymen in a gaol as there were prisoners.

Mr. O'Connell

thought, that religious instruction should be provided for prisoners differing in sentiment from the Established Church, where the number might be considered to require it.

Mr. W. E. Gladstone

could not immediately concur in the principle laid down in the motion. It was one of great importance, not recognised in any legislative enactment, and, he believed, unheard-of in England, though it had been acted upon in Ireland. It was too important to be established in this way, for it must be extended to all workhouses as well as to prisons. Sufficient facilities, he believed, were already given to clergymen of the various denominations to obtain access to the prisoners who coincided with them, for the purpose of religious instruction.

Mr. F. Maule

declared his intention to support the clause proposed by Mr. Lang- dale. He put it to hon. Members opposite, whether they would be content to see fifty unfortunate wretches confined in one of our prisons, refusing to attend the ministration of the chaplains of the Established Church, and yet consent to deprive them of the religious advice and consolation which they would derive from the presence of a minister of their own religion? In fixing a limit, you must stop somewhere, and fifty seemed as good a limit as any at which they could stop, seeing that they had already assented to a clause that wherever there were fifty persons incarcerated, professing the faith of the Established Church, there was a necessity to call in the services of a chaplain.

Mr. G. Palmer

opposed the proposition, because, if they gave up one point after another, it would tend to annihilate the interests of the Established Church.

Mr. O'Connell

considered the argument of the hon. Member who had spoken last, as one of the most preposterous ones which he had ever heard in the whole course of his life from a well-educated Gentleman. The hon. Member for Newark had told them, that the principle embodied in this clause was a new principle—[Mr. Gladstone: In England.] Oh! it was an old principle in Ireland, and as he had been accused—oh, how often!—of crying, as they say, falsely, "Justice for Ireland," he would just try for once how the hon. Gentlemen opposite would relish his raising the cry—oh, how truly!—of "Justice for England." The question, however, was not whether this be a new principle, but whether it be a good principle, and he considered it to be a good principle to instruct every man in the principles of morality according to his own notions of the Christian religion. He considered this clause to be essentially necessary, because, in many gaols where Roman Catholics had been confined, and had demanded the aid of a Roman Catholic chaplain, their demands had been peremptorily refused. Now, such an exercise was a great abuse of power; and if this clause were passed, they would get rid of it altogether.

Mr. Hume

said, that prisons now were conducted on the principle of reformation. If, therefore, reformation was their object, they could not shut up fifty persons dissenting from the principles of the Established Church without affording them some religious advice and instruction. In voting for this clause, he must confess one change of opinion which he had undergone. Formerly he was opposed, now he was friendly, to the voluntary principle. He would tell the House why he had become this convert. It was, because he had seen, of late years, with the deepest regret, the vexatious, and oppressive, and persecuting conduct of the clergy of the Church of England towards those who differed from them in religious opinion. He repeated the phrase, which seemed so obnoxious to hon. Gentlemen opposite. He was now a voluntary on principle, and what was more, from experience of the opposite principle. There was a species of property in this country, which was generally called Church property. For his own part, he called it public property; and he thought, that it ought to be distributed equally and fairly for the religious instruction of men of all classes, sects, and denominations. He was quite aware, that he could not carry out that principle at present. But the time would yet come—and the hon. Gentlemen opposite knew it—the time would yet come——[Great cheering from both sides of the House.]

Mr. Bernal

(the Chairman) interrupted the hon. Member for Kilkenny, who was entering into subjects not at all connected with the question under debate.

Mr. Hume

was sent there by his constituents to speak the honest sentiments of his heart, and speak them he would, at every hazard. Personally, he was obliged to the hon. Chairman for his caution, but he was sent there to speak the truth by his constituents, and speak it he would, however obnoxious it might be to the clergy or their supporters. In reply to what had been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite, he would repeat, that the principle which he had laid down, was the only true voluntary principle. The House had cheered, as if they considered his proposition to be clearly monstrous and impracticable; but he had lived for some time in the world, and he had seen other things, deemed equally strange and unlikely to happen, come nevertheless to pass; and he was convinced, old as he was, that he should live to see a great alteration indeed take place in the holding of what was called Church property. If the hon. Gentlemen opposite, acting as they called it in support of the Church, persisted in their old course of oppression and monopoly, he was certain that they would drive public opinion to many acts which it had never yet contemplated. He had heard, from the other side, a great deal about "toleration, toleration." For his own part, "toleration" was a word that he spurned—it was unworthy a free people; what he asked for, and he would be content with nothing less, was equal rights for all classes, sects, and denominations of her Majesty's subjects.

Lord Stanley

admitted, that this was a question on which it could not be said that there was no difficulty in coming to a decision. If there were in that House, as he supposed there were, many hon. Gentlemen who might have hesitated as to the vote which they ought to give on this motion, he was quite sure, that if they had attached any importance to the observations of the hon. Member for Kilkenny, those observations would have had a tendency to divert them from the support of the proposition which that hon. Member had advocated. He looked, however, to this question, not with reference to the observations of the hon. Member—they scarcely deserved notice—but with reference to its substantial justice and policy. If he thought, that in giving the proposition of support he was doing anything which could place the sects which differed from the Church of England on an equality with her, or if he thought that in supporting that proposition he was placing any, even the smallest, stigma on the Church of England, as a national establishment, no consideration in the world would induce him to support it. But the situation of these unfortunate prisoners was a peculiar situation. They were paced in a position in which they were separated from the spiritual control of those to whom they were accustomed to look up for support and consolation, and to which they would have resorted for advice had they been free. In supporting the proposition of the hon. Member opposite, the committee was not called upon to establish any new principle; for hon. Gentlemen admitted, that in Ireland, and he heard no objection to that principle, it was not only expedient, but also just and necessary, that there should be a Roman Catholic chaplain in every gaol. Were hon. Gentlemen, then, adopting a mischievous innovation when they proposed to introduce it into England in all gaols, where, on an average of a certain number of years, there were such a number of Roman Ca- tholics confined as required the undivided attention of a clergyman of their own persuasion? In the very bill then before the House they had already declared that fifty prisoners were enough for a chaplain of the Established Church to attend to; and that if there were more than that number the chaplain should be entitled to an increased salary. How, then, could they reconcile themselves to refrain from giving spiritual instruction according to their mode of belief to fifty Dissenters whom they might find in their gaols? First of all, could they compel the Roman Catholics to attend to the instruction of a clergyman in whose doctrine they did not believe; and secondly, if they did not try the compulsory course, could they ask them to deprive themselves, or would it be right to deprive them, of all religious instruction whatever? Upon the fullest consideration which he had been able to give to this proposition, he was inclined to vote in favour of it. He could not voluntarily lose the opportunity of reclaiming so large a portion of our vicious population, so long as he saw there was the slightest chance of reclaiming them. He, however, thought this clause should be permissive, not compulsory, and he would suggest to the hon. Member who had proposed it whether it would not be better to insert in the enactive parts of it these words "if they shall so think fit."

Mr. Langdale

was anxious to do everything in his power to meet the wishes of the noble Lord.

Mr. Estcourt

. This was the introduction of a new principle into the law of England, which, if once admitted, might be attended with the very greatest inconvenience to the interests of the Established Church.

Mr. Sheil

conceived, that the opinion of the hon. Gentlemen opposite was, that this proposition ought to be granted, provided that the power of appointing these chaplains were accompanied with proper checks. A proposition exactly the same with the present was carried for Ireland when Lord Liverpool was at the head of the Government, when Sir R. Peel was at the head of the Home Department, and when Mr. Goulburn was Secretary to the Lord-lieutenant for Ireland. When the Catholic was out of prison he could go to the priest, but when he was in prison the priest must go to him, else he would be deprived of all opportunity of acting in conformity with his religious belief. The House should at least consent to the free admission of the priest, even to an individual prisoner. The present regulations were tantamount to his exclusion.

Sir R. Peel

thought it was rather unfortunate that it had not been more distinctly understood that this subject would have been brought under their consideration that day. After the conflicting opinions, too, which they had heard delivered, he thought it would be better if the hon. Gentleman, without making any concessions to the principle, would consent to withdraw the clause upon the understanding that he would bring it forward upon the third reading of the bill. The noble Lord the Secretary of State, who had access to every information on the subject, had been present during a very short period of the discussion, not expecting, perhaps, that so important a subject would have been brought under consideration. Without, therefore, expressing any decided opinion at present, he thought it would be better to reserve it for more serious and deliberate consideration. Even supposing that he entirely coincided in the principle of the hon. Gentleman's clause, he wished to show him that, as it stood at present, it would not answer his purpose. He would first ask him if he meant, that it should be imperative upon the magistrates to appoint chaplains? The words were "that it shall be lawful," &c. Now, according to the construction of some, those words meant that it should be imperative on the magistrates, while others contended that they conferred a discretionary power. It was very important that the hon. Gentleman should determine that point. The hon. Gentleman also made the appointment of chaplains determinable by the circumstance of there having been on the three previous years an average of fifty prisoners. Now, if during one year there happened to be sixty prisoners in the gaol, not Members of the establishment, but professing one faith, he might be disposed to contend for the necessity of providing them with a chaplain. But according to the clause of the hon. Member, if that year happened to be one of the three preceding years, and that upon those three years there was not an average of fifty, there would have been no power to provide a chaplain for the single year during which there were sixty prisoners. It did not depend, therefore, on the number of prisoners requiring religious aid at the time, but upon the fact that in the three preceding years there was an average of fifty. If the principle were good, some temporary provision should certainly be made, and that the hon. Gentleman's clause would not do. He felt strongly that he was now called upon to decide a great question, while he likewise felt that the clause of the hon. Gentleman would do nothing, except as far as principle was concerned, and under the pretence of doing an act of humanity they would be doing nothing but deciding on the principle. He was convinced there were not ten prisons in England to which the principle of the average of three years preceding would apply. By adopting, therefore, the hon. Gentleman's proposition they would be doing no practical good. He certainly thought it would be a violation of the principle of toleration to compel any portion of the prisoners in the gaol to attend any religious ministrations in which they did not believe. He thought, further, that they were bound to afford a perfectly free and unrestrained access, subject to the discipline of the gaol, to the minister belonging to the persuasion of each prisoner. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hawes) said, that that was done in some cases, and not in others. He (Sir R. Peel) would read a clause from the law introduced by himself:—"And be it further enacted, that if any prisoner shall be of a religious persuasion different from the established church, the minister of such persuasion, at the special request of such prisoner, shall be allowed to visit him, at proper and reasonable times, and upon such restrictions prescribed by the visiting justices, as shall guard against the introduction of improper persons." He begged to call the attention of the hon. and learned Member for the city of Dublin, however, to the fact, that under that act there had been great collision between the spiritual authorities in Ireland and grand juries. The hon. and learned Gentleman said there should be a Roman Catholic clergyman appointed. Who was to have that appointment? Was it the magistrates who were to have it, or was there to be any veto on the subject? If they did not make regulations on that subject, they would have the interference of the bishops. A magistrate might appoint a chaplain, and the Roman catholic bishop might interdict the appointment by saying, "He is not the chaplain I wish for, and I cannot sanction his appointment." If they did not combine with the principle very strict regulations, there would be no end to religious differences. He did not wish to pronounce any decided opinion against the proposition: he merely wished, that it should be postponed, he did not think they were undermining the principles of the establishment if, in the case of gaols, they made provisions which they could not, in other cases, consent to; but he felt strongly, that in introducing this principle for the first time in England, it was absolutely necessary to give the fullest and most mature consideration to the circumstances under which it was to be introduced, and to combine with it such checks as would undoubtedly prevent abuse, and remove all possibility of religious discord arising in the gaols. Under these circumstances, if the hon. Gentleman asked him for his assent to the proposition, he could not give it; if, on the other hand, the hon. Gentleman consented to withdraw it for the present—a proposal which he did not make for the purpose of delay, or from any insuperable objections to the principle—he was ready to give his consent to a proposition involving the principle advocated by the hon. Gentleman, combined with such regulations as should make it perfectly safe.

Mr. Thornely

read an extract from a report which he said he had received from one of the inspectors of prisons, to the following effect:—of the religious professions of 419 persons confined in the borough gaol of Liverpool in August, 1837, there were 216 Protestants, 174 Roman Catholics, 17 Presbyterians, and the rest of other persuasions. He understood, that in Manchester the Roman Catholics bore at least as great a proportion to the whole population as in Liverpool. He could not, therefore, for a moment hesitate to say, that whenever the hon. Member for Knaresborough brought forward, in any shape, a proposition for giving to those 174 Roman Catholics in the gaol of Liverpool, and to the Catholics similarly placed throughout the country, the advantage of religious consolation from their own ministers, he should have great pleasure in voting with him.

Lord J. Russell

agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that they should not agree to a clause of that nature without its having been brought in a distinct shape before the House He was of opinion that where there were 50 or a considerable number of Roman Catholics, or persons of the same persuasion, confined in a gaol, they should have religious instruction from a minister of their own communion; but if there were a certain number of prisoners of different persuasions, each wishing to have a favoured minister of their own particular sect, and that such wishes were to be complied with, it would defeat the object of appointing a chaplain for general religious superintendence, which did not belong peculiarly to any denomination of Christians, but to the general religious instruction introduced into the gaol. He would gladly support the principle, if properly guarded, but he hoped the authority and general instruction of chaplains would not be weakened by the introduction of persons who, without any real distinction of religious faith, might catch the earand influence the wishes of the prisoners.

Mr. Langdale

would consent to the proposition of the right hon. Baronet for withdrawing his proviso for the present.

Clause agreed to.

House resumed, the Committee to sit again on Monday.