HC Deb 31 May 1839 vol 47 cc1216-26

House in committee on the Prisons Bill.—The Chairman read the 14th clause, as follows:— And be it enacted, that in any prison in which the average number of prisoners profess- ing any one and the same religion differing from that of the Established Church confined at any one time during the three preceding years shall not have been less than fifty, it shall be lawful for the justices or other persons having the appointment of the chaplain of such prison, if they shall see fit, to appoint and remove at pleasure a teacher or clergyman, acting as such at the time of such appointment in some chapel duly registered as a place of religious worship, of the religion of such prisoners, for the instruction and spiritual assistance of such prisoners solely, and for the persons having the control of the funds applicable to the expenses of such prison, to fix the salary to be paid to such teacher or clergyman, and to make order for the payment thereof out of the funds applicable to those expenses.

Sir R. Inglis

said, that this clause did not form a part of the original bill brought forward by her Majesty's Government, last session, but it was subsequently introduced by the hon. Member for Knaresborough. But though he must do the Government the justice to say that they did not originally propose that there should be in all the prisons salaried teachers for every religious persuasion which could be found to germinate in this country, yet he must say, that they yielded without much reluctance to the proposition, or, in other words, he might say, that they adopted it with considerable alacrity. What was the clause? It was neither more nor less than a declaration by the Legislature, so far as that House was at present concerned, that there was no distinction whatever between the truth or falsehood of different forms of religion and belief. If it could be said that all religions were equally true, it might, in like manner, be Said, that all were equally false. The proposition, which was now adopted by her Majesty's Ministers, recognised the principle that whatever men, or any set of men, to the number of fifty, believed to be true, shall be taught as truth by persons paid by the Government. That was the principle which he protested against last year, and he felt it his duty not less earnestly to oppose it now. There was no difference between adopting this principle for persons confined in a prison, and applying it to any other aggregation of human beings; and if the principle were recognised in one case, it must be extended to others, and it would be equally the duty of the Government to hire chaplains of different creeds for different persons to be found on board our ships of war, and for our military regiments. The hon. Member for Knaresborough last year stated that the clause would apply to only three or four places in the empire, and he mentioned London, Lancashire, and some other populous parts, urging that the measure was not of that character, in as far as its practical extent and working was concerned, as to justify the opposition to which it had been exposed. But it was not to the degree or extent in which this principle was to be carried into operation that he offered his opposition; it was to the establishment of the principle itself. It was to the deliberate recognition of the principle by that House, that there was no such thing as difference of truth or falsehood in different religious persuasions, but that the Government was bound to pay the teacher of doctrines which were opposed to the established religion of the country that he was opposed. There was a great deal of difference between the toleration of other sects of religion and that maintenance and encouragement and support of them which the present clause proposed to afford. Regarding this clause, then, as the first step in the progress of a principle which he held to be destructive to the legitimate rights of the Established Church of this country, regarding it as making no difference between truth and falsehood, and regarding it as a principle which, if once admitted could not be afterwards altered, but must be carried out still further, so that if it were adopted in this case, religious teachers of different persuasions could not be excluded from workhouses, or from the army and navy, he thought it better to stop where they were, and therefore he moved that this 14th clause do not stand part of the bill.

Mr. Pakington

read the first passage of the clause, and said, he must protest against the principle of making religious instruction dependent on numbers. If the principle was a sound and good principle, that persons not members of the established church confined in our gaols should be provided with religious instruction according to their own tenets, for if they amounted to fifty in number, it must be an equally sound principle for forty-nine prisoners—it would be an absurdity, a gross insult to common sense, to say, that religious instruction ought to be withheld from forty-nine prisoners, which would be given to them it' they had only another partner in crime. Religious instruction was a blessing which should be given to all; and the only question was, in what way the Legislature was bound to provide it. There was another objectionable point in the clause, and that was, the discre- tionary power given to the magistrates to appoint or remove the chaplains of prisons at pleasure. That appeared to him to be a complete abandonment of the functions of Parliament, and an imposition of a discretion on those who were appointed to carry out the law which they ought not to be called upon to exercise. The amount of salary, and other minor matters, might be safely left to their discretion, but he protested against the extreme unfairness of calling on the magistrates to decide whether the principle of the law was a good one, and whether it should or should not be carried into effect. Such a measure must, if passed, operate very unequally, for there might be fifty persons of one sect in prison in Liverpool, white at Birmingham the number might be less, and thus the population of two different places would be living under different systems. But there was another reason why he was opposed to this clause. When he saw the rapid strides which the Roman Catholics were making in this country, he must say, that he did not feel at all disposed to make this further concession to them. He was by no means disposed to interfere with that principle of British law by which every man was tolerated, and could hold his theological opinions without let or hindrance; he held that to be a true principle of our Legislature, but he must nevertheless give his decided opposition to this clause.

Sir A. Dalrymple

expressed his entire concurrence in the remarks of his hon. Friend who had just sat down. He had presented a petition to the House against the clause, signed by a most respectable body of persons, and he should feel it his duty to vote against it.

Sir G. H. Smyth

thought the noble Lord would be compelled to give up this measure ultimately, although he might that night succeed in getting a majority in its favour. He admitted that Dissenters and Roman Catholics ought to have the privilege of receiving religious consolation from their ministers, but he objected to any clause of this kind, because he knew that Roman Catholic priests and dissenting preachers were not satisfied with administering consolation to those who belonged to their own sects, but that they would interfere with those who did not belong to them. He knew instances in which Roman Catholic and Dissenting teachers endeavoured to force their principles upon others— ["Hear," and a cry of "divide.") "I do not wonder," said the hon. Baronet, "that hon. Members opposite are so anxious to go to a division on the clause, because we are not in a situation to divide. I know that if we divide now, we shall be beaten. But if the House were full of Members, I am perfectly sure that we should negative this clause. But we are in a most unfortunate condition. I neither see the argument nor the gentlemanly feeling of laughter, and I think it is a course of proceeding which is not fit for the House of Commons. If we had fair play, I am sure we should reject the clause." Being convinced that it went directly against the Protestant feeling of the country, he should follow the course of his hon. Friends who had spoken.

Sir C. B. Vere

said, that to take money from the public funds for the support of other creeds than that of the Established Church of the country, was virtually to separate that Church from the State. But there were other difficulties in the way, arising out of the multiplicity of sects in existence. It was quite impossible, he believed, to say how many sects there were. If this principle was admitted, this assistance must be given to any number, and any number of members might be employed; and this in itself would be extremely inconvenient.

Lord John Russell

thought it right to say a few words with respect to the introduction of this clause. The hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford, was right in saying that the clause was not contained in the original bill. It was moved when he (Lord John Russell) was not in his place, by the hon. Member for Knaresborough; it was supported by the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire (Lord Stanley) whom he did not now see present), and it was received with favour by the House. When he found the proposition had been thus supported and favourably received, although he had some doubts as to its propriety, he had stated, that seeing the opinion of the House was in its favour, he was willing to adopt a clause of this nature, always providing, that its terms should be such as to preserve that general superintendence of the chaplain which was necessary to the discipline of the prison. He thought that the clause in this respect answered the object the hon. Mover had in view, and in which he was ready to concur. The state of the law at present was, that if any prisoner asked the assistance of a minister not of the Church, that such minister should be admitted, and the practice was, he believed, uniformly agreeable to that law. Then it was said by hon. Members, that if such was the law, a minister should be paid for attending one prisoner as well as if he attended on fifty. To that proposition he could not agree, for though it might be very proper if there were fifty prisoners of one communion in a gaol, and that the minister of such communion gave up his time and passed a great part of every day in that prison, that he should have some remuneration for that constant devotion of his time; still, when he came only once a month, perhaps, to visit one prisoner, it would not be fit or necessary that any compensation should be given for so small and inconsiderable a service. Then the hon. Member for Droitwich (Mr. Pakington) objected to the words in the clause, "if they shall see fit." Now, it did seem to him (Lord John Russell) those words were necessary to render the clause free from that objection which he should otherwise entertain to it. The magistrates were obliged, as the hon. Member supposed, to appoint a minister to the gaol different to the chaplain of the Established Church; unless those words appeared, it would be otherwise a matter of absolute necessity with them to appoint such a person, and, on the other hand, it was desirable they should have this discretion, as in case they saw a minister interfering improperly with the duties of the chaplain, they could take advantage of the clause, and exercise the power and discretion vested in them by the Act of Parliament, On that head, therefore, he did not see the clause was liable to objection. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Inglis) urged, that if the principle of this clause was carried to the extreme, it would be necessary to have ministers of every religion to regiments, to ships, and in almost every place; but the Legislature must look to practical effects. Soldiers were permitted to go to Roman Catholic chapels or Dissenting meeting-houses, because it could be done without inconvenience, but the privilege could not be extended to sailors, nor could ministers of every creed be sent on board ships, on account of the manifest inconvenience which would arise to the service. Hence it was necessary to make a difference both in practice and in legislation; And therefore he thought the committee might adopt a clause of this kind without saying they would adopt the principle in any other case.

Colonel Wood

observed, that though soldiers went to Roman Catholic or Dissenting chapels, they, nor the country, had not to pay the ministers. He was very sorry the noble Lord's doubts had been shaken on this question, for the very circumstance which recommended the, clause to the noble Lord—namely, that the appointment was left optional to the magistrates—afforded the very strongest objection to it. The operation of the clause would be strongly felt in Middlesex, Lancashire, and other large counties, and to show the consequences he would state what had occurred in the county of Middlesex. The circumstance he was about to mention showed, that the matter could not be left optional with the magistrates, but that the Legislature must determine whether or not Roman Catholic and other ministers must be paid or not. Not long since, an application was made at the quarter sessions on the part of some Roman Catholic ladies who wished to visit Coldbathfields prison; the majority of the magistrates not wishing to be responsible for the tracts those ladies might think fit to distribute, felt it their duty to resist the application, and the magistrates divided—fifteen for and thirty against the admission of those ladies. Upon that the question was supposed to have been settled, but the magistrate who had introduced again revived the subject; the magistrates again rejected it, and by a larger majority, because they stated, that the question was very likely to be brought under the consideration of Parliament, that they hoped it would not be left optional with the magistrates to decide one way or the other, and that the Legislature ought to determine, aye or no, whether these ministers ought to be paid. If that was not done, they stated, that the bench would be fighting the Catholic question every time they met. Determined as he was, not to leave the matter in doubt, he should certainly vote against the clause.

Mr. Blackstone

inquired, as the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) was willing to apply the principle of this clause to prisons, why he hesitated to extend it to workhouses? He could assure the noble Lord, that the Dissenters did not look to this clause as any boon to them, and therefore he (Mr. Blackstone) believed it was in fact a clause to increase the power of the Romish Church. Neither did he believe the people of England were prepared to go along with the Government in that view, and on that ground solely he should resist the clause.

Mr. Baines

concurred in the belief expressed by the hon. Member, that the Dissenters had no wish themselves on the subject, first, because it was not consistent with their principles, that their clergy should receive payment from the state; and, next, because he believed there would never be found fifty Dissenters in any prison in England. At the same time he was very much disposed to give religious instruction to Roman Catholics hi prison in the way proposed, and when this was called a means of extending the power of the Roman Catholic Church, he must 'ask hon. Members whether they thought really their Church was so weak as to be in danger of being subverted by sending half-a-dozen Roman Catholic priests to attend prisoners in as many gaols? The proposition was most preposterous, and he thought he saw the hon. Member opposite smile at the absurdity of his own observations.

Mr. Langdale

begged to remark, in the first place, that the words which had now been objected to were not in the clause he originally proposed, but had been inserted at the instigation of the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire. But the really serious question in the clause was this—look at the different prisons, and it would be seen, that the Roman Catholics in populous towns were of the lowest classes, and formed the largest number of prisoners. Those persons could not and would not receive the instruction the law now afforded them. The Legislature was now passing measures for the separate confinement of prisoners, and for other means of correcting criminals, and then, because there were large masses of criminals who would not avail themselves of the instruction of the Established Church, it was said, rather than provide them with the instruction they would accept, the Legislature would give them none, and thus deprive the whole community of the advantages of an attempt in that way to reform persons in confinement. This was a denial of justice to those individuals and to the country, Furthers it seemed strange to him that hon. Gentlemen opposite should think so lightly of their religion as to suppose, that because a few gaols were to be visited by the Roman Catholics, a blow was inflicted on the Established Church of the country. Hon. Members had spoken of a division on this clause; why, last year, after a long discussion, there had been a division, and the clause was carried by a large majority.

Mr. Darby

said, as the clause had been disclaimed by the noble Lord opposite, and also on the part of the Dissenters, he could not but think it was brought forward on behalf of the Roman Catholics. It was said, that this plan had been in operation in Ireland. The result there, however, did not induce him to look on the plan in a very favourable light. By this clause it was sought to make the magistrates do that which the Government were afraid to do themselves; they feared the responsibility, and sought to fix it on the magistrates of the country. The hon. Member (Mr. Langdale) had said, that the Catholics were the lowest class of the community. They well knew, that this class of the community did not seek the clergy of their persuasion; their clergy were obliged to seek out them; and were Members on the opposite side of the House prepared to tell him, that the Roman Catholic priests did not seek up the Members of their persuasion, but that it was necessary to provide clergy for the Roman Catholics in the prisons? The principle was not now acted upon, that the state was to maintain the established religion of the state; they had given up that principle. The Members of the Opposition had told those on the other side of the House, that there were persons destitute of religion within the walls of the gaols, and they now called on them to provide the religion of the state for them. It was not because he thought, that if the Roman Catholic priests were admitted into the walls of the gaols they would destroy the Church that he opposed this clause; for he did not believe if they separated all support of the state from the Church, that the Church would be in danger; but it was necessary for the safety of the state, that the Church should not be separated from the state. This attempt to introduce this clause was part of our great system; he saw it in operation not only in this country, not only in Ireland, but in Europe; it was part of a system, The Roman Catholics were a very powerful body, a very powerful political body, determined to work out their own ends. He saw this going on; he knew their power, and so far as he knew that power he believed, that when once it was established it was inconsistent with the civil and religious liberty of any country. On that ground he should vote against this clause.

Mr. Plumptre

said, if once they admitted the principle, that fifty persons assembled together in any gaol or other place of one religious persuasion should call upon the state to support their minister, fifty persons in any ship or society whatever might call upon the state to support their minister, of whatever religion they might be. It was the admission of this principle to which he, as a Protestant, could not submit. Fifty men of any religious denomination so circumstanced, be their principles ever so wild or contrary to Scripture, would be able to call on the Government to do that which would be disgraceful to a Protestant country.

Mr. Acland

thought this clause had some connexion with the minute of Council on education. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had told them, that he would not have consented to this clause except it were always provided, that a general superintendence should be exercised by the chaplain of the gaol. He (Mr. Acland) had looked over the bill in vain for any such clause of superintendence It appeared to him, that the chaplain with his fifty persons under his charge would be in very much the same position as the Roman Catholic priest. On behalf of the established religion of the country, he did beg, that as the state professed to have an Established Church, it should not act in contravention of that profession. He would ask the noble Lord, what was that general superintendence which was given to the chaplains of the gaols? He had also to call the attention of the legal adviser of her Majesty to another question. He was rather anxious to ascertain from those learned in the law the meaning of the term "one and the same religion." He wanted to know what was the legal definition of the term "one and the same religion." Did it mean of the same denomination of religion, or did it include all denominations not being Roman Catholic, or all denominations not being of the Established Church? It was important for the House when a new principle was introduced to know to what extent it went. He should be glad to know what was the extent of the meaning of those terms?

The committee divided on the question that the clause stand part of the bill:— Ayes 136; Noes 81: Majority 55.

List of the AYES.
Abercromby, hn. G. R James, W.
Adam, Admiral Jervis, S.
Aglionby, Major Jones, J.
Archbold, R. Langdale, hon. C.
Baines, E. Lemon, Sir C.
Baring, F. T. Lennox, Lord A.
Barnard, E. G. Loch, J.
Barry, G. S. Lynch, A. H.
Beamish, F. B. Macleod, R.
Bellew, R. M. Macnamara, Major
Bewes, T. Mc Taggart, J.
Blackett, C. Marshall, W.
Blake, M. J. Marsland, H.
Blewitt, R. J. Melgund, Viscount
Blunt, Sir C. Morris, D.
Bridgeman, H. Muskett, G. A,
Buller, E. Nagle, Sir R.
Busfield, W. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Campbell, Sir J. O'Brien, C.
Chalmers, P. O'Brien, W. S.
Chester, H. O'Connell, D.
Chichester, J. P. B. O'Connell, J.
Clive, E. B. O'Connell, M.
Collier, J. O'Connell, M.
Cowper, hon. W. F. O'Conor, Don
Craig, W. G. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Curry, Mr. Serg. Palmerston, Viscount
Dalmeny, Lord Parker, J.
Donkin, Sir R. S. Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.
Duke, Sir J. Parrott, J.
Duncomb, T. Pechell, Captain
Dundas, F. Pendarves, E. W. W.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Philips, M.
Ellice, Capt. A. Philips, G. R.
Ellice, E. Phillpotts, J.
Ellis, W. Pigot, D. R.
Evans, G. Power, J.
Evans, W. Price, Sir R.
Finch, F. Pryme, G.
Fleetwood, Sir P. H. Redington, T. N.
Fort, J. Rice, E. R.
Grattan, H Roche, E. B.
Hastie, A. Roche, W.
Hawes, B. Roche, Sir D.
Hayter, W. G. Rundle, J.
Heathcoat, J. Russell, Lord J.
Hector, C. J. Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A,
Hill, Lord A. M. C. Scholefield, J.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. Slaney, R. A.
Hobhouse, T. B. Smith, B.
Horseman, E. Stanley, W. O.
Hoskins, K. Stuart, Villiers
Howard, P. H. Stock, Dr.
Howick, Viscount Strickland, Sir G:
Hume, J. Style, Sir C.
Humphery, J. Talfourd, Mr. Serg,
Hutt, W. Tancred, H. W.
Thomson, rt. hn. C. P White, S.
Thornely, T. Williams, W.
Troubridge, Sir E. T Williams, W. A.
Turner, W. Winnington, T. E.
Vigors, N. A. Wood, C.
Villiers, hon. C. P. Wood, G. W.
Wakley, T. Wrightson, W. B.
Walker, R. Wyse, T.
Wallace, R. Yates, J. A.
Warburton, H.
Ward, H. G. TELLERS.
White, A. Steuart, R.
White, H. Maule, F.
List of the NOES.
Acland, T. D. Kemble, H.
Archdall, M. Kilburn, Viscount
Ashley, Lord Kinnaird, hon. A. F.
Baker, E. Kirk, P.
Blackburne, I. Knatchbull, right hon.
Blackstone, W. S. Sir E.
Blair, J. Lefroy, right hon. T.
Broadley, H. Liddell, hon. H. T.
Buck, L. W. Lincoln, Earl of
Burr, H. Mackenzie, T.
Chapman, A. Marsland, T.
Clerk, Sir G. Marton, G
Cole, Viscount Miles, W.
Colquhoun, J. C. Miles, P. W. S.
Courtenay, P. Neeld, J.
Cripps, J. Parker, R. T.
Dalrymple, Sir A. Perceval, Colonel
Darby, G. Perceval, hon. G. J.
Dick, Q. Planta, rt. hon. J.
D'Israeli, B. Plumptre, J. P.
Duffield, T. Rae, rt. hon. Sir W.
Du Pre, G. Richards, R.
Egerton, Sir P. Rickford, W.
Fector, J. M. Round, J.
Fellowes, E. Rushbrooke, Colonel
Filmer, Sir E. Scarlett, hon. J. Y.
Fremantle, Sir T. Sibthorp, Colonel
Gladstone, W. E. Smyth, Sir G. H.
Grimsditch, T. Stormont, Viscount
Hale, R. B. Teignmouth, Lord
Halford, H. Thomas, Colonel H.
Heneage, G. W. Thornhill, G.
Hepburn, Sir T. B. Vere, Sir C. B.
Hodgson, F. Villiers, Viscount
Hodgson, R. Waddington, H. S.
Hope, hon. C. Walsh, Sir J.
Houstoun, G. Wood, Colonel T.
Hughes, W. B. Wood, T.
Hurt, F. Young, Sir W.
Jackson, Mr. Sergeant
James, Sir W. C. TELLERS.
Jermyn, Earl Inglis, Sir R. H.
Johnstone, H. Pakington,—

House resumed.