HC Deb 28 April 1854 vol 132 cc994-6

said, he begged to ask the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Admiralty if Roman Catholics serving in the Black Sea fleet, or in the Baltic, or on board any of Her Majesty's ships at present in commission, were compelled to attend Protestant Divine service, when read on board, either by a chaplain, naval instructor, or other officer; and, if such were the case, whether the practice of compelling them would be allowed to continue, when Roman Catholic soldiers were not in any case compelled to attend Protestant service; also, whether the Admiralty would consider of allowing Roman Catholics on such occasions to assemble on the forecastle apart from the rest of the ship's company, under charge of a warrant or petty officer of their own communion?


Sir, on a former occasion this subject was brought under the notice of the House on a Motion by the hon. Member for the county of Meath (Mr. Lucas); and on that occasion I stated fully to the House what had been done, what it was intended to do, and what can be done under the existing law in respect to the question now put to me by the hon. Gentleman. But, considering the matter to be one of some importance, I will first state to the House what the law with regard to this subject really is. The naval articles of war rest upon a Statute passed in the reign of George II., and this question of Divine worship on board ship was regulated by that Statute, and the clause relating to it I will, with the permission of the House, now read. The clause was to this effect:— All commanders, captains, and officers, in or belonging to any of His Majesty's ships or vessels of war shall cause the public worship of Almighty God, according to the Liturgy of the Church of England, established by law, to be solemnly, orderly, and reverently performed in their respective ships; and shall take care that prayers and preaching by the chaplains in holy orders of the respective ships be performed diligently, and that the Lord's day be observed according to law. That Statute has existed about 100 years. During the whole of that time the utmost research among the Admiralty archives has not shown me a single instance of any complaint on the part of any Roman Catholic officers or sailors in respect to the manner in which that Act of Parliament has been carried out. More than that, there has at no time been any distinction of creed with respect to the admission of sailors to Her Majesty's ships. It is not known, when the sailors enlist, of what religion they are. As the Act to which I have referred is carried out under regulations, I will, with the leave of the House, read also the regulations with regard to the celebration of Divine worship. The regulation provided that,— In every ship in which there is a chaplain, the captain is to be particularly careful that the attention and respect due to his sacred office be shown him by all the officers and men, and that Divine service be performed, and a sermon preached every Sunday, if the duties of the ship or the state of the weather do not absolutely prevent it, at which he and such of the officers and ship's company as are not required to be absent on ship's duty are to be permitted to attend; and he is not to employ the ship's company on Sundays in any other works than those in which the public service shall absolutely require. He is to discountenance and suppress all profane cursing and swearing, all drunkenness, gaming, rioting, and quarrelling, all dissolute and disorderly practices; and, in general, everything tending to the disparagement of religion, or to the promotion of vice and immorality. Now, the House will observe that the words in this regulation are, "to be permitted to attend," and not compelled. I have now read to the House the enactment of the Statute of George II., and likewise the regulations of the same subject. I have stated to the House that for an uninterrupted century, under this Act of Parliament, and regulations in conformity with its provisions, no complaints have, as I have just stated, ever been made. On a former occasion I did take the liberty of stating to the House that I would not incur the responsibility of proposing any change whatever either in the law or the regulations. I stated also, with reference to Divine worship according to the Roman Catholic form in harbour, that it was the desire of the Admiralty to afford additional facilities for the members of the Roman Catholic Church to attend the religious services of that church in respect to ships in harbour. With regard also to some further facilities for the attendance of Roman Catholic chaplains on patients and dying persons in hospitals, I am now in communication with some of the heads of the Roman Catholic Church on that subject; but I should deceive the hon. Gentleman and this House if I held out the least expectation that it would be possible to appoint Roman Catholic chaplains to any ship in Her Majesty's service. Having said thus much, I need hardly say, that there is a particular objection to the course which the hon. Gentleman recommends. When Divine worship takes place on the part of the crew generally in Her Majesty's ships, the utmost solemnity is observed during its performance; and I think it would have the worst possible effect if the Roman Catholic sailors were to be separated from their comrades, and sent to congregate in a different part of the ship. It would be the first time that any such difference in the worship of the crews on board of Her Majesty's ships had been attempted to be established, and there is no suggestion that I would be less willing to comply with than this.