MR. LOCKE KING
said, he wished to moveThat an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that She will be graciously pleased to cause the Royal Proclamation for the encouragement of Piety and Virtue, and for the preventing and punishing of Vice, Profaneness, and Immorality, issued at the commencement of Her Majesty's reign, to be revised, or to authorize the discontinuance of reading the same at Assizes and Quarter Sessions, and in Churches and Chapels.Everybody who had attended assizes and quarter sessions must have been struck with the demeanour of the Court during the reading of the proclamation, which was extremely ill-worded. The commencement of the reading was a signal for every one in Court, from the Judge to the humblest person present, to commence talking with his neighbour, and the proceeding, he was sure, did not promote piety and virtue in any way. The proclamation was directed to be read in these Courts immediately before the charge was given to the grand jury, a most important moment for all persons having business there. The grand and petty juries, witnesses, and others were thus kept waiting to their extreme inconvenience. But although magistrates and Judges obeyed the order, there was a class of persons who did not obey it—he meant the clergy. It had never been his good fortune or his bad fortune to be in a church when this proclamation was read. And yet the proclamation issued by the Head of the Church ran thus:—We do hereby further charge and command every minister in his respective church or chapel to read, or cause to be read, this our proclamation, at least four times in every year, after Divine service, and to incite and stir up their congregations to the practice of piety and virtue.He thought the clergy were wise in their generation in withholding their obedience, when they had other more effectual means of inciting to piety and virtue than by reading a long and tedious proclamation. What he suggested was, that the document should be either revised or discontinued. If it should be revised, a few solemn sentences, well put together, and read by the Judge or Chairman of Sessions, would have an infinitely greater effect than the present mode of handing the proclamation over to the crier, whose great merit was to gabble it over as quickly as possible.
Motion made, and Question proposed,—
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to cause the Royal Proclamation for the encouragement of Piety and Virtue, and for the preventing and punishing of Vice, Profaneness, and Immorality, issued at the commencement of Her Majesty's reign, to be revised, or to authorise the discontinuance of reading the same at Assizes and Quarter Sessions, and in Churches and Chapels.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
said, the hon. Member proposed that the proclamation should be either revised or discontinued. But revision and discontinuance were two very different things. To a revision he was himself favourable; to a discontinuance he was entirely opposed. No person who had heard the proclamation read at assizes or quarter sessions—often read, too, by an officer not educated for the purpose—could have failed to wish that the words were more in accordance with what were the intentions of the Sovereign, and more likely to excite the attention of those to whom it was addressed. It doubtless contained sentences of great perplexity, the actual purport of which it was difficult to comprehend. As he had said, then, he was favourable to a revision of the proclamation; but to a discontinuance he strenuously objected. Indeed, he could not but think that the hon. Gentleman would have done better with his Motion if it had ended with the word "revised." If revised, the proclamation ought not to be much more than a third of its present length. A few plain sentences, declaring the determination of the Sovereign to maintain religion, piety, and morality, would be infinitely more likely to produce a beneficial result than the present lengthy document, which was seldom much attended to.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he felt somewhat embarrassed as to the vote which he ought to give from not having had the advantage of a more general expression of the opinions which Members of the House entertained upon the subject. The proclamation which was issued at the beginning of each reign had undergone alterations during the reigns of the later Sovereigns, in order to adopt it to more recent Acts of Parliament, but he apprehended that the proclamation, in a form not very different from what it now was, was of very considerable antiquity. The proclamation directed that it should be publicly read in open court at assizes and 2069 charge was given either by the Judge or the Chairman of the magistrates. That direction was scrupulously observed, he believed, on all occasions. There was a further direction, however, that it should be read by every minister in his church or chapel at least four times a year immediately after Divine service. That direction was entirely disregarded. It was proposed that the proclamation should be either revised or discontinued. His right hon. Friend opposite said he was not prepared to assent to its discontinuance, but he wished to see it revised. Looking at it as one of those ancient formulas which derived their importance and impressiveness rather from their antiquity than from any other quality, it was difficult to take it in hand and revise it, so as to give it a form suited to modern notions. The recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman himself seemed to point rather to a homily or an expression of determination on the part of the Sovereign to maintain virtue and religion than to a recommendation of the enforcement of certain laws and Acts of Parliament. He could only say that he saw considerable difficulty in the way of a revision of this proclamation. He was afraid that anybody who undertook to revise it, and who brought a very critical eye to the task, would perhaps not find much in it which he would wish to retain; and he hardly thought that a few common-place sentences strung together on the subject of religion and morality, would be of very great effect, or that it would be worth while to introduce a proclamation for the first time, in order that anything in the nature of a homily should be read before the Judge delivered his charge at the assizes. He was sorry, therefore, to say that his conclusion was, that if that remnant of antiquity was not to be maintained in its extant form, the best course would be to discontinue it altogether; and if the general feeling of the House should be in favour of that course, he was quite ready to acquiesce in it. On the other hand he could not think it was a matter of very great importance, or one in which the House was imperatively called upon to interfere. To the best of his recollection the reading of the proclamation did not occupy more than five or ten minutes, and although it might be thought by some persons to be unnecessary to introduce such a proclamation for the first time, it was equally possible that others might imagine more was meant by its withdrawal than a 2070 mere saving of time. He could only say that for his own part he attached little or no importance to it, and would readily accede to its discontinuance, if such was the general wish of the House; but as he should himself be responsible for its revision, and as he anticipated that considerable difficulty would be experienced in fixing upon the principle upon which that revision should be conducted, he was not prepared to recommend such a course.
MR. LOCKE KING
said, he understood from conversations he had had with hon. Members that the general feeling was in favour of a revision of the proclamation, and therefore he wished to express his willingness to omit all the words in the Motion after "revised."
said, the proclamation occupied very little time in reading. It said many wholesome things in very plain language; and he thought its withdrawal might have a prejudicial effect on some of their humble fellow-countrymen who were in the habit of attending the courts. It was acknowledged that the revision would not be an easy task; and he thought it would be better to leave it alone. The lower classes might think from a change in the wording of the proclamation that those above them had changed their opinions.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that it was optional with the hon. Member to withdraw the original Motion and move another substantive Resolution, comprehending so much of the other as was included down to the word "revised."
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, it was rather singular to talk of revising the proclamation, when those hon. Gentlemen who had spoken concurred in saying that such revision was difficult, if not impossible.
MR. LOCKE KING
then asked leave of the House to withdraw his original Motion, and to move it in its amended form, the words after "revised" being omitted.
§ Motion by leave withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question put—
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to cause the Royal Proclamation for the encouragement of Piety and Virtue, and for the preventing and punishing of Vice, Profaneness, and Immorality, issued at the commencement of Her Majesty's reign, to be revised.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 112; Noes 75: Majority 37.