HC Deb 13 July 1860 vol 159 cc1912-24

Order for Committee read.


said, he feared he must interpose before the Bill went into Committee. No one less than himself wished to bring religious matters into that House—it was not the proper place for discussions of a religious nature—but the evil of the present case was very great; he had been much urged to bring it forward, and he could not resist doing so under such circumstances.

Upon the present occasion he could not venture to adduce all that he had to bring forward—all that the nature of the case required—but what he did bring forward would bear the test of truth. He did not intend to divide the question categorically into these heads, but the question did resolve itself into evils of law and evils of administration of the law. He did not complain of any individual, or of any Board of Guardians, nor of the Poor Law Board. The latter had, on questions which had been brought before it, been willing to hear them, and to decide upon them for the best, according to its powers, or such powers as it was supposed practically to possess. In all that he had to propose he did so without interfering with any one, or with any established regulation. There was no need of intrusion upon any. What he suggested did not, he believed, give rise to any expense, or even anything that could be called trouble—it interfered with nothing. All he claimed was justice—and that justice had, no doubt, been intended by the framers of the law now in force—all he wished was in accordance with the evident intention of the law, which was chiefly regulated by the 19th section of the 4 & 5 Will. IV.—the Poor Law Act.

Now, he begged to say that looking at the case in the view in which it ought to be regarded, as one would think—the poor Protestant who entered a workhouse should in reality find greater advantages in a moral and spiritual point of view, than he who lived in some large populous town, or some remote country district. The atmosphere of the workhouse ought to he such as would conduce to this; a chaplain whose duty it was to instruct the inmates and advise them—officers who were there to see to order—charitable visitors who came to look after them; books lent to them; all this ought to confer on a poor man greater advantages than he had found before. And now what was the case in Ireland—in Ireland the Protestants were in the minority—in this country the Catholics were so. See how the privileges of the Protestants were guarded in Ireland. He would read the regulations as provided by the Poor Law. It shall be lawful for the said Commissioners, if they shall think fit, to provide a chapel, or to direct that a suitable apartment of the workhouse shall be specially appropriated for the religious worship of any denomination of Christians, being inmates of the workhouse."—[Moore's Irish Poor Law, p. 142,10 Vict. c. 31]. 1 & 2 Vict. c. 56, says, 'And he it enacted that the Commissioners shall take order for the due performance of religious service in such workhouses, and for appointing fit persons to be chaplains for that purpose.' It goes on to say that not more than three are to be appointed—one of the Established Church, one Protestant Dissenter, and one Roman Catholic."—[Moore's Irish Poor Law, p. 38.] DUTIES OF CHAPLAIN—1. To celebrate Divine Service, and to preach to the paupers, &c. 2. To visit any sick pauper from time to time, and at all times when he may be applied to for that purpose by the master or matron. 4. To examine and catechise the children at least once in every month," &c—[Moore's Irish Poor Law, p. 675.] Here, then, was provision showing how jealously the religion of the Protestant in that country was watched and guarded. Now take the case conversely—suppose a Catholic country where the Protestants were in a minority, and cases happened in regard to them similar to those as regarded Catholics in England. He would like to know how great would be the outcry on the part of certain Gentlemen in that House—we never should hear enough about the injustice and shame practised in such a case.

Now look at the poor Catholic who was in the workhouse. What ought to be done was that when once his creed was established he should be treated as of that religion, and facilities given him. But, perhaps he is not aware of his rights, and he encountered much difficulty. First, he must ask positively to see his own clergyman, and go through different forms in order to accomplish this; the request had to be conveyed through the wardsman, &c., to the master before he could get at him—and delays might take place. While arguing against difficulties which were uncalled for, of course he did not mean that some form was not necessary. Now the Act of Parliament seemed to give the Poor Law Board all kinds of power for general regulations, and that Act most clearly meant that religious rights and principles should be protected—and whose rights were they? They were those of the very poor and helpless, of those who had a right to be heard, and whose case was most deserving the attention of the House of Commons, who had none to befriend them, hardly, out of that House j whose case therefore he must strongly urge upon the House. But what happened when the Catholic clergyman was admitted. Why, even then, there were considerable limitations to his access to those who asked his attendance. The Act says that he may have access to an inmate at his request at "all times of the day." It is evident that all proper means of the clergyman seeing this poor man was intended, and that when a person had sent for him, he would, as a matter of course, be able to see him more than once; but this beneficent intention of the law is sometimes perverted into being obliged to send for the clergyman at each separate time of wishing to see him, thus giving infinite trouble to the officers of the house, and placing considerable difficulty in the way; and this happens to the poor and friendless man whom sickness, old age, or adversity has brought into the house; and who needs the comfort and consolation which he can derive from his clergyman alone. It is true, he admitted, that when hardships of this kind were brought before the Poor Law Board, as they had been in some instances, that Board had done what it felt it could to remedy the evil, but he wished he could say that the evil no longer existed. But when this was the kind of view taken in the working of the law, and when such was the interpretation placed upon it, it was clear that such evil cried for some remedy. But also in some cases one person might be kept waiting till others applied too; and he was quite shocked to say that he had even heard of cases in which, when a poor sick man had seen a Catholic clergyman in a ward, and when the clergyman had given him all the necessary spiritual consolation, if another from a neighbouring bed had called out that he was a Catholic and wished the assistance of the clergyman, the power of giving such assistance was denied the clergyman, although the person had himself requested the aid.

Well, then, some persons were allowed to go out of the workhouse to attend their religious service at their chapel, such as obtained that permission were sometimes not allowed to see the clergyman when he came to the workhouse, unless they were sick. Then, again, others were only allowed to go out to divine worship once a fortnight. But it was singular indeed to say that sometimes persons were not allowed to do so until they were sixty years old—now, as their religion required that they should sometimes attend their service fasting, that is, not having eaten anything since 12 o'clock on the previous night, how hard it was to make these poor old people wait until 11 or 12 o'clock in the day without eating—then, again, the clergymen were very busy on Sundays, and could not give up the time to see them on such occasions. But he begged the House to observe with what real absurdity these cases were covered, when, for example, it occurred that where deserted wives and young women were not allowed to go outside the house to attend chapel—a woman might have been deserted by her husband say at thirty—and would have to wait for thirty more years before she could attend divine worship. Both of these classes, who would much need advice and instruction, could only be seen in the workhouse, therefore, in the limited time—perhaps an hour and a half or two hours a week—accorded to the Catholic clergyman; after he had seen the sick, or others—a mere remnant of time. Now, common sense seemed to show that the greater was the obstruction to persons going outside the workhouse for service, the greater should be the facility granted inside. It was very easy to furnish Catholic inmates with the means of attending their religion inside the walls, in the Board-room, for example, and what had been mentioned in one book treating on these matters as an objection was really none at all—there was no difficulty about an altar to conduct the service. He maintained that attendance on their religious service should be treated not as a privilege, but as a duty. It was plain that these poor people set a value on such attendance, because the permission was restricted if they misbehaved, and they were punished by being kept from it for a time. The discipline of the workhouse was much assisted by attention to these affairs. As an instance, he had known a case where, in a prison, a prisoner of most violent character could not in any way be restrained, he bit and severely wounded a turnkey, at last, contrary to the discipline which is adopted in prisons (where great jealousy is shown towards the religion of Catholics) it was suggested, "let us send for a priest," the man being a Catholic—this, though contrary to rule, being done, and the priest obtained,—the man immediately submitted and became tractable.

What he wanted was, that the practice of workhouse discipline should be uniform and just; that it should be liberally carried out, as it was in some unions; it should be brought down to one general level; and not one rule here and another there.

And he spoke to the House in favour of these very poor helpless beings, who were looked down upon, and had very few friends; and entreated that their case might be treated as it ought, in bare justice, to be treated. The persons whose cause he advocated were weak; they appealed with confidence to the British House of Commons, as a body who would hear them and apply a remedy to the crying evils by which they were afflicted. If they were denied relief, it was a mere mockery to talk of this being a country of civil and religious liberty: where that really existed these evils could not be. We were so proud of our excellent legislation, yet see how defective it was on points of such importance, and which might be so easily remedied, without trouble, or difficulty, or disturbing others.

He thanked the House for the attention with which they had heard him; but he had now to intrude upon them with even, if possible, a worse case, and that was with regard to the children in workhouses and district schools. Now, evidently the 19th section of the 4th and 5th William IV. meant that the children should be brought up in the same religion as the parent. But as the thing stands in practice, observe how it works. Suppose, after due examination, a father and child admitted into a workhouse, they are properly described on the Register as Catholics. Well, following the usual method of treating the case, that child is nevertheless brought up as a Pretestant, unless the father takes a further step, and besides stating as at first the religion of which the child is—then actually objects to its being brought up a Protestant. Common sense would point out that it should be otherwise, but thus the burthen is thrown upon the parent of taking this course in defence of the child's and his—the parent's rights. There is great injustice in this. For one reason, because the parent, alone and friendless in the workhouse, may fear to object—he will be very likely to think that his position in the workhouse will be the worse for making objection and giving trouble, and making himself to a considerable extent an object of remark and of separation from the great body of persons under the same roof; or, suppose it is some single parent, indifferent to, and reckless of, the religion of the child; neglecting a pledge given to the father or the mother who may be dead, but who may have left to the survivor the charge of bringing up the child in the Catholic faith; well, the child is not so brought up, and thus loses its religious rights, in consequence of this anomalous legislation. Again, the parent may think, "I will not disturb the child now—it will get a good education—I can claim it hereafter—and bring it up in its old religion;" but this may easily not happen, and thus, in point of fact, the child is cheated out of its religion.

He had not time at this late hour of the night (past one o'clock) to show from the papers themselves the apparent discrepancy between the provisions of the 19th section of the Act, taken together with the Consolidated Order, No. 122. It only showed how carelessly the regulations on this subject had been made out. Taking them together, it would appear that they both prescribed religious protection to children, and by both of them that was limited to the children of inmates. Now how did this act in practice? Why, by the return of January 1st, 1859; in 629 Unions, out of 45,000 children in the workhouses, no less than 25,000 of these were "orphans, or other children relieved without parents;" thus a very great number were affected by this want of proper definition and proper attention to regulations for protecting religious rights.

But, now, how stood the case with regard to the district schools, and the numerous children placed in them? Whereas in the workhouse the persons to look after the religion of children were the parent; or in the case of an orphan the godfather and godmother—so in the district school there was a new regulation, and the next of kin came into play—and you might have this absurdity, that an orphan would be in a workhouse, entered as a Catholic but educated as a Protestant, claimed by the godfather, and the claim allowed, he might be instructed as a Catholic, moved to a district school, he would be again educated as a Protestant until the "next of kin" found him out, claimed him, and had him re-educated as a Catholic. Why, the thing was really absurd on the face of it, and it must be remembered that by the 8th and 9th of Vict. children were liable to be brought into district schools from a distance of twenty miles. Now how can the poor understand all these distinctions? In the workhouse the "next of kin" is no good; in the district school the godfather and godmother are of no use.

But the section also says, "child of inmate:" how then again as to deserted children—what becomes of them? In fact carelessness in these provisions is apparent, and in truth there is no equality for religion, and religious liberty is set at nought. In truth, at this instant, there are hundreds of Catholic children in district and pauper schools in the neighbourhood of this Metropolis, and, by very far indeed, the greater number of these Catholic children are being brought up as Protestants.

But now in order to claim a child and have him educated, you had cases where the personal attendance of the godfather was required. What a difficulty and a grievance was here. Who was the godfather or godmother? Who was the next of kin? Where were they? Perhaps the child was in London, the godfather at Liverpool or in Ireland; and here also were involved, waiting to establish the claim, loss of time, of wages, and so on; and all this for another person's child. Here was an instance of personal attendance being required and its consequences. Board Room, May, 1859. Dear Sir—I am directed by the Board of Guardians to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 18th instant, making application on behalf of Mrs.—for her godchild W—C—to be instructed in the Roman Catholic religion, also making a similar application for C—and A—, and I am to inform you that as the Board require the personal attendance of the godfathers and godmothers who object to the instruction of children in the establishment in the Established Religion, they are anxious to save you the trouble of making such written applications in future. I am, dear Sir, your obedient servant, —Clerk. But the person rightfully concerned in claiming may be far off in Australia or America perhaps. Here was a case where children were brought up Protestants because, though claimed by the mother, the claim was not allowed until the father in Australia was heard from. How was he to be got at? A Catholic woman in a workhouse has four children. The father, for want of work at home, has gone to Australia. He had been in a situation of trust. The boy used to attend the Catholic school. The mother said she knew her children were being brought up as Protestants, and that she wished the Roman Catholic clergyman to instruct them. She signed an application to the Board of Guardians, 4th March, 1860. She was called before the Board, stated her wish, and was told that her request should not be complied with till she had procured an application from her husband in Australia. This mother is entered in the indoor relief list in the workhouse as a 'Romanist.' Here was the case of a Catholic widow whose child was brought up in another religion, and which shows the evils which befell these poor persons:— A written application was sent by the mother to the Board of Guardians—the mother was ordered before the Board, and stated her wish. The Chairman said, 'it could not be complied with,' and to defeat the object of the application threatened to send the girl from the school to the adult house. The Poor Law Inspector inquired into this case. The Chairman acknowledged he had used the above threat, and refused to listen to the application of the mother. This was in April, 1859. The girl has never yet been allowed to receive any instruction from her clergyman. The Poor Law Inspector knows of this case personally, yet no redress has been granted. In this Union it would appear that the women and children are in separate houses, and mothers are only allowed to see their children four times a year. Thus, in consequence of these defects of legislation, this child loses its religion. Yes, and he had other cases too, but it was not proper at this late hour to bring them before the House.

These were only samples of the injustice which prevailed. He had another case, which he would not read, where children, the father being dead, were left by a mother, who went to America, in charge of a grandmother and aunts, who, contrary to the express directions of the mother, placed them in a workhouse. The mother wrote to beg they should be brought up as Catholics. A lady hearing of it went with the relations to the workhouse, they were insulted and unsuccessful.

In another, a Catholic sister applies for a girl, the girl being in the workhouse. She is moved from the workhouse to a Protestant establishment, the sister is unable to see her, or ultimately to hear of her, and access to her is refused.

He would not weary the House at this late hour more than he could possibly help, but he must remark upon one very large class, he was very sorry to say it was, which was also affected by this state of things—he meant the illegitimate children—in their cases the mother was powerless to prescribe the religion of her child, and yet the Poor Law throws upon her all the burden of the case. Surely she should have the power of saying how her child should be brought up. He deeply regretted to say that this was a very numerous class, there were of illegitimate children in 629 unions:— In workhouses, under sixteen years of age, of able bodied and not able bodied inmates there are—8,456 illegitimate to 10,382 legitimate; total, 18,838. He must say that everything in these workhouses and district schools was of a different nature to the religion of the child. These children and people, comparatively few, perhaps looked down upon and laughed at, demanded, under these circumstances, more attention than could be given to them by their clergyman in the hour or two in a week accorded to him. Sometimes, perhaps, on a Saturday half holiday, when the other children were at play, then the Catholic children were allowed to be stuffed with catechism, and so, in fact, it is made a punishment to them.

But there was one thing he must particularly advert to. Partly to remedy one of these abuses, the Poor Law Board had issued an Order last year on the 23rd of August. There was nothing of any interfering character about it, it was a mild order enough, but it was stated not to be law, and not to have any force. Now he particularly wished to know how this case stood. It seemed to him quite unaccountable. The law itself, and the writers on the law, seemed on all points to give the Commissioners the utmost power; in point of fact there were only two things they could not do: one was to warp the religion of anybody in the workhouses, the other not to prescribe directions to Boards of Guardians, with regard to an individual in reference to his relief. But here was an order about which, most strangely, there appeared to be a doubt; and an opinion, it seemed, adverse to the power of the Commissioners had been given. There were often differences of opinion among different people, and sometimes there were amongst lawyers; and he much wished to know whether there was no authoritative opinion upon this order, and whether it really was the law of the land or not? Here in a very important matter the necessity of doing something, of affording a remedy to a great evil, was admitted and tried to be remedied, yet nothing was, in fact, done. He now placed the case before the House of Commons, It was the case of people, the most poor, the most friendless, the least able to help themselves—such was a case which appealed loudly to the House of Commons, and which he felt would not appeal in vain to such an assembly of British Gentlemen.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to introduce Clauses requiring that a Creed Register be kept, both in Workhouses and District Schools, and be open to the inspection of the Ratepayers: and providing that access, at all reasonable and proper times, shall be had to every inmate of such Workhouses and District Schools by the minister of the religious persuasion to which he or she belongs.


said, although he believed that he was entitled by the forms of the House to ask them to reject the Motion of the noble Lord, on the ground that—either he proposed to the Committee to do what they had power to do without an Instruction, or to introduce matter which was foreign to the object of the Bill, and in either case an Instruction was informal. From the respect which he felt for his noble Friend and for the sincerity with which he advocated any matter affecting his religion, he would not avail himself of the power which he possessed. The subject, he could assure the noble Lord, was engaging the earnest attention of the Poor Law Board. The present Bill, however, did not profess to deal with anything beyond the immediate object with which it was framed,—it did not profess to remedy grievances, and additions such as those contemplated by his noble Friend could not be imported into it without serious inconvenience. The noble Lord's course ought to have been to wait for the Bill which, as he was aware, the Government intended specially to introduce, to effect amendments in the law, and he knew that it was the anxious wish of the Poor Law Board to provide for the evils of which Catholics reasonably complained, and which had reference to the attendance of ministers of different religions in the workhouses. The noble Lord well knew the difficulties with which the Poor Law Board had to contend, and the noble Lord could hardly doubt that he must be prejudicing his cause very much, by attempting to change the law in this respect in a manner that was so irregular. It was well known, that the present regulations with respect to the access of priests and other ministers to the inmates of workhouses rested on a provision in the Act, known as the New Poor Law Act, and could only be changed by an amendment of that Act. There was already some difficulty on the part of those who had to maintain the discipline of the workhouse, to know who to admit, for doubtless there were then many persons who sought to get admission as teachers of religion for the purpose of proselytism. He could not help thinking, therefore, that the noble Lord had not shown his usual discretion in attempting to accomplish his object, by means that were not quite regular, and which would interfere with the purpose of the Bill then before the House. There had been, he believed, some misapprehension with respect to the objects of the Bill, and it had been supposed that it was to extend the powers of the Board; it had, however, been carefully avoided to attempt anything of the kind—it was simply to continue the powers of the existing Board for the usual time, and did not in any way fetter the discretion of Parliament in causing any inquiry whatever to be made, either into the operation of the law or the Board. He hoped, therefore, that no further obstruction would be offered at this stage of the Bill, and that Members would not attempt in the absence of any evidence against the full success of the present system, without any complaints from the poor, and at a moment when a Report has been presented to the House, showing the most satisfactory results of the law, especially during the last year, to limit the duration of the Board for a less period than has been usual, and thus by casting discredit upon the central administration to paralyze its authority in future throughout the country. He firmly believed that it would be far better to abolish the Board at once than to weaken its power by such means. By the manner in which the Bill was drawn any change might be made hereafter in the powers of the Board, and he trusted, therefore, that the House would now allow the Bill to so into Committee.


said, he did not think it fair that the statement of the noble Lord should be allowed to pass without objection. He (Mr. Newdegate) was as willing as any man to give paupers in workhouses every facility for coming out to attend to their religious observance. He would also give the individual Catholic pauper the right of sending for his priest; but the House had already decided that it would not be safe to give Roman Catholic priests an ex officio right to enter workhouses and prisons. As to deserted children, he could not consent to the surrender of the rights of the Established Church in respect of such children. They ought to be brought up in the religion of the State.

MR. EDWIN JAMES moved the adjournment of the Debate.


expressed a hope that Mr. Speaker would give his opinion on the point raised on the Motion of the noble Lord.


said, that if he had considered the Instruction was out of order it would have been his duty to inform the House, and save them from the discussion which had taken place. Whether on a Continuance Bill it was a convenient occasion to introduce such an Instruction was an entirely different question, but in point of form he did not think that the noble Lord was out of order.


said, he would recommend the noble Lord (Lord E. Howard) not to proceed with his Motion, and he hoped the House would proceed with the Bill, which was merely a continuance Bill.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

The House divided:—Ayes 40; Noes 97: Majority 57.

Question again proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to introduce Clauses requiring that a Creed Register be kept, both in Workhouses and District Schools, and be open to the inspection of the Ratepayers; and providing that access, at all reasonable and proper times, shall be had to every inmate of such Workhouses and District Schools by the minister of the religious persuasion to which he or she belongs.


suggested that the noble Lord (Lord E. Howard) might remove difficulties by withdrawing his Motion and bringing up a clause in Committee.


said, he would beg to ask Mr. Speaker, would it be competent for the noble Lord to bring up a clause without such an Instruction as that which he now moved for?


decided that it would not be competent for the Committee to introduce such a clause without a special Instruction.


said, he should in that case support the Amendment. They all knew the excitement recently caused by the alleged interference with the religion of a single Protestant child. There were hundreds of children of Catholic parents who were being brought up in the Protestant religion. Was that consistent with the principle of religious toleration?


said, that as he began by saying, so he now repeated, that it was most distant from his wish to introduce a religious subject into the House, or to give the House trouble by taking up its time. His right hon. Friend the President of the Poor Law Board was mistaken in supposing that he had blamed the Poor Law Board. Such was not the case, he not only did not do so, but he had stated that the Board was deserving of credit, so far as its action had gone. If his right hon. Friend would really undertake to take into his best consideration the evils he had stated, with a view of remedying them in the Bill he had mentioned as being prepared to bring before Parliament, he would not press his Motion. The subject was felt to be of so much importance that he was prepared to go very great lengths in its behalf. The settlement of this question would, he felt, save much trouble to this House, and also to Boards of Guardians, because such grievances could not exist without Borne remedy being attempted, and without the cases, if unredressed, being complained of and brought before this House.


said, the matter was already under the consideration of the Poor Law Board. One portion of what the noble Lord required could be carried out by Board order. The other would require legislation. If what the noble Lord asked for could be done with safety, he (Mr. Villiers) should endeavour to effect it.


said, he would withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House in Committee.

Bill considered in Committee. House resumed. Committee report Progress; to sit again on Monday next.

House adjourned at half after Two o'clock till Monday next.