HC Deb 06 June 1861 vol 163 cc682-4

said, that the lion. Baronet the Member for Tarn-worth had referred to a subject affecting 700 British subjects in Spain; but the subject to which he now wished to call the attention of the House referred to thousands of British subjects in this country, and involved a case of much greater oppression and religious persecution. He was told that quite close to that House there stood the Tothill Fields Prison; and in that prison, as in all others, the unfortunate Roman Catholic inmates were debarred from all religious worship, and that a priest was not allowed to minister to them. Some months ago the Roman Catholic clergyman was allowed to meet the Roman Catholic inmates of Tothill Fields Prison in a cell, a dozen at a time. The privilege was afterwards extended, and the Roman Catholic clergyman was allowed to meet them altogether in a corridor; but, as that arrangement was considered to interfere with the discipline of the prison, the clergyman was again obliged to address them in batches of ten or twelve. This privilege was afterwards withdrawn, and he could not blame the prison authorities, as the Solicitor General had given it as his deliberate opinion that, according to law, the Roman Catholic clergyman could only address the prisoners individually. He hoped the hon. Baronet would succeed in his object; but he thought that when their attention was called to the grievances of British subjects abroad, they ought also to look a little at home. He hoped the hon. Baronet would assist in relieving his own countrymen confined in English prisons from this sort of religious persecution.


agreed with his hon. and learned Friend that it was to be regretted that his co-religionists were deprived of the services of their priests, and especially that their unfortunate position prevented them from attending their regular places of worship; but there might be good reasons for this, which did not at all apply to the case of the Protestants in Spain, which had called forth the remark. Prisons were places intended for reforming criminals; and as he had not been contradicted, and could not be contradicted, in the statement which he made the other night, that Roman Catholic priests were enjoined, as part of their religious duty, to teach contempt and disobedience of the laws of this Protestant land, and which duty they were often known most zealously to perform, it appeared natural enough that the poor prisoners while under the public charge should he saved from the risk of such teaching. Add to which, if Roman Catholics could demand admission for their priests, every person of every other denomination of Christians could, with far more reason, demand like admission for their spiritual teachers. Moreover, Roman Catholic priests also almost invariably attempted some proselytism or some breach of the law if admitted within gaols or workhouses, and no wonder, for it was their positive duty to violate rules which prevented their effecting what they believed to be for the good of their Church. Thus, in addition to the general difficulty of admitting ministers of any creed to gaols, there was a special objection to the Roman Catholic priest.


said, he believed it was not the case that Roman Catholic inmates in Tothill Fields Prison were debarred from religious worship. He would, however, inquire into the facts, and if the hon. Gentleman would give notice and ask him a question on the subject he would be prepared to state exactly what the facts were; and he would ask his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General to give his legal opinion on the subject.


said, that having been a visiting magistrate for twelve months at Tothill Fields Prison, he could state that during that time no complaint had been made by the Roman Catholic prisoners that they were deprived of the opportunity of religious instruction.