HC Deb 09 July 1862 vol 168 cc112-23

Order for Second Reading Read.


said, he rose to move the second reading of this Bill, and observed that the Act 4 Geo. IV., which regulated the treatment of Roman Catholic prisoners, drew a distinction between them and those prisoners who happened to belong to the Church of England. That distinction pressed very severely on the former, and that the House might see that the grievance which he sought to obviate by means of the Bill was not one of a merely theoretical character, he would take the liberty of quoting from Returns which had been laid on the table, and which gave the denominations to which those confined in the various gaols throughout England and Wales belonged. Turning to page four of the Return he found that in Brixton prison the number of convicts belonging to the Church of England was 350; to the Church of Rome, 234; while the Dissenters were 11, the Wesleyans 11; there being five prisoners with no religion, four Baptists, and three members of the Church of Scotland. Taking the next six county prisons in succession, he found that in the first, the Lancaster county gaol, there were 52 prisoners who were members of the Church of England, 30 Roman Catholics, 4 Wesleyan Methodists, and one or two belonging to other Dissenting bodies; while in the borough gaol of Kirkdale there were 304 Protestants, 141 Roman Catholics, and 8 Dissenters. Next came the house of correction, Preston, in which there were 210 Protestants, and 77 Roman Catholics; the numbers in the New Bailey prison, Salford, being 244 Protestants, and 147 Roman Catholics; in the borough gaol, Liverpool, 361 Protestants, and 485 Roman Catholics; and in the city gaol, Manchester, 293 Protestants, and 207 Roman Catholics, besides a few who were members in each instance of Dissenting bodies. It appeared, moreover, from the same Return, that in the house of correction, Westminster, the number of prisoners of the Church of England persuasion was 341, while the Roman Catholics numbered 183. Having mentioned these facts, he had, he thought, said sufficient to show that the grievance for which he desired to provide a remedy was one of a practical character. The Return from which he had already quoted, however, enabled him to tell the House the number of prisoners of each denomination who had been visited by a minister of their own Church, and he found that in the borough gaol of Liverpool only 36 out of 485 Roman Catholics had been so visited during the previous three months; while in the city gaol, Manchester, which contained 207 Roman Catholic prisoners, the number who had received in the same time the visits of a Roman Catholic clergyman amounted only to three. It appeared also, that although in the Carlow county gaol there were no prisoners belonging to the Established Church, and no Presbyterians, yet there was attached to the gaol a Protestant chaplain, who received £30 per annum; while in connection with the Galway town gaol a similar state of things prevailed. The sum total, he might add, of the prisoners in England and Wales who were members of the Roman Catholic Church amounted, he found, to 14 per cent. Now it was true that the law provided that every prisoner might, on making a special request to that effect, receive the visits of a clergyman of his own persuasion; but it did not allow a Roman Catholic priest, who might attend a gaol at the special request of one of the inmates, to assemble together two or more of the prisoners for the purpose of giving them religious instruction, so that in the case of 136 Roman Catholics who had received the visits of a priest in Liverpool, spiritual aid was obliged to be administered to each separately. Now, the Bill which he had the honour to submit to the House, and which sought to make it lawful that a number of prisoners might be assembled together under these circumstances, he believed, met so far with the unanimous approval of the visiting justices, as well as of the prison authorities, as was demonstrated by correspondence on the subject which he held in his hand. The portion of his Bill, therefore, which bore upon that point, had the sanction of those to whose views hon. Members would be disposed to attach considerable weight. He found that in some gaols—for example, in the Stafford county gaol—the severity of the law was mitigated, and that a Roman Catholic priest was allowed to visit the 94 members of that persuasion who were prisoners there when he felt disposed. Now, what he sought to effect was that that privilege which was granted by the visiting justices in some instances in violation of the law, should obtain legislative sanction, and that they should thus be enabled to do without difficulty that which they were anxious to accomplish. He might add that he was prepared to strike out the first clause, which related to the keeping of a register, if it was objected to. The second clause, in which provision was made that the visiting justices should appoint a Roman Catholic chaplain in case there were a certain number of prisoners in the gaol, he proposed should operate so far only as to secure such an appointment being made in those instances in which it was really called for; as for example, when the number of such persons amounted to twelve or twenty. Neither was it his intention to insist that the clergyman appointed by the visiting justices should necessarily be one nominated by the bishop of the district in which the appointment was made. The Bill did not contain a clause providing that a salary should be given to the Roman Catholic chaplain, while, at the same time, he thought it would be but right that those who performed the duties of that office should receive some remuneration for their services, and that view he should be prepared to support in Committee. So far as the principle of the Bill was concerned, he had, he might add, the support of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, who, when Home Secretary in 1853, had said— The Catholic prisoner ought to be equally sure of receiving religious instruction from a clergyman of his own creed, and equally sure that the testimony with regard to his conduct in prison, so far as his conduct depended on his religious instruction, should be given by an instructor of his own religion, and not be dependent upon the opinion of one who was hostile to his creed." [3 Hansard, cxxix., 1569.] Again, on the 29th of April in the present year the noble Lord said— The only principle which he could see involved in the Vote was the principle of justice; for he had always felt that it was most unjust that persons who were by the law placed in seclusion should be deprived of the spiritual attendance of ministers of their own faith. When a person was at large, he might go to his own church; they were not then bound to supply his spiritual wants; but when they confined him within four walls, they were bound, not only in justice, but as a matter of public expediency, to give to the Roman Catholic the benefit of religious instruction and the same chance of reformation which they gave to the Protestant." [3 Hansard, clxvi., 1089.] He felt confident, that if hon. Members would look into the subject, they would agree with the noble Lord in the principle he had laid down. That principle had already been carried into effect in the prisons in Ireland, and in the military and convict prisons in this country. The House had recently given a Vote for Roman Catholic Chaplains, which was going further than he proposed to go on the present occasion, and he believed the Home Secretary was now engaged in framing regulations for convict prisons which would answer all the purposes of his Bill. He appealed to the House on behalf of a poor and criminal class, to whose criminality the law added suffering beyond the demands of justice. He hoped his appeal would not be made in vain.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, that the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Hennessy) had not accounted for the singular fact that only a small number of those prisoners who were registered as Roman Catholics desired the ministration of their priests. It would appeal that no sooner did Roman Catholics get the walls of a prison placed between them and their priests than they seemed to be actuated by a wish to avail themselves of the services of Protestant chaplains and Scripture readers. The Returns cited by the hon. and learned Member showed that only a very few Roman Catholic prisoners desired to be visited by their priests, and he therefore asked the House not to force an unfortunate class of persons to receive what he supposed he must call religious instruction against their will. Such a species of legislation would be contrary to the principles of civil and religious liberty. He believed that this Bill was not a Bill on behalf of Roman Catholic prisoners, but a Bill on behalf of Roman Catholic priests; and as such it dealt, not with a religious, but with an ecclesiastical question. The priests desired to keep Roman Catholic prisoners under their subjection, but he trusted the House would do nothing to aid them in the accomplishment of that object. All attempts to conciliate, under the name of toleration, not the Roman Catholic people, but the Roman Catholic priests, had entirely failed, and had led only to increased demands. He had in his possession a statement by a military officer that such had been the encouragement given to priests in the army that in case of any question involving Roman Catholic feeling, not he and his brother officers, but the priests, would have the control of our soldiers. When the system of conciliation began, the Irish constabulary cost £440,000 a year; it now cost something like £780,000. He defied any hon. Gentleman to show that further attempts should be made, by grants or otherwise, to conciliate that great intellectual organization which, under the pretence of religion, endeavoured to govern the policy of this country. The second clause of the present Bill proposed to allow the Roman Catholic bishops to appoint Roman Catholic chaplains. According to the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, Roman Catholic bishops were not recognised in this country, and hence the proposal of the hon. and learned Member could not be entertained for a moment. The Roman Catholic Church was represented by two sets of men, holding two sets of principles. One class, to whom he did not object, went forth as religious teachers; the other consisted of members of that great intellectual organization to which he had just referred, and were retained in the service of the Church solely on account of their ability to combine and operate for political purposes. If the Bill were carried as it stood, the Roman Catholic bishops might appoint as chaplains persons belonging to this order—men who had no religion. The preamble of the Bill was a direct and deliberate insult to the constitution of this country. It set forth the strange doctrine that the religious and moral instruction given in prisons should be based upon and be in conformity with the religious convictions of the prisoners. The religious convictions of prisoners might be of the most varied description. There were persons who deemed it part of their religion to commit murder, and he wished to know whether, if Thugs were to be found in our prisons, we were to be obliged to instruct them according to their religious convictions. The Mormons were in favour of a plurality of wives. Were we to aid in the propagation of that doctrine, if not actually to allow Mormon prisoners the society of their wives? He contended, in short, that the preamble of the Bill, while ignoring that simple standard of Christianity, the Bible, proclaimed to the country that religious truth was a matter of no consequence at all.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."


said, that he entirely disagreed with almost every word that had fallen from the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The question before the House, which was one of undoubted difficulty, had been brought forward in so able and temperate a manner, and with so many and such strong arguments, that he was anxious to state at once why he was unable to assent to the Bill. He admitted that a grievance had not only been stated, but clearly shown to exist, and he thought a remedy ought to be provided; but he had told the hon. and learned Member privately that the provisions of his Bill were very objectionable, and that on that account it would be impossible for him to vote for the second reading. At the same time, considering that there were in this country eight prisons in which there were above 100 Roman Catholic prisoners, while in many others the number ranged above 50, he thought it was clear that something should be done. He submitted that a remedy should be found by the Government, who ought to consider the whole question, and bring forward upon their own responsibility a measure which, while steering clear of the many difficulties that surrounded the subject, would do substantial justice to the Roman Catholic portion of the community. The clause in the present Bill which gave the nomination of Roman Catholic chaplains to the Roman Catholic bishops was peculiarly objectionable. He did not say that it actually amounted to a violation of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, but it "sailed far too near the wind to be pleasant." Our own chaplains were appointed by the visiting justices, and the Bishops of the Established Church had no more to do with them than he had; indeed, not so much, because he happened to be a visiting justice. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) had used a most extraordinary argument—namely, that no case had been made out by the author of the Bill, because the great bulk of Roman Catholic prisoners did not want to see a priest. Certainly, a thief was not the most likely man to desire to be reformed, and the hon. Member might as well have said that criminals did not wish to be imprisoned for their misdeeds. But our object was to reform as well as to punish; and if the prisoners in our gaols were allowed to refuse the visits of clergymen, and to shut themselves up with their own evil thoughts, the odds were that, instead of reforming them, we should return them to society more hardened then before. It had occurred to him that the best way of dealing with the matter, so as to steer clear of all the difficulties which beset it in an ecclesiastical point of view, would be to give the visiting justices power under an Act of Parliament, in cases were necessity existed, to provide and pay for the religious instruction of all prisoners not belonging to the Established Church, whether Roman Catholics or Protestant Dissenters. He advised the hon. and learned Gentleman to withdraw his Bill, and to leave the matter in the hands of the Government.


begged to express his entire concurrence in the general opinions stated by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley). Those opinions were not now put before the House for the first time. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman had substantially repeated to-day the statement which he himself addressed to the House on a recent occasion, when he induced the House to grant a sum of money to be placed at the disposal of the Government to enable them to provide for the attendance of Roman Catholic priests in convict prisons. He based that proposal on the large number of Roman Catholic prisoners confined in convict prisons, on the absence of any provision for their religious instruction, and on the practical result in the cases of Dartmoor and Portland—namely, that the attendance of the priests, who lived at a distance, was most irregular. He was happy to say that arrangements were now in progress by which that grievance would be removed in convict prisons. It had been truly said that this subject was attended with great difficulty, and, with an anxious desire to remove what he admitted to be a practical grievance, he regretted to say that the provisions of the present Bill were such as would render him unable to vote for the second reading. There was a distinction, which had not been adverted to, between the convict prisons and the county and borough prisons. There was a power to appoint chaplains to convict prisons, but their duties were not strictly defined by law. In the borough and county prisons the duties of the chaplain were very accurately defined; one of those duties being that the chaplain should visit every prisoner, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic; and if the prisoners were under separate punishment, the chaplain was obliged to visit them daily. Every Roman Catholic prisoner might, at his own special request, see a priest; and if one was within reach, no doubt a priest would be found willing to attend, and the law gave to that priest a right to attend that prisoner. But it was impossible to look at the return on the table without seeing, that although such was the provision of the law, it had very little practical operation. In Liverpool gaol, for instance, there were above 500 Roman Catholic prisoners, but only between thirty and forty had requested to see a priest. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) said they should exclude priests from access to Roman Catholic prisoners, because they would inculcate error, and that only truth should be inculcated. But the law did not go to that length. It expressly authorized the attendance of Roman Catholic priests where a prisoner desired it. That doctrine was not held with regard to the army, and the cases, to a certain extent, were analogous. Both in the army and in military prisons ample provision was made for the religious instruction of Roman Catholics. The principle, he thought, should be adopted in regard to gaols generally. In a matter of so much difficulty he was unwilling to pledge himself to a Bill on the subject. He felt, however, that it was one which deserved the consideration of the Government. He had given a good deal of consideration to it, and he trusted he might be able to submit some measure founded on the principle stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley)—namely, giving power to justices to secure the attendance of ministers of other persuasions than the Established Church—not confining the relief to the Roman Catholics—and, according to the circumstances of each case, to do what was now done in convict prisons; not compelling the attendance of persons of any denomination on the minister of that denomination but giving them the fullest opportunity of doing so. With regard to the provisions of this Bill, he must say that they were open to very serious objection. The hon. and learned Gentleman was ready to make extensive alterations, but he was still unprepared to assent to the second reading. In the case of convict prisons, chaplains were appointed by the Secretary of State, and in county and borough prisons by justices. Not only had they the power of appointment, but of removal, in the case of chaplains as of all other prison officers. It was essential to the proper exercise of their responsibility that the law should not take away from them that authority. Under this Bill, however, the Roman Catholic bishop was to have the power of appointment. It was true a clergyman of the Established Church could not officiate legally within any diocese without the licence of his Bishop; but the Bishop was not able to nominate, nor could he remove except by withdrawing his licence. He had no power to interfere with the discretion of the justices in the removal of a chaplain. The third clause, however, of this Bill gave the Roman Catholic Bishop absolute power to remove the priest. There were other objections to the Bill, but he did not wish to go into them now. The hon. and learned Gentleman had asked them to agree to the preamble of the Bill; but they must look to the provisions of a Bill, and therefore, while believing that a grievance existed, he could not, looking at the objections he had stated, give his assent to the second reading. He recommended the hon. and learned Gentleman to withdraw the Bill.


said, that he cordially accepted the intimation given him by the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) that the question would be considered by the Government, with the view, probably, to the introduction of an efficacious measure on the subject. He should therefore, with the leave of the House, withdraw his Bill.


said, he had to present a petition from the visiting magistrates of the gaol of Birmingham, to the effect that there was a large number of Roman Catholic prisoners in that gaol, and that the present law afforded them ample opportunity for the exercise of their religion and the reception of religious instruction from their own pastors. They prayed that the House would not assent to the Bill, as they believed that its effect would inevitably be to restrict the religious freedom of the prisoners themselves. He was deeply concerned at what he had just heard. It appeared to him evident that both his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) and the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department were determined to ignore the most important circumstances connected with the Roman Catholic community throughout the world—circumstances which were exemplified in the recent movements of the priesthood of that Church. For all political purposes the Church of Rome had incorporated itself with the Jesuit organization, which was essentially political. At the recent meeting of the Roman Catholic Bishops at Rome the more moderate opinions which were once held to be consistent with the original organization of the Catholic Church were cast aside, and Ultramontane principles were triumphant. The head of the Ultramontane party in this kingdom was Cardinal Wiseman, who was their leader and amanuensis, and that Prelate maintained his position as the exponent of the Papal aggression act, which it was the intention of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act to forbid. ["Question!"] This was the question; for the subject was touched upon in the Bill before the House. There was an attempt to recognize the official power of the Roman Catholic Bishops, which was condemned by the Ecclesiastical Titles Act. He begged to call the attention of the House to this, that the intention to organize the Roman Catholic community in this country for political purposes was the avowed object of Cardinal Wiseman; and also to this fact, that according to the Roman Catholic canon law, as expressed in the petition of the priests of the northern district, the powers conferred upon Cardinal Wiseman by the rescript of 1850 enabled him to convene synods of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, in which, as Cardinal, he was supreme, and thereby to annul the independence which had previously been enjoyed by the Roman Catholic priests and laity in this country. If the Bill were passed, the nomination of the chaplains would not rest with the Roman Catholic Bishops, as independent ecclesiastical authorities, but would be practically exercised by the dictation of Cardinal Wiseman, who had intruded himself into these realms as a temporal officer of the Roman Pontiff. In a lecture delivered in 1850, in order to explain the character of the Mission with which he was invested by the rescript of 1850, Cardinal Wiseman said, "There is at present a religious conflict going on in this country. The Catholics here are not and never have been"—which he (Mr. Newdegate) begged to deny—"merely a collection of persons holding certain opinions in common, but a systematized, organized, religious community, representing here the Catholic Church" He would not trouble the House with further extracts. But unpleasant as the recognition of that fact might be to those who would support the political objects of this organization, he begged to refer them to the debate of June 12, 1854, for further proof of this—that Cardinal Wiseman distinctly explained that he was sent here to organize the Roman Catholics as a community separate from the remainder of Her Majesty's subjects. He begged to call the attention of the House to the fact that by a document recently issued in Ireland by Legate Cullen, it was patent to every person possessed of ordinary capacity that this organization was to affect Roman Catholics in matters of a temporal as well as of an ecclesiastical and spiritual character. If, therefore, that House had any regard for the peace of the country, they would not ignore the fact that they had to deal with a foreign political organization established here, and ought not to allow their benevolent feelings to lead them to the erroneous belief that by giving Roman Catholic priests, subject to this political organization, official access to the gaols of this country, they would be securing either the religious freedom or the effectual moral reformation of the prisoners, but that they would be affording means for the exercise of a temporal power notoriously adverse to the whole constitution of the country and the freedom which it generates. He was sorry to trespass on the attention of the House; but when he heard it said that that organization was calculated to produce the reformation of our prisoners, he was forced to advert to the fact that the proportion of criminals in Ireland, where that organization had most power, was enormously greater than it was in any other part of Her Majesty's dominions. If reference were made to the Return submitted by the Home Secretary, it would be found that the Roman Catholic criminals in our gaols constituted a number larger out of all proportion to the actual number of the Roman Catholic community than did the prisoners of any other denomination. He trusted that the hon. Member (Mr. Hennessy) would not withdraw his Motion; for he hoped that the House would emphatically reject the Bill, and that its proposals, which were specific and deliberate, would meet with a specific and determined rejection.


said, that he must decline to withdraw his Amendment.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added. Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for three months.