HC Deb 17 February 1863 vol 169 cc460-7

said, he rose to move for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the law relating to the religious instruction of prisoners in the county and borough prisons in England and Scotland. His Motion was intended to redeem a pledge which he gave last Session on the occasion of the discussion of a Bill introduced by the hon. and learned Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy), when he expressed the opinion that the law was in a state which required some alteration, in justice to that large body of prisoners who were not members of the Established Church. He would state what the law was which he proposed to alter. The Bill related only to what were termed borough and county prisons, not to convict prisons which were under the immediate charge of Government, and where the prisoners were under sentence of penal servitude. County prisons were regulated by the Act of 4 Geo. IV., c. 64, and borough prisons by 2 & 3 Vict., c. 56. The law of Scot- land was more recent—23 & 24 Vict., c. 105, but it contained provisions of the same diameter as those in the English Law. The 4 Geo. IV., c. 64, s. 28, required the justices in quarter sessions to nominate for each prison within their jurisdiction a clergyman of the Church of England as chaplain, and empowered them to award him a salary proportioned to the number of prisoners which the prison was calculated to receive, and payable out of the rate applicable to the maintenance of the prison. The general duties of the chaplain were de-fined to be, the performance of the morning and evening services of the Church of England on Sundays, Christmas days, and Good Fridays, and the frequent visiting every room and cell occupied by prisoners, for the purpose of directing such books to be distributed and read, and such lessons to be taught, as he may deem proper for the religious and moral instruction of the prisoners. It is, however, provided that— If any prisoner shall be of a religious persuasion different from that of the Established Church, a minister of such persuasion, at the special request of such prisoner, shall be allowed to visit him or her at proper and reasonable times, under such restrictions imposed by the visiting justices as shall guard against the introduction of improper persons, and as shall prevent improper communications. But although, at the special request of any such prisoner, a minister of the church or persuasion to which he belongs is allowed to attend, that in no way modifies the right or duty of the chaplain to visit and minister to prisoners of all persuasions. There was one modification, only applicable to prisoners under sentence of death. In this case, if the prisoner makes a request to be attended by a minister of his own persuasion, the chaplain is not to attend him, it being felt unseemly to have controversial discussions going on in presence of a prisoner, and within a few hours of his execution. That is the law at present with regard to the borough and county prisons in England, and in its main features it is the same in Scotland. The Bill was not confined to any religious class or denomination, but its application would chiefly refer to Roman Catholic prisoners, for the reason that there were but comparatively few prisoners belonging to any Protestant dissenting denomination, while in some prisons there was a large number of Roman Catholics. Since these Acts were passed, intercourse between all parts of the United Kingdom had become much more frequent, and in many large towns of Great Britain the Irish formed a considerable part of the working population, and unfortunately contributed largely to the crime of the district. A Return had had been moved for with reference to this subject by his noble Friend the Member for Arundel, which extended to May, 1862, from which he found that the whole number of Roman Catholics in county and borough prisons in Great Britain was at that time 3,371, exclusive of convict prisons, which contained about 1,400. With regard to convict prisons, arrangements had been made for the payment of Roman Catholic priests, under direction of the Secretary of State out of funds granted by Parliament for the purpose; but with regard to those 3,371 Roman Catholics in the county and borough prisons no provision had been made by the existing law. The distribution of those prisoners was very unequal. There were of Roman Catholic prisoners 67 in Birmingham, 94 in Stafford, 141 in Kirkdale, 124 in Wandsworth, 183 in the House of Correction, Westminster; 207 in Manchester, 147 in Salford, and 485 in Liverpool, being more than one-half of the prisoners in that goal. In Glasgow and Edinburgh there was also a very large number of Roman Catholic prisoners. There was no provision by law for the religious instruction of these prisoners by ministers of their own faith, except the special Request clause, and the return showed that comparatively few made the request. This fact had been used as an argument against any further provision being made, but the class of persons who are found in our gaols are not likely to appreciate religious instruction. It would, no doubt, be the same with other denominations; the chaplain of the Established Church would have little to do if he had only to attend to those who made special request for his attendance. That fact constituted an additional obligation on the Legislature to see that means of religious instruction were placed within their reach. The provisions of the Bill were not compulsory, but permissive. It had been frequently stated by visiting justices that the special request clause tied their hands, and he proposed to remove all doubt on the subject by giving power to the local authorities (that is, justices in counties, visiting justices in boroughs, and in Scotland those who had the control of prisons). where the number of prisoners not belonging to the Established Church was so large as in their judgment to render it expedient, to appoint a minister whose special duty it should be to attend to the religious instruction of the prisoners of that denomination; and, if they should think fit, that they should pay a reasonable sum to any such minister as remuneration for his services, the sum to be charged on the same fund as the salaries of the other officers. There would be cases in which the numbers were not so large as to require a special appointment to be made, and in such cases it was proposed that the justices might permit a minister, without any special request, to attend the prisoners of any particular denomination, if they thought fit. A register of prisoners would be kept showing the religious persuasion of each, and that register would be open to the inspection of any minister appointed or permitted under this Bill to visit the gaols. He proposed to limit the statutable obligation imposed on the chaplains belonging to the Established Church to visit prisoners, so that that obligation should not extent to prisoners who were attended by ministers of other denominations. He ought perhaps to mention that by the law as it now existed in Ireland ample provision was made for the object which he was seeking to secure in England. In Ireland the law required that a chaplain, of the Established Church should be appointed for every gaol, and it was in the power of the grand jury to provide for the appointment of a Presbyterian or a Roman Catholic chaplain, according as either denomination was most numerous in particular parts of the country. the effect of that law, although only an empowering statute as regarded the appointment of chaplains of the two last denominations, had been that in almost all the prisons of Ireland chaplains of one or other of those religious bodies had been appointed. He might also refer to the practice adopted in the military prisons, where that was done which he proposed to do with respect to civil prisons—namely, to divide the Protestant and the Unman Catholic prisoners into two classes, and to allow a Roman Catholic priest to attend to the latter. He knew the strong feeling entertained on the matter, and the jealousy which existed in regard to granting additional privileges to Roman Catholic priests. But, looking to the large number of Roman Catholics in the prisons, he thought some attempt ought to be made to remedy what was undoubtedly a serious grievance. It was a remarkable fact that in all Ireland, where the Roman Catholic prisoners were under the care of chaplains of their own persuasion, the total number of such prisoners in the county and borough gaols was about 1,000 less than the corresponding class in England, in May last, the date of the Returns to which he had referred. As both countries were under the same constitution, and had the same Established Church, he could not see why there should be any difference in principle between the law of England and Ireland on the subject. He trusted that the Bill would be allowed to be introduced. He proposed to fix the second reading for that day fortnight, and he earnestly hoped that it would be discussed in a spirit of Christian charity, without any attacks upon the religious belief of any portion of our fellow subjects, but with a simple desire to do by others who differed from us in creed that which we would wish to be done towards ourselves under similar circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, that he had understood the right hon. Baronet to have said that under the Bill justices of the peace in Scotland could order the payment of the chaplains who might be appointed. Now, it was well known that the only source from which the money could come for such purposes in Scotland was the county, and the money of the county could be obtained only through the Commissioners of Supply.


said, he would ask the Home Secretary how he could reconcile it to himself to afford direct and compulsory privileges to Roman Catholic chaplains, when the Constitution of 1688 emphatically declared that the Roman Catholic religion should not be encouraged. The measure came before the House bearing the distinct lineaments of the Roman Catholic priesthood, and be objected to conferring further privileges or giving any additional money to support an imperium in imperio so hostile to civil and political liberty. At present Roman Catholic prisoners could obtain the ministrations of priests of their own Church if they desired it, and the Bill was therefore unnecessary. During the recess the right hon. Baronet had actually furnished those priests with keys to admit them to the cells of prisoners. Was that consistent with the civil and religious freedom of those so-called Roman Catholic prisoners who did not desire to see their priests? Why, the very acts which brought these men within the walls of a prison were directly taught in the books of Roman Catholic writers. The Returns obtained on the Motion of the noble Lord who represented Arundel (Lord Edward Howard) during the last Session clearly showed that not one-tenth of the prisoners avowing themselves to be Catholics ever sent for the priest at all. On the second reading of the Bill he would adduce evidence as to the doctrines and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church.


said, he wished to thank the Government for having introduced the Bill. At the same time, he would point out what he regarded as a weak point in it—the discretion left to the magistrates, who, in many instances, might be the members of a bigoted board. There was no reason why twenty Roman Catholic prisoners, if their names were on the registry, should not have the advantage of the ministration of a clergyman of their own Church, as well as if their number happened to be 50 or 100. It was, he thought, but right to add, that if there were as large a number of Roman Catholic prisoners in the gaols in England as the right hon. Baronet had stated, the fact was to be accounted for by the circumstance that it was the poorest classes among the Irish people who found their way to Liverpool and the other large English towns, and that the law with respect to removability operated with extreme harshness in their case.


suggested that the number of Roman Catholic prisoners in a gaol should simply affect the amount of salary to be paid, adding that he felt assured he was merely speaking the sentiments of the clergymen of that Church, when he said they were perfectly ready to minister to the wants of every prisoner in every gaol in England without one farthing of remuneration. The regulations, he added, which prevented a Roman Catholic priest from visiting a prisoner unless at his own request operated most harshly; those who were hardened in crime, and who needed his ministration most, being the very persons who never made such a request. In illustration of the justice of the statement he might allude to a case which had been mentioned to him by a highly-respected clergyman — the Rev. Canon Oakley—in which the father and mother of a prisoner had begged of him to afford spiritual aid to a son of theirs, who was in gaol, but who had not asked for his services, and whom, in consequence, he was prevented by the prison regulations from visiting. Moreover, an Irishman did not understand the question, "Do you wish to see a minister of your own persuasion?" He supposed, when the word "minister" was used, that a Protestant minister was implied; and thus many difficulties arose from prison authorities speaking to prisoners in a language they did not understand.


said, he was glad the hon. Members for Dungarvan and Dundalk had expressed their satisfaction with the Bill as far as it went, and it was only natural that they should do so. By the admission of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State it was not asked for by the prisoners, and it would be extremely distasteful to the whole body of justices. It was then a concession to Roman Catholic priests—in fact, an invasion of the civil and religious freedom of the prisoners. He believed that the Bill would be received by the country as a political concession on the part of the Government which they would lament; and he trusted that on the second reading the House would prevent the forcing into the cells of the unwilling prisoners the representatives of a priesthood whose success in moral instruction was illustrated by the enormous preponderance of Roman Catholic prisoners in our gaols. He would not attempt the discourtesy of dividing the House now; but he must enter his protest against the Bill in the name of the Roman Catholic prisoners, who had manifested their distaste for the ministrations intended for them, and also, by their acquiescence in the teaching of the clergy of the Established Church, had shown, so far as they were competent to judge of their own moral requirements, that their condition in England was far preferable to that which the right hon. Gentleman thought more desirable in Ireland. He knew not how the Bill was recommended to the right hon. Gentleman except as a matter of political necessity; and he trusted that on the second reading, if there was a political pressure on one side, hon. Members would show there was a pressure on the other.


said, he thanked the Government for having fulfilled the promise which they made last Session, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) for having suggested the measure, precedents for which were to be found in the action of the Earl of Derby, when Lord Stanley, with regard to the colonies, and in the warrant of the Secretary for War under that noble Earl's Government with respect to military prisons.


said, that the Bill involved a great principle—namely, that where there was a small congregation of Roman Catholics there a priest was to be provided and to be paid by the country. If that were the principle, why was it not to be extended to villages and towns as well as prisons? He believed this was the principle involved, and the result would be that the Protestant Church must make up its mind speedily to divide the revenues of the Church with the Roman Catholics.


said, that in answer to a question which had been asked by an hon. Member he had to state that with regard to the source from which the cost was to come in Scotland, it was proposed that where there was no special fund it should come out of the funds applicable to the expenses of the prison. In reply to the hon. and learned Member for Reading (Mr. Serjeant Pigott), he also had to remark that the case of persons in prison was entirely different from that of the free inhabitants of towns and villages.


said, he wished to ask that the second reading of the Bill should not be taken in so short a period as a fortnight.


said, that the Bill was printed, and would, he hoped, be circulated on the following day. He would fix the second reading for that day fortnight; but if further time was generally desired for the consideration of the measure, he should not object to give it.

Motion agreed to. Bill for the amendment of the Law relating to the Religious Instruction of Prisoners in County and Borough Prisons in England and Scotland, ordered to be brought in by Sir GEORGE GREY and Mr. BRUCE.

Bill presented, and read 1°. [Bill 24.]