HC Deb 18 May 1863 vol 170 cc1842-9

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir George Grey.)


said, that the Bill was a flagrant violation of the principles of religious liberty; and in allowing it to proceed thus far the House had made a false step, which he hoped they would at once retrace. The Roman Catholics were the only Dissenters for whose advantage the Bill was introduced, and the proposals to appoint Roman Catholic chaplains to gaols would be sure to lead to frequent angry discussion at the county meetings. It was not to be expected that sturdy Nonconformists who objected to pay church rates would willingly pay a rate which was to defray the salary of a Roman Catholic chaplain. Those who opposed church rates made a fatal blunder in supporting this Bill, and the sooner they retraced their steps the better. One effect of appointing Roman Catholic chaplains to gaols would be that they must be appointed to workhouses, for it would never be endured that chaplains were to be appointed to minister to the criminal, and not to the unfortunate and the sick and the aged. No class of Dissenters excepting Roman Catholics would ever have ministers of their denomination appointed as chaplains in gaols. His own notion of the proper plan was, that a chaplain should be appointed of the faith of the majority of the country—namely, that in England the chaplains should be Episcopalian, in Scotland Presbyterian, in Ireland Roman Catholic, with permission for the visits of the priests and ministers of the minorities, and of those other religious and benevolent persons who devoted themselves to the welfare of the prisoners. Of all the persons who visited the prisons he believed none did more good than those benevolent sympathizing Christians who went into the cells and road with the prisoners, and gave them good counsel and instruction. The practical working of the present Bill would, of necessity, interfere with all this. If a second Mrs. Fry were to wish to visit the prisoners, the Roman Catholic priest might prohibit her visits. Believing that the Bill would be a violation of religious liberty, that it would lead to angry debates, that it would be injurious to the Protestant Dissenters in England and Scotland, and that it would not benefit the prisoners themselves, he begged to move that it be read a third time on that day six months.

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


said, the subject had been so much debated that he would detain the House for a few seconds only. The fact upon which the Bill was grounded had not been controverted—namely, that there were among the inmates of the gaols of England and Scotland several thousands of Roman Catholic prisoners, for whose religious instruction no provision had been made beyond the special request clause, the practical effect of the law being that those prisoners were altogether without religious instruction. The principle of the Bill had up to that stage been sanctioned by the House, and he trusted that they would confirm their decision by agreeing to the third reading.


said, the right hon. Baronet had reminded the House that there were several thousand Roman Catholic prisoners in the gaols of this country. It was to be regretted, that in proportion to the numbers of each denomination, the largest number of prisoners should be prisoners professing the Roman Catholic religion. But had one instance yet been adduced in which a Roman Catholic prisoner desiring the attendance of his priest had remained without it? Not one solitary instance. And such had of late been the increase of Roman Catholic establishments in the country that it would be most astonishing if there had been one. The fact was, the Bill did not profess to supply an absolute deficiency, but it did profess to exclude the Roman Catholic prisoners from the teaching of any but the priests of the Romish Church; and he (Mr. Newdegate) said advisedly that it did that against the will of the prisoner. That he asserted with knowledge of the fact. The point taken by the hon. Member for Edinburgh was a very valuable one. There had been no provision hitherto made for payment of Roman Catholic priests out of the rates; and when this payment was supplied from the county rates, it would rouse a determined opposition. At present, there was opposition enough to church rates; and if the Bill passed, they would not long be without opposition to county rates. On the part of the visiting justices, he would only adduce this fact. There was not one petition from visiting justices in favour of the measure; there were sixty-eight against it. Besides, seventy-two boards of guardians had petitioned against the Bill. They saw, as they could not fail to see, that if the measure passed with respect to prisons, the fact would be used as a ground for claiming similar legislation with respect to workhouses. It was announced by the Roman Catholic body in 1859 that they then expected the establishment of Roman Catholic chaplains for union workhouses and that step once obtained would lead to a further and larger demand. Surely that was unexceptionable testimony as to the character of the Bill. It was only a step in legislation; it was so regarded by the Roman Catholics; it was so avowed. The right hon. Baronet had stated that the Estimates of the year contained a proposal for payment of Roman Catholic visiting chaplains in convict prisons; and that the proposal was sanctioned for the first time. But how was it passed? The Estimate was taken the first night after the Easter recess. When the House met, it was very thin; and it was urged that the Estimates which stood first on the Orders ought not to be passed under the circumstances. Well, the Government postponed those Estimates, and substituted another clause, including the Estimate for visiting priests of convict prisons. The Vote thus passed the House totally without notice, and without a single Member of the House except the Government being acquainted with the circumstance. Had not such been the fact, the objection to the Vote would have been as strong as ever. But even that Vote was not so objectionable as the Bill. A Vote in the annual Estimates did not imply the establishment of an office, and yet he never knew, till the accident he alluded to occurred, that Vote to be passed uncontested. A short time since he drew the attention of the House to the fact that the right hon. Baronet had been obliged to dismiss one of these visiting priests. The right hon. Baronet refused the House the information asked on the subject. The House divided on the question late one evening, and so great was the strength of the Government that the Motion for information was rejected. But he (Mr. Newdegate) had heard more of the case since, and no Member of the Government would contradict him when he said that the clerical personage in question had urged, that in the exercise of his religious functions, he ought not to be subject to the authority of the civil Government. And this assertion was but analogous with the repeated assertions which had been made by Roman Catholic prelates of late in this country, that their authority was superior to, and ought not to be controlled by any secular authority of the Government of the Queen. There was another point to which he would advert. Mr. Oakeley, a very distinguished member of the Roman Catholic Church, and once a Protestant, said the Roman Catholic Church was beginning to feel her true position in this country, and that they would no longer consent to be herded with other Dissenters; and the other day Mr. Wilberforce, also once a Protestant and now an Ultramontane Catholic, stated at Liverpool that the Roman Catholic Church was already dominant in several of the Colonies, and left the inference that she would soon be dominant here. It was clear, therefore, that every hon. Member who voted for the Bill voted for a long stride in the direction of raising up an antagonistic authority in this country, and placing that authority in a position of antagonism which could not but lead to collisions, heartburnings, and strife, as it had done before. Such was the nature of the Bill. The House were proposing to inflict upon the visiting justices of the gaols a jurisdiction which it was scarcely in the power of Government to exercise—that was, to control the rapidly increasing assumptions of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. They were doing that in the face of circumstances in Europe which had proved how intolerable was the domination of that Church under the influence which now guided her, and they were doing it on the plea of humanity, when the prisoners would far rather remain, as at present, free to claim the service of their priest if they wished it, but free also to avail themselves of the assistance of the Protestant chaplain should they be so minded. And let the House remember that these men dare not declare themselves Protestants; for, if they did, circumstances had come to his knowledge which prompted him to state to the House, that on leaving prison they would find impediments interposed against their getting employment amounting to a terrific penalty. The House were about to place these Roman Catholic prisoners under that penalty—to declare themselves adherents of a Church from which he knew that many of them would be glad to escape.


said, he could not but complain of an assumption of liberality and religious toleration on the part of the supporters of the Bill, an assumption at all times ungracious, and in that instance singularly ill founded; because if there was any difference as to liberality and consideration of others between those who supported and those who opposed the Bill, it would be entirely in favour of those who opposed it. The promoters of the Bill took no care of the smaller numbers of Catholic prisoners or Dissenters whose religious requirements might be unprovided for. There might be a dozen here and half a dozen there, but they might all go to perdition for anything the Bill would do for them. But whenever a certain number were congregated in one prison, who could derive no comfort from the ministrations of a chaplain of the national religion, then for the first time the Bill came with a very pretentious provision. For his part, he should wish to see some provision made for all whose consciences would be violated by the religious ministrations offered, whether few or many, and that, he thought, might be done by means of a short and simple amending Bill. If, for instance, what was called the special request clause in the existing statute of George IV. were repealed, and responsibility was thrown upon the visiting justices of saying when special spiritual attendance was required, they being, at the same time, enabled to give such remuneration from time to time to the special minister attending as they might think fit, but without establishing for him that status which the present Bill contemplated, the Legislature would, he thought, he pursuing a more satisfactory course than in establishing rival officers to those of the national Establishment in public institutions which would create mischiefs far greater than those which it was intended to remedy. In Wales the Dissenters were 90 per cent of the population, and the Bill would enable a chaplain to be appointed for every shade of Welsh dissent in every Welsh prison by the side of the Church minister. It was, he might add, quite clear that the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church in this country considered themselves and their flocks in some sort in the position of aliens, recognising, as they did, a foreign jurisdiction; a view in entertaining which he was strengthened by a case which occurred a short time ago, in which two Sisters of Charity—members of the Roman Catholic faith—having been brought before a police magistrate for begging, pleaded in excuse the permission of the Pope. That being so, it would be seen how unfit a body of men the Roman Catholic priesthood were to be paid and salaried officials in the public institutions of this country. Another objectionable feature of the Bill was, that it would raise a Maynooth discussion annually in every county of England to which the provisions of the Bill should be attempted to be applied, and the grounds of discussion would be always changing. The Bill, in his opinion, went far beyond the occasion, and he hoped the House, though it had arrived at its last stage, would see the expediency of throwing it out, and substituting the specific Amendment of the existing law, which was all the case required. If, however, the Bill was passed, its principle must in justice be extended to all other public institutions.


Sir, as I have not troubled the House during the discussions on the previous stages of this measure, I may perhaps ask the attention of the House for a few minutes while I give my opinion of it. I agree with a great deal of what has been said by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire and the right hon. Gentleman who sits on the opposite bench (Mr. Adderley). I believe that one effect of the Bill will be to create a great deal of uncomfortableness among the class which the hon. Gentlemen represent; and it may stir up angry feeling in some counties when-the Act shall be put in force. I hope it will not; but if it should do so, it will be attributable to the very foolish excitement that was raised in this country ten or twelve years ago on the Catholic question. The right hon. Gentleman says it is the pretentious nature of this Bill he so much dislikes. I presume he would wish the Roman Catholic prisoners should have as much spiritual assistance from their ministers as the Protestant prisoners have from the clergy of their church. I do not charge the right hon. Gentleman with anything so cruel as the wish that Roman Catholic prisoners should be left without religious care while under the care of the Government; but he wishes to see this done in the kind of way that the Church—asserting its supremacy—generally desires to see Catholics and Dissenters treated. I presume he wishes that the Catholic priest shall not come to the prisoner when he thinks proper, but only when the prisoner shall think proper, and shall be paid a fee of so much as the visiting magistrates shall determine, and shall occupy a status quite different from that given to the minister of the Established Church. Understand me, I bring no charge against the right hon. Gentlemen; I do not say that they wish the Roman Catholic prisoner to be ill-treated, but that they are, during this discussion, leaving out of view the real wants of the Catholic prisoners, and are looking only to maintain the supremacy of their own Church. The hon. Gentleman opposite says, that in proportion the Roman Catholic prisoners are more numerous than the protestant prisoners. That arises from this simple fact, that they are a poorer class of the population, exposed to greater temptation, probably on the whole less educated, and therefore a greater number of them are under the charge of the Government, and in the public prisons. I cannot under stand the liberality of the right hon. Gentleman, who keeps his eye so fixed upon the supremacy of his own Church and the status of his own ministers, that he is ready on their account to sacrifice the obvious and plain right of those prisoners and the obvious and plain duty of the Government in regard to them. I do not want to pay I the ministers of the gaols at all; I could I recommend a better plan than that which is embodied in this Bill, or than that of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not believe that there is in this country a city in which there is a gaol in which there are Protestant and Catholic prisoners in which city you might not find benevolent and Christian men who would devote to the teaching of those prisoners all the time that is necessary, and that without any Act of Parliament to enforce it, or any regular stipend for it. But that is not a plan which the Government recommends or to which this House would be likely to consent. You adopt the other plan—that of having a minister of your own Church, to whom you give a stipend, and to whom you appoint his duties. You have within the walls of many prisons a considerable number of Catholics; upon every principle of justice and equality, as among the population of this kingdom, these prisoners have a right to be treated with the same constant care, with regard to their education and their moral and religious training, while under the care of the State, as are prisoners of any Protestant denomination, and the members of your own Church. Therefore, I who do not want to pay either Church minister or Catholic priest, cannot, in my conscience, leave things as I now find them, and am bound to vote for this Bill. I was extremely pleased to find, from the report of a former debate, that my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds and Sheffield, than whom no two men in this House better comprehend the principles of Nonconformists with regard to religious equality, or are better entitled to speak on behalf of that great class who are not in connection with the Established Church, proved their genuine knowledge of their own principles and their sense of what is due to Catholic prisoners by giving their support to this Bill; and I am very glad to have the opportunity of saying these few words and giving a vote in its favour.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 196; Noes 167: Majority 29.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3°, and passed.

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