THE O'CONOR DON,
in rising to call attention to the mode in which the local authorities of county and borough prisons in Great Britain have carried out the provisions of the Prison Ministers' Act (1863), said: Sir, after the very exciting subject which has just been discussed, I trust it may be in my power to attract the attention of hon. Gentlemen for a short time to another subject which is certainly not of so exciting a character, but which, I think, well deserves the consideration of this House and of Her Majesty's Government. If I had given but late notice of the Motion which I propose to make, and if I had signified my intention of going on with it only since the formation of the present Administration, I should certainly owe an apology to the Home Secretary for so doing. But both the right hon. Gentleman and the House are well aware that it was my intention to have brought the subject under the notice of the House at an earlier period of the Session, and that I was prevented from so doing in consequence of the events of the last six weeks. I trust, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite will not consider for a moment that I bring this subject forward in the slightest degree with a view of embarrassing the Government, or that I would presume to trespass upon the attention of the House at this late period of the Session were it not that I believed this to be a subject very well deserving the attention of this House, and one which I consider it my duty to bring at the very earliest period under the consideration of the new Government. I think, Sir, from the wording of my Motion as it stands on the paper this evening, that the object which I have in view must probably be known to most Members. As most hon. Gentlemen are aware, some years ago an Act of Parliament was passed which generally goes by the name of the Prison Ministers' Act, and which had for its object to make provision for the religious wants of criminals in different gaols throughout the country who did not belong to the Established Church. This Act was passed chiefly with a view of providing for the religious wants of that unhappily large class of criminals the Roman Catholic prisoners confined in the gaols of this country. As I am sure that most hon. Gentlemen are aware of the arguments upon which the introduction of that Act was based, 1418 I will not trouble the House at any length upon that point. Still, it may be necessary briefly to mention the state of things which existed before the passing of that Act and the object which the Act was intended to accomplish. Before the passing of the Prison Ministers' Act of 1863, the condition of criminals in this country who did not belong to the Established Church—I mean their condition as far as provision for their religious wants is concerned—was this:—It was open to a prisoner of any religious persuasion to seek the ministration of any clergyman whom he wished to see; but no clergyman of any religious persuasion other than that of the Established Church could see any prisoner unless a specific request to that effect was made by the prisoner. This was the state of things which existed in the county and borough gaols of Great Britain before the passing of the Act, and it was a state of things which existed a few years ago both with regard to Government prisons and those under local authority. But in a previous year the Government of Lord Palmerston had succeeded in establishing a different state of things with respect to the convict prisons—the prisons under Government control—and in those prisons a Bill was passed by this House enabling the Government to appoint Ministers of other persuasions than that of the Established Church to attend to the religious wants of the convicts in cases where it was thought that the number of the prisoners and the circumstances connected with their confinement justified such an appointment. At the first introduction of a proposal to that effect I believe that the Government were unsuccessful, although in submitting that proposal with respect to the convict prisons, Lord Palmerston stated that he saw no other principle involved in it than one of common justice. To this conclusion he came because, as he said, he did not believe that our criminals ought to be subjected to any particular disadvantage or punishment on account of any religious belief which they might happen to entertain. This is the principle which I hold was involved in the proposal then made, and which was sanctioned by the Legislature subsequently in the Act of 1863. In 1862 Mr. Pope Hennessy, who was then Member for the King's County, brought under the consideration of the House the question of the condition of the Roman Catholic prisoners in the county and borough gaols in England, and pointed out that 1419 there were a large number of Roman Catholics confined in the county and borough gaols, who were practically deprived of anything like religious ministration. He introduced a Bill, the main purpose of which was to place the prisoners confined in those gaols in a somewhat similar condition to that of the criminals in the convict prisons. But at the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) Mr. Hennessy withdrew that Bill on receiving an assurance that the Government in the following Session would deal with the question. Accordingly, in 1863, a Bill, which subsequently passed through Parliament, and entitled the "Prison Ministers' Act," was brought in by the then Home Secretary and had since become law. This Prison Ministers' Bill consisted mainly of two sections. In the first place, it gave power to the justices who had the management and control of these prisons and to the Justices at Quarter Sessions to appoint chaplains of a denomination different from that of the Established Church, if the number of criminals or the circumstances connected with these gaols in their opinion justified the appointment. In the second place, the Act empowered the same justices to permit the visits of a minister of any persuasion differing from that of the Church of England to a prisoner of his own creed, without requiring on the part of that prisoner a special request for such visit. But although the Act of 1863 empowered the justices to adopt either of these alternatives, it did not in any way enforce that adoption. The Act of 1863 was essentially a permissive Act. Yet if we examine both the arguments used in that debate and the wording of the Act itself, we shall find that the reason why the Act was made permissive and not obligatory was because it was said that it would be very difficult to lay down by a stringent rule in an Act of Parliament that a chaplain belonging to the persuasion of every person in the gaol should be appointed to every gaol, and that, in fact, the case was one in which some discretion should be exercised. It was felt by the House that that discretion could not be placed in better hands than in those of the justices who had the management of the prisons, and it was fairly argued that the known impartiality of English gentlemen would lead them to carry out the intentions of the Legislature in passing that Act, and would secure, wherever circumstances warranted its adoption, the appointment 1420 of chaplains or ministers to attend to the religious wants of any prisoners of a particular denomination who were in sufficient numbers in any of the gaols of this country. This is what was done in 1863; and last Session, in the General Prisons' Act, a further clause was introduced — a clause which, to my mind, changed the permissive character of the second section of the Prison Ministers' Act of 1863 and made it compulsory. To my mind the section introduced into the Act of last Session obliged the justices to appoint a minister who should visit the prisoners of his own persuasion confined in any gaol whether those prisoners sought for his ministration or not. Hence the present state of the law is this—it is open to the justices and magistrates at Quarter Sessions to appoint regular chaplains other than those of the Established Church in any of the gaols in England; and, in the second place, it is obligatory upon them, on demand being made, to approve of a fit and proper person to visit prisoners belonging to his own persuasion. I am speaking, of course, chiefly with reference to Roman Catholic prisoners. It is incumbent on the justices to select a chaplain to attend to the religious wants of the Roman Catholic prisoners subject to the rules and discipline of the prison. Now, the point I wish to bring under the notice of the House is this—the law being in this state, what has been its practical operation? In order to ascertain how this matter stood, I moved a short time ago for a Return referring to a considerable number of the prisons of this country. But I would wish, in the first instance, to allude to a Return which was moved for last Session by Mr. Hennessy. It was a Return to show how far the Prison Ministers' Act had been at that time carried into operation. According to that Return it appears that at the time it was made there were 126 prisons in which no action whatever had been taken under the Prison Ministers' Act; there were nine in which paid Roman Catholic chaplains had been appointed, who were regular officials of the gaol; and there were seven in which visiting priests had been approved. That was the state of things according to the Return of last Session. This year I moved for a Return dealing not with the whole of the prisons in the country, but dealing with a certain limited number which 1421 I selected on account of what I believed to be the mixed character of the population residing in their neighbourhood, and which, from the mixed character of that population, might be naturally supposed to be tenanted by criminals of different religious persuasions. This Return refers to forty-one prisons. I may here mention that there were five or six prisons included in the Return about which I did not seek for information, but which were probably included, because they were under the same control as other prisons which I did include. The House will understand that in these forty-one prisons most of the Roman Catholics who unfortunately happen to get into confinement in this country are to be met with. Now, out of these forty-one prisons I find that there are only eight in which regular paid chaplains of the Roman Catholic persuasion have been appointed to attend to the religious wants of the prisoners. There are, consequently, thirty-three in which the provisions of the Prison Ministers' Act of 1863 have not been carried out, while in fifteen of these thirty-three no alteration whatever has taken place either in consequence of the Prison Ministers' Act of 1863 or of the Act of last Session; so that the old rule of special request by the prisoners is enforced. In ten out of these fifteen no fewer than 800 Roman Catholic prisoners are confined. With regard to the remaining prisons, there are twelve in which Roman Catholic clergymen have been approved to visit the prisons; but as far as I can make out from the statements in the Return as to the rules under which the visits of the Roman Catholic priest are permitted, there are only four instances in which anything like a satisfactory state of things exists. These, then, are the general results which appear on the face of the Return. But when you come to examine the facts of the case, I think you will find that a great deal more remains for consideration. As I have said, in many of these prisons the Acts have been apparently put into operation. The Roman Catholic clergy are permitted to visit prisoners of their own persuasion; but those visits are permitted under such restrictions, and are harassed in so many different ways, that practically the operation of the Act is quite worthless. I do not propose to go over the details of all these prisons separately, because the rules 1422 existing in them are, I may say, different in almost every instance. But I will take, by way of example, some three or four which I think will clearly explain in what particular point the Prison Ministers' Act of 1863 has proved in. operative. For this purpose I have not to go far, because the prisons in this county, Middlesex, in themselves furnish sufficient examples of the state of things which I wish to see amended. In the county of Middlesex there are five prisons. In three of these five the Prison Ministers' Act has been apparently put into operation, that is to say, a Roman Catholic priest has been approved of to attend and visit the Roman Catholic prisoners. These three are Coldbath Fields, Clerkenwell, and the Westminster House of Correction. I will first take the case of Coldbath Fields, in which at the date of the Return there were 314 Roman Catholic prisoners. Of course, no Roman Catholic priest has been appointed to attend to their wants, but a priest has been approved to visit them. I will remark here that the section in the Act of last Session, which to my mind obliges the justices to approve in such instances of a Roman Catholic minister to visit the prisoners, concludes with the words, "Provided there be no express objection on the part of the prisoner himself." The first complaint I have to make of the operation of the Act in the Coldbath Fields Prison is, that these concluding words in the Act of 1865 are made use of for the purpose, in some cases, of preventing the ministration of the Roman Catholic clergy; because, although the meaning of the Act of 1865 is quite clear—namely, that the objection must come from the prisoner himself, the objection is suggested to him, and the Roman Catholic minister, instead of being permitted to visit him until he objects, is at Coldbath Fields obliged to wait till the warder or other official inquires of the prisoner whether he has any objection to such visit. But that is a trifling objection compared with some of the other difficulties under which religious instruction by Roman Catholic priests is at present carried on. As I have stated, in Coldbath Fields there are 314 Roman Catholic prisoners, and, according to the rules and regulations laid down by the justices, these 314 prisoners can never be assembled for common instruction. They can only be seen in small numbers, the largest number that can be assembled at any one time being ten. 1423 Now it must be perfectly obvious that to attempt to instruct such a large body of persons, taking such small numbers at a time, is almost impossible. In the next place, this clergyman is not a regularly appointed official of the establishment. He is not permitted to see the prisoners at any time he thinks proper, nor can his whole time be devoted to them. He is restricted to a certain number of hours in the week, during which period he has to minister to these 314 prisoners, of whom he can only assemble a certain limited number at a time. In addition to this disadvantage, these prisoners were debarred from anything like a religious service by their own clergyman. They have no service on Sundays, as the Protestants have; they have not the regular morning and evening service in which the other prisoners may join; and here, therefore, they are under a great disadvantage on account of their religion. A very different course is pursued with regard to members of the Established Church who happen to be confined in the same prison. For the wants of the Protestant prisoners in Coldbath Fields, two chaplains and one Scripture reader are provided; and these persons are not only permitted, but are bound by the duties of their office, to give up their whole time for the religious instruction of prisoners of their own persuasion. These prisoners are permitted to assemble together for morning and evening service daily, and, of course, also on Sundays. And while these Protestant prisoners are assembled for service on Sundays, the Roman Catholic prisoners, having no service of their own, are either obliged to attend the Protestant service or are forced to undergo so much more solitary confinement in their cells. Consequently, a direct punishment is inflicted on the Roman Catholic prisoners, unless they attend the service of the Established Church. At Clerkenwell the state of things is exactly similar, or nearly so, to that existing at Coldbath Fields. There is, however, this exception — that, whereas at Coldbath Fields ten prisoners may be assembled at one time for religious instruction, in Clerkenwell they must be seen singly by the Roman Catholic priest. Again, with respect to the Westminster House of Correction, or Tothill Fields Prison. In that gaol there are 201 Roman Catholics. [Mr. Alderman SALOMONS: All females?] Yes, this is a female prison, and, of course, the inmates are all women. For the instruction of these prisoners no Roman Catholic chap- 1424 lain is appointed; and, as in Clerkenwell, the clergyman who has been approved to visit the prisoners is only permitted to see them singly. As I understand, his visits are confined to two hours and a half each day. If we consider for a moment the utter impossibility of giving anything like useful religious instruction to prisoners who are allowed to be seen only singly, with but one priest to attend to 201 criminals, and his visits confined to two hours and a half a day, we can easily see what practical results must follow from an Act of Parliament carried out in that manner. Sir, there is one point connected with this prison to which it is necessary to refer. Of course, the great difficulty under which the Roman Catholic clergyman who has been appointed to attend on these prisoners labours is, that he is unable to assemble them for religious instruction. Various attempts have been made to get rid of this restriction. On one occasion a direct application was made for permission to assemble the prisoners at the same time, and the answer of the Visiting Justices was this—In reference to the last subject of your letter—namely, the assembling together of the Roman Catholic prisoners, the Visiting Justices are advised, by Counsel consulted on the subject, that it is not in their power to permit it.From this letter it would appear, then, that the Visiting Justices of the Westminster House of Correction have taken legal advice as to their power of allowing the Roman Catholic prisoners to assemble for religious instruction by ministers of their own persuasion, and the opinion of Counsel was, that such an assembly of the prisoners was illegal. This is in itself a point well deserving the consideration of the House and the Government; because, if it be true that the assembling of the Roman Catholic prisoners for such a purpose was illegal in Westminster, the magistrates in other parts of England where it is permitted are acting illegally; and, on the other hand, if the practice be legal, it is most desirable that the Westminster magistrates should be informed as soon as possible that the opinion which they have obtained is an erroneous one. But, then, as to the spirit which actuates the justices of the Westminster prison on this subject. A short time ago, as soon as the Act of last Session came into force, the Roman Catholic clergyman who had been in the habit of visiting such prisoners, as specially requested his ministrations, applied for 1425 permission to see all the Roman Catholic prisoners who happened at that moment to be confined; and of course this permission was given to him. As soon as this permission was obtained he began to act exactly as he had acted before with regard to the prisoners of the Roman Catholic persuasion who had previously sought his ministration. He was in the habit of instructing them in Roman Catholic doctrines, and of lending them Roman Catholic books—catechisms and so on—with the full approbation of the authorities of the prison. Shortly after the passing of the Act of 1865, and after he had sought for the powers which it gave him, he was officially asked whether he had given a Roman Catholic catechism to a Roman Catholic woman. He admitted at once that he had done so, said he had always been in the habit of doing so with the full approval of the prison authorities, but that he did not know that he had been doing wrong. Immediately, however, an order was sent down that he should be dismissed. And this Roman Catholic priest was dismissed solely upon the ground that he had given a Roman Catholic catechism to a Roman Catholic prisoner—dismissed, too, at the very time when in that same prison the Protestant scripture reader and chaplains were in the habit of giving Protestant books not only to Protestant prisoners but, contrary to all rule, to the Roman Catholic prisoners; and of course the Protestant ministers did not meet with any rebuke from the justices. Now, Sir, it is perfectly evident that to place the power of applying the Act in the hands of justices who are influenced by such feelings, is to render the Act perfectly nugatory. And in the fact that these large prisons are now in much the same condition, with regard to the religious instruction of Roman Catholic prisoners, as they were three years ago, we have a sufficient justification for the statement contained in my Resolution that the Prison Ministers' Act has failed to carry out the intentions of the Legislature. I do not desire to weary the House by any lengthened detail, and therefore I will not go into the particulars of several other prisons which are similarly situated to those I have just instanced. But I will name some three or four which I think are practically in a condition as unsatisfactory as those of the county of Middlesex. They are Salford, Leeds, Swansea, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. In these prisons more than 400 Roman Ca- 1426 tholic prisoners are confined. From this part of the subject I will now turn to the next point, a much more agreeable one than that I have just mentioned. I mean the state of things which exists in those prisons where both the letter and the spirit of the law have been observed. In the convict prisons, and in the eight or ten prisons to which I alluded in the first instance, the Prison Ministers' Act has been really and truly put into operation, and in those prisons the results have been of the most satisfactory description. This I gather from official statements emanating from authorities who ought to be well cognizant of the facts. In the Report of the Directors of convict prisons last year I find this gratifying statement—It is with much pleasure that we record the benefits which have arisen from the appointment by the Secretary of State of visiting Roman Catholic priests at Milbank, Parkhurst, Portsmouth, Dartmoor, and Fulham. The effect on the convicts has been marked; and the recognition by the State of their claim to the ministration of a clergyman of their own persuasion has been the source of a great improvement in their outward conduct. … We believe this measure to have been one attended with unmixed good results.That is the opinion of the Directors of convict prisons with respect to this Government measure. Now with respect to the county and borough gaols, I find by the report of the district inspector, Mr. Perry, the inspector of the Southern district, that in those prisons where the Act has been put into operation it has worked extremely well; that the utmost harmony prevails between the priest and the chaplain, and no complaint has been made that the provisions of the Act have not been carried out. Then the inspector of the Northern district reports in almost similar terms of those gaols to which the Act has been applied; and I have also got letters from some of the Governors and others connected with the gaols fully bearing out the facts which I have stated—namely, that wherever the Roman Catholic priest has been regularly appointed to attend to the religious wants of the members of his own persuasion, both the discipline of the prison has been improved, and the general conduct of the prisoners has been extremely satisfactory. Thus, I think that from this Return and from the statements which I have made, it will appear that in those cases in which the Act has been put in operation good results have followed, while where it has not been acted on a bad feel- 1427 ing has been created, a feeling that the law is not administered with impartiality, and that a distinction is maintained between the treatment of prisoners on account of their creed—a distinction which, according to Lord Palmerston, should under no circumstances exist. But, Sir, there is one point connected with this question which I, as a Roman Catholic, and especially as an Irishman, cannot pass over without notice, and that is the rather strange fact—strange at all events on the face of it — that the number of Roman Catholic prisoners in this country is so very large. Now I fully admit that that fact requires explanation, especially from one who is an Irishman, because most of these prisoners are from Ireland, but I think the fact that most of the Roman Catholic prisoners in the gaols of this country are Irish, and therefore emigrants to a certain extent, explains it. These people have been forced to leave their native homes. They are emigrants, and they are emigrants of the lowest and poorest class. The Irish emigrant of the better class goes either to the United States or to the colonies. It is only these persons who have not sufficient means to enable them to proceed either to the United States or the colonies who emigrate to this country, settle down in our large towns, and many of whom are subsequently found among the criminal classes, As I have said, these people are of the poorest class; and the crimes for which the mass of these people find their way into gaol are essentially attributable to poverty. For instance, we find a large proportion of such crimes as vagrancy, begging in the streets, selling without a license, disorderly conduct, and intoxication. These are the crimes for which a great majority of these persons are imprisoned; and when we reflect that they belong to the poorest class, and are separated from all those influences of friends, and home, and neighbours, which are brought to bear upon persons in a better class of life, we cannot wonder, I think, that a large number of these persons—an undue proportion if I may use the expression—should find their way into the ordinary prisons of the country, though many of the offences are of a trivial character, and the sentences are of very short duration. In order to justify both the nationality and the religion of these persons, I think it would be but just to look at the state of things which exists in Ireland, where they are at home. I think that a 1428 comparison between the crime of England and of Ireland is a sufficient answer to any argument drawn from the undue number of Irish people who are confined in the gaols of this country. According to the judicial statistics, it appears that the criminal classes are 34 per cent lower in Ireland than the criminal classes in England. In England one in every 159 of the population is a criminal: in Ireland the proportion is as one to 254 of the population. Then, again, when we speak of the criminal classes, we speak, of course, of the known criminal classes. In both countries there is a large number of criminals who are unknown. But the knowledge of the criminal classes in Ireland is much greater than it is in England. It is greater, primâ facie, from this fact:—The police in Ireland who furnish these judicial statistics are more numerous in proportion to the population than the police of England. In the next place, the Irish police are under one central management, and consequently they communicate one with the other in every part of the country, information passes from one district to another among the police with great facility, and therefore, primâ facie, we should expect the criminal class to be better known in Ireland than in England. But we are not left to speculation upon this subject, because the judicial statistics show that the apprehensions in Ireland were 62 per cent on the crimes, while in England they were only 58 per cent. What is still more important is that of those proceeded against in Ireland, only 9 per cent were unknown to the police, while of those proceeded against in England, 33 per cent were unknown to the police. While, therefore, on the one hand, you have in Ireland a greater knowledge of the criminal classes, and fewer escapes in proportion to the crimes, we have on the other hand the fact I have already stated, that the proportion of criminals in Ireland is 34 per cent lower than it is in Engand. So much for the large number of Roman Catholic prisoners who unfortunately find their way into the gaols of this country. Now, if any argument at all is to be founded upon this fact, with respect to the question which I am now bringing under consideration, it ought to be this:—We find in a country where there is fair play in the prisons, and where the Roman Catholic clergyman has free access to the criminal class, the number of that class is comparatively small. But in the country where this free access is pro- 1429 hibited, and facilities are not given for the ministration of the Roman Catholic priest, you find there is a much larger number of the criminal classes. What conclusion are we to draw from this? The obvious conclusion must be that you should extend to this country the principle which exists in Ireland; and thus, if it has any force at all, the fact I have stated, instead of being an argument against the Resolution which I propose, seems to be an argument in its favour. Now, what are the objections urged against putting into practice the provisions of the Prison Ministers' Act? I do not intend to go into them at any length, because they are all ascribable to the violation of the principle of religious equality. If you admit the principle of religious equality, it at once cuts at the root of all those objections which I have heard urged in this House against the permission to Roman Catholic prisoners to be visited by their priests. I have heard it said before the Prison Ministers' Act was passed, "Is it not sufficient if Roman Catholic prisoners are permitted to see their clergy when they ask to see them?" I say, in reply, that principle may be a very just one; but if so, extend it to all other prisoners, do riot apply it merely to Roman Catholics. If you go upon the principle that no prisoner is to see the minister of any persuasion unless the prisoner seeks for such a visit, if that be a good principle, let it be universally applied. But you cannot hold it with respect to the members of one religious body and deny it to others, all the while professing religious equality. The same answer will apply to every argument which I have heard used in denying what I consider to be the just claims of the Roman Catholic body with respect to prisoners belonging to their persuasion. This being the state of things which now exists, I may be asked what I propose to do in order to amend it? It seems to me that the permissive character of the Prison Ministers' Act of 1863 has led to its being inoperative, and that with a view to carry out the intentions of the Legislature in passing that Act, it is essential either that the permissive character should be taken away and the Act be made compulsory, or that the discretion of applying the provisions of the Act should be transferred from the justices to some other body. I would therefore propose either that the Prison Ministers' Act should be made compulsory in all prisons where a certain fixed number of prisoners are confined, or that power 1430 should be given to the Home Secretary to enforce at his discretion the provisions of the Act in case the local authorities should neglect to put it in force. I consider that the adoption of one or the other of these remedies is essential in order that this question may be satisfactorily settled, and I consider also that in asking for either of these things, we are asking for nothing beyond that religious equality of which the people of this country boast so much. A few nights ago I heard the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) tell us that the Roman Catholics in this country were insatiable, that they were never satisfied with anything which they received, and in fact he insinuated that they were insensible to the benefits they enjoyed under the constitution of this country. Now I cannot understand arguments such as this being used, when all we ask is, on the present occasion, that those principles of political and religious liberty, of which he is so proud, should be extended to their logical conclusion, and that there should be no distinction in the goals, the poorhouses, or the ordinary walks of life in this country, on account of the religious faith which anybody professes. So far as I am aware, that is the only principle for which we have asked, and I certainly do think that when we make such a request, it is not reasonable to tell us that our demands are of the most insatiable character, and that it is impossible ever to satisfy us. Some hon. Gentlemen seem to be afraid that beneath a proposal of this description there lurks concealed something like the endowment of a hostile priesthood or of a religious community. Now this I most distinctly deny. There is nothing at all resembling endowment mixed up in this matter. No one ever dreams of supposing that the medical profession is endowed when you pay physicians and surgeons for performing work in poorhouses and in gaols. Yet what is the difference between the payment made to him and the payment to a schoolmaster, a chaplain, or any otter person who is paid for performing distinct and positive services? You pay in both instances for services rendered, and in neither case is there any endowment of the person receiving payment or of the community to which he belongs. Therefore, I hope that no one will believe that in asking that proper provision may be made for the religious instruction of Roman Catholic prisoners, we are seeking directly or in- 1431 directly anything like an endowment of our Church. When we take a man from the ordinary walks of life and shut him up in a gaol, thereby depriving him of every means of taking care of himself, we are obliged to provide for all his wants, we are obliged to clothe and feed him, and if he is a Protestant, you admit that we are obliged to provide for his religious instruction. In paying for any of these things you never imagine that you are endowing the persons who supply them; and we merely ask that what is obviously the case with regard to members of the Established Church should be also the case with regard to members of our persuasion, that all should be put on the same footing. This is the whole case which we have to submit for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. I do not, of course, expect that at this late period of the Session it would be possible to introduce any very extensive measure upon this subject. All I ask is the affirmation of the principle that the present law is not sufficient. All I desire is that the House of Commons should express its opinion that the working of the Prison Ministers' Act has been unsatisfactory, and that it requires to be practically amended. All I desire from the right hon. Gentleman is that, if that principle should be affirmed, he will give us the assurance that, at the earliest period next Session, he will introduce a Bill dealing with the whole question, and on the part of the Government will inform us who take an interest in the subject that the Government will no longer permit what we regard as a heavy grievance to continue.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the Prison Ministers' Act has to some extent failed to carry out the intentions of the Legislature, and that its amendment is therefore a subject which should receive the early consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers."—(The O'Conor Don.)
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he regretted that the hon. Gentleman should have thought it desirable to raise an abstract discussion upon that subject. He would remind the House that the Prison Ministers' Act was a measure by which magistrates appointed by the Crown were enabled to tax the people; and that was the only instance, he believed, in this country in which taxation could be levied without representation. That was a dangerous violation of constitutional principle, and the House ought to 1432 be very careful not to extend it any further. No real case of hardship had been made out by the hon. Member for Roscommon in regard to those counties in which the Prison Ministers' Act had not been brought into operation. Never was there an Act more at variance with religious liberty than that; and the object of its introduction was not to enable Roman Catholic prisoners to obtain the spiritual services of priests of their own denomination, for that they could previously obtain if they desired it, but it was to prevent Roman Catholic criminals from availing themselves of the opportunity of receiving spiritual instruction of a different kind from that which had more or less contributed to make them what they were, and to force the ministrations of the Romish priest upon them, whether they wished for them or not. Nothing could be more intolerant, more binding and crushing, than the discipline of the Roman Catholic priests in their efforts to prevent those who were once members of their communion from escaping from their control. But there was surely no reason why the Government should aid them in coercing the people. Attention had been called by the hon. Member to the alleged comparative immunity from crime of the Irish in their own country, and reasons had been given for the gaols in this country containing so large a proportion of Irish criminals. But this state of things was not fairly attributable to the poverty of the Irish, or to the other circumstances which had been mentioned, but it was owing to the fact that much of the teaching they received as part of their religion justified, under certain circumstances, the commission of acts in violation of the law. Indeed, there was not a single offence in the whole catalogue of crime, from murder down to petty larceny, which was not justified by the teaching of the Roman Catholic priests under certain circumstances having reference to the interests of their Church, or from which the offender could not be absolved in foro conscientiœ, or by the assured authority of its ecclesiastics. He did not know what the fact might be as to the gaols in Ireland, but he had a lively recollection of a grant of £780,000 a year out of the Consolidated Fund, for police to look after these innocent people. There was no other rational explanation of the chronic disaffection and disloyalty of the Irish people than that essentially disloyal teaching inculcated as part of their religion by the Roman Catho- 1433 lic priests. The hon. Member for Roscommon spoke much of religious equality. He (Mr. Whalley) thought it was high time to ascertain precisely the meaning of those words as regarding the members of the Roman Catholic faith. He might be called a Jesuit or some other name—he was always happy to receive suggestions for the improvement of his demeanour in that House; but it had never once occurred to him to offer any opposition to the Roman Catholics in the free exercise of their faith. In opposing the principle laid down by the hon. Member for Roscommon, he (Mr. Whalley) felt himself justified by the statute book and the experience of centuries. The late Sir Robert Peel said that, under the pretence of religion, there was associated with the Roman Catholic faith a definite system of political policy which was antagonistic to every principle on which the happiness and the civil and religious liberties of the people were based. And Lord Palmerston gave expression to a similar opinion. We contributed not less than £1,000,000 a year to promote, propagate, and sustain the Roman Catholic religion, and yet whenever he or any other Member attempted to show the political character of that religion, what they had to say was looked upon as a violation of the amenities of debate. If he had the Returns he wished for before him he would be able to show that wherever the Roman Catholic priests were admitted they manifested such airs, such an assumption of authority, such a dictatorial manner, as if they possessed the most absolute authority over the souls of the people. It was their practice whenever they had an opportunity to force their doctrines upon those who were unwilling to receive them, and their teaching generally had the effect of breaking up the general discipline of the institution into which they were admitted. He trusted that the House would reject the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he did not think his hon. Friend could be justly charged with bringing his Motion forward merely as an abstract question. The subject was an important one, and the change recently made in the law as to Roman Catholic prisoners in Great Britain was one he considered to be founded on justice. The principle contended for by the hon. Gentleman was one which was already recognized in Ireland, and he could see no good reason why it should not be equally recognized in every other part of Her 1434 Majesty's dominions. It was only fair and reasonable that the Roman Catholics who were in the prisons of this country should have the benefit of receiving religious instruction from the ministers of their own faith. The question was one which, so far as he could see, did not involve the truth or error of the doctrines of any particular Church, while the principle for which the hon. Gentleman contended was one which had been fully recognized in our legislation, inasmuch as there was a provision made not only for the Roman Catholic priests who visited the prisons in Ireland, but also for the Protestant chaplains of those gaols, although in some cases there were scarcely any members of their religion to be found in them. That principle had been for some time acted upon in convict establishments under the control of Government, but it required an Act of Parliament to authorize similar arrangements in county and borough prisons. The principle upon which Parliament had proceeded had been to place the administration of the law with regard to these prisons in the hands of the local authorities. In many prisons the provisions of the law as to Roman Catholics had been put in force, both in the spirit and in the letter, in a manner which, he believed, had given entire satisfaction to the Roman Catholics, and left no ground for complaint. The report of the inspectors of prisons, gentlemen of large experience in prison discipline and management, was that the results had been entirely satisfactory. There might have been some Roman Catholic priests who had not acted with judgment and discretion, but that might be the case also with regard to Protestant chaplains, and the law provided a remedy in giving power to the local authorities not only to appoint, but to remove, where necessary, the persons they appointed. No doubt there were other cases in which the magistrates had not availed themselves of the powers of the Act of Parliament, and he very much regretted that that should have been the case. He should be sorry, however, to see the Motion before the House pressed to a division; as he could not but hope that the beneficial results of the Act in those prisons in which it had been applied would exercise its due effect on the minds of magistrates in other places, and lead them to put the provisions of the Act in force to a much greater extent than was the case at present. There might be some points contained in the Act which required amendment. The Committee 1435 on the Prisons Act of last year, of which he was a Member, showed every disposition to take the most liberal view of the claims of the Roman Catholics, and to place them on a footing of equality with Protestants so far as religious instruction and worship were concerned. They recommended an important alteration in the law, which was sanctioned by Parliament, obliging magistrates to allow the attendance of ministers of their own Church to the spiritual wants of the prisoners, without any special request from the prisoners, and if there were cases in which the authorities had refused to act in accordance with this provision, it must be because their attention had not been sufficiently directed to it. He regretted that the Act was not in more extensive operation, but he trusted that the discussion which had now taken place and the opinions expressed in the course of the debate might have a beneficial effect, and he should advise his hon. Friend not to press his Motion if he received, as he hoped, an assurance from the Government that it would use its influence to promote a more genial action on the part of local authorities in accordance with the provisions of the law.
§ MR. O'REILLY
said, that the declaration contained in the Motion was that the intention of the Prison Ministers' Act had not been carried out; and the question was, what was that intention? The intention was to afford to all prisoners equal facilities for spiritual instruction and religious worship. The Act was said to be permissive; but how? Was it that the magistrates were to exercise unlimited discretion? He believed not, but that the meaning of the permission was, that they were to introduce the Act wherever they found its operation necessary; that certainly was the sense in which all the speakers on the subject of this Bill, including the present Home Secretary, understood the permission. The meaning was that the Act should be put in force wherever the number of prisoners rendered it necessary. The present Home Secretary said he would have preferred the Act to be so far compulsory that whenever it was necessary it should be put into operation on the authority of the Executive. In certain prisons, such as Durham, Preston, Manchester, and other places, it had been put in force with most satisfactory results, but he could mention several instances in which the number of 1436 Roman Catholic prisoners was so considerable as obviously to suggest the propriety of appointing a minister of that persuasion to instruct them; but no such appointment had been made. There were not fewer than thirteen cases of this description in which there had been an entire failure in carrying out the intention of the Legislature. But even where there had been an apparent compliance with that intention in the appointment of such ministers, he complained that they were not permitted to see the prisoners long enough to give them adequate religious instruction. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a case that was reported to have occurred in a gaol in Carmarthenshire, a prisoner having complained that the Catholic prisoners were put on the treadmill while the Protestant prisoners were attending morning prayer. This statement was admitted by the Governor of the gaol, but his answer to it was that the Catholics received a fair compensation in being taken off the treadwheel during the visits of the Catholic priest. The prisoner who had made the complaint added to the Governor's statement that, while morning prayer occurred regularly six days a week, the Catholic priest only visited the gaol occasionally. He did not believe there was more than one man in the House who would justify such a state of things—subjecting Catholic prisoners to the treadmill because they declined to attend Protestant prayers. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department would endeavour to the utmost to carry out the intentions of the Legislature.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that if hon. Gentlemen looked abroad they would see the effects of the Papal system on the social condition of many States. The power of the Papacy was exercised through the priesthood. He was convinced that this Motion, which was put forward as a question of charity, was only part of a system of organized agitation on behalf of Romanism. If the alteration now urged on the Government were made, he was confident that no permanent satisfaction would be given to the Catholic clergy. Since the passing of the Prison Ministers' Act the demands of the Catholics on the Middlesex magistrates had been gradually increasing. It had been avowed by Dr. Manning that the Romanists were aiming at a complete Establishment of Romanism, but an Establishment without endowment, because this would be an Establishment 1437 separate from, and therefore beyond the control of the State, but still having the full force of law. It was complained by the Romanists that the Roman Catholic prisoners did not desire the attendance of their priests; and, in the name of religious liberty, forsooth, this Ultramontane agitation sought to make it compulsory on the magistrates to authorize the visitation of the priests at all times. Allusion had been made to the Middlesex magistrates. Complaints were made that the Roman Catholic priests were allowed by Middlesex magistrates to attend a prisoner only when there was no objection on the part of the prisoner himself. That might be an old-fashioned rule; but it was the rule of religious liberty. It was matter of complaint that the priest was not admitted to see the prisoners at all times and at all hours, to permit this would render effectual prison discipline impossible. It was the intention of the Act that the magistrates should exercise their discretion as to the time and the manner in which prisoners should be visited; and it was now proposed that the magistrates should be deprived of this discretion in this matter, and that the whole discretion should be transferred to the priests. In other words, it was proposed to transfer the discretion from the magistrates to priests appointed by Dr. Manning. He trusted that the Home Secretary would recollect that it had formerly been the opinion of the House that the law with regard to this subject had been sufficiently relaxed for the purpose of affording religious liberty to the Roman Catholics, but it had not been the intention of Parliament, nor was it a purpose of the Prison Ministers' Act, to favour the object of those who desired the practical and uncontrolled establishment of Roman Catholic religion in this country.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, that when the Prisons Discipline Act passed he had expressed an opinion that it was a matter which, if undertaken at all, had better be left to the executive Government, who might be empowered to lay down regulations, leaving the mode of carrying them out to the discretion of the magistrates. As he then anticipated, the regulations contained in the Act had been enforced or neglected in the different prisons, according to the feelings of the various local magistrates. In the great majority of cases the provisions of the Act had been adopted, but in many the intentions of the Legisla- 1438 ture had been defeated. The question, therefore, now was as to the best manner in which it could be insured that every prisoner could be enabled to attend religious worship under the guidance and superintendence of a minister of his own religion. The existing Act of Parliament, which had been proposed by the Government and accepted by the Roman Catholics as a possible solution of this very difficult question, had only been in existence for three years, and therefore it would be rather premature to ask the House to undertake any legislation materially different from the principles of the Act. At the same time, the Roman Catholics were justified in asking that the provisions of the existing Act should be more universally put into force. The hon. Member who had brought forward the Motion said there were two modes of doing this—one was, that the Legislature should lay down fixed regulations in connection with the subject; but this was clearly impossible, because there were so many varieties of prisons, and because it was the policy of the Act to leave the settlement of all these matters to the local magistracy, who from their position and local knowledge might be regarded as the best fitted to judge upon these matters. The other mode was by empowering the Secretary of State to put the regulations into effect. There would be considerable objection to this proposal; but, at the same time, when the attention of the Secretary of State was drawn to any case which would reasonably call upon him to make a representation about it to the magistrates concerned, it was only reasonable that his aid should be invoked. In the meantime, he thought it would scarcely be advisable to go to a division upon the Motion, because, although the operation of the Act had not always been satisfactory, he did not think that the intention of the Legislature had been frustrated. As far as he was personally concerned he should be glad if any case of hardship connected with Roman Catholic prisoners were brought under his notice to draw the attention of the magistrates to the matter.
§ LORD EDWARD HOWARD
said, he thought the question was one of considerable importance, because he believed that the Roman Catholics in many instances had not received that fairness and justice to which they were entitled. He would not say that the rights of the prisoners were withheld from them, but no care was taken to inform them what their rights 1439 were. This, however, had been done in the case of the Roman Catholic prisoners at Liverpool, and the result was that more than double the ordinary number of applications had been made by the prisoners to be visited by the priest. The position of the Roman Catholic prisoners had often been brought before the House, and when the claims of these men were advocated they were met with a variety of objections. It was said, for instance, that the Roman Catholic prisoners had no desire to see the priests, and such a statement was very likely to be true concerning a man at the commencement of his imprisonment. It was barely possible in the same way that a Protestant prisoner was not at first very eager for the society of his minister, but the visits of the priests had upon the Roman Catholic prisoners the same effect as the visits of the Protestant ministers had upon the prisoners attached to their faith. Under the influence of the priest the Roman Catholic prisoner became amenable to improvement and to discipline, while the taxpayer's burdens had a chance of being lightened, because the men were enabled to avail themselves of a chance of reformation which would not otherwise be open to them.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said, that whilst feeling grateful for the remarks which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, he regretted that he had not taken a bolder course, and spoken in a stronger manner. He entertained the hope, however, that the more the right hon. Gentleman looked at the question the more desirous he would be of carrying the law into effect, and that he would, if necessary, obtain additional powers in order to control those incorrigible bigots the Middlesex magistrates. All that was required was that the same state of things should exist in this country as existed in Ireland. In the county and city gaols of Cork there were, of course, a larger number of Catholics than of Protestants, but a Protestant chaplain was engaged for the Protestant prisoners. The amount of reformation effected amongst the prisoners was very large, and the result was that there was no country in the world in which at the present moment there was less crime than in Ireland. If the religious system was allowed to have its influence in this country the effect would be the same, and the number of Catholic prisoners in the gaols would be reduced. The poverty of the Irish poor led them into temptation, 1440 and there were thus large numbers of Roman Catholics in prison, though, perhaps, not generally for crimes of any particular enormity. He had used the words "incorrigible bigots," and was prepared to justify the use of those words. There were 800 prisoners in the gaols in Middlesex. In two of the prisons the law had not been put in force, and in the other three it was inoperative; and it was surely the most short-sighted policy, as well as the most wanton and flagrant injustice, to debar the unfortunate prisoners of the means of moral improvement. Wherever the improved system was carried out it had proved beneficial, not only to the prisoner, but to the discipline of the gaol. The same influence could not be exercised by a Protestant clergyman over Catholic prisoners, because they did not believe in him, or in his faith.
THE O'CONOR DON
replied, and said, that he did not intend to press his Motion to a division, after the discussion which had taken place. At the same time, he expressed his regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had not spoken more decidedly on the question. The distinction which the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to lay down was, in his mind, a distinction without a difference. The right hon. Gentleman said that the object of the Legislature in passing the Act was that the Roman Catholic prisoners in gaols should receive a certain benefit, and yet that the Legislature meant to leave the granting of that benefit to the discretion of the justices.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, that what he meant to convey was—the Legislature no doubt intended to leave it to the justices to put the Act in operation, and that the object of the Act was to give relief to the Roman Catholics.
THE O'CONOR DON
still maintained that this was a distinction without a difference; because, if the magistrates did not exercise the power which Parliament intended them to exercise, the object for which the Act was passed was not carried out, and the intentions of the Legislature were defeated. He hoped that during the recess the right hon. Gentleman would give the subject his best consideration. He felt satisfied that the more the right hon. Gentleman considered the subject, the more likely would he be to come to the conclusion that it was a subject on which the Government were called on to take some action; and that if the magistrates 1441 did not put the Act into operation, some other means should be resorted to for securing that object. The right hon. Gentleman would, he hoped, be prepared with some proposal on this subject next Session. Meanwhile, he begged leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.