HC Deb 21 July 1868 vol 193 cc1605-14

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 4 (Consent of Meeting of Guardians sufficient for the Formation of a School District).


said, he wished to make an appeal to the Secretary of the Poor Law Board against proceeding further with the Bill. It contained several objectionable clauses, which had been repeatedly brought forward, and as often withdrawn. They had now come to the fag-end of the Session, sitting till three o'clock in the morning, the only object seeming to be to hurry through Business in a manner which would certainly bear bitter fruits hereafter. There could be no satisfaction in going on with this Bill at this period of the Session, and it was most remarkable that the Government should now change their tactics on the Bill, and attempt to rush it through the House, simply on the ground of the House of Lords having made some supposed improvements in it. He would suggest that it should be withdrawn, and brought forward early in another Session, when it might receive due consideration. He should move that the Chairman report Progress.


reminded the Committee that the Scotch as well as the metropolitan Members strongly objected to the Bill, and expressed a hope that the Government would not prolong the Session by pressing forward so obnoxious a measure.


hoped the Bill would be proceeded with.


said, the Government had felt, on former occasions, that the objections urged against the clauses were such as they could not resist, and had therefore withdrawn them. These objections remained in full force, and why should not the Government then give way? The Bill introduced entirely new principles into the administration of the Poor Law. Was it to the credit of the Government that those clauses should be introduced within five days of prorogation, and that the Bill should be pressed forward in such a state of the House as this, when half the Benches were empty, and every Member who took an interest in it had left town?


appealed to the Government to withdraw the Bill; and said he must support the Motion to report Progress, although it was with great regret that he opposed a Bill which had come from the Lords, and had been carried through the Upper House by the noble Earl at the head of the Poor Law Board (the Earl of Devon). This House had in former Sessions rejected the obnoxious clauses of the Bill.


said, it was too late in the Session to discuss these religious clauses.


explained that last year certain portions of the Poor Law Bill were withdrawn because there was not time for their discussion in the other House, although they had been discussed in this; but in the present Session the Bill had gone through the other House first, so that there was not the same reason for withdrawing the Bill that there was for withdrawing part of last year's Bill; and there was only one recommendation of the Select Committee embodied in this Bill upon which the House had not already expressed its opinion.


said, he hoped the Committee would not be led away into reporting Progress on an occasion which did not call for it. Already half an hour had been wasted in fruitless speaking. The Bill did not relate to Scotland; but it involved an Imperial question on a subject that had been carefully considered by a Committee which sat three years, and which agreed upon clauses mainly to the effect of those before the Committee. The circumstances of past Sessions had prevented clauses being discussed in this House in time to get a Bill through the other House; and therefore the Department had wisely begun this year in the other House. There was abundance of time for the discussion necessary now, and therefore he hoped Progress would not be reported.


said, it was admitted that there had been a deviation from the regular course of proceeding, and that this Bill came cut and dry from the other House at a time when there was not a fair opportunity to discuss it in this. The Act which brought so much credit to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. G- Hardy) was discussed in this House first. He must continue to offer such opposition as he could to the progress of this Bill, against which the Guardians of his borough had petitioned.


said, the clauses objected to were before this House in 1865; they had been well-considered, and nothing had been said on the subject now that had not been said before. The only object of the clauses was to provide a means of giving effect to the law, which had been evaded. The arguments for reporting Progress were used three years ago, and no doubt would, if the occasion should arise, be repeated three years hence.


said, that there were many useful provisions in the Bill, and he hoped that no obstruction would be offered to its consideration.

Motion negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 (A separate Creed Register to be kept in every Workhouse and Pauper school).

MR. T. CHAMBERS moved the omission of the clause. The professed object of it and of the following clauses So Clause 12 was, he said, to secure religious liberty in workhouses and workhouse schools. If the present law did not secure that religious liberty, he, as a strong Protestant, would desire to see the law altered; but the change now proposed would interfere with religious liberty. Already adequate protection was given by law to the religious liberty of the inmates of workhouses, whether adults or orphans. In the Act of last Session additional provision had been made for the education of orphan children according to the religion of the parents or guardians. And as regarded adults, every person who went into a workhouse, or who was on the relief list, was entered as of a particular form of religious persuasion. Was not that a Creed Register? The provisions of this Bill were perfectly unnecessary. Even Dr. Manning himself declared in a letter to the poor Catholics of his diocese, which he caused to be posted on the chapel doors in Westminster, that the Catholic inmates of workhouses had their rights under the existing law of the land. It depended on themselves whether they should enjoy or be deprived of them. They had nothing to do but to ask for them. If they demanded them respectfully and firmly, those rights would not be refused. And what were those rights? Every adult in the workhouse might demand the visit of a Catholic clergyman and the ministrations of the Catholic religion. If that was so, what change was necessary as regarded adults? If they did more, they would not be protecting but interfering with religious liberty. If that was so, the adult Catholic inmates of the workhouse had no ground of complaint. Then with regard to the Catholic children, power was given for their removal to the Catholic school certified under the Poor Law. What more could be done? But a perfectly novel provision was made in this Bill, introduced for the first time into English law. If they desired to alter the law, let the Government bring forward their Bill at the beginning of the Session, when there was time to discuss it. For these reasons he asked the Committee to refuse at this stage of the Session to enter into the controversy which must ensue if the clauses were proceeded with.


said, perhaps it would be convenient were he to state the reasons which had induced the Government to bring forward these clauses. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) had stated that the Bill of 1834 contained a clause which provided that no persons should be compelled to attend against their will any religious service of a religion different from, his own; but he had not stated that the order of the Poor Law Board, of which he approved, was identical with the clause in this Bill. That order provided that the religion of the father and mother should be that of the child, and that no orphan should be instructed in any religion against the wishes of its relatives. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also omitted to state that every impediment had been thrown in the way of that intention being carried into effect, while the clauses now proposed were the same as those which were approved by the Committee of 1864. These clauses did not merely apply to Roman Catholics, because they equally concerned paupers of every religious persuasion, although certainly a large proportion of the inmates of our workhouses were Roman Catholics. It was true, as was stated by the hon. and learned Member, that under an order of the Poor Law Board a register of the religion of every pauper was kept in workhouses; but that register was not open to public inspection, the Guardians alone being permitted to examine it. The fact was that the paupers frequently did not know their legal rights, and even those who did did not demand the consolations of religion according to their particular form of belief, unless they were perfectly sure that persons of their own religious persuasion would be likely to visit them, and, besides that, a fresh application was necessary on every occasion. These were the reasons why the religious Orders of the Poor Law Board had proved inoperative, and the clauses in question had been introduced into this Bill in order to meet the grievances complained of. With regard to children, it was in the power of the Poor Law Board to order children to be sent to schools of the denomination to which their parents belonged. In the case of orphans, when there was reasonable proof that they had been brought up in any particular religion the Poor Law Board had power to send them to schools of that denomination. He did not think that there was anything in those clauses to which a reasonable exception could be taken, and he trusted that the Committee would consider them, and, if necessary, divide upon them that night. He animadverted strongly upon the conduct of the Scottish Reformation Society in sending its agents to canvass hon. Members in the lobby of the House in opposition to the Bill, which he regarded as a most impertinent act on their part, and also upon their proceedings in putting forward petitions which contained inaccurate statements.


complained that the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) had not stated the case fairly, but had used his powers of rhetoric to pervert the real fact3. That hon. and learned Gentleman wished in that matter to make one law for the rich and another for the poor; for that was practically what his speech came to. Orphans born in a better rank of life had their guardians and next-of-kin to look after them and claim them. There was nobody to plead the cause of these poor persons, who could not understand the intricacies of the law, and did not know what their legal rights were in religious matters. In 1862 a Committee recommended more than was contained in the present clause. On that occasion witnesses made out grievances both for old and young Catholics. The hon. and learned Member had referred to Dr. Manning's circular, which showed that these poor people were ignorant as to their privileges. The noble Lord then proceeded to quote evidence to prove that the rela- tions of Roman Catholic children in workhouses were not aware that they had any legal right to object to those children being educated as Protestants, and to insist on their being instructed in their own faith, and that, even assuming that they were conscious of those rights, many Poor Law Guardians were disinclined to facilitate their exercise of them, and disposed rather to throw every obstacle in the way of their doing so. Therefore, the ingeniously constructed edifice of the hon. and learned Member's argument fell to the ground. Having mentioned certain instances in which difficulties had been interposed when sick and dying Roman Catholic paupers required the ministrations of clergymen of their own Church, the noble Lord appealed to the Scotch Members—who had put him out of the world, politically speaking—if it was possible that a scintilla of mercy was left in their northern hearts, at least to show some of that mercy to those poor people. Those Gentlemen had come down to the House to impress the British public with their own exclusive and narrow views on that subject; and it appeared that they had sent their organs into the Lobby of the House to waylay hon. Members with their papers in a similar manner to that adopted by the Protestant Alliance in 1861. The great difficulty in these cases was to get the facts made known to the public. Once those facts were fairly known he had no fear that justice would not be done by the British public; but unfortunately they were hidden and smothered in blue books from year to year by the efforts of Scottish Gentlemen, and others, who always met the demand for bringing them to light by the pretext that it was not the right time for doing so.


said, that those hon. Gentlemen who opposed these clauses would find it very difficult to show that they went beyond the law as it stood at present, at least in spirit and intention. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers), in his vehement attack on that clause, assumed that the Poor Law of this country, as it appeared in the various Acts and in the consolidated Orders of the Poor Law Board, and as it bore in practice upon the pauper population, was one and the same thing. But that assumption was contrary to the fact. He hoped that when the opinion of the Committee was taken the decision would be abided by; and, if beaten, that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not attempt to stop the further progress of the Bill by a factious opposition.


contended that the people's rights did not, as a matter of fact, exist as long as they were ignorant of them or knew not how to enforce them. He thought that any Gentleman who pretended to be a friend of civil and religious liberty could not object to the simple provisions contained in those clauses for enabling the inmates of workhouses to obtain their unquestioned rights. The Catholic inmates of workhouses were afraid of offending the workhouse authorities, by demanding the enjoyment of their rights, and this Bill would put them in possession of their rights. He could not see why it should be opposed.


said, he was accustomed to the manner of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Edward Howard); he always appeared in the person of an aggrieved Catholic when he meditated aggression. It seemed to be agreed that under the present state of the law Roman Catholic children in workhouses had full religious liberty. It had been said that agents of the Scottish Reformation Society had been active in the lobby in reference to this Bill; but it ought to he known that Dr. Manning and Roman Catholic priests had for a good part of this Session been constant attendants in the House, in the lobbies, and in the tea-room. The object now was to abrogate the rights of individual Roman Catholics, on the plea that they did not know them, whilst it was admitted that Dr. Manning had done his best to make these rights known to those who possessed them, and also to secure that they should be enforced. By these clauses Dr. Manning would be enabled to employ the officials of the work- house to coerce any Roman Catholics who did not wish to conform to the intolerant rules of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The object of Cardinal Wiseman was avowed, to form the Roman Catholics into a separate community, to be governed by different laws from the rest of the community. [Sir GEORGE BOWYER: No!] He would assure the hon. and learned Baronet that he had an authenticated copy of the Cardinal's address to that effect, and would produce it. The intention of the present law was to secure religious freedom, and he said it did it. The inten- tion of the present clauses was to coerce the Roman Catholic poor into unwilling obedience to their priests, and therefore he would oppose them.


said, he would confine himself to the 6th clause, which was now under discussion. He admitted, with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Newdegate), that the present law was intended to secure religious freedom; but it was not sufficient, because it could be evaded. The only entry of the religious creed of the inmates was kept in the in-door relief list, and that was under the sole inspection of the officials, who had no interest in the question of the religion of the inmates. So that though a Roman Catholic clergyman might know that many of his own religion were in the hospital, he could not get access to them, because he had no means of inspecting the register. The present clause was intended to enforce a Creed Register, which should be open to the public, and the instant that was done he would say that religious liberty would be secured, and he was surprised that hon. Members should sit there till past midnight debating and opposing a proposition so reasonable. With respect to the memorandum of Dr. Manning, he regarded it as simply pointing out the defects of the present system, in. order that they might be remedied.


reminded the Committee that the clauses would apply to Protestant Dissenters as well as Roman Catholics. For himself, he believed he was as decided a Protestant as the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, though he shook his head, only the hon. Member's tenets as a Protestant led him to deny religious liberty, while his tenets as a Protestant led him to assert it. He was ashamed to hear the hon. Member say that the object of this clause was that the priest might coerce the poor. Such a sentiment was most intolerant, and was unwarranted. The alleged intolerance of the Roman Catholic seemed now to be transposed to the religious Protestant. He was ashamed of it, and he would give his hearty support to the clause.


, to disprove the assertion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) that Catholic paupers had everything they required in the shape of religious instruction and consolation, instanced the case of a poor woman in a London workhouse who, requiring religious consolation on her death- bed, was only permitted to see her clergyman once until that clergyman had renewed his application for admission to the workhouse. He had great respect for the sincerity of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, but he regretted that he seemed to have a craze on this subject.


contended that the clause would oftentimes act injuriously in the case of Roman Catholic paupers, instead of being attended with advantage to them. He thought the attack that had been made upon the Scotch Members was unjustifiable, inasmuch as none of them had as yet taken part in the debate. If this Bill was of the small importance that some hon. Gentlemen seemed to imply, it was strange that the other House of Parliament had retained it before them, for four months.


contended that the present law afforded every opportunity that was necessary for the instruction of Roman Catholics in workhouses.


said, he could not admit the claim of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) to the title of a good Protestant. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire) intimated that he (Mr. Newdegate) was hazy on this subject; but that was only equivalent to saying that the people of England were mad, and during 300 years there had been opportunities for them to consider this question. He was opposed to a measure which would imperil religious liberty.


said, that the Guardians of Marylebone gave every opportunity for the exercise of religious liberty.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 58; Noes 27: Majority 31.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 7 (How the Religion of Children to be entered in the Creed Register).

MR. NEWDEGATE moved that the Chairman report Progress.


appealed to the hon. Member to allow the next two or three clauses to pass before the Chairman reported Progress. They related to the Creed Register, and were purely of a formal character.


said, he should persist in his Motion.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Newdegate.)

The Committee divided:—Ayes 25; Noes 55: Majority 30.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 8 (The Poor Law Board to decide Questions as to Correctness of the Register).


said, he could not understand why questions as to the creed of pauper children all over the country should be remitted to the Poor Law Board for determination.


thought the Poor Law Board supplied an excellent machinery for the purpose.


said, it was not a small question.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 9 (Creed Register to be open to Inspection of Ministers).

MR. POWELL moved an Amendment, empowering ratepayers as well as clergymen to inspect the register.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.


then moved that the Chairman report Progress.

Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.

House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.