HC Deb 30 June 1868 vol 193 cc372-83

said, the interests affected by his Motion were graver than might appear at first sight. Some years since the state of things in the prisons of England and Wales with respect to the spiritual instruction of Roman Catholic prisoners was so unsatisfactory that the Government introduced and carried what was commonly known as a permissive Bill—namely, the Prison Ministers Act. That measure made legal what was not legal before, and gave ample power to magistrates to provide spiritual instruction for the prisoners under their care. Speakers in that House, and on the platform, as well as writers in the public Press, frequently quoted certain statistics as to the number of Roman Catholic prisoners in the larger towns of England, and sought to trace a connection between those statistics and the teaching of his Church. Now, his answer to that was, that the authorities of the gaols of those towns—or those, rather, who had control over them—were mainly responsible for the consequences which were thus attributed to the doctrine and teaching of his Church. At present there was by law in Ireland a Protestant and a Roman Catholic chaplain for every prison—a system which had been attended with the most beneficial results. In passing the Prison Ministers Act for England and Wales the Legislature expected that the magistrates or other prison authorities would take advantage of the measure and put its provisions into operation; but his complaint was that they had failed to do so to any considerable extent; and thus a great wrong was inflicted, not only on the most helpless, and probably the most degraded class of the community, but also upon society at large, and especially upon the ratepayers. In England and Wales there were 119 gaols in which Protestant chaplains were engaged, the aggregate of their salaries being £20,133; while Catholic chaplains were only engaged in fifteen of these, and the whole amount paid to them was £1,255. It was a fact, further, that in addition to the £20,133 paid to Protestant chaplains there were additional sums paid to assistants and Scripture readers, bringing up the total to nearly, if not quite, £30,000. In London, which, as the capital, gave the tone to the rest of the nation, there were on the 2nd of April this year 649 Roman Catholic prisoners in five gaols; and the Protestant clergymen attending those gaols were paid over £2,000 for their services in connection with them, besides the £500 or £600 which he had no doubt their assistants received. But, while the Protestant clergy Were thus remunerated for the spiritual instruction which they afforded to their coreligionists, not a single farthing was given for the instruction of the Roman Catholic prisoners. In the prison of Coldbath Fields application had been made that, on Easter Sunday, opportunity might be given for the celebration of the greatest solemnity of their Church; but a room was refused. At last better treatment was given, but no clerk was allowed to give the responses of the sacred office, till at length a Catholic magistrate attended for the purpose; and afterwards a boy of ten years of age was allowed to perform the clerk's office. The Roman Catholic clergyman at Tothill Fields did not ask for a single pound for his ministration, but had simply expressed a wish that a lady, the daughter of a Peer and the wife of a Member of Parliament, might be allowed to play during the time of Divine service. Permission was, however, refused; and the lady, who was a woman of high spirit, waited on the visiting justice and asked to be allowed to play on Sundays for the benefit of the prisoners, observing that his own daughter was allowed to attend in the gaol. "Oh," replied the magistrate, "my daughter is not the only lady who attends; there are three or four others who come here." Did that, he should like to know, look like religious equality? Was that "levelling up" or "levelling down?" Further still, it was true that several priests had broken down with health shattered by the indignity and contumely with which they were treated by the prison authorities and officials. For his own part he did not wish to see a single farthing of the money which they received taken from the Protestant clergy. What he was protesting against was the manner in which the Roman Catholic clergyman was treated. The Government prisons were managed admirably, and he could not see why the same principle could not be adopted in all the gaols. These poor people should not be told that while they committed smaller offences they would not receive fair play in prison, but that as soon as they committed crimes which subjected them to penal servitude, then fair play would be extended to them. At the last meeting of the Board the Chairman said that everything necessary had been provided for the conduct of the Roman Catholic worship in the prison; the fact being, on the contrary, that the priest could not proceed with his duties until he had expended £120 out of his own pocket in the purchase of altar furniture, vestments, and other things that were absolutely necessary for the conduct of Catholic worship. Catholic clergymen who visited prisons were treated with studied indignity, and everything was done to discourage them. Protestants wished to be attended only by Protestant clergymen, and Catholics only by Catholic clergymen; and if a Catholic chaplain attempted to interfere with the faith of a Protestant prisoner he should be expelled from the prison; but nothing of the kind over happened. The good effects of allowing the visits of Catholic clergymen to prisoners of their own persuasion were seen by experience, as in the prison of the Isle of Wight; whereas when prisoners did not obtain spiritual consolation they were committed and re-committed, and descended the hardened steep of crime. This was a question also for the ratepayers, because persons committed over and over again to gaol occasioned a great expense to the community; and perseverance in a system of mere punishment without improvement would only add to the number of the dangerous classes of society, which were the most costly classes of all. All means of improvement should be adopted. They had been tried with admirable effect in Ireland, and the result was that the Irish Judges were going the circuits having scarcely any crime to inquire into. Poverty and misery were the causes of the crimes committed by the poor Irish in London: they were more exposed to temptation than any other class; and he implored the House not to make crime deeper and darker by refusing the means of religious improvement. The matter was one which called for the vigorous action of Government, instead of leaving it to a body of magistrates, who were quite unfit for the purpose, to sit in judgment as to the religion of 200,000,000 of the human race. If the Prison Ministers Act were not made compulsory, ten or a dozen years might elapse before the law would be put into active operation; and as he did not wish to wait so long for such a result, he now, in the name of justice—in the name of the honour and character of that House—in the name of fair play to the poor and oppressed—in the name of civil and religious liberty—would move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


seconded the Motion; and said that it was very gratifying to those who had laboured in this cause to find that the magistrates of the country generally, aided by the Acts passed in 1863 and 1865, had to a considerable extent conceded the principle that the Roman Catholics had in view, by appointing Roman Catholic ministers to attend to members of their flock who were in gaol. This, however, had only been done to a too limited extent. The principle had been acted upon in large and enlightened towns like Preston, Liverpool and Manchester, where salaries had beer given to Roman Catholic ministers, and various steps taken to facilitate the instruction and reformation of the prisoners Under the former system Catholic prisoners had to endure hardships of which gentlemen, whether in or out of the House, had no idea. They were exposed to great ill usage and oppression if they avowed them selves Catholics, and temptations were held out to them to attend the Protestant service, with increased severities if they refused. The Reports of Inspectors showed that there was a striking improvement in the conduct of Roman Catholic prisoners in consequence of their being brought into communication with their priests; and it was shown that in places where the discipline of the prison had been very bad indeed a complete reformation had taken place It appeared from a Report in December 1866, that the chaplain at Parkhurst Prison had interfered in reference to the school for Roman Catholic children; a system which he (Lord Edward Howard) thought ought not to exist. It was too bad that persons wishing to be reformed were not allowed the means of reformation, thus increasing the expense on the rate payers of the country. The matter we not so important in reference to the Protestant Dissenters, because in many cases they did not object to attend the services of the Church of England; but the Roman Catholics refused the ministrations of the Protestant clergymen. He hoped that a appeal to the enlarged constituency would tend to afford a remedy to that state of things of which he complained. In the present Home Secretary they had a talent of administration and a vigour of action that promised the best results, and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would give his earnest attention to the matter, and do what it was possible to do to redress a wrong and confer a benefit.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in consequence of the persistent refusal or neglect, of the authorities having control over certain of the county and borough Prisons Great Britain to put in operation the powers given to them by the Prison Ministers Act, it is necessary they should be compelled by Law to make adequate provision for the religious instruction and Divine Worship of Catholic Prisoners."—(Mr. Maguire.)


said, that the Returns moved for had two sides, one of which only had been presented by the hon. Member to the House. The Returns would show that throughout the country great progress had been made in this matter since the Prison Ministers' Act had come into operation. As he had said last year a permissive Act on a subject of this sort would in most cases lead to controversy and this had been the case in this instance. Still, however, great steps had been taken in order to secure to persons in custody who were of a particular religion an opportunity of seeing the ministers to whose creed they belonged in order to be instructed by them. There were, however, in many parts of the country considerable difficulties, where the number of Roman Catholic prisoners were, perhaps, only four, five, or six, and where, the Roman Catholic population being few, there was no priest or chapel near the prison. In these cases it was almost impossible that there should be a regular Roman Catholic chaplain attached to the gaol; but he found that in no case mentioned in the Returns had there been any refusal of access, and in most cases there was a growing freedom of access for the priest. In the county of Middlesex, for instance, to which special reference was made, considerable progress had been made both as to access to prisoners and the assignment of a proper place for the peformance of religious worship. No one in the gaols was debarred from access to a minister of his own creed for the purpose of religious instruction. With respect to the supply of those things that were necessary for religious ceremonies, he thought that it would be found very difficult for any legislation to compel a supply, for they could hardly by legislation lay down rules to be applied to such matters. If there had been what the hon. Member would call a sort of repulsive coldness in the reception of Roman Catholic priests in gaols he (Mr. G. Hardy) did not see how that could be got rid of by legislation. The hon. Member would take steps by his Motion to call on the House to decide the sort of thing that should in the future be done; but he (Mr. G. Hardy) must confess that he was not in favour of that kind of Motion unless immediate legislation could be founded on it. He was not surprised that Gentlemen who professed a religion which they thought was neglected should be impatient; but he trusted that the House, having thought proper to act by permissive legislation, would give a certain time to see how such legislation would act, and more especially so as facilities for religious instruction were being increased. He trusted that the hon. Member would not press his Motion to a division.


acknowledged the courteous and conciliatory remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the home Department, and expressed his concurrence with him that it would be inexpedient for his hon. Friend the Member for Cork, under the circumstances, to press his Motion to a division. It would be inadvisable for the House to pass a mere abstract Resolution upon the subject unless it were immediately followed up by legislation. He (Mr. Monsell), however, ventured to submit to the right hon. Gentleman that in all the prisons of the United Kingdom there should be an equal system observed in regard to the religious wants of the prisoners. It was curious to mark how differently the prisoners belonging to the religion of the minority were treated in Ireland to the prisoners of the minority as regarded faith in England. He need not speak of the prisoners professing the religion of the Established Church in Ireland, who had always the assistance of the ministers of their own faith. But he would take the Presbyterians as an example. In 1865 he found there were on an average only eighty-two Presbyterian prisoners in Ireland. Well, for the spiritual wants of those eighty-two prisoners there were fourteen paid chaplains. In the county Louth there was only one Presbyterian prisoner, and in Fermanagh two Presbyterian prisoners. Nevertheless, there was a Presbyterian chaplain with a salary of upwards of £30 to attend to each of these gaols. He by no means complained of this expenditure. On the contrary, however few the prisoners were, he believed that the ministrations of the clergy were attended with the best results. In this country, however, the greatest difficulty was experienced in obtaining for the Roman Catholic prisoners in many of the gaols the religious consolation and instruction of their own priests. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would take the question into his serious consideration, and would endeavour to introduce a Bill next Session which should extend the system now in force in Ireland into this country, and not leave to the discretion of the magistrates that which was fixed by law in Ireland.


said, he understood that the hon. Member for Cork had animadverted upon the conduct of the Middlesex magistrates. Now, he (Mr. Newdegate) had been for many years a justice of the peace for Middlesex, and he knew that the Bench of magistrates at Clerkenwell had made some wise concessions in the sense of the demands made by the hon. Member for Cork. What was the result? Had that hon. Gentleman, or any other of the Roman Catholic Members of that Mouse, expressed any satisfaction? Not the least. Count de Montalembert, in writing on the political future of England, described the religious agitation that was going on in this country, of which they had had a sample that day. The Count recommended the Roman Catholics to demand the principle of religious equality for their prisoners in gaols—a principle, by-the-by, which their Church repudiated whenever it had power. Was the fact not enough to prove that whatever concessions that House might make short of granting complete supremacy to the Roman Catholic Church—a supremacy insisted upon by the Pope in his Encyclical—they would give no satisfaction. On the contrary, the result of suck concessions acted as a mere encouragement to agitation. So confident was he that the advice given by Count de Montalembert would be followed out, that he voted against the last of those concessions, and he privately expressed his conviction that those concessions would not be received with satisfaction, but would only lead to further demands. The hon. Member for Cork now proposed to deprive them of the discretion that was vested in the magistrates in respect to the appointment! of Roman Catholic chaplains to gaols, although such magistrates were responsible for the good conduct of those chaplains that were allowed to visit the prisoners. To satisfy the Roman Catholic priesthood was simply impossible. They had the assurance of the Papacy and the Roman Catholic clergy that anything short of supremacy would fail to satisfy them. The Home Secretary, consistently with the amiability of his character, expressed his satisfaction at the concessions being made by the magistrates generally upon this point, and his hope that those concessions would continue to progress. But in the face of the Encyclical of the Pope, all such concessions would be utterly inadequate to the demands of the Roman Catholic Church. The claim of the hon. Member for Cork now was this, that wherever there was an assembly of persons belonging to the Roman Catholic community there should be by law present a Roman Catholic priest to govern them. Many who profess Liberal opinions would, he had no doubt, arrive at the conviction that there was no true liberality or religious freedom to be found in the course they were invited to pursue, and would join with those of his political opinions who preferred incurring the odium cast upon them by the party opposite, rather than resign that trust which as magistrates they were anxious to discharge with a due regard to the sacred interests involved and to the best of their understandings.


said, as he understood the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) although he thought the present application fair and just in itself, he refused his assent to it because he feared that it would be followed by other applications which, in his view of the case, would not be fair and just. He (Mr. C. Fortescue) hoped that the House would decide this question upon its simple merits without reference to anything else. He denied the application of the word "concession," which had been so frequently used by the hon. Member to the proposition now made by his hon. Friend the Member for Cork. Concession meant the granting of something to a part)' who had no right to ask for it. The application now made was one founded upon right and justice, and therefore could not be considered a concession if granted. He concurred with his right hon. Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell) in thinking that the advice and instruction of a chaplain to prisoners, however few in number, were calculated to produce great good. Speaking from his own knowledge of what occurred in Ireland, and especially in his own county, he would say that the system of securing for the inmates of public institutions the benefit of religions administrations by law was carried out most completely, even to an extent that might be described as pedantic. He remembered with shame the treatment of the Roman Catholic minority in England when he compared it with the more liberal treatment of the Protestant minority in Ireland. In the workhouse, for example, which he was in the habit of attending, there was a mere handful of Protestant paupers—often only half-a-dozen—among a mass of Roman Catholics, and yet there was a regularly paid chaplain of the Church of England, and a room was fitted up as a chapel for Divine service. Unless the principle of appointing Roman Catholic chaplains to those places in England was more generally acknowledged and acted upon, his belief was that it would be the duty of the House to interfere stringently in the matter.


observed that the Prison Ministers Act of 1863 was permissive, but the Act of 1865, which provided that a prisoner, unless he objected, should be visited by a minister of his own denomination, limited to a great extent the discretion of the magistrates. He could not agree with the Home Secretary that great progress was being made, because in 1866 it appeared there were forty-one gaols, at which ten Roman Catholic chaplains were employed, while in the latest Return, referring to 119 prisons, only fifteen chaplains had been appointed. The Returns showed that at several prisons, containing a very considerable number of Roman Catholics, no Roman Catholic chaplain was appointed.


said, he considered the speech of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) irrelevant to the subject. The question was a very narrow one, being confined to a question merely of prison administration—namely, whether Roman Catholic priests should be allowed to attend Roman Catholic prisoners when in gaol for the benefit of such prisoners, and for the real object for which they were confined—that of their improvement, and for the good order and discipline of the prison. This was not a concession to Roman Catholics, but whether it was right or wrong that Roman Catholic priests should be admitted to prisoners who belonged to that Church. If it was wrong to permit them, there was an end of the question. Prisoners, however, were not sent to gaol merely for their punishment. The State was certainly interested in the reformation of her prisoners, and as the only means of reforming prisoners was through the instrumentality of religion, and as it was impossible to expect the Roman Catholic prisoners to be reformed by the doctrines of a religion in which they did not believe, he regarded this so-called concession as a simple act of justice. He had always objected to the present permissive state of the law, because there was an ingenious perverseness in the nature of Englishmen which frequently prevented their carrying out the benevolent intentions contemplated by Parliament. Looking at the question as he did, purely in the light of an act of justice towards the Roman Catholic prisoners, and of benefit to the State, he trusted that Her Majesty's Government would bring in a Bill in the early part of next Session to make the appointment of Roman Catholic chaplains in prisons necessary.


remarked, that though it was true the contributions to the gaols were not so large for the Nonconformist body as they were for the Roman Catholic portion of the population, the principle was alike the same in each case. The gradual addition to the public expenditure was worthy of serious attention, and he believed that all that was necessary in this case was to resort to voluntary efforts, which had been found successful in so many other directions, and which, if adopted, would put an end to the continual squabbles on all hands for payment from State funds.


desired to allude to an important and delicate point which had not yet received any attention during the progress of this discussion—the principle of concealing the confessions of prisoners who were sentenced to death. He did not think that it was necessary that the details should be published; but, before the House assented to any proposition for the appointment of Roman Catholic chaplains, it should be distinctly laid down that it was incumbent on the priest to say whether the prisoner had confessed his guilt or not. The peace of mind of twelve honest jurymen, even occasionally of the Judge, was involved in the question, and their minds ought, above all priestly considerations, to be set at rest, so that they might not be afflicted with those unpleasant misgivings which, in the absence of any confession of guilt, would prey upon their minds at the most unseasonable hours. ["Question!"] The objection applied equally in the appointment of clergymen of any denomination, for, but for the interposition of the priest or clergyman, the criminal, finding all his hopes gone, would frequently yield to the dictates of that natural morality which was superior to the morality of any priest, either Protestant or Roman Catholic. ["Question!"]


said, he was sure his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Neate) would not be the man to call upon on ordained priest of God to violate his ordinated vow, which would be the result of adopting the suggestion with which he closed his speech. Believing as he did that the desire of the Catholic Members who supported the Resolution before the House was not to increase the resources of the Church to which they belonged, but simply to carry out their conscientious views, he should support the Resolution. He did this mainly on the ground that in his opinion the magistrates of England are at this moment acting in reference to this matter in a manner the House ought not to countenance; and for this reason the Judges upon whom the duty devolved sentenced convicted criminals to terms of imprisonment commensurate with their offences; but after this had been done, the magistrates, whose duties were, in fact, simply ministerial, inflicted a cumulative punishment by depriving the prisoners of the ministrations of the Church to which they belonged.


, in reply, said, that he had in some respects been misrepresented by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. He did not deny that progress had been made, or was still being made, but said that progress had been very slow. The Roman Catholic Members did not want chaplains to be appointed in cases where they were not required; but they said that, in common justice, a chaplain should be appointed to minister to Roman Catholic prisoners in cases where there were many of them confined in gaols. The Roman Catholic Members of the House represented 9,000,000 of Her Majesty's subjects, and they would not rest until they had obtained that justice and equality to which they considered them selves entitled. He asked the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli), who had made so many professions of his desire to do justice to the Roman Catholics, to carry out his professions by placing a Government Bill on the table of the House next Session, to make the law compulsory instead of permissive. He would not now press his Motion to a division.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.