HC Deb 16 August 1882 vol 273 cc1962-8

(Mr. J. G. Talbot.)


Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he had tried for many weeks to get an opportunity of bringing it forward, but had been unsuccessful. Notwithstanding the fact that the Prime Minister appealed to the House to allow the Bill to pass, the "blocks" had remained on the Paper down to the present time. It would be within the recollection of the House that some weeks ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) asked the Prime Minister whether he could exercise the clemency of the Crown and procure the release of a clergyman who had been in prison for 16 months. The Prime Minister replied that the Crown had no power to exercise the Prerogative of Mercy in this particular case; and he suggested, if the particular prisoner was to be released at all, that the authors of the Act under which Mr. Green was imprisoned should come forward and introduce a measure for his release. That was the challenge of the Prime Minister. It was taken up in the other House, and the result was that the two Archbishops, who were the authors of the Public Worship Regulation Act, brought in the present Bill, the main object of which was to obtain the release of Mr. Green. In claiming its favourable consideration, he thought the fact of its originating from the two Archbishops might well be adduced in its favour, for they could scarcely be regarded as prejudiced or bigoted as regarded Mr. Green. The Bill proposed to do three things. First, it provided for a representation by the Archbishop of the Province in which a suit had arisen to the Judge who had tried the case. Secondly, it provided that the Judge might release the prisoner if he saw fit. Thirdly, that no order for release should be made, when a man was imprisoned for nonpayment of costs, unless those costs were paid. Provision was then made for the discharge of every legal obligation. Then there was a provision against the release of prisoners in case of subsequent contempt or contumacy. Thus all interference with legitimate authority was prevented. He would refer to an authority which would meet with the respect of hon. Members opposite in an analogous case. A similar Bill to the present, which became 3 & 4 Vict. c. 93, was before the House on the 1st of August, 1840. It was introduced in connection with the imprisonment of John Thorogood for non-payment of tithes. Lord John Russell on that occasion said that— The House in general had been of opinion, that after John Thorogood had been upwards of eighteen months in confinement, being committed for contempt, it was the better way, not only with regard to humanity, but with a view to the general question, that he should be discharged from prison. It was not an opinion at all involving any question as to the propriety of the conduct of John Thorogood, still less of the view which that individual had taken of church rates, of the law respecting them, or his duty towards that law."—[3 Hansard, lv. 1190–91.] Applying to Mr. Green the words of Lord John Russell, he (Mr. J. G. Talbot) would say that it did not involve any question as to the propriety of the conduct of Mr. Green, or any imputation upon the Church Courts, or the law respecting them. Mr. Green, at all events, was a person of blameless life, and full of devotion to his sacred calling; and he (Mr. J. G. Talbot) would appeal to the House, on the ground of mercy, to pass the Bill. It had been said that he was imprisoned by his own act, and that the power of turning the key of his prison door lay with him; but the same could be said with equal truth of the martyrs of early Christian days. Indeed, he (Mr. J. G. Talbot) could go a step further, and would point out that the Protestant martyrs in the Reign of Queen Mary might have saved their lives by submitting to the law. It might have been said—"Why did they not accept the doctrines of the Pope?" But the obvious answer was—"Because their consciences did not permit them." It was the same with this gentleman. He believed, in his conscience, that the Ecclesiastical Courts, as at present constituted, did not command his obedience. The hon. and learned Attorney General, no doubt, would say that Mr. Green's views were wrong, and there were hon. Members present who would agree with him. He (Mr. J. G. Talbot) would not discuss the question of whether Mr. Green was right or wrong; but it was idle to say that he could release himself from prison, when the very act of so doing would be a breach of the conscientious obligations that were the cause of his being there at all. He could not do so without violating his conscience any more than the Christian martyrs could have thrown incense on heathen altars, or the Pro- testant martyrs have admitted the supremacy of the Pope. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who laid so much stress upon liberty of conscience should show their sincerity, and support the principle in this case, by voting for the second reading, which he hoped would be agreed to without a long discussion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. J. G. Talbot.)


said, he must confess that he had listened with surprise to the arguments just employed, and ridiculed the idea of any resemblance between Mr. Green's case and that of the ancient martyrs. He was in prison for not fulfilling the conditions of a trust that had been placed in his hands. He had been put in a position to teach certain doctrines, and had not taught them; in short, he had violated that trust by preaching unlawful doctrines. By ceasing to preach those doctrines, or giving up his cure, he would be released from prison the very next day, and that was the course which he ought to adopt. Personally, he (Mr. Dillwyn) had no wish to see Mr. Green detained. He had not voted for the Public Worship Regulation Act; but, since it was the law, clergymen, of all others, ought to set an example of obedience; whereas the fact was that Mr. Green and those who supported him were setting a very bad example of disobedience to the law. He would move the adjournment of the debate.


seconded the Motion, holding that if there ever was a case which was not one of conscience, this was the case. As he understood the position of Mr. Green, he desired to receive the pay of the State, and yet to put the law of the State at defiance. That, of course, could not be allowed. He had only to resign his living, and he could teach what he liked. He could make postures, or, if he pleased, stand on his head. To allow him, however, to defy the State by doing so under the Bill as proposed, would be most monstrous.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Dillwyn.)


said, that he approached the subject with very mixed feelings. Speaking only for himself and not for the Government, some of whose Members were in favour of the Bill, he felt bound to oppose the second reading of the Bill, because it violated all sound legal principles. He certainly regretted, as much as anyone, the fact that Mr. Green was still in custody on account of what was, no doubt, an honest idea. But that was not the only consideration. They ought to consider, also, that that imprisonment was caused solely by his violation of the law of the Church to which he belonged, obedience to which must be enforced. The circumstance that people were acting in accordance with their consciences could not, on the ground of mercy, be held to justify a breach of the law. There was no resemblance to Thorogood's case, because Thorogood refused to do a positive act, whereas Mr. Green was only called upon to abstain from certain practices or to resign his living. The difficulty of the case was, that Mr. Green insisted on remaining a clergyman of the Church of England; but, while seeking that protection of the law which was afforded to the Church in its connection with the State, he refused to obey the law. By yielding up his cure, he could be at once relieved from the consequences of his acts. If he were released he would return to his diocese and his living, for the purpose of disobeying the law, and again set the order of the Court at defiance. For his own part, he (the Attorney General) had no strong feeling as to the Bill; but he should be glad to see Mr. Green released, especially as that day, he believed, his three years' deprivation was completed. Though he spoke his individual opinion, he must say that he would rather not see the Bill pass in the shape in which it had been framed.


said, the flaw in the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General was, that he had dealt with the question as if the imprisonment of Mr. Green were connected directly with the operation of the Public Worship Regulation Act. He (Mr. Beresford Hope) would point out that an eminent authority in "another place" had told them that the authors of the Public Worship Regulation Act never contemplated imprisonment for contumacy when the Bill was introduced into Parliament. That being so, he trusted that no obstacle would be placed in the way of Mr. Green's release. They need not fear being too lenient, for their kindness would consist in leaving him to the tender mercies of the Public Worship Act, and turning him out into the world deprived of his living. The detention of Mr. Green had been brought about by the resuscitation of a forgotten Act of George III.; and he implored the House, by passing the Bill, not to allow an accidental freak of persecution on the part of an anomalous and acrimonious association to triumph over the common sense of England and Parliament, and over a hard-working, conscientious, and most unfortunate clergyman.


, in supporting the Bill, said, he did not consider that its object was simply the release of Mr. Green from custody. That gentleman was only an instrument by which the purpose of the measure was to be effected—namely, the liberty of holding one's own conscientious opinions; and he, therefore, hoped that every liberty-loving Member of the House would support the Bill.


said, if Mr. Green had been breaking the law, so as to injure his parishioners and congregation, let him be appropriately punished by monition, restraint, inhibition, and, last of all, by deprivation; but Mr. Green was suffering not for an offence of that kind, but because he would not give up his own conscientious convictions in favour of an authority which to him was one he could not acknowledge. He might be mistaken or not; but he (Mr. J. G. Hubbard) contended that no man ought to be punished by imprisonment—which was a punishment for a penal offence—for a matter which was the result of a conscientious scruple, and not an offence against ecclesiastical law.


said, he thought that the strongest possible protest should be made against the case of Mr. Green being regarded as one of the liberty of conscience. Clergymen were appointed, if not by the State, with its sanction; and parishioners ought not to have a clergyman thrust upon them who practised doctrines opposed to their views. The case of Mr. John Thorogood had been referred to in support of this measure; but, in his (Mr. Magniac's) opinion, there was no analogy between that case and the one then before the House. Mr. Green was a public servant with duties to discharge to his parishioners, who were members of the Church of England, and no question of religious liberty was involved. The case of Mr. Green might very probably lead to an alteration of the law at some future time; but, at that period of the Session, when many far more important measures had necessarily been abandoned, the House ought not to be asked to discuss the Bill, seeing that it was a measure simply proposed for the purpose of setting free a particular individual.


rose to address the House, when—

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at half after Four o'clock till To-morrow.