HL Deb 22 May 1840 vol 54 cc496-9
The Bishop of Llandaff

presented a petition from the inhabitants of the parish of Merthyr Tydvil, where the iron works were more extensive than in any part of the country. In consequence of the enormous population that had sprung up of late years in that parish, which within the memory of man, was a rural parish, with not more than 1,000 inhabitants, the want of church accommodation was most seriously felt. Even since the commencement of the present century the population had increased from 4,000 to between 40,000 and 50,000, but no increased church accommodation had accompanied this increase of the people. Perhaps, the blame might be considered partly to rest upon those parties who had been the cause of increasing the population of the parish by bringing persons from all parts of the country to labour for their benefit. Still that would not acquit the Legislature if it neglected the duty which the existence of this state of things imposed upon it. If there was no legal mode of compelling the proprietors of the iron works at Merthyr Tydvil to supply a remedy for the evil that had arisen, it became the duty of the Legislature to take the subject into consideration, and endeavour (as the petitioners prayed) to devise some remedy for the evil complained of. The petition was signed by 1,750 persons, and they stated that, for the accommodation of so enormous a population as between 40,000 and 50,000, there was only a single church, which would contain no more than 1,200 persons. This statement applied strictly to the parish of Merthyr Tydvil. There was a member of the parish, now separated from it, containing about 1,200 inhabitants, in which there was also a church; still it was so small, that it would accommodate only 800 people. The sum of the case, therefore, was, that while there was only church room for 2,000 persons, there were nearly 50,000 persons for whom it ought to be provided. Ten years ago he had devoted his attention to this subject, and endeavoured to obtain some remedy by making an appeal to the owners of a building that had formerly been devoted to religious uses, but had since become desecrated, to allow it to be restored to its original purpose; but he received so decided a repulse, although couched in courteous terms, that he gave up the attempt to obtain a remedy from that quarter. The history of the origin of parish churches was so well known, that he need not trouble their Lordships with going into the subject; but he wished to show, by the closest analogy to the principle involved in the origin and rise of parish churches, that there was the most justifiable grounds for asserting this claim upon the property of those rich men who owned the soil in that populous district. It was well known that parish churches were built, in general, by the lords of the manor, who were the proprietors of the land, for the use of their humbler dependants; and that the churches were endowed by them by the setting apart of a portion of the produce of the land for the maintenance of the church, and the decent provision of the clergy. If this principle were good, and a portion of the produce of land above the soil were justly appropriated to the religious uses of the people, then he considered there was a strong and imperative claim upon those who were the owners of the wealth lying beneath the surface, which ought to be made equally available for the same purposes. The spot on which the petitioners were now settled was, during the last generation, a perfect solitude. Its present inhabitants had been brought there to work for the benefit of those who, by the labour of those persons, had become the owners of enormous wealth; and he considered the obligation of providing church-accommodation for the people chiefly lay on those who had been enriched by their la- bour. He did not believe, that all the individuals to whom he alluded were insensible to this obligation, but there were difficulties in the way. Companies had been formed, and some of the parties objected to the application of the common funds for such a purpose, saying that it was not legal. That doctrine might be true, nor could he say what legal measure could be adopted to meet this admitted evil. But it was a subject that he wished to be fairly submitted to the consideration of her Majesty's Government, who, of course, had the welfare and improvement of all parts of the country at heart. Events had recently occurred in that very neighbourhood which must have forced upon the attention of the Government the absolute necessity of improving the moral character of the people. Still he would not put this great question of maintaining a religious establishment upon the mere ground of forming a good police. There was a higher ground upon which he would place it, and one which all their Lordships would recognise—namely, that it was a duty which a Christian government was bound to perform. It had been objected by some that this spiritual destitution had been overstated; for although the parish church was not sufficient to accommodate the people, yet there were other religious communities by whom buildings were provided for religious instruction, in accordance with their own views and professions. That was perfectly true. He was in the habit of saying that it was well for the people of that district that the fact was so. There were many conventicles, some more and some less pure in their doctrines, and more or less objectionable in their proceedings. But with those had sprung up a most powerfully counteracting evil. For one new place of religious instruction, there were probably ten places opened for the promotion of vice and crime, in consequence of that most unwise measure called the Beer Bill. He had often said that he regarded these teachers of religion among the humbler classes as fellow-labourers in the same field, who acted as excellent supplementary instructors. Their exertions, though not directed in performing the work as he could in all respects wish, were infinitely better than leaving the work entirely undone. But as long as this country had an established Church, and as long as the Constitution recognised the Church in connection with the State, and as long as it was considered that the form of Christianity which the Church taught was the purest and the best, so long, lie thought, it would follow as a corollary, that whatever public money might be appropriated for the purposes of religion, ought to flow into that channel, and be made to support that which they were convinced was the best and purest form of religion. He trusted, therefore, that let the petitions against any such measure be ever so numerous, an independent Legislature would act upon their own judgment as to what it was the duty of Government to do, and not be swayed by those popular clamours. The right rev. Prelate concluded by moving that the petition be read.

Petition read.

The Marquess of Bute

begged to express his thanks to his right rev. Friend for the very able, and kind, and affectionate manner in which he had supported the prayer of these petitioners. There was not a single opinion advanced by his right rev. Friend in which he did not heartily concur. The inhabitants of Merthyr-Tydvil would feel much indebted to his right rev. Friend for his able advocacy of their cause this day. It was a singular fact, that the census of the population of Merthyr Tydvil in 1831 did not give the full number of the inhabitants of that parish. It so happened that the returns pf the population were made within a few days after the riots there, and such had been the alarm created by those riots, that not less than 3,000 persons had left the town.