HL Deb 06 July 1860 vol 159 cc1507-13

in rising To call Attention to the continued and serious Riots occurring on each successive Sunday in the Parish of St. George's-in-the-East, more especially to those which took place on Sundays the 17th and 24th of June; and to inquire whether any or what more effective measures of prevention were to he adopted by Her Majesty's Government, said that after the very unsatisfactory reply that had been given on a previous evening in "another place," he feared he should not obtain any better information from the noble Lord who represented the Government in that House. But these riots, under the very prostituted name of religious dissensions, had now assumed a more serious character. They were no longer limited to hissing and hooting, but personal assaults were committed upon individuals. On the 24th of June a ruffianly rabble pursued and assaulted the evening preacher, who was obliged to take refuge in a public-house, whence he was ejected at the command of the mob, but, fortunately, succeeded in jumping into a cab and effecting his escape. On the 17th of June some choristers were pursued in like manner, and ill-treated. They also took refuge in a public-house, and were turned out to the fury of their assailants. Who were the persons who were promoting these successive weekly riots? They were not Mr. Bryan King's congregation, because some of them abstained from attending the church, in consequence of their disapproval of Mr. King's extraordinary proceedings, and others on account of these disturbances. He wished it to be distinctly understood that he was in no way taking up the cause of Mr. King, whose conduct was, in his opinion, characterized by the most culpable want of judgment and perverse obstinacy. Mr. King had adopted proceedings distasteful to his congregation, he adhered to those proceedings, notwithstanding that he must have foreseen how fearful would be the consequences. When their Lordships remembered that these riots had been going on for nearly ten months, and that the short days of the winter season were approaching, they could not doubt that, unless decisive means were taken to put them down, serious affrays, and perhaps loss of life, would ensue. The answer of the Home Secretary a few days since informed them that the authorities had reported that nothing amounting to a breach of the peace had occurred which would justify interference; but if the occurrences of the two Sundays which he had mentioned did not amount to a breach of the peace, he was at a loss to know what constituted a breach of the peace. He had always thought that the law took cognizance of anything calculated to disturb the public peace, but he might be mistaken. The question was, what was to be done? They could not interfere with Mr. Bryan King, who, however culpable, maintained that he was adhering strictly to the rubric. Technically speaking, it might be so, but Mr. King was adhering to a course which was thoroughly distasteful to his parishioners, and he could not help regarding him as the indirect promoter of the evils which were so much to be deplored. They could not close the church. The right rev. Prelate who presided over the diocese of London had tried, but discovered that the law would not warrant that course;—still, in a case of emergency such as this, he should like to know whether it could not be closed by an Order in Council. He did not say whether it could or could not, but it would be far preferable to close the church, if it were for twelve months, rather than suffer these outrageous proceedings. The right rev. Prelate had given his advice, but his monitions appeared to have been disregarded, and he had no power to put an end to that which was not only a scandal to religion, but a positive disgrace to a civilized country. He thought the churchwardens had been deficient in their duty, because they admitted into the church persons whom they knew very well to be the leaders of these disturbances. It might be said that the church was open to all; but persons who resorted there merely to create disorder should be refused admittance. He could not but believe that if the police had executed their duty, as it was intended they should, that the present state of things would not have continued. It was clear that the mob were solely urged on by a sheer love of mischief; and it must not be forgotten that they were establishing a precedent of a most dangerous description. What occurred in St. George's-in-the-East might equally happen elsewhere, and the consequences of an extension of those disturbances become exceedingly serious. An Act had been passed to confer greater powers to check such disturbances on the churchwardens; but judging from past experience it was hardly to be expected that, in this instance, there would be any change in the conduct of these officials. The right rev. Prelate had no doubt done his best to put an end to the riots, and would probably have succeeded had his advice been attended to. He much regretted that the right rev. Prelate had not the power to carry his views into effect. He wished to ask the noble Earl opposite whether the Government were prepared to adopt some decisive measures for repressing these outrages.


hoped the noble Earl (Earl Granville) would allow him to interpose for a moment before he gave an answer to the question put to him by the noble Viscount. He wished to point out to their Lordships and to the Government strongly that this was not a question to be trifled with, but one which was every day becoming more and more important. He could not quite agree with the account which the noble Viscount had given of recent occurrences in St. George's—namely, that the disturbances were each week becoming worse. From the information which he (the Bishop of London) received weekly, he believed, on the contrary, that the disturbances were not so bad as they had formerly been. But the improved state of affairs was simply and entirely owing to the presence of the police. The riots would be as bad at this moment as when the attention of their Lordships was first called to them, only for the presence of the police. What he wished to call the attention of the noble Earl to at present was, that while Parliament was sitting there would be some check on the riotous violence of the mob; but they were rapidly approaching the time when Parliament would be prorogued, and when it could no longer be possible to ask Her Majesty's Government questions on the subject; and the noble Earl had to consider whether it would be possible to go on until February next with the present system of keeping down the disturbances by the presence of a body of police. It was painful for him. (the Bishop of London) to have thus to speak of any church in the Metropolis, or anywhere else; but he could not avoid saying that there must be great fault somewhere when a clergyman required the presence of a large body of police to enable him to continue his ministrations. Neither their Lordships nor the other House of Parliament had been inattentive in the matter, for a Bill had passed both Houses which would give churchwardens greater power than they had hitherto possessed, and the difficulty which had been experienced in enforcing the statute of Queen Mary would not be felt under the new law. The statute provided that any person disturbing a congregation, or guilty of brawling in a church, might be taken before a justice of the peace and fined £5, or committed for two calendar months. He hoped that no long time would be suffered to elapse before the statute was put in force in respect to those misguided people who were ringleaders in these disturbances in St. George's. Reference had been made to the Churchwardens of St. George's. He had endeavoured to see that they did their duty, and he believed they had done so; but, no doubt, they had done it unwillingly, as any men would under similar circumstances; but he need not point out the difficulties which there were in the way of two churchwardens, aided only by four sides men, coping with a mob of a thousand people. He wished to put it to the Government whether, as a law had been passed to punish the persons who had committed these outrages, some legislation was not also required to prevent the cause of them. So far as he had been able to ascertain it, the law of the Church of England, as at present administered, allowed to every parochial clergyman the undivided responsibility of settling the form of his services within certain limits prescribed by the Act of Uniformity, without any consultation with his congregation or with any one else; and there was no check on his arbitrary will except the power of the congregation to leave the church when the services were distasteful to them. The parishioners, of course, had it in their power to leave the parish church, and he believed there were very few parish clergymen so utterly dead to all right feeling as to persist in maintaining a service which could only have the effect of making his parishioners leave their church. The good sense and feeling of the clergy generally prevented them from thus trifling with those whose souls were committed to their charge; but experience now showed that this undivided responsibility of the clergy required to be looked into. It had been supposed that, as the clergy generally had shown such good sense in those matters, it might be left to them to settle what changes should be made in the ornaments and fittings of the church as such changes became necessary; but, unfortunately, examples had occurred in which some clergymen had not shown the good sense and feeling which might have been expected from them. He had had the matter investigated by his own lawyers, and he had come to the conclusion that the clergy had no such power in respect of ornaments and fittings. He had gone into the matter and issued a circular to his clergy informing them that no change whatever should be made in the chancels without the permission of the faculty of the Bishop's Court. But with regard to whether there should be musical services or read services, as at present advised, he believed the responsibility of deciding did rest with the clergyman of the parish. What he wished to put to Her Majesty's Government was this:—why was it that one single man was to have it placed in his power to set at nought the feeling of the whole parish to which he was appointed? It had been frequently suggested that the Bishop should have the decision in such cases. No doubt that would cause a great increase of anxiety to the Bishop; but he was sure that experience had already shown that the undivided responsibility ought not to be left in the hands of whatever clergyman might happen to be placed in a parish. The present case, it might be said, was an isolated one, and it certainly was unlike any other; but still there were other cases in which the feelings of the parishioners had been greatly trifled with by innovations. He thought, therefore, that the time was come when some check ought to be put to an individual proceeding in this way in spite of the feelings of the parishioners. He had himself, several months back, submitted a measure to the Govern- ment, but it had not obtained their approval. He should now be glad to hear, first, that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to take such vigorous steps under the recent Act as would deter those who took part in these out rages; and, secondly, that it was their intention seriously to consider, with the assistance of the ecclesiastical lawyers of the Crown, whether a new system could not be devised by which the root of the evil might be reached, and individual clergymen prevented from giving rise to these disturbances by outraging the feelings of their parishioners.


said, that the noble Viscount was not quite accurate in his statement of what had taken place, for nothing had occurred which amounted to a breach of the peace, though there had been serious interruptions to the performance of divine service.


said, he referred to what took place outside the church.


said, he would read the reports of the police which had been sent to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and which reports showed that the reports in the newspaper were not correct [which the noble Earl then read.] Every Sunday for some time past there had been, inside and outside the church, seventy-three policemen—a force larger by far than was ever employed in one place except in cases of danger from the assembling together of great numbers of persons. So far as putting the law as it stood into action, he did not think the Government could take any further steps in the matter. He did not wish to say anything which might appear to sanction these disturbances, but it certainly was a matter for comment that a clergyman should require the assistance of seventy-three policemen to protect him in his parish church, and especially after an offer had been made to him by the Bishop of his diocese to arrange the dispute and. bring back peace and quietness to the parish. He thought the Bishop of the diocese should have been vested with power to put a stop to these disturbances, but under any circumstances all must reprobate the proceedings of the mob. The right rev. Prelate had been good enough to communicate a scheme for stopping such proceedings by putting more power in the hands of the Bishops to deal with clergymen, but Her Majesty's Government, after giving it their careful consideration, found it would be attended with such disadvantages that they could not agree to adopt it. They would, however, carefully consider the question during the recess with a view to see whether some remedy could not be devised for putting an end to such scandalous scenes.


said, this was really a matter which was becoming more serious every week, and he did not think that the Government had paid very great attention to the subject. It was said that this was an isolated case; but whether that were so or not, it was a gross violation of the law, and it was monstrous that the law should give greater protection against a riot in the house of a private individual than it afforded against the desecration of the house of God. He believed that the root of the evil was a want of power in the Bishops to control their clergy. He had heard the parochial system praised over and over again, as if it were perfection. But parishes were independent states, subject only to the suzerainty of the Bishop, and the incumbents were practically as independent of the Bishops as the Danubian provinces of their suzerain the Sultan. It would not do to trifle with a question of this kind, or else it would affect all other churches and be fatal to the peace of the Establishment.


said, it appeared to be supposed by a number of persons that the Government or the Queen in Council had power to make an Order to shut up the church; but neither the Queen in Council nor the Government had any authority to do that. The Bishop of the diocese was the only authority who could make such an order, and he could not do it without the consent of the incumbent. There must be a change in the law before such a power as that supposed to be in the Government could be exercised.