HL Deb 16 June 1890 vol 345 cc950-61

My Lords, as the time is now approaching very closely when arrangements must be made for the Census of 1891, I think it desirable to bring under your Lord ships' notice a point with reference to the Census which has been raised on more than one previous occasion. I think it desirable, especially under present circumstances, with regard to which I have to say a word or two presently, that there should be in the Census papers for 1889 a column showing the religious persuasion of all the persons whose names are returned. I think that as this matter has been mixed up some times with ecclesiastical questions, it may be as well to say that I do not make the Motion after having conferred with the Representatives of any Church, or in the interests of any Church, or against the interests of any Church. I make this Motion as a Member of Parliament, and I regard the subject entirely and solely from a Parliamentary point of view. I may remind your Lordships of what has passed on previous occasions with regard to this matter. Similar Motions were made in 1860, in 1870, and in 1880. In 1860 Sir George Cornewall Lewis moved that a column be inserted in the Census Bill of that year in the sense of that which I now propose. It was opposed by Mr. Baines, speaking on behalf of the Nonconformists, and he used mainly two arguments. He said, in the first place, that the State had no right to ask a man what was his religious belief; and, he stated, in the second place, that any such Return would be unfair and inaccurate, because persons who were not attached to any special form of belief would, if asked, declare themselves members of the Established Church. The Government of the day were not at all convinced by that argument, but they did not press the point. There was a considerable difference of opinion, and Lord Palmerston, in closing the Debate and giving way on the subject, said that while they gave way to the feelings of the opponents of the proposal, they did not much appreciate the force of their arguments. But though, accordingly, no change was made at that time with regard to England, Wales, or Scotland, Mr. Cardwell, the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, assented to the introduction of such a column as that for which I am now asking your Lordships' sanction, and that was carried out in regard to Ireland. In 1870 Mr. Bruce stated, in answer to a question with regard to Scotland, that a religious column would be inserted in the Census Bill of that year for Scot land. The Free Church Assembly and the Established Church Assembly had both at that time petitioned in favour of such a clause being inserted; but some opposition arose afterwards in Scotland, and the clause was withdrawn. In the year 1880 the question was raised again, and after a similar discussion and similar arguments put forward the clause was once more withdrawn. Now, the Motion was resisted, as I have said, by the Non conformists, and on the general grounds which I have stated. I am bound to say that, speaking merely for myself, I do not appreciate the force of the two arguments which I have mentioned; but, at the same time, I do not wish to regard this question from any narrow and far less from any sectarian point of view. I am perfectly ready to look at the matter as having different bearings, as I think those arguments have, when applied to the different countries. Now, my Lords, I am quite free to admit that in England there are considerable differences in the case as contrasted with Wales, and as contrasted with Scotland. In the first place, in England there are a very large number of religious denominations, of various kinds and of various strength, which differ very often from one another in very minute particulars, and with regard to which it might perhaps be difficult in some cases to make very accurate Returns. There may then be something—I do not think it is much, but still I am quite ready to admit that there may be something—in the statement that in England if persons who are not attached very strongly to any special form of religious denomination were asked this question they might declare themselves to be members of the Established Church. As I have said, there is something in that, but I do not think there is very much. But the strongest point of difference as it appears to me, when it refers to the Census of 1890, is that there is not likely to be, as far as one can see, any very important point raised with regard to the Church of England in a serious manner. My Lords, that is the reason why I think those who are opposed to this Motion may, on the present occasion, fairly say that they think great objections would be made to it in parts of England, and that they are not, as regards England, prepared to assent to it. But when we turn to Wales the case is entirely different. As your Lordships know, the Nonconformists in Wales possess a very large numerical majority— at least I believe they are in a large numerical majority—as compared with the Church of England. I have seen it stated, and I am bound to say it appears to me to be a very strange statement, that the Established Church has in recent years been making considerable advances in Wales. That may or may not be so; all I say is, that I know no reason whatever, and I am very anxious to know whether there is any reason, for making such a statement as that. And, further, I do not see why, if this statement is incorrect, as it may be, the members of other religious denominations should object to any statistical Returns at all being made upon the subject, or how it can other wise be proved that that statement is incorrect. But, with regard to Wales, your Lordships will remember that a very important announcement has been made by Mr. Gladstone as the head of the Liberal Party. He has announced that it will be part of the Liberal policy put forward at the next General Election to carry out the disestablishment of the Welsh Church. It appears to me, my Lords, that for that very reason Parliament is bound to obtain the best information which it is in its power to get. I am aware it has been argued that the Members of Parliament have the best means of gauging the religious opinions of Wales and also of other parts of the country. I admit that, to a certain extent, that may be so, but Members of Parliament are not elected upon one question, and upon one question only, and even when they are, I have known occasions on which statesmen have been able to argue that when you put the minorities in certain places in contrast with the majorities in other places, it by no means necessarily follows that the conclusion arrived at is the opinion of the majority, or, at all events, that it is more than the opinion of a small majority. My Lords, for that reason it appears to me that, whether this be true or not, it is desirable that you should also have this second form of information, which, I think, is the most reliable form of all, namely the religious opinions of people as stated by themselves. But when we come to Scotland, the case be comes very much stronger indeed. With regard to Scotland, a similar announcement has been made; and it has been declared, as your Lordships all know, that a prominent part of the policy of the Liberal Party will be the disestablishment of the Scottish Church. With regard to that I merely make one remark, in which I am sure that all your Lordships who have any connection or acquaintance with Scotland will entirely agree with me that no question could be put forward which will stir so deeply all the feelings of the people of Scotland as that question of the disestablishment of the Church. Well, that being so, and I believe it to be an undoubted fact, surely, my Lords, we ought to obtain, as far as we can, the very best information we can with regard to the various denominations of the Presbyterian Church. Now, I wish to press the question as regards Scotland most particularly upon your Lordships, because the arguments which I mentioned just now, and which I admit may have some force when applied to England, have no force at all when applied to Scotland. In the first place, every one belongs to some religious denomination. I am quite certain that the numbers of nondescripts in religion, as I may call them, are extremely small in Scotland. In the next place, the divisions between the various religious denominations, the lines of division, are very clearly marked out. You have the Roman Catholics, who include in their number the inhabitants of a small portion of the Highlands, and who also have a considerable number of adherents, mainly of Irish descent, in the large working towns of Scot land. Then you have the Episcopalians, who are also, I believe, a somewhat growing body. But the main body of the Scottish people are Presbyterians, and they are divided between the three forms of the Established Church, the Free Church, and the United Presbyterian Church. I dare say that to many of your Lordships the doctrinal distinctions between those three denominations may not be very clear, but in Scotland they are well known, and the members of those three religious bodies them selves know extremely well to which of those three Churches they belong. And not merely do they know to which of those three Churches they belong, but they have no objection whatever, to state their religious beliefs. My Lords, it has been argued that it is an impertinence on the part of the State to ask any man to write down what is his form of religious belief. I am quite certain there will be no objection taken on that score, at all events among a very large majority of the people of Scotland. And, my Lords, you must remember that this matter is not being dealt with now from an exclusively novel point of view. This is not the first time we are asked to undertake to deal with it. We have dealt with it, as I have told your Lordships, in Ire land. It was dealt with in the year I860. Mr. Card well then inserted a clause which I think, if I remember rightly, was proposed by Lord Emly, enforcing a religious Return in regard to Ireland. What were the reasons why that was done? I do not think those reasons are very far to seek. I believe that that proposal was made because statesmen were at that time of opinion that questions connected with the Irish Church were likely to come forward within the ensuing 10 years. I imagine the Return was given in accordance with the wishes of the large proportion of the people of Ireland, and it has been worked upon, and successfully, from that time up to the present. My Lords, I may go even a little further. In 1860 that Return was a Return which everyone was compelled to make; but in the year 1880 it was made an optional Return, and I have the best reasons for knowing from official statements that the Return which was made in 1880 was within the smallest possible fraction as full a Return as was made when a religious Return was a compulsory matter. It was Mr. Forster, I believe, who desired that that Return should be optional instead of being compulsory, and the result was that that Return was willingly complied with. My Lords, I have reason for knowing, also, that it is approved of by ministers of all religious denominations, and that it has been found very useful for various practical purposes. Now, I do not think I need trouble your Lordships with many more remarks. Who is there in Scotland, I should like to know, who objects to it? I have been reading lately, and I dare say most of your Lordships have who are connected with Scotland, what has passed at the meetings of the General Assembly of the Free Church and of the Established Church, in Edinburgh, and I observe that the Established Church approved of such Returns being given, and that the Free Church disapproved of it. I think they resolved to present a Petition to Parliament against it. I have made inquiries in the matter, but I think up to the present time that Petition has not been presented. I was rather anxious to see it for this reason, that I wanted to know what were the grounds which they put forward for objecting to a Return of this kind. In the year 1870, as I told your Lordships just now, they approved of a Return of that description. But what I desire to impress upon your Lordships is with regard to a Return of this kind under the present circumstances, when the question of the disestablishment of the Church in Scotland has become a very important political question, that the desirability or undesirability of such a Return is not a matter to be decided by any Church or by any Churches. It is a matter for Parliament to consider, and if Parliament is of opinion that, in dealing with such a grave question as this, it is necessary and essential to have the very best information which can be obtained, then I hope that Parliament will insist, at all events, for Scotland and Wales, upon such a Return being made. My Lords, holding such opinions, I beg to move the Resolution of which I have given notice.

Moved to resolve— That it is desirable that in the Returns of the forthcoming Census information should be obtained as to the religious persuasion of all persons resident in England, Wales, and Scot land, distinguishing in Scotland between the-various Presbyterian denominations."—(The Marl of Camperdown.)


My Lords, on a recent occasion we were entertained by a member of this House, who sits on the Cross Benches, Lord Wemyss, with a discussion upon the merits of several Bills which are still in the House of Commons. I ventured, and I think some other Members of the House ventured then to point out, that that was an unusual and an irregular proceeding. Fortunately in this House we have a good deal of time, but if the practice of discussing Bills which are still in the other House of Parliament was to obtain, and if the contagion of it was to stretch across that hall I dread to think of the increased power of delay which would result from such a practice. But my noble Friend opposite has gone further than discussing a Bill which is in the other House of Parliament; he has discussed a Bill which is to be introduced into the other House of Parliament, and he wants your Lordships in this House to prescribe the form that it is to take. I feel that on mere Parliamentary grounds alone, on mere grounds of regularity of procedure, I should not be at all performing my duty if I in any way acceded to the design of the noble Lord, or stated an opinion with regard to the matters which he has raised. I am confirmed in that view of my duty by the peculiar compromise of opinion at which he has himself arrived. Many people have thought that it is desirable to have a religious Census everywhere; other people have thought that it is not desirable to extend that principle to the British Isles, but I have never before heard any opinion expressed that it is desirable to have a religious Census in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and not in England. What is the ground which the noble Lord puts forward of such a distinction? Ho says that our religious differences are much more minute in England than those between the various sects in Wales and Scotland. Well, that is news to me. I have always (understood that it is one of the privileges of the Northern intellect to be able to distinguish between the various churches of the other side of the Border with a facility which is thoroughly denied to our coarser Southern intellect. Again, the noble Lord seemed to think that there was a puculiar species of timidity and terror, which belonged to the people South of the Tweed, and East of what ever boundary divides us from Wales— that whereas in Scotland people did not mind being asked to what religion they belonged; in England they felt a great terror in doing so, and always called themselves members of the Church of England.


I said that it was only the opponents of this Motion who said so.


But my noble Friend, by acceding to the omission of England, gives some currency to that argument. Well, I do not accept that opinion of my countrymen at all. They always seem to me to be very free to express their opinions upon any sub jest, religious or otherwise, which comes uppermost. And I fear that if we once admit the refusal or inability of people to express their own religious opinions as a ground for not taking a Religious Census, you cannot confine that argument to England alone. Surely, there must be some people in Ireland, for instance, who have some fears of the opinions of their neighbours on matters which affect the community, either in a religious or a political sense. I do not wish to claim for my own countrymen any unusual amount of moral courage, but I really think they express their opinions quite as freely as they do in the Southern and Western districts of Ireland. I do not know what remedy we can adopt. What shall we do if we cannot trust a man to say of what religion he is? Shall we require an attestation from his two senior female relatives in order to ascertain to what religion he belongs? It appears to me that the speech of my noble Friend while sinning in the first instance, and principally sinning against Parliamentary regularity, has also, in the glimpse which it has allowed us to have of the logical condition of his own mind, warned us against forming any premature opinions on this subject. It is a matter to which I hope Parliament will give its attention. There is no doubt that by the House of laymen in Eng land and the Church of Scotland asking for this Religious Census, the position is somewhat altered on this question from what it was in former years, but I would earnestly deprecate any premature decision. I hope we shall not treat it, when the matter is before us, as a Government or Party question, but as one upon which each can give his opinion according to the best of his ability. I hope, however, that we shall not commit the gross irregularity of pronouncing an opinion upon Bills which are not yet before us.


My Lords, for many years I have generally agreed more or less with the noble Earl, if not with the noble Marquess, but on this occasion I must say I think that the criticism of the noble Marquess is just. I have been informed that there is a Departmental inquiry now going on with regard to the best mode of carrying this Census into effect; and I think it would be very premature for this House to give its opinion with regard to the Census before the Bill has been introduced, which the noble Marquess has said is to be introduced into the House of Commons. My own opinion is strongly against introducing this clause for the purpose of obtaining a Religious Census. It is a matter which has been discussed for a very long time; it has been answered three times in the negative, and, in my own opinion, is entirely bad. But I am quite sure of one thing, and that is, that it is a great object to make this Census popular, and that anything which creates violent opposition to the Bill in the way proposed would be a very much greater Parliamentary evil than if the Religious Census were left out in dealing with this question, whether you shall include in or leave out of it a particular form of information. There is one point upon which I do not agree with the noble Marquess, and that is, that there should be no difference made between Scotland and England. Sup posing the one country desired that this piece of information should be obtained, and the other did not, although I have said my opinion is against the insertion of a clause calling for this particular information, yet if all Scotland were unanimous, which I very much doubt, notwithstanding the assurances of the noble Earl, in the desire to have it, that would place the question in a different position to what it is in England; for I believe the opposition would be still more violent than that which made the objection successful formerly. I do not know whether it was necessary to say even as much as I have said; but I entirely agree in the inexpediency of pressing this Resolution, and the more so because it strikes me that the Resolution of the noble Earl and his speech do not agree, for his speech was in favour of leaving out England, while his Resolution is for including it.


My Lords, I hope I may be allowed to offer a few remarks upon the suggested advantages and disadvantages of such a proposition as this, as it is naturally supposed that the Church may have a view upon them. It is very often pressed upon the authorities of the Church that they should ask for a Religious Census. It is pressed on the ground of assertions which are constantly made as to the numerical position of the Church in comparison with other bodies, which we Churchmen believe to be entirely incorrect. But I believe that I shall state the real opinion of the authorities of the Church if I say that they have no intention to press for a Religious Census, and that simply upon the grounds put forward by the Nonconformists. It is put forward by Nonconformists that it would interfere with the is religious freedom, and it is also argued that an advantage would be derived by the Church from the supposed fact that persons who do not belong to the Church of England would possibly enrol them selves in the ranks of her people. The Church has no desire to take advantage of either position. She has no desire to reap any advantage from what could be regarded as an interference with the religious freedom of the Nonconformists, and certainly she does not wish to swell her lists by including in them people who are not of her religion. My Lords, the Church will, therefore, not press for anything of the kind. On the other hand, the Church will not offer the slightest resistance or objection to what ever may be thought advisable. The Church has knowledge of many facts-about her own position, and she would not object in the least if it were proposed to take such a Census, either in England or Wales. With regard to Scotland I have no right, of course, to speak. I feel that this is entirely a matter for the Government to determine, and I was very glad to hear the noble Earl say that he moved the question on purely Parliamentary grounds. The Church, I repeat, will feel no objection to a Religious Census being taken, but will make no movement to press for it.


My Lords, before the question is put, I wish to say a word or two in reply. After what has been said from the two Front Cross Benches I shall not, of course, ask your Lordships to take a vote on the question; but if the sins of my speech were purely and simply sins with regard to procedure, I can assure the noble Marquess that I am quite ready to accede to everything he has said and to postpone my Motion until this Bill, which I am told is not yet introduced—I do not know when it will be—has been introduced, or rather until such time as the Bill shall come up to this House. But I am afraid that I must have been rather awkward in the language which I used in expressing my own opinions, because the noble Marquess appears to have gathered from my speech that I saw great objections to such a Census being taken in England. My Lords, that is not at all what I intended; and if my words bear that meaning, I am afraid they were not very well chosen words. What I intended to convey to your Lordships was that if there is a strong objection felt in England—which I believe there is—that objection does not, in my opinion, apply to Wales, and still less does it apply to Scotland; and that in Scotland, at all events, the subject might be dealt with, and ought to be dealt with, in exactly the same way in which it has been dealt with in Ireland. I notice that neither of the noble Lords have alluded at all to the question of Ire land. On the question of Ireland I may, I daresay, on a future occasion have to call your Lordships' attention to the matter: but it is a very remarkable thing that when important matters with regard to the Irish Church were coming to the front, Parliament was then of opinion, and very rightly of opinion, that it was desirable that some kind of information should be obtained with regard to the position of that Church. It appears to me that exactly the same remark applies to the Established Church in Scotland and also to the Established Church in Wales. But I need not detain your Lordships any further, and, with your Lordships' permission, I will ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion (by leave of the House) with drawn.