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Second Reading

Volume 203: debated on Friday 22 July 1870

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Order for Second Reading read.

said, he did not know that any objection was entertained on the part of the Nonconformists to a real Census of religion being taken; but in 1861 they felt a reasonable objection to the manner in which a series of questions was proposed to be asked in order to get at the religious opinions of the people. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department would give a distinct assurance that there was no intention to insert in this Bill any clause which might excite apprehension on that subject.

said, he, on the other hand, hoped that before the measure was passed it would contain provisions for obtaining an accurate enumeration of the religious opinions of the country. It was the practice of almost every civilized nation in Europe, with the exception of Spain and Holland, when they took the Census of the population not to confine their Returns to the number of the people, their industrial occupations, and the like, but also to collect proper statistical information on so very important a point as their religious opinions. Of course, a religious Census could not have been taken in Spain, for until recently it was penal for anyone to profess any other religion than that adopted by the State. In Prussia, which was famous for its toleration, so particular were they to obtain accurate information on the subject, that when the last Census was taken they went to the trouble of separating Christians who professed the Greek religion from the Roman Catholics — though they numbered only 300 or 400—with whom they had, up to that time, been enumerated. Again, in Ireland they had complete Returns of all the religious denominations, which were equally concurred in by Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics. That being so, how, he would ask, did they stand in England? In England, with the exception of the Returns made in 1851, they had no statistical facts on the point to which he was referring, and the Report of Mr. Horace Mann was founded entirely on the accidental attendance on a particular Sunday at certain churches and chapels. That Return members of the Church of England had always maintained to be fallacious so far as the inferences drawn from it were concerned. The chief strength of the Church lay in the rural districts, while that of the Dissenters lay in the manufacturing towns. Now, on a rainy Sunday large numbers would be absent from the country churches, while that accidental circumstance would have practically no effect on the attendance at the town chapels. In towns, too, the chapels were so close together that it was asserted that in more towns than one the children had been driven from one chapel to another, and counted over and over again. [Cries of "Name!"] He simply said that that had been stated to be a fact. Now, what the members of the Church contended for was that a real test should be applied, and that a person should be called upon to declare to what religion he belonged, as was done in other countries. When the Census Bill for 1861 was introduced by the Government of Lord Palmerston, it contained clauses providing that a religious Census of England and Scotland should be taken as well as of Ireland. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, who was at the time Secretary of State for the Home Department, while defending those clauses, stated that he felt himself obliged to withdraw them; but that he hoped the expiration of another 10 years would bring those hon. Gentlemen who opposed them to reason on the subject. Lord Palmerston also ended his remarks on the occasion to which he was alluding by saying — "We have deferred to their feelings, but we cannot assent to their reasons." Now, however, that another decennial period had elapsed they found themselves almost the only nation in Europe which declined to have a true religious Census of the people. He was sorry the opposition with regard to Scotland had been renewed. As to the remonstrances on the subject which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had a short time since stated he would lay on the Table, he would only observe that he had not seen them, the only statements bearing on the question which had come to his knowledge being those which had been referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), which went in an entirely opposite direction. The Statistical Society recommended that a religious Census of the people should be taken in the plainest possible form. The religious Returns of Mr. Horace Mann had been made the foundation of attacks on the Church of England, and it was not Churchmen who were afraid of having a true Census taken, because, if that were done, they would, they believed, stand in a very different position before the country.

said, he regretted that a subject which was of so much general interest could not be properly discussed owing to the great accumulation of business under the consideration of the House. As to the taking of a religious Census, he must say that the great preponderance of opinion appeared him to to be in favour of such an enumeration. Nor did he think his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) objected to a religious Census provided it were accurately taken. That being so, he would suggest to his hon. Friend how much better it would be if he would direct his acute mind to ascertaining the best mode of making such a Census, rather than precluding the country from having information which was of great interest. There were other points, too, he might add, on which the Census, as hitherto taken, was supposed to be altogether unreliable. The occupations of persons, for instance, were directed to be taken; but there was no distinct enumeration of those occupations. As everybody was aware, many persons had several occupations. A man, for example, might be a farmer and a grocer, but it often happened that he was set down in the Returns as a grocer, while as a farmer he was left out. But landed proprietors were, perhaps, more inaccurately dealt with than any other class. The House would scarcely believe that the whole male landed proprietors of England were set down as only 15,000. His conviction was that if that number were multiplied by 10 it would fall short of the real number. He found that in the large county in which he resided the number of landed proprietors was given as 294; whereas there was, he believed, nearly half that number in his own parish. To what false conclusions did not such inaccurate statements lead? Orators went throughout the country proclaiming that the whole of the land was in the possession of 15,000 male proprietors. And it was not a little curious that the female were put down as outnumbering the male proprietors. He trusted, therefore, the Secretary of State would take powers in the Bill to secure more accurate information. As regards himself, he was a landed proprietor, though not a large one. One of his occupations was that of a brewer; he was a large cooper, and had various other occupations, but in the Census they were all sunk in his occupation as brewer. He was there a brewer and nothing more. He was persuaded that he should be supported by the general feeling of the House when he pressed on the Secretary of State for the Home Department to insert clauses in the Bill for the purpose of getting accurate information both for a religious Census and to ascertain the number of landed proprietors.

said, in reply to the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Heygate), he could state that the Dissenters were quite as ready as Churchmen to have a perfect and true Census of the religious opinions of the people, and he believed that the Government had exercised a wise discretion in not insisting on that mode which was evidently in the mind of the hon. Member. It was impossible to have a true representation of the religious opinions of the people by a house-to-house inquiry. According to the arguments used in the course of the discussion on the Education Bill, a large number of the people had no religion at all. ["Oh!"] It had been one of the strongest arguments for passing the Education Bill, that many of the parents were people who would give their children no religious education, because they had no religion themselves; and what was wanted was that they should be put down in a religious Census as members of the Church of England. ["No, no!"] The inmates of gaols and poor-houses, though very few of them might really be Dissenters or Church of England people, yet would all profess to be members of the Establishment rather than say that they were of no religion at all. Were they, then, to have a fraudulent Census, or a true representation of the opinions of the people? He contended that as things now stood in reference to the Established Church, which legally embraced the whole population, they ought not to attempt to draw any inference from a house-to-house inquiry.

said, he wished to know the intentions of the Government on this subject. It seemed to him to be the imperative duty of the Government to include the religion of the country in the approaching Census, unless they had some really good reason for omitting it. Ten years ago the Scottish people objected to an indication of religious opinions being included in the Census; but now they had withdrawn that objection. [Cries of "No!"] Such he inferred to be the case from what had fallen from the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and the Irish people likewise had no objection to the religious opinions of their country being included in the Census. The Church of England people in this country, and the Roman Catholics likewise, had no objection, and when this was the case there ought to be some very strong reason why, if a few Nonconformists objected, they should overrule the inclinations of all the rest of the country. The hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Miall) plainly stated that the Nonconformists of England had no objection to a religious Census, provided it was a true one. Then the whole question was at an end, and the Government should so draw the Bill as to make it effect what all parties were in favour of—namely, the taking of the Census in a true and honest manner. When he put some Questions to the Secretary of State for the Home Department the other night on this subject, the right hon. Gentleman failed to give a clear answer to any one of them. The right hon. Gentleman had produced some Papers. [Mr. BRUCE: They were moved for."] Why had not the right hon. Gentleman produced others? [Mr. BRUCE: They were not moved for.] Where were they and what were they? [Mr. BRUCE: Move for them.] He thought that on this public question of importance, when he asked for information, he was entitled to something more than the evasive answer that he should move for Papers. All that the House had got was a Paper from that important body the Statistical Society, and they strongly urged, what 19 out of every 20 of them desired, that a religious Census should be taken. Let it be taken truly, and let the people know what the truth was.

said, he must protest against the statement that he had withheld information, and he was ready to produce any information which the right hon. Baronet (Sir John Pakington) chose to move for. He had already told the right hon. Baronet that the Government had not received memorials against a religious Census, so far as England was concerned, but that 10 years ago objections were urged to it, on the ground—the validity of which was generally admitted—that it was impossible to take a religious Census compulsorily, and that if it was permissive it would be ineffective. He was bound to say that memorials had come to the Home Office, especially from Scotland, urging the Government to have a religious Census. In Scotland there was the same opposition to a religious Census 10 years ago that existed in England. He, therefore, rejoiced to receive memorials from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and also from the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, insisting upon a religious Census; and it was on the strength of these memorials that he stated that the Government would willingly accede to the desire of the people of England and Scotland. But he had since been inundated by memorials from the United Presbyterians, and even from large numbers of the Free Church of Scotland, solemnly protesting against this change, and declaring that the representations received from the General Assemblies of the Established and Free Churches of Scotland did not represent the general feeling of the people. He was bound to act on the same principle in England and Scotland, and not to enforce a religious Census. With regard to a religious Census it was somewhat remarkable that each denomination was anxious for it if each could have it in its own way; but that was impossible. On the other hand, there was much in what had been stated, so clearly and honestly by the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Miall), that there was every reason to believe the Returns, when made, would not give a real representation. Reference had been made to the case of Ireland; but Ireland was mainly an agricultural population. The large towns, in which the obstacles to a religious Census were greatest, were few. There were but three forms of religion. The numbers not included in those were extremely small; and there was no difficulty in ascertaining what was the religion of the three great bodies. There were not, as in this country, those large numbers in the great towns who hardly felt or professed any religion, and who were left to be reckoned as belonging to the State Church. The owner of a house had to make a return of the religion of the inmates, and when, as frequently occurred in populous towns, the number of these amounted to 40 it would be seen how little reliance could be placed on the accuracy of the return in that respect. The Nonconformists were extremely anxious that a religious Census should be taken with reference to the church or chapel accommodation afforded by particular denominations and the attendance on a particular day; but there were many reasons why such a Census could not be relied on as giving a really fair representation of the state of the religious denominations. The attendance on the day of enumeration would be far more full than on other days, owing to the action of the ministers, and of the congregations themselves acting from honest emulation between different denominations, and where such organization was exerted the advantage would be on the side of the Nonconformists. The Government would be happy to make a compromise, and to adopt both forms of enumeration; but he feared, from the inquiries he had made, that it would not be accepted; and unless there was a willing co-operation in that which could not be made compulsory, the result would not be such as to command confidence. His hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. M. T. Bass) had asked for a much larger and fuller industrial Census; but he did not see that this was practicable. There were in the proposed Census eight different heads, and the number of facts returned were 130,000,000. Every additional fact required to be returned applicable to the whole population would be an increase of 21,000,000. That would require special enumerators, and the whole system under which the Census was taken must be altered. The attempt minutely to define employments frequently caused misconception and led to erroneous conclusions. It had frequently been said, and he had recently seen it stated, on the supposed authority of the Census, by a writer in Révue des deux Mondes, that the number of landowners in England was only 30,066; but the fact was that there was no special heading of landowner, and that description was only resorted to by those who had no other employment. Hence the incompleteness of the Return. The inaccuracy of the number given would be the more manifest when it was considered that, whereas the total owners of land were given at 30,066, the female proprietors of land were given at 15,633—of the palpable absurdity of the number of female proprietors of land exceeding the number of male proprietors. He had no doubt that the number of landowners was at least 10 times as great as it appeared in the Census. Directions would be given by which he hoped that error would in future be prevented. With respect to the Bill itself, it contained exactly the same details as in the Census Bill of 1860. There was always, of course, an advantage in having a complete Census, so that they might have an account of the progress made by the country from time to time. It was from no disinclination on the part of the Government that they declined to undertake a religious Census; but because they felt that unless a general desire for it were expressed by the people there would not be that amount of co-operation which was absolutely necessary to secure any satisfactory result. When the House went into Committee it would be open to any hon. Member to vary or extend the subjects of inquiry; but the Government thought that the multiplication of such subjects would only tend to diminish the accuracy of the Returns.

said, he wished to call the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the 4th clause, requiring the head of a family to make a return of the blind, deaf, and dumb. He (Mr. Assheton) could see no reason why a column should not be devoted to a return of persons who were idiots, insane, or of unsound mind. If the heads of families felt any objection to making such returns, the enumerators, who had power to correct them, could very easily do so, because the presence of the persons of whom he wished to have a return was generally a matter of notoriety in the districts in which they lived.

said, that when the Census of 1861 was taken, the whole body of the Nonconformists expressed their strong disapprobation of the form in which it was at first proposed that it should be taken—namely, by asking every individual what was his "religious profession." He believed there was no exception to this disapprobation, and perhaps the Wesleyan Methodists were among the most determined, although their own organization and statistics were so complete. Many Churchmen, both in the House, and out of it, also expressed indignation that Government should make such an inquiry. The reasons for the objection were briefly these—It was felt that the inquiry into men's religious faith was beyond the province of the civil Government. It was also believed that in many cases, especially among servants, workpeople, and tradespeople, the avowal of belonging to a different Church from their masters or rich customers might possibly lead to inconvenient consequences. But the great objection of all was that which had been so strongly stated by his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. Miall)—namely, that there was no probability whatever of a correct result. It was a lamentable fact, brought out in the Report which accompanied the Census of Religious Worship in 1851, that a very large number of the people did not attend any place of worship. It was stated that something like 5,000,000 of persons in England and Wales, who were able to attend divine service, were absent on the Census Sunday; and a large proportion of them were inferred to be "habitual neglecters" of public worship. Now if that were so, what would be the use of asking these "neglecters" what was their "religious profession?" What honest, correct, or useful result could be obtained? He assured the House that the Dissenters had no objection whatever to a Census of Religious Worship on the plan of the only religious Census ever made in England—namely, that of 1851. In the year 1860, when the Census Bill for 1861 was brought forward, he himself made this declaration in that House on the part of the Nonconformists, and he even moved that the Census should be taken in that form. But the Church party on the opposite Benches were as strongly hostile to that form of Census as they on the Liberal side were hostile to demanding from every man his "religious profession." Therefore, the Government determined not to take a religious Census in either form. It seemed to him that the only fair way to judge of the real numbers of a religious body was to ascertain the amount of accommodation which they provided for religious worship, and the number of worshippers who actually attended. This was done in 1851 with the utmost care, and with repeated applications during nearly three years to obtain a correct result; and this furnished the only test and index of the strength of the religious bodies, as such. If Gentlemen opposite would consent to such a plan being acted upon, he be- lieved the Church of England would have a great advantage; for he believed—though he could not state the fact with certainty—that within the last 20 years the number of churches had considerably increased, and to a greater extent than the places of worship belonging to other denominations. Such was his impression, and therefore it would place the numbers of the Church of England in a very good position if they would consent to a Census being taken of the places of worship, and the number of persons attending them; and to this the Dissenters would have no objection.

thanked the hon. Member for Leeds for having placed this question before the House in such a candid, truly Christian, and liberal spirit—a spirit, which he must add, was in strong contrast to the angry declamation of the hon. Member for Bradford. The hon. Member for Leeds was willing to have a religious Census; but he denied that it was the duty of the State to enter into the field of conscience. He (Mr. Beresford Hope) took issue with the hon. Gentleman on that point, and called on those who agreed with him to justify that jealous limitation in one respect of the rights of the State in connection with their views upon the political action of Nonconformists in other respects. Almost every day the privileges, the responsibilities, and the political position of various religious communities were a matter of serious discussion, as was shown by the Irish Church Bill of last Session and by one of the two principal Bills of the present one. Almost every day different sects employed their religious organization as a means of their own social and civil advancement. He did not blame them for that. It would show a limited perception of the circumstances of free citizenship if they acted otherwise; but they must take their responsibilities along with their privileges. A sect which considered it unlawful to have any connection with or cognizance of mundane politics was alone justified in refusing to co-operate with the State in such a matter as a Census. Such a sect was, in its original condition, that of the Friends or Quakers; but even the Quakers have now seceded from their ancient non-political position. It was only right that when the different sects came to Parliament claiming all the rights and privileges of sects they should let it be known what their numbers were. The arguments both of the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Bradford went too far, because they went against any Census at all. They both dwelt upon the invidiousness of statistics, and the false position in which it would put the master of the house in regard to its inmates. But on looking at the proposed Census form, he saw one heading of "age." Was not this just as invidious? Suppose the head of the house had to collect the ages of respectable maiden ladies; suppose that head was herself such a maiden lady. Such arguments were not really appeals to reason. After all, the Census papers were confidential; they were not published to the world. They must depend upon the fidelity and secresy of the collectors, and it was impossible to have any statistics without having a great deal that was disagreeable in them, for it was disagreeable to be brought to book. On such grounds, there ought to be no income tax, and no licences in lieu of the assessed taxes. The Home Secretary personally wanted a religious Census, and had argued strongly in favour of one; but the hon. Member for Bradford and those whom he led were afraid, and therefore we were not to have those valuable statistics which the Government desired. The Government had gone so far as to offer to take the Census both ways—the way of personal persuasion and that of attendance at worship. The hon. Member for Leeds had, with his natural candour, owned that he believed that the latter Census would prove how much the Church had increased upon Dissent. He (Mr. Beresford Hope) also believed it; at the same time, he felt it right to show how this very increase would create a difficulty in the collection of the statistics. In many churches the Sunday services had outrun the old modicum of once or twice per day. In the church he himself went to in London there were six Sunday services. To reckon the attendants at all these services as different persons, would be to allow too much; while, only to count the sittings, and, perhaps, double them, would be to allow too little. Still, with these difficulties, which were only matters of detail, he willingly accepted the offer. They all accepted it. ["No, no!"] Well, then, those who objected were afraid; they were afraid of the Census in one shape, and doubly afraid of in two shapes. They confessed their fear, and the people would take note of their fright, and of the reason why. But if they took the Census in both shapes they would get everything that was wanted; they would have the estimate of the religion of the people out of their own mouths, and also by their works. The Government would accept that, and the great majority of the people, if not acted upon by stump speeches, would accept it too.

said, this was not an ordinary question, as the information required was taken only once every 10 years. The form and extent of that information ought not to be thrown on the Secretary of State to determine, but ought to receive full discussion in the House. He would like on that account to move the adjournment of the debate; but as time was valuable he would not do so, provided he obtained an assurance that on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair an opportunity for full discussion would be given. He considered that a religious Census was not a desirable thing.

said, he would suggest that the number of marriages between cousins should form a part of the information required. It was believed that consanguineous marriages were injurious throughout the whole vegetable and animal kingdoms, and it was desirable to ascertain whether that was not the case with the whole human race. The information in question might be obtained in this country by one simple Census.

said, he hoped hon. Gentlemen opposite would give their assent to the very reasonable proposition which had been made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

said, he thought the Bill should have been brought on earlier. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would adhere to the Bill in the shape in which it stood.

was anxious that the subject should be really and thoroughly discussed. There were other points besides the religious Census that required to be considered. He should like to have an assurance that an opportunity for doing so would be afforded on the Motion for going into Committee. If it was possible to take a religious Census in Ireland he did not see why it could not be done in England.

said, that Churchmen themselves were very much divided, and that if there were a religious Census the numbers of High Churchmen, Broad Churchmen, and Low Churchmen ought to be ascertained.

said, he was favourable to the proposal made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

said, that the objections to a religious Census prevailed chiefly in large towns.

said, he was of opinion that the chief importance of religious statistics was to discover how many practical heathens there were in the country. He objected to political capital being sought to be made out of the members of the several religious bodies.

said, he did not see how a religious Census could be properly taken by going from house to house.

said, he saw no difficulty whatever in taking a correct religious Census. He trusted the Secretary of State for the Home Department would take into consideration the five recommendations made by the Statistical Society.

said, he would beg hon. Members to allow the Bill to be read a second time, as there had been quite enough talk about it.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.

House adjourned at a quarter before Three o'clock till Monday next.