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DISSENTERS. Earl Stanhope rose to move the second reading of his Bill for preventing the Imposition of Disabilities upon Persons on account of Religious Opinions, or the Exercise of their Religion. His lordship stated, that his Bill did not touch the Test or Corporation Acts, or what was called Catholic Emancipation; the object of it merely being to prevent persons from incurring any disability on account of iheir religious opinions, with a proviso to prevent religious opinions from being made the stalking-horse for exciting disorder. Referring to what had been said on a former evening by a noble earl (Liverpool), that no man ought to be molested on account of mere religious opinion, he entirely concurred in that sentiment, and trusted he should bave the noble earl's support. The noble earl had also objected in the former, that the whole of the intended measure was not brought forward. In this case the whole of the intended measure was brought forward, and he trusted that no shifts or devices would be attempted to defeat it. The noble earl had also said, that a Protestant establishment was the best, because best calculated to give an enlarged and liberal tole. ration. He (Earl Stanbope) gloried in being a Protestant; the right of private judgment, and consequently the most liberal toleration to all religious opinions, being the essence of that religion. The difference between the Catbolic and Protestant was, that the former contended that God had not only given a book of revealed religion, but had also given a church to interpret that book, and that no other interpretation but the interpretation of that church was right; the Protestant contended for the unlimited right of private judgment. The unlimited right of private judgment in maiters of religion, was what he was contending for, and it was the object of his Bill to authorise by law. His lordship proceeded to quote several old statutes, for the purpose of shewing the absurdity and injustice of the provisions, formerly made for restraining religious opinions; amongst others, enacting that persons not going to church for a monthi, should forfeit 201. and find security for good behaviour for a year, but that the penalty, though tendered, might be refused, and the party forfeit one-third of his lands, tenements, and hereditaments. At the present moment it was physically impossible for a large proportion of
his Majesty's subjects to go to church, for it appeared from the diocesan returns, printed by order of the House, that 4,000,000 of persons in England had pot the ineans of attending church, there being that number more than all the churches could contain. This Bill, be contended, was peculiarly called for, inasmuch as it appeared by the same returns, that whilst the number of places of worship of the Established Church in England, were 2533, those of Dis. senters were 3454, thus proving that the majority of the people were Non-conformists; and taking into the account the church of Scotland, to which the greater part of the inhabitants of that country belonged, and the Catholics of Ireland forming a large majority of the population of that country, it was evident that a very large majority of the population of England, Scotland, and Ireland, were Nonconformists. He trusted, therefore, that he should not bear one argument against this Bill used on former occasions, that the majority ought to bind the minority in matters of religion. Proceeding in the quotation of old statutes, his lordship dwelt much upon the injustice and oppression of those enactments, the object of which was, to compel per. sons under a heavy penalty to attend church on Sundays and holidays, and not merely this, but persons were rendered liable to a penalty of 10l. for every servant in their house that did not go to church, for every visitor also, and for the servant of every visitor. After quoting several other enactments in various old statutes, enforcing still more op. pressively the other provisions on the same subject, he proceeded to adduce a variety of instances of absurd enactments in old statutes; amongst others, some in the reign of Elizabeth, that certain kinds of fish should be eaten on particular days, and that the fish should be all eaten before tasting meat, without fraud or cozenage. It was also enacted, that flesh should not be eaten on particular days without a licence. In the reign of James the First it was enacted that no persons should entertain evil spirits, or feed them with fish, flesh, or vegetables. Another curious enactment was, that a man should be deemed guilty of bigamy who married two wives, or one widow. Ano:ber enactment instanced was, to prevent women from leaving this country because they were popishly inclined. His lordship also dwelt much upon the subject of excommunication, in. stancing a variety of enactments, and canons of church, respecting it, for the purpose of shewing their absurdity and injustice. He thought that the repeal of the enactments he had mentioned would do no good, whilst the power of the Ecclesiastical Court remained with respect to excommunication. He related an anecdote of a noble lord going to an eminent painter to desire him to paint a fool, and the manner proposed was this, to paint a man getting over a park paling set with tenter books, whilst an open gate was near him by which he might have entered. He would propose to paint a rank idiot in the following manner; to represent him getting over a park paling set with tenter books, while before him was a wall fifty feet high, which he could not get over, and one side an open gate by which he might enter without difficulty and avoid the wall. Now what he meant hy this was, that the paling set with tenter books was the statutes he bad quoted, the high wall was the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and the open gate was his Bill, containing a short enactment declaring the liberty of religious opinion. The subject of uniformity, his lordship illustrated by an anecdote of the chapel clock with four faces in Vere-street, near Cavendish-square, which on passing one day he looked up to, to observe the hour, and observed, that on one of the faces it was five o'clock; but having an angular view, be saw that the second face pointed at a quarter past five; thinking this very odd, he looked at the third face, and found that to point at balf past five : this was odder still, he looked at the fourth face, and found it was three quarters past five. Adverting to a variety of enactments respecting the book of common prayer, his lordship observed upon the differences that existed in the copies of that book, as published by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, stating that they amounted to 4000 and odd. He quoted an opinion of Lord Mansfield, delivered in giving judgment in an appeal in that House, stating that conscience was not amenable to buman law, or controulable by human tribunals, and urged this in support of bis Bill, the object of which was, to give liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment in matters of religion without interruption. His lordship avowed himself a decided enemy to toleration, because it implied that certain individuals were permitted, as a matter of favour and sufferance, to worship their Creator in the way they deemed proper. It acknowledged the right of those who granted toleration to be, if they pleased, at any time intolerant. For this reason he had always condemned and hated the statutes of the 29th
Charles II. and the 1st Will. and Mary, ch. 15, because they were called Toleration Acts : in his lordship’s opinion, what was called toleration, only rivetted the chains of religious slavery. One Mr. Williain Smith had lately been dabbling in these matters, but not with’much success : he proposed by his Billa completely new system, according to which licences were to be granted, not only to a man to preach, but old women were not even allowed to say their prayers without it-people were not to be allowed to exercise their natural rights, without permission from Mr. W. Smith. The quantity of licences required would be innumerable, and it would have been a great improvement of the scheme, if Mr. Vansitart had thought of making it a very fruitful source of revenue, by imposing a stamp duty of 5s. or 10s. on every licence: the proluce would be incalculable; almost as much as the tax proposed by a learned but humorous bishop, who said that he could point out to Government a mode of raising a very large sum of money. Of course all the Ministers were eager to be let into so advan. tageous a secret, thinking that they personally should be relieved of some of the burdens they were in coinmon compelled to sustain: but the reverse was the fact, and they were not a little disappointed, and it drew dowır their faces to an enormous length, when the prelate informed them that he suggested a duty upon adultery and fornication(a laugh). His lordship would not detain the House longer, although the question was of the greatest importance. He conjured the right reverend prelates well to weigh the subject, divested of those prejudices which they naturally cast into the scale: be addressed them not only on behalf of the Dissenters, but on behalf of the Protestant religion. And for the Dissenters he might address them in the eloquent words of St. Paul, when before Agrippa—“ Would to God that not only those, but all who hear me, were not only almost but altogether such a one as I am-except these bonds.” His lordship expressed his gratitude to Heaven that there was now some prospect that these bonds” would be broken. Be the consequences what they might, he would be one of the first to attempt their destruction.
The question was then put, that the Bill be read a second time. A division took place, when the numbers were, Contents
31 Majority against the Bill, --21 Vol. III.-1812.
Lord Holland begged to ask the noble earl opposite (Li. verpool), whether, by rejecting the Bill brought in by Earl Stanhope, he meant it to be understood that nothing would be done by Government with regard to the disabilities under which the Dissenters laboured? If so, he should feel it to be his duty, however unequal to the task, to submit to the House some proposition upon the subject.
The Earl of Liverpool replied, that he felt not the least difficulty in informing the noble baron, that he was thoroughly convinced that some alteration of the existing laws is absolutely necessary, and he would add, that the subject had most seriously occupied the attention of the Cabinet, and of himself individually. Every person at all acquainted with the subject, would be aware that many difficulties were to be overcome; but bis lordship hoped, in the course of a few days (although he by no means could pledge himself), to bring forward a Bill to apply a remedy to the evils now complained of.
Lord Holland observed, that wbatever objections be might feel to some of the details of the measure just dismissed, yet no Bill to be proposed by the noble earl would satisfy his mind, unless it were founded on the same prio. ciple.
SINECURE BILL. Earl Grosvenor rose to move the second reading of the Sinecure Bill.-His lordship felt it necessary to preface his motion with a few remarks upon the subject, and in the first place he thought that some explanation was due to the country, of the delay which had taken place since this Bill was introduced into ihe House; with a view to put an end to it, be now rose to advance it another stage. It was a much more difficult task to anticipate objections to the Bill than to answer them, because it was so beneficial in its principle and so complete in its details, he could scarcely imagine that any solid argument could be urged against it. The principle bad been supported by the often-quoted authorities of Coke and Hale, and by the provisions it would be seen that a vast number of useless places were abolished, one-twentieth part of which were absolute sinecures, no oficial duties being discharged. It might be said that the system of pensions proposed to be substituted was unpopular. To this he would reply, Ist, That it was not so unpopular as the system of sinecures: and 2d, Tbat pensions never could be unpopular, if properly applied to the