HC Deb 18 March 1828 vol 18 cc1180-208

The order of the day was read for going into a committee on this bill. On the question, that the Speaker do now leave the chair,

Mr. Sturges Bourne

said, that, from the unavoidable absence of his honourable friend, the member for Devonshire (sir T. D. Acland) it had fallen to his lot to undertake the task of laying before the House a proposition which, he trusted, would have the effect of uniting the suffrages of both parties on this great question, and which, while it extended the liberties of the Dissenters would amply provide for the security of the church. He regretted the absence of his hon. friend, because it had deprived the proposition of the influence which it would have received from his talents and weight of character. On the former discussion of this question, there had been so much ability displayed, and, he was happy to add, so much temper and moderation shewn by the noble lord and his supporters, as materially to add to the effect with which they pressed their considerations upon the House. They had already determined, by no equivocal majority, that the Sacramental tests now in existence ought to be abolished. He knew that there were among the members who composed that majority, very different feelings on that subject. Some considered every sort of test as improper; others thought it a desirable object to have some tests, but agreed, that Sacramental Tests were at least inefficient, while all concurred in opinion, that it was bad to continue a system which led to a revolting profanation of a most solemn rite of religion. That such were the opinions of those who formed that majority he had no doubt. He believed he might say with the same degree of confidence, that his right hon. friend, and those who supported him, would not think he was doing them an injustice when he stated, that he did not suppose they were opposed to the abolition of the Tests now in existence if others could be substituted, that would afford a proper degree of security to the church. He had little doubt that they would be thankful to him or to any one else, who should propose a step by which they might be exempted from a course that would seem to lay them open to such an imputation. These circumstances had induced him to hope, that some proposition might be made which would put an end to all objections, and render the abolition of the existing Tests in every way feasible. To those who had resisted the motion of the noble lord on a former evening, he would beg leave to say a few words, in or- der to remind them of the effects which these statutes had already produced. Persons who did not belong to the church of England were obliged to qualify themselves by taking the sacrament to hold certain offices in the State. That enactment soon led to a conference between the two Houses on the subject of Occasional Conformity, which, after some discussion, ended in a quarrel between them. Soon afterwards a bill was brought in to repeal the act for Occasional Conformity; but that bill was found to be so severe in its enactments, that after the lapse of a short time, another bill was brought in to suspend it, a bill which had been annually passed ever since. That such a bill should ever have been deemed a security to the Established Church was a point which, he fairly owned, astonished him. It might keep out of office honest and conscientious men, but it never could operate as a restraint upon men of a contrary disposition. He had hoped that the enactments of the Corporation and Test acts had become a dead letter; and therefore it was, that he had heard with much sorrow that there was a particular church in London to which individuals went, on stated occasions, to take the sacrament as a qualification for office. He was convinced that the church could receive no benefit from such a profanation of one of its most solemn and awful rites; and therefore he thought that there could be no particular desire on the part of those gentlemen who formed the minority of the former night to retain the present tests, if any other could be substituted in their stead. With respect to the gentlemen who sought the entire repeal of the present restrictive statutes, he was afraid that it might be more difficult to reconcile them to the proposition which he intended to submit to the House; for they might be of opinion, that all tests were unnecessary and improper, and be inclined not to in-cumber the boon which they sought to confer upon the Dissenters by any limitation whatever. He could understand the feeling on which they were prepared to act; but he trusted that if it were possible to frame a declaration which would give satisfaction to the members of the Established Church, and which was at the same time free from all the objections which the Dissenters naturally entertained against the present tests, they would not risk the loss of a great advantage for the accidental attainment of an advantage still greater. He did not intend to propose the taking of an oath as a qualification for office, he thought that a declaration, solemnly subscribed, would be equally effective and binding. He should therefore propose that a declaration should be made to the following effect, by all candidates for office at the time, when by the existing law, the oaths of allegiance and supremacy were to be taken;—" I, A. B., do solemnly and sincerely declare, that I will not use any powers with which I may be invested by this office, to subvert, or to endeavour to subvert, the principles of the church of England, Scotland, or Ireland, as by law established." He had endeavoured in this declaration to avoid the use of any terms that were vague and indefinite; and he should be well satisfied to see it made a part of the noble lord's present bill. He had now stated the sum and substance of all that he had to propose. The declaration would apply equally to the privileges of the established church of Scotland, and to those of the established church of England and Ireland, and must be taken by all the king's subjects alike before their admission into any public office.—Before he concluded, he would say a few words respecting the conduct of the clergy of the establishment. It could not have failed to strike the attention of every member of that House, that the clergy had not thought fit, except in one or two instances, to trouble the House with petitions on this subject. He inferred from that circumstance, that they reposed with confidence in the attachment of parliament to the establishment of which they were the pious and active ministers. Anxious as he was for the security of the church of England, he would confess that he thought that they had done more by their silence to advance its interest and welfare, than if they had covered the table of the House with loads of petitions against the repeal of these statutes. The right hon. gentleman concluded by moving "That it be an instruction to the committee on this bill, that they have power to provide for the taking and subscribing a declaration by all persons who would, under the existing laws, be required to take the Sacramental Test."

Lord Eastnor

, in seconding the motion, said, he could assure the noble lord, that though he had formed one of the minority on the former evening, he was not at all insensible to the inconveniences of the present laws respecting the Dissenters. It was impossible to avoid seeing that they were full of inconsistencies, when a bill of indemnity was annually passed to suspend the severity of their enactments. It was impossible also to avoid seeing that the test which required individuals to use the most sacred ceremony of the church as a qualification for office, was a profanation of religion which ought to be continued no longer. He would candidly confess that he had voted on the former night against the motion of the noble lord, because he was not prepared to support the abolition of the existing tests, without having some declaration substituted for them, acknowledging that the church of England was an integral part of the constitution, and pledging the person taking office to consider it in that light. He was now of opinion that some declaration, such as his right hon. friend had proposed, might be framed so as to satisfy both sides of the House. He was aware it might be said, that if he was impressed by such sentiments he ought not to have voted as he had done on the former night, because it would have been easy for him, when the noble lord's bill came to its present stage, to have proposed that a similar instruction to the present be given to the committee. He must confess, that if the noble lord in his speech—which he owned to be a most able and conciliatory speech—had propounded any intention of substituting a declaration instead of an oath as a test, he should have given his support to the noble lord's motion. He had, however, supposed that such was not the intention of the noble lord, and had voted accordingly. He acknowledged it to be his opinion, that if the noble lord had not carried his motion on the former night, the subject would have been taken up by government; and if it had been so taken up, the repeal of these statutes would have been more satisfactory both to the government and to the Dissenters. He was aware of the utter impossibility of satisfying all parties; but he thought the instruction went a great way towards the attainment of that object, since it secured the interests of the church, while it did not offend the religious scruples of the Dissenters. He hoped it would be carried; and if so, he should no further oppose the progress of the bill.

Lord John Russell

said, that he was ready thus early to offer himself to the notice of the House upon the new question submitted for their consideration. The noble lord who spoke last was right in saying that neither he nor any of his friends had either proposed or prepared any test as a substitute for those which they were anxious to revoke. On the contrary, they had asked for the total repeal of the existing law, on general principles of justice and policy, without having it in their contemplation to propose any substitute in lieu of the oath required by the Established Church. Notwithstanding what had fallen from the right hon. gentleman, he could not help thinking that unqualified repeal was what was meant by the great majority who had pronounced their opinions upon this subject on a former night. There had been, undoubtedly, an opinion expressed by an hon. friend of his, that it would be better to have a bill of suspension than one of repeal; but he could not bring himself to believe that many had concurred in a proposition of that nature. Before, however, he went further in his allusions to the general subject, or entered upon the specific proposition of the right hon. gentleman, he hoped the House would allow him to congratulate them upon the different condition in which this great question was now placed, from that it had occupied on any former occasion. They had no longer to inquire into the essential differences which formed the barrier between the established and dissenting churches, or whether or no Dissenters were worthy of holding places of trust and office. They had no longer to combat any of those theological distinctions or subtleties, which had been interposed in the form of striking difficulties, and most improperly, as he had always thought, where the question really was the adjustment of civil duties. They had no longer to grapple with that ancient principle, which provided, that no man was worthy to serve the state, of which he was a social member, unless he belonged to the creed of the dominating church. It was a source, he thought, of real satisfaction, that the question now came before them stripped of these incumbrances. It was put fairly and plainly in a different form by the right hon. gentleman, who had, in his amendment, proposed no assertion of the obsolete principle of inherent re- ligious disability, but on the contrary, a Declaration merely affecting the civil conditions upon which the tenure of office was to be held by those who were ready to admit the paramount obligations of the constitution. Though he thus rejoiced that the question was not what it had been, and was at length put upon fresh ground of argument, yet he could not concur in the conclusion, that any fresh declaration was necessary. He had many reasons to prevent his adopting such a conclusion. The first reason was that there being no pretensions for danger there could be no necessity for demanding security. Whether the Test and Corporation acts were originally just and proper—whether their provisions were adequate to the presumed necessity for their enactment—it was now rather too late to inquire. But they had at least this plausibility, or supposed advantage, in the principle of their construction—that they were really enacted to meet an apparent overwhelming danger. At the time to which he referred, there did exist a set of men who had sought to destroy the constitution, as in church and state established. At present, what pretence was there that any declaration or religious test was called for, to protect either church or state from any particular danger? Had any complaint been made against the principles or practice of any of the Dissenters who had obtained office? And it must not be forgotten that Protestant Dissenters, if they really meant hostility to the Established Church, had had the power of fomenting their machinations during the greater part of the last half century, in which time they had been practically admitted into office. Had they, during that lapse of years, sought the subversion of the Established Church? Had they attempted to oppose the dominion of the law? Had they endeavoured to introduce disorder or civil contention into the kingdom? The answer of history was, No. If, then, they had not, he called upon the House not to sanction an imputation where no charge either had or could be made—not to express a distrust where no confidence had been violated. His next reason against the proposed amendment was, that he saw no cause why the Dissenters should make any declaration respecting the Established Church, which they were not called upon to make towards any other establishment of the state, or against any other doctrine that was supposed to be subversive of the constitution. For instance, there were those abroad who thought any established religion unnecessary—there were those abroad who advocated annual parliaments, and universal suffrage; yet nobody dreamt of providing countervailing declarations against such constitutional innovations. There were likewise established institutions which were interwoven with the spirit of British liberty; the trial by jury for example, the independence of the judges; yet in no instance had a declaration been called for, or deemed necessary for their preservation—And why? Because it was more politic for the state to presume, that all its subjects felt a common interest in the due maintenance of what was essentially useful for the whole, than to fritter away their allegiance into privileged or excluded classes. Better, far better, was it, to leave the opinion td prevail, that all men were bound equally to obey the laws upon the same obligation of common compact, than to take for one class, as against the rest, a form of words as a security, which elsewhere was deemed unnecessary. He would say, moreover, that this sort of verbal security was far from being the best a government could obtain. The best security for the impartiality of the trial by jury, for the independence of the judge, was the perfect confidence which the state reposed in the one and the other, and the deep implied obligation of the sacredness of the trust. In fact, these tests, when carried as they were to extreme points, excited jealousy instead of enforcing salutary obligation, and actually prevented the growth of opinion from correcting the current of antiquated prejudices. The page of history demonstrated, that exactly in proportion to the relaxation of the persecution of sects, was the leaning of the emancipated thinkers to whatever creed belonged to the influential portion of society, to which they were newly deemed eligible. Upon reference to the debates on the Occasional Conformity bill, it would be found, as bishop Burnet said, that the passing of the Toleration act had almost immediately diminished the number of the Dissenters one fourth. The reason was obvious, the bar of separation had been taken away from them, and with it that party spirit which was their main support. History furnished another striking reason of the anomalous tendency of these re- strictive laws, and how entirely they defeated their own expressed purposes. Never had religious wars been carried on with more fierceness than were the religious wars of France. The Huguenots at one time undoubtedly comprised the largest number of men of rank and station in France. The massacre, the persecution, and assassination, of their members by no means diminished the accession to their numbers, nor the dangers apprehended from the Huguenot Association. But when Henry 4th came forward with the edict of Nantes, which threw open power to all classes, the spell of Huguenot power was dissolved, and in less than a century, though many Protestants still remained in France, there were hardly any among them of any rank or station, the principal families of the Huguenots having merged into those of the predominant religion. So that when Louis 14th revoked the edict of Nantes, it was notorious that the great majority who had fled from that act of intolerant power were not of the station and rank in society of those who had figured as Huguenots during the reign of Henry 4th. He would say, then, that the best security of any state would be found, not in the imposition, but in the absence of these jealous and distrustful tests. Once show a confidence, a fair and honest belief in the integrity of the Dissenters, and there would be every thing to hope from their cordiality, and nothing to fear from provoked and wounded feelings. It must surely be obvious, that to ask for these tests and declarations, was to inspire distrust. Why was it, then, that persons called for their perpetuity? Was it, that in the performance of an act of tardy justice, the pride of the Established Church required a qualification or salvo, as if it were not ready to make a fair concession of its own free will, and in that full spirit of conciliation which ought to be maintained in coming to such an adjustment? He had likewise another objection to the proposed Declaration. Although the right hon. gentleman's words might be unexceptionable, yet declarations of this kind were always liable to various interpretations, according to the sense in which they were construed by those in whose behalf they were said to be taken, or by whom they were actually adopted. There was always, then, a dangerous latitude, however conscientiously suggested, in these different interpretations of the respective communities. Surety such a danger ought to be avoided. Reference had been made, on a former night, to the words proposed by Mr. Burke in the place of the present tests. The subscriber was not only to declare that he would never subvert or destroy the Established Church, but he was to carry the supposed security further; for he was not to assist or employ any person or persons, or give any vote for any person seeking corporate office or parliamentary duty, on account of their attachment to any religious opinions not being those of the Established Church. Surely that was rendering the fulfilment of the obligation practically impossible; for no man, were he a Dissenter, could doubt, that if two candidates offered themselves at the same time for his vote, being alike eligible, his bias must naturally turn towards the one who partook most of his own peculiar tenets. These were generally the objections which he entertained to the course proposed to be taken to qualify or alter the present bill. But, in stating them, he was ready at the same time to declare, that his opposition was not unconquerable [hear]. He repeated, that his objections were upon principle, but he was still ready, and indeed bound, to listen to the general opinion of the House. Placed as he was in such a question as this, involving delicate feelings and momentous interests, he would not take upon himself, for the maintenance of his own opinion, to close the door of conciliation and peace [cheers]. If there were a fair and open chance of the admission of Dissenters to the enjoyment of their just rights and privileges, with a reasonable declaration, which would satisfy the scruples of the influential organs of the Established Church, without violating the feelings of the other parties, he confessed he should be ready to listen to such a proposition, with an earnest hope and a desire to afford his best endeavours to make the Declaration mutually palatable and satisfactory. But because of his hostility to the principle of any such oath or declaration, he must be excused at that moment from either expressing his assent to or dissent from, the specific proposition, and would, for the present, remain to hear what should appear to be the general opinion of the House upon the subject; remembering that it was a discussion involving the great principle of religious liberty, and embracing considerations as important as could be submitted to an enlightened assembly.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that when this question was last under the consideration of the House, he had asked the noble lord, with the most perfect sincerity on his part, as well as for those who thought with him on this subject, for a short delay, to obviate, if possible, his final resistance to some general and fair arrangement. He had, in fact, merely asked the noble lord to give those who had" at first opposed him a reasonable opportunity of maturely deliberating on the course which it was most important they should pursue to attain a satisfactory adjustment, an opportunity which, even under ordinary circumstances, he could have hardly thought would have been refused. That request he had made with an earnest determination to apply his mind for the fair purpose for which he had asked it; namely, to consider what arrangement could then be made to settle this important question. He was induced to make the request, because he found that a considerable majority of the House of Commons had, upon fair and full debate, pronounced their opinion, that an alteration in the existing law was desirable. He repeated, that this delay he had asked with the sincerest disposition to apply his mind to the consideration of what way any arrangement could be effected with the general consent of those whose consent was indispensable for the success of the measure, and with the intention also of conciliating the feelings of the Dissenters themselves, and the other great party in the country who felt themselves concerned in the result. He wished, in fact, to see how far he could reconcile the sincere adherents of the Church of England, who must feel a deep interest in any change of this nature, to the change which the Dissenters were, under favourable auspices, desirous of accomplishing. The delay he had asked for this purpose had, however, been refused him; and refused, too, with a degree of injustice and indiscretion which he could hardly, under such circumstances, have expected. It was said that his motives were not honest, and that he wanted to get rid of the question by an artifice [cries of "No" and of "Hear"]. Most assuredly such motives had been imputed to him on the occasion to which he alluded, but he begged now to assure the noble lord, that whatever injustice had been personally inflicted upon him, and whatever motives had been unfairly imputed to him, it was impossible that any thing which had passed could seriously affect his view of a matter of such immense importance, or prevent his attempting, as far as was in his power, to promote a satisfactory arrangement, if it were attainable, and induce a continuance of that harmony which had so long subsisted between these great parties. He was glad, however, that the interruption had taken place; for it enabled him, in the time which had elapsed since the first discussion, to consider and weigh the various opinions that had been pronounced, in the shape of alternatives, or substitutes for the present law. He would enumerate what he understood to be the several arrangements that had been submitted to the choice of the House. In the first place, there were those who were ready to adhere to the existing provisions of the law, and who defended them because they were impressed with a belief that they did not entail upon the Dissenters any practical grievance. He, as well as those who had entertained that opinion, did not deny the objection, that a difficulty was imposed upon those who were called upon to take the Sacramental Test as a qualification for civil office, but they thought that the Annual Indemnity bill relaxed the painful necessity of enforcing the test as an indispensable qualification. But, as he had before said, he saw nothing more unwise than to interrupt the existing harmony between such sects; and he was free to confess, that after the late decision of the House, so deliberately formed, he was one of those who thought it useless to resist, in limine, the conclusion that the existing law was no longer applicable to the present State of society, and that it ought to undergo a material alteration. Viewing what had passed in this way, he could no longer think of pressing his own opinion, in the vain hope of altering what undoubtedly appeared to be the fixed opinion of the House. The alternative, therefore, of adhering to the present law, he was prepared at once to dismiss from his mind. The sense of the House had been so fairly and decidedly taken against it, that he admitted the law must undergo an alteration. In the course of the discussion the hon. baronet, the member for Devon, had thrown out another proposition, which seemed, at the time, to have received considerable countenance; namely, that there should be substituted in lieu of the Annual Indemnity bill, an annual suspension of the law requiring the Sacramental Test. He had pressed this himself for the consideration of the House, at the moment, when he had been afterwards taunted with improper motives and artifice. He rejoiced now, that he had been so interrupted, because he was thereby enabled to come to the present debate uncommitted and unfettered by any previous opinion. He therefore now came to the exercise of his judgment as the case really stood for consideration. The effect of this deliberation upon his part was, to convince him, that he ought to change his opinion respecting the hon. baronet's proposition, which he now thought would, in its operation, prove as inconvenient as the Annual Indemnity bill. He dismissed it therefore from his mind, because it would not remove the objections entertained by conscientious men, Dissenters, as well as of the Church of England, that the law even with such an alteration, while it mitigated the penalties, was still held over their heads as a jealous distrust. It was, also, liable to the further objection, that the suspicion so implied was a tacit recognition of the principle, that the Sacramental Test was a necessary qualification for holding office.—The third alternative held out was, not that a suspension should be enacted, but that a given time should be prospectively named, say five years for the abrogation of the present law. He confessed he could not see the value of that proposition; for it was plainly open to this objection, that while the Church of England, would, in the interval, gain nothing in conciliation and consequent security, they would be clinging pro tanto to a useles annual tenure of disqualifications, still upholding jealousy and distrust, for a short term of years, without obtaining any valid security, and with the certainty of an ungracious termination of these restrictions. Indeed, were the question reduced to this alternative, either repeal this law at once, or abrogate it at the termination of five years, he would not hesitate to say, let the repeal be forthwith, and let the Church of England have the grace of so prompt a concession, and the Dissenters the full benefit of it.—Having thus disposed of three of the causes pointed out, two more only remained for him to allude to. One was that of the noble lord, which asked for a simple and unqualified repeal; and the other that of his right hon. friend (Mr. S. Bourne), which would accompany the repeal by a declaration, in the place of the security enjoined by the Sacramental Test. After the best consideration he could give these several propositions, he thought the safer course, and that most likely to preserve harmony between all parties, would be the adoption of something like the last recommendation. Whatever views were taken of the abstract principle, the wisest and best course would, he was convinced, be to come to such a final arrangement, as while it should not affect the fair and conscientious scruples of the Dissenters, would give a reasonable proof to the Church of England, that in the repeal of these long-established tests, which were considered as a much-valued security, the legislature thought fit to require, that a recorded opinion should be given, in the form of a Declaration, for the security of the predominancy of the Established Church. With this view he thought it only fair, that the committee should be instructed to introduce a declaration to the effect he had alluded to, to be taken as a substitute for the Sacramental Test, by the parties who were now liable to take it. If the House recognised that principle, he was prepared with a form of Declaration, which he trusted would be received with general assent. They had already sufficiently discussed whether it should be an oath, or merely a declaration. To propose an oath would be perhaps to arouse again the disstrust of the Dissenters, and subject them to an inconvenience which he thought could not follow the imposition of a declaration; and particularly when they looked at such an affirmation as interwoven with the principle of the constitution. The noble lord had said, that there ought to be no declaration which required any renunciation of religious feeling—so said he. The noble lord had said, that there ought to be no declaration which required the expression of any religious feeling—so said he Indeed, upon the whole view of the case, he preferred a solemn affirmation to an oath, because it was less calculated to arouse the jealousy of one party, and was equally operative as a security to the other. He should be ready to discuss the terms of the Declaration which he had himself prepared when in committee. It entered more into detail than that of his right hon. friend. He agreed with his right hon. friend, in thinking that, they had a right to expect the introduction of some declaration into the bill. If a modification be to be made of the laws affecting the Dissenters, such modification should be coupled with some measure of security for the established religion. The one which he now proposed exactly corresponded with that in the preamble of the bill brought forward by Mr. Grattan, and which was afterwards introduced by Mr. Plunkett. It recites that,—" Whereas the Protestant Episcopal Church of England and Ireland, and the doctrine, discipline, and government, thereof, and likewise the Protestant Church of Scotland, and the doctrine, discipline, and government, thereof, are established permanently and inviolably." The declaration which then follows is similar to that which he (Mr. Peel) would propose as a substitute for the Sacramental Test. After adopting the preamble to the bill of Mr. Grattan, he proposed to introduce a declaration to the following effect: "And be it enacted, that all persons who shall hereafter be elected, or chosen to fill the office of mayor, alderman, or magistrate, or to fill any office of emolument and trust in any city or town corporate in England or Wales, shall, previous to his admission, make and subscribe the following Declaration:—'I, A. B., do solemnly declare, that I will never exert any power nor any influence which I may possess by virtue of my office, to injure or subvert the Protestant church, by law established in these realms, or to disturb it in the possession of those rights and privileges to which it is by law entitled." That was the whole of the Declaration which he would propose to introduce. As he had begun to read the provision which he was desirous to see amalgamated with the bill, he might as well proceed through the entire of it. It went on to provide as follows:—"And be it enacted, that the said Declaration shall be made and subscribed in the presence of the persons who by the present charters and usages of cities and towns corporate administer the oath to Dissenters on entering into office there; and that in counties corporate such Declaration shall be made and subscribed in the presence of two justices of the peace;—and be it further enacted, that where any person shall omit, on being chosen or nominated to said office, to subscribe such Declaration, such election and nomination, and all the acts of such officer, are hereby declared null and void." He did not deem it necessary to attach any penalty to the omis- sion, further than rendering the election and the subsequent acts void. And here he had to encounter a difficulty respecting the officer appointed by the Crown. The difficulty was, to point out the particular offices under the Crown in which this Declaration should be taken. If every subordinate officer in the employment of the Crown, who was at present liable to be called upon to take the Sacramental Test, should be required to subscribe this Declaration, the provision would only throw ridicule upon the whole proceeding [hear]. To point out, then, the officers who should make the Declaration, and the officers who should be excepted, was the difficulty which he had to overcome. That difficulty, he imagined, might be obviated by some such regulation as this—"Be it enacted that it may be lawful for his majesty to require of all persons who shall be appointed to civil offices of trust, or who shall hold commissions under his majesty's government, and by whom, according to the present law, the Sacramental Test is ordered to be taken" [this, it would be seen, did not affect the Presbyterian Dissenters of Ireland, or the members of the church of Scotland], "to make and subscribe the Declaration above-mentioned, preceding the admission of such persons to offices of civil trust, under such regulations, respecting the time and manner of subscribing such Declaration, as his majesty may be pleased to appoint." That provision on this subject, the House would see, would enable the Crown to point out the offices in which such Declaration would be considered necessary.—Whatever part he might have taken in the discussion of this subject on a preceding night—however he might have then resisted the proposition of the noble lord—now, after what had taken place, he did not yield to the noble lord in his anxiety to see this question settled in the course of the present session, satisfactorily, and for ever. He entertained a hope that the provision which he had proposed, and which appeared to him so perfectly reasonable, would not be rejected by the noble lord or by any of the persons who advocated the claims of the Dissenters. It was impossible for him unequivocally to pledge other persons; but, if this provision should be adopted, he entertained the confident expectation, that the present session would not expire without an arrangement of a satisfactory and permanent nature being effected, with regard to the laws affecting the Dissenters. On each side of this, as of every other question, they could only arrive at a satisfactory arrangement by mutual concession. Let it be recollected that the laws which they were desirous to repeal had been mitigated, in a great degree, by the Annual Indemnity bill. The principle of those laws, as they stand, recognizes conformity to the Church of England as the only qualification for admission to corporate and civil offices. He and those who thought with him were prepared to give up that principle,—they were prepared to declare that, without any reference to religious opinions, Protestant Dissenters shall be eligible to the above offices, provided they give security, by subscribing the Declaration which he had proposed, for the maintenance of the rights and privileges of the Established Church. If he understood the noble lord rightly on the first night of this discussion, the noble lord had spoken of the injustice inflicted on the Dissenters by the existing laws. The existence of that injustice pleaded strongly in favour of the adoption of the provision now proposed by him. If the Dissenters were sufferers under the present laws as they stood, that was a powerful reason why the advantages intended by the bill should not be rejected by them, because they were called upon to give, for the concessions thus afforded to them, a security similar to that which the principle of the existing law gave to the Church of England. The Church of England, in his opinion, had a right to demand from the Dissenters a satisfactory declaration, that none of the offices or powers of which they might become possessed should, under any circumstances, be used to injure the establishment, or to disturb it in the possession of its just privileges. The noble lord had stated his objections to any provision beyond that of simple repeal, and he had founded them principally upon the opinion which he entertained of the permanence of the Church Establishment, and which induced him to consider it unnecessary to connect any security with the measure of simple repeal. He would not now enter into the discussion, but he could not avoid expressing his opinion that the noble lord had failed to prove the truth of his position. In arguing the question, the noble lord was not warranted in appealing to America and to other countries, where there exist no established churches. It might be very true that no tests or securi- ties were required for the maintenance of established churches in such countries; but, according to the experience of this country for centuries, it was well known that religious feelings entered into secular affairs, and influenced the conduct of men. The experience of this country had shown that the Established Church had been always recognized as an essential portion of the constitution of the country, and strong measures had therefore been adopted to maintain unimpaired its rights and privileges. He would in that House take it for granted that the Established Church was an essential part of the constitution of the country. "Non meus hic sermo." In the bills which had been advocated by hon. gentlemen opposite, for the relief of the Roman Catholics, such an acknowledgment was made with a view to procure the assent of all parties. It was expressly made in the bill of the late Mr. Grattan. That bill set out by stating, that the removal of the disqualifications under which the Roman Catholics laboured would tend to promote the interest of the Established Church, and to strengthen our free constitution, of which that Church was an "essential part." He was sure that, upon that point there was no difference of opinion in that House. Maintaining, then, that the Established Church formed an essential part of the constitution, he conceived that the House should not agree to the measure under discussion, until they had maturely weighed the amount of security to which that Church was unquestionably entitled. He was glad to see that, during the discussion, full justice had been done to the temperate course adopted by the Church of England respecting this question. That Church had shown that it confided in the wisdom and justice of parliament, as to the measures of security which ought to be adopted for the preservation of its privileges and immunities. It was remarked by the noble lord, and by other hon. members, on the first night of this discussion, that as the Dissenters had for thirty-seven years remained tranquil, without presenting a petition for the recovery of their rights, their application on the present occasion was entitled to the particular consideration of the House. If that silence and acquiescence on their part justly entitled them to that consideration, he would say that the course pursued by the Church of England gave them also peculiar claims to the consideration and attention of parliament. Upon that point he trusted there would be but one feeling. They were about to repeal laws which had been long considered as the bulwarks of the Church of England, and it was impossible to deny that a strong opinion existed throughout the country favourable to the maintenance of those laws. They were about to give the Dissenters admission to office, and he hoped the measure would be carried, not by a majority, for it would be more satisfactory that their votes should be unanimous on this occasion. But if it should be necessary to have the sense of the House declared, he trusted there would be an overpowering majority against the provision of simple repeal, and in support of the bill accompanied with the Declaration which he had proposed. If the bill should be so altered, he entertained the most confident expectation of its ultimate success, and that before the termination of the session there would be a permanent settlement of the question. Whatever part he might have taken on former occasions, he could assure the noble lord and the House, that it was his anxious wish to see that desirable arrangement satisfactorily effected.

Lord Sandon

said, he was one of a large majority who had voted the other evening for the unconditional repeal of these Tests; but if the measure could not be carried without some condition, he would assent to the proposition of the right hon. gentleman rather than endanger the final success of the bill.

Mr. Fergusson

said, that no reflections had been cast on the Church of England; on the contrary, every one had admitted that the conduct of the laity, clergy, and prelates, of that Church had been, on this occasion, signally liberal. He was ready to adopt the Declaration proposed, and more if it were required; but he must first be satisfied that it was necessary to the security of the Church of England. What the House had now to decide was, whether any instruction should be given to the committee to impose any such declaration as the right hon. gentleman had moved. Now, he would ask any hon. member whether the security of the Church of England was not greater at that moment than at any antecedent period since these acts had been passed? The Church had received all the safeguards it could possess, by the solemn national compacts made at the Unions with Scotland and Ireland. His objection to the proposed Declaration was, that it was not meant to apply to any class but the Dissenters. Why should the members of the Church of England require this security? The members of the Church of Scotland required no test for the support of their establishment. With respect to the Roman Catholics, whose exclusion from office was the great object of the Test act, they would be effectually excluded after this bill was passed, as the great barrier would still remain against them—that of the Oath of Supremacy. There were none but the Dissenters to whom this Declaration could apply. It would be manifestly, on the part of parliament and the Church of England, a distrust of that body which ought not to exist. If any declaration was required, it should be of a more moderate character than either of those proposed. Neither that House nor the House of Peers required, in defence of its rights and privileges, any such security. Why, then, should it be necessary for the Church? He did not believe that the Church of England required any such security; and he objected to it because it would, in effect, be a stigma cast on the whole body of Dissenters. He should be sorry to separate himself from the noble lord, whose bill was a great event in the history of religious freedom, even if the Declaration should constitute a part of it. The thanks of the Dissenters throughout the country were due for the ability with which the noble lord had conducted their case. For his own part, if he thought they would gain admission to office by either of the declarations proposed, he would not object to their being incorporated in the bill, however he might dislike them in principle.

Mr. Wynn

said, that when he had voted in the majority on this bill, he had not voted for the repeal of these acts, in the expectation that any declaration, oath, or security, whatever, would be required from the Dissenters. His reason for having no such expectation was, not that he did not feel as ardent a zeal for the maintenance of the Church of England as any man—and he trusted that the great majority of those who had voted with him shared the same sentiments—but that he diet not see the danger to be provided against. He did not believe that any real security had ever resulted to the Church from the existence of these acts; nor did he conceive from whence danger could arise to the Church, during the last eighty-three years. Though the terms "barrier" and "bulwark" had been applied to these acts by writers of the highest reputation, yet really they rather deserved the name of a net, which the larger fishes leaped over, while the smaller slipped through it, and only now and then a fish, called an alderman, was caught in its meshes. In his friendship for the Dissenters, however, he did not forget the respect due to honest prejudice. He did not desire to see any measure passed which would give a triumph to one party over the other. He objected to these securities, as they were called, because he believed them to be useless. He did not see how the circumstance of the member of a corporation having taken a Declaration, could give him more or less power to disturb the rights or possessions of the Church. For one, however, he was ready to agree to the Declaration, as it did not appear that any practical inconvenience was likely to follow it. He thought, also, that it was a great improvement, that the Declaration was not to be taken by every individual. Nothing could tend more to bring tests into contempt and ridicule, than their frequent and unnecessary repetition. Under these circumstances, he thought the noble lord would act unwisely if he separated those who were agreed on the main point, by refusing to consent to the instruction of his right hon. friend. The bill would still grant practical relief, and do away with the scandal of the present state of the law.

Lord Althorpe

also objected to the proposed Declaration. He was an advocate for simple repeal, unaccompanied by any conditions, and would object to adding any new oaths or declarations to those prescribed to be taken by the people of this country. They were in this instance unnecessary, and afforded no security whatever to the Church. After, however, the pledge given by the right hon. gentleman, he should be sorry to oppose his proposition; and he preferred the Declaration introduced by the right hon. gentleman, to the other, for this reason, that it was simple and more moderate. He would, however, have opposed this provision, if it had been accompanied by any penalty similar to that now incurred by the omission of the Sacramental Test; for, in that case, in passing a bill for the relief of the Dissenters, they would be actually imposing a bill of pains and penalties on the people of England. It appeared, however, that the right hon. gentleman did not propose the infliction of any penalty further than the deprivation of office; and, with respect to the officers under the Crown, he left it at the option of government to require it of such persons and at such times as it might think fit. With such a discretionary power vested in the government, he trusted that this Declaration would be allowed to fall into disuse, but if a penalty were attached to the omission of the Declaration, it would never be allowed to remain a dead letter. Feeling, after the speech of the right hon. Secretary, that, with the modification to which he had alluded, the object of the Dissenters would be attained, he would not offer any opposition to the proposition. It gave him great pleasure to congratulate his noble friend on the success of his efforts. His name would go down to posterity revered and honoured as the mover of this salutary measure—a measure which was calculated to wipe away one of the foulest blots that ever stained the history of this country—a measure, which would have the effect of tranquillizing the minds and conciliating the affections of a large and valuable body of people. Although he was against the adoption of any Declaration whatsoever in cases of this description, he would not, by any opposition, prevent the accomplishment of this desirable measure.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, that if he felt any wish unsatisfied with respect to this question, it was because any declaration was called for. If the proposition of his noble friend had been acceded to in its original form, he should have considered it the greatest possible triumph of liberal principles and opinions. But, when he was told by high authority, that in pursuing the course recommended by the right hon. Secretary, they might indulge in the hope of final success, he was ready to unite his recommendation with that of others to the noble lord, in order to induce him to agree to the proposition which had been made.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, he had come down to the House on a former occasion as on the present, to enter on a full exposition of the great principles of Protest ant dissent, and to vindicate them from every attack, whether covered or undisguised. But the course at length tardily taken by his majesty's government not only rendered such a proceeding on his part unnecessary, but, perhaps, for the present at least, inexpedient. For himself, he deprecated all tests, whatever form or name they assumed; yet as the Declaration proposed was urged as a compliment to the prejudices of the Church, he would not deny a request which might gratify afflicted pride, provided it made no inroad on the great principles of non-conformity; and in this he was sure he spoke the sentiments of the entire dissenting community. For himself, he was more content than gratified; yet as it was his honour to owe his seat in that House, mainly to the disinterested exertions of an intelligent and enlightened body of Dissenters, he should defer his own sentiments to theirs, and regulate his future conduct on this bill as should comport with the feelings of that body. But he, at the same time, earnestly hoped that nothing would arise to disturb a feeling of unanimity which, from whatever cause arising, could not fail to advance the great principles of civil and religious freedom.

Mr. William Smith

likewise rose amid loud cries of "question." He observed, that he felt it would be ill taste in him to take up much of the time of the House, and he would therefore endeavour not to detain it beyond a few minutes; but when those who had known him long recollected that he had for a term of forty years been looking forward for what he now saw almost, as it were, within his grasp, and likewise within the grasp of thousands with whom he had been long and intimately connected, he trusted that they and the House would rather give him credit for not having sooner obtruded himself on their notice, than for an unfair wish to utter a few words, which, he was happy to say, would be very much in unison with what had fallen that evening from the hon. members who had preceded him. In the first place, he was willing to treat with the respect due to them honest and ancient prejudices; and he would also say, when he saw those prejudices wearing away day after day,—whether in consequence of the march of intellect or from what other cause—he thought that what still remained of those ancient prejudices did not require much to be sacrificed to them, and he could not but be persuaded, that if his noble friend would go on for some years longer, those prejudices would all vanish,—they would be entirely obliterated,—and an unqualified measure would be conceded, free from any declaration, and without any clause or provision being substituted in its room. Such a measure, he believed, would be agreed to with as much unanimity as appeared to be given in the present instance to a proposition for that which he considered not to be any security whatever, and which he believed would, a few years hence, be placed in exactly the same state, and would be found to be as unnecessary as the existing law was. He was, however, ready to allow for any prejudice which existed on the present occasion; and, so far as he was concerned, he would give way to that prejudice, rather than incur the risk of bringing about any disappointment which might arise elsewhere, or which might have the effect of forcing gentlemen in that House to take a course which might be, in some degree, opposed to their wishes. He hoped, however, that gentlemen would allow him, for a short time, to point out why those securities—or, more properly speaking, those proposed securities—where wholly and utterly useless. He would ask gentlemen, for a moment, to state in what they considered the security of the Church of England to consist? Was it not, he would demand, in the affection of a very large majority of the English people? He firmly believed that a very large majority of the English people was attached, strongly attached, to the Church of England. And while that attachment remained, the Church was no more in danger from the minority, that if that minority were of the same opinion with the larger number. Still, however, he thought the Established Church would be far more secure when those obnoxious acts were done away, than it even was now. For what was the effect of those laws but to keep up a feeling of irritation in the minds of many thousand persons in this country, who, if they did not think themselves oppressed by those measures,—if they did not feel that they were hardly treated by persons who differed from them in religious opinion,—would hardly bestow a thought on the subject, of the Established Church? Where could those apprehended dangers arise but within the walls of parliament? But never had the friends of the Dissenters in the House of Commons hinted at, much less proposed, any measure that could injure, or had a tendency to subvert, the Establishment. If he had attempted any thing of the kind, he should only have manifested his own extravagance and folly. He had not, on this occasion, objected to any words proposed in either declaration, because he knew of no form of words so definite and specific, as not to be likely to affect the minds and feelings of persons of a different religious persuasion, for whom that form was intended. If, at any future period, the Dissenters were accused of any thing like duplicity, should they object to, or desire to have altered, a single phrase in the Declaration, the just answer would be, that, so far from violating the sort of security included in this measure, they were only doing that which they had an undoubted right to do. The proposition to do away with those acts on such a security as the right hon. Secretary had proposed was, in his own opinion, not the most eligible mode of proceeding. He believed there were thousands of persons now in England on whom these prejudices operated in such a degree as would lead them to suppose, that, in at all relieving the Dissenters, parliament was doing away with the great bulwarks of the Church. Those prejudices might remain for some time longer; they might induce gentlemen to stand up in that House to oppose the slightest alteration in those laws; but they would ultimately be obliterated. He had observed, within a very short period, that a measure then in progress through the House, for the commutation of tithes, was stigmatized as calculated to inflict a gross injury on the Church of England; and such appeared to be the feeling of a large body of clergymen. This showed the feeling which existed on every question at all connected with the Church, and proved what an interpretation was put on any measure that appeared, in the slightest degree, to interfere with it.—The right hon. Secretary had said, that one reason for proposing this Declaration was, to make the settlement final. Now, in his view of the case, it could not be considered final. If the proposition of his noble friend for the total and unqualified repeal of those acts was agreed to, that would afford a far better chance of the final settlement of the difference between the two parties, than could be effected by any declaration whatsoever; and he thought; so, because it was on the ground of the existence of certain prejudices, which were dying away, that this supposed security was called for; and when those prejudices had died away, a final settlement of differences would, in truth and in fact, take place, and with it an utter forgetfulness of those distinctions which had too long continued; because any test or declaration directed against the Dissenters operated, in point of fact, against the Church of England. Now, he thought the present attempt at security really presented no security at all,—that, to use a phrase which he had heard (and it was a very pregnant one) in the course of this dispute, it was, with great solemnity, asking no security against no danger [hear.] This was what he felt; and he thought that there was no security whatever in the Declaration. He believed that at the present moment England was almost the only country in Europe where such qualifications were called for. Many papers had been laid before that House, which proved that liberal principles were cherished in many of the continental states; and he begged to call the attention of gentlemen to the treaty signed at Vienna by nearly all the plenipotentiaries of Europe, in 1815. In the articles annexed to the 8th article of that treaty was the following:—"Article 2. No innovation shall be made in the articles of this constitution, which secure equal protection and favour to every sect, and guarantee permission to all citizens, whatever their religious belief may be, to take employments and offices under the state." This was contained in the treaty concluded between the king of the Netherlands, Russia, England, Austria, and Prussia, on the 31st of May, 1815. Now, when he found that those states of Europe in which the Roman Catholic religion was established, had declared by solemn treaty, that no religious distinction should be suffered to exist; and when he recollected the words of lord Castlereagh, who was a party to that treaty, who had stated that there was not a more simple point on which the negociators of that time were agreed than this,—when he found that this liberal principle pervaded the whole of their proceedings,—when he recollected these things, he felt it to be a great disgrace that England should be the last to keep up such unjust distinctions. He did therefore sincerely rejoice in the success with which the proposition of his noble friend was likely to meet, because it would wipe away nearly—and he wished it would wipe away entirely,—that blot and disgrace which had so long existed on the character of England. Now he would ask of those gentlemen who said that the Church of England stood in need of some security, did not that church pride itself on being founded on the principles of the Christian religion, more truly and more purely than any other church in Europe? If that were the case, what did it want security for? Was not that church in possession of great connexions,—of royal, noble connexions? was she not in possession of an immense revenue, of resources the most extensive? If then with numbers, with power, with wealth, she was not safe against the assaults of persons like the Dissenters who had no bond amongst them, except the common bond which united them against injury, would not the Church of England when that injury was removed and forgotten, be placed in a better situation? What would she then have to fear? She had wealth, number, affection, power; add to these a disposition to conciliate those who had been too long depressed, and all apprehension for her safety must vanish. For these reasons, thinking that the security was not wanted,—thinking, if it was of no use, that it had better be dispensed with—and thinking that those prejudices which had so long existed were dying away, and would in a few years be wholly extinct—he felt that it would have been better if the proposition of his noble friend uncoupled with any restriction, had been suffered to pass. But, for one, he would gladly receive what might be given by the House; particularly when he took into consideration the opinion of the right hon. Secretary that this measure would stand a better chance in another place with this provision than it would do without it. He did, therefore, consent to the measure, on the part of those who had a good claim for that which they demanded; but at the same time, protesting against the alleged necessity of security, and contending that the Dissenters had a right to ask for the repeal of those acts without any condition whatever.

Lord John Russell

begged leave to remind the right hon. Secretary, that he had, on a former occasion, declared that, at the time when the bill was about going into a committee, he should be ready to listen to any proposition that might be made on the subject, and that if these acts could be repealed satisfactorily to the Church, it would be doubly satisfactory to him. Of that opinion he still remained; and he rejoiced to think, following the general impression of the House, that what he wished to effect might be done satisfactorily to the Dissenters, and not unsatisfactorily to the Church. He had listened with pleasure and attention to all that had passed, particularly to what had fallen from the right hon. Secretary and the right hon. gentleman (Mr. S. Bourne). He thought it was his duty to acquiesce in the proposition of the right hon. Secretary, although that of the right hon. gentleman came, perhaps, nearer to his own feelings. But, though that was the case, the declaration proposed by him had not the advantage of that part of the declaration of the right hon. Secretary, which would, he hoped, prove satisfactory to those who took care of the interests of the Church. That point he could not overlook in introducing this bill. He wished the measure not to be in any degree forced and compulsory: he was desirous that it should pass on free and willing grounds. He therefore had no hesitation in going into the committee with the instruction that the provision proposed by the right hon. Secretary should be referred to it. He wished that provision to be entertained, rather than any other. He would, however, guard himself from adopting any of the specific words or phrases which the right hon. Secretary might have introduced. With respect to the Declaration, he would say, that there unquestionably was something in the practice which was calculated to raise some doubt in the minds of the Dissenters; but he indulged in the hope of its being removed by conciliatory conferences with respect to the form of the words proposed, rather than by angry discussion and debate. Therefore his wish was, that in the first instance the committee should adopt the proposition of the right hon. Secretary wholly and entirely; and when the bill was printed, it could be considered as a perfectly open question: This appeared to him to be the course more likely to obtain the assent of all parties than any other he could point out. This measure was not to be considered as operating solely on Dissenters. If it was extended to Scotland, as he presumed it would be, the Declaration would be taken by members of the Established Church in that kingdom, who would be there viewed in the character of Dissenters.

Mr. Peel

said, the Declaration he had proposed was applicable to none, except those who were about to fill offices. If the Declaration was extended to Scotland, which he did not propose to do, it would have the effect of placing members of the Church of England in the situation of Dissenters.

The Speaker then left the chair, and the House went into a committee, Mr. R. Gordon in the chair.

Mr. Peel

said, that he had drawn up the Declaration, but as to the machinery of the bill he could say nothing. He entertained a confident hope that the insertion of that condition would ensure the success of the measure. He had drawn up the clause on his own view of the case, but he had not had an opportunity of consulting any professional person on it.

The bill went through the committee.