HC Deb 06 August 1846 vol 88 cc360-5

In proposing to this House that the Religious Opinions Bill should be read a Second Time, I will make some statements to the House of the nature of that Bill: It is a Bill to repeal certain penalties which are inflicted upon persons, either on account of professing certain religious opinions, or on account of certain practices with respect to their religious faith, which are supposed to be dangerous to the country. The greater part of those punishments will, I believe, be considered by the House as unworthy of remaining upon the Statute-book; and I will, therefore, only mention them generally, and will proceed to those two parts of the Bill upon which there may be some difference of opinion. In the first place, it is a Bill to repeal two Acts concerning the Jews. The first is an ordinance regarding the Jews which is supposed to prevent their holding land. That has been a question of considerable doubt, an therefore we thought it better to repeal that ordinance, and thus dispose of any doubt there might be upon the subject. The other Statute provides that the Jews shall wear a certain badge, a mark of degradation and inferiority which certainly the House will not wish to continue. The next class of Acts to which the Bill refers, are Acts which require the attendance of persons at public worship according to the usage of the Established Church, and inflict penalties upon those persons who attend public worship in other places than those of the Established Church. The first is the Act of the 5th and 6th Edward VI., which inflicts penalties upon persons who attend public worship in other places than those of the Established Church; for the first offence, imprisonment for six months; for the second, a year; and for the third, imprisonment for life. The next is the Act of the 29th of Elizabeth for the same object, imposing a penalty of 20l. a month upon those who do not attend public worship in the churches of the Established Church. There are other Acts which impose penalties upon persons who do not attend church on the 5th of November, and various other Acts, several altogether, one of which was, I believe, put in force only a few years ago, imposing penalties upon persons who do not attend church on Sunday. It is proposed, as it is now according to the law of the land allowable to all persons to attend public worship in places conformable to their religious opinions, to abolish entirely the whole of those measures. The other class of Acts to which I shall refer are Acts providing against the dangers which this country incurred in former times on account of the pretences made by the Pope of Rome to supremacy over this country. Now, those Acts are of a very severe nature, and many of them impose penalties which, whatever may be thought of the danger to which they refer, it is impossible to maintain in the present day. There are penalties against Popish recusants—penalties of a very severe nature against any person who may maintain the authority of the Pope. There is the Act of Elizabeth upon this subject, which imposes for the first offence the condemnation of the whole of the offender's personal property; for the second offence the penalty of præmunire; and for the third offence, it declares the offender guilty of high treason. I do not say that I propose now to do away with the whole of those penalties; at the same time I must admit that a question has been raised whether in so doing we do in any way affect the title of the Crown of these realms to supremacy in all matters ecclesiastical and spiritual. But it has been laid down by the greatest authorities of former times, by Lord Hale and Lord Coke, that the supremacy of the Crown of these realms, in matters ecclesiastical and spiritual, is part of the common law of the land. The same opinion has been given within the last few weeks by Lord Denman, Lord Campbell, and Lord Lyndhurst, and therefore we may assume that there is no danger whatever that in taking away those penalties we do in any way touch upon the doctrine of the supremacy of the Crown. We take away penalties against those persons who maintain the supremacy of any foreign power or potentate over these realms. It cannot be seriously said that there is any advantage in keeping up penalties of this kind, for the mere assertion of the spiritual supremacy of the Pope in these realms. If it is only an opinion held by persons of the Roman Catholic religion, it ought not to be punished so far as it is an opinion, and nothing is done in consequence of that opinion by which the course of law is disturbed. If, in any way, a person were to question the Queen's supremacy, so as to bring the question before a court of law, no doubt the doctrine which I have mentioned would be maintained, and the law would make provision accordingly for the settlement of that doctrine. There is another offence which this Bill deals with, and that is the offence of introducing a bull of the Pope into this country. According to the Act of the 13th Elizabeth, when there was an assertion of the authority of the Pope, and an attempt was made to relieve all persons from their allegiance by the authority of the Pope, it was declared that all persons who introduced those bulls should be guilty of high treason. The question is, whether it is desirable to keep up that or any other penalty for such an offence. It does not appear to me that we can possibly attempt to prevent the introduction of the Pope's bulls into this country. There are certain bulls of the Pope which are absolutely necessary for the appointment of bishops and pastors, belonging to the Roman Catholic Church. It would be quite impossible to prevent the introduction of such bulls. Every one knows that now they are not prevented, but are, in fact, introduced into this country. But let us suppose that there is some bull introduced into this country similar to those we heard of in former days; let us suppose—though it is almost extravagant to suppose it—that there was any attempt by the Pope to assert any sovereign authority in these realms, or to interfere with the Queen's authority—my belief is, that no such bull would be observed by any Roman Catholic, but that it would be a dead letter; and thus much I am sure of, that if any person acted contrary to his allegiance in consequence of such a bull, he would be punishable according to the law of this country. Again, the security with respect to this and all other Acts is, that if anything seditious or treasonable is contained in those bulls, they would be punishable in this country the same as any other writing of a seditious or treasonable nature. If they contained anything seditious or treasonable, there is no difference to be made between circulating them and any other seditious or treasonable writing. I think, therefore, that the objections made to this part of the Bill are completely unsound. It appears to me that it is only common justice to repeal all those penalties by passing this Bill, which has been sent down to us by the other House of Parliament. I should say, after this Bill has passed, there certainly will remain some confusion in the law (though I do not think contradiction), as no Bill is introduced to alter the oaths now taken. We shall still continue to take the oath that the Pope has not, nor ought to have, any jurisdiction, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within these realms, though, at the same time, in point of fact, there is no doubt that he exercises a spiritual authority in these realms. That is the case at present, and that will remain after his Bill is passed. I have always interpreted that oath to be, that in the opinion of the person taking it the Pope has not any jurisdiction which can be enforced by law, and ought not to have any; but at the same time, I think the subject of oaths is one that ought to be taken into consideration, and therefore I shall not contend that the passing of this Bill will relieve us from the necessity of considering that subject in another Session. The question, whether it were desirable to introduce this Bill alone, or to connect it with another Bill as to oaths, was maturely considered by the late Government; and the late Government came to the conclusion that it was more advisable to introduce this Bill with respect to which there was likely to be little difference of opinion, than to meet the difficulties which might arise upon the other subject. I think that by passing this Bill you will get rid of many absurd penalties and much absurd legislation now on the Statute-book, and I therefore now move the second reading of it.


felt bound to oppose this Bill, by his veneration for the acts and laws of his ancestors, and his attachment to the National Church, which the Bill went to undermine. At all events, he would enter his protest against it.


hoped the hon. and gallant Member would remember that his ancestors established the Roman Catholic religion here, and that he would therefore have some veneration for it. The professors of that religion handed down to us every principle in the British Constitution worth contending for. He could not understand how any man could take the oath that no foreign prelate "hath or ought to have" any power or jurisdiction, ecclesiastical or spiritual, in England. Why, it was notorious that the Pope conferred the authority of the Catholic bishops here, and no man ought to be compelled to deny the fact.


complained of the introduction of this Bill into the House at so late a period, when a great proportion of Members were naturally absent. It was only that day that the Bill had been in their hands. It certainly did not contain the objectionable clauses which had been proposed in another Bill (Mr. Watson's), interfering with the provisions of the Roman Catholic Relief Act; but still it proposed to abolish the law against the publication of bulls here—which had been prohibited by statute ever since the 13th Elizabeth; and upon that point the House was to decide at seven or eight hours' notice. He was no advocate for the existence of penalties which were not necessary for the protection of Protestants and the Protestant religion; but since legislation on part of the subject was to be postponed by the noble Lord, the whole subject might best be taken up together. He would move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.


felt grateful to the noble Lord for completing the good work commenced by the late Lord Chancellor, and abolishing penalties the retention of which was a disgrace to the law of the land.


insisted that the Bill ought not to be pressed at so late a period, when many Members had left town, like the hon. Baronet the other Member for Oxford (Sir R. H. Inglis), who found his health unequal to a longer attendance this Session. If the noble Lord persevered, he (Mr. Spooner) should feel it his duty to take all the steps that Parliamentary usages allowed, to oppose what he must call a most indecent act at that period of the Session. It was easy to say that bulls would remain as much illegal at common law as ever; but let the Attorney General state in what way a bull, quâ bull, could be touched, if it did not contain any seditious matter, but was merely an exercise by the Pope of authority over the subjects of this realm. The House and the country ought not to be taken by surprise on so important a subject.


could not forget that, though the Bill had only just been printed, this was not entirely new matter; the whole subject had been introduced in the former Bill (Mr. Watson's), which was cut into two parts expressly because a Minister of the Crown stated that this measure was coming down to the House. As to the Bill itself, he could not see what harm it would do the Church of England; and if there was no harm in it, something ought to be conceded even to the prejudices of our Roman Catholic fellow subjects. The Acts of Parliament proposed to be repealed were entirely obsolete, and did no good to anybody. The Bill would not interfere with the oath of supremacy; everybody who took it now would take it still; and he believed the noble Lord's interpretation of it to be the true one—it merely stated that which was the belief of the party, his belief what ought to be the case; it could not alter the fact.

The House divided on the Question, that the word "now" stand part of the question:—Ayes 79; Noes 10: Majority 69.

List of the AYES.
Aldam, W. Labouchere, rt. hon. H.
Arundel and Surrey, Earl of Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Layard, Capt.
Baine, W. Lincoln, Earl of
Bannerman, A. Macaulay, rt. hon. T. B.
Barnard, E. G. M'Donnell, J. M.
Barron, Sir H. W. Maitland, T.
Bellew, R. M. Mitcalfe, H.
Berkeley, hon. C. Moffat, G.
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Morpeth, Visct.
Bernal, R. Morris, D.
Borthwick, P. O'Connell, M. J.
Bridgeman, H. O'Conor Don
Brotherton, J. Parker, J.
Brown, W. Pigott, rt. hon. D.
Browne, hon. W. Plumridge, Capt.
Bruges, W. H. L. Protheroe, E. D.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Pulsford, R.
Collett, J. Pusey, P.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Russell, Lord J.
Crawford, W. S. Scrope, G. P.
Dodd, G. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Duncan, G. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Dundas, D. Stewart, P. M.
Entwisle, W. Strutt, E.
Escott, B. Tancred, H. W.
Evans, Sir D. L. Thornely, T.
Ewart, W. Towneley, J.
Forster, M. Turner, E.
Fox, C. R. Vane, Lord H.
Gore, hon. R. Wakley, T.
Greene, T. Warburton, H.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Ward, H. G.
Hatton, Capt. V. Wawn, J. T.
Hawes, B. Wilshere, W.
Henley, J. W. Wood, rt. hon. C.
Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir J. Wyse, T.
Howard, P. H. Yorke, H. R.
Hutt, W. Tufnell, H.
Jervis, Sir J. Marcus, Lord M.
List of the NOES.
Blackburne, J. I. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Douglas, Sir H. Spooner, R.
Fuller, A. E. Trotter, J.
Jones, Capt.
Lindsay, hon. Capt. TELLERS.
Lygon, hon. Gen. Estcourt, T. G. B.
Palmer, G. Sibthorp, Col.

Bill read a Second Time.