HC Deb 06 February 1854 vol 130 cc272-89

Sir, I rise for the purpose of asking the House to go into a Committee of the whole House in order to consider the oaths at present administered to Members of Parliament on taking their seats, and also to persons taking office. In bringing forward this question, I wish the House to consider generally the state of the oaths at present taken on these occasions. I conceive it will be admitted at once that on so solemn an occasion as that of taking an oath, which is considered as a security to bind those who take it to the performance of certain duties, the oath they are to take as that security should be as simple and intelligible as possible, and that it should only bind the persons to such engagements as they can well and easily perform. If the House will go with me to the consideration of the oaths that are at present administered to Members on taking their seats in Parliament and on assuming office, I think they will agree with me in the conclusion which I draw, that it is almost a profanation to make persons bind themselves in the presence of Almighty God to engagements which are, many of them, totally out of place, and some of which have no application or reference to the present time. The first oath which is taken is the oath of allegiance:— I. A. B., do sincerely promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty. So help me God. That is a plain and intelligible oath, that binds those who take it to allegiance to the Sovereign, and I do not think any reasonable objection can be taken to it. But immediately we come to the next oath, we find that there are assertions made in it which I conceive are quite unnecessary to be made at the present day. If we look through these oaths, we shall find, as a general observation, that they were framed to meet certain dangers which were dreaded at the time. Whether wisely or unwisely, those dangers were felt to exist, and these oaths were intended for security against them. With respect to the oath of supremacy, the obligation to take it arose, as everyone was aware, from the contest which took place in the time of Henry VIII. and Queen Elizabeth with regard to the supremacy of the Crown, and the right which was claimed by the wearer of it to the obedience of all its subjects in all matters and in all cases. This contest, as we all know, was one of extreme violence—so much so that in one of the letters published by Sir Henry Ellis, of the British Museum, there is an account of a friar who said he could not understand how it was that King Henry VIII—or, probably, it might be in the time of Edward VI.—how it was that the King being a layman could be head of the Church; and, because he would not acknowledge that supremacy, he was burnt at the stake. On the other hand, those who opposed the supremacy of the Crown had among them a party who held doctrines of extreme violence, and such as, if acted upon, must have been fatal to all civil authority. I was reading only this morning a famous passage of the Jesuit Mariana, in winch he describes with evident approbation the assassination of Henry III. of France by the Dominican monk Clement. He declares that Clement being a Domini- can, that fanatic consulted the heads of his order as to whether it was lawful to kill a heretic, and, having obtained their approbation to that maxim, he proceeded with letters to the Court of the King of France, and having gained access to the monarch on pretence of presenting those letters, stabbed him with a poisoned dagger; that the King after a short time expired, and Mariana goes on to celebrate the insignem animi confidentiam of the assassin; and I think he adds, prœclarum facinus. While, then, on the one hand, strong opposition was made to the supremacy of the Crown, it was on the other hand thought necessary that that supremacy should, for the sake of civil government, be firmly established. It was a matter altogether relating to the existence and the maintenance of the authority of the Sovereign; and so much was this the case that Lord Burleigh, in a letter to Queen Elizabeth, suggested to that wise Princess that it would be better to have a declaration that the persons who took the oath would be ready at all times to take up arms in defence of the Crown, because he said there were many Roman Catholics who felt themselves unable, from objections of conscience, to take the oath of supremacy, and would object to it, but who would have no objection to take an oath to defend the Queen against all who should oppose her title to the Throne. The whole matter was, in this respect, so well stated by one of the greatest orators who ever addressed this House—I mean Lord Plunket—that I cannot do better than quote his words. He stated, in a speech which he delivered in Parliament in 1823, what was the general policy of the period of the Reformation, and observed— At the period of the Reformation three principles were operative. The first was the unalienable establishment of the Protestant religion in these realms, as far as human regulation could affix permanence. The second was to put down and prevent the exercise of all religious professions as contumacious which were at variance with the religion so established. The third was to give the State the power of distinguishing the well-affected from the disaffected, and to disable and disqualify the latter from being admitted into its high offices. Of those principles the first was the most important, and was inalienable; the second, after having been contended against for 300 years, was at length abandoned by the repeal of the law against recusancy; the third was intended as a test to separate the well-affected from the disaffected, and for that purpose the oath of supremacy was framed."—[2 Hansard, viii. 1113.] In conformity with this opinion we have the dictum of Lord Eldon with respect to relieving the Earl Marshal from the oath of supremacy. Lord Eldon on that occasion said, that the oath of allegiance contained in itself the oath of supremacy. I should hold, therefore, that with respect to the first part of the oath of supremacy, it is at present totally unnecessary. It is— I, A. B., do swear that I do from my heart abhor, detest, and abjure as impious and heretical that damnable doctrine and position that princes excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, or any authority of the See of Rome, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects or any other whatsoever. I have shown you that that was the doctrine of a party at the time of the Reformation and immediately following. I do not believe that there are any persons who hold such a tenet at the present day, and I hold that it is wrong to call on persons in this House, and on those who take office, to say that they abhor, detest, and abjure such a doctrine, when it is in fact, an un-warrantable assumption to maintain that there are any persons liable to the suspicion of holding such a doctrine at the present day. The next affirmation of the oath of supremacy is— And I do declare that no foreign Prince, Person, Prelate, State, or Potentate hath, or ought to have, any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre- eminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm. With regard to that declaration, it is again evident that it was a declaration which was intended to operate against Roman Catholics, who maintained that the Pope had lawful authority in this Kingdom; and so long as it was maintained that it was necessary to declare that no such authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, should be held, it might be reasonable—I do not say it was reasonable, but if it was any security against that spiritual authority, it might be right—that all persons should take that oath on coming to the table of the House, and on being admitted to office. But, with regard to the Roman Catholics—the persons to whose consciences this oath was a very great hardship—with respect to whom there were in the reign of Elizabeth many who did take the oath, while there were a great many who did not take it, and who in later times have refused altogether to take any such oaths, declaring, in the first place, that they considered the spiritual authority exercised by the Pope to be rightly exercised, and, in the next place, that he ought to have such authority—with respect to them what have you done? Why, you have relieved the Roman Catholics, who were the objects of suspicion, from the obligation of this oath, while you oblige Protestants to say that no foreign prince, power, or potentate has or ought to have any authority in this realm. You do not oblige the Roman Catholics to say that the Pope has no authority in this Kingdom; but with regard to those about whom there is no suspicion at all—with regard to Protestants, who say there is no authority, civil or sacred, held in this country by any foreign prince or potentate, you make this declaration necessary, while, as I have previously said, you relieve Roman Catholics altogether from such a declaration Such, then, was the quarrel which subsisted at the time of the Reformation, and which you have kept up to the present time. I come now to another oath which was intended against different dangers, and which, when framed, might be defended as necessary for the security of the State. After the Revolution the title to the Throne by James II., and those who followed him, being supported by Louis XIV., then the most powerful monarch in Europe, it was thought necessary by an oath of abjuration to take security from those admitted to Parliament and to office that they would not give countenance to the title of James II. or his successors. The last occasion on which this oath was altered and imposed by Parliament was now nearly ninety years ago—namely, in 1766, when a descendant of James II. was still living, and when the oath might still be considered necessary. The abjuration oath says— I do solemnly and sincerely declare that I do believe in my conscience that not any of the descendants of the person who pretended to be Prince of Wales during the life of the late King James III, and since his decease pretended to be and took upon himself the style and title of King; of England, by the name of James III., or of Scotland, by the name of James VIII., or the style and title of King of Great Britain, hath any right or title whatsoever to the Crown of this ream, or any other the dominions thereunto belonging; and I do renounce, refuse, and abjure any allegiance or obedience to any of them. That is the very solemn delaration imposed by Parliament in 1766, renewed from former days, and not imposed without some presumed imperative necessity. But, then, I say that which is generally known—that there are no descendants of James II. now existing to claim such obedience; and is it not a mockery of this House to call upon its Members to "renounce, refuse, and abjure" all allegiance and obedience to persons who everybody knows are not in existence, and cannot prefer any such claim. The oath of abjuration goes on to promise support to the successors to the Crown; and in the last sentence there is obviously again a reference to those unwise doctrines that were held at the time of the Reformation, and to those persons who were supposed to hold the belief that they could free themselves by equivocation from the obligation of an oath. It closed with these words:— And all these things I do plainly and sincerely acknowledge and swear, according to the express words by me spoken, and according to the plain common sense and understanding of the same words, without any equivocation, mental evasion, or secret reservation whatever. And I do make this recognition, acknowledgment, abjuration, renunciation, and promise heartily, willingly, and truly, upon the true faith of a Christian. Now, it has been clearly ascertained, and ascertained within the last few years more clearly than it was ever ascertained before, that these words were adopted, especially the words "on the true faith of a Christian," in the reign of James I., in concern at the discovery of a treatise written or corrected by the Jesuit Garnet, which bore out what was said against the Jesuits even by Roman Catholics who did not belong to that body. It was maintained that there were persons ready to make a declaration, and at the same time repeat certain words mentally which they believed relieved them from the obligation under which they had come; and it was conceived that by putting in very solemn words into the oath declaring that it was taken in the plain meaning of the words, and without any equivocation or mental reservation, these dangerous persons would be deterred from taking the oath. With respect to this, again, it is obvious that that danger no longer exists—that this doctrine, against which Pascal wrote, is no lodger a doctrine that influences the conduct of men, and, accordingly, therefore, the danger, though it might have existed in former days, is not one which it is necessary now to guard against. What I now intend to propose to this House is, that all those fortificacations and barriers which have been proved to be ill-timed and unnecessary, should be got rid of. In doing so, I only propose that which with regard to common life and the usual conditions of men, is constantly acted upon. In the days when all the roads in this country were unsafe, gentlemen rode out with arms, in order that they might be able to meet those who might assault them; but when, by the establishment of police and a military force, that kind of protection was no longer considered necessary, gentlemen no longer went out armed. At the end of the last century, when the roads in the neighbourhood of London were infested by highwaymen, a gentleman going across Hounslow Heath in his coach took a brace of pistols with him in the carriage, ready for defence against the highwaymen; but when the roads were rendered safe and no danger existed, no one then thought of putting pistols in his carriage. Then, what I ask in respect to these oaths is, that you will act just as you would do in common life, and, as the danger has ceased, not to continue any longer the precautions. I use this comparison as to the way in which men act in their common conduct, but the argument is very much stronger; for, looking at all the considerations that are involved in a solemn appeal to the Almighty, and which appear in the terms of an oath, it ought to be a very solemn proceeding; but, if couched in terms that are no longer applicable, and merely a preservation of useless formalities, it becomes a mere mockery. The oath which I propose, and which I am sure will contain quite enough, at least, for the security of the Crown, will be in these terms.

The noble Lord here read the terms of the oath, as follow:— I, A. B., do swear that I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and will defend Her to the utmost of my Power against all Conspiracies and Attempts whatever which shall be made against Her Person, Crown, or Dignity; and I will do my utmost Endeavour to disclose and snake known to Her Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors, all Treasons and traitorous Conspiracies which may be formed against Her, or them; and I do faithfully promise to maintain, support, and defend, to the utmost of my Power, the Succession of the Crown, which Succession, by an Act intituled, 'An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject,' is and stands limited to the Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and the Heirs of Her Body, being Protestants, hereby utterly renouncing and abjuring any Obedience or Allegiance unto any other Person claiming or pretending a Right to the Crown of this Realm; and I do declare that no Foreign Prince, Prelate, Person, State, or Potentate bath or ought to have any temporal or civil Jurisdiction, Power, Superiority, or Pre-eminence, directly or indirectly, within this Realm. So help me God. There are two other points to which I wish to call the attention of the House. One is, whether this oath, thus rendered more simple and quite intelligible, should be applied to the Roman Catholic Members; and the other point relates to the words "on the true faith of a Christian," which I propose to omit from the oath. The Roman Catholic oath was imposed by the Act of the 10 George IV. chap. 7, and contains in it, I must say, a great deal of what was intended as a security, not against any real danger, but against danger which it was supposed might arise from certain alleged doctrines and professions of the Roman Catholics. With respect to such imputations, the Roman Catholics declared that they were untrue, but expressed their readiness, if it would afford any satisfaction or fancied security to their Protestant fellow-countrymen, to abjure the imputed doctrines by oath. That offer was willingly accepted, and it was supposed that some security was obtained by the abjuration of those doctrines; but with respect to those which I have mentioned, there is no need of imposing any security, and I should propose, therefore, that the oath now required from Roman Catholics should no longer be enforced. In the Roman Catholic oath, as it stands at present, the Member declares that he renounces, rejects, and abjures the opinion that princes excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, or by any other authority of the See of Rome, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or by any person whatever. I must say, I think it rather insulting to the Roman Catholics to suppose that they hold such an opinion. The oath then goes on to say— I do not believe that the Pope of Rome or any other foreign prince, prelate, person, State, or potentate hath or ought to have any temporal or civil jurisdiction, power, superiority, or pre-eminence, directly or indirectly, within this realm. That may be kept in the oath to be taken both by the Protestant and Roman Catholic Members of this House. The Roman Catholic oath next states— I will defend to the utmost of my power the settlement of property within this realm, as established by the laws. I see no need whatever to take an oath to preserve the settlement of property. That rests on the security of the law, and if any one wishes to disturb the settlement of property the oath will not prevent him; but the law and the authority of the Parliament must be considered as the only adequate security for that settlement. The Roman Catholic oath then goes on to say (and this involves a matter much disputed)— I do hereby disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure any intention to subvert the present Church Establishment as settled by law within this realm. That part of the oath has given rise to some painful discussions. It would appear that with respect to any part of the institutions or legislation of this country, those who are admitted into this House to make the law, ought to have the liberty to propose any alteration in the institutions and the laws. They may, in fact, propose a repeal of the Union with Ireland, or many other changes, which would be subversive of some of our most established institutions. To say, therefore, that they should be prohibited from making any proposal to subvert the Established Church in Ireland, is, I think, going beyond that which you have any right to demand from Members coming into this House. But, beyond this, it gives occasion, as I have said, to very painful discussions, because, supposing a certain number of Roman Catholic Members in this House think, as some notoriously do, that the Church Establishment of Ireland is injurious to the country, and that it ought to be subverted; and, supposing that they act according to that opinion, they are immediately reproached with perjury, and charged with acting inconsistently with the oath they have taken. The oath does not prevent this point being a question of doubt, there being some Roman Catholic Members who conceive themselves debarred by the terms of the oaths from interfering upon such a subject, and others who maintain that they are not so prevented, and that they may in perfect consistency with their oath propose any change with respect to the temporal establishment of the Church. Now, I do not think that this additional difficulty should be interposed in the consideration of political questions. I am of opinion that it ought to be on no man's conscience that he is not at liberty to give his vote, with respect to political and temporal matters, as he thinks fit. The Catholic oath proceeds— I never will exercise any privilege to which I am or may become entitled to disturb or weaken the Protestant religion or Protestant Government in the United Kingdom. Now, with respect to the question of disturbing or weakening the Protestant religion and Government, there are many who maintain that no exercise of public duties or official functions in this House can weaken the Protestant religion. It has been maintained, both by Roman Catholics and Protestants, that religion, being binding on the conscience, will not be disturbed or weakened by any law passed in this House. I am not now saying whether they are right or wrong in holding this opinion; but what I declare is, that this is not a fit subject for an oath, and its introduction into one only entangles men's consciences, and makes them doubtful as to the real value of what is imposed on them. Besides, this part of the oath is, in fact, no security for the Protestant religion or Government. If the Members of this House, the representatives of the United Kingdom, cannot maintain the Protestant religion and Protestant Government—if a great majority of this House should be opposed to the Protestant religion and the Protestant Government, your oaths would give no security whatever. I think, therefore, it is desirable that the oath should be brought to a more simple form. The last topic on which I shall touch is one whereon I shall not say much at the present time, having often spoken before in reference to it in this House—I mean the question whether the words "on the true faith of a Christian" should be retained or not in the oath. There is one thing that must be admitted on all hands, and that is, that the words I have mentioned were not introduced into the oath for the purpose of excluding persons of the Jewish religion. They were intended for the purpose of binding Roman Catholics, and more especially those of the Jesuit persuasion, more securely to that which was the substance of the oath—namely, due allegiance and submission to the authority of the Crown. This has been stated very clearly, and in a manner well deserving of attention, by one of the Judges of the land, when the question came before him as to whether or not those words in the oath should be dispensed with as being only words of form, and not constituting part of the oath. Mr. Baron Alderson said— I do most seriously regret that I am obliged, as a mere expounder of the law, to come to this conclusion" [namely, that the words could not be separated from the rest of the oath of abjuration] "for I do not believe that the case of the Jews was at all thought of by the Legislature when they framed these provisions. I think that it would be more worthy of this country to exclude the Jews from these privileges (if they are to be excluded at all, as to which I say nothing) by some direct enactment, and not merely by the casual operation of a clause intended apparently in its object and origin to apply to a very different class of the subjects of England. Consequently, if you were to agree with me in the former part of my argument, and say that you would have the oath in a more simple shape than it has appeared before, with those cumbrous and prolix phrases to which I have alluded, it would then be necessary for you to declare whether or not you would introduce these words, "on the true faith of a Christian," professedly for the exclusion of the Jews on account of their religion? Now, differing as I do from any such proposal, should it be made, I must, nevertheless, say that that would be an open and direct proposition declaring religious opinion to be a ground of exclusion from Parliament and office; and should such be the decision of the Legislature, there then could no longer be any doubt on the subject. I certainly do not propose to introduce the words in question into the oath I have framed; but, supposing the Legislature should leave the oaths as they now stand, then a very serious question arises, which has been stated with great legal clearness land force by Lord Lyndhurst in another place, in a speech admirable even for him. This was the statement of the noble and learned Lord:— No British subject, no natural-born subject of the Queen, ought to be deprived of the rights enjoyed by his fellow-subjects, unless he has committed some crime, or unless he is excluded by some Act of Parliament directed against him or against the class to which he belongs. That is the true principle of the constitution, and, such being the case, these persons can only rightly be excluded by the concurrent voice of the two douses of Parliament, and with the assent of the Crown. If you exclude them by the casual operation of a clause which was never directed against them, or against the class to which they belong, you unjustly deprive them of their birthright."—[3 Hansard, cxxvii. 847.] This, Sir, is great authority, and the reasoning which is used as regards the case of the Jews appears to be unanswerable. If, however, it be unanswerable, it raises a still further question, should the Legislature not think proper to make any alteration of the oaths. If you annex to the oath to be taken a clause expressly stating that the person taking the oath must be a Christian, then the law is settled, and there is not a word more to be said by the minority who would be bound by the decision; but if you leave the present oath as it is, and if no new legislation on the subject takes place, I think this House would be bound to reconsider the position in which a person would be placed who comes to the table, and says that form of oath is not binding on his conscience. In the case of a person who, immediately after the Revolution of 1688, came to the table and declined to take the oaths, a new writ was at once moved for the place represented by that individual, and he was excluded from Parliament. In the case of Mr. Pease you appointed a Committee, and that Committee came to the opinion that Mr. Pease ought to be allowed to make his affirmation, and then to take his seat in this House. There appeared to me to be always considerable doubt as to the law of that case, and those most in favour of his being so admitted afterwards proposed and carried a Bill, by which the law was settled, and by which persons of the same persuasion, making their affirmation, would in future be admitted to take their seats in this House. But there was no such law—no clear law on the subject when Mr. Pease was allowed, to make his affirmation and take his seat in this House. Now, I think if the law were to remain in its present state, with those remarkable declarations—first, of Baron Alderson sitting on the bench, and next of Lord Lyndhurst giving his opinion clearly and deliberately in the House of Lords, it would be for you to consider whether or not you, sitting in this House, have not, with respect to your own Members, as good a right to say in what terms the oath should be taken, as Lord Hardwicke sitting in his Court in the case of "Omichund versus Barker." This would be matter for your consideration, opening grave and serious considerations, for lawyers of great eminence take different views on this point. I wish to come to no immediate or hasty decision on it; but, I repeat, it may hereafter be a question for the House whether it should not prefer the course taken in the case of Mr. Pease to that which has since been taken with respect to gentlemen of the Jewish persuasion. However, be that as it may, I can have no doubt whatever that you ought not to maintain the oaths in their present state, and that you ought not to impose oaths which have become a mockery and a profanation, and unsuited to the present time. I therefore with confidence now move that this House resolve into Committee to consider the oaths taken by Members.


said, he did not mean to oppose the Motion that Mr. Speaker should then leave, the Chair; and neither did he intend to offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill which the noble Lord proposed to submit to their consideration. But he could not allow even that early stage of their proceedings in this case to pass by without some observations on his part, because he felt it most important that hon. Members should receive a proper impression as to the highly important nature of the question which had been brought under their notice. He trusted it would not be supposed that he was anxious to retain antiquated and obsolete oaths merely because they were old. He perfectly agreed with the noble Lord that when an oath had, in the process of time, lost every object for which it had originally been framed, such a circumstance naturally abated something of the reverence which was due to all those ceremonies by which Members of that House were, as it were, consecrated to their duties. But the noble Lord had disposed of the question at once, because, without entering into any consideration of the propriety of retaining those oaths, he had expressed his intention to introduce a Bill, which was simple enough in its object, but in which most important principles were involved. The noble Lord proposed to abolish the three oaths taken by Protestant Members of that House, and the one oath which was required to be taken by Roman Catholic Members, for the purpose of substituting one common form of oath, which was to be taken by all Members who were to be sworn. Now, it was perfectly obvious, from the notice, given by the noble Lord of his views upon the subject, that it was impossible he could frame an oath which the members of every religious persuasion, and especially Roman Catholics, could take, without leaving out of that oath that which had invariably been found in all the oaths which had been taken by Protestant Members since the time when the Reformation had been firmly established in this country in the reign of Queen Elizabeth—namely, a recognition of the Sovereign's supremacy. He (Sir F. Thesiger) confessed that these were not times in which he, at least, for one, should be disposed to dispense with that acknowledgment. The noble Lord had not exhibited his usual accuracy in his statement with respect to the introduction of a passage in the oath of supremacy. The noble Lord had attributed the introduction of that passage to circumstances connected with the publication of the Jesuit Mariana on the occasion of the assassination of Henry III. of France; whereas the passage in question was not to be found at all in the first oath of supremacy framed in the time of Queen Elizabeth, but had first been introduced into the oath of allegiance and obedience, as it was called, which had been passed in the third year of James I., after the discovery of the Popish plot. The oath of supremacy had originally been a simple acknowledgment that— no Prince, Prelate, State, or Potentate had or ought to have any power, jurisdiction, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm. The noble Lord had stated that the oath of supremacy was virtually contained in the oath of allegiance. The noble Lord said that that was the opinion expressed by Lord Eldon in the House of Lords; and the noble Lord might have added, that that opinion of Lord Eldon had been quoted with great approbation by another high authority—the present Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench. But he (Sir F. Thesiger) was perfectly sure that if that observation had not suited the view for which the noble Lord was contending, his acute and subtle mind would very soon have discovered a most important fallacy in the argument. It had been said by Lord Eldon that the oath of supremacy was involved in the oath of allegiance. Pray, what oath of supremacy? Was it the oath of supremacy prescribed by the Statute of Elizabeth, and which oath of supremacy had been continued down to the present time? He should say that, if that argument was a good one, the Roman Catholic Members of that House had been ill-treated, because by the oath prescribed in the Act of the 10 Geo. IV. they were required to swear to that which was in terms the oath of allegiance; and while it was carefully provided that they would not acknowledge the ecclesiastical or spiritual authority of any foreign Power, they would, according to the argument which the noble Lord adopted, be bound by their oath of allegiance to a recognition of the ecclesiastical and spiritual authority which was contained in the oath of supremacy. Under these circumstances, he thought that the noble Lord would not press that argument in future, for to that argument it was easy to give a most complete answer. Then, with regard to the oath of supremacy, he, for one, should confess that he was extremely desirous of retaining that oath—not, however, the whole of it, for he had not the slightest objection to the omission of the passage which contained a renunciation of the doctrine that Princes excommunicated or deposed by the Pope might be murdered by their subjects. He should add, however, that he ought not, perhaps, to speak with confidence upon that point, and that he should be glad to be informed what was the opinion of Roman Catholic authorities upon the subject. He would next pass to a consideration of the proposal of the noble Lord to make one form of oath, which should be applicable to every Member who was to be sworn in that House. The noble Lord proposed to get rid altogether of the Roman Catholic oath; and he had then stated the reasons why, in his opinion, that oath ought not to be retained. Now, the noble Lord was perfectly well aware that at the time when the Roman Catholic Relief Bill had been passed, that form of oath had been considered, after due inquiry, to be one of the securities which were to be provided for the Protestant Church against invasion by the Roman Catholics; and Sir Robert Peel had said at that time that it was an oath to which no Roman Catholic could offer a valid or conscientious objection, while it furnished as good a security as an oath could furnish for the protection of the Protestant Church against Roman Catholic invasion. By the terms of that oath, Roman Catholics disclaimed, disavowed, and solemnly abjured any intention to subvert the present Church Establishment as settled by law in these realms, and they solemnly swore that they would never exercise any privilege to which they were or might become entitled to disturb or weaken the Protestant religion or Protestant Government of the United Kingdom. He would not then enter into any consideration of the different views which had been taken by Roman Catholics of the obligation imposed by that oath; but he must say that it seemed to him to be rather a startling thing for the noble Lord to come forward and propose the abolition of the oath after four-and-twenty years only had clapsed since the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, and to make that proposal at a time when they could hardly say from recent experience that the Protestant Church was perfectly safe from the aggressions of Roman Catholics. He should confess that he most strongly objected to their adopting one, only one, form of oath, which should be taken both by Protestants and Roman Catholics, because they could not frame an oath of that description without omitting from it the re- cognition of the Queen's supremacy, and without depriving the Protestant Church and the Protestant religion of the safeguard which was intended to be provided by that oath. He would now pass to another consideration. The noble Lord proposed that the new oath should be one which might be taken by a person who was not a Christian. That appeared to have been the darling object of the noble Lord for some some time, and he (Sir F. Thesiger) must be permitted to think that possibly the noble Lord would not have felt quite so great an anxiety for the alteration of these oaths if it had not been for his earnest desire to attain that particular object on which he had set his heart. Now, the noble Lord, strangely enough, seemed to throw out an intimation, that unless the Legislature would consent to a law by which an oath of the kind which he intended to propose should be adopted as the oath to be taken by all Members of Parliament—[Lord JOHN RUSSELL: Or the reverse.] Or the reverse, certainly—then the noble Lord held out this threat, that it might be necessary for the House to consider whether it would not take the course which was taken at law, of allowing all persons to be sworn according to those forms which were binding upon their consciences, and so cut the knot of the difficulty which had always impeded the progress of the noble Lord's measures on this subject. But did the noble Lord forget his own argument in the year 1850? In that year, when that proposal had been made, the noble Lord had resolutely opposed it; and had told them that the matter in dispute was not the form, but part of the substance of the oath. He had a perfect recollection of the noble Lord's arguments upon that occasion. The noble Lord had then disdainfully rejected the notion of endeavouring to introduce, by a side-wind, the alteration which had been suggested, and had refused to adopt the proposal that Jews should take the oath on the Old Testament, in the form most binding on their conscience; he said, No, that could not be done, because this was not a form, it was the substance of the oath. He (Sir F. Thesiger) was not afraid, therefore, of the threat of the noble Lord, for he did not think that he would be much disposed to adopt the course which he threatened, after the mode in which he had treated that suggestion on a former occasion. He would ask, then, hon. Members to consider what it was that they would have to dis- cuss upon the question between the existing institutions and the principle of the change in the oath which the noble Lord proposed. In the first place, that change contained an attack—he would not say an insidious attack—but certainly it did contain an attack on the Established Church, because it omitted all recognition of the ecclesiastical authority of the Queen, which was intimately connected with, and which was the keystone of, the Established Church. The noble Lord's measure would, he believed, invade one of the securities of the Protestant religion—because, as he had pointed out to the House, there was a security in the nature of the oath provided to be taken by Roman Catholics, against which he had never heard that any sound and conscientious objection had been made, and, by taking away this security, he maintained they were materially weakening the Protestant religion. In the third place, they were endangering the Christianity itself of the nation by depriving the House of its Christian character by means of an oath which would enable anybody, of whatever religious persuasion, to become a Member of that House. He would not, however, as he had previously stated, upon that occasion, argue the main question which awaited their consideration. He hoped he had said enough to impress on the minds of hon. Members the importance of the principles involved in that question. The course which he proposed to adopt was this—he would allow the House to go into Committee that evening, and he would not oppose the introduction of the noble Lord's Bill, for he thought it was desirable that they should have it before them, and that they should then consider it carefully; but on the second reading of the measure he would most unquestionably offer his opposition to it; he would divide the House upon it; and he would endeavour as far as possible to prevent the passing of a Bill which he believed to be one of a most mischievous character.

House in Committee.

Resolved— That the Chairman be directed to move the House, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to substitute one Oath for the Oaths of Allegiance, Supremacy, and Abjuration, and the Oaths appointed to be taken by the Act of the tenth year of George IV., c. 7.

House resumed.

Resolution reported.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bouverie, Lord John Russell, and Sir James Graham.