HC Deb 20 February 1861 vol 161 cc663-71

Order for Second Reading read.


said, in moving the second reading of this Bill, that it had already been twice before the House, and had twice received its sanction. The system it proposed to abolish was a relic of the barbarism of former times. In 1662 the Act was passed which enacted that the sacramental test should be administered and required upon every accession to office. In consequence of the passing of that Act, a number of clergymen surrendered their livings rather than submit to the operation of the law. In 1828 that test was repealed by a great majority of tire Members of the House. But Sir Robert Peel, who took charge of the Bill, and which he succeeded in carrying through both Houses of Parliament, introduced into it the qualification clause which he (Mr. Hadfield) by his Bill sought to abolish. With certain exceptions as to rank, every person who took office, or obtained employment, whether civil or military, was required by that Bill to make the declaration which he should read to the House: — I do solemnly and sincerely, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare, upon the true faith of a Christian, that I will never exercise any power, authority, or influence, which I may possess by virtue of the office of [], to injure or weaken the Protestant Church as it is by law established in England, or to disturb the said Church, or the Bishops or Clergy of said Church, in the possession of any rights to which such Church or the said Bishops and Clergy are or may be by law entitled. There was some difference subsequently enacted, he believed, between that declaration and that which was taken by Quakers and Jews. The object of the declaration was incomprehensible. It went beyond the law, because it required that which the law could not enforce. On a previous occasion, when he brought forward a measure on the subject of this declaration, the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire (Sir William Miles) had told him that corporations were required to make this declaration, because they were sometimes possessed of Church patronage which they might abuse. But he (Mr. Hadfield) referred the hon. Baronet to the 5 & 6 Will. IV. c. 76, s. 139, by which corporations having Church patronage were obliged to sell it; or, if they did not sell it, in case of a vacancy the appointment was vested in the bishop of the diocese. That satisfied the hon. Baronet, and he did him (Mr. Hadfield) the honour to go into the lobby in favour of the Bill as it now stood. Now, the declaration had to be taken by two classes of persons. First, by magistrates and corporate officers, who were required to take it at the time of taking office or within one month previous thereto; or, if they did not, they were disqualified for the office to which they had been appointed. The other class was the Ministers of State, the Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty's troops, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Lord Chancellor, and in fact all the employés of the Government. They must make the declaration either at the time of taking office or within six months afterwards. But corporation officers and magistrates were obliged to make the declaration at once. That was practically a grievance. A petition had been presented from Bradford, complaining of it as a grievance, because, said the memorialists, in consequence of the declaration they were deprived of the service of some I of their most worthy citizens, who refused to make it. A most intimate friend of his (Mr. Hadfield's) own, Mr. Edward Smith, of Sheffield, a gentleman widely known and universally respected, was appointed to the town council of Sheffield without his knowledge or consent. But when he went to take his seat he was met with the declaration, and as those were the only terms upon which he could take office, he declined. He said, "This declaration I conscientiously object, to make; and as the penalty of not subscribing thereto I am adjudged by the law unfit to be entrusted with office, and accordingly I am disqualified from serving in the council." Nor was that a solitary case. He (Mr. Hadfield) could mention many. But there was another most singular thing connected with this declaration. How happened it that no other persons than corporate officers and magistrates were required to take it, or rather why was it that no one else took it? Would the right hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) say whether, when he took office in the late Government (which everybody agreed was well placed in his hands), that he took this qualification oath? Did the right hon. Gentleman make that declaration? Did the Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty's Forces make it? Did the First Lord of the Admiralty make it? Did the Karl of Derby himself make it? Did the noble Lord who held the great seals make it? If he (Mr. Hadfield) were correctly informed—and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to correct him if he stated that which was incorrect—not one of those gentlemen, who were so well known to be in favour of the maintenance of connection between Church and State, in the Government of the Earl of Derby, took that declaration. The consequence was that they were obliged to pass yearly indemnity Bills to get over the difficulty. Nor was it the Government of the Earl of Derby alone who had not made the declaration. He believed not one of the present Government had made it, neither did the predecessors of the Earl of Derby. In fact, he believed that since the passing of the Act requiring the declaration to be made, now thirty-two years ago, no officer in Her Majesty's service had ever made or subscribed it. By the Act, if Members of Her Majesty's Government and others did not make the declaration within six months of taking office, their election to the office they held was void, and it was not lawful for them to do any act in such office. That was the penalty of the Act, and it was got over in this way. Ministers brought in an Indemnity Bill. The Acts of this kind brought in by the Earl of Derby's Government were two in number, and these Bills recited that they (the defaulters) having, through ignorance of the law, or some unavoidable accident, been prevented from making this declaration, they were indemnified from the penalties. A proviso, was, however, inserted, which requires them to make it, within a certain time, but this they never did. So that the noble Lord who lately held the office of Lord Chancellor had pleaded ignorance of the law, and took the benefit of the Act of Indemnity. Practically, then, he found one law for the humbler classes and another for the great and mighty of the land. Some few years ago he was asked by a friend of his, the then Mayor of Manchester, to sit with him as an assessor in the discharge of some judicial functions. Although the business was not to last more than a day, he had, amid the jokes and jibes of the meeting, who knew his views on the matter, to subscribe this declaration. Thus, though the Members of the Earl of Derby's Government did not make this declaration, he, an humble assessor, was obliged to do so. In Manchester, he believed, upwards of 100 persons, including the ward assessors, bad to make the declaration; indeed, such were the sweeping words of the Act, that he believed every policeman, watchman, or servant, employed by the corporation, ought to make it. But they were so numerous that they could not be got to sign the declaration; and that, no doubt, was a reason why the officers in the civil and military services of the country did not subscribe it. It was not just that the great dignitaries of the State should be excused from taking this declaration, as required by the Act, and that the humblest officer of a corporation should be obliged to take it. It might by some be considered an unimportant question; but, in his opinion, and in that of many other earnest and sincere men, it was no light matter to appeal on trifling or pretended occasions to the name of the Most High. A Bill similar to that he proposed passed the House of Commons last Session, but it was opposed in the House of Lords by Lord Chelmsford, on the ground that it was intended to ob- tain from the Dissenter on his acceptance of office, and to place on record, his acknowledgment of the dominance of the Established Church. To that he entirely demurred. He did not and would not acknowledge the superiority of the Establishment, and therefore, on grounds of civil and religious liberty, he asked the House to assent to the principle of this measure.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


Sir, it has been stated by the hon. Member for Sheffield that his Bill passed through the House with scarcely any observation last Session. Now, it so happened that the measure was then brought forward on a day on which there was but a very small attendance of hon. Members; and, although I entertained the strongest objections to it, I thought it was not worth while to discuss its provisions in so thinly attended a House. It afterwards reached the House of Lords, and there it met with the fate I had anticipated. It was rejected in that House after a full discussion by a majority of two to one. The hon. Gentleman founds his case for the Bill upon two grievances. He says, in the first place, that the Test and Corporation Act—a measure for which the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs claims, and justly claims, so much credit — operates oppressively, and that the declaration it requires is felt as a grievous injustice by a certain limited number of persons holding dissenting opinions, inasmuch as they are thereby debarred from accepting corporate offices. The other argument of the hon. Gentleman in favour of his measure is, that it is a very great grievance that the chief officers of the State and other important functionaries should be excused from making that declaration. The hon. Gentleman contends that a declaration which is of sufficient importance to be required from a common councilman must be so important that a high functionary of the State ought not to be excused from making it. Those functionaries are thus exempted by the Indemnity Act, which is introduced every year; but there is nothing unreasonable in that, because all those great officers of State are obliged, on their acceptance of office, to take oaths which contain the substance of that declaration. But let us examine the grievance, or the supposed grievance, which the Bill is intended to remove. It is this—That no person shall be entitled to exercise the functions of any corporate office unless he declares that he will not use the power and influence accruing to him by that office to the detriment of the Church of England. Now, is not that a reasonable enactment? The State admits to corporate offices persons who differ from the Church of England, whatever may be their creed, whether Roman Catholics, Jews, or Dissenters, upon the single condition that they will not use the powers vested in them by the office to the detriment of the State by employing them as an instrument of attack against one of the institutions of the country—that is to say, the Church of England. Surely that is a reasonable demand on the part of the State —the demand that the power bestowed by one branch of the Constitution should not be used for the destruction of another branch of the Constitution. That is a very important point. The truth is, that although some hon. Members regard that as an unimportant subject, this declaration is the foundation on which the whole legislation of this country for the last thirty-two years has proceeded with respect to the admission of our citizens to places of trust and power. It was the great principle involved in the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act, it is a principle of the amplest toleration and of the truest liberality. The principle is this, that the Legislature, as the exponent of the will of the country, declares that the Constitution embodies certain institutions which are deemed essential to the freedom of the people and to the order of society. It admits, with out reference to any religious opinions, all persons to exercise, in their proper spheres, the powers of the State, provided only they declare that they will not use the power of the Constitution against the Constitution itself. Now, I say that is a principle of true liberality, for the law proceeds on the assumption that the Constitution has some concession to make, inasmuch as no person and no State can be liberal which has nothing to grant. The State has, however, at the same time, to guard the great elements of the Constitution which form the basis of our freedom; and it will entrust powers under the Constitution upon the condition only that those to whom these powers are committed will not use them to the detriment of the Constitution itself. This declaration was enacted in the year 1828, and it was incorporated in the oath to be taken by Roman Catholic Members under the Relief Act of 1829. If you follow the whole course of our modern legislation upon this subject, you will find this principle, throughout the whole of it, has been distinctly adopted. It is the principle on which Jews have been admitted to seats in this House. It is a principle, I repeat, of the wisest liberality; and, I trust, we shall not now abandon it I for the principle of equality. Equality is a farce. It never existed. Take any twelve men you choose, shut them up in a room for an hour; and you will find there will be a marked difference between them before the expiration of that period. Equality has been tried in France; and the result is that the people of that country have been unable to establish any form of free Government. Equality is the principle adopted in the United States, and surely at the present time, when we see that great confederation rent asunder, we ought not to adopt the principle through which its destruction has been effected. Let me warn the House against adopting this principle of equality. From what school did that principle come? This is a point to which I invite the attention of the hon. Member for Sheffield, and of the Dissenters generally of this country. The doctrine of the sovereignty of the people was first enunciated, since the foundation of Christianity, by the Jesuit Mariana, who familarised it for the purpose of establishing a despotism in the name of the people. Look at the doctrines now maintained by the Ultramontanists of the Church of Rome, as illustrated in the writings of Count de Montalembert. They proclaim the necessity of religious equality. But can any one be sufficiently ignorant, can any one he sufficiently blind, to believe that the Jesuit order intend that the religion of which they are the most active promoters should obtain nothing more than an equality with other sects. No man of sense can believe that. The fact is, they want to reduce all other sects to an equality from which they intend themselves to emerge. I am convinced, as I have often stated in this House, that without an organized system of religion, such as is established not only in the Church of England, but in the Church of Scotland—and both are equally guarded by this declaration—the Church of Rome would obtain a predominance in this country, unless it were checked by some violent means, such as those enforced during the period of the Commonwealth or at the time of the Revolution of 1688. If we would be free, we must be contented to guard our freedom by law, or we must guard it by force. I believe that any successful attempt calculated to shake the attachment of the people of this country to our fundamental institutions is dangerous to our liberties. Such attempts are in direct opposition to the principle of true toleration and real liberality; and under these circumstances I feel it my duty to move as an Amendment—That this Bill be read a second time on this day six months.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now" at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, that he should repeat the Vote which he gave last year in favour of the second reading of this Bill. The declaration, in his opinion, afforded but a merely nugatory, fanciful, and ideal security to the Establishment. It was a more declaration, not enforced by any secular penalties, and was not regularly but capriciously administered. It was not an oath upon which perjury could be assigned. Although a person who had taken the declaration should do something hostile to the Church of England, and the act should be proved by the clearest possible evidence, he could not he indicted or punished for perjury. It was a simple declaration, and involved no penal consequence; and as, therefore, he believed that, together with many other promissory oaths and declarations which were perfectly useless as a protection to the Church of England, the security of which rested upon wholly different grounds, it might with advantage be abolished, he was contented to give his vote in favour of the second reading of this Bill. At the same time he thought his hon. Friend had rather exaggerated the grievance. He did not think that this declaration acted very oppressively, but he was convinced that it was wholly worthless as a security for the Establishment.


said, he agreed very much with the right lion. Gentleman the Home Secretary, that the protection supposed to be afforded to the Established Church by the declaration was wholly nugatory, and was in itself not worth contending for. Under these circumstances, if he had found that the present measure was brought forward on the responsibility of the Government, and if they had thus had a security that all the circumstances of the case had been fully considered, he did not know but he might have assented to its being read a second time. But the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield did not conceal his desire to make the Bill a first step in his attempt to get rid, one by one, of the outworks of the grand fortress, so that he might obtain ultimately a total separation of Church and State. For that reason he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) would much rather extend the terms of the annual Indemnity Act, so as to embrace the immediate object of the hon. Gentleman, than adopt a Bill of that description brought forward by a private Member of the House. In reply to the appeal which had been addressed to him by the hon. Member for Sheffield, he had to confess that he had himself omitted to subscribe the declaration on taking office. That might be an act of laches on his part; but he had to plead as his excuse that he really had never, during his whole tenure of office, found time to go down to the Court of Queen's Bench and pass through the ceremony; but he should certainly take care, if he were ever again to be reinstated in power, not to be guilty of the same neglect. He might observe, however, that another Member of the late Government, who had been present during the discussion, had informed him that he had made and subscribed it according to the requirements of the Act. He was as unwilling as the hon. Gentleman was that the name of the Almighty should be unnecessarily appealed to; and, therefore, he was quite ready to consider the abolition of this declaration if the proposal was made by the Government. If the House refused to read the Bill a second time the matter would not drop. The Government must take it up, and he, for one, should be ready to insist that their attention should be directed to it. Feeling that the position of the question would not be improved by the proposed measure, he should give his vote in favour of the Amendment; but he should be glad to join in any subsequent representation to the Government which might have the effect of inducing them to take the question into consideration, and to bring in a measure for its adjustment based on more satisfactory principles.

Question put "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question,"

The House divided:—Ayes 93; Noes 80: Majority 13.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Bill read 2o, and committed for Wednesday, 17th April.