§ Order for Second Redding read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he hoped that his hon. Friend would not press this Bill upon the House. He wished, however, to take that opportunity of correcting an error into which be had fallen when the measure was introduced. He (Mr. Newdegate) had said, that last Session, when the second reading of the Bill was proposed, it was passed in a not very full House by a majority of thirteen; and this was true. But it was to a previous period that he alluded when he stated that the Bill had attracted little attention in the House, and had been rejected by a majority of two to one by the House of Lords. The Bill was certain to be thrown out by the other House of Parliament; but only last Session, through some accident or another, by a majority of eleven. The Bill proposed to repeal the declaration taken by all persons who are admitted to corporate offices that they will never exercise any power, authority, or influence which they might possess by reason of such offices to the detriment of the Church of England as by law established, or disturb the bishops or clergy of that Church in any rights to which they may be by law entitled. He wished to point out to the House that the declaration in no way fettered the free action of any man as a citizen, as an elector, or as a Member of that House; but it did prevent persons invested with corporate functions and with the power attached to those functions from exercising that power to the detriment of the Church of England. The power of the corporation was conferred by the State, and he held that the State had a perfect right to define the purposes to which the powers which it conferred should be exercised. Let them look at the consequences 456 which would ensue from the abrogation of the limitation. That abrogation would tend to convert every corporation into a political club, with express permission to use the corporate powers against the Church of England. The declaration was embodied in the Test and Corporation Act, which passed in 1828, and for which the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office had since derived so much honour and credit. It was also included in the oath framed in 1829 for the admission of Roman Catholics to corporate offices and seats in this House. It was inserted also in the oath taken by Jewish members of the House. The reservation did not say that any man should be limited in any legitimate political function, but simply that he should not abuse the municipal power with which, by virtue of admission to a corporate office, he became invested. The Declaration was as follows:—I will never exercise any power or authority 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.There was nothing illiberal in that limitation. The hon. Member for Sheffield considered the declaration an annoyance, and had stated that on one occasion, when he had to make it in order to act as assessor in conjunction with the Mayor of Manchester, some foolish persons jeered him. The hon. Member ought to have treated those cheers or jeers with the contempt they merited, because it was a proof that whoever cheered or jeered were so ignorant as not to understand that he was accepting a function the performance of which was inconsistent with his using the powers thereof against the Church of England. He regretted that the hon. Member for Sheffield should persevere in his attempt to press the Bill, because its effect would be not to establish religious freedom, but to direct the powers of the corporations against the Church of England; and for these reasons, and from no wish to limit the religious freedom of any man, he begged to move as an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. What had occurred in the United States was sufficient to show that a nation could not be free unless it guarded not only the social but the political order to be observed by the several powers of the state; and as one who valued the free action of the corporations of this country in all that related to the administration 457 of the several municipalities, he deprecated the proposed change, which would tend to divert the corporations from the due performance of their legitimate functions, and subject them to influences at variance with the municipal interests and order of the cities and towns which they were bound to guard.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "this day six months."
remarked, that a great deal might be said in favour of abolishing the declaration; but the subject had such wide ramifications that he held that it was a matter which should be dealt with by the Government, and not by a private Member. It was not to be expected that a private Member could give the House those assurances and guarantees which would enable them to feel justified in removing the declaration from the statute book. If the Government would have the subject investigated by their law officers and would give the House an assurance that there was no ground for apprehending danger to the Church from the abolition of the declaration, he should regard it as upon a different footing from that which it now occupied, introduced year after year as the crotchet, apparently, of an individual Member, with no further information or guarantee upon which the House could proceed.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he did not think the Bill was of sufficient importance to require that it should be adopted by the Government. In his opinion the grievance of the declaration had been much exaggerated on the one side and the danger of its abolition on the other. The grievance was rather theoretical than practical, and the apprehensions entertained by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr.Newdegate), as to the effect of suppressing the declaration, had no substantial foundation. The declaration afforded no real protection to the Established Church, and he did not think that it was ever seriously proposed as such. The Test and Corporation Act was repealed at the instance of his noble Friend the Foreign Secretary as a private Member; and this declaration was not pro posed by him, but it was probably thought at the time that it would quiet the apprehensions entertained as to its effect. He agreed with the hon. Member for War- 458 wickshire that the State had a right to limit the powers which it conferred; but after thirty or forty years experience could any one say that the declaration gave any real security to the Church, or that it was worth while to retain it? Parliament had expressed its belief that it was of no value by passing an annual Indemnity Bill, which suspended the penalties imposed for not taking the declaration. As the Bill had already received the sanction of the House on several occasions, he would vote for the second reading.
§ SIR MORTON PETO
said, that the best; proof that the Nonconformists were suffering under a real grievance was the passing of the Indemnity Act. The declarations afforded no protection whatever to the Church, but were rather a source of weakness, diminishing her usefulness, which after all was the only thing that would preserve her position. As she enlarged and widened her sphere of action she could afford to give others the civil equality which was due to them. He was sure the hon. Member for Warwickshire might dismiss his alarms, as the passing of the Bill would not have the slightest possible effect in the direction he feared.
§ Mr. WALPOLE
said, he doubted whether the declaration afforded any real protection to the Church; but, on the other hand, he could not see that it formed a serious grievance to the Dissenters. It was perhaps a matter of little consequence what was done with the declaration; but it was always undesirable to re-open vexed questions which had once been settled by the Legislature, and the removal of a condition which had hitherto accompanied the appointment of persons to corporate offices would tend by implication (though, no doubt, erroneously) to the conclusion that Dissenters might, by virtue of their official position, do what was detrimental to the Church. For these reasons he should support the law as it stood.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ House divided:—Ayes 63; Noes 54: Majority 9.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill read 2o,