HC Deb 15 June 1865 vol 180 cc325-30

Order for Third Reading read.


in moving the third reading of this Bill, said, at that late hour of the night he was compelled to ask the kind indulgence of the House whilst he made some brief observations in reply to the objections raised against the present measure. With regard to the objection so generally made that this Bill ought not to have been brought in by a private Member, he begged hon. Gentlemen to recollect that this Bill was not one to impose any now oath or burden, but it was one simply to repeal certain clauses in the existing oath taken by Roman Catholic Members. He hoped if the measure should be successful that it would lead to the adoption of one uniform oath for all. Such a Bill, he would admit, ought to be brought in by the Government; but it was perfectly fair that those who complained of certain clauses of an oath which they had taken should make their complaint to the House, and, if it were well founded, that their grievance should be redressed. But the real point to which he wished to draw attention was the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) in his opposition to the measure: because if this Bill should fail in arriving at that stage when it would become law, such failure would be owing to that right hon. Gentleman alone. It was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire who had rallied his party to endeavour to mutilate the Bill in its progress through Committee. If, then, the existing oath be preserved it would be owing to the right hon. Gentleman alone. Now, upon what grounds did the right hon. Gentleman oppose the measure? Why, the right hon. Gentleman said that the oath was of no use at all — that the Protestant feeling was so strong in the country. ["Order, order!"] He (Mr. Monsell) believed that he was perfectly in order in alluding to the statements made upon this question by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire. ["Order!"] He (Mr. Monsell) asserted that he was in order. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Protestant institutions of the country were so strong that the oath was of no use at all—that it was a mere sentimental grievance on the part of the Roman Catholic Members, and that it was better for them to allow the oath to remain as it was. Well, he (Mr. Monsell) wished to ask whether it could be a sentimental feeling on his own part when he declared that he felt deeply the grievance of being obliged to take that oath. He believed, from Arundel Castle down to the humblest habitation in which lived a Roman Catholic town councillor, that oath was looked upon as a grievance and an insult by him who was compelled to take it. The right hon. and learned Gentlemen the Members for the University of Dublin and Belfast (Mr. Whiteside and Sir Hugh Cairns) said the oath was perfectly clear and simple, but Lord Althorp, Lord Campbell, and Sir Robert Peel entirely differed from them. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Belfast quoted Mr. Sergeant Shee's statement with regard to the meaning of this oath, and said that he entirely agreed with it. Now, the fact in connection with that statement was, that immediately after he had made it— which he did in a note attached to a pamphlet pnblishing his speech—Mr. Napier, the then Solicitor General for Ireland, stated in that House that by the course he had taken he (Mr, Sergeant Shee) had broken the oath. Mr. Napier, therefore, charged Mr. Sergeant Shee on that occasion with perjury. Was not an oath, therefore, that could be interpreted one way by one gentleman and another way by another, ambiguous and a grievance to every honourable man who was called upon to take it? It had been said in the course of the debate that the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield) was not obliged to take it, but he (Mr. Monsell) was. The other day, in looking over some petitions, he found that an admirable one had been presented to the House by the Commissioners of Supply of Aberdeen in favour of this Bill. Immediately following it was one from the congregation of Baptists, against the Lahore bishopric, signed by 2,000 persons, in which they said they were opposed on principle to any Church established by law, as being unjust and detrimental to the best interests of the nation. They (the Baptists) were not required to take this oath, but they required those who had no such feelings with regard to the Established Church to do so. Was that, he asked, just? Now, with regard to the constitutional part of the question, the late Sir Robert Peel did not impose it as a check on the legislative action of Roman Catholic Members. Was it, therefore, constitutional, or was there any other instance in which such a restriction was imposed? The object of tests was to exclude persons holding opinions considered objectionable. In 1675 an attempt was made to limit the legislative action of Members of Parliament, and a Bill passed the House of Lords, after seventeen days' discussion, which contained an oath which required Members to swear that they would not in any way alter the constitution of Church and State, but it was thrown out in the House of Commons. The Parliament of Scotland in 1681 passed a similar Bill, which the Earl of Argyle refused to take without giving an explanation of his meaning of that oath, and he was tried for high treason, and although he escaped at the time, was afterwards executed for that crime. That he believed was the only instance where a Member of Parliament had been interfered with in his legislative action, and it became the occasion of a foul and abominable crime. Under these circumstances, he did not think that he was asking anything unreasonable when he asked the House to abolish the present form of oath, and he contended the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, who was the most powerful opponent of the Bill, had not adduced any reason why the oath should be retained. It would be much better for them to have confidence in each other, and act together in union. He thanked the House for the support they had given to the measure in that House, and he expressed a hope that it would meet with the same success in the other House of Parliament. The institutions of the country would in no degree suffer by such an act of generosity. It would confirm and strengthen them in the affections of the people, more than all the oaths the ingenuity of man could frame.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now read a third time."—(Mr. Monsell.)


said, that hon. Gentlemen opposite invariably represented the oath as a case of grievance, and complained that its words were vague, obscure, and ambiguous. But the words were identical with those which were sent by the Catholic Archbishops and Bishops to the Government of Sir Robert Peel, and they were drawn up by those ecclesiastics in order to induce the Government and Parliament to consent to the passing of the Emancipation Bill. The instructions given to those who drew up the Emancipation Act were to throw aside everything that was offensive, and to frame such an oath as the whole body of Roman Catholics could take. In 1821, when Mr. Plunket endeavoured to frame an oath for all Members he failed, because the Vicar-General of the Midland District told him that he had misunderstood the principles of his (the Roman Catholic) Church. Accordingly, in 1829, an oath was framed which was voluntarily taken and welcomed with acclamation by Roman Catholics, and was now, after they had obtained by it all they required, discovered to be a grievance.


said, he did not ask the House to reconsider their decision; but he wished to remind them that this oath formed only one part of the protection to Protestantism which, as was stated by the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke, was stipulated for and agreed upon when the concession to the Roman Catholics was made in 1829. Another portion was that certain institutions of the Romish Church, the order of Jesuits, should not be allowed in this country without registration; but, from returns which he held in his hand, it appeared that the latter stipulation had been altogether disregarded. The Government did not enforce the law, and there were now no less than seventy of these institutions in the country, illegal because unregistered. He thought that the Government ought to be called on to enforce the clauses of the Act of 1829 which contained what were regarded as protections to the Protestant Church.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell) asked a pertinent question of Members on the Opposition side of the House—namely, why did they not insist on the Nonconformists taking an oath similar to that demanded by the existing law of Roman Catholic Members of that House. If the right hon. Gentleman had read the pastoral issued only that morning by Dr. Manning he must have perceived that the question which had arisen between the great body of Protestants in this country and the Roman Catholic priesthood, was not a question which could arise with regard to the Nonconformists. The Nonconformists had no foreign connection. The Nonconformists of the advanced school objected to all established churches; they did not seek establishment for their various religious opinions in the ordinary sense of that term. But it was obvious that the highest authorities of the Roman Catholic priesthood contemplated the re-establishment of the Roman Church in this country as a rival establishment competing with and endeavouring to supplant the Church of England; and therefore it was only right that the House should require a declaration from Roman Catholic Members that, in seeking to establish the Church of Rome, they would not disestablish the Church of England. He agreed with the right hon. Member for Limerick, though for a different reason than the one given by him (Mr. Monsell), that the grounds stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) for opposing the Roman Catholic Oath Bill were totally insufficient. The discussions in that House for years had shown that there were many grounds for the maintenance of the Roman Catholic oath, which were not adverted to by the right hon. Member for Bucks. In 1854, in 1857, and in 1858 the House deliberately rejected Bills similar to that now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Monsell) no doubt rejoiced at the great progress which had been made towards the re-establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in this country; but he asked the right hon. Member whether, in the circumstances of the day, or in the documents recently issued by the Papacy to the authorities of the Roman Church, there was anything to show that the maintenance of the terms of the oath was less desirable now than formerly? It appeared to him (Mr. Newdegate) that there were reasons why the Roman Catholic laity would act wisely if they were to support the continuance of the oath, having before their eyes the examples of France and Italy. Only that day he had read in the Dublin Review an article on the recent encyclical letter of the Pope. The writer advocated the restoration of the temporal power of the Pope by force, justified the coercion of those who dissented from Rome, justified the intolerance which characterized the laws of Spain; and all he wrote in conclusion, by way of excuse, was that, under existing circumstances, it would be unsafe to attempt such coercion in this country. Under these circumstances he thought the right hon. Gentleman could not be surprised that a large minority of that House adhered to the course which had been theretofore the course of the majority—a course, which had been enforced by the majority even when the measure contemplated other objects as well as those of the present Bill, and was proposed by the Government. He trusted that he might thereafter meet with the indulgence of the House in the performance of that which he believed to be his duty, inspired by no spirit of intolerance, but acting, as he believed, in the interests, not only of the Protestant, but of the Roman Catholic Members of the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 3°, and passed.