HC Deb 19 May 1865 vol 179 cc611-20

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he must move the adjournment of the debate, on the ground of the lateness of the hour and the absence of the hon. Member (Mr. Newdegate), who was unfortunately indisposed. Many Members wished to speak on a subject of such enormous importance. He was anxious to know whether Government were inclined to accept the proposal that had been thrown out in the course of the debate upon this Bill by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole)—namely, that Government should take charge of the matter, and should frame one uniform oath, that would afford adequate protection to the Established Church, and could be taken by all Members of the House, of whatever religious persuasion. He thought, from the general expression of the feeling of the House upon the subject, that this was the course the Government were bound to adopt. In the expectation that they would do so he made the Motion.


, in seconding the Motion, said, a great number of Members interested in the question had been induced to leave the House in consequence of seeing so many Orders of the Day on the Votes, and therefore it would not be fair to force the matter on in their absence. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick, whether he would not, under the circumstances, postpone the consideration of the question.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."


said, that in answer to the appeal of the hon. Baronet, he could only say that the measure had already been twice postponed. There had been a decisive majority in favour of the Bill. He did not wish to take any unfair advantage, but as he was a private Member, and therefore had not the control of the business of the House, he could only put the Bill down as the first business to be gone into by the House, and if the matter was always to be postponed, no private Member would undertake to introduce a Bill.


said, this was a question of very serious importance and nicety. On a former occasion a person of great authority had made a suggestion, and he now asked whether the Government was prepared to take charge of this important question. He did not think the proposal of the hon. Member (Mr. Vance) at all unreasonable. By adopting this course the Government would meet the wishes of the House, and, at the same time, preserve the securities for the Protestant Constitution.


said, the Bill proposed an oath to be taken by Roman Catholic Members, which would leave but a slight difference between the Protestant and the Roman Catholic oaths. He thought that one uniform oath would be very desirable. If the singular portion of the former oath, dating from the Emancipation Act, which required Protestants to swear that they did not believe that the Pope had power to exercise any spiritual or ecclesiastical jurisdiction in this country, were expunged, the oaths would be exactly alike.


said, he was not only sorry but surprised that after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) the right hon. Baronet was not prepared to substitute a uniform oath for that proposed by the Bill, which he believed afforded no possible security to the Protestant Church.


said, he was perfectly aware that it had been suggested that Government should take charge of this Bill, but he was not aware that Government had entered into any arrangement to do so. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hunt) that the Government should have undertaken the duty of legislation on this subject if it had appeared to them that by so doing they would have promoted the object better than by leaving the matter in the hands of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Mon-sell). He did not think there was any reason for supposing that such would be the result of the Government undertaking the subject. It was true that his right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Walpole) had expressed his desire that the Government should take the matter up, but he had not indicated the basis of arrangement or pointed out the way of settlement. No doubt it would be the duty of the Government to bring in a Bill to enact an oath that would be entirely satisfactory to all parties if they could see their way to do so, but as there was no mode by which they could at present unite all parties in assenting to any proposal, it surely was not their duty to do it. It was, doubtless, expedient as a general rule that questions of importance should be handled by the Government, but he greatly doubted whether that was the case in the present instance. They were not altogether without experience in the matter. It had been found on a former occasion that the taking up of the subject by the Government had a tendency at once to throw into the category of party questions in a far greater degree than when it was in the hands of a private Member. When a Bill of the same kind was introduced by Lord Russell, with all the weight and authority of the Government of Lord Aberdeen, that measure failed to pass; whereas his right hon. Friend (Mr. Monsell), availing himself of his position and just influence as an independent Member, had succeeded in obtaining for his Bill the assent not only of a large majority of that House, but happily of a majority very variously composed; and he had received valuable support from hon. Gentlemen opposite in the shape not only of votes, but also of very able speeches. He congratulated his right hon. Friend on having placed the question in a position so favourable. The results which had attended his labours went far to show that the Government had done wisely in leaving the matter to him, and likewise in forbearing to bring forward at the present moment what might he a more perfect measure, lest they should fail in carrying that more perfect measure, and also obstruct the most valuable object of his right hon. Friend.


said, that his hon. Friend (Mr. Vance) had said that in consequence of the illness of his hon. Friend (Mr. Newdegate), and also as it was past twelve o'clock, he thought that the debate should be adjourned; but he had not said that the Government, or anybody else, should have brought in such a Bill.


said, it was obvious that a very great change of opinion had taken place on the subject since the period referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had given a cordial vote in favour of the Bill, believing that the time had passed when the dreadful things once attributed to the Roman Catholics were to be apprehended, and also that no real security was obtained for the Established Church by the oath. But as a Protestant he would be placed in a disadvantageous position, as compared with the Roman Catholics, if he were asked to swear to more than they were required to swear to. All denominations should be placed upon one footing in that matter, and he thought that no more fitting opportunity was likely to occur than the present for the Government bringing forward such a measure.


said, that if this Bill were passed Protestant Members could then bring in a Bill to alter their oath in a similar way. He thought that the Government should give an early Government day to discuss the present Bill.


had thought it remarkable that the Government should have been so ready to report Progress at half past eleven; but the reason was evident now. It was only fair that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), who was prevented by indisposition from being present, should have an opportunity of expressing his opinions on that question.


said, that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had ample opportunity for speaking when the Bill was introduced, and he might also have addressed the House on Wednesday before the debate closed, if he had thought proper.


said, that any attempt by the Government to bring in a new Bill this Session would only result in the question being postponed perhaps for another six years.


said, he wished to put it to the House, whether they ought not to show some little consideration for the absence of his hon. Friend (Mr. Newdegate) who might have retarded the Bill if he had risen to speak upon the second reading, and who really had had no sufficient opportunity of expressing his opinion upon I it. The question was, in what manner the oath was to be altered, leaving out words which to the ordinary understanding were not intelligible. Before the House went into Committee the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Monsell) should inform the House on what authority he was prepared to justify the change he sought to introduce.


said, that it was undesirable to pass this measure at the present moment, because its adoption would necessarily be associated by the public with the recent attacks upon the Irish Church and the approaching elections.


said, he was one who attached very little importance to oaths of this kind. They were too easily taken, and too often forgotten; but, holding these opinions, he must say that it was inexpedient at the present time to propose the change which was sought, and this for two reasons. First, on account of the repeated attacks made in this House upon the Irish Church; secondly, on account of the near approach of the general election. It would he said that this Bill was brought in for the purpose of influencing votes then. Though it might be of some advantage to the Government, care should be taken lest the course which was adopted might arouse the Protestant feelings of the nation.


said, this was a cowardly and unworthy argument. Because it might be said that they were doing something which they knew to be just under the pressure of the approaching election, therefore they were to perpetuate what they knew to be unjust. If this was a just Bill hon. Members ought to support it, and not care what the people might say out of doors with respect to the motives which actuated its supporters. To use the words of the right hon. the Member for the University of Cambridge, "the oath was offensive, and contained insulting statements." If this was so they ought to get rid of it.


As the hon. and learned Member has alluded to me I may say a few words, especially as the argument I used was hardly that which he has attributed to me. The argument I used was this—and the more I have thought upon it the more I am prepared to adhere to it—that when you make a deliberate compact—tacitly it may be, not in words, perhaps—when you come to a deliberate agreement or understanding that upon certain conditions a great change is to be made in your law, you ought not to disturb the conditions unless you see some great practical grievance pressing upon some persons, and the grievance ought to be made out to the satisfaction of the House. I adhere to the view that if it were made out to the satisfaction of the House that there are circumstances which require an alteration in the oath such a change ought only to be made after the gravest consideration, and to be recommended on the responsibility of the Advisers of the Crown. And further, that if we see a change necessary we ought to consider whether we can frame the oath in such a form of words as that all Members of the House may take it. If Her Majesty's Government will take the matter in hand I will do my best to see what form of oath is to he framed, But unless the Government do so, after thirty years during which this oath has been taken, and which was confirmed in 1858, it is hardly fair at this advanced period of the Session to expect Members to assent to change without more discussion, upon the subject, and especially at this hour of the night. This is a course which ought not to be pursued, and until a proper opportunity is offorded it is not reasonable at this hour to press the measure.


said, as some hon. Members spoke in favour of a uniform oath they ought to bear in mind that there was a class (the Jews) which had been recently admitted by Resolution to seats in this House, and that the admission was a kind of by-play. It would be fairer to consider how the oath could be framed to meet this class.

Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

The House divided:—Ayes 44; Noes 115: Majority 71.

Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

MR. BANKS STANHOPE moved that the House adjourn, and he did so on account of the course taken by the Government. In order to favour the present Bill they had intentionally neglected the business of the House by abstaining from proceeding with the Estimates, though on other days they charged Members on the Opposition side with obstructing business when particular items were objected to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Banks Stanhope.)


said, that at half past ten o'clock a Motion was made to report Progress, but the Government nevertheless went on with the Estimates until twenty minutes to twelve o'clock. The House had by the division expressed a decided opinion that the Bill ought to be proceeded with; but as at that hour it would be impossible to make much progress with the Bill, he suggested that the Bill should now be allowed to go into Committee, with the understanding that Progress would be immediately afterwards reported.


said, he feared that if that course were pursued it would be afterwards impossible for any one to move an Instruction to the Committee to frame a uniform oath to be taken by all Members.


said, he thought the conduct of some hon. Members very inconsistent. They complained that the Government did not make the Bill a Government measure, and when the Government did the next best thing, by allowing the Bill to come on for discussion at half-past eleven o'clock, they still objected to that course.


said, he believed that the hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Vance) was under a mistake in supposing that if the Bill went into Committee and Progress were reported, it would not afterwards be competent for an hon. Member to move an Instruction to the Committee.


said, he thought that if the course suggested by the Secretary for the Home Department was followed there would be every opportunity for the further discussion of the subject.


said, that if the Government thought the Bill of such importance as to induce them to give up proceeding with the Estimates at so early an hour as they had done, with a view to its being brought on, they ought to take the subject into their own hands.


said, that hon. Members were entitled to have a full opportunity of discussing whether the House should or should not go into Committee on the Bill.


said, that if the Government were in earnest in their support of the Bill, and were desirous that it should not be a shuttlecock between opposing parties, they ought to lend his right hon. Colleague all the facility and assistance in their power in pressing it forward.


said, that the Bill, if it were to pass that House, would have to go before another Assembly, composed of lawyers and statesmen, who would give it a calm and conscientious consideration, and that if it were sent up to that Assembly in a crude shape it might be very summarily rejected. He would, therefore, suggest that the best chance for its success would be to allow it to be discussed fairly, with the view to the introduction into it of such Amendments as were desirable, and as hon. Members on his side of the House were prepared to propose. For his own part, nothing would ever induce him to consent to depart from the vital principle of the constitution as established at the Reformation, and which he conceived to be embodied in the oath as it now stood.


said, that if the right hon. Gentleman was determined to adhere to the principle of the constitution as he supposed it to be embodied in the Roman Catholic oath—


explained that he referred to the oath taken by Protestants, in which they denied not only the tern- poral, but the ecclesiastical and spiritual jurisdiction of foreign Powers.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman had given good reason why they should only do one thing at a time. He would leave those who did not hold the pernicious doctrine to which he objected to say they did not, and those who did hold it should not be required to renounce it. That being so, what great bulwark of the constitution was to be found in the circumstance that those who did not believe in the spiritual jurisdiction of the Pope expressed their non-belief—however great the satisfaction they derived from it—while they had no fear of the non-renunciation of the contrary belief in the case of Roman Catholics who held those pernicious doctrines.


said, he was answering what the Home Secretary had said with respect to altering the oath by striking out the words which contained the principle which he (Mr. Whiteside) advocated.


said, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) had called a distinction between the Church and its temporalities a flimsy one, but he would remind him that it was a distinction made by that eminent statesman, Edmund Burke. In his speech on Wednesday the right hon. Gentleman went as far, in order to insult the Roman Catholics, as the form of the House allowed him.

Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."

The House divided:—Ayes 36; Noes 102: Majority 66.

Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he should make another Motion of adjournment, as a matter of form, to enable him to state that the learned Attorney General would never have ventured on the address he had delivered a few minutes previously at an hour when the House was in a frame of mind to understand it.


said, he rose to order. As the right hon. Gentleman having the conduct of the Bill was understood to be willing to accede to the Motion, perhaps the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley) would not object to shorten his speech.


said, that when the Attorney General chose to raise upon a proper occasion the question that it was of no importance that there was a denial—a constitutional legal denial—of that which he sneered at—namely, the jurisdiction of any foreign Power in our law, he was willing to discuss it fairly with him.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had left out the words which alone raised the matter between them. The denial of the jurisdiction of any foreign power in our law was in the present oath. [Mr. WHITESIDE: Spiritual.] The right hon. Gentleman put in the word "spiritual" now. With regard to that, those who did not believe—and all who were Protestant did not believe—in the spiritual jurisdiction of the Pope professed that in the oath taken in the House. But if the holding a different tenet were dangerous to the constitution it would follow that those who held it would be asked to take the same oath. They were informed that all our Roman Catholic fellow-subjects held that tenet, and it was not considered so dangerous as to induce us to ask them to renounce it.


said, he would agree to the Motion for the adjournment.

Debate adjourned till Tuesday next.