HC Deb 23 May 1865 vol 179 cc741-4

said, he wished to ask a Question relative to the Roman Catholic Oath Bill, which stood on the Orders for to-night. He was not going to enter into the merits of that Bill, but every Member of the Government who had spoken on the subject had expressed a strong opinion in favour of having one form of oath which should be taken by all Members of that House, and he wished to know, whether the Government had any intention of bringing in a Bill which would adopt one uniform oath to be taken by all the Queen's subjects. This question was one which ought to be dealt with by the Government, and not left to a private Member like the right hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell), for whose Bill, though he sympathized with him very much, he could not vote. As in the old days the defences of this country were committed to the Government of the Sovereign, so, in regard to these oaths, which were meant to be a protection to the Sovereign and her Throne, it was the duty of the Government, and no one else, to take up any measure which might be necessary. He trusted, therefore, that the Government, seeing the feeling of the House so strong on the subject, would not delay in bringing forward some measure which would give relief to all Her Majesty's subjects.


This Question ought rather to have been addressed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lime rick (Mr. Monsell) as to the course which he intends to pursue. My right hon. Friend has brought in a Bill the effect of which, if adopted by this House, will be that one uniform oath will be taken by all Members of this House, subject only to the difference which exists in the present oath as to the Papal jurisdiction, the Protestant being called on to deny the spiritual jurisdiction, and the Roman Catholic being ex empted from that denial. The House have by a large majority affirmed the principle of that Bill, and I am not pre pared to stand in the way of the progress of the Bill of my right hon. Friend. I think it most desirable that one form of oath should be taken, and, in my opinion, the wise and rational course would be to require that that oath should be an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty. I do not say that there might not be some addition to the terms in which the oath of allegiance is now expressed; but that is an oath which every one would willingly and loyally take, and it is the only oath I think which we ought to require. I do not, however, understand that all the hon. Gentlemen who say that one uniform oath ought to be taken are prepared to admit that it should be merely one of allegiance to Her Majesty; my hon. Friend who has just spoken himself says that he cannot vote in favour of this Bill. But if it is meant that the Government is to introduce a Bill which would retain, and not only retain for Roman Catholics, but impose on Protestant Members of this House parts of the oath which are now taken by Roman Catholics, I cannot hold out any hope that we shall do this. From the language used in different parts of the House I really hope that we shall be able to arrive at some satisfactory settlement of the question; at the same time I am not disposed to advise my right hon. Friend to give up the advantage he has gained and to abandon his Bill for the sake of another Bill being brought in. If his Bill is passed, as I hope it may, a most important step will be taken in the direction of having one uniform oath. We shall only then have to strike out the words I have referred to from the Protestant oath—words which in the mouths of Protestants have no meaning—and the oath will become uniform. I am prepared to leave the subject in the hands of my right hon. Friend, and if he wishes to proceed with his Bill the Government will give him their cordial support.


said, he was not in the House last night when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckingham shire (Mr. Disraeli) put a question to the Government in reference to this Bill, nor had he received any notice from the right hon. Gentleman, though he did not com plain of any discourtesy. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the Bill should not be proceeded with this evening, but should be postponed until a morning sitting on Tuesday next. That course involved some delay, but, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman had stated that if that course were adopted some arrange ment might be arrived at which would be acceptable to both sides of the House. After the discussion which had taken place it must be obvious that no arrangement would be satisfactory to the House which did not do one of two things—either carry out the Bill which he had introduced into the House, or else adopt one simple oath of allegiance which all Members of the House indifferently could take. He there fore understood the right hon. Gentleman, when he said that some arrangement might be come to which would be satisfactory to both sides, to be of opinion that one of those two courses must be followed. Under these circumstances he would postpone his Bill until Tuesday at twelve o'clock, and he trusted to the kindness and good feeling of the House not to waste time in preliminary discussions, but at once to proceed in Committee to discuss the terms of the oath.


said, he thought it would be better before postponing the Bill to have an intimation from the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire that the anticipations of the right hon. Gentleman opposite were well founded, because, if the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire came down with one uniform oath, and inserted words in it for the protection of the Established Church in England and Ire land, that oath would not be agreed to. He hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would give a clear, perspicuous, and unambiguous expression of opinion as to the sort of oath which he meant to propose.


It is extremely in convenient to discuss the important question of Roman Catholic oaths in this desultory way, à propos of a question put by an hon. Gentleman opposite, and I really must decline to enter into any discussion of the subject. I principally rose to assure the right hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell) that it was from no feeling of discourtesy to him that I made last night the suggestion which occurred to me as the most expedient course to take. I had consulted with several gentlemen who take different views on the subject, and they all agreed that it was important, if possible, that we should obtain a morning sitting from the Government. With regard to myself, as I have not before had the opportunity, I shall, before we go into Committee on Tuesday, express my views upon the general question, and indicate what I think will be the best and most convenient course for the House to pursue.