HC Deb 20 March 1866 vol 182 cc641-3

Acts read.


said, he rose to move that the House resolve itself; into Committee in order that the Chair man might be directed to move the House that leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish a certain declaration commonly called a Declaration against. Transubstantiation, the Invocation of Saints, and the: Sacrifice of the Mass, as practised in the Church of Rome, and to render it unnecessary to take, make, or subscribe the same as a qualification for the exercise or enjoyment of any civil office, franchise, or I right. Many Members, when they saw the notice of his Motion on the paper doubtless were unaware that such a declaration was in existence. It was instituted in the reign of Charles II., at a time when great excitement prevailed in the country, and the people were afraid of the in crease of Roman Catholic influence. The declaration was embodied in terms most offensive to Roman Catholics, but, according to the present law, before accepting certain public offices they were compelled to make the declaration. The person making the declaration expressed his belief that the body and blood of our Lord were not present in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and that the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Invocation of the Saints were superstitious and idolatrous. It had to be made by every one who succeeded to any office from which Roman Catholics were by law excluded. The Lord Lieu tenant of Ireland had to subscribe the declaration in the presence of the Members of the Privy Council in Ireland, many of whom were themselves Roman Catholics That was manifestly an offensive proceeding, and one which was wholly unnecessary. He would not, by the Bill he then asked leave to introduce, make any change whatever in the law which excluded Roman Catholics from certain offices; but he would merely put an end to the necessity at present imposed on Protestants, under certain circumstances, to make the declaration The declaration was a relic of barbarism, which ought to be immediately erased from the statute-book. He did not believe there was one. Member who would attempt to justify its retention, and he therefore moved that the Speaker leave the Chair,


said, that he second ed the Motion. A Commission, comprising some of the highest dignitaries of the Church, both in England and Ireland, appointed some years ago, unanimously resolved to recommend Her Majesty to abolish a declaration similar to that under the consideration of the House.


said, he did not feel inclined to allow the proposed alteration to be made without entering his protest against it. The Bill was not exactly what the hon. Baronet had described, for, as he understood it, the words would apply to the holders of any civil office, and therefore to the Lord Chancellors of England and of Ireland. If the Lord Chancellor was to be freed from the obligation of taking the oath, he did not know what was to be come of the Settlement of this country. He strongly objected to the Resolution, which, if carried, would affect the existing Constitution, inasmuch as it would enable Roman Catholics to hold offices from which they were excluded by the existing law.


said, he could allay the fears of the hon. Gentleman. The Settlement of this country would not be in any way endangered if the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend was accepted, because the second clause proposed to enact that nothing in this Act contained should be construed to enable any person professing the Roman Catholic religion to exercise any office which could now be held only by persons making the declaration which the Act proposed to repeal, The object of the Act was simply to remove a declaration which was offensive to Catholics, and which had given great pain to many persons who were obliged to take it.


said, he certainly had not read the Bill. He only judged of its nature by the terms of the Resolution.


said, the Government had no intention to offer any resistance to the proposal, He was bound, however, to say for himself and his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that they would have preferred that this matter should be dealt with by a general Act relating to the present state of oaths and declarations, which, as the House would see from papers recently laid before it, involved a great deal of anomaly and of useless and cumbrous phraseology. It I would have been better that the whole subject should have been handled by a competent body which, while dealing with one part of the question, would have the other parts in view. However, his hon. Friend was anxious to remove words which were of a very painful character, peculiar in their origin, and adapted for a particular object, which had become unnecessary, and as they were now much more likely to give pain than to serve any useful purpose, it was impossible for the Government to refuse their consent.


said, he quite concurred in what had fallen from his right hon. Friend. His own opinion was in accord with that of the hon. Baronet, and he could say for Members on that side of the House, that they were not desirous of keeping up any test which was in the slightest degree unnecessarily offensive or distasteful to the feelings of others. He quite agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the papers laid upon the table of the House during the last Parliament showed that there was a number of oaths which it would be well to repeal. He hoped he might consider what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer as an intimation coming from Government that they would be prepared to consider the whole question. There was clearly too great a variety of oaths, and if, as he believed, the simpler they were in form the more solemn they were, he should be very glad to see some modification of them adopted.


said, he wished to ask, whether he was to understand that it was the intention of the Government to take up the subject?


said, he thought he might venture to say that the Government would probably introduce some measure for a general revision of those oaths.


said, that would be the more satisfactory course. Those oaths, which were of a very grave nature, should not be altered except upon the responsibility of Government.


said, he wished to express his satisfaction at the course indicated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Resolved, That the Chairman he directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish a certain Declaration commonly called the Declaration against Transubstantiation and the Invocation of Saints and the Sacrifice of the Mass as practised in the Church of Rome, and to render it unnecessary to take, make, or subscribe the same as a qualification for the exercise or enjoyment of any civil office, franchise, or right.

House resumed.

Resolution reported:—Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir COLMAN O'LOGHLEN, Sir JOHN GRAY, and Mr. COGAN.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 82.]