HC Deb 09 April 1867 vol 186 cc1408-14

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


Sir, the hon. Baronet the Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen) having assigned no reasons whatever for his introduction of this Bill in the present Session, I am bound to conclude that he is actuated by the same reason which prompted him to bring in this Bill last Session. These were that the Declaration, prescribed by the Act of Charles II., which is embodied in the Act of Settlement, and by that Act is required to be made by the Sovereign of these realms at his or her coronation—that this declaration of adhesion to the Protestant religion is considered so offensive by Roman Catholics, that they will not permit any Protestant officer of State to pronounce it. Now, I beg the Committee to observe how these matters proceed. We have had an eloquent oration to-night from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition against preserving any office to persons of the same religion as the Sovereign, and every argument that the right hon. Gentleman used struck directly at the principle that the Sovereign ought to be a Protestant. I know there is a most extraordinary indifference to these Constitutional questions in this House. In my experience I have never known a Parliament in which the principle of religious indifference, to say the least, was so manifest as in the present. It appears to me that the opinions of the Protestant people of this country are neglected and wilfully violated; every principle they most value is bartered away for the sake of the political convenience of the moment. I am happy to say, however, that the people of this country are at last becoming sensible of this; and although the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire and his Friends may disregard the opinions of their constituents, I have reason to believe that gradually their constituents are coming to the conclusion that, unless they act with energy, the government of the country must eventually and permanently lapse into the hands of the only party in the House who consistently seek to establish the domination of the power they represent—I mean the power of the Papacy. I know that this feeling exists. I know also that it is justifiable. I am, nevertheless, most desirous of avoiding anything needlessly offensive to my Roman Catholic fellow-subjects. I therefore propose an Amendment which would remove from the declaration certain words that they deem to be objectionable. That these words are offensive, however, is a new discovery; for this declaration has existed ever since the reign of Charles II.; and it has only just been discovered by the Roman Catholic Members of this House, that it is an offence on the part of Protestants if they express their religious opinions. Whilst hon. Gentlemen are proclaiming the doctrine of religious equality in this House, his Holiness of Rome is denouncing that principle; commanding his officers to abjure it; forbidding them to unite with any other religion whatever, and urging them to be more and more exclusive. Nevertheless, with characteristic carelessness, the more stringent the directions issued from Rome and the more evident the obedience which they command, the more lax is the guardianship extended to the Protestant Constitution of the country by this House. There is a good deal of idle declamation about the bigotry of Protestants; but what bigotry can be greater than that of a Bill by which the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Roman Catholic body forbid the Protestant officers of the State to express their religious convictions in a form that has existed and been in use for more than 200 years? Can any intolerance surpass that? Why, Sir, it would have been but decent that a Protestant should move this Bill; but no, it is reserved for a Roman Catholic, an active, energetic, zealous Roman Catholic, in obedience to his superiors, to desire that the House should abolish a declaration made by the Protestants. I confess that to me this appears an act of aggressive intolerance that ought to excite a just indignation throughout the country. If Protestantism is to be strong, however, Protestantism must continue to be tolerant. I propose, therefore, that whilst retaining the requirement for the declaration of those opinions, which constitute the distinctive features of the purity of the Protestant faith, as contrasted with what we believe to be the corruptions of the Church of Rome, we——[Laughter from Sir George Bowyer.] The hon. Baronet opposite is ever the exponent of intolerance, and was never more so than in the manner in which he has just given vent to his feelings. [Laughter.] Why, look at him now! Is he not the very picture of sarcastic intolerance? Anything that is said in the course of debate which is not agreeable to him he laughs at or flatly denies; and after having himself expressed in this House extreme Roman Catholic opinions, no sooner does a Protestant Member rise to propose the removal of what he himself proclaims to be offensive, than the hon. Baronet receives him with interruption and ridicule. This Bill marks another step in the career of concession to the Papacy. That is the sense in which it is moved, and it is in that sense I resist it, and I resist it in this manner—by seeking to substitute for a declaration, which is asserted to be offensive in the terms in which it is expressed, another that cannot be fairly said to be so, though about the meaning of it there can be no mistake, inasmuch as it distinctly repudiates the doctrines of the Church of Rome to which Protestants object; but it is free from every offensive word that might serve as a hook upon which the hon. Baronet might hang his ribaldry. For this purpose, and acting under the advice of Sir Hugh Cairns and Sir James Whiteside, I prepared this Amendment last Session. I will not read the terms of the existing declaration, because I am told that those terms are offensive; but I will read the words of the two articles of religion which are embodied by reference in the declaration I propose to substitute for the present; because I wish to show to the House that there is in them no expression which should be offensive to the Roman Catholic, who is really liberal, really tolerant of the opinions of others. For 300 years the Protestants have thus declared their rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation—that cardinal dogma of the Church of Rome. The 22nd Article of Religion, as received by the Church of England, runs thus— The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardons, worshipping and adoration, as well of images as of reliques, and also invocation of Saints is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God. It is not possible that any terms should be more studiously void of offence. And the other Article, the 28th, is to this effect— The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death, insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. Transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine, in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions. The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped. If you study that article you will see that it is couched in terms, which are the least possible offensive, consistently with the utterance of an entire repudiation of the doctrine to which it refers. After giving the matter, therefore, the fullest consideration, and after having had the advice of Sir Hugh Cairns and Sir James Whiteside upon the point, I came to the conclusion that it would be impertinent on my part to suggest any other terms than those contained in some formula, issued by authority, such as are the Articles of Religion. It has been a rule of this Protestant country for 300 years to require from Protestants a declaration of their faith, and to accept them upon their own declaration as thereby qualified for high office. I wish to avoid the consequence that must follow the passing of this Bill as it stands. The object of the Bill is this:—that whereas some few high officers of State, who are still to be of the same religion as Her Majesty, have for 300 years been required to make the same declaration of faith as Her Ma- jesty, thereby declaring themselves to be in religious communion with Her Majesty, that henceforth the Sovereign shall be isolated in declaring her adhesion to the Protestant faith. Pass this Bill, and no officer of the Crown or of the State will hereafter be required to make either the same or an equivalent declaration to that which is made by Her Majesty. Thus you deprive the Sovereign of the security that she has a few high officers of the State avowedly of the same religion as herself. Besides, let it be remembered that our Sovereign is a lady, and surely that ought to command for her some consideration on the part of this House. If it be wise to maintain the declaration by the Sovereign of adherence to the Protestant Faith, it is also wise to require some of the great officers of State to make the same or an equivalent declaration; it is wrong, it is inconsistent with every feeling of loyalty, to allow the Sovereign to be isolated in making a declaration of faith, which this House will, if it passes this Bill, have stigmatized as offensive. If the profession of Protestantism by these officers of State is condemned by this House, how long will it be before an assault is made upon the Act of Settlement itself? and that will be the next step. In these liberal days I know that large sections of the House think lightly of these matters. But I speak in the presence of many Members who remember the late Lord Lyndhurst, a man who was no less remarkable for the liberality of his opinions than for the clearness of his perception. His liberality, indeed, was undoubted; for he was the great promoter in the House of Peers of the measure for admitting the Jews to seats in Parliament, and when Attorney General he drew up the Roman Catholic Relief Bill; yet Lord Lyndhurst, in the last great speech that he ever made, declared that he could conceive no greater misfortune for his fellow-subjects than that the throne of this country should again be occupied by a Roman Catholic. Sir, it is in defence of that great principle—the principle that the Sovereign of this country shall be a Protestant, and therefore tolerant, and therefore of a religion and of a disposition consistent with the Constitutional freedom which has stood firm amongst us for centuries, whilst it has waxed and waned in Continental countries—it is in support of this great principle that, whilst asking the House to remove every just occasion of offence, I pray the House, by adopting my Amendment, not to allow Her Majesty to be isolated in declaring her adhesion to that Protestant Faith which, thank God, most of us in this House profess; would that many more defended it earnestly!

Amendment proposed, In page 2, lines 4 and 5, to leave out all the words after the words "or right shall be," to the end of the Clause, and to insert the words, "held to apply to the Declaration set forth in the Second Schedule to this Act, which is hereby substituted for the Declaration set forth in the First Schedule to this Act, the obligation to take, make, and subscribe which last-mentioned Declaration is hereby repealed; and be it hereby declared and enacted, That the obligation to take, make, and subscribe the Declaration set forth in the Second Schedule to this Act, shall in all respects be the same as, and that the taking, making, and subscribing of the Declaration hereby substituted shall in all respects be held to be equivalent to the taking, making, and subscribing of the Declaration hereby repealed,"—(Mr. Newdegate,) —instead thereof.


said, that the object of the Bill was to abolish one of the most offensive declarations which the ingenuity of man could devise, and it was directed against some of the most sacred tenets held by Roman Catholics. The declaration was one which had to be taken by the Lord Lieutenant and by all the holders of offices for which Roman Catholics were ineligible. The Bill would not open any office to Roman Catholics which they could not hold now. It was supported last year by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, whom he regretted not to see in his place at that moment, and on the second reading was carried in that House by a majority of more than 2 to 1; it had been sent up to the other House, but at too late a period to be considered. On that occasion the noble Lord the chief of the present Government stated that he thought it could best be considered after the Oaths Commission, which was then sitting, had made its Report. No doubt the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire was less offensive; but it referred to the Thirty-nine Articles, which contained expressions in reference to Roman Catholic doctrines which were offensive, and it also contained for the first time a reference to purgatory. The Bill would not in the slightest degree interfere with the Coronation Oath. The declaration contained in the oath was worthy of consideration by the Commission. He thought it also ought to be abolished; but the present Bill only referred to declarations taken by Her Majesty's subjects.


said, that there was a disposition last year to reject the Bill because the Commissioners on Oaths had not then presented their Report, and as they had not yet reported, the reason for delaying the Bill still existed. It was true the Bill had gone up to the other House last Session, and had not been proceeded with; but he had good grounds for believing that it was the determination of the Government to have rejected it.


said, that though the Commission referred to had not yet reported, a more important Report in reference to this question had been made. A Commission had been appointed to consider what declarations ought to be taken by holders of office, not being laymen, belonging to the Established Church. On that Commission were the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Primate of the Established Church in Ireland, several of the then Ministry, the present Home Secretary, and some of the most prominent men, lay and clerical, connected with the Irish Established Church. That Commission unanimously reported that this very declaration which the present Bill proposed to abolish was one which ought to be abolished, and it had accordingly been abolished. The hon. Member now proposed to add another declaration which had reference to purgatary. Now, there was a homely saying in Ireland which would apply to the hon. Member, which was that, "if he did not like purgatory, he might go further and fare worse."

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 76: Majority 59.


protested against these continual concessions to the Roman Catholics.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.