HC Deb 08 July 1868 vol 193 cc853-8

Order for Committee read.


said, before the House went into Committee upon this Bill he wished to draw attention to the difference between the form of Oath proposed in the present Bill to be taken by high officers of State and the Oath of Allegiance which Parliament, after twelve years' discussion, decided should be taken by Members of that House. By this Bill a very important departure was made from the terms of the Act of 1866. By that Act the Oath was as follows:— I, A. B., do swear that I will be faithful and boar true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria; and I do faithfully promise to maintain and support the Succession to the Crown as the same stands limited and settled by virtue of the Act passed in the reign of King William III., intituled 'An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown, and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject, and of the subsequent Acts of Union with Scotland and Ireland.' By the 2nd clause of this Bill the Oath of Allegiance runs as follows:— I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Her Heirs and Successors, according to Law; So help me GOD. In 1866 the present Prime Minister proposed that the Oath should run in these terms— I, A. B., do swear that I will be faithful and bear true Allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and will defend Her to the utmost of my Power against all Conspiracies and Attempts that shall be made against Her Power, Crown, or Dignity. The House would perceive that that Oath was a great deal fuller than the Oath which which was contained in the Bill before the House. But so little satisfactory did that seem that the following words were inserted:— And I do faithfully promise to maintain and support the Succession to the Throne as the sama stands limited and settled by an Act passed in the reign of King William III., intituled 'An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown, and the better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject.' The words with regard to the Union with Scotland and Ireland were added in the House of Lords. There was nothing in the circumstances of this Session which ought to induce the House to be less cautious in the matter of the Oaths of Allegiance than it was two years ago. It might be said that the Oaths proposed in this Bill did not contain a recognition of the fact that the Crown of these realms' was held by law, and that, therefore, the tenure and power of the Crown formed part of the Constitution, together with the provisions of Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights, which were embodied in the Act of Settlement. He would point, however, to the fact that the words "by law," as they stood in this Bill, might refer to any law at present existing or hereafter to be framed, whereas Parliament distinctly, two years ago, refused to be satisfied with anything less than a direct recital of the Oath of Allegiance, pointing to the Act of Settlement as forming the basis of the Sovereignty of the country. He therefore desired to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether he saw any objection to substituting for the Oath proposed in the Bill the Oath of Allegiance which they, as Members of Parliament, were bound to take, whatever might be their position or creed?


said, that the form of Oath proposed by the Bill had been settled by the Commission which had sat for a considerable period to inquire into this subject and by a Committee of the House of Lords which went fully into the question. For himself, he had no objection to take the Oath of Allegiance at the table, but he did not think there was any material alteration from it in the present Bill. Both the Commissioners and the Committee of the House of Lords came to the conclusion that it was necessary to make the form of Oath as concise and clear as possible, pledging those taking it to bear true allegiance to Her Majesty and her successors, but avoiding entering into any historical matters. One objection to the present Oath taken by Members of that House, was that it declared the succession of the Crown to be based upon the Act of William III., which claimed for the Sovereign of this country a right to the Crown of France. The Oath proposed in the Bill was in fact a resignation of that claim. He could not assent to the suggestion of the hon. Member, as he thought that the form of Oath proposed in the Bill was calculated to fulfil the purpose they had in view.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 (Form of Oath of Allegiance).


said, the recommendations of the Commissioners for which the right hon. Gentleman had expressed such a preference were against the adoption of the words "the succession according to law." In reference to what had also fallen from the right hon. Gentleman he had always believed that any pretension to the Crown of France had long been abandoned. If there was any doubt about the point the Government ought to bring in a Bill formally abandoning any such idea, though if that were done the lingering attachment which still existed in the minds of certain Sovereigns on the Continent, and especially at the Court of Rome, to the House of Stuart should, in an international sense, be equally repudiated. He thought that the Act of Settlement ought to be recited in the Oath taken by Members of that House, and he therefore moved an Amendment to the clause, the effect of which would be to include the recital of the words of that Act.


said, he would remind the hon. Member that the subject had been fully considered, not only by a Commission but by a Committee of the House of Lords. The present clause was quite as binding for the purposes contemplated by the hon. Member as it would be if the Amendment which he now proposed were made.


contended that in promising to maintain the succession as by law established hon. Members bind themselves to the Act of Settlement, which really was the law upon this subject.


said, he wished to direct attention to the fact that the Act of Settlement stood on exactly the same footing as any other Act of Parliament, and was binding upon all her Majesty's subjects until it was repealed. Its validity required no more the recognition of an Oath than did the Statute of Frauds or the Statute of Uses. The old Oath of Allegiance was praised by Lord Hale for not being entangled with intricate clauses, and yet comprehending the whole duty of subject to Sovereign. The proposed Oath was in some measure a return to that Oath.


said, he objected altogether to Oaths, which he regarded purely as relics of a bygone barbarism. The less a man swears the better. What was the use of this Oath? There was no doubt that Parliament could alter the succession, and was this Oath intended to burden them if they wished to do so? Besides, if a man did not do his duty, no Oath would bind him. He did not see why there should be so many different Oaths. They were so numerous that one could hardly get them by heart. He thought they should amalgamate some of the Oaths in this Bill, though for his own part, thinking Oaths entirely unnecessary, he should be glad to see the Bill got rid of altogether.


said, he thought that the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Mr. Serjeant Gaselee) ought to strongly support this Bill if he had such an aversion to Oaths, because it proposed to repeal a large number of those at present imposed.


said, he would not have raised this question if he had not been supported by the unanimous opinion of Parliament two years ago. He believed there was an ambiguity in the phrase "according to law," while there was none about the Act of Settlement. Some years ago Mr. Dillon, a Roman Catholic Member of the House, said of that Oath, what they were called upon to do was not merely to submit and to be loyal to the Protestant monarchy of this country, but to swear to maintain an Act of Parliament which was conceived in a spirit most injurious and offensive to the Roman Catholic religion, by the terms of which a Roman Catholic was bound, if at any time the Sovereign of the country were to become Roman Catholic, to take up arms and dethrone him. Now, there was a wide difference between binding them to loyalty to the Sovereign, whatever his creed might be, and binding them by positive Oath to take up arms and dethrone their Sovereign in case he adopted the Roman Catholic creed. Now, the expression "to take up arms" was merely imported into the discussion per invidiam, for the Act said nothing about taking up arms, but undoubtedly it did release from their allegiance all the subjects of this realm if the Sovereign should become a Roman Catholic. Either there was a difference between the two Oaths or there was not. If there was a difference, then he preferred the present. If there was no difference, why should they change a clear declaration for an ambiguous one.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 8 (Form of Oath of Allegiance in this Act substituted for Form in certain other Acts).


said, there was a growing disposition in certain clerical quarters to dispute the supremacy of lay authority, and therefore he looked with some jealousy on the proposal in this clause to free the clergy from making the declaration as to the Royal Supremacy which was imposed upon them by the Clerical Subscription Act three years ago. He was a member of the Commission on whose Report this Bill was framed, but he did not remember that this point had come under their consideration. He was also a member of the Commission on Clerical Subscriptions, and the point was brought before them and discussed, but the great majority of the Commissioners were against it. Under these circumstances he should move that the words exempting the clergy from the present declaration be omitted from the clause.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "substituted," in line 34, to the second word "and," in line 36.—(Mr. Bouverie.)


said, he regretted that no Notice had been given of so important an Amendment. He believed that in the Clerical Subscription Act no new Oath was imposed—there was simply a reference to the old Oath, and it was that old Oath which this Bill proposed to abolish. The clergy, would, he believed, be subject to a sufficient number of declarations with regard to the Supremacy if the clause were carried in its present form.

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

The Committee,divided:—Ayes 79; Noes 51: Majority 28.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported, with an Amendment, as amended, to be considered To-morrow.