HC Deb 12 April 1883 vol 278 cc60-1

asked Mr. Attorney General, When it is intended to move the Second Reading of the Affirmation Bill; and, whether, before that Motion is made, the Government will consider the desirability of so amending the Bill that it shall not be retrospective in its operation?


Sir, I am not in a position, myself, to answer the first part of the Question, as to when the Affirmation Bill will be taken. That is a Question in relation to the conduct of the Business of the House, and my hon. Friend will doubtless obtain the infor- mation he seeks from any statement the Prime Minister may make in relation to that Business. As to the second part of my hon. Friend's Question, I can say that the Government have already given to that subject the full consideration that its importance deserves. I think the House will agree with me that, in answering this Question, it would not be right for me to refer to the considerations that affected the judgment of the Government in coming to the conclusion at which they have arrived; but I would say, apart from any question of principle in relation to a subject which has been so acutely discussed, and which has attracted so much public attention, the Government have thought it right to be guided as much as possible by precedent, and I think it will be found that the precedent most applicable to the question in relation to the operation of this Bill will be found in the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829. It will be recollected that the principle of that Bill had been fully discussed, and had been before the constituencies for years; and when it was thought right to afford relief, and to change the Oath—so that Members should not take the Oath of Supremacy and Abjuration as then existing—that relief was only afforded to Members who were elected after that Act came into operation; and while I repeat that this is not the time to enter upon details of the considerations which have affected the Government's judgment, I have to say that when the Bill is in Committee the Government will be willing to introduce words into it similar to those in the Act of 1829, which will limit its effect to Members who shall be elected after the measure has become law.


Will the House have the full opportunity of deciding by vote whether that principle shall be introduced or not?