§ On the Order of the Day being read for receiving the Report of the Amendments,
The Lord Chancellor
said, My Lords, I rise to move that the Report on this Bill be now received, with the further view of its being recommitted, when any Amendments may be made which may be considered advantageous. He did this on the part of his noble Friend (Lord Beaumont), and he would take the opportunity of stating what was the position of the matter, and what the part he had taken in it The Bill was introduced by a noble Lord (Lord Beaumont) early in the month of May last, when he recommended his noble Friend to abstain from pressing the measure, because Government had it in view to reconsider the subject of penal enactments as a whole, including, of course, the enactments against the Roman Catholics. To this the noble Lord objected, and when my attention was subsequently called by the noble Lord to the subject, I told the noble Lord that I would look over the Bill, and that I would strike out every Act recited in it, the propriety of the repeal of which there was reason to doubt, and to which repeal strong opposition might of course be expected. The subject is, my Lords, one of a very complicated and intricate nature, as it embraces a great many measures enacted at various times. I, however, turned my earnest attention to it, and I also consulted the Criminal Law Commissioners, and other parties, who were perfectly competent to consider and advise upon the subject. Having so done, I struck out several Clauses of the Bill; and I think I may justly say with respect to what I have done, that no Clause has been left in the Bill as to the propriety of which any reasonable doubt can be entertained. The question before the House is, that the Report be now received; but there is another question to follow, of which the noble Lord (Lord Beaumont) his given notice—namely, that the Bill be re-committed to a Committee of the whole House. When it is so recommitted it will be in the power of any noble Lord or right rev. Prelate to object to the repeal of any Act or part of any Act which is intended in be repealed by this Bill; and I pledged myself to this — that if any reasonable ground shall be advanced for striking out 1543 any part of the Bill as it now stands, I will immediately agree to its being removed. It will be for the House in Committee to consider whether the Bill in its present form answers the character that I have given of it, with respect to any one: Clause of an objectionable nature having been suffered to remain it. Now, my Lords, I am desirous that this matter should be perfectly understood—because it is of great importance that we should know distinctly the situation in which we are placed. It is said, that at so late a period of the Session we ought not to entertain a measure of such importance. This, my Lords, certainly appears to me, under all the circumstances, to be a most extraordinary ground of opposition. Upwards of ten weeks ago, your Lordships' attention was directed to the object of this Bill. During that long time every noble Lord and every right rev. Prelate in this House has had his attention directed to it, and has had an opportunity to examine and to consider it in all its details. And now, upwards of two months after its introduction—after all this opportunity for consideration and inquiry—are we, my Lords, to be told that it is too late in the Session to proceed with this measure? The question is, my Lords, not whether this Bill shall be adopted, but whether we shall go into Committee, to make it as perfect as possible, and I am quite sure that the most substantial justice will be done to all parties by taking this course. The position of myself with reference to this Bill, and the situation of the Bill itself, being understood, I shall now draw your Lordships' attention a little in detail to the contents of this measure, and I will ask whether you can put a finger on any enactment which it proposes to repeal, and say that it ought to be preserved on the Statute Book? The first enactment which it proposes to repeal is the first Act of Uniformity—the Act of the 1st of Edward VI. That Act declares, that a certain form of Common Prayer shall be used in all churches, and that any person who shall attend in any place where any form of prayer is used different from that authorised by the Act of Parliament, shall, for the first offence, be punished by a heavy fine; for the second offence with imprisonment for a year; and for the third offence with imprisonment for life. But you tolerate the Roman Catholic religion! You allow Catholics to attend their own places of worship. If you forbid them to follow that 1544 form of worship will you not be practically preventing them from going to any place of worship whatever? The Bill which I now submit to your Lordships' consideration will enact that the attendance upon their own form of worship, shall not subject Roman Catholics to a penalty. My Lords, can any one doubt the propriety of such a decision? [Loud cries of "Hear, hear."] Will any of your Lordships—will any Prelate upon the rev. Bench, say that it is not most desirable to repeal such a Statute? If you think otherwise, why, my Lords, you had better repeal the 10th George IV.—the Roman Catholic Relief Act. But, without saying a word more, I am sure nothing can be urged against the repeal of such a Statute. I proceed, therefore, to the next Act with which we deal—the 1st of Elizabeth, chap. 1. By that Act, if any one within this realm denies the supremacy of the King or Queen in spiritual or ecclesiastical matters—if any one should assert that any other person's authority or power has any ecclesiastical or spiritual jurisdiction within the kingdom, he is subject to penalties of the severest kind:—for the first offence, to the forfeiture of all his goods and chattels, and, if those goods and chattels, do not amount to a given sum, to imprisonment for a year; for the second offence, to the penalties of prœmunire—that is to say, not only the forfeiture of all his goods and chattels, but to imprisonment for life and to be incapacitated from taking any proceeding in any court of law or justice; for the third offence, my Lords, he is subjected to the penalties for high treason; and what makes this the more extravagant is, that the 31st of George III. and the Roman Catholic Relief Act admit, under the form of an oath, the right to hold the spiritual jurisdiction of the Pope, because the oath there prescribed only goes to deny the Pope's temporal authority. Thus, your Lordships will see, whilst you allow the propriety of swearing one thing, you keep on your Statute Book this Act of Pains and Penalties against those by whom that very thing is admitted. Why, is not this most extravagant? What is the course I have taken? You will blame me, my Lords, I am sure, for not going far enough. Instead of repealing the Act altogether we have limited the penalty to that prescribed for the first offence. Surely, that is a sufficient punishment. Surely, it is not too much that we have done away in such cases with such penalties as the prœmunire and the punishment 1545 for high treason. I ask your Lordships, is that too much to do? is there anything in such a course inconsistent with the principles of the Protestant Establishment and the Protestant religion—to both of which I am as firmly attached as any man in the kingdom? My Lords, I believe we shall be best doing our duty by our Church and by our faith if we get rid of these barbarous enactments directed against our fellow Christians. But what is the next Act we propose to deal with? It relates to the attendance of the people at the parish church. By this Act, the 1st of Elizabeth, chap. 2,—it is the Act immediately following that I have just spoken of—by this Act every person is obliged to go to a Protestant place of worship once, at least, on every Sunday. My Lords, can a Roman Catholic do this? Can you subject him to a penalty for not attending as long as they tolerated the Roman Catholic religion? I am sure no one can contend for any such thing; and, therefore, there is a Clause introduced into this Act exempting Catholics from the penalty consequent upon their neglect. But, my Lords, there is another Act—the 5th of Elizabeth. It runs in the same direction as the 1st of Elizabeth, which I have already quoted, and, therefore, I will only advert to it in order to remark that it makes the penalty still more severe, inasmuch as it subjects the first offence to the punishment of the prœmunire. Of course, we get rid of that. But, besides, there are in this Act provisions for administering certain oaths. Commissioners are to be appointed to make every suspected person take certain oaths therein prescribed. What are the penalties in the case of refusal? For the first offence, prœmunire, for the second offence, the penalty of high treason. Have I done wrong, my Lords, in consenting to repeal such a Statute as this? But there is still another Statute—a Statute which renders every party who is reconciled to the See of Rome guilty of high treason and liable to its penalties. Any one who is conscientiously convinced of the justice and the divine origin of the Roman Catholic faith, and becomes reconciled to the See of Rome is to be deemed guilty of high treason. I say nothing about the error of such a person; but am I wrong in getting rid of such a penalty? Why, by the same Act, any priest who administers mass, privately or publicly, within these realms, is subjected to a penalty of 200 marks, and any one who attends such mass is liable to a penalty 1546 of 100 marks. This at a time when you profess to tolerate the Roman Catholic religion! Why, my Lords, such a thing, in these days, is an extravagant absurdity, and I hesitate not to strike such an Act from the Statute Book. My Lords, I have already stated that any one who does not I attend church once a week is subject to a penalty. There is another Act which subjects to a penalty of still greater amount all who do not attend church once within a month. I have struck that Act out of the Statute Book also; and I hope such a step will meet with your approbation. But, my Lords, I go still further,—and I enter into these points, let me say, parenthetically, because I am liable to be attacked for this conduct—because, in truth, I have been attacked about this matter, and learn it is necessary that I should explain my position. I say I go still further. The next Ant which I deal with is the 27th of Elizabeth, the Act relating to Jesuits. Under that Act any party being a Jesuit, and continuing within these realms for a longer period than so many days, is subject to the penalties of high treason. I believe, my Lords, that under any circumstances I should have struck the greater part of this Act from the Statute Book, but when I find that the 10th Geo. IV., the Roman Catholic Relief Act, embodied every necessary arrangement upon this point, I felt it more imperatively necessary to take that step. But there is still more. Under this Act any one who goes abroad to be educated in what is called a "seminary institution," and does not return within the realm within six months after the proclamation is made for his return, is deemed and taken to be guilty of high treason. Any one who goes to any college abroad—any one who is sent to St. Omers, for example—is guilty of high treason, if he does not return within six months after proclamation is made. That Statute, my Lords, I have also thought it desirable to repeal. A law such as this was no doubt passed at a time of great political excitement—at a period when great alarm was felt respecting the influence of the Pope and of Roman Catholics within these realms, and therefore to a certain extent the Act is excusable. But what, my Lords, is there to warrant the retention of such laws upon the Statute Book of the present day? What excuse have we for such barbarous enactments now? My Lords, there is another Act by which it is laid down that any one within these realms who relieves 1547 by money a Jesuit or a party in a foreign seminary, shall be subject to prœmunire that was guilty of an offence that led to the forfeiture of all his goods—to imprisonment for life, and the deprivation of all power to vindicate any wrong or injury the party may sustain. Your Lordships, I am sure, will be of opinion that I do right to repeal that law. But there is still more. The 35th of Elizabeth requires all persons to conform to the established religion, and provided that all parties who did not attend their parish church should be called upon to conform; and that if they refused or neglected to do so, they should abjure the realm, or be held guilty of felony if they remained in this country; and, further, if they abjured the realm and went abroad, aud afterwards returned to this country, they should still be held guilty of felony. Under the same Act, any person professing the Roman Catholic religion, must not be found at any place beyond three miles from his usual place of abode, under the severest penalties; and whatever might have been the grounds for passing that Act originally, in this travelling age it would be considered a most barbarous law. Then, had he done right in repealing this rigorous Statute. Well, then, I pass to the next law—an Act passed in the first year of King James I. By that Act, no one can send his son to be educated abroad, in the Roman Catholic religion without incurring the heaviest penalties. Any gentleman who thinks his son can be better educated abroad than at home, and who, in consequence, sends him to receive the advantages of instruction at a Roman Catholic college, is liable to penalties of the heaviest description. I have repealed that Statute. Then there is the 3rd of James I., chap. 4 and 5. They prescribe punishments for recusancy—for which crimes they inflict the most severe penalties. If a man does not go to church, he is a recusant; if he is a Catholic he is a Popish recusant, and, on complaint, he becomes a Popish convict recusant, and is subjected to penalties of the severest character. Surely, my Lords, the whole of this ought to be repealed. Then there is the 7th of James I. That Act prescribes a certain oath, and those who omit to take it are subjected to the penalty of prœmunire. Next I go to the Statutes of Charles I. Under one of these, if you send your children to any place of education on the Continent, you cannot, such is the singular state of the 1548 law, maintain any suit in any court of law at home, and it further provides that any party having been so educated abroad by direction of his parents shall, in like manner, be prevented from instituting or pursuing any suit in a court of law. Then, there is the 25th of Charles II. Your Lordships will bear with me whilst I glance at all these Acts, for the importance of the subject and my own position really require it, there is the 25th of Charles II., under which it is enacted that any one who becomes a convert to the Popish religion shall not be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit whatsoever within these realms; and if he educates his children in that faith they are also incapacitated from holding any such place of trust or profit. That, my Lord, is another Act which I strike from the Statute Book. Again, in the reign of William and Mary a Statute was passed which enacts that no Catholic shall come within ten miles of this great metropolis, under certain heavy penalties. I propose to strike out that. By an Act in the same reign no Catholic is permitted to bear arms, and, which will strike your Lordships as peculiar, if he has a horse of above the value of 5l. it is to be seized and disposed of as any Justice of the Peace may think proper. And now, my Lords, I believe, I have pretty well run through the catalogue. Is there any one amongst yonr Lordships who can object to the repeal of any of these laws? I appeal to that right rev. Bench, and to the right rev. Prelate who is seated on it (the Bishop of London). Let him tell me if he is not satisfied in his own conscience that every one of these Acts ought to be repealed. If he is not satisfied—if he can point out a single law which in his conscience he thinks ought not to be repealed, I ask him to show me a valid reason for retaining it on the Statute Book, and I promise him to except it from the operation of the present measure. Well, then, my Lords I want to know what is the real objection to this Bill? I presume, after what I have stated to you, that the objection about "the late period of the Session," will not be persisted in. It is said, I understand, that the operation of the 31st George III., and the 43rd George III. will be affected by this Bill. What is the 43rd George III? It points out, my Lords, an oath to be taken, in order to entitle Roman Catholics to inherit or to possess land. I understood from what the right rev. Prelate said the other night, that, the effect 1549 of this law would be to repeal that Act of Parliament. I was, therefore, somewhat astonished to discover, on looking into the matter, that the Act was in reality repealed by the Roman Catholic Relief Bill. But it is said, the Act will, constructively, repeal the 31st of George III., of which the 43rd George III. was a Bill in furtherance. What is the 31st George III.? At the time that Act was passed, parties were not prepared, as I hope we are now prepared, to repeal these penal acts of the Parliament. A kind of compromise was consequently entered into. A form of oath, and a declaration was prescribed, and it was said, if you take that oath and subscribe to that declaration, you shall avoid the penalties consequent upon the infringement of these laws. Now, the fact is, that this Bill does not repeal that oath and declaration, though, of course it renders them inoperative. You cannot, my Lords, do away with the cause for such declaration without rendering useless the declaration itself. But, why should we not do away with the declaration? What an extraordinary mode of legislation it is to say, "we will impose severe penalties—most outrageous punishments—on an individual, for a certain offence; and yet if he goes and takes an oath, he shall be absolved from the consequences of oommitting such offences! "Why, what does it come to? To this, my Lords—that the penalty is imposed for not taking the oath. By one of these Acts—it is really almost laughable to reflect on the anomaly—if you do not take an oath, you are guilty of high treason; by the other Act, if you do not take the oath, but take some other oath, you are not guilty of high treason; but, then, if you should omit to take either oath, why then you are guilty of high treason. Such is the absurdity. The Act of George III. was passed with a good intent, no doubt: but the effect is to put the Roman Catholic in this position—that if from accident or negligence he omits to take some oath or another, he is liable to the penalty for high treason. Surely, if your Lordships consider these things, you will be satisfied that we might even go further than we have done in dealing with these laws. I have pressed my noble Friend (Lord Beaumont) to permit this Bill to stand over until we have an opportunity of further considering the subject, and dealing with the enactments en masse. I do not hesitate to say, that were we to do so, I should be strongly inclined to deal more stringently with all 1550 these laws; but upon that point I am in the hands of the noble Lord. He may follow or not follow my counsel. If he does not regard it, I can only say, that I feel myself pledged, and that I deem it an imperative duty to vote for this Bill in its present form—an imperfect form, I admit, but imperfect, at any rate, upon the right side. Having said thus much, I move, your Lordships that "the Report of the Amendments be now received."
The Bishop of London
said, that the noble and learned Lord who had just sat down had rendered it extremely difficult for him to oppose the Motion which was now before their Lordships, without appearing to entertain a desire to retain upon the Statute Book of the Realm the obnoxious acts to which the Lord Chancellor had referred. Against that supposition he (the right rev. Prelate) was most anxious to guard himself; indeed, in the few remarks which he had had the honour of addressing to their Lordships on a former occasion he had avoided giving any opinion as to how far it might be desirable to interfere for the purpose of repealing any of these laws, nor should he on the present occasion feel himself called upon to make any declaration as to how far he might or might not be prepared to go in the way of abrogating these different enactments. It might be proper—perhaps many of their Lordships would deem it proper—to make a change in the laws affecting the Roman Catholics; but what he (the Bishop of London) did maintain was this, that the points now brought under their attention only constituted a part of a more extensive subject—of a subject of the deepest interest—of a subject which ought to be considered as a whole, to be made a matter of most mature deliberation, and to be treated and decided on, not upon the recommendation of individual Peers, but upon that of the responsible Government of the nation. To him (the right rev. Prelate) it would be no satisfaction to defend these laws. He should be sorry to follow the noble and learned Lord with any view to extenuate many of their provisions; but, without doing that, he felt that conscientiously he could oppose the further proceeding upon this Bill, and that he was in a position to thank the noble and learned Lord for giving him, in the course of his statement, grounds upon which to base what he hoped would prove a successful opposition to it. From the short history which the noble, and learned Lord had 1551 given of the Bill, it appeared that such was his estimate of its importance, that he had warned the noble Lord who originated the measure against dealing with it, and he had called upon him to afford the Government an opportunity of considering the whole subject at their leisure during the recess, when they would have time to prepare a more comprehensive enactment embracing the entire subject. He agreed with the noble and learned Lord that such would have been a proper and a becoming course of procedure. He knew and had known for some time how strongly the noble and learned Lord felt upon the point, and therefore it was that he had always regarded it as utterly impossible that this Bill could have been persisted in. The bench of Bishops generally supposed that no attempt would be made to persevere with it at present, and they had consequently treated it as a subject which, certainly, could not be long deferred, but which would, without doubt, be postponed until those who ought to deal with it had maturely weighed the facts; and until they, the appointed Guardians of the Church of England had, in some way or other been consulted as to its different provisions. Feeling thus with regard to it, he must admit that he had heard with the greatest astonishment and pain the attempt now made to press the matter forward at a time when the occupants of the Bench on which he sat were almost all absent—absent on duties of even graver importance than the duty of attending, when it was possible to do so, the deliberations in their Lordships' House. In expressing this surprise, however, he begged to say that his remark applied exclusively to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and in no way whatsoever to the noble Mover of the Bill (Lord Beaumont.) That noble Lord was, no doubt, quite right, and perfectly justified in bringing in the Bill and pressing it forward on every opportunity; but what he did complain of respecting the matter was, that the Bill should be taken up by the Government at the eleventh hour, without any consultation with the Prelates of the Established Church, and without any possibility of their being present to discuss it. At what a late period of the Session the measure was submitted to them! No doubt, as the noble and learned Lord had said, it had been introduced some time since by its noble author; but they must remember that at that time the organ of the Government, 1552 the noble Lord who was at the head of the law in this country told them plainly that the measure would not be carried, and that it must be left to the Government to consider it. For his part, he (the Bishop of London) felt peculiar surprise at the course which had been taken respecting it; for when first the measure was introduced, it had been referred to him by the noble and learned Lord, in order that he might obtain upon it the opinions of some of the leading members of the legal and clerical professions, and having accordingly referred it to them, he had been distinctly told, that there was no possibility of considering it before the close of the present parliamentary Session. Without any impeachment of his charity, therefore, he might fairly take this ground of opposition to the Bill, and call upon their Lordships not to pass it into a law under such circumstances. With regard to the principle of the measure itself he had only a few remarks to make by way rather of caution than reprobation. Let him remind their Lordships, that from the Reformation down to the present time the Constitution of the Church of England had not been only a Protestant Constitution, but that it had been an Anti-Popish Constitution. The legislature was not alone content to declare against the errors of the Church of Rome, but—whether wisely or not, he would not now say—they had in a most energetic manner acted upon that principle of legislation and especially at the time of the Revolution. This was the first time, except of course in the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, that the Parliament had ever attempted to break down the Acts which had been passed to protect the Reformed Church in her supremacy. He readily admitted that many of these penal laws were passed in periods of panic and unnecessary alarm, perhaps, as to the power and influence and intrigue of Rome;—he readily admitted that with regard to some of these laws it might be desirable to revise or even to repeal them; but what he warned their Lordships of was this—that all these enactments were links of one great chain, and that though some of them might be rusty and scarcely trustworthy, yet that the Legislature ought to proceed very warily and cautiously in removing what they could not replace—in breaking away parts so as to render the whole useless. It was impossible to see to what extent they might not go hereafter if they once made this breach. Already the noble and 1553 learned Lord on the Woolsack talked of "going further;" let their Lordships then wait and see how far he was prepared to go, and let the noble and learned Lord, if he had considered the whole subject, bring in a Bill which treated of the whole subject. He believed that, in saying thus much, he spoke the opinion of most of his brother prelates—of at least 19–20ths of the clergy of the Establishment—and of a large proportion of the worshippers in the Church of England. All he asked, then, was, not to set aside the subject altogether, but to pause a Session ere they finally disposed of a matter of such grave importance, the end and termination of which it was quite impossible for any one to foresee. No inconvenience to any party would follow such a delay, and, as one of the rulers of the Protestant Church of England—as one deeply interested in the prosperity and integrity of that Church—a prosperity and integrity which, for ought he knew at present, this Bill might even promote—he did claim of the Government that they should give him time to consider it, and should not press on so hastily towards a conclusion a matter of such grave and serious importance. The right rev. Prelate concluded by moving that the Report be received this day three months.
recommended his noble Friend (Lord Beaumont) to adopt the suggestion of his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack to leave the Government to consider the question during the recess for the purpose of legislating upon it next Session, as being the most effectual means of accomplishing the object he had at heart. He protested, however, against the assertion that the Bill would be injurious to the interests of the Protestant Church; he, on the contrary, believed that it would give I additional security to that Church. The Statutes which it was now proposed to repeal could only be justified by the panic which had seized men's minds at the time they were passed, and were only tolerated for a single hour from the conviction that they would never be enforced. The only real objection that had been urged against the Bill was, that it did not go far enough. That objection he hoped would be obviated next Session, by the introduction of a more comprehensive measure, based upon broader principles, by the Government, which should, have his most hearty 1554 concurrence. There was one point connected with this subject which he wished to impress upon the attention of his noble Friends opposite, especially upon that of his noble Friend the Foreign Secretary (Lord Aberdeen), He had seen a tract written by a talented Friend of his (which had been admired by a noble Earl opposite, as well as by the late Mr. Canning, and with the opinions expressed in which he perfectly agreed), and it was therein stated that it was beginning at the wrong end to repeal those Penal Statutes which affected Roman Catholics, until they repealed those premunire Acts which prevented communication with the See of Rome. We, however, paid the penalty of our blind folly and narrow policy. Other Protestant nations, as Prussia for instance, held communication with the court of Rome, the consequence of which was an increasing good understanding between the two courts.
The Earl of Wicklow
said, his first impression was, that the noble Lord (Lord Beaumont) would do wisely to adopt the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack; but when he heard the speech of his right rev. Friend (the Bishop of London) he altered his opinion, for it appeared to him that his right rev. Friend, having no ground of opposition to the present Bill, wished to see another and more extensive measure introduced, in order that he might find some ground of objection. He thought that the Government might give more attention if they allowed the Bill to pass, than if the Bill were postponed until the next Session. The right rev. Prelate could not deny that those Acts were a disgrace to the Statute Book, and they ought not, therefore, to be allowed to remain there a single day. If he stood in the situation of his noble Friend he would take as much as was granted to him, and seek for the further and complete remission of the penalties that had been referred to at a future opportunity.
would also advise the noble Lord to persist with his Bill, and attain now every possible good that could be achieved. No one, he thought, could hesitate in the course that ought to be pursued who had heard the most lucid and learned disquisition that had been given on these Statutes by his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack; for he had pointed out with invincible force all 1555 those obnoxious Statutes that ought to be removed. The right rev. Prelate was not able to controvert the statements of his noble and learned Friend, neither was he able to answer one iota of his reasoning. He could not avoid remarking that this Bill cautiously avoided going one step further than it was safe to do, and therefore it was thst he recommended the noble Lord not to follow the advice of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham), though he always had been, and he believed his noble and learned Friend still was a warm friend to all that is liberal. Why, he asked, ought these Bills to remain on the Statute Book? Why should they be allowed still to disgrace (as it had been truly said) the Statute Book? He believed that in 1791 these Bills would have been repealed, but that persons were unaware that such disgraceful Statutes remained. The right rev. Prelate had said that no inconvenience could arise, because, by the 31st George III., an oath might be taken. [The Bishop of London: The 10th George IV.] The one was a very long oath, the other something shorter. But the right rev. Prelate said, that by taking that oath the penalties might be avoided. What would their Lordships, who were Catholics, think of their wives and daughters dropping down to the Quarter Sessions, Chancery, or Queen's Bench, and, between the hours of ten and one o'clock, taking their oaths to entitle them to go to mass? Or would they, as the right rev. Prelate charitably suggested, send their young men to these places to take such an oath, in order that with impunity they might ride a horse worth something more than 5l.? He believed that all those Catholics who did not take their oaths were liable to penalties, very heavy penalties, at the suit of informers. Were they to permit these Statutes, now that they were known, to remain in force? Or if they did, could they say that they would stop the actions as they had done with their Gaming Bill. If they refused to pass this Bill they could not, he said, deprive the informer of his vested rights in a qui tarn action.
§ Lord Beaumont
rose to reply and said, that he need hardly inform their Lordships that little was left for him to do in respect to the merits or details of the Bill, since the one had been so eloquently set forth, and the other so minutely described by his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack. 1556 To add one word to that powerful and eloquent display of memory and argument, would not only be supererogatory but in bad taste. But, leaving the merits of the Bill unnoticed, and confining himself to points on which his noble Friend had not touched, he (Lord Beaumont) would briefly reply to some of the remarks which the Rev. Prelate had made on his (Lord Beaumont's) conduct, in bringing in and forcing forward this measure. The history of the Bill was this: some period ago the Criminal Law Commissioners published their Sixth Report, and in that Sixth Report they recommended a revision of the Penal Statutes respecting religion; no notice was taken of that Report; the Criminal Law Commissioners, after the lapse of a short period, published their Seventh Report, and in that Seventh Report codefied the Penal Statutes and repealed their opinion in favour of an immediate revision of them. Both Reports obtained wide circulation, and a knowledge of these Acts being in force was generally spread. Early in this Session a Bill was presented by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) to arrange in one code the Criminal Law, and every one of these Acts were inserted therein, as though it had been the intention of the framer of the Bill to re-enact them. That he (Lord Beaumont) knew was not the case, but public attention was drawn by means of that Bill to the subject, and the knowledge of the existence of these laws spread amongst public informers. Still no step was taken by the Government, no notice given of their intentions on this question. The subject was not mentioned, no promise held out. Observing this tardiness on the part of Government, and feeling the necessity of an immediate modification of these laws, lest the same inconvenient course might be pursued with regard to these Penal Acts as had been witnessed with respect to other equally obsolete Statutes, he (Lord Beaumont) ventured to present to their Lordships a Bill on the subject, not with the expectation that his unaided efforts would carry it through Parliament, but in the full confidence that the measure, though introduced by so humble a Member of that House as himself, would attract the attention of more influential Members, and either be adopted or supported by Her Majesty's Government. He (Lord Beaumont) felt convinced that he had only to moot the question, to 1557 raise a discussion on the subject, and force the case on the attention of his noble and learned Friends, and that they would by expressing their opinions give to the Bill the importance it deserved, and that though he (Lord Beaumont) was the humble instrument by which it was first introduced, they would be the means by which it would be borne to a final and successful issue. In this hope he had not been deceived. With a firmness of purpose and au independence of spirit which must ever do him credit, his noble and learned Friend had braved the opposition of the rev. Bench, and, heedless of the abuse directed against him by a party out of doors, boldly and successfully brought his great talents to bear on the question. He had certainly tried to reconcile the opponents of the Bill, by inducing him (Lord Beaumont) to modify its character, and omit some of the Clauses, but when he found the rev. Bench still obstinate in their opposition, he boldly encountered them on their own ground, and after what had to-day taken place, there was no need of stating the result of the conflict. The rev. Prelate however complains that neither he nor his Colleagues were consulted, but that the Bill was pushed forward without due respect being paid to those who consider themselves the natural defenders of the Church. This I deny, I not only allowed the Bill to lay sufficient time on your Lordships' Table, to enable every Member of the House to make himself master of the provisions, but I particularly desired the attentive consideration of the rev. Bench; for I entertained the hope—the vain hope I am sorry now to add—that the rev. Prelate himself would be foremost in supporting my Bill, and that I should have his authority for saying that the Established Church was so deeply rooted in the hearts of the English people, founded on so solid a base, and so firmly seated in this land of boasted liberty, that it no longer required the scaffolding which had been perhaps necessary in its construction, but which now was only so much hideous and useless lumber round the building. I thought that the rev. Prelate himself would say, "sweep away these cobwebs of a past age—these mouldy Acts, which, instead of being buttresses to support the walls, are unsightly encumbrances that disfigure the building; clear away all obstructions to the view, that the Church may appear what it is supposed to 1558 be, a chaste and well-proportioned temple of solid and unspotted marble." This I concluded would have been the course adopted by the rev. Bench, and deeply do I lament having been disappointed in the expectation, for foreign nations and hostile creeds will now say, these rigorous laws are the trappings that hold up the Protestant religion, these are the props that keep the tottering fabric from falling. The rev. Prelate, however, does not fully comprehend the nature of this measure, and gives to it an importance in one respect that it does not deserve. It removes the power of inflicting penalties for deeds daily and hourly done in face of the whole world; but does not confer any new power or influence, or take off any disability in respect to Roman Catholics holding place or office in the State. Certain disabilities were retained in the Toleration and Emancipation Acts, and the Parliament when it retained them, I suppose, considered them necessary for the safeguard of the Church. These safeguards are not touched by this Bill. The same Acts, namely the 18th and 31st of George III., and the 10th of George IV., did not repeal any portion of this Penal Code, but afforded a means to avoid the severity of some of its enactments. By taking a certain oath, Roman Catholics could do with impunity all that these rigid laws intended to prohibit, but few took this oath, although great stress is laid upon this oath by the rev. Prelate as an argument against the present Bill, Do not repeal the Penal Acts, says the rev. Prelate, but let the Roman Catholics comply with the conditions of the Toleration Acts? What would be the spectacle exhibited if the Roman Catholics were to comply with the suggestion of the rev Prelate, and your Lordships were to adopt his advice in respect to my Bill?—Why, to-morrow every Roman Catholic in this kingdom, high and low, man, woman and child, must flock to Westminster Hall, or to the General Quarter Sessions in their respective counties, and there with certain forms take the prescribed oath for the mere purpose of staving off from their heads the monstrous and bloody penalties these Acts suspend over them. Is this desirable? Would such a scene reflect any credit on the civilization of this country? Would it not be an insult to the whole of the Protestant people? Would it not imply insecurity and intolerance on the part of the Church, hostility and treachery 1559 to the State on the part of the Catholics? Yet degrading as such a proceeding would be to one religion and offensive to the other, it must soon become necessary if you delay passing this Bill. My noble and learned Friend (Lord Campbell) has stated his opinion on the probable activity of the qui-tam informer and my noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) has instanced a case where one of these Acts has actually been very recently put in force. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has stated to your Lordships the crimes these Acts create, and the penalties they enforce, but he has not pointed out the inducements they hold out to the informer or the obligations they impose on the Sheriffs and the Churchwardens,—I will fill up the blank by stating a few examples (the noble Lord read several Clauses from different Acts, showing the rewards to informers, &c.) Who can wish to see such specimens of legislation as this continued? After pointing out the inconvenience of further delay in passing the Bill, the noble Lord concluded by saying, that while he again expressed his sincere thanks to his noble and learned Friend for the support he had given him, he must still decline to comply with the recommendation contained in the concluding part of the noble Lord's speech, and under all the circumstances proceed forthwith with the Bill.
The Bishop of London
explained. He said the Prelates did not complain as to the ime at which the noble Lord brought in his Bill; but, that considering the late period at which it had been brought forward, they complained of the Government having adopted it. He had not expressed himself, as saying that the repeal of these Statutes could affect the Established Church.
§ The question was then put, that the Report be now received.
The Bishop of London
said, he did not mean to divide the House. As the Bill had been taken up by the Government it would be fruitless to do so; but he was fortified in his opposition when he considered that so many of his right rev. Brethren were absent.
§ Amendment reported accordingly.
§ House adjourned.