HL Deb 19 March 1861 vol 162 cc1-12

ORDER of the Day for the Second Reading read.

LORD TAUNTON moved that the Bill be now read the second time. Last Session a similar Bill had come up from the other House, but their Lordships had refused to pass it into a law. He hoped it would now find greater acceptance at their Lordships' hands. The measure did not involve considerations of first-rate importance, but there were some considerations connected with it which would make him regret exceedingly a refusal on their Lordships' part to read it a second time. The object of the Bill was to abolish the declaration which was imposed on those who accepted offices of trust and profit under the Crown; and which was to the following effect:— I, A. B., do solemnly and sincerely, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare, on the true faith of a Christian, that I will never exercise any power, authority, or influence, which I may possess by virtue of my office of [] to injure or weaken the Protestant Church, as it is by law established in England, or to disturb the said Church, or the Bishops and Clergy of the said Church, in the possession of any rights or privileges to which the said Church or the Bishops and Clergy of the said Church are or may be by law entitled. This was not a mere technical declaration, but one most seriously made in the presence of Almighty God, and one, therefore, that ought not to be taken in a light or irreverent manner. The oath was intended to be taken by every person accepting a, place of trust under Her Majesty. Persons holding high official positions might be supposed to be enabled to molest the Church of England in case they were so disposed; yet he ventured to say that the instances were very rare in which this declaration was taken by them. He very much questioned whether the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Chelmsford), though he had dispensed the enormous ecclesiastical patronage connected with the office of Lord Chancellor, had ever taken the declaration to which he referred.


I did.


Then his noble and learned Friend was a conspicuous and honourable exception to the rule. But he greatly doubted whether the noble Earl beside him had done so, though he had discharged the responsible duties of First Minister of the Crown.


Yes; I did.


said, he had been unfortunate in his selections. He had himself held various offices under the Crown, and had never taken it. A Bill of Indemnity was, in fact, passed every Session to relieve those who had not made the declaration from the consequences of their neglect. It was not seemly that a declaration which was so notoriously disregarded that a Bill was annually passed to relieve persons from the consequences of so disregarding it should remain on the statute book. It was difficult to say in what way a mayor or councilman could now-a-days virtute officii injure the Church by law established. Formerly there was the shadow of a pretext for such a declaration, because ecclesiastical patronage was entrusted to town councils, but the Municipal Reform Act took all such patronage away from town councils. The mere fact of making the declaration was calculated to produce uneasiness in the minds of some persons by making them fancy it meant more than it really did; and many persons who were admitted to office in municipal corporations were annoyed by being required to make such a declaration; they objected to invoking the name of God in declaring that they would not do a thing which by no possibility they could do. He would appeal to the right rev. Prelates in the House and ask them whether an enactment which produced no security to the Church, but which was felt by scrupulous men throughout the country to be useless and unwise, ought not to be repealed? He hoped the right rev. Prelates would lend their high sanction to its repeal. It was said by those who opposed its repeal that it was part of a kind of compact made at the time when the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed, and that it was then deemed essential to the security of the Church. He recollected the circumstances under which the Test Acts were repealed, and could understand how the repeal of the declaration in question might have been objected to if it had been proposed some two or three years after it had been enacted; but now circumstances were different. The Church had clearly been strengthened and not weakened by the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, and needed no such declaration to maintain it. He recollected to have heard with great pain a noble and learned Lord (Lord Chelmsford) say that the object of the late Sir Robert Peel in asking for such a declaration was to obtain from every Dissenter an acknowledgment of the pre-eminence of the Established Church. It would be most unwise to the friends of the Church to rest their opposition to the repeal on such a ground. He believed the Church had never been so secure or so strong as it was at present. That security, he believed, arose in the first instance from the attachment of that large portion of the community which professed the doctrines of the Church. He rejoiced to think that the security rested on another ground, which be regarded as of the utmost consequence to the country—he meant the general respect and good will entertained for the Church even by those who did not belong to it. He believed the Church had gained strength by Catholic Emancipation and by the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts; and believing that the repeal of this declaration was desirable both with regard to the Church as well as to the feelings of those who regarded the declaration as irreverent and useless, he hoped their Lordships would read the Bill a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a


Your Lordships will remember that in the course of last Session a Bill similar in its provisions to the present was brought up from the House of Commons, which after a short discussion on the second reading was rejected. The present measure has the advantage of the advocacy of my noble Friend; but, notwithstanding his powerful aid, I hope its rejection upon the present occasion will be as decisive as it was upon the last. Your Lordships will, perhaps, allow me to state the circumstances under which this declaration was adopted. At the time when the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts was proposed to Parliament a general apprehension was excited throughout the country that by the admission of Dissenters to office the Established Church would be endangered. Many of the warmest advocates for the Bill were opposed to an unconditional repeal; and to allay the alarm and conciliate the feelings of the people a declaration was proposed in a Committee of the Whole House, by which persons who were admitted to offices should be required to make this declaration. The proposition was adopted by Sir Robert Peel, and by him moulded into the shape of an Act of Parliament. The noble Lord has said that I was slightly in error when I stated that Sir Robert Peel declared that the object of the declaration was to obtain a recognition of the predominance of the Established Church. I have now before me the exact words of that distinguished statesman, and they are as follows:— The wisest and best course, he was convinced, would be to come to such a final arrangement as, while it should not affect the fair and conscientious scruples of the Dissenters, would give a reasonable proof to the Church of England that in the repeal of these long-established tests, which were considered as a much-valued security, the Legislator thought fit to require that a recorded opinion should be given, in the form of a declaration, for the security of the predominancy of the Established Church."—[2 Hansard, xviii. 1193.] I think that justifies the remark which I made upon a former occasion. The declaration was the subject of anxious and careful consideration, and after the lapse of six days the noble Mover of the second reading of the Bill (Lord John Russell) went down to the House of Commons, and accepted the declaration in these terms— After deeply considering the declaration proposed, I feel bound to say that I do not find it imposes any restraint on the religious liberty of individuals. It merely restrains them from exercising any influence which they may obtain, by virtue of any office to which they may be appointed, to weaken the Established Church, or to subvert its legal rights and privileges. I, therefore, am of opinion that it would be extremely inadvisable in me to propound or maintain any objection to the declaration which has been proposed. On the contrary, it would be extremely wrong in me not to admit it into the Bill as a very essential means of pacifying the country on this most important subject."—[2 Hansard, xviii. 1330.] Any one who attended the debates upon that occasion can remember the excitement throughout the country, and will be ready to admit that it is highly probable that the Bill would never have passed if it had not been for the cordial admission of the declaration; therefore I think that it is not unfair to urge upon the Dissenters that, having obtained a benefit upon certain conditions, they now seek to reject the conditions and to retain the benefit. It may be objected that the changes of times and circumstances have made that which was essential at the time of passing the Bill no longer necessary, and that a burden which has been lightly felt by the Dissenters for thirty years has now become intolerable. I would venture to suggest that the discovery of these objections is somewhat singular, but at the same time I will deal candidly and justly by them. The Dissenters may be divided into two classes—those who wish no harm to the Establishment, and those who conscientiously conceive that it is their duty to take every opportunity to destroy the Church. Those who have no desire to see the Church injured may, it is said, still conscientiously object to make this declaration. My noble Friend says it is profaning the name of God on light and trivial occasions. Surely it is no light and trivial thing to declare that a person has no desire to use the influence of his office to injure or weaken the Church; and if there is any real objection by conscientious persons who have no desire to injure the Church, I say at once that I have no sympathy with such weak and sickly consciences, and am not disposed to sacrifice this declaration to their unreasonable scruples. But I will take the other class who believe it their duty to do everything in their power to overthrow the Establishment. Do they find this declaration an impediment? If they do not, of course no grievance arises from it; and if they do, then, I say, suffer those who are attached to the Church to retain this bridle on the consciences of their opponents. My noble Friend has also adverted to the objection to the continuance of this declaration founded upon the fact of the annual dispensation which is given in the shape of an Indemnity Bill; but that argument has no reference whatever to corporate or municipal officers, because they are required to make the declaration a month before their admission. With regard to the other class my noble Friend says the Indemnity Act furnishes a complete answer to the arguments put forth in favour of the continuance of the declaration. But the very same argument would have applied to prevent the declaration being originally imposed. Before the Act of 1858 there was a sacramental test required, notwithstanding which an Indemnity Act was passed from year to year. In fact the Indemnity Act fur- nishes a complete answer to the greatest portion of my noble Friend's case, because it relieves Dissenters from any grievance, as they may accept office in the full anticipation that they will be protected by the Indemnity Act if they do not make the declaration. My noble Friend says, how is it possible that persons holding corporate and municipal offices can possess the slightest power or influence which will enable them to injure or weaken the Established Church? That question might have been put triumphantly enough a short time ago; but I have very recently been favoured with the means of giving an answer to it by the Dissenters themselves, in the proceedings of an association called the Liberation Society, whose avowed object is to procure the separation of Church and State, whose agents extend throughout the whole country, who have issued manuals of instruction, by which persons are taught how to proceed to accomplish the destruction of the Church. Under those circumstances will it be contended that a member of this society holding a high municipal office would not be enabled through the influence of his office to promote the objects of that association. I must confess that I am astonished at some of the remarks which my noble Friend has made with respect to the little danger in which the Church is placed by the proceedings of Dissenters. My noble Friend can scarcely have witnessed what has gone on within the last few months, and yet feel no alarm at the threatened agressions of the Dissenters. On a former occasion my noble Friend at the head of the Colonial Office (the Duke of Newcastle) made some remarks which showed how entirely insensible he was to the danger. He said— At the time the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed there was great apprehension that the introduction of Dissenters would be very injurious to the Established Church, but those fears have been entirely dissipated, and the experience of thirty-two years proved that, apart from the declaration, no such danger existed."—[3 Hansard, clvii., 1012–13.] I very much regret that the political experience and sagacity of my noble Friend is at fault on this matter, because he always speaks with authority, and his words are much quoted, and I think that if he is at all aware of the events which have occurred since he uttered those words he would alter his opinion. I will call the noble Duke's attention to the sentiments which have fallen from members of the Liberation Society, which will abundantly convince him of what their real intention is. On the 2nd May, 1860, Mr. Miall said— They had taken up the subject of church rates, not on account of its intrinsic importance, but simply for the furtherance of the great object which they all professed to have in view when they instituted that association. And in a book called The Nonconformist's Sketch, Book he writes— The resumption for civil purposes of all funds now devoted by the State to the maintenance of the Church, the abolition of all privileges connected with the profession of the authorized creed, and the repeal of all statutes empowering the magistrate to interpose in religious affairs, is what we mean by the separation of Church and State. Mr. Morley, another Member of the Liberation Society, thus quotes the opinions of Mr. Binney— It is with me, I must confess, a matter o deep and serious religious conviction that the Established Church is a great national evil—that it is an obstruction to the progress of truth and godliness in the land—that it destroys more souls than it saves, and, therefore, that its end is most devoutly to be wished for by every lover of God and man. One more extract and I have done. I will read what Mr. Bright has said within the last three weeks. It is as follows:— And now I will tell the House what Dissenters do object to, and how they feel in regard to this question. They feel it is a struggle for supremacy… The Dissenters regard this matter as a matter of supremacy. It is not as a matter of twopence in the pound they regard it. You will bear in mind that I could as easily taunt you with exacting twopence in the pound as you could taunt the Nonconformists with not wishing to be plundered of twopence in the pound. Remember, if it is a question of twopence in the pound on one side, it is a question of twopence in the pound on the other. But that is not the question with the Nonconformist body; it is with them a question of supremacy on the part of a great Establishment which is at least as much political as religious—against which their forefathers have fought, and against which they are obliged inevitably still to contend."—[3 Hansard, clxi, 1030.] Will anybody, my Lords, after this say that there is no danger in the hostility of these gentlemen? Though this measure is a small step still I cannot but regard it as of importance from the eagerness and perseverance with which the Dissenters demand it. They make no secret of their aim, and I will not yield an inch of ground to them, however feebly I may be able to contest it. If the declaration was necessary at the time of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts for the purpose of pacifying the country, it is now more than ever required to guard the Church against the attack of Dissenters; and being fore warned, as we have been, we should be guilty of the greatest weakness if in any struggle that may ensue we were not forearmed. It may be that the assault now made is not a very serious one, but it may be a step in advance to objects of greater importance; considering the hostility which the Dissenters have avowed, I will never consent to remove any barrier, however trivial, which the Legislature has provided for the protection of the Church. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

Amendment moved, To leave out "now" and insert "this Day Six months."


said, he was not surprised at the line of argument which the noble and learned Lord had adopted, as he had often heard it before from those with whom the noble Lord acted. It came to this, that because some of those persons who asked for this change in the law supported and advocated extreme views with regard to matters relating to the Established Church, therefore those who now supported this measure were to be held responsible for those extreme views. Their Lordships were urged to refuse their sanction to a measure just in itself, because it had been advocated by persons who were supposed to be using it as a step in advance to obtain something which their Lordships would hesitate to concede. Now that was an argument which had always been used against every beneficial change ever proposed; and none of the great reforms which had been carried could ever have taken place if that argument had been allowed to prevail. If it were fair to say that their Lordships on that side of the House ought not to make this change, which many thought right, because it was supported by persons who wished to go further, he would ask the noble and learned Lord whether he would take upon himself the responsibility of those persons whose views upon this occasion he had advocated? The noble and learned Lord brought forward this bugbear of the Liberation Society. He would bring forward other opinions—those opposed to that Society—quite as objectionable and dangerous as the opinions which the noble and learned Lord had referred to. In consequence of the efforts of the Liberation Society steps had been taken out of doors to meet their operations and to resist and counteract them. He (Earl de Grey and Ripon) took no objection to those proceedings, because he thought it was perfectly fair that those who held opinions opposed to those of the Members of that Society should endeavour to counteract them. But the noble and learned Lord wished to make their Lordships on the Ministerial benches responsible for the opinions of the Liberation Society. [Lord CHELMSFORD: I never intended to do so.] Now he wished their Lordships to hear what were the opinions of those who were most active in opposing the Liberation Society. An association had been formed to counteract the operations of the Liberation Society, and at a recent meeting held at Fenny Stratford, the treasurer of the Church Institution, as it was called, made a speech in which he said— The Church combined was irresistible. If it were needed they could compel the House of Commons to re-enact the Dissenters Disabilities Bill, and to remove Roman Catholics from Parliament. Timid people thought that such a step would lead to revolution in Ireland, but the Orangemen were amply sufficient to keep the Irish rebels in order. The English clergy were very much in the position of the Duke of Wellington's Guards at Waterloo. They had been lying down while the shot of the enemy was flying over them. The critical moment had arrived. It must be now or never, and the watchword was—' Up, Guards, and at 'em!' That quotation had quite as much to do with the subject as the quotations which the noble and learned Lord had read from the speeches of Mr. Morley, Mr. Miall, and other gentlemen. But the fact was the question involved in the Bill before the House was really not one of that great magnitude which the noble and learned Lord had attributed to it. It was idle to suppose that the repeal of this declaration would interfere with the position and stability of the Church of England. If the Church rested on no better basis she would be weak indeed. But he believed that the Church of England rested upon a very different foundation, and that it depended upon the affection and respect of the people, on the beauty of her services, on the truth of her doctrines, and on the piety of her ministers. There was no real restraining power in the declaration. No one who had taken the declaration was prevented from speaking at meetings of the Liberation Society. The declaration simply required that persons should not use their office for the purpose of injuring the Church of England, and as all Church patronage had been taken away from corporations, he was at a loss to know what harm could result to the Church by the abolition of this test. This was the second occasion on which the House of Commons had deliberately sent the measure up to their Lordships' House, and he would ask their Lordships to pass the second reading, for it would not be wise, acting in the interests of the Church of England, to reject it. It was impossible to consider the declaration as anything more than an empty form, still it prevented conscientious men from accepting municipal offices. The noble and learned Lord had quoted the opinion of Mr. Bright; but it must be recollected that Mr. Bright sat in Parliament without having taken any declaration of this description, and, in the case of the Ministers of the Crown, an annual Indemnity Bill was passed for those who had not taken it. The noble and learned Lord said he himself had taken it when he was in office, but he must be one of a very small minority. If, then, this declaration were not taken by Ministers of the Crown and by Members of Parliament who might possibly have it somewhat in their power to injure the Church—of what good could it be to retain it in the case of small municipal offices?


supported the second reading. He did not believe there was the least occasion whatever to regard the measure as hostile to the interests of the Church of England, or as being a contest between the Church of England men and the Dissenters. It had nothing to do with the question of Church and State, and was proposed simply for the purpose of removing a grievance which had prevented Dissenters from doing their duty as citizens.


said, he did not attach much weight to tests of any kind; and, on the other hand, he could not see that any grievance existed. The question was whether his noble Friend (Lord Taunton) had established any special ground for reversing the vote of last Session, when their Lordships came to the determination to adhere to the settlement of this question which took place thirty ago. He thought the declaration was part of that great arrangement, and if any measure were necessary it should be brought forward by the Government and passed with their sanction and authority. He saw no reason why their Lordships should agree to the second reading.

On Question, That "now" stand part of the Motion?

Their Lordships divided: —Contents 38; Not-Contents 49: Majority 11.

Resolved in the negative.

Campbell, L. (L. Chancellor.) Carew, L.
Cranworth, L.
Newcastle, D. Dartrey, L. (L. Cremorne.)
Somerset, D.
De Tabley, L.
Ailesbury, M. Foley, L. [Teller.]
Breadalbane, M. Harris, L,
Hunsdon, L. (V. Falkland.)
Airlie, E.
Caithness, E. Lyveden, L.
Camperdown, E. Manners, L.
Clarendon, E. Monteagle of Brandon, L.
De Grey, E.
Granville, E. Overstone, L.
Grey, E. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)
Saint Germans, E.
Sommers, E. Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)
Spencer, E.
Wicklow, E. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Sydney, V. Stratheden, L.
Torrington, V. Taunton, L. [Teller.]
Teynham, L.
Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) Truro, L.
Wodehouse, L.
Canterbury, Archbp. Berners, L.
Calthorpe, L.
Marlborough, D. Chelmsford, L. [Teller]
Clifton, L. (E. Darnley.)
Ailsa, M.
Normanby, M. Clinton, L.
Salisbury, M. Colchester, L.
Winchester, M. Colville of Calross, L. [Teller.]
Amherst, E. De L'Isle and Dudley L.
Aylesford, E. Denman, L.
Derby, E. Egerton, L.
Ellenborough, E. Feversham, L.
Erne, E. Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
Graham, E. (D. Montrose.) Grinstead, L. (E. Enniskillen.)
Hardwicke, E. Kingsdown, L.
Home, E. Northwick. L.
Lanesborough, E. Redesdale, L.
Lucan, E. Rollo, L.
Portarlington, E. Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)
Verulam, E.
Saltoun, L.
Dungannon, V. Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)
Exmouth, V.
Hardinge, V. Sondes, L.
Templemore, L.
Carlisle, Bp. Tenderden, L.
Llandaff, Bp. Wensleydale, L.
London, Bp. Wynford, L.
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