HL Deb 24 April 1863 vol 170 cc658-70

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, this was the fifth time that a Bill of this nature had come up from the House of Commons, a circumstance which would relieve him from the necessity of making more than a few observations. The object of the Bill was to render it unnecessary to take the declaration which was imposed by the 9 Geo. IV., c. 17., and which was as follows:— I do solemnly and sincerely, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare, upon the true faith of a Christian, that I will never exercise any power, authority, or influence which I may possess by virtue of the 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 or Clergy of the said Church, in the possession of any rights to which such Church or the said Bishops and Clergy are or may be by law entitled. Now, among the objections made to the Bill was this, that by repealing this declaration a contract would be broken which was entered into in 1828, when his noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs carried through Parliament the measure for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. It was perfectly true, that though his noble Friend introduced the Bill without any such provision, at the instance of the late Sir Robert (then Mr.) Peel, he introduced this declaration. He had no doubt his noble Friend had very good Parliamentary reasons—probably in order to avert opposition—for doing so; but he could not understand how it could be contended that an arrangement made thirty-five years ago could bind Parliament at the present day. The Parliament of that day had no power to make any such compact with a view to bind us; and since that day the principle of extending civil and religious freedom to all classes of Her Majesty's subjects had been admitted by Parliament, which had admitted Roman Catholics and Jews to seats in the Legislature. The circumstances of the times, therefore, having greatly changed, it was not unreasonable that their Lordships should be asked whether it was necessary or expedient to retain this declaration. What was the object of this declaration? He supposed it would be answered that it was a security for the Established Church. He was himself a member of that Church, and he sincerely felt, both upon religions and political grounds, that it would be a most serious misfortune to this country, both in a religious and a political point of view, if the Established Church should cease to be a portion of its institutions; and if he thought the declaration any security to the Church, he would be the last to propose its repeal. But he did not think it was. If the ministers of the Church were indolent or negligent in their duty, if the doctrines of the Church were corrupt, if the Church were administered in a narrow or bigoted spirit which would interfere with freedom of thought or action, if the Church stood condemned by public opinion, did any man think this declaration would save the Church? And even if the Church of England did require the aid of such a declaration in 1828, it did not follow that she required any such security now. They knew that since 1828 the Church bad made great progress in the affections of the people, in consequence of the activity of her ministers and the reform of many abuses. But even if the declaration were a security, lot them look to what the state of the law was. It so happened that the declaration, whatever its value, was practically not taken by a majority of those who might possibly have influence which could be used to the injury of the Church. The law was, that every person accepting office—the Ministers of the Crown, and all others taking offices, whatever their importance—should take the declaration within six months after entering upon office; but in fact they did not take it; and in order to remedy the omission, Parliament was every year obliged to pass an indemnity Act by which those who had not made the declaration were relieved from the consequences. But, upon the other hand, the law required that those who took municipal offices should make the declaration before entering upon their duties. So that practically the declaration was not required to be made by persons who could do injury to the Church, while it was required from those who could do no injury. That was an anomalous state of the law, and ought not to be maintained. Further, let them look at the declaration. It seemed to him that it was most vague and uncertain in its nature, for it was difficult to know how far the obligation imposed by the declaration extended; it might affect the conscientious or scrupulous, who would not be likely to do harm, whereas those who were not scrupulous would make the declaration without any objection whatever. It was at the present time a generally admitted principle, too, that it was not desirable that solemn declarations of this kind should be made unless they were precise and binding in their nature and indispensable for the security of some institution. But it was said that this declaration was a badge or symbol of the predominance of the Established Church; and it was also objected to this Bill that it came from the Liberation Society. As to the predominance of the Church, surely there were symbols enough of that in the facts that clergymen of the Church enjoyed securities and privileges by law in every parish of England, that the Bishops had seats in that House, and that the Sovereign must be a member of the Established Church. And as for the Liberation Society, he was not in the secrets of that Society; but if their object were to separate Church and State—if the members of that Society were the crafty and dangerous assailants which they were said to be—he could not conceive that they could desire anything better than that the friends of the Church should maintain a small irritating grievance which would enable them to draw over many persons to side with them who otherwise would stand aloof. Whatever the opinions of that Society might be, he was convinced there were many Dissenters in this country who, while differing from the formularies of the Church, still regarded her with respect as the centre around which Protestants of various kinds were gathered. Believing that the declaration was no real security to the Church, and that it tended to alienate a large class of Dissenters from the Church, be trusted their Lordships would agree to the second reading of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


My Lords, my noble Friend the Duke of Buckingham, who had undertaken to move that this Bill be read the second time this day six months, has, during the present discussion, been called from the House by the painful intelligence of an occurrence connected with his family; and I have therefore undertaken, at a moment's notice, to move the Amendment of which my noble Friend had given notice. And I do so the more readily because the matter has been frequently discussed in this House; and because the whole merits of the case lie in the smallest possible, compass. My Lords, the object of this Bill is to repeal a declaration which it was provided should be taken, on the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, by those succeeding to political and municipal offices. I do not mean to argue that the time which has elapsed, from 1828 to 1863, precludes Parliament from reconsidering this question: but with regard to the feelings of the Dissenters, and with regard to the merits of the declaration itself, I am glad to see opposite to me the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, whom no one will accuse of being indifferent to the rights and privileges of Protestant Dissenters, or of being desirous to neglect their interests; or of being likely to consent to insert any clause in a Bill which he might think injurious to them:—but, on the other hand, the noble Earl was one of those who most strenuously contended, when the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed, that in the declaration required to be taken there was nothing to which the most conscientious Dissenter could object. Many of your Lordships will not recollect the late Lord Holland; but those who knew him are aware that he did not yield even to the noble Earl in his attachment to the principles of civil and religious liberty, and that he was jealous of any undue predominance of the Church of England, even if he did not absolutely share to the full extent the partiality which the noble Earl has for Protestant Dissenters in the abstract. But Lord Holland made the strongest possible declaration, on moving the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in this House, and consenting to the introduction of this declaration, that he did so, not because he saw it to be necessary, but because it removed the scruples of many conscientious and honourable men; and if it removed the scruples of one single individual, so convinced was he that it could not possibly be a grievance to any Dissenter, that he moved the insertion of the words. Such being the substance of the declaration, the noble Lord who introduced this Bill says that the declaration gives no real security to the Church. I am very much inclined to agree that practically it does not give any additional security to the Church; and, moreover, that if the Church could not stand without the assistance of the declaration, it would have little chance of standing with it. But that is very different from saying that the Legislature should be called upon to repeal the declaration which exists. The noble Lord referred to the number of persons holding political offices who are called upon by law to make this declaration and do not, and are protected from the consequences by the Act of Indemnity. With regard to them there can be no possibility of grievance, inasmuch as the Act of Indemnity saves them from the necessity of doing that which is painful to their feelings. But there are others, the noble Lord contended, who occupy municipal offices, who are compelled to take the declaration, and he contended that it was a grievance that they should be called upon not to use the power they were about to possess against the Established Church. If that were so, why was it that those who strenuously supported the rights of the Dissenters, when the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed, thought the making this declaration no grievance whatever? But I consider, that though the declaration gives no valid security to the Church, yet that its repeal would be held to be a significant declaration on the part of Parliament that the Church of England was no longer considered on a different footing from other religious bodies in the country, that it was no integral part of the Constitution, and that it was not desirable that persons holding high office should declare that they did not desire to injure the Established Church. I will take a possible case. Suppose it were the case in this or the other House of Parliament—I will take the other House of Parliament, out of courtesy to your Lordships—that the oath of allegiance, which is required to be taken by every Member of Parliament on taking his seat, were only required to be taken during the progress or at the end of the Session, and that it was the practice to introduce a Bill to indemnify any Member from the consequences of his not having taken the oath; suppose, again, that there was a very large number of persons who had avowed their intention of changing the Constitution, of using every legitimate means in their power for altering its form, for subverting the monarchy, and substituting a republican form of Government—suppose that one of the persons entertaining these opinions were to introduce a Bill calling upon Parliament to do away with the necessity on the part of every Member of taking the oath of allegiance to the Sovereign—will any man tell me, that although the oath of allegiance may give no additional security to the Throne, yet that a declaration by Parliament that it was unnecessary to swear allegiance to the Throne, would not be a serious injury to the loyal feelings of the people, if not derogatory to the authority of the Crown? I put the case with respect to the Church no higher than I put that supposed case of the Sovereign, but I put it exactly as high, and I say that at a time when there are a large number of persons bound together with the avowed and positive determination, if they can, to reduce the Church to the level of other bodies of Christians in this country, to do away with all her rights and privileges, and if possible to abolish her connection with the State—I say that the sanction of Parliament being given to the doctrine that the declaration is no longer necessary—that we may do away with the declaration required to be taken by persons holding high office, either political or municipal—I say that such a course would be a great encouragement to those entertaining such opinions. I am one of those who would not support the continuance of any grievance of which any class of my fellow-subjects has a legitimate right to complain; and I do not think that the denial of their real rights to others is expedient or calculated to promote the interests of the Church to which I belong. But I, for one, will never, as far as I can help it, allow the rights of the Church to be in any degree infringed upon, or agree to any concession which is inconsistent with the rights of the Church as guaranteed to her by our Constitution; though, at the same time, I would be fully mindful of the rights of others. In this case there is no real tangible grievance. There are grounds of complaint made subservient to political agitation. This Bill has been sent up five times from the House of Commons, and four times it has been rejected, and on this the fifth time it has come up with the large and overpowering majority of three. I say that your Lordships' sanction to the passing of this Bill would indicate—what I hope is not the spirit of this House—a determination to go back from the principles you have professed, and would indicate the absence of any determination on our part to maintain intact the rights, privileges, and predominance of that Church which forms an integral part of the British Constitution. My Lords, 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, there was a growing feeling that this declaration might be abolished without injury accruing to the Church. It was absurd to say that a mayor or common councilman could injure the Church of England by the exercise of any influence conferred by his office. Nothing, that he could see, could be gained by the retention of the declaration, and it proved a continual source of irritation. An argument in favour of this Bill, he thought, was the fact that every one who took office was not compelled to take the oath, but those who from their position had power really to injure the Church escaped from taking the declaration, relying upon the Indemnity Act that was annually passed. It was impossible to believe that in this country a declaration had any effect in adding to the security of the Church. But take the case of Ireland, where the Established Church was the Church of a small minority—he could understand that there the declaration might be required and have a beneficial effect; but the Act under which the declaration was taken did not apply to Ireland. He supposed, that if the Church of England was in a state in this country such as it was in Ireland, there would probably be little difficulty in imposing a declaration of this kind.


said, he intended to vote in favour of the Bill, which seemed to him a just and harmless one. If, however, the proposal were defeated, as no doubt it would he, and if that and similar measures continued to pass through the House of Commons by majorities hardly perceptible, the gentlemen commonly called political Dissenters, and their friends, in and out of the other House of Parliament, had only themselves to thank for it. They would never attain to a favourable consideration for measures of this kind so long as they continued frankly to declare that they would not thank them for passing such measures; that they were not to be looked upon as concessions, but as very insufficient instalments of much larger claims, and that they would be content with nothing but the dissolution of the connection between the State and the Established Church. He was not speaking ns apprehending any danger to the Church—on the contrary, he thought the Liberation Society and the speeches and writings of its adherents had rendered the same kind of service to the Established Church which Mr. Bright's speeches had done to the party of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby). Whether those opinions had any chance of success it was for the gentlemen to whom he had referred to judge; he was merely dealing with the question of expediency, in the interest of such measures as this which he wished to see pass. They had a perfect right to their own opinions and to the expression of them; but measures like the present, and other modifications of the law such as he (Lord Lyttelton) desired to see, never would pass unless those gentlemen, whatever their private views might be, would be content to withhold the attempt to give effect to those opinions, and to acquiesce in the existence in its full privileges of that institution which very many believed to be the most important in this country.


Before your Lordships divide, I desire to trouble the House with a few remarks. My observations will certainly be brief, for the grievance contemplated by this Bill is very small, and the objections urged on the other side are very diminutive. I thought that my noble Friend who introduced the Motion found it a matter of very great difficulty to make out any existing grievance; and when the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) attempted to show that the declaration gave any security to the Established Church, he found it a matter of utter impossibility. No real security whatever is given by this declaration. But then it is said that there is a compact or engagement which was entered into at the time of the repeal of the Corporation and Test Act, by which I, and others who were associated with me in that act, are bound. Now, I cannot recollect that there was any such compact or engagement; I think, on the contrary, that after this declaration has existed for a considerable time, and has been found to give no security to the Established Church and to be perfectly worthless, I cannot conceive why Parliament should be bound to maintain it. The Act by which the Dissenters were called upon to take the Sacrament in accordance with the service of the Church of England was certainly a substantial grievance. It was objectionable on two grounds. In the first place, it was a profanation of the sacred rite; and in the second, it was a hardship upon the Dissenters, with regard to whom it was thought that many were debarred from accepting office lest they should be called upon to take the Sacrament. But when a declaration was substituted for this sacramental test, it was simply to the effect that the person making the declaration would not use the influence of his office to injure the Established Church. I confess I am quite at a loss to understand in what manner that declaration can really be a security to the Church. In the first place, the terms are exceedingly difficult to define. A man is not debarred from being an enemy, if he so chooses, to the Church, or using his personal influence against it; what he is debarred from is using the influence of his office in a sense hostile to the Church. That is all the declaration requires. It then becomes a question in what way that restriction can be defined. A Dissenter may be elected Lord Mayor of London, and everybody knows that he would exercise great influence, by virtue of his office, on the election of the Members for the City. He may declare his wish to come into Parliament to abolish the church rates, and if he uses the influence of his office to get into Parliament, is he or is he not using the influence of his office to the injury of the Established Church? This difficulty might occur to him, and he might be reproached for so doing. I know that some persons are very fond of these Acts, and think there is some virtue in imposing a disagreeable declaration—something which is unpleasant to those who have to make it; and they proceed to argue that persons holding such exceedingly wrong opinions ought to be obliged to pay some penalty in the shape of the annoyance consequent upon being called on to make a declaration to which they object. But that is not the spirit in which Parliament should regard the subject. The point we have to consider is what is really important for the security of the Church of England. The rights and property of that Church are secured by various Acts of Parliament, and further by the general attachment of the people of this country. These are securities on which the Church may rest; these are safeguards in which it may trust for its permanence. It gains nothing at all by having such useless and vague declarations as these. It is quite true that I had no objection to the declaration when it was substituted for the sacramental test; but I think the time has now come when the declaration may also be dispensed with.


My Lords, having some recollection of the circumstances connected with the repeal of the Test Act, I have heard with considerable surprise the speech of the noble Earl (Earl Russell). The noble Earl moved the Bill for the abolition of the sacramental test, and in many speeches which the noble Earl has since made he has referred with affectionate interest to that the first triumph of his political life. The Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel thought that it would be expedient to substitute a declaration for the sacramental test, and that declaration was subsequently agreed to almost without the opposition of a single person. The noble Earl himself entirely acquiesced in it, under the impression that it would soothe the feelings of those who were opposed to the measure. Above all, there can be no doubt that the course which he took in adopting the declaration did most materially contribute to diminish the apprehension entertained by noble Lords in this House that that was only the commencement of a series of demands upon the Church of England, and so led them to suppose that with it might be established religious peace. In that manner the Bill was carried through this House, and I much doubt whether it could have been carried but for what had taken place upon this point in the House of Commons, The observations which have been made to-night have referred to the declaration alone; but what precedes this declaration? A most solemn assertion on the part of Parliament, taken from what had been proposed by Mr. Grattan and adopted by Mr. Plunkett as the preamble of the Bill for what was called Catholic emancipation, that the Episcopal Church of England and its doctrine, discipline, and government, and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and the doctrine, discipline, and government thereof, were permanently and inviolably to be maintained as part of the Jaw of this country; and because it was so asserted, then this declaration was accepted as a fitting substitute for the sacramental test which was abolished. The noble Earl may argue that it is no longer fitting; but is it no longer just? It was by means of that substitution that the Bill was carried, and therefore it is impossible for me at least, who was a party to the carrying of that measure with that addition, to agree to the alteration of what was then established; and I confess, that recollecting that the noble Earl, by his conduct in the House of Commons, so materially contributed to the passing of the Bill through this House, I do feel some surprise at the course which he has adopted to-night. I recollect well that the Duke of Wellington referred to what was done at that time as calculated to give religious peace to the country. Religious peace was always most dear to him. For that he changed the opinion which he originally entertained with regard to the sacramental test. In the hope of establishing that, he changed his course of conduct with respect to what was called Catholic Emancipation. But I regret to say, that notwithstanding all the concessions which the Church has made, peace it has not, and, apparently, never is to be allowed to have. Every concession, be it what it may, seems but to stimulate its opponents to further attacks upon it; and although I believe that the Church, if it be true to itself—if it be not exposed to greater dangers from within than from without—will successfully resist all these attacks, I do think that the time has come when we must adhere to that which was considered sound policy thirty-five years ago. Whether this declaration gives a real security or not, its continuance is, at least, an indication of the opinion of Parliament with respect to the permanence and inviolable maintenance of the Church of England, and, as such, I shall endeavour to secure its continuance.


—My Lords, I shall not recapitulate the arguments in favour of this Bill which were so clearly and so concisely stated by the noble Lord who moved its second reading, and by the noble Earl whom we had the pleasure of hearing for the first time to-night (Earl Cowper) nor shall I repeat the explanation which has been given by the noble Earl near me. Surely, any discussion about a compact is most unnecessary when the noble Earl who moved the Amendment himself said that he attached no importance whatever to the compact as one which necessarily prevented Parliament from coming to any decision it thought desirable. The noble Earl says, that although the declaration itself gives no actual security to the Church, yet that the security of the Church would be affected if Parliament was to abrogate it; and he supposed, as an illustration, the case of a proposal to relieve the Members of this or the other House of Parliament from the oath of allegiance. That illustration was hardly on all fours with the present case. I do not think that the unanimous and devoted loyalty of the Members of either House towards the Crown of this country is much affected by the oath of allegiance; but suppose that the general body of the Members of this House were not called upon to subscribe to that oath, but that there was a particular section of them, the Lords Spiritual, the Irish Peers, or the Scotch Peers, who were required to take it, and that they asked to be relieved from that oath—I think that that would be a very different case, and one more similar to that which we are now discussing. As to the interference with the preamble of the Test Act, I can only say that I do not see that it is touched or repealed by the Bill now under consideration. The enacting clause does not refer to it, but merely relieves those persons from the grievance under which they feel that they suffer. Whatever may be the result of this debate—whether we are in a majority or a minority—we shall have the satisfaction of having endeavoured to do an act which is perfectly just and fair, and which cannot in the slightest degree affect the real security of the Established Church.

On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? their Lordships divided:—Contents 52; Not Contents 69: Majority 17.

Resolved in the Negative; and Bill to be read 2a on this Day Six Months.

Westbury, L (L. Chancellor.) Grey, E.
Russell, E.
Saint Germans, E.
Newcastle, D. Shaftesbury, E,
Somerset, D Zetland, E.
Sutherland, D.
Sydney, V.
Townshend, M.
Belper, L.
Abingdon, E Broughton, L.
Airlie, E. Carew, L.
Caithness, E. Chesham, L.
Camperdown, E. Congleton, L.
Cottenham, E. Cranworth, L.
Cowper, E. De Tabley, L.
De Grey, E, Ebury, L.
Ducie, E. Foley, L. [Teller.]
Granville, E. Harris, L.
Hunsdon, L. (V. Falkland.) Monson, L.
Overstone, L.
Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.) Rivers, L.
Sefton, L. (E. Sefton.)
Lismore, L. (V. Lismore.) Skene, L. (E. Fife.)
Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)
Llanover, L.
Londesborough, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Lyttelton, L. Sundridge, L. (D. Argyl1.)
Lyveden, L.
Manners, L. Taunton, L.
Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.) Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Vivian, L.
Methuen, L. Wodehouse, L. [Teller.]
Canterbury, Archbp. Lifford, V.
York, Archbp.
Bath and Wells, Bp.
Marlborough, D. Cashel, &c., Bp.
Richmond, D. Exeter, Bp.
London, Bp.
Normanby, M. Rochester, Bp.
Salisbury, M. Winchester, Bp
Bandon, E. Berners, L.
Bantry, E. Castlemaine, L.
Beauchamp, E. Chelmsford, L.
Belmore, E. Clifton, L (E. Darnley.)
Carnarvon, E. Colchester, L.
Coventry, E. Colville of Culross, L. [Teller.]
Dartmouth, E.
Derby, E. Conyers, L.
Devon, E. Delamere, L.
Ellenborough, E. Denman, L.
Erne, E. De Ros, L.
Graham, E. (D. Montrose) Egerton, L.
Feversham, L.
Hardwicke, E. Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
Lonsdale, E. Grinstead, L. (E. Enniskillen.)
Lucan, E.
Malmesbury, E. Heytesbury, L.
Mayo, E. Kingsdown, L.
Mount Edgcumbe, E. Leconfield, L.
Orkney, E. Lovel and Holland, L. (E. Egmont.)
Pomfret, E.
Romney, E. Northwick, L.
Shrewsbury, E. Raglan, L.
Stanhope, E. Rayleigh, L.
Stradbroke, E. Redesdale, L.
Vane, E. Saltoun, L.
Wilton, E. Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)
Exmouth, V. Sondes, L.
Hardinge, V. Tenterden, L.
Hawarden, V. [Teller.] Wynford, L.