HL Deb 01 May 1865 vol 178 cc1228-37

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

Petitions of Committee of Deputies of Protestant Dissenters &c of London and Neighbourhood; of Committee of Congregational Union of England and Wales; of Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland—in favour of the Bill, presented.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that in taking the liberty of moving the second reading of a measure which had been several times under their Lordships' notice, he could assure them that he did so with the fullest confidence that the Bill was an important one, and with a certain degree of hope that their Lordships would pass it. He should be always unwilling to trouble their Lordships by introducing a measure in which he did not feel sincerely interested, or one which it was certain their Lordships would reject—he was far from desirous at any time to lead a forlorn hope in that House, or to bring before their Lordships any measure in regard to which he had reason to believe that they entertained any distinct and decided difference of opinion with the other House of Par- liament. But although this Bill on several previous occasions had been before their Lordships, it was a measure of such simple justice and common sense that he thought the time must come when it would force itself upon their Lordships' approval. It was the object of the Bill to abolish a certain declaration which was adopted in the place of the former oaths when the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed in 1828. It was very intelligible that when those Acts were repealed a desire should be expressed for the substitution of some declaration on the part of those who then became eligible to certain offices of a determination not to injure or weaken the Protestant Church by law established, and that this declaration should be assented to by those who, although they had separated from the Church, had yet no wish to injure that great Establishment; but he thought their Lordships would, upon consideration, be of opinion that the retention of this declaration was nothing less than a continuation of the same spirit which was condemned by the abolition of the Test and Corporation Acts. It was natural that such a declaration should recognize that theory of the absolute coordination of Church and State which had so long held possession of the minds of Englishmen, and by which no one except a member of the Established Church was held worthy of holding any office under the Crown. That prejudice survived the scaffold of Strafford and of Laud; it was protested against at the Revolution of 1688; and it still found an occasional echo in the toast of "Church and King." The declaration now sought to be abolished was placed in the hands of all persons holding municipal office or offices under the Crown. It was a declaration which some of their Lordships, many of whom had held high office under the Crown, must have taken; but it was notorious that many of their Lordships who had thus held office, and very many persons throughout the country, had not made, and never were required to make, this declaration. The difficulty was got rid of by the Indemnity Bill, passed at the end of every Session, by which persons who had failed to take the declaration were relieved from all the pains and penalties which they had thereby incurred. The system, although 100years old could not he thought claim any merit for its antiquity; and it was a bungling piece of legislation such as did not exist with regard to any other institution of the country. He now asked their Lordships to abolish this declaration, because it was of no use; because it did not carry out a single object which their Lordships desired, and because it was of no benefit whatever to the Church of England. It required that persons should declare that they would not in any degree injure the Church of England as established by law. That was nothing else than requiring these persons to declare that they would not break the law of their country. It was presented equally to Churchmen and to Dissenters. To Churchmen it meant nothing. Of Dissenters there was a large body who had no wish to injure an institution so intimately connected with the history of the country; and if this declaration was presented to them, what could it be but an insult and an irritant? Other Dissenters there were who thought the Church of England was not advantageous to the country, and who would gladly see its legal and regular abolition. To such persons what did the declaration mean? It could not make them feel more friendly towards the Church, nor could it add anything to the protection which the Church enjoyed by law. He remembered hearing a Dissenter to whom the declaration was presented say, "No, I have no love for the Church. But I see no objection to this document, for it only obliges me not to ride down a parson or strike down a Bishop; I will therefore sign it, though I think it is an insult." Their Lordships might, perhaps, object to read the Bill a second time because it came from a source which they disliked; but surely it was inconsistent with that spirit of independence which was the very genius of that House to refuse a reasonable request because they disapproved of those by whom it was preferred. Surely it mattered nothing to their Lordships from whom the Bill came provided their Lordships thought it politic and just. There was very little difference between the present Bill, he might add, and those which had on former occasions been under their Lordships' consideration, except so far as it was affected by the circumstance that it had been subjected to the ordeal of a Select Committee, and that its provisions might therefore be looked upon as having been duly weighed. He saw before him a noble and learned Lord (Lord Chelmsford) who had frequently opposed the change which it was intended by the Bill to introduce, inasmuch as he regarded the declaration in question as constituting a record of the predominance of the Church of England. But what, he should like to know, was the meaning of that argument? The Church of England, as regarded its property, was secured by precisely the same laws as secured the property of the smallest Dissenting chapel. And as to moral predominance, of course that could have no existence in the mind of any person who was a Dissenter. The fact was that the real source of the predominance of the Church lay not in such a declaration, but in the circumstance that she was day by day doing more to conciliate the mass of Dissenters and becoming more deeply rooted in the affections of the people. Finding its endowments utterly inadequate to keep pace with the wants of the population, it had called for the voluntary donations of her members, and it had become the largest voluntary body in the country. On account of the scarcity of clergy, it had been found necessary to admit into holy orders persons who were not so highly educated as used to be the case, and this again had tended to assimilate the Church to dissent in a degree that had never before been known. Their Lordships were now approaching a general election. It would be very difficult to find subjects for discussion at the hustings. All questions regarding freedom of food had been settled, and as to freedom of drink, at least as regarded the malt tax, the position of parties was reversed. Although there remained no questions of any great importance, it was essential to the political well-being of the country that on an appeal to the people the issues taken should be clearly and definitely taken. He would, therefore, ask noble Lords opposite whether they were prepared to go to the hustings with such a miserable link of the old chain of ecclesiastical tyranny hanging round their necks as that with which he now invited them to dispense. He hoped not, and that they would adopt a prudent as well as just course by allowing the Bill to be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Houghton.)


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord who has moved the second reading of this Bill will not look upon it on the one hand as a mark of disrespect to him, or upon the other hand as a proof that his arguments are invincible, that none of your Lordships have shown a disposition to take part in the discussion. As, however, your Lordships will not, I believe, be found on the present occasion prepared to reverse the decision at which you have upon several previous occasions arrived, I think it will be hardly necessary, before proceeding to a division, to give many reasons why we should not accede to the Motion of the noble Lord. The noble Lord approached the subject as if it had all the charms of novelty, and with a zest which must have been refreshing to those among your Lordships who are somewhat older Members of the House than himself. When he asks whether the maintenance of the declaration which it is proposed to abolish is essential to the protection of the Church of England—or rather of the Establishment—I, for one, candidly admit that to my mind it is not, for that purpose, worth the paper it is written on. Why, therefore, am I opposed to a measure which is introduced for the purpose of doing away with the declaration? I wish the noble Lord to consider under what circumstances, and under whose auspices, this declaration was first introduced. It was introduced at the repeal of the Test and Corporations Act—that great measure of civil and religious liberty, the mention of which is so familiar in the month of the noble Lord opposite the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and who considers himself, if not the father, at least the godfather of that measure. The noble Lord takes an especial pride in that measure, as having set the Crown on the civil and religious liberties of this country, as far as the Protestant Dissenters are concerned. I am old enough to recollect the passing of that Bill, to which I also gave my concurrence, though being somewhat junior to the noble Earl, I had not so prominent a position in the party to which we both belonged as he had. But I recollect that the noble Earl, then Lord John Russell, expressed his strong conviction of the importance of passing that measure, and also his conviction, after the most deliberate consideration, that the declaration which it was proposed to introduce was one which no conscientious Dissenter could possibly have the slightest objection to take. He added that he should have considered it inexcusable—or words to that effect—if, upon any such objection, he had attempted to stand in the way of the measure. And Sir Robert Peel, who introduced and carried the Bill, insisted that it would have been impossible to accomplish this object had not that declaration been inserted for the purpose of satisfying the scruples of conscientious Churchmen. The noble Lord says, "You get rid of the declaration every year by the Act of Indemnity;" but he thinks the yearly Act of Indemnity a very clumsy mode of getting out of the difficulty. Well, if these cases are all covered by the Act of Indemnity, there is no practical grievance of which he can complain; and if they are not all covered—and it is plain that all cannot be, because there are some offices with regard to which the declaration is required to be taken before entering upon their duties—there is a definite declaration on the part of the Legislature and the Parliament of the country that the Church of England is a national Church, and is not to be placed on exactly the same footing and level as all the various other sects which divide the people of this country. The noble Lord has reminded I us that we are approaching a general election; and forgetting, I suppose, the audience which he was addressing, asked how we should like to go to the hustings, having rejected this measure? My answer is, that we are not going to the hustings, and that, fortunately, we are independent of that popularis aura of which he is so fond. I venture to believe that the question of whether this Qualification for Offices Abolition Bill passes or not, will not make a difference of twenty votes in favour of or against any single candidate in any constituency of the United Kingdom. But it is, I think, important to remember—and the noble Lord himself will do well to bear it in mind—that, at the approaching election, a very serious question will be raised—namely, how far it is the intention of future Parliaments to maintain the position and status of the Established Church? For I believe there are those who, by the advocacy of a measure like this, are eager to gain credit with the opponents of that Church, and to take advantage of the event of a general election, of which the noble Lord kindly reminds us, for the purpose of acquiring among their future constituents a certain amount of popularity by saying, "See how ardently and eagerly we supported and pressed forward a Bill which is the first step towards the accomplishment of that end" for which the enemies of the Church are striving. The noble Lord has stated that, in his opinion, the Dissenters are daily becoming more reconciled and more friendly to the Church. I heartily wish that such may be the case; and I fully believe that a very large majority of the respectable Dissenters of this country not only feel no objection to take this declaration, although believing it in their consciences to be unnecessary as far as they are concerned, but would be extremely sorry to see the Establishment brought down from the position which it occupies and from the pre-eminence secured to it by law and still more by the affections of the people. On the other hand, I cannot conceal from myself that there is, if not a numerous, a very busy and energetic body ardently desirous of pulling down the Church piecemeal, and every step which the Legislature adopts in the direction to which their wishes point is hailed as a victory. So far from conciliating them for the future, it only makes them eager for further advances. Every instalment granted will be regarded as extorted by force, not yielded from a wish to conciliate, and it will only be made the stepping-stone to further demands. Not, therefore, because I see in the declaration itself any protection to the Established Church, but because a very significant blow would be struck at the Church by the withdrawal of the authoritative declaration on the part of the Legislature contained in this document as to the pre-eminence of the Church, I take the course—and I believe your Lordships will take the course—on the present occasion which has been taken for several Sessions past. I confess I was surprised at hearing the noble Lord say that he was not disposed to bring before your Lordships' House any measure which he thought opposed itself to the fixed opinions or objections of your Lordships. If there be any indication of fixed opinions or objections it might certainly be found in the fact that for five successive Sessions this identical measure has been rejected in this House by considerable majorities. He says it is a matter of grave importance if on any question the two Houses are hopelessly at variance. Well, I cannot see that the variance on this subject, prominent as it has been for several Sessions, appears to have interfered with the friendly relations between the two Houses. It is one of those measures that the House of Commons habitually passes from sheer indifference or weariness, and which the House of Lords would be very glad to see disposed of likewise from sheer weariness; and I do not see that any material inconvenience arises from their mutual difference of action. But if the noble Lord is so anxious that there should be a cordial agreement on every subject between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, would it not be wise to wait and see what the next House of Commons will do upon this subject? He has reminded us himself of the general election, and if the country should return a House of Commons very friendly to the Church, very adverse to those desiring to overthrow it, and therefore very desirous for the retention of this declaration—in that case, if you now pass this Bill, you will be putting yourselves in opposition to, and not in conformity with, the feeling of the House of Commons. In the very last year of a Parliament which has already sat for more than the usual time, I think it would be a matter of extreme imprudence on slight grounds for your Lordships to act upon an opinion, no doubt conscientiously entertained by the present House of Commons, but which may be in direct opposition to the opinion of their successors. My main reason, however, for opposing the Bill is shortly that, although the declaration in itself may be valueless for the protection of the Church, its abolition by the Legislature will be the strongest hint to the Dissenters that they may expect encouragement—which I hope they will never find in your Lordships' House—for making further aggressions on the integrity of the Established Church. I will, in conclusion, move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this Day Six Months.")


said, the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) seemed to regard the Bill as part of a great scheme of aggression upon the Established Church, although he declared in the same breath that the declaration he was so anxious to retain was not worth the paper it was written on.


Not worth the paper on which it is written for the sake of protecting the Establishment.


would adopt the correction willingly, though he thought it made little difference in the meaning. As regarded the Test and Corporation Act, the noble Earl had designated the noble Earl (Earl Russell) as the godfather of that Bill; but, in point of fact, he was the person by whom it had been introduced, and therefore he was not only entitled to the credit of being considered its godfather, but to the credit of the absolute paternity of the Bill. He himself was also in the House of Commons at the time, and what occurred was that the Bill having been introduced by Lord John Russell, and the House having declared in its favour by a considerable majority, Sir Robert Peel, always a keen judge of the feeling of Parliament, took the Bill out of the hands of the noble Earl. [Earl RUSSELL here communicated with the noble Lord—who proceeded.] He found that this was not so, and that Earl Russell was entitled to the credit of having carried the measure through. It was rather hard upon his noble Friend and himself—at that time Members of a small minority, and obliged to dress their dishes as best they could so as to make them acceptable to the majority of the House—that any observations with regard to the declaration in question should now be quoted against his noble Friend. And although in some cases Dissenters might not object to the declaration, they had a right, if they thought proper, to regard it as a remnant of the old days of persecution. The noble Earl opposite had said very truly that their Lordships were not going to the hustings. He was sorry they were not, for obviously those who were obliged to present themselves to their constituents were better representatives of the feeling of the country; and the Bill would certainly be passed, because the branch of the Legislature that was elective always passed it. He should be ashamed if the Church to which he belonged rested her claims and privileges on such miserable remnants of protection as the declaration which the Bill sought to remove. He should be ashamed of belonging to that Church if she had no higher title to the position which she occupied; and, on the other hand, he considered the Church bound to show the greatest possible generosity towards the Non-Conformist body of this country.

On Question, That ("now") stand Part of the Motion? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 49; Not-Contents 72: Majority 23:—Resolved in the Negative; and Bill to be read 2a on ("this Day Six Months.")

Westbury, L. (L. Chancellor.) Albermarle, E.
Clarendon, E.
Cottenham, E.
Cleveland, D. De Grey, E.
Devonshire, D. Ducie, E.
Somerset, D. Granville, E.
Ailesbury, M. Minto, E.
Russell, E. Hunsdon, L. (V. Falkland.)
Saint Germans, E.
Spencer, E. Llanover, L,
Lyveden, L.
Eversley, V. Methuen, L.
Sydney, V. Monson, L.
Monteagle of Brandon, L.
St. David's, Bp.
Mostyn, L.
Abercromby, L. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)
Belper, L.
Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) Rivers, L.
Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)
Camoys, L.
Clandeboye, L. (L. Dufferin and Claneboye.) Seaton, L.
Seymour, L. (E. St. Maur.)
Cranworth, L.
Dacre, L. Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)
Dartrey, L. (L. Cremorne.)
Stanley of Alderley, L.
De Tabley, L. Stratheden, L.
Ebury, L. Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)
Foley, L. [Teller.]
Harris, L. Taunton, L.
Houghton, L. [Teller.] Wenlock, L.
Canterbury, Archp. Oxford, Bp.
York, Archp. Ripon, Bp.
Dublin, Archp, Rochester, Bp.
Winchester, Bp.
Marlborough, D.
Richmond, D. Abinger, L.
Rutland, D. Bagot, L.
Berners, L.
Bath, M. Bolton, L.
Exeter, M. Chelmsford, L.
Tweeddale M
Westmeath, M. Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)
Bantry, E. Colchester, L.
Beauchamp, E. Colville of Culross, L. [Teller.]
Belmore, E.
Cadogan, E. Delamere, L.
Carnarvon, E. De Saumarez, L.
De La Warr, E. Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)
Derby, E.
Devon, E. Egerton, L.
Ellenborough, E. Feversham, L.
Erne, E. Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
Graham, E. (D. Montrose.) Grinstead, L. (E. Enniskillen.)
Hardwicke, E. Heytesbury, L.
Lucan, E. Inchiquin, L.
Macclesfield, E. Kenyon, L.
Malmesbury, E. Kingsdown, L.
Morton, E. Lovel and Holland, L. (E. Egmont.)
Pomfret, E.
Romney, E. Raglan, L.
Stanhope, E. Redesdale, L.
Vane, E. Rollo, L.
Verulam, E. Saltoun, L.
Sheffield, L. (E. Sheffield.)
Hawarden, V. [Teller.]
Hood, V. Sondes, L.
Sidmouth, V. Templemore, L.
Tenterden, L.
Gloucester and Bristol, Bp. Thurlow, L.
Tyrone, L. (M. Waterford.)
Hereford, Bp.
Kilmore, &c, Bp. Wynford, L.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow-half past Ten o'clock.