HL Deb 16 July 1866 vol 184 cc814-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


I hope that my noble Friend (the Marquess of Clanricarde) who has charge of this Bill will not persevere in pressing this stage. I think it is a very indiscreet measure. It professes to retain the exclusion of Roman Catholics from certain offices, but to abolish the oath required to be taken for the purpose of showing that the holders of such offices are not Roman Catholics. There is no question of principle involved in the Bill in the slightest degree, the question turning, I think, upon the terms of the oath and the manner in which it is taken. If the terms of the oath are considered by Roman Catholics to be offensive, and if they are offensive, or if the manner of taking the oath be offensive, I have not the slightest objection to apply a remedy. Though there was an almost unanimous opinion in favour of the Bill when it was introduced in the House of Commons, there was also an expression of opinion that the oath to which it referred should be dealt with in connection with the general subject of the vast number of oaths now required to be taken. It was thought desirable to adopt some resolution which would tend to diminish the number of those oaths; and after this Bill had been read a second time the suggestion thrown out by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was acted on, and a Commission was appointed to look into all the oaths required to be taken by persons appointed to high offices. I myself took the liberty of throwing out a similar suggestion, and I am glad to say that the Commission of Inquiry is now sitting. This being so, I should think it would be better not to proceed further with the Bill at present, but to await the result of the inquiry. We can then deal with the subject as a whole. This course would appear to be the more desirable in consequence of the fact that the case is not in the slightest degree a pressing one, as far as any practical grievance is concerned. I may observe with reference to this Bill that, while it takes away an existing test, it provides no substitute whatever. The oath which the Bill abolishes is totidem verbis the same as the one required to be taken by the Sovereign at His or Her coronation; and consequently the Bill does open up a much larger question than at first sight it would appear to do. I should be quite satisfied to abolish this oath, but I think we ought to provide some substitute for it; and therefore I hope the noble Marquess will not press his Bill till the Report of the Commission is received.


was sorry that there was the slightest opposition on the part of the noble Earl to this Bill being read a second time. The oath which it proposed to abolish was offensive not only to Roman Catholics, but to Protestants. The Lord Lieutenant was obliged to take it in the presence of Roman Catholic gentlemen who, the next minute, were to sit with him at the Council Board. He thought that no time should be lost in doing away with such an oath; but after what the noble Earl had said he would not press the second reading of the Bill. As, however, the House of Commons had put on record its desire that these objectionable oaths should be done away with, and the Home Secretary had said that this declaration ought to be done away with, and as the noble Earl concurred in that opinion, he hoped the Government would lose no time in bringing forward a Bill on the subject immediately the Commission made its Report. He begged to observe that the Bill had nothing to do with the Coronation oath, to which it did not even refer.


concurred with the noble Earl the First Lord of the Treasury in thinking it better that the subject of these oaths should be dealt with as a whole.


regretted that this Bill, having passed through the House of Commons, was not to be allowed to pass through their Lordships' House. Still, he was glad to hear that the subject was about to be dealt with comprehensively. He would suggest to the noble Earl at the head of the Government whether it would not be well to enlarge the reference to the Commission, so as to allow it to inquire into the oath taken by the Members of the Houses of Parliament; because it might be that the Commission would report in favour of doing away with all the oaths referred to it; in which ease they would have oaths taken by the Members of their Lordships' House and Members of the House of Commons, while all persons appointed to high offices would only be required to make a declaration on their appointment.


reminded the noble Lord that the oaths taken by Members of Parliament were settled by a very recent statute.


said, he thought the noble Marquess had done right in yielding; but he could not agree with the noble Earl at the head of the Government in thinking there was no hurry in this matter. At a moment when a new Lord Lieutenant and a new Lord Chancellor of Ireland were being appointed it would be a graceful act to do away with an oath so offensive to Roman Catholic gentlemen in high employments under the State.

Order discharged.