HL Deb 31 May 1867 vol 187 cc1371-80

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that he had had no reason for believing that the Bill would be opposed until that morning, when he received a letter from a noble Friend of his, stating that it was his intention to move its rejection. His noble Friend (the Earl of Courtown) would excuse him for saying that it would have been more convenient if he had given notice of his intention in the ordinary manner by putting his Notice on the Votes of the House. It would in consequence be necessary that he should explain the provisions of the measure to their Lordships. The Bill had received very general support in the other House, where the second reading was carried by a majority of 195 against 92, and obtained the express sanction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The Bill was entirely in accordance with the principles which governed the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act, the object of which was to extend to all classes of Her Majesty's subjects the right of filling civil offices under the Crown, unless there was some special or strong reason for withholding that right in certain cases. Now the object of the present Bill was to remove the disability under which Roman Catholics laboured in regard to the Office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland. There were no special reasons for continuing this exclusion; and it could scarcely be maintained that Roman Catholics ought not to be eligible for this office on the ground that they were unfitted for judicial appointments, for all their Lordships must be aware that many Roman Catholics held high judicial offices in Ireland, and that one Roman Catholic filled a high judicial office in England. It happened at the present time that there were in Ireland no less than two out of the three Chief Justices and no less than seven out of nine of the puisne Judges who professed the Catholic faith; and no one could say that those learned persons discharged their duties in a manner inferior in impartiality, learning, or in any of those qualities which constituted a good Judge, to their distinguished Protestant brethren. There could be no sound objection to a Roman Catholic filling the high office of Lord Chancellor of Ireland, so far as the judicial powers were concerned. The feeling against this exclusion was not a mere sentimental one, because it was undoubtedly a hardship to many eminent Roman Catholic barristers in Ireland that they should be debarred by law from aspiring to the highest prize in their profession. But it might be said that the Lord Chancellor of Ireland had to discharge other duties than those of a judicial character. Those other duties were either political or quasi-political, or have some special connection with matters of an ecclesiastical character. In Ireland the Lord Chancellor, like the Lord Chancellor in this country, appointed the magistrates of comities, but they were appointed almost invariably upon the recommendation of Lords Lieutenant of counties, and many Lords Lieutenant of counties were themselves Roman Catholics, and they might be so in every instance. Well, then, it might be said that the Lord Chancellor of Ireland was a political officer, and to some extent he advised the Lord Lieutenant; but he was not aware that there were more intimate relations between the Lord Lieutenant and the Lord Chancellor than there were between the former and the Chief Secretary and the Attorney General, who might be Roman Catholics. Some persons might suppose that there was considerable Church patronage vested in the Irish Lord Chancellor; and he had heard it said that the late Sir Robert Peel, in drawing the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act, included the Lord Chancellor within the list of prohibitions, because he thought that that functionary had considerable Church patronage. But, as a matter of fact, the Irish Lord Chancellor had no Church patronage, except the appointment to a vicarage in Dublin, which he exercised jointly with the Archbishop of Dublin, the Master of the Rolls, and the three Chief Justices; and, as these gentlemen generally disagreed, the patronage reverted to the Archbishop of Dublin. It must be admitted that one duty of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland was of an ecclesiastical character, because in Ireland there was an appeal from the Ecclesiastical Courts to him, and it was his duty in such cases to issue a commission of delegates, and if that was not satisfactory, he might issue a commission of review; but, in point of fact, that function was rarely exercised. Lord Chancellor Brady, who held the office for many years, said that he had only issued three commissions of delegates, two on very unimportant matters, and no commission of review had been issued in the last forty years. This exceptional circumstance would, however, be met by a clause in the Bill, which provided, that whenever the Lord Chancellor should be a Roman Catholic, this particular jurisdiction should be exercised by one of the Chief Justices or by one of the Judges in Chancery. He regretted that the Bill had been so far altered in the House of Commons that it no longer included the admission of Roman Catholics to the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; but the clause which referred to this matter had been objected to by the Government, and was struck out in Committee, but only by a majority of 3. He himself saw nothing whatever in the office of the Lord Lieutenant that rendered it unfit that it should be held by a Roman Catholic, and it was most singular that the objection should be raised, seeing that excepting the English Lord Chancellor every Member of the Government, including the very Secretary of State under whose authority the Lord Lieutenant was, might be a Roman Catholic, and as to the pageantry of the office it was difficult to find any valid reason why a Roman Catholic was not equally fit to hold levées and give balls at the Castle as a Protestant. More than three fourths of the population of Ireland were Roman Catholics, and why should not he who was placed at the head of them be a Roman Catholic also? As to the Church patronage of the Lord Lieutenant, the first Lord of the Treasury, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and the Home Secretary, in reference to Scotland, exercised considerable Church patronage, and yet all three might be Roman Catholics. It was said that the Lord Lieutenant in an especial manner represented the Crown; but certainly he did not do so more than the Governor General of India and the Governor General of Canada, both of whom might be Roman Catholics. As, however, he did not wish to do anything to endanger the Bill he should not propose to re-insert the clause referring to the Lord Lieutenant, but if any other noble Lord should move the re-insertion in Committee he should support him. The next provision in the Bill was a very simple one. It removed a prohibition in the Emancipation Act against Roman Catholic Judges and mayors from attending any place of worship other than those of the Established Church in their robes of office. Such a prohibition afforded no security to the Protestant Church, and he thought that its repeal would have the very best effect in Ireland, where it was very desirable that Roman Catholics should see men of their own faith serving the Queen and appearing with their insignia of office. Such a prohibition as that which existed, in his opinion, diminished the security of the Established Church by producing a feeling of degradation in the minds of the Roman Catholics. The prohibition was also absurd, because the general officer commanding the whole military force in Ireland if he was a Catholic might go to Church in his uniform; and the constabulary, who were to the Irish people the embodiment of authority, might be seen every Sunday going to Roman Catholic places of worship in their uniform. The last clause of the Bill repealed, in reference to Roman Catholics holding office in Ireland, the oath which was last year repealed in reference to Roman Catholic Members of Parliament. He believed that the Report of the Royal Commission, which would shortly be published, would recommend the abolition of oaths of this nature, and he therefore thought that he was entitled to ask their Lordships to read the Bill a second time, so far as this oath was concerned. The clause passed with the general concurrence of the other House; it would place all persons upon a similar footing, audit would interpose no obstacle to dealing hereafter with the general question of oaths if Parliament should think fit. He was willing to postpone going into Committee until after Whitsuntide if it was thought desirable that their Lordships should have time to consider the Report of the Royal Commission. There might be some who thought the passing of this Bill would diminish the securities of the Established Church. He could assure them that none of their Lordships were more anxious than he was to uphold the principles of the Reformation and the Church which embodied them, and any measure wisely taken with that object should have his support; but he thought that danger to the Church came more from within—from those who remained professed members of the Establishment but no longer held the principles of the Reformed faith—and that these petty restrictions gave no security whatever. He therefore asked their Lordships with confidence to abolish these shreds and remnants of civil disability which only served as a record of distrust of their Roman Catholic fellow subjects, a distrust which was perhaps natural at the time of the passing of the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act, but which their conduct during the last forty years showed to be entirely unmerited and unfounded.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Kimberley.)


rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. To his mind it was at all times advisable, when they were considering any Bill proposed to their Lordships, that they should consider, not only the provisions which were immediately before them, but also how far they extended in the way of general policy, and what the ultimate tendency of the measure would be. In the present instance this matter was not doubtful, for the Preamble set forth that "to promote religious equality" it was expedient to remove these disabilities. Religious equality might be very desirable, but it was necessary to consider its meaning in relation to the State, and if this Bill should pass this particular expression of "religious equality" would be quoted as a precedent. This very phrase showed, he believed, that the Bill had been suggested in the National Association of Ireland. He did not regret that these words "religious equality" had been inserted in the Bill, for it enabled him to show that this was part of a scheme for promoting religious equality generally. The noble Earl read a passage from The Tablet to show how wide was the meaning attached to religious equality by the writer in that paper, and calling on the Legislature to pass measures to establish equality between the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches. He would ask their Lordships to bear in mind that this question of religious equality was a very serious one, and involved the principle, not only of equality of individuals as regards their religious belief, to which he is favourable, but also equality of religions as regards the State. No doubt if there were a separation of Church and State, all religions should be put upon the same footing as regarded the State; but this was a matter which was dealt with differently in this country to what it was in any other, so far as he was aware. In America, for instance, no Church was recognised by the State, there being there complete religious liberty and equality, and in France there was complete religious equality but not religious liberty, it being illegal to publish a Papal bull without the authority of the State for doing so. In this country we have complete religious liberty, but as we have not social equality, so we have not religious equality, which is inconsistent with the existence of an Established Church. To him it appeared that the present Bill was defective. It provided for the exercise of the Lord Chancellor's functions in reference to ecclesiastical appeals, by saying that when that high officer should happen to be a Roman Catholic one of the Chief Justices who was a member of the English Church should hear the appeals. At present two out of the three Chief Justices were Roman Catholics; and what was to be done if all three, as well as the Chancellor, were Roman Catholics? The ecclesiastical jurisdiction would then have to take its chance; and probably, when the difficulty occurred, a Bill would have to to be passed to appoint some one else to exercise this particular jurisdiction. With respect to the clauses referring to persons in office attending places of worship in their official robes, he saw no reason why those clauses might not be inserted in the Transubstantiation, &c., Declaration Bill, the second reading of which the noble Earl intended to move that night.

An Amendment moved to leave out ("now") and insert ("this Day Three Months.")—(The Earl of Courtown.)


said, he must confess he had no apprehension that any injury would result to the Protestant Church from the passing of the Bill; but, at the same time, he felt himself to be personally under an obligation to state that he could not vote for it. He was a Member of that House and also a Member of the Government when the Bill called the Catholic Emancipation Bill was passed, and he recollected all the circumstances under which it was passed. He thought then, and he now thought, that without the security now referred to, and without the other securities contained in it, that Bill would not have obtained the sanction of their Lordships' House. Such being his impression, he could not now vote for the removal of any one of the securities which that Bill contained; for he considered that Bill to have constituted a species of compact between the Parliament and the people. No doubt, after a period of years, it was perfectly open to Parliament to re-consider what was then done, and to alter the decision then come to; but it was not open to him so to act. He was bound to adhere to the compact to which he was a party, and he must vote against the present Bill.


said, he did not expect that any opposition would have been made to the present Bill, and the objection urged against it by the noble Earl was the same which had been taken over and over again against any alteration of the Catholic Emancipation Bill, and which applied equally to the alteration sanctioned in last Session and to the present proposal. As regards the enactment of a new oath, he thought that it might be advisable to omit that provision from the Bill, as the Commission on Oaths were about very shortly to present their Report, and it would be expedient to take some legislative steps founded on their recommendations. Of all oaths the oath of allegiance appeared to him to be the most useless, because all persons were liable to be punished for disloyalty, whether they had taken the oath of allegiance or not; and that oath had not that he knew of ever had a deterrent effect on any one inclined to commit treason. With regard to the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the provision which originally stood in the Bill was only omitted by a majority of 3 in the House of Commons. For himself he certainly thought that the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland might altogether be abolished. It was only the other day that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland informed a deputation that the capital sentence passed in the case of a Fenian prisoner should be carried into effect; and, nevertheless, an order to a different effect was afterwards sent from this country to Dublin. A Roman Catholic was excluded from holding that office, not by the voice or wish of the people of Ireland, but by the prejudices of the people of Scotland and England; but if the office of Lord Lieutenant was to be retained, it ought to be, perhaps, more than any other open to Roman Catholics; and if he met with any support from the House, he would in Committee move to re-instate in the Bill the words which it originally contained in reference to the office of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The prohibition against Roman Catholic functionaries going to their places of worship in their robes of office he regarded as perfectly ridiculous, and he trusted that their Lordships would not offer any objection to its abolition.


trusted that the noble Earl who had moved the rejection of the Bill (the Earl of Courtown) would not persist in his Amendment. He must be permitted to say he thought that the present discussion would have been more satisfactorily conducted if every speaker had confined himself to what was in the Bill and had not extended his remarks to what was not in the Bill. The introduction of the question as to the removal of the disability to hold the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was entirely gratuitous, and was more likely to create opposition to the Bill than if the discussion were confined to the measure actually before the House; and then the noble Lord who had just spoken (Lord Lyveden) had gone a step further and said they ought to consider whether the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland might not be abolished altogether. The noble Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill referred to an expression in the Preamble relating to the promotion of religious equality among the subjects of Her Majesty, and said that religious equality would be placing the Roman Catholic Church on the same footing as the Protestant Church. That was a subject not comprehended within the provisions of the Bill; the words "promotion of religious equality" could only refer to what was in the Bill, and could not apply to what was not in the Bill. It was quite true that the Bill applied to England as well as to Ireland, inasmuch as, while it provided in the case of the latter that a Roman Catholic might hold the office of Lord Chancellor, it would have the effect of removing in both countries the necessity of taking certain oaths which were deemed to be no longer necessary, and placing in that respect all the subjects of Her Majesty upon precisely the same footing. He was, under these circumstances, greatly disinclined to discuss the Bill upon the merits of the single provision which related to the Lord Chancellorship of Ireland. So far as he was concerned, he could not say that he regarded that provision as objectionable. There could, of course, be no doubt that if a Roman Catholic were to fill that office he would have very considerable political influence placed in his hands; but he (the Earl of Derby) was not aware that the spirit of our recent legislation went in the direction of denying to members of that persuasion their just influence and rights; though, of course, it was not desirable that they should exercise influence in religious matters involving the interests of the Protestant Establishment. The Bill, he might add, had came up from the House of Commons with very general approval. The provision which threw open the appointment of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had been rejected by a very large majority; and he should be sorry to see any attempt to re-introduce it in their Lordships' House, for it would be much better, he thought, that the measure should be taken as it stood. He was also of opinion that it would have been more convenient if the second reading had been postponed until after the receipt of the Report of the Oaths Commission; especially as he had every reason to believe that that Report would be laid before Parliament within a short time, and that it would be found to be very much in the spirit of the general provisions of the proposal of the noble Earl opposite. If the noble Earl (the Earl of Kimberley) would accept the suggestion he had made, or if he would be content to take the second reading on the understanding that those noble Lords who voted for it would not be bound to all the provisions of the Bill, and would postpone going into Committee upon it till after Whitsuntide, perhaps the noble Earl behind him (the Earl of Courtown) would not persist in his opposition to the second reading of the Bill now. For his own part, under all the circumstances, he should be disposed to support the second reading.


expressed his readiness to take the second reading subject to those conditions.


objected to the Bill, because it involved a direct departure from the compact which had been entered into in 1829. That Act would never have been allowed to pass had it not been for the assurance given by the Government that it would not in any way interfere with the revenues of the Irish Church. Roman Catholics were specially excluded from the office of Lord Chancellor, because that officer was the keeper of the conscience of the Sovereign; but the Sovereign being Protestant, of course Roman Catholics could not conscientiously fulfil the duties of the office. He looked upon this concession as the thin end of the wedge, and was afraid that it would only lead to a further demand to open up the office of Lord Lieutenant to Roman Catholics. From 1829 up to 1859 no proposal of the same character as that under discussion had been submitted to Parliament, nor a single petition presented in its favour. The question, he added, had not been mooted since the latter period until the present Session, and the people of Ireland took very little interest in it indeed. Such was not, as might be expected, the case with the Roman Catholic clergy, who would never be satisfied with anything less than exclusive supremacy and the destruction of the Protestant religion.


said, that he had not the slightest objection to strike out the words in the Preamble of the Bill which had so much alarmed the noble Earl (the Earl of Courtown). He did not attach the slightest importance to them. The true meaning to be attached to them had been explained by the noble Earl at the head of the Government.


said, he would accept the suggestion of the noble Earl at the head of the Government, and withdraw his Amendment, stating that he would, on going into Committee, move the rejection of the words to which he objected.

Amendment (by Leave of the House) withdrawn: Then the Original Motion was agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.