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Ecclesiastical Titles Act Repeal Bill—Bill 231

Volume 203: debated on Friday 5 August 1870

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( Lords.) COMMITTEE.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Ecclesiastical titles, &c. in this realm not valid unless conferred by authority of Her Majesty).

said, he had to propose the omission of the 1st clause, and he would afterwards move the insertion of words in the Bill, the effect of which would be to restore the Bill to the shape in which it was originally introduced into the House of Lords. When thus introduced the Bill had three objects; first, to repeal the Ecclesiastical Titles Act; secondly, to declare the common law as to the power of conferring titles; and, thirdly, to exempt from prosecution those who for their own convenience had adopted any designations of office. As the Bill had been amended, however, while it repealed the Ecclesiastical Titles Act it created new offences, made the assumption of titles a misdemeanour, and thus threw obstacles in the way of the free action of the voluntary Episcopal Churches. The Ecclesiastical Titles Act was aimed simply against the Roman Catholics; but the Bill under discussion, he was informed by the most competent persons, would inflict disabilities and penalties upon the new Protestant Church of Ireland as well. If the Bill passed in its present form every contract the voluntary Episcopal Churches entered into would become illegal. At any rate, it would be impossible for them to enforce it, and as this was clearly not the intention of the Government he proposed the omission of the clause.

said, that the Act now proposed to be repealed was an instance, amongst many, of the evil of legislating in a panic. It was passed in the midst of a fervour of Protestant feeling, inflamed by Lord Russell's celebrated "Durham" Letters, and imposed penalties which had never been enforced. He, therefore, regarded it as one of those Acts which might very well be included in an expurgation of the statute book. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) that the effect of the Bill now before the House, as sent down from the House of Lords, was not to create any new crime or misdemeanour, or to create new penalties, but merely to declare that certain Acts should be held to be null and void. If, however, any doubt existed on that point, it was desirable that the wording of the present Bill should be clear, and in that point of view the proposal of the Secretary of State for the Home Department was an improvement.

said, he had before ventured to express an opinion that there was some additional stringency in the Preamble of this Bill to that of 1851, because it forbade the assumption, as well as the conferring, of these titles. He thought that the existing statute had been really effective, and that its only fault was that while it refused the sanction of the law to the exercise of a foreign jurisdiction, it encouraged the Roman Catholic hierarchy in attempts evasive of the law of the country. He denied that because the Act had not been enforced it had therefore been inoperative. Quite the contrary had been the case. The Act had operated as a very stringent deterrent, and that fact deserved far more consideration than it seemed likely to obtain. In his opinion, the object of all laws ought to be to restrain people from committing misdemeanours, without the necessity arising to punish them. He further denied that the Act had been passed in a panic. So far from that, the greater part of the Session of 1851 had been devoted to its consideration, and it had been passed with the approval of the vast majority of the people of the country. He held that the statute had not acted penally, but it had most certainly acted as a deterrent, and that was sufficient to justify the Act being retained.

Motion agreed to.

Clause struck out.

Clause 2 (Repeal of 14 and 15 Vict. c. 60).

said, he had given Notice to move at the end of the clause to add—

"Provided, That such repeal shall not nor shall anything in this Act contained be deemed in any way to authorize or sanction the conferring or attempting to confer any rank, title, or precedence, authority, or jurisdiction on or over any subject of this realm by any foreign prince, prelate, or potentate, or person whomsoever, other than the Sovereign of this realm."
Before the Proviso was put from the Chair, he wished to strike out the words "foreign prince, prelate, or potentate, or person whomsoever, other than the Sovereign of this realm," and to insert "any person or persons, in or out of the realm, other than the Sovereign thereof."

Amendment proposed,

At the end of the Clause, to add the words "Provided, That such repeal shall not nor shall anything in this Act contained be deemed in anyway to authorize or sanction the conferring or attempting to confer any rank, title, or precedence, authority, or jurisdiction on or over any subject of this realm by any person or persons in or out of the realm, other than the Sovereign thereof."—(Mr. Secretary Bruce.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."

said, he would propose to leave out the words "the sovereign thereof," and insert the words "Her Majesty, Her heirs, and successors according to the Laws of this realm." He suggested this alteration because the phraseology was the usual phraseology of the statutes of this country. He should afterwards move words applying not only to the conferring but to the assumption of such titles.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment,

To leave out the words "the Sovereign thereof," in order to insert the words "Her Majesty, Her heirs and successors, according to the Laws of this realm,"—(Mr. Thomas Chambers,)

—instead thereof.

said, he hoped the Government would accept the Amendment suggested by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. T. Chambers), which was a most reasonable one.

said, he did not think the words necessary. All they wanted to say was that there existed no power to grant such titles. The Government did not object to the assumption of the titles, and he was afraid that if the words proposed by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. T. Chambers) were added, they might lead to some misconception on the subject.

said, he would support the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend. It was against the assumption by the Papacy of a right to govern that the Act was originally directed, which assumption was connected with territorial titles. It should be remembered that, in his Brief of 1851, the Pope distinctly assumed the right to confer such titles in this country. It was against that that the protest of the country ought to be continued. He desired not only to protect the Protestant part of the population of the country against these encroachments, but to accomplish the same thing as had been done in France—that they should not be bound by decrees of the Pope which were against the laws of the country.

said, he wished to know how far the Proviso of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bruce), including as it did "jurisdiction," would affect such voluntary communions as the Episcopal Church of Scotland, and whether it would prevent members of those Churches from suing or being sued in the civil Courts?

said, he thought the addition of the words proposed by the learned Common Serjeant (Mr. T. Chambers) would be highly objectionable. The Proviso moved by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bruce) accomplished all that was required. The words proposed to be added, on the contrary, might prevent conscientious men from assuming titles of whatever kind, and thus might interfere with the regulations of voluntary communions.

said, that the effect of the words proposed by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. T. Chambers) would be to prevent the Bishops of the disestablished Church in Ireland from assuming titles, which it was one of the objects of the Bill to enable them to take, and, moreover, might be attended with this consequence, that bequests which had been made to them by the very names which they were thus forbidden to assume they might be prevented from acquiring.

said, that the Bill would not affect past bequests; and as to future legacies of such a very questionable character, persons proposing to make them ought to inquire beforehand what was the law of the land. He thought the answer of the Attorney General was directed to the wrong Amendment.

said, he intended to oppose the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers). He wished to explain that his question was whether the words "any person or persons, in or out of the realm," substituted in the Amendment of the Secretary of State, would interfere with the internal discipline of voluntary religious bodies, which the Courts were accustomed to respect?

said, he thought that the present Bill ought not to be complicated by the introduction of declaratory provisions embodied in a Proviso. Let them simply repeal the former Act, and leave the Judges to declare the law.

said, that it was all very well to say "let the Judges declare the law," but the Judges often declared that they were unable to say what Parliament intended to be the law. Parliament, therefore, had better be the exponent of its own intentions.

said, his Amendment stood in the same relation to the objections raised as the earner words introduced into the Proviso.

said, he did not think the proposed Amendment was necessary. "The Sovereign" could only mean the Sovereign for the time being, according to the laws of the realm.

said, that the old statutes spoke of "our Sovereign Lady the Queen," and modern statutes of "Her Majesty" separately, or of "Her Majesty, Her heirs and successors." He could not understand why a novel term should be introduced into this Bill, and, therefore, he should support the hon. Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers). He hoped that, in a Bill of this kind, the ordinary form of reference to Her Majesty would not lightly be departed from. The word "sovereign" was a totally new form as applied to Her Majesty, and had been more than once applied in diplomatic documents to the Pope himself. The difference in the words, trifling as it might seem, raised an important historical question. The first step taken by the Papacy towards the re-establishment of the hierarchy was taken in 1685. The answer to the oppression perpetrated by James II. was the Act of Settlement, and in dealing with the question raised by the Papacy in the assumption of jurisdiction in this country it would be proper to recur to the terms of that Act.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said proposed Amendment."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 73; Noes 24: Majority 49.

said, he would beg to move to add at the end of the Proviso the following:—"Or the assuming any such rank, title, precedence, authority, or jurisdiction."

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment,

At the end thereof, to add the words "or the assuming any such rank, title, precedence, authority, or jurisdiction."—(Mr. Thomas Chambers.)

Question put, "That those words be there added."

The Committee divided: — Ayes 23; Noes 77: Majority 54.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.