HC Deb 12 May 1824 vol 11 cc724-6
Mr. Brougham

presented a petition from the Separatists of Sligo, praying for such an alteration in the law as would enable them to enjoy those privileges which were within the reach of their fellow-subjects, without taking those oaths which they conscien- tiously believed it to be criminal in them to take. Whatever difference of opinion might exist as to their tenets, all must join in admiring their sacrifice of wealth to their honest and conscientious scruples. Those religious scruples were founded on certain passages in the Scriptures, which induced them to believe that they had no more right to take an oath for the purpose of filling office, or to enable them to give evidence in a court of justice, than they had to commit murder, theft, or any other act forbidden by the Decalogue. They chiefly rested on a sublime passage in the New Testament, which positively forbad the taking of oaths. It might be said, that if the relief prayed for were granted to those persons, they must, as a matter of justice, extend similar relief to the scruples of all other sects. It was, however, already conceded to the Quakers and Moravians. They might, in civil, though not in criminal cases, give their evidence without the sanction of an oath. Relief had also been extended to the Seceders in Ireland.

The Hon. G. A. Ellis

observed, that the character, the sacrifices, and the sufferings of the petitioners entitled them to the relief which they sought, and which, he trusted, they would speedily obtain.

Mr. L. Forster

said, that the learned gentleman could not render those individuals a greater service, than by turning in his mind how it was possible to carry that which they requested into effect. The difficulty arose from those people having no distinguishing tenet, except this scruple of taking an oath. In the case of a Jew, a Mahometan or a Hindoo, the religious forms of the party were known, and, under the sanction of those forms, he might give evidence. But, in the absence of form, with respect to the Separatist, it was difficult to devise what course could be pursued.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

thought the difficulty could easily be got rid of. It would be only necessary to enact, that, upon the Separatist's proving, by proper witnesses, that he belonged to that sect, he should be permitted to make his affirmation.

Mr. Lockhart

supported the petition. Looking to the conduct of the Quakers, be saw no reason to apprehend any danger from relieving such men as the petitioners from taking oaths.

Mr. Wynn

was well inclined to diminish the number of unnecessary oaths, but would be very chary of dispensing with their sanction in a court of justice. Ordered to lie on the table.