HC Deb 22 February 1830 vol 22 cc796-9
Mr. R. Grant

, in rising to present a Petition from the Jews, observed, that the Petition he held in his hand was the first application that had for the last eighty years been made by the collective body of the Jewish community to that House, for the purpose of being restored to their rights as British subjects. It was a Petition from the Jewish community, being native-born subjects of this realm. It was signed by five hundred and ninety seven individuals, all of whom resided in or near the City of London, the most of whom were persons of high station, influence, and respectability: the others were wealthy and substantial tradesmen. The Petition stated that the enactments which were imposed with respect to the enjoyment of certain offices, namely, the acts of Abjuration and Supremacy, bore upon them with extreme hardship. He was not going to discuss whether or not the prayer of the Petition should be granted, he only wished to put it to the House to say whether it were not well entitled to their serious consideration. The House would do well to inquire what were the grievances complained of, and who were the parties that, suffered under them. With regard to the nature of the particular grievances, it was scarcely necessary to add any thing to the statements contained in the Petition. The operation of the Oath of Abjuration and of the Declaration contained in the 9th of the King, had the effect of totally excluding Jews from seats in Parliament, from the enjoyment of the elective franchise, from all corporate and government offices, from the profession of the law, and from many subordinate situations. He implored the House to recollect that the body of the act, the operation of which went to exclude the Jews from the enjoyment of civil and political privileges, had nothing to do with their community directly; that the tests were not directed against them individually; but it happened that the words "on the true faith of a Christian" had been introduced, and it consequently followed that Jews could not subscribe the Declaration in that form: to which he might add (as another obstacle in the way of the Jews), the usage of taking official oaths on the Evangelists. Till the important measure of relief for Protestant Dissenters had passed into a law, Jews were not subjected to many disabilities to which they were now exposed. Up to that period they were in the same situation as Protestant Dissenters; for, although, like them, they did not take the tests required by law, yet they were protected from the penalties of non-compliance, by annual Acts of Indemnity, which applied to them as well as to the Dissenters. Had the Legislature, he would ask, designedly added new rigour to the code of intolerance as affected these parties, while emancipating others from its operation; or had it indirectly and unconsciously trammelled the conscientious Jew, and deprived him of political privileges which till then he had enjoyed? It required no argument to show that the grievances complained of were of a substantial nature. This being the case, the next question was, who were the complainants, and what were the circumstances in their condition to entitle them to attention? The petition was signed by a number of persons inhabitants of the metropolis, who, for private wealth and unimpeached honour and integrity, would bear a comparison with any others in this metropolis, rich as it was in examples of this nature. With respect to the rest of the petitioners, a more loyal, peaceable, and industrious community of men did not exist. But he should be sorry to restrict the force of the Petition to the number of signatures attached to if. If opportunity had been afforded, he was sure that the great body of inhabitant and native-born Jews in this country (nearly thirty thousand in number) would have attached their signatures to the Petition. When he spoke of the number of the Jews, he did not mean to enforce their claims in any way, except such as the parties themselves would approve of; namely, by loyal and constitutional means. They were too well conducted, and at the same time too few, too powerless, and too peaceful, to regard the attainment of civil privileges by any other means with approbation. In fact, they were exactly in the condition best fitted for concession, because all the merit of the grace would be our own, inasmuch as it must be spontaneous and uncompelled. Christian Europe had been lavish to extreme prodigal- ity of its injuries to this persecuted race, but he hoped the Legislature would then do its part towards wiping away the stigma of cruelty.

Mr. Ward

trusted, that he might be excused if he added to what had fallen from the hon. Member who presented the Petition, his humble testimony of the worthiness of the class of persons from which it proceeded. He had enjoyed opportunities of knowing a large proportion of the respectable Jews of London, and could say with perfect truth, that a more charitable and industrious class of persons did not exist. But it was not on the ground of their charity or industry alone that they were entitled to ask for concession: he believed that a safer concession could not be granted than that which was sought by this Petition. He should hold himself prepared to assist the hon. Member in forwarding the views of the petitioners.

Sir R. Inglis

said, two years ago, by the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts, we separated the Church of England from the State: last year we separated the Protestant Religion from the Legislature by passing the Catholic Relief Bill: upon the latter occasion he had predicted that next year we should be called upon to separate Christianity itself from the State; and the present Petition bore out his prediction. He contended that whatever we had done with respect to Protestant dissent or Catholicism, we should at least preserve the connexion between Christianity and the Legislature inviolable. It appeared as if the honourable Member for the City of London contemplated the introduction of a Bill upon the subject of Jewish Disabilities; he (Sir R. Inglis) should regard the success of any Bill of that kind, as involving a separation of the last link that existed between the Legislature and the religion of the country. Not content with admission to the profession of the law, to corporate offices, &c., the Jews appeared, by their Petition, to demand admission to the highest executive situations in the State. It was not enough to say their number was small; it was well known that a small number of men, acting in concert, might exercise considerable influence, beneficial or otherwise, over the State. If Parliament were reformed, probably not one Jew could find his way into it (if eligible); but means existed at present, by which the entrance of Jews could be easily effected. But it was not on the ground of the number of Jews that might enter Parliament if qualified, that he objected to the prayer of the Petition—he objected to it upon the point of principle.

Mr. O'Connell

wished to say one word. Instead of disapproving of the Petition in consequence of the principle which it involved, he thought it exactly what the House ought to approve of. Instead of separating the Legislature from Christianity, by conceding the claims of the Jews, we should prove ourselves still more Christian by doing as we would be done by, and carrying into effect the principle of perfect freedom of conscience,—a principle that already manifested its beneficial tendency, and which would be the more beneficial the more widely it was extended.

After an observation from Mr. R. Grant, the Petition, which was from certain Jews, praying that the peculiar grievances under which they laboured might be considered by the House, with a view to their removal, was read, and ordered to be printed.