HC Deb 17 May 1830 vol 24 cc769-74
Mr. A. Baring

said, that he had to present to the House a Petition from the Merchants, Bankers, Traders, and other inhabitants of the city of London, in favour of the Bill for the admission of Jews to an equal participation of civil rights with other British subjects, to which he was anxious to call the attention of the House. As the subject would be brought under full discussion that evening, it was not his intention to take up the time of the House by any lengthened remarks, yet he should not do justice to the petitioners if he did not state who they were, for the purpose of making the House aware of the importance which ought to be attached to their Petition. It was signed by upwards of 14,000 persons; and, including a large number of the bankers, and a large proportion of the most respectable commercial houses in the city, and of other respectable individuals, it might be said to contain as large a number of signatures as had ever been placed to any petition from London presented to that House. There were signed to it the names of 2,600 merchants, twenty-seven bankers, eleven Bank-directors, 1,100 doctors of medicine and other medical practitioners, 500 attornies, and if the names of no barristers were affixed, it was because they had chosen to present a petition from their own body, which he understood would be presented by his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Brougham). It was therefore a most important testimonial in favour of the Jews, because it was from the great body of those amongst whom they resided; who, however they might differ amongst themselves in opinions upon other points, were agreed in this—that from their habits and conduct as British subjects, the Jews had a strong claim to admission to equal rights with others. Of the Jews dwelling in this country there were 18,000 resident in London; and it was, he repeated, a high testimony in their favour that those to whom they were so well known should come forward in this public manner on their behalf. It was a proof of the good-will borne by them to their Christian fellow-subjects, and by the latter towards them. From his own knowledge of that people, he could state, that so far were they from feeling themselves a class or nation with interests different from those amongst whom they resided, that there was nothing of a public nature for promoting the general good, for extending the blessings of education, and other means of national improvement, in which they did not lake as prominent a part as their Christian fellow-subjects; that this was the general feeling of their Christian friends, was proved by this fact—that though every publicity was given to the Bill intended for their relief, there was not one instance of a petition having been presented from any quarter against it. He did not look upon the measure before the House as one of general policy, so much as an act of substantial justice to a portion of our citizens, against whom nothing whatever could be proved to warrant their exclusion from the participation of equal rights with their fellow-subjects. In giving its sanction to such a bill, he was sure the House would act in perfect accordance with the feelings and wishes of the country. He moved that the Petition be brought up.

General Gascoyne

did not rise to object to the Petition being brought up, though he owned that he was decidedly hostile to its prayer. It was said, that there were no petitions from any part of the country against the Bill; but the reason was, because the people did not believe that the House had any serious notion of carrying it; for if they had, no doubt the petitions against it would have been numerous enough before now. Hon. Members seemed now to attach great importance to petitions from the city of London and other places; but when petitions from those places were presented last year on another subject, they were not received with the same cordiality or respect; on the contrary, they were said to be the result of ignorance and bigotry. He would not, however, enter further into the subject; except to remark, in reference to what had been stated by a noble Lord, namely, that he should be able to prove that the admission of the Jews to equal rights would promote Christianity, that he should be glad to hear the noble Lord's proofs, and he had no doubt that he should derive much information from his discussion of the subject: but he would find the task which he had imposed on himself one of some difficulty.

Mr. O'Connell

observed, that what the noble Lord said was, that he should be able to show that the admission of the Jews to equal rights would promote the principle of Christianity; and he (Mr. O'Connell), who agreed in religious feelings with that noble Lord, agreed with him also in that principle. As to the opinions with respect to the petition presented last year, to which the hon. and gallant Member alluded, they were very different in their character from those presented in favour of the Jews. He would not say broadly that they were founded in ignorance, but they certainly betrayed a want of knowledge, and had some tinge of bigotry about them. He regretted that so many should have been presented to exclude a portion of the subjects of the realm from political power, on account of a difference in religious opinion; but he had the satisfaction to think that many by whom those petitions were signed had since found cause to alter their opinion, and had the candour to avow it.

A Member

, whose name we could not learn, expressed his concurrence in the prayer of the Petition, and observed, that there was this difference between the petitions presented this year and the last—that this year they were all on one side. There seemed, as far as the House could yet judge, to be only one feeling amongst the people on the subject of the present Bill, and that was favourable to it. The hon. and gallant Member opposite thought it would be a difficult task to prove that the admission of the Jews would promote the principle of Christianity. Now he thought it would be a still more difficult task to show that that admission would be repugnant to Christian principles.

The Petition to be printed.

Mr. Brougham

said, that he had a similar Petition to present from a very considerable number of highly respectable individuals in the metropolis professing the Christian religion. Amongst the signatures were the names of 150 barristers, including some of the most distinguished men in the profession, not of one court, but of practitioners in all the courts,—not of one sect of Christians, but of Protestants, Dissenters, and some of the most respectable Roman Catholic members of the bar. Among them were to be found, Mr. Den-man, Mr. Treslove, Mr. Broderip, Mr. Al- derson, Mr. Amos, Mr. Harrison, and many other distinguished men who, though they disagreed upon many political questions, were all unanimous upon this question of the admission of the Jews. He had now mentioned the names of several of his learned friends who signed the Petition; and, at the risk of drawing upon them the indignation of the hon. and gallant General, he would relate what it was they stated to the House—indeed it was the whole substance of the Petition,—"That your petitioners are of opinion that disqualifications for civil offices on account of religious opinions are repugnant to the benevolent principles of Christianity, and injurious to the strength and security of Government." They therefore prayed the House that the Bill now before it might pass. In this prayer he most cordially concurred, and he hoped the House would be of the same opinion.

Mr. N. Calvert

said, that he was always friendly to the principle of religious toleration, and he therefore did not object to the bill before the House, as far as it went; but he thought it did not go far enough. He had some difficulty in giving his assent to a measure which admitted Jews to equal privileges, while it left still excluded from the same privileges a considerable body of Christians.—He alluded to the members of the Society of Friends, who, though professing Christianity, were excluded from civil offices. That the claims of that body were as just as those of any others in the community, it was hardly necessary for him to attempt to prove. He believed it would be admitted, that in individual character and respectability they were not exceeded by any other class of men. In their endeavours to promote the welfare of their fellow men, and in their general attachment to civil and religious liberty, they were conspicuous amongst their countrymen; they were, therefore, as fit objects of admission to equal rights as any class of men in the community. It might perhaps be said, that they did not petition for those rights; that might be true, and he admitted that they were an unambitious people, but that did not hinder the application of the principle, for he thought that, with the admission of it in the case of the Jews, it would be a disgrace to the legislature to continue the exclusion of the Quakers.

Mr. Brougham

agreed that it would be wrong to mark their disposition in favour of the admission of the Jews by the exclusion of Quakers; but there was no necessity for it. The ready way to get out of the difficulty would be to include the Quakers also. If his hon. friend objected to the admission of the Jews because the Quakers were not also included, then he had been somewhat inconsistent in the votes he gave on other subjects for extending religious toleration. On the same principle he ought, when the bill for the relief of the Dissenters was before the House, to have objected to it because it did not include the Catholics; and afterwards, to the second great measure, because it had not included all other parties who, up to that time, were not admissible. There was, he would admit, a difficulty in admitting Jews to equal rights, and continuing the exclusion of any sect of Christians; but he saw a way out of that difficulty by including the other party.

Mr. N. Calvert

said, that it had been his intention to move, as an amendment to the measure before the House, to inquire how far oaths might be dispensed with as qualifications for civil offices, and for seats in Parliament. It appeared to him that a declaration would be equally binding on an honest man, but an oath would not bind a dishonest one where he could find means to violate it with impunity. He had, however, abandoned his intention of moving an amendment,—he had been so unfortunate in his amendments; they had been the means of so much trouble to himself and inconvenience to others, that he was not disposed to venture on one again in the present case. He thought, however, that it would be absurd and unjust to pass a measure for granting the full privileges of the Constitution to the Jews, and at the same time continue the exclusion of so deserving and meritorious a class of fellow Christians as the Quakers.

Mr. R. Grant

said, after what had fallen from the hon. member for Hertfordshire with respect to the Quakers, he could entertain no doubt that it was his intention to bring in a bill for giving them the same civil rights as those now enjoyed by so many other Dissenters from the Church of England. On this subject he would only say, that whenever that measure came forward, it should have his cordial concurrence; and if the hon. Member would favour him with his vote in support of the bill for the Jews, he should be most happy on any future occasion to lend his humble but most hearty co-operation in forwarding any bill which the hon. Member might introduce for extending the same principle to the members of the Society of Friends.