HC Deb 08 February 1833 vol 15 cc387-90

Mr. Pease, the Member returned for the southern division of the county of Durham, appeared at the Table to take his seat in the House. On the Clerk of the House tendering the printed forms of the oaths to Mr. Pease, the hon. Gentleman, across the Table, made a communication to Mr. Ley, the Chief Clerk, who immediately announced it to the Speaker.

The Speaker

rose, and said, that he had to acquaint the House, that he had been informed by the Clerk that an hon. Member at the Table had objected to take the oaths.

Mr. Pease

I pray to be allowed to make my solemn affirmation.

The Speaker

said, he was sure that the House, and the hon. Member himself, would feel, that he was discharging no more than his imperative duty when he declared that, without the sanction of the House, he dared not suffer the hon. Member to make his affirmation. He was sure that the House would feel, as he felt, that not only the law and the privileges of the House, but also the personal interests of the hon. Member himself, were concerned, and that therefore it was necessary that a deliberate construction upon the law as it existed should be obtained. That construction could alone be pronounced by the House itself, and he hoped that the hon. Member would not think that he (the Speaker) was prejudicing his claim, if he requested the hon. Member to retire until the House should decide the question.

Mr. Pease withdrew.

Lord Althorp

said, that the House had just been made aware that an hon. Member had declined to take the oaths prescribed by law, claiming the privilege, under certain Acts of Parliament relating to the people called Quakers, of making a solemn affirmation instead of taking the oaths; he therefore felt it necessary immediately to call the attention of the House to the circumstance. It appeared to him, that the best mode by which the subject could be settled would be by the appointment of a Committee; not to give an opinion (for on a question of such importance an opinion could only be given by the House itself), but to report what were the precedents upon the journals, and what the state of the law, as it referred to Quakers, in respect to their privilege of making an affirmation instead of taking an oath. The precedents were easy of reference, and the Acts of Parliament on the subject might possibly be cognizant to the House; but he thought it was desirable that they should be brought together, and a decision upon them given. It was not to be expected that every hon. Gentleman should be acquainted with them, and, therefore, full information should be laid before the House, in order to enable it to come to a proper determination. For himself, he could say that he had looked into the precedents and statutes bearing upon the subject, and he had found laws relating to the people called Quakers, provided in an Act relating to tolls for the navigation of the river Thames, and also in an Act for the prevention of infectious disorders amongst horned cattle. It was not to be expected that other Members would look to such Acts, to settle the right of a Member to take his seat in that House, or making a solemn affirmation. Before the question was discussed, an investigation was necessary; and he should simply propose that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into and report the existing laws and precedents bearing upon the matter, and it would then be fully in the power of the Mouse to pronounce its decision; and he hoped that he should be thought to be acting judiciously in not raising a debate on the subject until such information was before the House. The noble Lord concluded by moving the appointment of a Committee to search the journals and records of the House, and report the same, together with any Acts or parts of Acts of Parliament relating to the privilege of the people called Quakers to make a solemn affirmation in courts of justice where oaths are taken.

Mr. Warburton

thought that the words of the Motion were not sufficiently comprehensive to inclued what was most important—namely, the construction put by courts of law upon the several Acts relating to Quakers, and which were to be found in the Law Reports.

The Solicitor General

said, that the House would be put in possession of every point bearing upon the subject in the form the Committee had been moved for. There had been two decisions referring to the subject—one pronounced by Lord Chief Justice Holt, and another by Lord Mansfield, which would be brought before the Committee.

Mr. Baring

concurred in the proposition of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would not, therefore, protract the discussion; but he begged to ask, whether it would not be desirable for the Committee to inquire whether the hon. Gentleman, the member for South Durham, objected to the form of the oaths, or to take any oath.

Dr. Lushington

said, that he had understood the hon. member for South Durham to object to taking any oath; and he (Dr. Lushington) could state as a fact, if it were necessary, that the hon. Member's objection was not to any part of the contents of the oath, but to swearing in any form.

Mr. Baring

was satisfied with the explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Cuthbert Rippon

did not intend to manifest any disrespect to the House by opposing the Motion, but he rose to express a hope that the day was not far distant when any individual returned to that House by upwards of 2,000 electors of this country, would be permitted to enter the Legislative Assembly without such difficulties as in the present instance had arisen. He believed that there were many Gentlemen who considered the oaths to be inefficient and injurious,—inefficient, because the man who would speak falsely would swear falsely; and injurious, because it gave, under the colour of an oath, the semblance of truth to that which was false. He trusted that as little delay as possible would occur before the electors of Durham would be informed that the doors of Parliament were opened to the individual whom they had selected to represent and maintain their interests and their rights.

Motion agreed to, and the Select Committee appointed.

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