HC Deb 01 March 1833 vol 16 cc10-7
Mr. Hill

presented a Petition from a Congregation of Unitarian Dissenters, assembling for Religious Worship, in Bowle-Alley-Lane, praying for the removal of ail Religious Disqualifications, still existing, and especially for the removal of the Disabilities affecting the Jews. There was one remark of the hon. member for Oldham, upon which he wished to observe. He understood the hon. Member to say, that if the Jews were admitted to the same rights—or privileges and favours, as the hon. member for Oldham, whom he observed to be a great critic on words, wished them to be called—there would be an end to the Christian religion. But suppose that the Jews were relieved from their civil disabilities, the hon. Member need not change his religion, whatever was done in favour of the Jews, nor need any change take place in the Sabbath Day. The Jews were careful to observe both the Jewish and Christian Sabbath. He never heard of the Jews offering such an insult to the religious feelings of the country in which they happened to reside, as not to show all proper outward respect, and that was all that could be required of them, for the religious institutions in the midst of which they lived. If the hon. member for Oldham were to go to Turkey—and he should be sorry for him to go there, or any where else, that would take him away from them—he would find himself obliged, by that courtesy to the opinions of others which had marked his conduct through life, to observe the Friday with the same strictness as the Jews did the Christian Sunday in this country. If the hon. Member did so, no lmaum in Turkey could justly complain of him. He had to thank the hon. member for Oldham for calling his attention to the phrase "lower classes," which he certainly did not like, because it had been used to imply a contempt which he should be the most contemptible of men if he could feel. He had no right to put himself above the labouring class, as he supposed the hon. member for Oldham would prefer calling it, for he belonged to that class. He maintained himself by his labour, but he was, nevertheless, much afraid, that when the hon. member for Oldham came to discuss the burthens borne by the labouring class, he would not allow a poor lawyer to mix himself up with it. The prayer of this petition had his cordial support, for he thought it a disgrace to the country, that every remnant of the laws against the religious liberty of the subject had not long since been swept away. Even yet, Dissenters were not admitted to the Universities without signing certain tests, and, although this might bethought a trivial evil by those who were not Dissenters, he, who had sprung from a Dissenting family, could assure the House that it was severely felt.

Mr. Cobbett

Sir, this is a petition for abolishing Christianity in England. Since this Parliament met, we have made tolerable progress in abolishing many excellent things. We began by abolishing the Committee of Grievances; we next abolished the Committee of Religion; after that we abolished the Committee on the Courts of Justice; and then we abolished the old practice of presenting petitions in full Parliament, and established a petty Parliament, sitting in the middle of the day, for the purpose of appointing at the same time a Committee to take the petitions of the people into consideration, and order such parts as they chose, and not as the House of Commons chose, to be printed. That was a pretty beginning; and now comes this petition for oversetting the Christian religion. Let the hon. Gentleman tell me, in what position the Courts of Law would be, if the Jews were emancipated? God knows, the Jews make free enough already, and certainly get more money together than any set of Christians. As if this were not enough, a clause was slipped into an Act of Parliament a few years back to enable them to possess freehold property in England. It would not have been passed so quietly, I promise you, if I had been in Parliament. But let the hon. Gentleman, I say, tell me what would be our position with a Jew Judge upon the Bench—a blasphemer by profession—one who calls Jesus Christ an impostor? What would the hon. Member do with this Judge stuck up there, to try a man for blasphemy? He is himself a blasphemer, and regularly, once a week, blasphemes Jesus Christ in the Synagogue, and once a year crucifies him in effigy. I understand that, to the shame of the benchers, one Jew is already at the bar; but what will the hon. and learned Gentleman say if a Jew Judge is stuck up to try Carlile, or any other blasphemer? What could there be then said about tithes? If the Jewish religion is as good as the Christian, or if the Christian be good for nothing, why do we maintain a Church Establishment? As to the fanatics who petition about the matter, they have not considered it—they know not what they say, nor what they pray for. They can never have reflected that the House cannot grant the prayer of this petition, without saying that nothing is blasphemy. They cannot have reflected that the Jews call Jesus Christ an impostor. They write it in their books, they preach it in their sermons, they utter it in their prayers, and they sing it in their psalms, which they sing loud enough to stun any unfortunate Christian who may happen to be within hearing. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir C. Burrell) has challenged me to substantiate my statements as to the unequal pressure of taxation on the rich and on the poor. That challenge I can easily accept. In the first place, however, I deny that I have ever desired to raise a prejudice against the land-owners; nay, it happens singularly enough, that I and my colleague, the representatives of a manufacturing town, in which a great cry has been raised for the repeal of the Corn-laws, have convinced the people that the Corn-laws ought not to be repealed until all the other burthens have been taken off the land. As to my statements with respect to the Stamp-duties, I took the Acts of Parliament as I found them: I fabricated or invented nothing. If a fund-holder die, and leave an intestate estate worth 1,000l. to a son or a brother, that son or brother has to pay, in legacy duty, 45l. The hon. Baronet does not seem to know this. If a Bishop die, as the Archbishop of Armagh, and the Bishop of Winchester did some time ago, leaving 300,000l., he has only 6,500l. to pay, which is not one-half in proportion to what the fundholder pays. Earl Fitz-william has just died, and his son has come into possession of his estates. I call upon the House to mark what I am going to say. I desire the House to mark it well, and to say, whether the present state of things is likely to be much longer borne. Well, Lord Fitzwilliam has just died, and it is said that his landed estates are worth 100,000l. a-year. I dare say that is the case. Well, no man grudges his heir his property; for myself, I have never written or said anything likely to excite the enmity of the poor against the rich. I defy any Member of this House to show that I have ever done so. Well, as to the estates of Lord Fitzwilliam, what I have to state is this, that if this heir were to pay in proportion to the poor, he would have to pay in taxes the sum of 180,000l. What does the House think of that? Do they believe it possible that the people will endure this state of things much longer? If they do, I can tell them that they are very much mistaken. I have heard some talk about a graduated Property-tax, as a means of relieving the poor from the pressure of taxation. I am for no such thing. I am not for getting rid of the Stamp-duties. Let those taxes be continued; but, mind, let them be fairly and equitably imposed. If that be done, I and my constituents will be willing to overlook the past. We will not inquire what these landowners owe to the public. We will say nothing about the 200,000l. owing to the country by the right hon. Baronet of whom I spoke the other evening. Let them do justly for the future, and they shall have an indemnity for the past; but if they resist this, I warn them, and I warn the House, that they will not get off so easily, I warn the landowners that there will, in that case, be an inquiry into the past; an investigation into the sums of money which they owe the public; and an enforcement of payment to the full amount.

Sir C. Burrell

observed, with reference to the observation of the hon. member for Oldham—that a widow or a brother, must pay a duty of 45l. on a legacy of 1,000l.—

Mr. Cobbett

I said a son or a brother

Sir C. Burrell

replied, that he would then give the hon. Member the benefit of the widow. Well, then, what was the fact? That a son only paid one percent and a brother paid three per cent; therefore, the hon. member for Oldham had, as far as his statement of the law of taxation went, been considerably in error.

Lord Althorp

observed, that the hon. member for Oldham had often referred to this subject, and would refer to it, he had no doubt, day by day, till the subject was regularly brought forward. He (Lord Althorp) should not, however, enter into the discussion of it at present. He considered it unfair for the hon. member for Oldham to introduce the question thus prematurely, when the Ministers of the Crown were unprepared for it. It would have the effect of creating an impression on the public mind, which was not justified by the fact. The hon. member for Oldham had said: "Let us do justice in future." He (Lord Althorp) said so too. He had already said, that it was contemplated by his Majesty's Ministers to bring the question of Stamp-duties before Parliament, a Bill for the consolidation of the Stamp Acts being now in course of preparation, when all the subjects to which it referred could be amply discussed. He would not support taxation that should press unfairly on any part of the community; and be would not press harder on one class than another, without giving reasons for it—he meant, that he would show that it was only apparently a pressure on any one class. The hon. Gentleman had called his attention to a great deal concerning these taxes, that he was previously aware of—namely, that some parts of the Stamp-laws required Amendment. If, however, the hon. Member looked at the general taxation of the country, he would not find, that the pressure was so unequal as he had described it. He believed, that the hon. Member would not be able to prove that the rich did not bear their fair proportion of the taxes; in fact, the revenue of the country could not be collected as it was, if the rich did not pay their share.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that it was scarcely fair, that the hon. Member should take up the time of the country in an attempt on every occasion to introduce the subject of taxation, and to entertain the House from day to day with his notions on the present system of Stamp-duties. He (Mr. Fergusson) should not, however, enter into the Stamp-duties question. The question then before the House was, whether the House should receive this petition in favour of the Jews. He believed, that every description of religionist, who was not disqualified by law—and no person ought to be disqualified who was not dangerous to the State—that every such person had a right to be eligible to every office of the State, without the slightest regard to his religious principles. He found no difficulty in admitting persons of a different creed. He knew of no test which excluded them from offices of State. He did not believe, that the Jews indulged in an annual mockery of the crucifixion, as had been stated. He believed them to be as good subjects as any others; and he thought the system of moral jurisprudence would not be complete if Emancipation were longer withheld from them. There was only one oath which excluded them from the House of Commons—that was the Oath of Abjuration, when the person swearing was required to pledge himself" On the true faith of a Christian." This oath, which was first created in the reign of William 3rd, and which he wished were repealed to-morrow showed that Jews were eligible to sit in that House anterior to that time; and if it were repealed, they would be eligible to sit now. In his opinion, the Jews were as competent to sit in that House as those of any other persuasion; and when opportunity offered, in the course of the Session, he would undertake to prove it to the entire satisfaction of the House.

Mr. O'Dwyer

dissented in toto from the position of the hon. member for Oldham on this question, though he agreed with him, he was happy to say, in most others; and he regretted exceedingly, that the hon. Gentleman should bring his high—and deservedly high—character for power and ability, to hear on the pretensions of any body of religionists to their prejudice.

Mr. Hutt

said, that so long as the religious opinion of individuals was not inconsistent with the general welfare of society, he thought they should not and could not, in common justice, be excluded from the enjoyment of civil honours and the eligibility to fill civil situations.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

said, that if the majority of that House were of the opinion which had been expressed by many hon. Members that day, the present would be the last Christian Parliament which would sit in that House. He agreed with the hon. member for Oldham, in what he had stated upon this subject, though it was not often that he did agree with that hon. Member. He thought that hon. Member had gone to the root of the matter, and placed it upon its proper basis. The hon. member for Oldham had clearly shown what the Jews were in regard to a Christian community, and he (Mr. Johnston) had no hesitation in saying, that if Jews were admitted into that House, there would be at once an end to all Christianity. They treated the very foundation of the Christian faith with ridicule, and called its great founder an impostor. He agreed with several hon. Members, that the present subject was not to be treated lightly, and regretted, that the hon. member for Oldham had in some measure so treated it. He, however, hoped, that in future he would restrain himself from making his remarks in the way he had done. He considered it very important also to look to what the petitioners were. It was true, that they were now living in times when all distinctions were to be done away with, but he entreated the House to recollect, that the present petition came from Unitarians, whom he denied to be Christians, He trusted, that hon. Members would rally round the Cross, and would not allow the Christian religion to be subverted by the introduction of Jews into that House. For his own part, he should endeavour to prevent the passing of any bill that would tend to allow the Jews to sit in Parliament by all the means in his power, and he entered his most solemn protest against the prayer of the petition.

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