HC Deb 07 May 1833 vol 17 cc1020-2

On the Members elected to serve on the Coleraine Election Committee coming to the Table to be sworn, and on the names having been called over, including that of Mr. Pease (a member of the Society of Friends),

The Speaker

said, I wish to call the attention of the House to the situation in which it is now placed for the first time. I feel it to be my duty thus to arrest the course of its business; but when I have stated the cause of my having done so, it will be for the House to decide what course it will pursue. The reduced list of eleven Members in this Election Committee has now been returned to this House. The Act states, that these eleven shall be embodied into a Committee, and before it proceeds to any business shall be sworn at the Table. One of the Members so returned, the House has decided to be competent to discharge his duties as a Member of the House on making his affirmation. But the question for the House now to consider is, whether that decision necessarily comprehends the duty to be performed by a Member of this Select Committee under a special Act of Parliament. Can the hon. Member sit in this Committee without taking that oath, or doing something else which the House shall decide to be synonymous, and equivalent to taking that oath? In other words, is the affirmation upon which the hon. Member performed the duties of a Member of this House to be considered equivalent to the oath directed to be taken by this separate Act of Parliament?

Mr. O'Connell

I rise to move, that the affirmation of the hon. member for Durham be taken as equivalent to the oath required by the Act to be taken by the members of Election Committees. The principle on which we formerly decided that the hon. Member could take his seat, on making his affirmation, clearly governs this case. That decision of ours rested upon the constructions of various Acts of Parliament, enabling the people called Quakers to make an affirmation instead of taking an oath. Those Acts do not expressly contemplate the case of a Quaker becoming a Member of Parliament; but the House considered it to be implied, and the implication seems of necessity to follow in the present case. The principal Act of Parliament referred to substitutes an affirmation in all cases, with three exceptions—any case not excepted comes of course more strongly within the general rule, and this is not an excepted case.

The Speaker

What are the excepted cases?

Mr. O'Connell

The excepted cases are, the giving evidence in criminal cases, the being upon Juries, and the holding of emolumentary offices under the Crown. Now certainly this is no office under the Crown. The Committee is not a Jury; nor is it a criminal case that is to come before it. I therefore beg to move, that the affirmation of the hon. member for Durham be received instead of his oath.

The Speaker

I am persuaded, that no Member in the House, not even the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just addressed it, will conceive that I was improperly actuated in bringing this matter forward. I am sure he will pardon me also, for my, perhaps, rather disorderly calling upon him to state the exceptions. Of course, the third exception—that preventing the affirmation of Quakers being taken upon entering into any office of emolument under the Crown, never came across my mind. What did occur to me was, whether it was possible any analogy might be thought to exist between this case and that of serving upon Juries, or giving evidence in criminal cases. The hon. Member is of opinion, and probably the House will be of opinion that the case before us comes within neither exception, but looking to the criminal consequences that might occur to parties interested, I feel it to be my duty to bring the fact before the House.

Mr. O'Connell

I trust the Chair did not so misunderstand me as to suppose I could say anything that did not recognise, I hardly like to say the propriety, for it is too weak a word, of its interference; for I felt, in common with every Member of the House, that what was done by you, Sir, was perfectly consistent with the whole course of your conduct, and was distinguished by strict impartiality, and a love of justice. It is impossible to doubt the fitness of your calling the particular attention of the House to this case, being the first time of its arising. I have now the Act of Parliament, containing the exceptions lie-fore me, and I find them to be what I stated. Having allowed the hon. Member to make the affirmation on becoming a Member of this House, it would be an anomaly, indeed, for the House to decide that more than his affirmation should be required of him to discharge one of its incidental duties.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that the anomaly might exist, and required to be removed by an Act of Parliament. He did not think the decision they had come to in the former case necessarily governed this, which rested upon an Act of Parliament passed subsequently to the Quakers' Relief Act. He considered, however, that this Committee did not come within either of the three exceptions in that Act; and that, therefore, the hon. Gentleman might be allowed to make his affirmation.

Mr. Godson

begged to refer the House to the 22nd Geo. 2nd, c. 46, wherein it was enacted that, in all cases wherein an oath was required by an Act of Parliament already passed, or thereinafter to be passed, the affirmation of a Quaker might be received.

Lord Morpeth

rejoiced at the unexpected occurrence which had taken place, as he had a notice on the books which he trusted would remove all difficulties like the present.

Lord Althorp

thought, that as the House had already decided that the Act of Parliament did not prevent Quakers from taking their seats in the House, the same rule should apply in the present instance.

The Speaker

said, that he had only done what he conceived to be his duty in calling the attention of the House to the subject. As the House seemed to feel so strongly, and to concur so unanimously in the reception of the hon. Member's affirmation, he would suggest that the affirmation be received with the consent of the House, but without the formality of putting the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Motion withdrawn, the rest of the Committee were sworn, and Mr. Pease made his solemn affirmation instead of taking an oath.

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