HC Deb 08 May 1833 vol 17 cc1040-3
Lord Morpeth

rose to submit his Motion to the House for leave to bring in a Bill to allow the Affirmation of Quakers to be received in all cases in which oaths were at present required to be taken. At present Quakers were only disqualified from two offices—namely, any office under the Crown, and from serving on juries; he proposed that the Affirmation of Quakers be received in all eases, and thereby they would be qualified to do that from which they were now debarred. His Bill would also prevent the repetition of those trifling delays which had recently taken place in that House on the hon. member for South Durham (Mr. Pease) taking his seat, and again yesterday when that hon. Member was ballotted to serve on an Election Committee. Looking at the question upon general grounds, he could not see how a Legislature that had taken away the necessity of an oath from this religious class, in cases of life and death, could stop short in admitting them to all the privileges, and immunities of the State, from whose imposts and support they were not exempt; and to which they contributed so much by their industry, enterprise, good order, and wealth. There could be no expectation, whilst the state of society continued as it was at present, that the Quakers would be called on to take a seat in the Cabinet. From the naval and military departments and generally from the service of the State, they would continue to be excluded by their own tenets; but there were many places which they were well qualified to fill, and to which they might prudently aspire. He would illustrate this by relating a circumstance which came immediately under his own notice, connected with this subject, and which, indeed, had first impressed his mind with the necessity of having those disabilities removed. He remembered the case of an individual, a native of Barnsley, in Yorkshire, who had been introduced to him in consequence of his taste in literature. This young man was in a humble walk of life, and a vacancy occurring in the Post-office department in Barnsley in consequence of a recommendation from him, and a representation in favour of the individual, signed by almost all the respectable inhabitants of Barnsley, his Grace the Duke of Richmond (the Postmaster-General) appointed him to the office. But it turned out that as a Quaker he could not take the oath required to be taken previous to his entering the office. The young man then wrote to him saying his objection to taking the oath had offended some of his friends, but he could rot commit a cool deviation from what he conceived to be his duty, without embittering every hour of Ills life. He begged the pardon of the House for troubling them with this statement, but it was only an instance of what might occur any day in any part of the kingdom, and he hoped the measure he was about to introduce would have the effect of preventing its recurrence. He had originally confined his intentions to the point of eligibility to office, and he had extended it more in deference to the views of others than his own. As to the Quakers, he had never heard a wish or suggestion on their part to be allowed the privileges his measure was intended to give. Though he took up this subject from a feeling of justice towards them, he stood forward not as their advocate but as the advocate of the community. The Quakers were a highly useful and sensible class of men, and would doubtless make excellent and intelligent Jurors. Giving them power to become Jurors would be a sensible and agreeable relief to those who were at present liable to serve on Juries. It appeared that there was but little doubt as to the present state of the law upon the subject of Quakers serving on Juries, they were liable to be summoned, and in some cases they had actually been so. There was an instance in the county of York, where a Quaker served upon a Jury at the Assizes at York; and the same man was afterwards prevented, on the ground of his being a Quaker, from serving on a Jury at the Quarter Sessions in the same county. At the late Assizes at York, a respectable and very opulent Quaker was summoned there to discharge the duty of a Juror. He applied for release on the ground of being a Quaker, and his consequent inability to serve; his application was refused, and he was kept dancing in attendance at a great distance from his own home and business, and without profit to any body, because he did not eventually serve. At the Admiralty Sessions in the Old Bailey on the 27th December last, Robert Channens was indicted for wilful murder on the high seas. A Quaker went into the box to serve on the Jury—an objection was taken; it was over-ruled, and the trial proceeded. The prisoner was found guilty. On a subsequent day he was called up to receive judgment, and his counsel took an objection to the verdict. He was represented to have said, that he knew of no alteration in the law, that every or any subject could not be tried for any crime, unless it was on the oaths of twelve men. In the present instance, it would appear that only eleven men had been sworn. The learned Judge proceeded to pass sentence, and said the objection should be taken into consideration, and it was referred to the whole of the Judges, who decided that the objection was good, and that the trial was not legal. The man had certainly solved the difficulty, by dying in the mean time in prison. The hon. and learned member for Chester (Mr. Jervis) seemed to infer that there was a difference between civil and criminal cases, and that a Quaker might be compelled to serve in civil, but not in criminal cases. He could only say, he could discover no such discrimination in the law. At all events, he thought there was sufficient uncertainty and anomaly apart from the distinct and positive reasons on which he grounded his Motion, to make the adoption of the measure highly desirable. He could not, however, quit these judicial topics without stating how glad he was to find himself countenanced by very great and very recent authorities. At the late Assizes for the comity of Durham, one division of which was so ably represented by his hon. friend (Mr. Pease). Mr. Justice Alderson closed his address to the Grand Jury, who had been appointed to try the same question, with these words:—'It has been declared, no doubt on the best ground, on the authority of an Act passed in the 22nd, year of the reign of George 2nd, that the affirmation of a member of the Society of Friends is to be taken in a Court of Justice, where an oath is to be taken, as an equivalent to an oath by other persons. The consequence is, that Quakers may now serve as constables, or in any similar office; and I dare say I shall very soon see the day when Quakers will execute the duties of Grand Jurors and other duties in the same way as others do. That is a desirable circumstance, for I do not see why they should retain to themselves any immunities when all those privileges hitherto withheld from them have been granted to them.' It appeared, then, that Mr. Justice Alderson both anticipated and approved of the present Motion. He knew it had been thought that the strong opinions entertained by members of the Society of Friends with respect to capital punishments might interpose some obstacle to their taking part in the administration of the criminal law, however, that objection did not apply to them exclusively, but equally to many other sects. As Moravians were coupled with Quakers in all recent Acts of Parliament, he proposed to include them also in the operation of this Bill. The case of that class of religionists called Separatists was already in the competent hands of the hon. member for Cambridge. He believed it was thought that both that hon. Gentleman and himself should have extended their object. He hoped that none would object to the definite and practical, though perhaps narrow plan, although they did not endeavour to fill up a more magnificent, though less definite outline. The right hon. member for Finsbury (Mr. R. Grant) admitted when he brought forward his Motion on the subject of the Jews, the propriety of doing away with all remaining disqualifications that pressed on Quakers. He did not mean to insist upon the disqualifications which he proposed to remove as a flaming grievance, or his Motion, as one of transcendant relief, but he would call upon the House to adopt the measure at the same time on high grounds, when he reminded them, that if they consented to this Bill, they would sweep away the last disability on the Statute-book imposed by positive enactments, or religious scruples; and he was not without hope that not only would there be no opposition, but that no time would be lost in forwarding the Bill. The noble Lord then moved for leave to bring in a Bill to allow Quakers and Moravians to make affirmation in all cases where an oath was now required.

Motion agreed to.