HC Deb 03 August 1838 vol 44 cc998-1000

On the motion to go into a Committee on the Affirmations Bill,

Mr. Goulburn

objected to the principle of the bill because it was retrospective, inasmuch as it extended the exemption from taking an oath to all those who had ever been at any period of their lives Quakers or Moravians. This mode of dealing out exemption by measure after measure was most paltry, and although he was of opinion that oaths were not only lawful, but did much to elicit truth, yet it would be better to pass a general measure embracing all classes.

Mr. P. Thomson

observed, that this measure had been introduced in another place by a noble Lord of opposite politics to himself, and yet had passed unanimously. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) had said, it would be better to decide at once if oaths were to be abolished entirely, and he certainly agreed with him, and would most willingly have carried a measure of that kind, but he could not get it. One or two bills of this kind that had been introduced into the other House had been all rejected from their going too far. He himself was willing to have a general measure, but he was unable to carry it. The right hon. Gentleman now said, he should dissent from any such measure, though he had understood him to say the contrary. In the present bill, however, he had done; as much as he had been able. Was there no practical grievance here? In his opinion there was one of a most serious kind; for he had known the ends of justice to be entirely defeated, because the body whom this bill was intended to relieve would not give their evidence in a court of justice if they were obliged to take an oath. He, therefore, hoped the House would consent to his motion.

Mr. Pryme

supported the bill, as enabling litigant parties to avail themselves of the evidence of witnesses who had religious scruples against the taking of oaths.

Sir R. Inglis

opposed the bill, inasmuch as it would enable every person to come into a court of justice, and exempt himself, on the simple declaration that he had belonged either to the Society of Friends or the sect of Moravians, from that test of truth to which others were liable. The bill dispensed with that superstitious feeling which those conversant with courts of justice well knew was attached to the solemnity of an oath by witnesses generally, and he therefore joined with his right hon. Friend in opposing its further progress.

The Attorney General

regretted that such petty legislation should take place on so important a subject, as he felt convinced that the only remedy for existing evils would be a general bill, not for the abolition of oaths altogether (for to that he for one was not prepared to assent), but to enable all those who entertained a religious scruple to the taking of an oath to give evidence on a solemn affirmation, which such individuals considered would be as binding upon them to speak the truth, and which would be attended with the same secular and penal consequences if they did not, as if they had been guilty of perjury. A general measure must ere long meet the approbation of the Legislature, for numerous sects were almost of daily growth, and their claims on the ground of religious scruples were too strong to be resisted. He could not see the distinction between a man who had been a Quaker or Moravian, and another who still continued of those sects—the latter was exempted, while, however, the other would be disabled by his scruples from giving evidence. Thus, in many cases, justice was defeated, and in the absence of a general measure, he should support the present bill.

Bill went through Committee, the House resumed.