HC Deb 03 July 1851 vol 118 cc142-7

Order for Third Reading read.


moved that this Bill be now read a Third Time.


said, that from the first day when this Bill had been brought forward, he had regarded it as one of the most unhappy measures that had ever been introduced into Parliament. For more than twenty years he had continued to view it with the deepest and most abhorrent objection; and he had endeavoured to take every opportunity which the forms of the House allowed to prevent its passing into a law. They were now about to pass a measure which he would say was not merely undesired by the great mass of the people, but was alien to their principles as well as feelings. It involved a sacrifice of principle so great, indeed, that no external advantage whatever—no, not even the satisfaction of the people—could justify its adoption; and there was no duty which impelled them to this sacrifice. It was one that could not be said to he demanded on the ground of any constitutional rights; and, therefore, he hoped the House would pause before it gave its sanction to the measure. The Church of England and the majority of the people of Scotland were opposed to it, and had expressed their conviction that it was inconsistent with the Christian character of this country, implying, as it did, the principle, that a beliof in our blessed Lord and Saviour was not a necessary qualification of those who had to consider the highest interests of a Christian people. If the last words that he should utter in that House were to be in opposition to this Bill of the Government, he should feel it his duty not to shrink from protesting against it; but he did not feel it necessary to record by more than such a protest his objections to the further progress of the measure. In that protest he knew he should be supported by the hearts and the voices of some of the influential Members of that House, and of the large majority of the people of this country; by all, in short, who still regarded the Christian character of England as one of the dearest objects of inheritance which they had received from their forefathers, and which they desired to transmit to their posterity. If he were told that the introduction of three or four Jews into Parliament would not alter the character of that assembly, he replied that that might be so if they came in without any act of legislation; but the moment that they altered the oath by which all who came into that House declared the principle upon which they were admitted, they had made a sacrifice which no earthly consideration could compensate. With the strongest reluctance to give any encouragement to legislation founded on such an absence of principle as was displayed in the present Bill, he should content himself with thus solemnly recording his objections to it; but under all the circumstances of the case he did not feel himself called upon to divide the House on the present occasion.


Sir, I cannot but say a few words after the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford, who has formally declared that an avowal of belief is that which is required in order to qualify a person to be a Member of this House. Now I must say that I think we ought not, and, as I believe, according to the right interpretation of the law, we do not intend to exact a declaration of belief from Members of this House, but rather a declaration relating to conduct and action. That is, I believe, the true principle with regard to these oaths, and such I believe to be the intention, though not, I own, the letter of the law. Now we know perfectly well, that to all that is required by the Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Supremacy, the Jew is ready to swear. And with regard to the Oath of Abjuration, let us consider, for a moment, why that declaration "Upon the true faith of a Christian," was required to be taken. Was it required in order that Members of this House should declare themselves to be persons professing the Christian belief? I believe that neither the persons who framed that oath, nor those who supported it when it was first introduced, had ever put it on that ground. The Oath of Abjuration was introduced for the purpose of getting persons to declare that they would pay allegiance to the family now upon the Throne, and that they abjured all allegiance to the House of Stuart, and to the descendants of James II. Now I have to say that, with regard to all the conditions—the condition of the Oath of Allegiance, the condition of the Oath of Supremacy, and with regard to the substance of the Oath of Abjuration, namely, the abjuring any allegiance whatever to any family but that upon the Throne—with regard to them all, the Jew is quite ready to take and to subscribe to them. But no doubt there are words at the end of the Oath of Abjuration which the Jew, not having the same facility that Mr. Gibbon had when he was a Member of this House, feels himself conscientiously precluded from taking. But with regard to these words, I think it has been quite clearly proved by argument that these words were not introduced to prevent Jews sitting in that House, hut, it being presumed that Members of this House were Christians, it was a declaration that they were ready to abide by the conditions imposed on them. I cannot but think, that upon this question the feelings of the people at large ought to be consulted; and if you do you are bound to consult in an especial degree the feelings of those who are electors of Members of Parliament. Now within the last few days a second case has occurred, in which a member of the Jewish persuasion has been elected by upwards of 2,000 votes as a representative of a borough. I am glad to see that the hon. Alderman who has been thus elected does not intend to come down to this House and offer to take the Oath, until the other House of Parliament has had an opportunity of seeing the Bill now before us. And when that other House of Parliament comes to take the Bill into consideration, I hope they will remember that there has been of late a great deal of sensitiveness shown with respect to the privileges of the House of Lords. I do not say that it is an undue sensitiveness; but, with regard to the particular Bill now before them (the Court of Chancery Bill), it is known that objections have been taken to it, not on account of its object or on account of its substance, the one being allowed to be right and the other laudable, but because it relates to something that the House of Lords deemed it right to do themselves. Now I shall cease to insist upon that Clause in the Bill, and I shall propose to leave them to consider whether by this Clause or by what other Act of Parliament, they can obtain the object which the Legislature has in view. My hon. Friend (Sir R. Inglis) says that he is most unwilling to divide the House upon this question. Now, when a body of the people for the third time has declared its opinion that a Jew ought to sit in this House, when two bodies of the constituencies of this country have elected Jews for their representatives, I do really think, with every respect for the privileges of the House of Lords, that they ought to consider whether this is not a matter in which the people may be freely left to their own choice, and whether, after the passing of such a Bill three times, it is not due to the great body of the people and to their representatives, that their wishes should he consulted upon this subject. With regard to the actual result of popular elections, my belief is, that, while my hon. Friend is making these objections to the Jews, whenever there comes a popular election by any great body of electors, you do actually give a premium as against the Christian in that general election; because, while the Christian has to stand upon his merits, the Jew is able to say, "In me you behold a persecuted man; I represent the principle of religious liberty; and if you value that principle, you will send me to the House of Commons." Thus my hon. Friend, though I am sure, most un-designedly, is giving an advantage to the Jewish candidates; and I am persuaded, that if this Bill were passed, two or three Jews might find their way into this House, but that in his contest with them, the Christian candidate would have an advantage which he does not now possess.


said, that with respect to the assertion that the general opinion of the country was in favour of that Bill, he would call the noble Lord's attention to the fact, that the question had never been fairly submitted to the people of this country. On the subject of the Greenwich election he would observe that there were persons who felt so strongly, that they would have been ready to vote for the Christian candidate in opposition to the Jew; and it was only particular circumstances which had prevented their voting for Mr. Wire instead of Mr. Salomons. One of these circumstances was, that Mr. Wire had been one of the principal supporters of Baron Rothschild, and the voters thought it was only a choice between a Jewish barrister or an attorney. The noble Lord had said the law did not contemplate any pledge in relation to faith; but he would remind him that for a considerable time up to and during the reign of William III. Members of the House of Commons were required to make a declaration of their belief in the Trinity. Was not that requiring a test of their Christianity? He agreed with the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford in not dividing the House; and under all the circumstances of the case, it would be utterly supererogatory to express any further opinion upon it.


would have had no objection to a division if it could be only to express an opinion upon the conduct of the Government lately with respect to two important religious questions—namely, the Jew Bill, and the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. He would have liked to hear the noble Lord's explanation of the contrast on his conduct with respect to these two measures.


said, it should be remembered that 177 Members had voted against the second reading of that Bill, while only 202 were in its favour. When they expected a large majority, Government had only twenty-five in their favour. Having made the protest which they had on a former occasion, it was not necessary to divide the House then. He felt as strongly as ever against the Bill. He believed all the real Christian feeling of the country was equally opposed to it, and if the House divided, he would vote against the third reading of the Bill.


said, that the cause of the small majority upon the second reading of the Bill must be known to every Member of that House. He had no fear that hon. Gentlemen would fail in understanding the motives which influenced those who were opposed to this Bill. They were quite prepared to divide on that (the Ministerial) side of the House.


said, that it might seem, from what had fallen from the hon. Member who had just resumed his seat, that Members who sat on the Opposition side were unwilling to divide on this question. It should be recollected, however, that the noble Lord at the head of the Government brought on this Bill when he pleased. It stood for discussion a few days since in the middle of the evening; but the noble Lord did not choose to risk a division then, which might perhaps have been less to his satisfaction than even the division on the second reading. The noble Lord watched his time, and would not go to a division unless his own benches were full. Under these circumstances, and having openly protested against the third reading, hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House did not think it necessary to trouble the House with a division upon it.

Bill read 3°, and passed.

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