HC Deb 28 July 1851 vol 118 cc1594-607

Order for Consideration of Petition from London [presented 25th July] read.


said, that having presented, on Friday last, a petition which had been placed in his hands as the chairman of a most important meeting in the City of London; he was at liberty, he believed, to move that the prayer of the petition be granted. But, as the House had just come to a decision upon a petition from the electors of Greenwich, the prayer of which was of a precisely similar character, he thought it would be more conducive to the ultimate object of the petitioners themselves if he declined entering upon a renewal of the discussion on the present occasion. He yielded the more readily to that course, because he was willing to confess that that part of the petition which prayed that the petitioners might be heard by counsel at the bar of that House, was one in the expediency of which he was not able to coincide. But, having presided at that important meeting, he should scarcely do justice to the strong but respectful feeling which was there exhibited, if he sat down without venturing to make a respectful but most earnest appeal to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and who was one of the representatives of the City of London, and urging upon the consideration of that noble Lord the fact of the deep feeling of disappointment with which the electors of the City of London regarded the course which he had felt it his duty to pursue. The noble Lord, at the close of the Session of last year, felt it his duty to pass a declaratory resolution relating to the right of Baron Rothschild to take his seat as a Member of the House of Commons; and the noble Lord accompanied that resolution with a further declaration, that the House would take the whole subject into their early consideration, with a view to legislate thereupon. Now, he (Mr. R. Currie) thought that if, coming from the mouth of the Prime Minister, those words had any meaning at all, they meant that the whole power of the Government should be thrown into such legislation—and so they were interpreted by the electors of London. If the words meant not that, then they meant absolutely nothing, and were a mere delusion and a snare. They had heard of former Administrations which had pretended to show fight, and had brought measures forward only to be rejected; but surely the City of London had a right to consider that the noble Lord would act in a very different spirit, and that when he spoke of legislation he was in earnest, and was ready to stake the existence of the Government upon the point. He (Mr. R. Currie) would not, however, look back to the past, but would look forward to the future; and the light in which he viewed this Jewish question, he confessed, was wholly subordinate to that great constitutional axiom which he had always maintained, namely, the inherent and indefeasible right of the electors of this country to return to Parliament those men whom in their consciences they deemed best fitted to represent their interests. Now, the noble Lord had promised a measure of reform. He (Mr. R. Currie), for one, most earnestly desired to see such a measure brought forward. Remembering with gratitude what the noble Lord had already done in the cause of reform, he had no doubt that the promised measure of next year would be worthy of the noble Lord's ancient reputation. But the noble Lord had hinted to them that the remission of the property qualification would be one portion of that measure. Now, he (Mr. R. Currie) earnestly hoped that a much larger change than that would be effected, and that the abolition of all oaths to be taken as religious tests would form an integral part of that measure. He meant, by integral part, such a part as would make it a question on which, by its success or failure, the Government were determined to stand or fall.


felt bound to discharge the duty with which the hon. Gentleman had been entrusted, and which he had failed to perform. As the notice did not stand in any particular name, it was competent for him to do so. He would, therefore, move that the prayer of the petition of the electors of London be then taken into consideration. He had a right as an elector of the City of London, to complain of the conduct of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. R. Currie), to whom the petition had been entrusted. He could speak as one of the electors who was present at the meeting where the petition was adopted, that if that meeting could have known that the hon. Gentleman would, in his place, have expressed his dissent from the prayer of the petition, it would not have been entrusted to him for presentation. He (Mr. Anstey) felt that he should be discharging his duty by moving, in the terms of the notice on the paper, that this petition be taken into consideration, and that the House hear counsel on behalf of the electors of the City of London, in pursuance of the prayer of that petition. Those electors had a right to consider their case as distinct from that of the electors of Greenwich. The case of Baron Rothschild was essentially distinct from that of Alderman Salomons. Alderman Salomons had yet to be debarred, by a formal resolution, from taking his seat. Having just decided that they would not hear counsel at the bar on behalf of Alderman Salomons, they were now called upon to say whether they would hear counsel on behalf of the City of London. It was well known, last year, that the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) said, if Baron Rothschild expressed a wish to be heard by himself or coun- sel, he (Lord John Russell) should have every disposition to hear him. Well, Baron Rothschild did wish to be heard, and he had authorised this petition to be presented to the House. He had done what Alderman Salomons could not do. Alderman Salomons had sat in his place; he could not, therefore, request to be heard at the bar of the House, either in person or by counsel, or in any other place except where he ought to be heard, namely, in his own proper seat in the House. But Baron Rothschild had not yet asserted his right to a seat and vote in Parliament; he was, therefore, in a position to be heard at the bar, and he now requested to be heard; in conjunction with his fellow-constituents, he requested the House to do that which the noble Lord, last Session, said he was ready to do. He (Mr. Anstey) trusted the House would see that they were not precluded from complying with that request by reason of the unfortunate decision to which they had just come in the case of Alderman Salomons. Before he sat down he begged to say that it was his intention to press this Motion to a division: he therefore would tell his doubting or timid Friend (Mr. R. Currie) not to waste time by endeavouring to persuade him not to take that course. He would advise the citizens of London to leave nothing untried to obtain their rights. He wished to impose the responsibility on those who refused those rights. ["Hear, hear!"] He was glad to find that hon. Gentlemen opposite accepted that responsibility. He would take this opportunity of explaining, in reply to what had fallen from the hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Inglis), which the forms of the House had prevented him from doing before, that the point was really this—that Baron Rothschild was duly qualified, was duly elected, had taken the oaths prescribed and required by law, and was, therefore, entitled to take his seat. The points of qualification and election the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) had admitted, but there he stopped. The hon. Baronet argued that Baron Rothschild was no more qualified than a lunatic, a female, a minor, or an alien; but the cases were not at all parallel; for neither a lunatic, a female, a minor, nor an alien, was eligible; and if any one such were elected, such person could not sit, the votes of the electors would be thrown away, and the person next on the poll could demand to be returned by the returning officer. But Baron Rothschild was eligible, and this was the distinction which the friends of that Gentleman took. When he (Mr. (Anstey) said that the oath tendered at the table to the Jew was at all events illegal so far as the Jew was concerned, because it was not binding on his conscience, he at the same time affirmed that the solemnity of the oathtaking should be altered; and he contended that it was competent for Baron Rothschild and Alderman Salomons to alter the oath themselves. The resolution of last Session distinguished the case of Baron Rothschild from that of Alderman Salomons; and to enable the former to sit and vote, it was necessary that they should rescind that resolution. To remove all doubts, the citizens of London asked them to rescind it, and then, by another resolution, to declare that the oath as taken by Baron Rothschild was well taken, or by some other solemnity to do what in justice they ought to adopt. He was astonished that the noble Lord should have given up the case of Baron Rothschild in the manner in which he did. The noble Lord admitted that the case of Baron Rothschild was not like that of a lunatic, an alien, a female, or a minor; but said that it was the case of a man who came to the table and refused to take the oath required by law. Now, what was the whole contest about last year? It was whether Baron Rothschild had refused to take the oath or not? Nobody doubted that if he had refused to take the oath, the House of Commons would have had no discretion, but must have declared the seat void, and have issued a new writ. The cases of Fanshawe and of Mr. O'Connell were quoted on that occasion; but in both those cases the parties absolutely refused to take the oaths, which necessarily imposed upon the House the duty of ordering new writs to issue. The Resolution of last Session admitted that Baron Rothschild had taken the oaths of allegiance, that he had not refused the oath of abjuration, and that the seat was full, and that the only question was as to the form of the oath. What he (Mr. Anstey) contended was, that Baron Rothschild had not only not refused to take the oath, but that he had taken it. The House, on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Abingdon (Sir F. Thesiger), that a new writ be issued, decided reasonably, justly, and as it became them, that a new writ could not be issued because the seat was full. But the noble Lord would seem now to say that the House, last year, had decided unjustly, in- consistently, and. unreasonably; and that, although the seat was full, although they could not issue a new writ, and although the oaths had been taken and not refused, yet, nevertheless, the House ought not to let Baron Rothschild either sit or vote. That was the resolution of which he and the electors of London complained; and it was upon that point they wished the House to be instructed by counsel. The question was, could they, after having by unanimous assent recognised the right of a Jew to sit in Parliament, and after having allowed a Jew to be sworn twice at their table in a particular manner, could they afterwards legally impose upon that Jew a Christian solemnity for the purpose of taking a third oath? That was the question which counsel would have to argue; and no doubt the House would listen more patiently to arguments advanced by them than to any thing which hon. Members of that House were capable of urging. This advantage was at present denied to the electors of the City of London, to which they were entitled as a right. The House had promised to recognise that right, and it was in their name that he now, for the reasons he had given, asked the House to agree to the following Resolution:—

Motion made, and Question put— That this House will hear Counsel for the Electors of the Ciy of London, in pursuance of the prayer of their said petition.


said, that as an elector of the City of London he was present at the meeting to which allusion had been made, and a more respectable and intelligent meeting it had never been his lot to witness. A better-conducted assembly he never saw, which was more than could be said of all assemblies, for even where parties opposed to their views addressed them, they accorded a most patient hearing. The petition, as originally prepared, did not contain the prayer to be heard by counsel at the bar, but only a prayer calling upon the Government to give pledges of their sincerity in the vindication of the great principles of civil and religious liberty; the subsequent prayer was added for the sake of unanimity. It seemed to him that these two prayers were quite consistent. The noble Lord had misapprehended him in supposing that he had contended for the right of one branch of the Legislature alone to set aside the law; while he agreed with the petitioners in calling upon the noble Lord to abolish the oath of abjuration, he, at the same time, fully concurred with the noble Lord that that could not be done by the House of Commons alone. The second part was quite consistent with the first, and all the law required had been done. It was hopeless to divide the House; but as there was nothing unconstitutional in asking the House to alter the decision of last Session, he would support the Motion.


said, he threw himself on the indulgence of the House for a moment. Though he seldom troubled them, there were occasions on which a man was obliged to speak, and he felt that this was one of them. He might be permitted to state that he felt unfitted, by his taste, his habits, and his pursuits, to take part in political agitation; but having taken a deep interest in this question for several years past, he could not refuse to take the chair at the public meeting when he was called upon to do so. He quite agreed with his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Aglionby) as to the respectability of the meeting, at which, as was usual in such cases, resolutions were prepared beforehand, and were proposed and seconded, not by Members of Parliament or by professional agitators, but by men of great eminence and high standing in the commercial world—by such men as Mr. John Dillon and Mr. Samuel Morley. Those resolutions, two in number, were proposed and discussed, and were carried unanimously. To show the calmness of the meeting, he might state that one gentleman who proposed that Baron Rothschild should vacate his seat, and who did not appear to have a single supporter in the meeting, was yet heard through a long speech without any interruption whatever. As he sat admiring this scene—contrasting it with the excitement that often prevailed in more aristocratic assemblies—as he thought of what had taken place in the House only a few nights before, when the hon. and learned Member for Youghal desired at once both to rouse and to defy the tempest; he happened to turn round, when, lo! the hon. and learned Member himself stood by his side, flourishing in one hand his well-known pocket handkerchief, and brandishing in the other a formidable petition. What a sight was this for the chairman of a public meeting! He (Mr. Currie) actually trembled at the apparition. The hon. and learned Member came down to say that they were all wrong, and that he was the only one right—that he was the only one who knew what ought to be done. He expostulated with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but the hon. and learned Gentleman declared vehemently, "I'll carry it." Why, the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his vehemence and perseverance, could carry anything—no public meeting could stand against him. But just at this crisis—at this terrible nodus in which the hon. and learned Member threatened to bind the meeting—Deus intersit—Minerva came down in the shape of the hon. and learned Member for Cockermouth. That hon. and learned Gentleman, as the House well knew, carried oratorical guns of large dimensions, of no mean report, and no inconsiderable bore. He observed at that time that the hon. and learned Member for Youghal was absolutely pawing the ground, eager for the wordy battle; doubtless he felt— That stern joy which warriors feel In foemen worthy of their steel. He expected nothing less than that a rencounter would take place, and that the two hon. and learned Gentlemen would come into actual collision. But at that moment his attention was called off to the business of the meeting—for this, it must be observed, was all by-play—behind the scenes—and when he turned round again he found that the hon. and learned Member for Cockermouth had used the interval with great diplomatic ability in soothing the hon. and learned Member for Youghal, so that he was able to announce that political panacea they had so often heard of—a compromise. He would put it to any hon. Gentleman who had ever had the misfortune to be chairman of a public meeting, whether, in such circumstances, he would not have gladly accepted such a compromise? He certainly felt no desire to quarrel with it at that time; but he begged the House to observe that the result was the petition before them, concluded with three prayers. The first of them, which prayed the House to call upon Her Majesty's Ministers to secure the great principles of civil and religious liberty, by passing a measure for the total abolition of all religious oaths, was, he might say, the legitimate child of the two resolutions that had been previously passed. But the other two prayers were at best but the grandchildren of those resolutions, begotten upon the corpus—he liked to use the legal phrase—of the petition by the two hon. and learned Gentlemen. That was the plain matter of fact; and was he to be taunted for having, as chairman of a public meeting, deserted his duty to that meeting by not supporting two extraneous prayers which had been foisted into their petition? He was quite aware that the meeting unanimously assented to the prayers; but he submitted that they were unable at the time to criticise anything that was proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Youghal.


thought it was perfectly clear that the meeting in the city of London had but a very imperfect idea of what it was about. Which was the amendment, and which was the resolution, nobody could say.


There was no amendment.


I beg pardon; there was an amendment.


thought this contradiction only confirmed what he had said of the confusion. But the meeting of the City of London was not to decide this question. Whatever might be the opinions popular in the City of London, or in the borough of Greenwich, hon. Gentlemen opposite must be good enough to remember that this question had not yet been submitted to the people of England at a general election.


did not rise to enter into any dispute as to whether the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was a more correct representative of the people of England than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. R. Currie). He (Mr. Osborne) believed that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Newdegate) did represent a small certain party in Warwickshire; but he protested against it going to the country that the hon. Member spoke the opinions of that small party on any question but that of protection. On the question of civil and religious liberty he believed the hon. Member was entirely at issue with his constituents; and he thought that the hon. Member would find this out at the forthcoming general election. He (Mr. Osborne) simply rose now to protest against the language used by his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton. His hon. Friend might be a very good chairman of a meeting, but he took leave to say that his hon. Friend was a very bad advocate of a cause like this. When his hon. Friend attempted to throw odium upon an hon. and learned Gentleman who, however he might excite the risible faculties of that House, he (Mr. Osborne) believed to be superior to very many in that House in learning and in moral courage, and who had done good service on this question; his hon. and learned Friend must see that he was not advocating the cause which he as well as the hon. and learned Gentleman had at heart. He (Mr. Osborne) begged to tender his thanks to that hon. and learned Gentleman for the able, manly, and independent stand which he had taken in these discussions. He (Mr. Osborne) would, on this occasion, venture to offer the noble Lord at the head of the Government a few words of advice. He (Mr. Osborne) had been present at the City meeting, and he knew what the opinions of that great constituency were on this question; and however the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) might sneer at the City of London, it so happened that the opinions of the City of London were generally carried out in the legislation of this country. He did not suppose that this difficulty could be settled this Session; but unless the noble Lord determined next Session to take up this question in reality, he (Mr. Osborne) I was satisfied that the general feeling of the people would be for a reform of the House of Lords. He would frankly say that, for one, he did not wish that demand to be agitated; but be warned the noble Lord that if that was agitated, a devil would be raised not easy to lay again. He hoped the noble Lord would take this danger into consideration. He hoped the noble Lord would bring in a Bill to abolish all religious tests whatever; and he apprehended that hon. Gentlemen opposite were not better Christians than hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House, or, if practice was to go for anything in Christianity, that they were not one whit better Christians practically than the hon. Alderman the Member for Greenwich. He hoped that when the noble Lord did bring in a measure dealing with this difficulty, it would at the same time deal with the whole question of religious tests. He hoped that this farce would not go on Session after Session, and that they were not to get for next year a mere "promise to pay," which was never to be honoured.


as one of those who had voted for the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Osborne), must express his dissatisfaction at the course he had pursued. The hon. Member was one of the stock pieces at all oratorical platform meetings. [Mr. OSBORNE: I never was at one in my life.] Why, the hon. Member was reported to have been at one the other day. The hon. Member seemed to say, no one was so liberal as himself; but he (Sir J. Tyrell) took the liberty of reminding him that he had been as silent as a mouse during the discussion of the Papal question. [Mr. OSBORNE: I beg your pardon; I was not.] The hon. Member had voted directly against the feeling of the bulk of his constituents, as he would find next election. [Mr. OSBORNE: You don't know.] He was sorry his observations had been taken so much amiss, as at the last election he gave the hon. Member a plumper. As a Member of the reformed House of Commons, he must say they had been drawn into every conceivable question while discussing the present case; and, though most unfavourable similies had been drawn between it and the present House, he must say, as one who had been a Member of the unreformed House of Commons, that they would have got rid of all those pettifogging questions with respect to the petition, and would at once have come to the substance of the case. The hon. Member (Mr. Currie) had certainly taken the most gentlemanly view of it, and he wished those who represented metropolitan districts would take their lesson and their cue from him.


rose to defend the hon. Member for Middlesex against the imputations of the hon. Baronet. He said he was dissatisfied with the course taken by the hon. Member for Middlesex, but at all events he could not have been deceived by it, for the course taken by his hon. Friend, as Member for Middlesex, was the same as that taken by him when Member for Wycombe. He could also state, in opposition to the insinuation of the hon. Baronet, that his hon. Friend was fully determined again to present himself before the electors of Middlesex; and he (Mr. Hobhouse) did not doubt that he should again hail him as the representative of that important constituency. While he gave full credit to the hon. Member for Northampton for heartiness in the cause of Jewish emancipation, he contended that he had acted on this occasion contrary to his own better judgment. He thought the question before them was a grave and a constitutional one, affecting the liberty of the subject, the constitution of the country, and the rights of the electors; and he wished to know if they could have a better opportunity of having this subject brought before them in all its aspects than by allowing counsel to speak at the bar? He need not say that there were many precedents for such a course. In the first Parliament in which he had the honour of a seat in this House a loud outcry was made against what was called the sacrifice of the constitution of Jamaica, and counsel were heard at the bar on their behalf. This was a case where a colony was concerned—would they do less where the city of London and the constituency of Greenwich were concerned? Were those near at home to be treated with greater indifference than those abroad? For his part he thought they ought to admit the hon. Member at once. They must admit him soon. If they were prevented much longer, he believed the House of Lords would be in danger. He considered that the House of Lords had a right to reconsider the decisions of the House of Commons—that it formed a useful balance in the powers of the constitution; but if that House opposed itself to the repeatedly expressed opinions of the people, he believed that would only lead to the question being settled in an unconstitutional way. It was for this reason that he should like to hear the arguments of counsel at the bar, as he believed they would throw much light on the case. He congratulated himself for having the other night called up the hon. Member for Greenwich, who did credit to himself, and, he was sure, materially advanced the question, by the taste, the propriety, and the talent he then displayed. He believed the same result might follow from the arguments of counsel. With regard to the settlement of the question, he thought no time was better than the present, when no other question was pressing itself upon their attention. Next year they were to have Parliamentary reform, and other questions were talked of, which would form an impediment to the settlement of this great question, and which, in fact, had always been postponed for questions of ephemeral importance. He would advise hon. Gentlemen opposite not to push their opposition to this question too far, for the time would come when they would yield to clamour what they denied to justice.


in reply, said he would not go into the personal questions that had been raised, and which, in his opinion, were more discreditable to the Gentlemen who promoted them, than to the Member who was the occasion of them. He rose only to say, that the petition as it now stood was not inconsistent with the resolutions that had been passed. The prayer, to which the hon. Member for Northampton objected, was that the House should at once seat Baron Rothschild, or give him a hearing. Now one of the Resolutions was, that the House had, by a strained interpretation of an Act of Parliament, and an unworthy interposition of their privileges, defeated the rights of the electors. He put it to the House if there was not the utmost harmony between the prayer and the resolution?

The House divided:—Ayes 41; Noes 77: Majority 36.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Kershaw, J.
Bell, J. M'Gregor, J.
Bethell, R. Mahon, The O'Gorman
Bright, J. Mitchell, T. A.
Brown, W. Moffatt, G.
Clay, J. Pilkington, J.
Cobden, R. Power, Dr.
Collins, W. Salwey, Col.
Dawes, E. Scobell, Capt.
Devereux, J. T. Sidney, Ald.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hn. C.T. Smith, J. A.
Duke, Sir J. Stuart, Lord J.
Duncan, G. Thompson, Col.
Ellis, J. Thompson, G.
Evans, Sir De L. Villiers, hon. C.
Forster, M. Wakley, T.
Fox, W. J. Walmsley, Sir J.
Hall, Sir B. Williams, W.
Henry, A. Willyams, H.
Hobhouse, T. B. TELLERS.
Hutt, W. Anstey, T. C.
Keating, R. Osborne, R. B.
List of the NOES.
Baines, rt. hon. M. T. Ferguson, Sir R. A.
Baldock, E. H. Freshfield, J. W.
Bankes, G. Fuller, A. E.
Baring, rt. hon. Sir F. T. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Barrow, W. H. Gwyn, H.
Beresford, W. Hallewell, E. G.
Blackstone, W. S. Halsey, T. P.
Bowles, Adm. Hamilton, G. A.
Bramston, T. W. Hastie, A.
Brisco, M. Hatchell, rt. hon. J.
Brooke, Sir A. B. Hawes, B.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Headlam, T. E.
Bunbury, E. H. Heald, J.
Cabbell, B. B. Henley, J. W.
Campbell, Sir A. I. Hodges, T. L.
Cardwell, E. Hodgson, W. N.
Child, S. Hotham, Lord
Cockburn, Sir A. J. E. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Coles, H. B. Johnstone, J.
Collins, T. Knox, hon. W. S.
Conolly, T. Lockhart, A. E.
Cotton, hon. W. H. S. Manners, Lord C. S.
Cowan, C. Maunsell, T. P.
Denison, E. Maxwell, hon. J. P.
Dick, Q. Mullings, J. R.
Edwards, H. Newdegate, C. N.
Fergus, J. Packe, C. W.
Parker, J. Thesiger, Sir F.
Plowden, W. H. C. Thornhill, G.
Portal, M. Vyse, R. H. R. H.
Pusey, P. Walpole, S. H.
Renton, J. C. Watkins, Col. L.
Richards, R. Wigram, L. T.
Russell, Lord J. Williamson, Sir H.
Sandars, G. Wilson, J.
Sibthorp, Col. Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Spooner, R. Wynn, H. W. W.
Stafford, A. TELLERS.
Stuart, J. Hill, Lord M.
Taylor, Col. Craig, Sir W. G.