HC Deb 17 July 1857 vol 146 cc1772-80

in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the 1st and 2nd of Victoria, chap. 108, entitled "An Act to remove doubts as to the Validity of certain Oaths," said that the Act which he wished to amend was introduced by Lord Denman, to enable persons to take an oath according to the form and ceremony binding on their own conscience. The same Act rendered any person, forswearing himself liable to the pains and penalties attaching to perjury. There was some doubt in that Act as to how far its principles would extend, and he now proposed that that principle should apply to Members of the High Court of Parliament. This would not necessitate any alteration in the substance of the oath, but only in the form in which it was taken in particular cases. It would place certain persons who could not take the oaths as they at present stood in the same position as the Quaker, by allowing them to take them in the way most binding on their conscience. This Bill was in conformity with what he believed was the law for 200 years, and, at all events, with what Lord Hardwicke declared to be the law in the last century. He concluded by asking for leave to bring in the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed,— That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Act 1 & 2 Vict., c. 105, intituled, 'An Act for removing Doubts as to the Validity of certain Oaths.'


The statement which the noble Lord has just made would not certainly lead the House to any just conclusion as to what is intended by the Act; but the statement which the noble Lord made during the evening upon the question of the adjournment of the House to Monday, so irregularly, has intimated to this side of the House what the object he proposes to effect by this Motion really is, and, therefore, I take it for granted that his object is to try, a second time, to introduce a Bill in the same Session of Parliament which has seen it defeated once. The Bill he proposes to introduce he says, is founded upon an Act of Parliament made at the commencement of the Queen's reign; but in doing so the noble Lord has confounded two things essentially distinct, which will readily be seen if you compare the object of the Act of Parliament with the object of the present Bill. The object of that Act was simply that, where a witness should be required for the purpose of justice to give evidence in a court in which an oath was necessary, that oath should be taken in a form most binding on the conscience of the person taking it, in order that justice might not fail. But the object of the noble Lord is totally different. It is not only to admit members of the Jewish persuasion to Parliament, but, as intimated at the commencement of the evening, it has an object not consistent with what has been the law of the country for 200 years, and it will actually set aside the deliberate judgment of the Court of Exchequer, which has determined that the words "on the true faith of a Christian" are a part not of the form, but of the substance of the oath. For that reason, I say that the Bill the noble Lord wishes now to introduce is not founded on the Act of Parliament to which he refers, but on totally different principles. But, Sir, the one objection which ought to prevail in the House of Commons is that this is an attempt to introduce in the same Session of Parliament a question which has been already decided, and which, therefore, cannot be again brought forward in this Session. By so attempting to violate the spirit of the rules and practice of Parliament, you are deliberately putting yourself in opposition to the other House of Parliament, which has never been considered a wise course for the House of Commons to pursue, and which can only be pursued upon the ground, not that you wish to convince but that you wish to overawe the House of Lords (cheers). Those cheers from below the gangway clearly indicate that you are going to do what once only has been done in the history of the country—you are going to make an attempt, by Resolution of one House of Parliament, to overrule the deliberate voice of the other. These principles, so dangerous and so detrimental, are used for the purpose of advocating the admission of Jews to Parliament; but I say that in order to maintain the dignity and authority of Parliament this Bill ought not to be introduced. I may add one other reason. We are now at the end of the Session; you have got a multiplicity of business on your hands; and, considering that this is a question which must lead to prolonged debates, it is far from wise to re-open it. I shall, therefore, oppose its introduction.


said he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman to some extent. This Bill was not wanted; the present law was strong enough. The words of the Act were remarkable—"In all cases in which an oath may lawfully be administered to any person, either as a juryman or a witness in any proceeding civil or criminal in any court of law in the United Kingdom, and in any office or employment on any occasion whatsoever." What could be stronger than that? He asked the House to be their own lawyers, and not to be ruled by any Court of Law or Court of Exchequer whatever. With respect to the House of Peers, let them look at what had been done in the Wensleydale case, and apply the same rule to their own conduct. He should be better pleased to see the House act upon its own Resolution, but rather than there should be no remedy he should support the introduction of the noble Lord's Bill. There were two precedents—the one adopted in 1833. Mr. Pease came to the table of the House and said it was contrary to his religion to take an oath; and the House dispensed with the oath, and allowed him to make an affirmation, and leave out the words "on the true faith of a Christian" and "so help me, God." Had not the other House done the same, and opposed the prerogative of the Crown? When Lord Wensleydale was made a peer for life, the Lords took to themselves a power respecting their own privileges which the House of Commons ought now to take. These privileges were co-ordinate. The Bill ought not to have been brought in, but as it was better than the present state of things, he should vote for it, but he asked the noble Lord to take a bolder course, which would conciliate the people of England. Let them bring the question through by a majority of the House, and if they determined on the course he advised them, he had no fear either of the Peers or of the Judges of England who had been held up as bugbears.


—It is perfectly obvious that this is a question which requires great and serious discussion. I must, therefore, move the adjournment of the House; but I cannot pass the statement of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) altogether without remark. He has argued the question of privilege, and has referred to the House of Lords. The hon. and learned Member argues as though this measure does not affect the constitution of both Houses, whereas, it is evident that the former Bill for the relief of the Jews, which the House of Lords rejected, affected the constitution of that House just as much as it would affect the constitution of this. To say that the Lords have claimed for themselves a privilege which they will not admit us to exercise in this House is simply to misstate the case, because both the rejected measure and the new one proposed would affect the constitution of each House. With respect to what he said about the exercise of privilege in the House of Lords, it is perfectly well known that the constitution of that House, and the appointment of its members is a matter connected with hereditary right, and has nothing whatever to do with the representative principle, and therefore, the constitution of the two Houses being different, there can be no analogy in the cases. It is altogether a mistake to declare that the House of Lords ever exercised a privilege which it would deny to the House of Commons. The House of Lords has a right to express their opinion upon any measure whatever, and this is a revolutionary attempt to crush them in the exercise of that fair expression of opinion as to their own constitution, which would have been affected by the Bill which this House passed, but which they rejected. This is simply an act of revolutionary tyranny. I beg now to move that the House do now adjourn. There are many who take a deep interest in the question like myself. This Bill is just as much a blow at the constitution of the House of Lords as an attempt to interfere with that of the House of Commons, and I shall, therefore, give it my most strenuous opposition.


observed, that he thought that the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had taken the constitutional course, and he trusted that the House would not follow the advice of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. He should be glad to see Baron Rothschild in the House, but he would be no party to admit him in an unconstitutional manner.

Motion made and Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."

The House divided:—Ayes 55; Noes 109: Majority 54.

Original Question again proposed.

MR. WARREN moved the adjournment of the debate.


said, that seeing the temper of hon. Gentlemen on the other side, he felt it necessary to state the position in which the question stood, and to state, that he had no wish to coerce the House of Lords into a decision upon the subject. He must, however, contend that due regard ought to be paid to the privileges of the House of Commons, and that the House of Lords alone ought not to be allowed to entertain questions by which its privileges were supposed to be affected. A few years ago he was of opinion that it was requisite to have the assent of the two Houses to any alteration of the oaths taken at the table. Since then the case of Mr. Archdall, and more recently the case of Mr. Pease, had occurred, in each of which the House of Commons had dispensed with the oath and permitted an affirmation to be taken in its stead. He also might cite the opinion of Baron Alderson in support of the view that the words "on the true faith of a Chris- tian" had not been originally introduced into the oath for the purpose of meeting the case of the Jews, but to obviate certain doctrines which, upon the part of Roman Catholics, were supposed to have been entertained. He, therefore, believed the House had the power of admitting Baron Rothschild in a similar manner; but he should be sorry to see the House adopt that mode of proceeding, as it was contrary to the opinions of the majority of the Judges of the land. It was for the purpose of avoiding any collision that he had proposed the present Bill. But hon. Gentlemen opposite were determined not to enter into any discussion. If that was not their object, why did they move the adjournment of the House? There was no hon. Member more ready to take the substance of the oath than Baron Rothschild. This was a question of the greatest importance to the electors of the City of London, and of the country generally. If hon. Gentlemen opposite thought they could defeat the object of the Bill by delay it would take a long discussion to do so. Baron Rothschild would conceive it his duty to come to the table and raise the question as to whether he should be allowed to take his seat—and he should advise his hon. Colleague not to forfeit his rights and privileges.


in answer to the noble Lord said, he and his hon. Friends near him were desirous that full discussion should take place on the important subject before them, and it was with that view that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Midhurst had moved the adjournment of the debate. That he thought was no unreasonable proposition, seeing that it was near three o'clock. He must, however, mention, that in his opinion if Baron Rothschild were to present himself at the table in the manner referred to, he would render himself liable to the penalties of the Act.


contended that there was no occasion for the adjournment of the debate, as the proper time to take the discussion upon the Bill would be when it came on for second reading. He for one was disposed to move that Baron Rothschild should be allowed to take his seat in that House without the necessity of taking the oaths, and if he were to do so he (Mr. Roebuck) would be prepared to move, that any person who should prosecute the noble Baron for having taken that course should be deemed guilty of a breach of the privileges of that House.


said, he must protest against the revolutionary doctrine which had been advanced by the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken—a doctrine which was similar to that contained in the Resolution of the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn). If the House were to act in the manner suggested, there would be no longer any securities for the liberties of the people.


said, he begged to deny that the Motion which he had announced it to be his intention to submit to the House was one of a revolutionary character; on the contrary, it would only carry out the law as it at present stood.


said, that his only object in moving the adjournment of the House was that a full discussion upon the important Motion of the noble Lord the Member for London might take place. He most strongly protested against the revolutionary doctrines which had in the course of the discussion been promulgated.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

The House divided:—Ayes 52; Noes 100: Majority 48.

Original Question again proposed.


then moved the adjournment of the House.

Motion made and Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."

The House divided:—Ayes 51; Noes 97: Majority 46.

Original Question again proposed.


then rose to express a hope that the unseemly contest in which they had been engaged should be brought to a close. He mentioned that the case was one of no ordinary nature, and should appeal to the noble Lord the Member for the City of London whether an opportunity of fully and fairly discussing it should not be afforded. He should, with that view, move the adjournment of the debate.


observed, that the course which had been adopted by the hon. Gentlemen opposite, in opposing the introduction of a Bill, was one of a most unusual nature. The usual practice was to take the debate on the second reading.


said, that it was an unequally unusual course to ask for leave to introduce virtually the same Bill twice in the same Session; and he protested, more- over, against the introduction of a measure so Important at two o'clock in the morning, after hon. Members had been exhausted by a sitting of fourteen hours.


said, he could have no hope of bringing on the Bill at this period of the Session, at any other than a late hour of the night.


said, the noble Lord might fix Tuesday next for the Bill, as there were no Motions on the paper, except from hon. Members sitting on the same side of the House as the noble Lord, who might easily prevail on them to give way. He thought his hon. Friends around him were taking a legitimate and not unusual course in the opposition they had given to the introduction of the Bill.


said, it was now so near four o'clock, that they might consider they were commencing a new day, with ample time for discussion before them.


deprecated the course pursued by Lord J. Russell, in bringing in a Bill the same in effect as one which had already been rejected in the present Session.


said, he would appeal to Lord John Russell to put an end to such an unseemly discussion, by not persevering with his Bill. If requisite he should be found at his post until that hour next day, in order to defeat such an attempt as that of the noble Lord. He would not allow the House to be bullied.

MR. ROEBUCK rose to order. The language of the hon. and learned Gentleman was unparliamentary.


said, he would at once withdraw the expression if considered objectionable, and would thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for the lesson.


observed, that he thought the hon. Member who brought the question out of the arena of Parliament to a pot-house over the way, did not contribute to the dignity of the House.


said, he was prepared to stay in his place as long as the hon. and learned Member for Midhurst (Mr. Warren) sooner than allow the Bill to be defeated in the manner attempted.


observed, that he had no doubt but the conduct of the Opposition that night would be duly appreciated by the country.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned.

The House divided:—Ayes 49; Noes 83: Majority 34.

Original Question again proposed.


said, he now rose to move what he thought would be considered a most reasonable proposition, namely, that the House do now adjourn. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had made some impertinent remarks. [MR. SPEAKER called the noble Lord to order.] He meant to say, that the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman were not pertinent. However, in discussing the question of adjournment, they ought not to forget they were breaking the Jewish Sabbath.


said, he would second the Motion out of consideration for the Speaker in the chair.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."


said, he was of opinion that the conduct of the Opposition on this occasion was unworthy the Commons of England.


conceived that he had been perfectly justified in bringing forward the Bill; but looking at the temper of the House, and seeing that there was nothing very important on the paper for Tuesday, he would consent to adjourn the debate till that day. As many hon. Gentlemen desired to seat Baron Rothschild by Resolution, he certainly should persevere with his Bill, in the hope of preventing a collision, and it would not be his fault if his conciliatory course was not adopted. If, however, the noble Lord (Viscount Galway) would allow his Motion for the adjournment of the House to be negatived, he (Lord J. Russell) would consent to the adjournment of the debate to Tuesday.

Motion and Original Question, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at half after Four o'clock till Monday next.