HC Deb 19 July 1858 vol 151 cc1754-62

Order for Committee read.


said, he did not rise to oppose the House going into Committee, but he wished to made a few observations on the strange and anomalous position in which they found themselves. If the House of Lords were desirous of agreeing to the admission of Jews to Parliament, it would have been better if they had agreed to the Bill which that House had sent up to them. He had opposed the clause in that measure relating to the Jews, but he must say that if the question was to be conceded, he thought it could not have been done more satisfactorily than by the adoption of the courteous and conciliatory clause proposed by the noble Member for the City of London, and he regretted that that clause had not been accepted by their Lordships. Instead of that the House of Lords had sent down this queer odd measure—this sort of Irish compromise—in which one party conceded everything and the other gave up nothing; and which left everything as unsettled as ever. The House of Lords in fact said, we are as opposed as ever to the unchristianising of the Legislature, but if the House of Commons wish to do so they may; and they sent down to that House this Bill, and at the same time, which seemed to be the climax of absurdity, they sent down five excellent Reasons why the Bill should not be passed, and having done so they washed their hands of the whole business. It seemed to him that this was a position which was wholly untenable. He might as well give a latch key of his neighbour's door to a well-known burglar and point out the way to the plate chest, and think himself free from responsibility because he react him a holy homily on the heinousness of breaking the eighth commandment. He should be sorry to go before a British jury in the hope that he would not be considered an accessory before the fact. In his opinion, the House of Lords were in the position of accessories before the fact. When a foreign nobleman came to that table as a representative of the City of London, and took an un-Christian oath, the guilt and responsibility would rest upon the House of Lords. Of course with the consciences of the House of Lords he had nothing to do, but he objected to this Bill, that it settled nothing. The House would no doubt see Baron Rothschild take his seat this Session, but the Resolution which permitted him to do so would last only during the present Parliament. He was convinced that when another appeal was made to the country the question would all be unsettled again. It appeared to him that the House of Lords had only carried a hypothetical Jew Bill, and having abandoned the whole question of Christianity, it was idle to fight for a shadow. Supposing that Her Majesty should summon Baron Rothschild to a seat in the House of Lords, he would have sat in the House of Commons as the representative of the greatest city in the world, and he would go up to the bar of the other House with the patent of the sovereign in his hand; would any one tell him that the House of Lords could refuse to admit him? Would the free admission given to the choice of liverymen of London be refused to the choice of the sovereign? Suppose the House of Lords refused to admit Baron Rothschild, the only result would be a direct collision between the Crown and the other House—the thing of all others in the world most to be deprecated. He would say that if they conceded the whole principle that Members of that House might take the oaths at the table without the words "On the true faith of a Christian," the Bill did not go far enough in the cause of civil and religious liberty, for he did not see why, if Jews were admitted to sit in Parliament, Mahomedans should be excluded. They believed the whole of the Old Testament; and, more, although they denied the divinity of our Saviour, they believed him to be a good man and an inspired prophet; whereas the Jews believed him to be an impostor; so that if there was to be any distinction it ought to be made rather in favour of Mahomedans. He was opposed to all measures for admitting Jews to Parliament, but of all the measures with that object, that which had received the sanction of the Earl of Derby, the Prime Minister of England and the leader of the Conservative party, was in his opinion, the very worst that was ever submitted to the consideration of the House.


said, that he had no doubt the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down were shared by a large majority of that House. He regarded this Bill as a miserable compromise, and he only accepted it as the best that could be got, and as for the present answering the purpose of those who wished to admit the Jews to Parliament. Those who were desirous of admitting the Jews to Parliament advocated their claims as a question of principle, and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite opposed it as a question of principle, and now there was thrown among them, with an entire ignoring of principle, this miserable subterfuge, and he was not sure that it was creditable to any party to accept it. If he had not felt that there was something more than personal feeling, at stake, he should not have thought it worth while to accept it even rather than to get nothing. He was almost inclined to prefer to postpone this question to another Session, and fighting it out upon principle, instead of agreeing to this unsatisfactory mode of settling such a question. All that could be said was, that it was a little better than nothing.


said, he concurred in the observations of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Knightley) with respect to this Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said that this was the best Bill that could be got; and if so, considering the great majority by which it was carried in both Houses, bad was the best. As so little had been said on this measure—as they were about to un-Christianize the Legislature without discussion—he should like to ask one or two questions. Did the House recollect that this was no settlement of the question at all? Every time a Jew came to the table to take the oath there must be a new Resolution passed, and in every new Parliament the question must be revived. He was not urging this as an objection to the Bill, because he believed the result would be that before many years, when the people were fairly represented in this House, there would be a vote in this House against the Jews; but he would say that the present proceeding was neither satisfactory nor creditable to the House. They had heard a great deal of the determination of this House not to be dictated to by the House of Peers. But what was the position of this question now? The House of Peers told the House of Commons—"We re- tain all our objections to the admission of Jews to Parliament; we believe that they are not fit to sit in the council of the nation, and we will not admit them to our House; but if you, the House of Commons, choose to un-Christianize your benches, we wash our hands of the matter, and leave you to make the best of it." Was that a dignified position for this House to be placed in? What, on the other hand, was the position of the Jews themselves? The House of Lords told them—"We will not admit you to our House, but if the House of Commons choose to allow you to contaminate them"—[cries of "Oh!"]—he was merely giving expression to the sentiments which would seem to be conveyed in the proposition of the House of Lords, and not using language of his own—"if they choose to admit you, they may do so." Could anything be more insulting to the Jews; It was an aggravated insult both to the House of Commons and the Jews. What he objected to, and what he regretted, was the want of consistency and foresight of those in "another place" in thus dealing with this question. The argument which was urged in favour of that inconsistency was, that if the Jews were any longer excluded from Parliament, there would be a danger of a collision between the two branches of the Legislature. That, however, was an argument which, in his opinion, was absurd, as he did not believe that there was any such danger. He believed the House of Lords might have gone on for a century to come rejecting the claims of the Jews; and if they had persevered in that consistent course, not only would there have been no feeling in the country against them, but their views would have gained ground; for he believed that the feelings of the people were not represented in the House on this question, and that the feeling of the great majority was decidedly opposed to the admission of the Jews to a seat in Parliament. There was another point which he would not pretend to argue, but he looked on this proceeding as a gross infringement of the rights of the Crown, and he should like to hear that point argued by persons competent to deal with it. Another class of persons were unjustly dealt with by this measure, and a clause had been handed to him with a request to move it in Committee; and his only reason for not wishing to do so was, that he did not desire to mix himself up in a matter so little creditable to all con- cerned in it. Otherwise he believed that the clause would be accepted by those who were in favour of civil and religious liberty by acclamation. It proposed to give the same liberty to all classes, and it proposed to add to the first clause the following words:—"Be it further enacted, that the provisions of this Bill be extended to all Turks, heretics, and infidels of every grade." [Cries of "Move!"] As he had said, he was not prepared to move at all in such a discreditable matter as this, but he would be ready to vote for such a clause, as he contended that the House was bound in justice to include Turks and heretics, and infidels, in the Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] He was glad to perceive, from the manner in which that sentiment was received, that the clause was likely to be so popular, and he should gladly place it in the hands of any of those hon. Members who cried "Hear, hear!" In conclusion, he would compliment the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) on the part he had played in this matter; and he only hoped the noble Lord's own reflections, and the part he would play in the eyes of posterity in relation to this question, would be as satisfactory as he could wish.


said, the House was placed in a most extraordinary position. They were asked to go into Committee on a Bill in favour of which no one had said a single word. On the contrary every one had condemned it. The noble Lord opposite said it was not his Bill, and only agreed to it because it carried out the object he had in view. What was that but saying that the "end justifies the means," and was that to go forth to the country as the principle on which that House acted. This measure was a great disgrace to the other branch of Parliament, and an insult to the House of Commons. The other House asked this House to agree to a measure every word of which they reprobated, and which was only accepted because it carried out the object in view. If the Jew came into Parliament he did so with the declaration of the House of Lords, that he was "morally unfit" to legislate for the country. It was strange that the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) had not favoured the House with his views on the constitutional part of the question. The noble Lord ought not to have been silent on that point after the challenges he had received. He would ask the noble Lord whether it was constitutional for one House of Parliament to ignore the other? The House of Commons had not been consulted in the matter. It was dangerous for the two Houses to begin to act separately by Resolution; and no one knew where such a course was to end. He particularly wished to hear, and he hoped the noble Lord would state, whether according to his views of the constitution, they in that House by themselves and without the consent of the upper House and the Crown, could take on themselves to say who was to sit in that House. In Committee he should move an Amendment to the first clause, reserving to the Crown the right of "veto," and enacting that every Resolution of this nature should be submitted to the Crown for its sanction.


said, that at the request of the hon. Member, and for no other reason, he would state his view of the question to the House. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think the House was now bound to proceed by a Resolution of its own and to seat Baron Rothschild or any other Jewish member without any authority of law. Now, if this Bill passed, the House of Commons would clearly be acting under the authority of an Act of Parliament which the House of Lords had already sanctioned, and to which they hoped the Crown would also assent. In the case of Mr. Pease there might be some doubt, but in this instance there could be none Whatever. It was not for him to defend the Bill of the House of Lords; but he did think the Earl of Derby, as the head of the Conservative party, was entitled to more respect than he seemed to receive from many Conservative Members in this House.

Motion made and Question put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.

The House divided—Ayes 144; Noes 40; Majority 104.

House in Committee.

Clause 1.


said, he wished to ask whether the object of the Bill could not be accomplished by better means than those proposed in the Bill? In the early part of the Session they had followed what he thought was a bad precedent inasmuch as the Oaths Bill they had sent up to the Lords did not afford to Roman Catholics the same advantage which was intended for Jews. In 1849 he had proposed to make one form of oath, but was then met by the argument that it would be imprudent to mix up the Roman Catholic question with the Jewish question. As the Bill now stood, taken in conjunc- tion wih the Amended Oaths Bill, there must be a fresh Resolution for each person, whereas he thought that it would be preferable to have one general Act applicable to all cases. Any other course would be only giving a veto to that House, to admit favourite persons, and would not be carrying out the principle of religious liberty, for which they were contending. For they did not maintain that there was any great advantage in having five or six gentlemen of the Jewish persuasion in that House. If this was to be considered a bargain with the Lords, he should not ask the House to break it, for he was desirous to see the Jews in this House, though he would rather see them introduced in some other manner than that they should be smuggled in in this manner. But if there were no such bargain, he would suggest that they ought to make the Resolution one which should be applicable to all cases. In conclusion, he would suggest that the words referring to the Oaths Bill should be struck out, and that the noble Lord should not press the notice he had given in reference to the Lords' Amendments of that Bill.


said, with respect to the objection that the form of oath did not apply to Roman Catholics, he would remind the Committee that that House bad decided against such form as he wished to adopt. As to the necessity of a fresh Resolution being passed in each case, he did not at all agree with the right hon. Gentleman; but, on the contrary, he believed that when any Jew came to the table to be sworn and declared he had a conscientious objection to the form of oath, it would be in the power of the House to declare that thenceforth every Jewish Member might take the oath without the words "on the true faith of a Christian." The words in the present Bill were framed upon the Oaths Bill as sent to the House of Lords, and if they were to be framed according to the Oath of Abjuration, objectionable terms relating to the Pretender must still be continued. He considered that the object they had in view would be attained by this Bill, and that any Jewish Member duly elected might come to the table and avail himself of the provisions of the Bill.


remarked that the Bill was not in the same state as when it passed the second reading in the House of Lords. In the original Bill the words were:— That if any person professing the Jewish religion shall have a conscientious objection to take the Oath of Abjuration in the terms required. On the third reading, for the purpose of compelling this House to accept another Bill, which it had already refused, and which it could not accept without assenting to reasons which were inconsistent with the step which it was now taking, these words were substituted:— Objection to taking the Oath which by an Act passed, or to be passed in the present Session of Parliament, has been or may be substituted for the Oath of Allegiance. He did not think that the course which the noble Lord now proposed to adopt would get rid of the difficulty, because, if they accepted a Bill which they had once rejected, they would make themselves parties to the Reasons which were given for its acceptance; and he should be quite prepared to vote for any Amendment which would restore this measure to the shape in which it stood when it was read a second time by the House of Lords.


said, that as the Bill originally stood it provided that a person professing the Jewish religion might omit the words "and I make this declaration on the true faith of a Christian." It was truly observed that these were not the words contained in the Oath of Abjuration as sent up from this House, those words being "I make this acknowledgment heartily, willingly, and truly, upon the true faith of a Christian." To remedy that inconsistency the House of Lords might either have put in the words which actually were in the Oath of Abjuration or have referred to the Bill. They adopted the latter alternative, and as that oath had been adopted by this House after considerable discussion, and he thought that any question as to its simplification might well be deferred, he could not admit any such Amendment as that suggested by his hon. Friend.


said, he moved a Proviso at the end of the first clause. If this Act passed, a Resolution of one House of the Legislature might in future become law without being liable to the veto of the Crown. He admitted that the Crown might give its veto to the Bill, but if that were not done, the power of placing a veto upon a Resolution of that House would be gone. The present appeared to him to be a most unconstitutional proceeding; and he hoped that some of those who had the constitutional duty and privilege of advising the Crown would point out to Her Majesty the danger of such a principle as that which this clause laid down. As a protest, he would move the insertion of the following proviso, at the end of the clause, without, of course, under existing circumstances, any expectation of its being adopted:— Provided always, that such Resolution shall not be acted upon until the consent of the Crown be signified to both Houses of Parliament.

Proviso negatived.


said, he wished to give notice that upon the Report he should call attention to the fact that the provisions contained in this measure were made dependent upon the passing of another Bill.

Clause agreed to, as were the remaining clauses.

House resumed.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read 3o To-morrow.