HC Deb 17 March 1858 vol 149 cc294-305

Order for Committee read.


In rising, Sir, to move that you leave the Chair, I beg to state the course which I propose to pursue in consequence of the appeal made to me a few nights ago by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate). That hon. Gentleman said it would be inconvenient to discuss in Committee to-day that part of this Bill which relates to the admission of the Jews owing to the absence of many Members of Her Majesty's Government. Now, it appears to me that it is not advisable to postpone any further the consideration of the measure in Committee. But the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity, on the Report, of proposing the alterations in the Bill which he suggests. I will explain at the same time the alterations that I shall propose in order to enable him to effect that purpose; and likewise the alterations which I may think it necessary to propose on the Report. It was objected, in the last discussion on this subject, that the 7th clause of the Bill went further than was necessary in re-enacting and confirming the Oath to he taken by Roman Catholic Members. But my only object is to provide that this Act shall not in any way affect the Oath taken by Roman Catholics. That is a very important subject, but I agree that it is one which may be considered by itself, and may be so considered more conveniently than by any provision in this measure. In order, however, that there may not seem to be any special authority given by this Bill not in conformity with the Act of the 10th of George IV., I propose to omit the latter part of the 7th clause. The clause will then run thus: — Provided also, that nothing in this Act contained shall be held to alter or affect the provisions of an Act passed in the 10th year of King George]Y. e. 7, for the relief of His Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects.' I thus omit the words — but such provisions shall continue to be construed and take effect as if this Act had not been passed. Of course, it will be open to any one upon the Report to maintain, if be thinks right, that the words proposed to be omitted are essential, and ought to be restored. But in considering the Report, we may have other words suggested by way of preamble to the Oath I propose. The Oath ends with these words: — And I do declare that no foreign Prince, person, Prelate, State, or potentate, hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, preeminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, directly or indirectly, within this realm. And I make this declaration upon the true faith of a Christian. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) holds that these words might be construed to mean a declaration that no foreign Prince has any influence or authority over the minds of persons in this country who belong to the Roman Catholic religion. I contend that they do not fairly admit of that interpretation. But, perhaps, it would not be difficult to insert in | the preamble some words referring to the Act of the 1st of Elizabeth, upon which the Oath seems to have been founded. The historical statement which I have now very briefly to make is, that after the 20th of Henry VIII. certain laws were passed, depriving the See of Rome of the authority, pre-eminence, and jurisdiction, it had previously exercised in this country. Various spiritual functions, and likewise the power of levying annates and first-fruits, had been so exercised by the See of Rome, and those Acts took away the powers and authority of that Court in these realms, On the accession of Queen Mary all the Acts; of this nature that had been passed since the 20th of Henry VIII. were repealed, and it was declared by statute that the Queen had all the prerogatives and privileges which belonged to her Crown before the time of Henry VIII., but that she retained them subject to the laws which had prevailed before that time, and which had been subsequently abolished. When Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne the first thing that was done by an Act of the first year of her reign, and the first chapter was to declare that the jurisdictions, pre-eminences, and authorities of the See of Rome were usurped, and to restore what the statute asserted to be the ancient preeminence and power of the Crown of England, as independent of all foreign jurisdiction, whatsoever. That was the purport and meaning of the Act, and I think that some words in the preamble might make it clearer that this is not a declaration against influence over the mind, or anything of that nature, but a declaration in conformity with the intentions expressed in the 1st of Elizabeth. In looking at this oath I find that the words "directly or indirectly" are not included in the 1st of Elizabeth. I am not sure whether they were inserted in the reign of William III., or subsequent to that date; but it does not appear to me that they are necessary; and I may perhaps raise the question on the Report whether they should be retained. I do not propose in any way to alter the words of the oath, but that we should now go into Committee. The only alteration I have now to make is the omission of the words I have mentioned at the end of Clause 7; and I will give due notice of, and place upon the paper, any Amendment which I may propose upon the Report. This course will, I trust, enable the hon. Gentleman to raise the question which he wishes to raise.

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


I beg, on the part of a large number of Members of this House, with whom I have had an opportunity of speaking on the subject, to thank the noble Lord for the course he has now adopted. On so grave a subject we should have been most unwilling to be driven to the use of the forms of the House; but as Her Majesty's Government have to attend Her Majesty at her first levee, after their accession to office, and cannot therefore be in their places, and as many other Members being also prevented by that and other circumstances from being present, we should have been obliged to use the forms of the House to secure a discussion on this grave question which affects the Christian character of the House, respecting which a deep interest is felt in the country, as is shown by the number of petitions that have been presented. We should not be duly representing that deep feeling had we consented to discuss this question at an improper time. I am glad that the noble Lord has seen fit to accede to a request I ventured to prefer to him, not on my own part, but as representing a wide-spread feeling on the part of the most respectable portion of the community. I wish to take this opportunity of drawing the attention of the House to a point of order affecting the form in which petitions must be presented to this House. A petition signed by 320 clergymen, praying that this House would not abandon its Christian character, was presented to the House by Sir Frederic Thesiger, now Lord Chancellor. The Committee on Petitions have adopted a rule that unless the sheets upon which signatures are written, and which are attached to the head sheet, are of a particular size, they should be rejected; consequently, this petition only appears as having been signed by four persons, although I am prepared to prove that it was signed by 320 clergymen of the Church of England. I do not wish to dispute the point of order, but I wish to take this opportunity of stating what is not known to clergymen generally, that if their signatures are not written on large sheets of paper, that will be held a sufficient reason to erase their names from the petition. The Gentleman to whom was entrusted the care of collecting; the signatures to this petition has adduced to me proof that no signature was attached to the petition which had not previously been attached to a heading similar to the petition. And such care was taken by the National Protestant Association to avoid anything like unfairness, that if any clergyman objected to a single word in the heading, though he had signed, his signature was not attached to the petition which was presented to the House.


said, he wished to ask the noble Lord the Member for the City of London two questions, upon the answer to which would depend the course which it was his (Mr. Buncombe's) intention to adopt in reference to the admission of Jews to Parliament. he could not imagine a more humiliating apology for Jewish emancipation, or a greater stultification of the votes formerly given by the House in favour of religious equality, than the measure now proposed by the noble Lord. The questions, therefore, which he wished to ask were, whether, if the Bill were passed in its present form, the noble Lord could give the House any assurance that the Bill would meet with a better reception in another place, for, as far as he could understand, it not only humiliated the House and stultified its former votes, but it had not the most distant prospect of conciliating its opponents. He therefore asked the noble Lord whether the Bill was at all likely to meet a more favourable reception in "another place," and if unsuccessful, whether the noble Lord meant to adhere to his declared intention of bringing forward a Resolution under which the House of Commons might of its own action seat Baron Rothschild?


believed that the noble Lord, having already spoken on the Motion before the House, could not now speak again in answer to the questions of the hon. Member for Finsbury. Those questions could, moreover, better be put to the noble Lord when the House was in Committee. He cordially thanked the noble Lord for! the course he had taken—a course which, j while it was most fair towards the opponents of the Bill, would not be disadvantageous to its supporters. The only point on which they differed would now be taken on the Report.


would move that the debate be adjourned, to enable the noble Lord to answer his questions.


said, that the hon. Gentleman having spoken in the debate could not now make that Motion.


wished to know whether he would be in order in replying to the questions that had been, put to him?


said, that the noble Lord had not the right of replying on moving the Order of the Day. If the House agreed to the proposition that he should leave the chair the noble Lord would, however, have the opportunity he desired in Committee.


wished to state that an hon. Friend of his was determined again to bring forward the question that was discussed last year with reference to the position which Roman Catholic Members would occupy in consequence of the changes proposed by the noble Lord in the Protestant oath.


said, that the Committee on Petitions were bound by a strict Order of the House in dealing with petitions. All petitions must be signed by the persons whose names were affixed. And the rules that they adopted, and on which they had acted in the case referred to, were with a view to secure this. Very frequently, however, petitioners neglected to comply with this regulation. They sent an authority to some one else to sign for them, and the signature to this letter of authorization was cut off and pasted on the petition, to which the Committee frequently found portions of private letters attached.


very much doubted whe- their the Standing Order of the House prescribed the exact length or breadth of the papers to which signatures were to be attached.


said, it was assumed that a petition was an integral document, and in his previous observations he had alluded to papers containing names pasted on the attached sheets—small patches of paper which did not afford any evidence that the person whose signature was so affixed had signed the document.


had always understood that in the case of petitions the signatures to which were very numerous, it was the custom to paste or wafer on sheet after sheet containing those signatures; but he had never understood that the size of these sheets was limited to any particular number of inches. It was well -known that sheets were sent down to country towns for signature, and what the Standing Order was intended to prevent was the affixing to petitions of the signatures of persons who had not seen the petition itself. The subject was an important one and he hoped the Committee would lay down a more distinct rule than that now in existence.


said, he quite concurred in the view of the hon. Member for Finsbury as to the powers of that House in relation to the admission of the Jews, and thought the noble Lord the Member for the City of London ought to answer that hon. Member's questions before they went into Committee. He (Mr. Dillwyn), therefore, moved that the debate be adjourned to give the noble Lord an opportunity of doing so.

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


thought the more regular course would be for the House to go into Committee, when the noble Lord would have an opportunity of answering the questions of the hon. Member for Finsbury.

MR. SCOTT, as a member of the Committee on Petitions, said that the petition referred to by Mr. Newdegate had been before them, and presented this informality —that the names had been pasted upon sheets which were themselves afterwards pasted to the petition. There was no doubt each clergyman had signed his own name; but the informality was such that it could not have been overlooked without opening a door to great abuse.


was anxious to have it understood that, in the case to which he had directed the attention of the House, the signatures were attached to printed headings containing an authority to the persons who affixed the signatures to the Petition to do so; and, further, it would be found that those signatures were not single signatures, so far as being each on a separate piece of paper, but that in many cases three or four clergymen signed their names on the same slip.


said, that the Standing Order contained a direction against the pasting on of small pieces of paper.


said, that there would be some inconvenience in discussing the 5th clause of this Bill before the Resolution of which the hon. Member for Fins-bury had given notice was decided. He (Mr. Steuart) had received encouragement from several hon. Members to move either that the Bill be divided into two parts, or that the 5th clause be postponed till after the Motion of the hon. Member for Fins-bury had been disposed of.

Motion by leave withdrawn; Main Question put, and agreed to.

House in Committee.


I am now, Sir, entitled by the forms of the House to answer the questions which were put to me by the hon. Member for Finsbury. He asked me, in the first place, whether I had reason to count on a majority of the House of Lords in favour of this Bill; and, in the second, what course I should take supposing that a majority of that House should be against it. With regard to the first of these questions, I must say that it appears very doubtful from the discussion we had the other day where is the majority in this House of which we are all Members. There being no Member of the House who can very well say where that majority lies, it would be very presumptuous in me to say where the majority is in the House of Lords—the other House of Parliament, totally independent of us, and having its own principles upon which it can decide upon any Bill which comes before it. With regard to the second question, as to the course to be taken and the hard epithets which the hon. Gentleman applied to this Bill, I must say that my experience has taught me that it is very desirable—even where we have privileges which we can maintain against the courts of law and against other authorities—that, if possible, decisions which might be made by the authority of this House should he made by the general consent of parties. That was the case in an instance in which a great majority of this House took a very decided view of its privileges—the case of Stock-dale. We found it necessary to imprison the sheriffs, who were only obeying what they believed to be the law. That created a great deal of excitement in this House, and a great disturbance of public business, and angry and protracted debates; and at the end of these discussions we found that the best mode of settling the matter was to send a Bill to the other House of Parliament, to which they assented; and since then there has been no difficulty with respect to the publication of papers ordered by this House. I therefore conceive that this Bill is framed in a manner which, as; far as I can guess, will, if they are disposed to admit the Jews, be most agreeable to the Members of the other House of i Parliament. I think it my duty, if possible, to arrange and finally settle this question by the authority of Parliament, rather than to bring into discussion the absolute privileges of this House with regard to the oaths to be taken by its Members. With regard to this question, I should think it very inconvenient to raise a discussion as to what those privileges are and what they entitle us to do. There are two ways in which we might propose to seat Baron Rothschild. One way would be to allow Baron Rothschild to take the existing oath, omitting the words "on the true faith of a Christian." By taking that course we should come into collision with thy courts of law; because they have had the question before them, and have decided that those words are part of the oath which cannot be omitted. There is another mode which has the very high authority of the hon. and learned Gentleman the late Attorney General (Sir Richard Bethell), and according to which the House might under another Act of Parliament substitute a declaration in place of the oath, and might empower Baron Rothschild, or any other Member who desired it, to take the declaration in a certain form instead of the oath. I conceive it would be very inexpedient to discuss either one mode or the other. Either mode requires very great deliberation. I have already stated my opinion on the subject in introducing this Bill, and I do not think that it would be advisable either to repeat that declaration or to pledge myself any further on the subject. I think that this Bill is the best and most salutary mode of settling the question; therefore propose it to the House, and I leave it to a future time to take that course which I may think most consistent with the rights of the subjects of this land, with the privileges of this House, and with the general welfare of the State.


thought that the answer of the noble Lord had fully justified his putting these questions to him. The noble Lord had altogether avoided the question as to what in his opinion would be the result of the Bill in the other House of Parliament, He (Mr. Duncombe) maintained that it would meet the same fate as its predecessors. The House of Lords were not the men he took them for if they were deterred from pursuing an opposition which was founded upon their conscientious scruples by the threat which the noble Lord had once used, that if this Bill failed he would move to seat Baron Rothschild upon a Resolution. Two years ago the noble Lord expressed the opinion that it was useless to propose further legislation. He then wrote to his constituents the following letter:— Chesham Place, May 20, 1855. Sir, — I did not answer your former letter of the 19th inst., as I wished to take some time to consider the position of affairs as it regarded the privileges of the Jews, It appears to me that, while the friends of religious liberty are unchanged in their opinion respecting the disabilities of the Jews, the majority of the House of Lords are likewise unchanged in their opinion that the removal of these disabilities may be safely refused. The Government in these circumstances would be only throwing away time in attempting to carry a measure which one House of Parliament is sure to reject. Many Liberal Members of Parliament, while they would support a Motion to relieve the Jews from their disabilities, would consider as inopportune a question which would not advance the object to be attained. I must therefore, consider that it would be inexpedient to stir the question of Jewish emancipation in the present Session of Parliament. That claims so just can he permanently rejected I will not believe. But the friends of intolerance naturally cling to this last vestige of religious persecution, and exult hi the facility with which the exclusion of a body, not formidable in numbers, can be maintained. I remain, Sir, Your obedient servant, Sidney Smith, Esq. J. RUSSELL. He wanted to know what reason the noble Lord had for changing his opinion. He had every reason for maintaining it, for what happened after this letter was written? His right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton (Mr. Milner Gibson) introduced a Bill substituting a single oath for those now taken by Members of Parliament. That Bill went up to the House of Lords, and was rejected by a majority of thirty- five or thirty-six. During the last Session the Government introduced a Bill of a similar character—a rational Bill compared with this one. That Bill was rejected by the House of Lords by a similar majority. If, then, legislation was inopportune in 1855, what chance had it at the present moment? He had no reason—the noble Lord appeared to have no reason—to suppose that the House of Lords would stultify its previous votes, or would do other than reject this Bill. He confessed that when, on the first day of the Session in December last, the noble Lord came down in breathless haste, and gave notice of his intention to move that the House should resolve itself into a Committee to take into consideration the Jewish disabilities, he was weak and foolish enough to believe that things had come to a crisis, and that there was at last to be something like business. And what was the result? Why, this apology for Jewish emancipation, which was an insult to the Jews on account of the last clause, and an insult to the Roman Catholics, because it excluded them from the operation of the first clause. This being the position of affairs, he immediately gave notice of a Motion to seat Baron Rothschild by Resolution: whereupon the noble Lord, notwithstanding the declaration which he made last summer, gave notice that he should move the Previous Question as an Amendment to that Motion. Other business had prevented his bringing on that Motion; but he did think that such a Resolution ought to have preceded this Bill, and not to have followed it as a menace from the noble Lord, in the face of which it was impossible that the House of Lords should accept this measure. What their Lordships would probably do would be to omit the class with respect to Jewish Emancipation, and agree to the other parts of the Bill. The retention of the words "on the true faith of a Christian" was a completely retrogressive policy—it put back our legislation to the days of William III., and the subsequent renewal of the Act passed in his reign. The noble Lord had introduced views which they had been condemning in that House ever since Catholic Emancipation. He had voted for every Bill upon this subject which had been introduced since the first one which had been brought in by Sir Robert Grant in 1830, and he was sick of voting for them. He did not see that any good or any credit to that House could result from further attempts at legislation, particularly as he believed that they had it in their power by a Resolution to place Baron Rothschild in the seat to which he had four times been elected by the citizens of London. The introduction of such a Bill as this was insulting and humiliating to the citizens of London. He believed that at the end of the Session they would find themselves just whore they were now; and therefore if the noble Lord did not move a Resolution seating Baron Rothschild upon a declaration, or if such a Resolution was not moved by the hon. Member who first gave notice of it (Mr. Dillwyn), he should himself bring it forward.


differed from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury, and thought some deference ought to be paid the noble Lord. The hon. Gentleman should remember that he was not himself always right, for on a former occasion he had moved a Resolution that Baron Rothschild was, in consequence of contracts with Government, incapable of taking his seat—an opinion which had been distinctly and positively negatived by the decision of a Committee of the House of Commons. He thought that this House should legislate on the questions brought before it without reference to what might be done in the other House; but he was of opinion that there ought to be due deliberation, and that, if possible, all chance of a collision between that and the other House of Parliament should be avoided. The measure has been for many years (or, at least, a measure for the emancipation of the Jews) had been carried by large and increasing majorities. Let this Bill again go to the House of Lords without any dissension or division having been created amongst its supporters. He hoped that the opinions of the representatives of the people would not be scouted by the hereditary wisdom of the other branch of the Legislature; but, if a collision were to occur, let the House of Commons be at least firm, calm, and determined, after having exhausted every means of conciliation. The House of Commons had affirmed the claims of a class of Her Majesty's subjects, which were not the less just because there was no popular agitation in support of them.


begged to correct the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. He (Mr. Duncombe) had not moved for the Committee that inquired into Baron Lionel Rothschild's eligibility in respect of his being a contractor. he was a member of that Committee, and voted that Baron Rothschild's contract did not render him ineligible.


thought the House had already done everything they could do in the way of conciliation, and he thought the time was come, should this Bill fail, for seating Baron Rothschild by a Resolution of the House.

Preamble and Clauses Nos. 1. and 2, agreed to.

On Clause No. 3,


said, that the Irish Roman Catholic Members would feel themselves at liberty to move any Amendment which they might think fit on the bringing up of the Report.

Clause agreed to; as were the remaining clauses.


said, he would propose that the Report be taken on Monday next, if the Government business was not such as to interfere with that arrangement.


When the Report docs come up, I shall move the expulsion of the 5th and 6th Clauses. I must observe that hon. gentlemen who have spoken in favour of this measure have seemed to assume with great confidence that because they are the majority in this instance, they arc the sole representatives of the sentiments of the country in respect of this measure; but I can assure those hon. Gentlemen that those who oppose the Bill in this House do not merely represent the feeling of the House of Lords on the subject of the admission of the Jews into Parliament, but also represent the feelings of a very great portion of the community in the country.


said, that Monday would be a convenient day for bringing up the Report, as no Government business was likely to interfere with that arrangement.

Bill reported; as amended to be considered on Monday next.

House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.

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