HC Deb 14 April 1859 vol 153 cc1766-71

Report of Select Committee read.


I rise, to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Select Committee on the Jews' Act. The House will recollect that the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) placed a Motion on the paper for leave to introduce a Bill by means of which some difficulties which it was thought might probably arise in carrying into effect the provisions of the Act of last Session, would be avoided; those difficulties being connected with the question whether a person of the Jewish persuasion would be enabled to take his seat at the commencement of a new Parliament. The hon. Member for Finsbury was anxious to introduce a Bill to enable the House to pass a Standing Order by means of which, until it was repealed, a person of the Jewish persuasion would be able to take his seat. Great difficulties have arisen as to the proper construction of the Act; those difficulties, however, have been considered in Committee, and the Committee think that the doubts created by that Act of Parliament are so great that it would not be prudent to attempt to do by a Standing Order that which the Legislature has empowered either House of Parliament to do by Resolution only. There is this difference between a Standing Order and a Resolu- tion. I will explain it in the words of the late Speaker. In answer to a question which was put to him by the noble Lord the Member for the City (Lord John Russell) on the 12th April, 1842, the late Speaker (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) observed— The distinction between a Resolution and a Standing Order is this, that a Resolution is only binding throughout the then present Session of Parliament in which it is passed, and therefore during that Session it cannot be questioned, although it may be questioned during any other Session of Parliament; but a Standing Order is binding upon all future Parliaments until either repealed or revoked. I believe, Sir, when Baron Rothschild came to the table to take his seat, you expressed it to be your opinion (and if I may take the liberty of saying so, that was an opinion in which the Committee entirely concurred) that the mode then pursued was the proper one. A Resolution was then passed in the words of the Act of Parliament authorizing a Member professing the Jewish religion to take his seat. During the present Session another Member professing the Jewish religion came to the table, and as, according to the Speaker's ruling, the Resolution of the preceding Session did not affect him, another Resolution had to be passed, which will enable any other Member of that persuasion to take his seat and the oaths during this Session. But the case would be very different supposing the Member to come up in another Session. The Resolution will have no operation then. It is true you may turn the Resolution into a Standing Order, but if you do that, you must take care to keep within the statutory power, which makes no mention of a Standing Order, but merely provides that a member of the Jewish persuasion, on taking the Parliamentary oath, may omit the words "on the true faith of a Christian." The difficulty is, when a new Parliament is elected, to reconcile the power conferred by the Legislature on either House of Parliament to admit persons of the Jewish persuasion by Resolution, with the privilege which belongs to every Member to come and take his seat as soon as he thinks fit so to do. We propose to treat the question in this way. When a new Parliament is chosen, the Speaker is first selected, and he first takes the oath himself, and then proceeds to administer it to the other Members. No other business is transacted till Her Majesty has delivered the Speech from the Throne, and then the business of the Session commences. Bui before that time it is obligatory that those who take part in the business should have taken the oath. It was the opinion of the Committee that there should be nothing to prevent the Jewish Members from taking their seats as soon as the other Members; but they were also of opinion that it would be expedient to abide by the practice adopted in the last and present Session of Parliament. To meet the difficulty, however, they suggest that a time may be appointed for the House to decide whether effect shall be given to the statute by passing the Resolution which the statute requires. The only remaining question then is, on what day will such a Resolution be best considered, so as to secure the deliberate judgment of the House, with a full attendance of Members. Three day 3 occupied in swearing in Members gives every Member an opportunity to be sworn at the table if he choose, between the time of the election of the Speaker and the Speech from the Throne. If, therefore, we fix four o'clock on the fourth day as the time when the House may pass the Resolution to enable the Jew to take his seat, omitting the words to which he has a conscientious objection, you will secure a full House to decide the question, and yon will deprive no Member of the privilege of taking his seat as soon as circumstances admit. We say, in recording the conclusion at which the Committee arrived, that the only question is on what day the best attendance could be secured; but, on the whole, the fourth day was considered the best for settling the question under consideration; and it was, therefore, recommended that the Resolution be made a Standing Order. I am going to move, therefore, that the course to be pursued shall be resolved on now, and that on the meeting of the new Parliament the Resolution passed in pursuance of the Act 21 & 22 Vict., c. 40, on which is founded the Resolution permitting Members professing the Jewish religion to take the oath, with the omission of the words "on the true faith of a Christian" be not taken into consideration till four o'clock on the fourth day after the meeting of Parliament. I believe the many difficulties in the case will be avoided by this course. Looking at both sides of the question, and endeavouring to avoid the various difficulties of the case, I think the Committee have been enabled to propose the course best calculated to deal with them. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by formally submitting the Motion recommended by the Committee.


said, that having moved an Amendment to the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, upon which the Committee, whose Report the House was considering had been appointed, and in which he had served, and having thus brought under the consideration of the House the propriety of requiring notice of the Resolutions which the Act enjoined as necessary to the admission of Jewish candidates to take the oaths required by law, he felt that, having in the first instance brought the matter under the consideration of the House, he was bound to refer to the omission from the Resolution now proposed by the right hon. Member for Cambridge, of all provision for securing adequate notice of the intention to require the House to pass such Resolutions as the Act sanctioned. The Resolution and the standing order which the House was now asked to adopt provided in part for the difficulty by preventing the House being required to pass a Resolution before the Members were sworn at the commencement of a Parliament, That absurdity would be obviated. But whenever afterwards the House might be required by the appearance of a Jewish Member at the table to pass a Resolution for the alteration of the oath to suit the convenience of this Jewish Member, the inconvenience of the want of notice would again be felt. He spoke with deference of the opinion of the Committee, but he confessed that he was surprised at the decision at which they had arrived. He could not think that the House ought to expose itself to the danger of being surprised into the adoption of a Resolution which conveyed a solemn decision of that House, with the authority of law, by the absence of all notice of the intention to require the House to exercise an option and pronounce a judgment. He was surprised that the very distinguished Committee, of which he was a member, had made no provision against such a contingency. He admitted the right of the Jewish Member to time his appearance at the table, as a matter of privilege; but he did not think that it was consistent with the dignity of the House, when made aware of the necessity for its proceeding in accordance with the Act, which it last year sanctioned, by giving a solemn judgment as to the admissibility of a Jewish Member that the House, should not require twenty-four hours to collect its Members and deliberate as to its decision. The Committee, however, had not provided for this case, and the impression of the Committee seemed to be that if a necessity for deliberation should occur to any Member of the House, he might, by moving the adjournment of the debate, afford the House the opportunity of deliberation. He (Mr. Newdegate) knew that such a course would be attended with considerable inconvenience to the Jewish Member, and perhaps to the House, as the debate thus adjourned would not have precedence of other Orders on the following day, and it was not fair to entail on any individual the odium of causing this inconvenience. But his object was to warn the House that no alternative remained but the adoption of this means of preventing the House from being surprised into the adoption of a Resolution which it might afterwards regret, as the decision of probably a small section of its Members, or of a section representing almost exclusively one cast of opinion, but which would be binding on the whole House during the remainder of the Session in which it was passed.


said, he thought it most desirable that this matter should be set at rest, without reference to party questions, and, in his opinion, the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman met the difficulty in the most satisfactory manner.


said, he must object to the delay of four days before a Member was allowed to take his seat, as a thing unprecedented in the Parliamentary history of this country. The effect of it would be to disqualify the Member for that time, and he believed render him liable to a penalty if he voted for the election of the Speaker. At all events, it would have the effect of continuing a distinction between one class of Her Majesty's subjects and another, which ought no longer to exist. Nothing so bad or intolerant had taken place in the worst days of the Test and Corporation Acts.


said, he was also of opinion that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman would continue a distinction which ought to be abolished; but this could only be regarded as a temporary adjustment, and he hoped they would soon see this system of the compulsory administration of oaths put an end to.

Resolved, That, on the Meeting of a Now Parliament, no Resolution in pursuance of the Act 21 & 22 Vict. c. 49, which shall have the effect of admitting a Member professing the Jewish Religion to be sworn at the Table, be taken into consideration before Twelve of the clock on the fourth day appointed for taking the Oaths required by Law.

Ordered, That the said Resolution be a Standing Order of this House.