HC Deb 03 March 1859 vol 152 cc1175-89

said, he rose to move that, whereas this House has, upon two previous occasions, resolved That any person professing the Jewish religion may henceforth, in taking the oath prescribed in an Act to entitle him to sit and vote in this House, omit the words 'and I make this declaration upon the true faith of a Christian,' leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that the foregoing Resolution may be made a Standing Order. He thought he should be able to show the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, who had given notice of an Amendment, That no Resolution, under the provisions of the Act 21 & 22 Vict., c. 49, shall be moved in this House, unless at least one day's notice of such Resolution shall have been previously given in the Votes; that this be a Standing Order of the House— that the Bill he proposed to introduce was a reasonable and rational measure; and that then no further trouble would be given to the House on the subject. His Motion would leave it optional to either House to make the Resolution a Standing Order. There was no doubt that both Houses of Parliament intended that the Resolution should have the effect of a Standing Order; because one of the arguments used by the Earl of Derby in reference to that Bill was this— If you admit the Jews by an Act of Parliament, an Act of Parliament will be required to repeal it; but if you admit by Resolution the constituency will have an opportunity of expressing an opinion whether that Resolution should be confirmed or rescinded. Now, if there were no Resolution in existence at the commencement of a new Parliament, no Resolution could be confirmed or rescinded. It was clear, therefore, that both Houses intended a Standing Order as well as Resolution; and all that he wished to do was to supply that deficiency. The House of Commons had passed a Resolution admitting a Jew twice; and thus the House was put to the trouble of repeating a Resolution, which it was clear was intended to be a Standing Order. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would be able to appeal to their constituents, if his Bill passed, and say, "Have we done right in admittting the Jews? And shall we take the same course for the future? If you think they ought not to be there. we will endeavour to rescind that Standing Order." But if such an appeal were made to the constituencies, from John o'Groats to the Land's End, they would say that the Standing Order should remain; the people of England, from one end to the other, would say, "Let us have done, now and for ever, with that bigotry and intolerance, and persecution, and injustice, which have marked the course of so many Parliaments, and leave the Standing Order where it is." Moreover, unless the Resolution were converted into a Standing Order, great inconvenience would arise at the commencement of a new Parliament, because a mere Resolution would not survive from one Parliament to another. Thus, through a palpable inadvertency, the right of a Jewish Member to sit might, by a manœuvre, be defeated or postponed. If a Jewish Member had to wait for admission till every other Member had been sworn, and the Queen had opened Parliament, he might be kept out of his seat for a week. This was inconsistent with that religious equality which it was the intention of the Legislature to establish. All these difficulties would be overcome by the simple expedient of making the Resolution, once for all, a Standing Order; and it was with great deference that he asked the House to pass an Act to enable this to be done, and when once done he was sure that no future Parliament would then disturb it. It would remain on their Journals as a lasting memento of the bigotry and intolerance and injustice of bygone days. He begged to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the 21st & 22nd Vict., c. 49, in the manner mentioned.

MR. BYNG seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Act 21 & 22 Vict. c. 49, intituled 'An Act to provide for the Relief of Her Majesty's Subjects professing the Jewish Religion.'


Sir, my Amendment is far more humble than the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury. No one, as the House well knows, deprecated more sincerely than I did, the passing of the Act to which the present discussion refers; but, however much I was opposed to the object which that Bill had in view, I, for one, am prepared to obey the law, especially when I consider that the Act itself embodies a compromise between the two branches of the Legislature, which had long differed upon the subject of the admission to seats in this House of persons who do not profess the "true faith of a Christian." Now, the hon. Member for Finsbury seems to impute to me a desire to disturb that arrangement; but the House will recollect that when the hon. Member for Hythe (Baron M. de Rothschild) came to the table to be sworn, and a Resolution under the Act of last Session was proposed, I abstained from dividing the House. But now that the hon. Member for Finsbury has proposed, first, that the House shall adopt a Standing Order, in defiance of that Act which he has abandoned, and now asks for leave to introduce a Bill that may accomplish his object, I feel justified in moving, by way of Amendment, that which I believe to be the proper course for the House to adopt; in short, that notice should be given to the House of the intention to move a Resolution under the provi- sions of this Act. I believe I can show the House that both the Resolutions upon which the proposal of the hon. Member is founded were hastily adopted by the House. It will be borne in mind that the first of these Resolutions was in favour of seating the hon. Member for the City of London (Baron L. Rothschild). Now I myself, and many other hon. Members of this House, were totally ignorant as to the time when that Resolution would be moved, except that it must be moved before four o'clock on any one of four of the days of the week, on which the House sits in the evening, and at any time before four o'clock during the Wednesdays' sittings of the House. I was totally ignorant, and so were the great body of Members of the House, of the time when it was intended to move the Resolution for seating the hon. Member for Hythe (Baron M. Rothschild till just before he appeared at the table. And let me direct the attention of the House to this fact, that the Act of Parliament clearly contemplates, as you, Sir, stated, and most properly stated, that this Resolution should, when adopted, become a Sessional order; but this House has failed to afford its Members in their collective capacity an opportunity of hearing the Resolution proposed, and of instituting those inquiries which it was obviously the intention of Parliament should be instituted before either branch of the legislature is asked to consent to a Resolution under this Act. Well, Sir, what happened in the case of the hon. Member for the City of London? Why, that he took his seat in this House whilst holding the office of and acting as Consul-General for the Austrian Empire in this country! Indeed, Sir, I am quite aware that the hon. Member has felt that his continuance in that office was inconsistent with his position as a Member of the British House of Commons, and that he has transferred the office to another Member of his family, and not to the hon. Member for Hythe, an act which is no doubt honourable to him as an individual. But the House has done nothing to guard its own character and dignity. I ask, is it right that the House of Commons should pass a Resolution without notice, and then find that it has unwittingly admitted to a seat in this House the Consul-General of the Austrian Empire? Take, also, the case of the hon. Member for Hythe. It is a minute point, perhaps, but it is one that should have been ascertained before the House was called upon to adopt the Resolution in his favour. I understand that the original paper, which attests the return of the hon. Member, is not duly stamped; at least, it was not at half-past three o'clock in the day. This, as I have already said, may be a minute objection, and may be the result of omission, but may be the result of other circumstances. Let us remember how carefully the House of Commons has, at all times, guarded itself against the introduction of an undue number of office-holders under our own Sovereign; how constantly, how repeatedly, how perpetually it has done so; and I ask is it prepared, deliberately to sanction a course of proceeding which has led to its seating the recognized and avowed representative of a foreign Power within its walls? Why, the hon. Member for London himself feels, and to his honour feels, that that is not a position in which the English House of Commons ought to stand; but by the haste of your proceedings under this Act you left it to the hon. Member for London to do the duty which ought to have devolved upon yourselves; and I ask the House now if it is prepared to trust to the good feeling and sense of propriety of the individual Member so seated, by a Resolution of the House, for all time to come; or whether, by adopting the ordinary course of requiring that notice should be given of any Resolution of this kind, it will place itself in a position to guard against similar errors in future? Sir, I must say that, bowing completely to the decision of the House as I do, it nevertheless appears to me that it would be advantageous to the House to distinguish between a case of privilege and a Resolution, passed by virtue of a special Act of Parliament. In the former instance, a Member comes to the table by privilege, and in deference to the rights of his constituents and the people we suspend all business until he has made his claim, and taken the oaths and his seat. But under this new law, which embodies the feelings and opinions of both Houses of Parliament, it is determined that the House shall, by Resolution, declare whether certain important words in the oath taken and subscribed to by Members generally shall be omitted in deference to the conscientious scruples of those who object to them. To me, therefore, the reasonable course appears to be, that the claim of the Member to have those words dispensed with, should be made either by his appearance at the table or by notice; I think myself it had better be made by his appearing at the table, and that then notice should be given to the collective body of the House of the intention to proceed under this special Act, and to adopt a Resolution for the admission of such persons. That seems the plain intention of the Act, which, as I said before, is a compromise resulting from a long-continued difference between the two Houses of the Legislature; and I would earnestly urge upon the House that, for the sake of its own character, one of its most valued possessions, it should not proceed in these cases with the haste and want of deliberation which have already led to results so little creditable to our character. Only conceive what may happen (though I do not pretend to say that it has happened), if such Resolutions are allowed to be proposed without notice. A person may be elected to a seat in this House who desires that a Resolution of this sort should be adopted. He need not present himself in the first week, nor the first month, nor on the first Session after his election; but if there is any objection to him his friends may watch from day to day until the House contains only those, or a considerable majority of those, who are favourable to his admission, and they may then bring him from some coffee-house across Palace-yard, where he has been lying perdu—present him at the table, interrupt the whole business of the House, and carry a Resolution having the binding force of law by means of a majority that may be but a shadow of the House itself, and totally or almost totally, exclude all those who entertain objections to the Resolution from giving it that consideration which it is clearly the intention of the Act to secure. I should not have mooted this question. It has been left for the hon. Member for Finsbury to do that; but as it has been mooted, I pray the House to adopt the Amendment which I now propose, as consistent with the Act in question and with that deliberate care for its own constitution which has ever been one of the most valuable characteristics of the English House of Commons. If you approve of the introduction to seats in this House of persons who cannot profess the Christian faith, at least admit them deliberately and respect the compromise which has taken place between the two branches of the legislature on this subject. This seems then to be the reasonable solution of the difficulties which have arisen, and I trust the House will not, because it emanates from one who has always earnestly and perseveringly deprecated the object of the recent Act, be indisposed to accept it. I will not trouble the House further. I only ask it to act in accordance with its own character and dignity; and to accept an Amendment which is moved in no spirit of faction or of intolerance. I therefore move that no Resolutions under the provisions of the Act 21 & 22 Vict., c. 49, shall be moved in this House unless at least one day's notice of such Resolution shall have been previously given in the Votes; and that this be a Standing Order of the House.

Amendment proposed,— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'no Resolution, under the provisions of the Act 21 & 22 Vict. c. 49, shall be moved in this House, unless at least one day's notice of such Resolution shall have been previously given in the Votes,' instead thereof, Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he wished to point out to the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) the practical difficulty which existed in the course he had taken. In doing so, however, he must state that he entirely concurred in his view of the question. Parliament had now decided that Jews should sit in the House of Commons, and in the other House also, if that House, as the House of Commons had done, should so resolve; and knowing the most mature deliberation with which the question had been discussed in every possible form before that conclusion was arrived at, he was most anxious that the discussion should not be renewed, With that view, if it were competent for this House now to pass a Standing Order, he should most cordially concur in the passing of it, with the express object of avoiding such renewal. Now the Jews had been admitted he could not think it expedient that any Member of that religion who might be elected to this House should, on presenting himself at the commencement of the Session, be exposed to that kind of discussion and those inconveniences which the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down thought it expedient to preserve. But the hon. Member for Finsbury, by the form of his Motion, showed himself fully alive to the fact that the House had not the power of passing such an order; because the Act enabled the House to admit Jews by Reso- lution only, and did not empower them to pass a Standing Order for the purpose. The hon. Member for Finsbury, feeling this difficulty, proposed to provide a remedy by the introduction of a Bill. Such Bill would doubtless go through its various stages in that House, and he would himself support it; but in the Lords it might lead to a revival of the controversy, which he had hoped had been for ever brought to an end. Under these circumstances, therefore, he would suggest whether it would not be better to let the law stand as it was for the present, and wait for a more favourable opportunity to place the law in a more satisfactory state.


said, he did not intend to trespass on the time of the House on the question of the admission of the Jews to Parliament. He had always considered it one of the most painful questions brought under discussion, and that pain would be increased considerably in the event of its being again discussed, by the consideration that the House had now Gentlemen of that persuasion sitting amongst them. He rose for the purpose of stating his entire concurrence with what had fallen from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, and of expressing his dissent from the course which had been proposed by the hon. Member for Finsbury. It appeared to him that that hon. Member had some-what contradicted himself by the course he had taken. The hon. Member had said he believed it to be the wish of the country that Jews should have a seat in that House, and he went on to describe what he called the bigotry and intolerance of bygone days. He would only say on that part of the question that his conviction was that the great majority of the people of this country were opposed to the admission of members of the Jewish persuasion to seats in that House. But he further wished to call the attention of hon. Gentlemen to the position in which they were now placed by the course proposed to be taken by the hon. Member for Finsbury. The hon. Member proposed to make that a permanent arrangement which was at present only a temporary one. He seemed to forget the great difficulties in which the question had herertofore been involved. He seemed to forget that, however inconvenient and incomplete was the mode which had been adopted by the two Houses of Parliament in coming to a settlement of the question, it was considered by many Gentlemen in both Houses that at last a settlement had been arrived at, and by large majorities in both Houses the proceeding finally resolved upon had been so accepted. He contended, therefore, that those who had been dissentient to the admission of persons of the Jewish persuasion to seats in that House might fairly complain of this attempt to depart from the arrangement which had been come to by the two Houses of the Legislature. It appeared to him that the extreme anxiety of the hon. Member for Finsbury to make the arrangement permanent, instead of temporary, arose very much from the belief in his own mind that there was a strong feeling of hostility throughout the country to the admission of members of the Jewish persuasion to seats in Parliament; and, therefore, he desired to prevent if possible the revival of a discussion on the question at a future period. But he (Mr. Bentinck) was of opinion that in the circumstances under which the arrangement of last Session was made, those who were opposed to the admission of persons of the Jewish persuasion to that House, had a perfect right to call upon the House to adhere to that arrangement, and give those who differed from the majority upon the question an opportunity of re-opening it hereafter, and of testing what was the real opinion of the people on the subject.


said, he believed that the present was a very suitable opportunity for remedying an admitted defect in the Act of last Session, with respect to the admission of Jews to Parliament. The House had shown by repeated majorities that they were resolved to admit Jews, and they were bound to place the admission of those persons upon sure and certain ground. The hon. Member for Finsbury, taking a fair and constitutional view of the question, asked leave to introduce a Bill, to make what had hitherto been simply a Resolution, a Standing Order. The House would pass that Bill through its various stages; it would then go to "another place," and he hoped and believed would there meet with a favourable reception. Seeing that no possible disadvantage could arise from placing the admission of Jews upon a firm foundation, and that the House was bound to do so in justice to itself, he would cordially support the proposition of the hon. Member for Finsbury.


said, he wished to ask Her Majesty's Government, whether in their opinion the House was not competent to deal with the question at issue with- out a Bill? and, if not, whether they would be so good as to inform the House what they thought should be done? Entertaining the views he did upon the subject of oaths, he could not hesitate to give his support to the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, and he must say that he was surprised at the opposition of a man so earnest and sincere as was the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. His (Mr. Coningham's) opinion was, that oaths which were administered as a matter of course, were, in their effect, demoralizing, and very soon become nothing but a matter of form. It was only as a matter of form that an oath was administered to the Members of that House. It was a sham. It was hypocrisy. He asserted that the administration of oaths could only tend to create hypocrisy and promote perjury throughout the land. It was the opinion of that eminent and learned man the present Archbishop of Dublin, that if oaths were abolished—leaving the penalties for false witness—on the whole, testimony would be more trustworthy than it is. Whilst no less distinguished a writer than Mr. Buckle, the author of The History of Civilization in England, spoke of oaths which were enjoined as a matter of course as at length degenerating into a matter of form. He said that what was lightly taken would be easily broken. Fortified by such authority he denounced the administration of oaths as a relic of barbarism and ignorance, and earnestly trusted that at no distant day the whole system might be abolished, and that they would content themselves with a solemn declaration, which would constrain the conscience of no man, and yet be equally binding upon the honour of an Englishman.


said, that in the opinion of the Government, if the House were determined to convert their Resolution into a Standing Order, it would be necessary to proceed by Bill. For his own part, he very much regretted this proposition had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Finsbury. Remembering what took place last Session—he would not say the compact that had been entered into—but the representations that had been made to many hon. Gentlemen to induce them to come to an arrangement which on the whole was highly satisfactory to the majority of the House, he certainly did regret that a course should now be taken which would re-open that question, and perhaps lead again to painful discussions, and possibly misunderstandings with the other House. Had it been in their power to change the Resolution into a Standing Order without legislative interposition, he might have felt that many reasons might be urged in favour of such a proposition; and he should not have despaired of its being carried, if not unanimously, by the general concurrence of the House. But, as he was advised, that was clearly impossible, and the House could only proceed by Bill, thus embarking upon a course of legislation which might not be as tranquil as they could wish. He should certainly oppose the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, because it was open to the same objection as the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, inasmuch as it sought to disturb the arrangement that was entered into last year, and he thought it was extremely desirable after what then occurred that the question should not be re-opened. The Jews had substantially attained what they desired. He knew there was no small majority of that House not unfavourable to the course proposed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury, but still he would appeal to him whether, in such a manner and for such a purpose, it was worth while to revive bygone discussions which had been productive of so much bitterness.


said, he was not prepared to express a decided opinion in opposition to what had been stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the inability of the House to convert a Resolution into a Standing Order; but at the same time he did net wish by remaining silent to bind himself to the doctrine that it was not in the power of the House, without obtaining the sanction of Parliament, to make the conversion in question. There were high authorities for the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but he thought the House should be very cautious in a admitting that it was necessary to ask the house of Lords to grant them a power which, perhaps, they already possessed, and which, at all events, it was not at all clear they did not possess. The hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) had stated that a Resolution and a Standing Order were two different things. Now, the fact was that they were both of the same character; both Orders of the House—both, in fact, Resolutions; and he thought it would be found that every Standing Order of the House embodied in it a Resolution of the House. If they wished to make a Standing Order the first step was to pass a Resolution, and then convert it into an Order, of a more permanent instead of a temporary character, so that it still remained a Resolution, though by being called a Standing Order it was implied that it had a more permanent authority. He did not give this opinion with any confidence, but still he thought it was one well deserving of consideration. Before they decided, he thought they ought to look to the authorities. He must, protest, however, against a statement which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which implied there was anything like a compact last year upon this question. His own opinion was, and had been, that the course pursued last year upon this question was more likely than any ether which could be adopted to revive the angry discussions which had taken place—nothing could be more unsatisfactory or more clumsy than the so-called settlement which had last year been effected. His doubt was whether it was worth while to go to the House of Lords to ask them to assist the Commons in doing that which perhaps the Commons could do without their authority, and even if the Commons could not do it without the concurrence of the House of Lords, he doubted whether the Commons should send up to the Lords such a Bill as the one proposed, instead of calling upon the other House generously to concede the admission of the Jews generally. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury pressed his Motion to a division, he (Sir George Grey) wishing for time to consider the matter, would vote for the introduction of the Bill—a course he was the more ready to adopt, as no resistance had been offered during the present Session to the introduction of any Bill. As to the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire, he had no hesitation in rejecting it. He apprehended an hon. Member duly elected had an undoubted right to take his seat without any unnecessary delay, and that it would be an injustice to keep any hon. Member who came to that table to take the oaths twenty-four or forty-eight hours without taking his seat.


said, he thought h should not be justified in complying with the appeal made to him to withdraw his Motion. He was not disposed to pay the Lords, as a body, so ill a compliment as to suppose that they would reject the Bill, and some of the Peers, with whom he had spoken, declared to him that they had no idea that the Resolution passed under the Act of last year would not have the effect which was now sought to be given to it. No doubt the House had a right to convert a Resolution into a Standing Order, but there was this peculiarity about the particular Resolution in question, that the House had received it embodied in an Act of Parliament, and therefore it was doubtful whether that Resolution could be converted into a Standing Order without the assent of the House of Lords, and whether a Jew taking his seat under a Standing Order made by the sole authority of the House of Commons would not be subject to pains and penalties. His best justification for introducing the measure was the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire.


said, he had no objection to withdraw that part of the Amendment which stated that his Resolution should be a Standing Order of the House.


said that, when the question was last year before the House he expressed a strong opinion, and he retained it still, that if the Jews were to be admitted to seats in Parliament, it would be better that they should be admitted openly and directly, than that the question should be left open to consideration, and to the constant discussions that would follow upon it. Now he owned that he thought they had got into great difficulties by the Act of last Session. He agreed with the right hon. Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) that it was not by any means clear what was the force of the Act of Parliament with respect to the Resolutions made under it. It was by no means clear to what extent they might be carried, whether beyond a Session or even beyond a Parliament. His own impression was, that the Amendment of his hon. Friend (Mr. Newdegate) would be extremely inconvenient; because, if it were agreed to, the House would lay itself open to the objection which had been urged by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir George Grey), that a hon. Member was entitled to take his seat as soon as had been elected. He thought it would have been better to pass a Sessional Resolution at the beginning of every Session. But in point of fact there was so much difficulty about the question, that he would suggest to the hon. Member for Finsbury, as the best mode of getting out of it, that without going again to the other House of Parlia- ment, and instead of pressing his Motion for leave to introduce a Bill, he should refer the matter to a Select Committee, to consider the best mode of carrying the Act of Parliament into effect. They would then have a Report from hon. Members of different parties in the House who would have considered the measure fully and maturely; and thus they would be in a much better position to arrive at a decision on the subject.


said, that if he was to understand that Her Majesty's Government and the House generally were willing to adopt the proposal just made by his right hon. Friend, he should be very happy to waive his own opinion, in deference to that of the House, and withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said, he thought that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) was one to which the House might, with propriety, accede. The Government hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member for Finsbury would not be indisposed to listen favourably to the suggestion.


said, he had listened with much pleasure to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole), because of its conciliatory tone, and thought the course proposed by him very likely to lead to a satisfactory settlement. He should therefore have no objection to withdraw his Bill, on the understanding that the right hon. Gentleman would move for the appointment of a Committee. [Mr. WALPOLE: Hear, hear!] Well, then, he placed the matter in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, feeling sure that from the experience which he had had of the right hon. Gentleman, as a Member of Committees, the inquiry would be fairly and properly conducted.


said, he would now move, as an Amendment to the original Motion, that the question be referred to a Select Committee to consider and to report as to the best mode of carrying the Act of last Session into effect.

Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report to the House on the best mode of carrying into effect the provisions of the Act 21 & 22 Vict. c. 49, to provide for the Relief of Her Majesty's Subjects professing the Jewish Religion,' instead thereof.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Select Committee appointedTo consider and report to the House on the best mode of carrying into effect the provisions of the Act 21 & 22 Vict. c. 49, to provide for the Relief of Her Majesty's Subjects professing the Jewish Religion.